URLs du Jour

2007-07-30

Just a couple goodies today:

  • The CEI OpenMarket blog passes along an estimate:
    WashingtonWatch today listed thecost of the farm bill (H.R. 2419) just passed by the House last Friday. It seems like the average American family will pay $2590.27 for this bloated program that the Democrats — in pushing it through — claimed had "something for everyone."
    You can check how your Congressperson voted on this travesty here. Both New Hampshire representatives, Carol Shea-Porter, and Paul Hodes, voted Aye.

  • The winners of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, where contestants submit "bad opening sentences to imaginary novels", have been announced. In keeping with this blog's title, here's the runner-up in the "Vile Puns" category:
    The droppings of the migrating Canada geese just missed the outdoor revelers at the inaugural Asian math puzzle competition, marking the first time that dung flew over Sudoku Fest.
    Many more at the link.


Last Modified 2013-04-22 12:51 PM EDT

The Good Shepherd

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

This movie is a heavily fictionalized account of the early years of the CIA. There are a lot of big stars involved, who were apparently hoping that it would be a career-enhancing prestigous film on the order of The Godfather.

That doesn't seem to have worked out. The characters are relatively colorless and unsympathetic. Various dirty deeds are done, with ambiguous responsibility. Moral equivalence between the Soviet Union and the West is pretty much assumed. It's all very John Le Carre.

Matt Damon plays an allegedly rough approximation to James Jesus Angleton. One thing I didn't understand: his enemies come into posession of incriminating photos. Instead of attempting blackmail, they just toss them over the transom to the Mrs. Does that make sense?

If there's a big lesson, it seems to be that the combination of power and secrecy is inherently corrupting, and doesn't do your family life any favors either. Fine. But it takes a loooong time—two hours and forty-seven minutes, it says here—to teach it. I took a brief nap in the 1946-1947 timeframe.

Keir Dullea plays Angelina Jolie's dad—I guess they couldn't get Jon Voight.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:48 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-07-30

  • Stuart Buck has discovered the late great Richard Mitchell, and has quoted some snippets of his work here, here, here, and here. As I've said before: if you find snippets of Mitchell appealing, you can find nearly all his published work online for free at this site, set up by Mark Alexander. Here's one of my favorites:
    Words never fail. We hear them, we read them; they enter into the mind and become part of us for as long as we shall live. Who speaks reason to his fellow men bestows it upon them. Who mouths inanity disorders thought for all who listen. There must be some minimum allowable dose of inanity beyond which the mind cannot remain reasonable. Irrationality, like buried chemical waste, sooner or later must seep into all the tissues of thought.
    So: apologies for any and all inanity you find here; I hope your thoughts are disordered only temporarily.

  • Democrat control of the House has resulted in a farm bill that … is arguably worse than the farm bill passed by the Republican-controlled house back in 2002. Daniel Griswold at Cato is suitably contemptuous of the Washington Post's description of the passage as a "major achievement for the new Democratic leadership."
    It says a lot about the political culture in our nation's capital that passing a bill that basically continues more than 80 years of failed farm policy with minimal reforms is considered a major achievement.
    The bill's supporters defended it against reform using rhetoric both arrogant and dishonest. Votes were bought with—guess what?—your tax dollars and mine. Oh, and of course it's not just our tax dollars: we'll also be paying more at the grocery store as a result.

    One proposed step in the right direction was the Kind/Flake Amendment. Predictably, that failed, 117-309. (Mine own Congresscritter, Carol Shea-Porter followed her usual instinct of voting against steps in the right direction. New Hampshire's other representative, Paul Hodes, voted for it; one cheer for him.) But to make our Congress-bashing truly bipartisan, let's note that a free-marketer did the reckoning:

    … on the vote for the Kind/Flake amendment, 32% of Democrats favored reform while only 23% of Republicans did.
    Sigh. As the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band pointed out: No matter who you vote for, the Government always gets in.

  • More on Pace University hate crimes from Phil Orenstein:
    The other incidents "with racial or religious overtones" at Pace University were swastikas painted on a bathroom wall and on a Holocaust memorial event poster, the desecration of a Menorah on campus and other vicious antisemitic attacks which never rose to the level of hate crime, … [T]his demonstrates clear evidence of a double standard lurking at Pace, throughout academia and trickling down throughout the body politic where Muslims and certain identity groups get preferential treatment while others are spurned.
    Via Michelle who has lots more.

  • No, I haven't seen The Simpsons Movie yet. But I'm ready:

    [My Simpsons Avatar]

    … and you can be too.


Last Modified 2013-04-22 12:51 PM EDT

Transformers

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

I am, of course, way too old to have been hit by the Transformers back in the eighties. And Pun Son was more of a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers buff. But we both had a great time at this movie. Against all odds, the moviemakers have hit on a workable formula to temporarily transform the audience into a bunch of 13-year-old boys, who are in total empathy with an anonymous kid riding in Mom's minivan, as Optimus Prime locks in mortal battle with an evil Decepticon:

"Cool, Mom!"

I'm not sure if this works with audience members of the female persuasion, but, geez, this movie was a huge amount of fun for me, neatly turning off my allegedly mature intellect. It's exciting and funny. Special effects are effective.

Jon Voight and John Turturro bring the mature acting talent, but Shia LaBeouf is also pretty good as Sam, whose dad gets him a car that is not quite what it seems.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 5:33 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2007-07-29

  • Scott "Dilbert" Adams loves to be provocative on his blog. Much of the time he irks me—that's what being provocative means, after all—but sometimes he and I are on the same wavelength. Today is one of those days, as he takes on atheism.
    In order to be certain that God doesn't exist, you have to possess a godlike mental capacity—the ability to be 100% certain. A human can't be 100% certain about anything. Our brains aren't that reliable. Therefore, to be a true atheist, you have to believe you are the very thing that you argue doesn't exist: God.
    This seems to me to be a knock-down argument. Because if there's one thing we can be certain of, it's uncertainty.
    Perhaps you will argue that being 99.999999% certain God doesn't exist is just as good as being 100% sure. That strikes me as bad math.
    Me too.

  • Also being provocative is one Stanislav Shmulevich of Brooklyn, NY. He's in a heap of trouble for ("allegedly") putting a copy of the Quran in a Pace University library toilet. You might think this could be treated as ordinary vandalism. So did Pace officials, but that was before they reversed themselves (apparently under pressure from the Council on American-Islamic Relations [CAIR]) and reported the incident to the New York Police Department's hate crimes unit. And Shmulevich found himself arrested on felony charges.

    This is something to keep in mind for the current debate about expanding hate crime legislation. To the extent that Shmulevich's action was about expressing his opinion, rather than vandalism, he's under threat of being punished for it.

    As might be expected, Little Green Footballs is all over this. Probably the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education won't be far behind. (Ironically, FIRE recently polished off a case against Pace for refusing to recognize a religious student organization—but that was a Christian organization, so ho hum.)

  • The "good point" award for today goes to Michael Brady at the "Majority Accountability Project," who recently witnessed the spectacle of a local news conference where New Hampshire Democrat Chairman Raymond Buckley hailed the recent increase in the minimum wage.
    "While Representatives Shea-Porter and Hodes are being a voice for New Hampshire families, it is a shame that (U.S. Senators Judd) Gregg and (John) Sununu voted to eliminate the federal minimum wage entirely," Buckley said.
    Fine, right? But, um, wait a minute:
    Buckley seemed unaware that Hodes and Shea-Porter voted against legislation that allowed the minimum wage hike to become law, while both Sununu and Gregg voted in favor.
    This mysterious behavior is explained at the link, but it's still amusing. Via Doug at Granite Grok.

And now off to the movies! Pun Son and I have a choice between Sunshine and Transformers. Continuing the summer's intellectual tradition, we're leaning toward Transformers.


Last Modified 2007-07-29 3:10 PM EDT

Breach

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

As thrillers go, this is the polar opposite of (say) Die Hard. There's only one brief scene of violence, as two Russians revealed as spies for the Americans are efficiently dispatched. And we know how it turns out; even if we never heard of Robert Hanssen, the traitorous subject of this movie, a brief scene with (the real) John Ashcroft at the movie's opening announces his arrest.

But, surprisingly, it works pretty well. The movie follows the story of Eric O'Neill (played by Ryan Phillipe), who was assigned as a clerk to Hanssen a month before Hanssen's arrest. At first he thinks he's investigating Hanssen's sexual peccadillos; eventually he's brought into what's really going on: trying to make the case against Hanssen as a traitor.

Chris Cooper plays Hanssen, and Laura Linney plays the FBI agent running O'Neill. Both bring some serious acting fu to their roles; you can't take your eyes off them when they're onscreen.

One problem is that, while the movie details Hanssen's hyper-Catholicism, and revels in the contradiction between the porn-loving deviant espousing ultraconservative social and family values, no connection is made between this and his treason. Apparently, however, this is a mystery in real life too; it would have been phony for the movie to make up an answer.

I want to say just one more thing about Gary Cole, who has a small role here. That guy can just disappear into his role. It would be easy to miss him as the guy who played Reese Bobby in Talladega Nights and Lumbergh in Office Space. They don't give Oscars for that sort of thing, but they should.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:40 AM EDT

Pun Salad Now Coming to You Via …

a Dell Dimension E520! This replaces the old and sad Dell Dimension 4500 that's about to be shot in the head.

Anyway, your Pun Salad experience in the next few days may be either (a) faster and smoother; (b) not work at all; or (c) something in between.

By the way (geek talk follow), I don't recommend getting an ATI graphics card-equipped machine if you'd like to install Linux on it, especially if you prefer the latest and greatest Fedora release. This recent Slashdot article explains why.

In related news, it's Sysadmin Day! Do something nice for yours.

URLs du Jour

2007-07-26

  • More on the continuing drama of Senator Joe Biden vs. Citizen Jered Townsend, owner of a scary-looking Bushmaster AR-15 rifle. (If you missed part one, you can catch it here.) Senator Joe speculated in Monday's televised debate that Townsend wasn't "mentally qualified to own that gun." But he seems to have cooled down now, as seen in this story at Politico's "Crypt" blog:
    Biden said today that he emailed Townsend and gave him his phone number, saying he would be happy to get together the next time he is in Michigan.

    Biden even told The Crypt he would be happy to go hunting with Townsend, though the senator said he couldn't equal Townsend's firepower

    "All I have is a 20 gauge and a 10 gauge shot gun. It won't match his automatic weapon," Biden said.

    This via John Tabin at the American Spectator blog, who points out the AR-15 is not an "automatic weapon," and muses on yet another example of a legislator lacking understanding of an area he nevertheless confidently proposes to regulate. But, as Tom Jones pointed out long ago: it's not unusual.

  • Today's NYT op-ed page contains a trial balloon for a hypothetical future where a Democratic president deals with a Democrat-controlled Senate. The author, one Jean Edward Smith, details the history of political manipulation of the composition of the Supreme Court and bottom-lines: "It requires only a majority vote in both houses to add a justice or two."

    Ah, court-packing. If FDR couldn't make it fly, what makes anyone think Hillary could? Nevertheless, Ann Althouse is succinct and devastating in her analysis:

    [Smith] starts out fretting about a Court that enters the political sphere, and he ends up worrying about the Court failing to pick up the values of the political majority. So which is it?

    Of course, I know: You want the Court to transcend politics but to transcend it in the direction that squares with your politics. I laugh at that.

    Orin Kerr at Volokh seems amused at Smith's rationale:
    This might be necessary, Smith contends, because the Roberts Court has "adopt[ed] a manifestly ideological agenda," "plung[ing] the court into the vortex of American politics" where it now decides political questions rather than the purely legal decisions of the Warren Court.
    I detect sarcasm there!

  • Is New York Governor Eliot Spitzer a thug? Find out by reading Professor Bainbridge's article: Eliot Spitzer is a Thug.

  • Via Instapundit: here's something to show anyone who pooh-poohs the impact of technology.

Fallen Angel

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

Otto Preminger directed this 1945 film noir; I've read that it was made as a result of his success with the previous year's Laura. Dana Andrews is in it, playing a down-on-his-luck hustler, tossed off a bus in the big nowhere between Los Angeles and San Francisco. He gets himself involved with a mentalist conman, then when that's done, finds himself obsessed with a seriously slutty waitress, played by Linda Darnell. This leads him to attempt a scam on the rich spinster sisters in town, one happens to fall for him, then there's a murder, and guess who gets set up for the rap?

It's pretty convoluted and ludicrous, with dialog so stilted, it could have been written in a stilt factory. But there is a kind of neat ending, worth hanging on for.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:39 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-07-25

  • While saner people were watching a rerun of The New Adventures of Old Christine, the Democrats were "debating", by which I mean: answering questions from everyday people submitted via YouTube. Jered Townsend of Clio, Michigan asked the candidates' positions on gun control, because he "really want to know if our babies are safe." He proceded to display his "baby", a tricked-out Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, guaranteed to make any respectable Democrat soil his or her underwear.

    Michelle Malkin trashes the response. Bill Richardson babbled a bit about the need for "instant background checks". Then Joe Biden took over: "I don't know that [Townsend] is mentally qualified to own that gun." Malkin characterizes Biden's response as full of "snark and sparm."

    But if you want a picture of how the Other Side Thinks: Steve Terrell of the New Mexican claims Biden "hit it out of the ballpark" and was disappointed in Richardson for not calling Townsend a "kook".

    David Weigel at Reason posted the video of the question and answer. But he also did some research:

    Who is Jered Townsend? He's a guy from Michigan who voted for the state's affirmative action rollback and slammed cops for busting the wife of Chrysler's CEO on the grounds of "encouraging underage drinking." In other words, he's a libertarian-leaning voter who wants the government off his back. And Biden trashed him. If you're wondering why the gun owners in tank tops are marching for Ron Paul, here's why.

    And then going above and beyond the call of duty, Weigel wangled a brief interview with Townsend. Check it out; if it's going to be Standard Operating Procedure for Democrats to write guys like Townsend off as "kooks", then that's probably the best news for the GOP I've heard lately. (Townsend, by the way, says that his "odds of supporting Joe Biden have expired and disappeared completely.")

  • Ars summarizes a fun study where Indiana U. students were sent "check this out" phishing mail. Some students were sent mail purportedly from friends (whose names and addresses were deduced by a spider crawling over social networking sites); the control group got mail from a fictitious individual.

    The results: it was "shockingly easy" to fool college students like this; the researchers got 70% of their victims to type their actual usernames and passwords into a an unfamiliar .com site. As the Ars writer puts it:

    The results were striking: apparently, if the friends of a typical college student are jumping off a cliff, the student would too.

    Wow. (Via the Technology Liberation Front.)

  • Speaking of scams, here's one I hadn't seen, from today's spam folder:

    Hey,

    I found a picture of someone that looks exactly like you! What is weird is that they are on the FBI most wanted list (of traffic offenders, no need to get too worried :P).

    See for yourself... [URL to .com file deleted]

    Let me know what you think... :X

    Ciao

    I guess if you're dumb enough to think the FBI keeps a most-wanted list of traffic offenders, there's a chance you're also dumb enough to download and run a program from an unknown site.

  • For relief, you may want to check out Lore Sjöberg's account of his trip to "a place as fascinating as it is air-conditioned, the Smithsonian National Air and Space and Dehydrated Ice Cream Museum." He makes a profound point about "awe fatigue":

    My reaction to the Mercury Friendship 7 spacecraft that held John Glenn as he orbited the Earth: "My God, to enter the vastness of space in this tiny craft, this bead of metal, alone as any human can be. To gain a unique perspective on the world at the risk of death in the fatal grip of nothingness. What a beautiful, terrifying achievement." Later, my reaction to the Spirit of Saint Louis: "Man, that's a lot of time to spend in a plane, especially over water." Still later, my reaction to the Wright Flyer: "I wonder what kind of wood that is?" (It is spruce.)

    I say "profound," because the same thing happens to me in museums. You too?


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:38 AM EDT

Music and Lyrics

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

This is a by-the-numbers romantic comedy, which means you almost certainly already know the broad structure of the plot: meet cute, relationship building, shattering crisis, tidy resolution. No surprising deviations here.

Fortunately the male half of the romance is Hugh Grant, who can make himself likeable and witty. (Drew Barrymore is the female, and she's been better elsewhere.) The situation has Hugh playing the less-successful half of a broken-up 80's pop duo, and that allows the movie to take some pretty funny pokes at musical culture past and present. ("Anybody see 'Battle of the 80's Has-Beens' last night? That Debbie Gibson can take a punch.")

One problem is that Hugh and Drew are supposed to instantly click as a powerhouse songwriting duo, like a reincarnation of Carole King and Gerry Goffin. But you really have to suspend disbelief that the song they're writing, and we're listening to, is anything other than dreck. Nobody's gonna confuse it with "Up on the Roof." And that makes the "artistic differences" crisis over the song later in the movie really tough to buy: who could possibly care?

So, overall: not great, not bad.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:37 AM EDT

Shameless Personal Plug

A brief note of fatherly pride. Pun Daughter currently appears on UNH's front web page, advertising the UNH in Italy program, which she attended last year.

[Pun Daughter in Italy]

She's the one on the left.

(If you go to the UNH page: it rotates among several different "top stories" at random; just keep hitting refresh. Stories expire after awhile.)


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:54 AM EDT

Premonition

[Amazon Link] [1.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

I had a premo… a very definite feeling that this movie wasn't going to be so hot, but unfortunately rented it anyway. It turns out I should have listened.

Like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse 5, Sandra Bullock has become unstuck in time. For some reason, she's living the days in one week out of order. This also happens to be the week her husband gets seriously killed in a car accident. This combination causes her emotions to run the gamut among confusion, raving lunacy, sullenness, and horror as her spouse alternates between life and death. Most people aren't sympathetic to her predicament.

Two problems: I like to see Sandy a little more cheerful than this. (Fortunately, there's a gag reel included on the DVD, which is more fun than the movie.) Also, the temporal bouncing-around is fine, but it should be in support of an interesting underlying story, which really isn't the case here.

A priest shows up at some point—where have I seen this guy before? A few seconds with IMDB… Embarrasingly, it turned out to be Mike Novick from 24!


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:48 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-07-21

  • Stephen Moore attended the Independence Institute's fifth annual "Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms" party in Kiowa, Colorado. Paragraph two hooked me:
    This year's theme was "Stop the Growth of the Nanny State"--but it might as well have been "Live Free or Die Hard." Every activity seemed designed to annoy Hillary Clinton. There was a whole lot of drinking, smoking and shooting, but thankfully not in that order. During the morning hours, we carried nine-pound rifles through the woods, shooting pellets at clay pigeons flung into the air. By 10 a.m. the park was alive with the continuous claps of gunfire and hollering.

  • As I type, Pun Daughter is devouring her copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from Amazon delivered this morn via UPS and USPS. That's pretty boring compared to Will Collier, who got an accidental early copy and, like any good free-marketeer, turned it into a profitable opportunity by (a) selling it on eBay (to Publisher's Weekly); and (b) writing an article about the experience for National Review Online. Most amusingly, (c) under lawyerly abuse, eBay removed the listing (too late), and credited Will's account for their fees, increasing Will's take-home. Also see Will's response to the irate, and laughably ineffective, lawyer for J. K. Rowling's literary agency. Funny, funny stuff.

  • But on a much more serious note, Scott at Power Line passes along a letter concerning the upcoming HBO-produced documentary Hot House, about Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. It's reviewed in the New York Times, featuring a picture of a smiling young woman prisoner, Ahlam Tamimi. The Times says the film "recalls the day she dropped a suicide bomber off at his target, then coolly went on television to report on the resulting bombing."

    Some facts unmentioned in the review:

    She was sentenced to sixteen life sentences or 320 years which she is serving in an Israeli jail. Fifteen people were killed and more than a hundred maimed and injured by the actions of this attractive person and her associates. The background is here.
    The letter is from the parents of one of the 15 victims, Malka Chana Roth, killed by the suicide bomber "dropped off" by Ahlam Tamimi.

    Follow the links, click around, and reflect on the moral nullity at the heart of the New York Times and HBO.

URLs du Jour

2007-07-20

  • Having apparently wiped out all other crime in fair Kingston, New Hampshire, the local constabulary advertised "erotic services" on Craigslist and arrested incoming customers after, er, negotiations were completed. Bad career moves included:
    Richard Osborne, 54, who is also known as the voice of the University of New Hampshire Wildcats hockey team, arrived at the sting about 2:45 p.m. in a 2000 Honda Civic belonging to the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord.
    I wonder if he shouts "GOOOOAAAL" when … oh, never mind. And speaking of career choices:
    "You get what you pay for," Chief Donald Briggs said yesterday as the arrests were being made.
    Surely Chief Briggs could make more money in stand-up comedy? (Via Jay Tea at Wizbang who comments on a different aspect of the case.)

  • I'm not even sure of an appropriate response to this Washington Post article, which opens:
    There was cleavage on display Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2. It belonged to Sen. Hillary Clinton.
    I'm torn between:

    • "Aaaiieee! My eyes!"

    • "Yeah, right. Wake me when you're in Maxim."

    • "Didn't I see your ad on Craigslist?"

  • Are you old enough to remember where you were 38 years ago today? Me, I was in the basement of 8458 Grand Avenue, Omaha, Nebraska, eyes fastened to the grainy pictures on a 15-inch black and white TV. Here's what Ray Bradbury had to say back then:
    "Now look. Everyone shut up. You don't know a damned thing about what's going on here tonight, and that's why people like myself are needed in the world. I want to tell you what in hell it means. This is the greatest night you will ever know!

    "There are two nights the Western world will look back upon a million years from tonight. A million years! I'm not talking about a hundred or a thousand years. I'm talking about a million years from tonight.

    "The birth of Christ probably is a very important date that changed the world in many ways for the better and, in some ways, for not very much good at all.

    "But the second most important date is this night that we're going through right now. Because it's the night when we become immortal-when we begin the steps that will enable us to live forever. Now, if you don't know this, you don't know anything about space."

    Thirty-eight years isn't quite a million, but it's a start.

  • And Buzz Aldrin still has the right stuff.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:56 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-07-19

  • Your Steely Dan lyric du jour is "Daddy can't get no fine cigar." Especially if the Feds raise the per-stogie tax to 10 dollars. Prof Bainbridge is, understandably and justifiably, outraged.

  • Eugene Volokh researches the unexpectedly thorny topic of whether someone from Spain is considered "Hispanic." He quotes from seven different federal and state regulations, which give (to put it mildly) totally inconsistent results. The good professor doesn't say it, but I will: it's yet another indication of how governmental pigeonholing of people by race and ethnicity is, to the extent it's not totally arbitrary and capricious, guided primarily by politics. The sooner this sort of thing goes away, the better.

  • Here's a good idea:
    On this upcoming September 11th, I am putting together a group of people to go down to Ground Zero and hand out pamphlets titled "The Truth About 9/11". Inside the pamphlet will be the actual truth about 9/11 (19 Muslim men flew planes into our buildings, etc.).
    Did I say good idea? Excellent idea! It's way past time to start pushing back against vile lies. (Via Michelle.)

  • Speaking of vile lies, that whole thing about steamed pork buns filled (instead) with chemical-soaked cardboard in China seems to have been a hoax. If you want to eat cardboard in a bun, you'll have to go to McDonald's like everyone else.


Last Modified 2007-07-19 6:04 PM EDT

Moonbat Guano in my Local Paper

Yesterday's edition of my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, contained a utterly despicable article by one Steven Gintz chronicling a recent gathering of lefty lunatics. The tone is set by the headline:

9/11 speech tries to unlock public myths: About 75 come to Portsmouth for event

… the clear implication being that we're dealing an earnest speaker interested in debunking "myths". Let's see:

PORTSMOUTH — One attendee wore a shirt reading "9/11 = Inside Job." Another called the Bush Administration a "bunch of hacks." Another said the entire discussion was ridiculous, like "going back to Dallas and looking for shell casings."

That last guy seemed to sound the only vaguely critical note in the whole affair. As we'll see, it's almost the last half-hearted attempt at skepticism or balance in the entire article.

More than 75 people from all backgrounds and opinions [sic] visited the library Tuesday to hear a speech delivered by Thomas Hansen called "Creating Public Myth: The 9/11 Commission Report."

A decent editor would have simply deleted the phrase "from all backgrounds and opinions." Even if the faulty parallelism were fixed, it's unverified, and almost certainly false.

Note also the reported date of this shindig: Tuesday. Hm. This was in Monday's paper. Yes, they are reporting this nearly a week after the actual event. Not exactly breaking news.

Hansen, a retired mathematics professor from Charleston, Va., was invited by the local Seacoast 9-11 Questions Group, and both spoke and performed songs he'd written concerning the numerous controversies regarding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Yes, songs. If you were unlucky enough to miss the event, Hansen has a CD, and if you follow this link you might be one of the 200 lucky people to snag a free one.

As a further indication of the reporting quality, by the way: there is no "Charleston, Va." A little Googling shows that Hansen is from Charlottesville, Va.

And, as a matter of fact, a little more Googling turns up some of Hansen's other works. For example, he has his very own website, http://www.cosmiccooperation.com/. Cosmic Cooperation? Well, yes. Fortunately, there's a Declaration of Cosmic Cooperation where he describes what's involved with that:

The Declaration of Cosmic Cooperation is designed to state human intention to now join in peaceful relations with Off Planet Cultures. At the present time, a handful of people in the world are determining for all of humanity how we relate to beings from other regions of the Universe, and these few people are not choosing a path of peace. President Eisenhower reportedly said in the 1950s that the subject of actual UFO and ET presence on Earth is not in the best of hands now, being controlled by a covert military/industrial group. Those persons currently in control of Off Planet Culture contact wish to weaponize space, they have actually engaged in attacks on Off Planet Culture craft and occupants, and they also refuse to use what has been learned from Off Planet Cultures for the benefit of all of humankind.

Oh. Quite frankly, that's a much bigger story than the 9/11 stuff. Too bad the Foster's reporter didn't ask about it.

Anyway, back to the Foster's story:

While recognizing that some Americans feel those who question the government are "un-American," Hansen said recent polls show a sizable portion of Americans feel there are many unanswered questions and want a new investigation conducted.

Argh, the "questions" thing: this is the typical strawman deflection of the conspiracist. Nobody's responded to this better than Bill Whittle:

"We're just asking questions" was the official, voice-over disclaimer. You hear that too from the 9/11 Truth crowd when confronted with the lunacy of their claims. We're just asking questions... Well, in that vein I'd like to ask some questions myself. Is Michael Moore a serial pedophile? I'm just asking, and I'm sure a lot of my readers would just like to have some questions answered. I heard that Rosie O'Donnell ate a baby at a Satanic Ritual once -- is that true? Can you please provide the evidence that this did not in fact happen? Thanks. Who has murdered more hookers: Bill Maher or Charlie Sheen? Come on, you can't tell me there's no smoke there. I just want a possible explanation...

And of course, people like Hansen and his ilk aren't just "questioning". They're positing a mammoth conspiracy amongst hundreds of people to murder thousands of their fellow citizens. That's not specifically un-American, but … again, as Bill Whittle asks:

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?

All honest and important questions, unfortunately unasked at the Portsmouth Public Library last week, and apparently unconsidered by anyone at Foster's Daily Democrat. Back to their story:

Citing a recent poll, Hansen said "49.3 percent of New York City residents said that some of our leaders knew in advance attacks were in the planning and 66 percent said they want a full investigation planned of the events on September 11."

Googling is easy, and had the reporter taken the time to do it, he would have discovered that the "recent poll" is actually nearly three years old. A skeptical take on the Zogby poll is here, noting that the poll was sponsored by the conspiracist group "911truth.org", and speculates that the poll methodology was tilted in a sponsor-pleasing way.

He said both scholars and the public have raised numerous questions regarding the attacks, and the 9/11 Commission Report does not adequately address many of them, and in some cases, such as a woman's discovery of 9/11 money laundering and illegal activities, leaves out what may be crucial testimony uncovering government corruption.

Gosh, that would make a pretty good news story. Of course, a reputable news organization would check sources, nail down dates and details, evaluate reliability, and so forth. If it were true, you could win a Pulitzer!

Unless the news organization is Foster's Daily Democrat; in that case, you just uncritically echo the vague and unsubstantiated accusations of a nutball, evading your responsibility by prefacing the whole thing with a deadpan "He said."

Hansen discussed popular topics including how the hijacked planes were in American skies for so long without being either heeded [sic] or shot down by American forces, and the multiple accounts reporting warnings to government officials not to fly on Sept. 11.

Don't want to sound like a broken record, but: more uncritical echoing of vague and scurrilous accusations from Foster's. Interested people may want to check the debunking of various "Foreknowledge" allegations at the 9/11 Myths site.

In one instance, Hansen quotes testimony from Former Transportation Secretary Norman Minetta [sic] recounting a story in which Vice President Dick Cheney was alerted to the impending attack, and even fled to a security bunker 40 minutes before. Hansen claims the 9/11 Commission Report excludes this testimony.

"The 9/11 commission said the government only knew two minutes before the attacks and didn't have time, but Minetta [sic] said Cheney knew 12 minutes before," he said. "They left Minetta's [sic] testimony out of the report."

Geez, it's Mineta. M-I-N-E-T-A. Other than that silly error: People are aware that Mineta's retelling of the timeline of 9/11 events differs from just about everyone else's. Most people, including the 9/11 Commission, concluded that Mineta was confused. Conspiracists, of course, conclude that Mineta was, for some reason, telling the absolute truth and everyone else was lying. Good debunking on this is at the Screw Loose Change site.

As near as I can tell, the claim that Mineta said Cheney "fled to a security bunker 40 minutes before" the "impending attack" is just a flat lie from Hansen or—I wouldn't be shocked—a reporting mistake.

Amherst resident Ed Helm said he lived in Washington, D.C. that September, and a friend worked in the White House.

"He said the Secret Service had come in ahead of time and could read radar that the Whitehouse [sic] was targeted. It's consistent with your statement that the timing doesn't match in terms of the Minetta [sic] testimony."

I'm sorry, Ed, but I don't believe there's any way to get a radar to tell you "ahead of time" about the target that (say) United 93 might have been destined for, given that it crashed about 125 miles away in Pennsylvania. I think your whole story is bullshit. And I think Foster's did its readers a disservice in echoing it uncritically.

Hansen said that although conspiracy theories are brought up, the point of the discussion is not to take sides, but to create public discourse and push for a new review.

Disingenuous nonsense.

"My whole point of having this discussion is to show there are people ranging everywhere from "they made it happen on purpose" to "they let it happen on purpose" to "you're crazy,'" said Hansen.

At least in the case of Thomas "Cosmic Cooperation" Hansen, I vote "crazy." Do I see any other hands out there?

Some, including local residents Robert Unruh and Deborah Terreson had their own opinions.

"I don't think they had direct involvement, but it was the perfect excuse for the government to push their agenda," said Unruh.

"It was not a conspiracy of action but a conspiracy of opportunity," said Terreson. "It doesn't strike me the administration would be intelligent enough to orchestrate a conspiracy. These guys can't get Bin Laden. They couldn't find a way out of a paper bag."

I suppose I can take some relief that even after exposure to 9/11 moonbattery (including songs!), neither Robert nor Deborah could work up much enthusiasm for uttering anything beyond tired Bush-bashing clichés.

Still, the bottom line here is pretty simple: Thomas Hansen is a vile loon. His audience, to the extent they went along with his delusions, are a collection of gullible losers. And, most importantly, Foster's Daily Democrat ran a shoddily reported and incompetently edited article, far below minimal journalistic standards.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:38 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-07-16

It's econ day here at Pun Salad! Try to stay awake!

  • My memory is hazy, but I sort of remember Thomas Sowell appearing on Meet the Press a couple decades back, when one of his interlocutors tossed out a sneer about having "faith in the market." Sowell replied: "I don't have faith in the market. I have facts about the market."

    There's nothing new under the sun, as the NYT recently quoted Dani Rodrik, of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, as lacking the "faith" of free-market economists. Don Boudreaux reacts, not quite as concisely as Sowell did, but still worth reading.

    I would say that I have no "faith" in free trade; rather, the evidence and the theory of free trade are powerful enough to convince me that it is practically superior to any form of protectionism if the goal is widespread prosperity.
    I also liked Don's rather neat reductio ad absurdum:
    If it's true that theory and evidence in favor of protectionism are sufficiently strong to warrant economists abandoning their conclusion that free-trade policy is generally sound, then why shouldn't economists -- led by Dani Rodrik -- also start exploring the potential benefits of intra-national protectionism? Surely a scholar not benighted with the free-trade "faith" ought to take seriously the possibility that, say, Tennesseeans could be made wealthier if their government in Nashville restricts their ability to trade with people in Kentucky, Texas, Rhode Island, and other states?
    Only problem is, there's no idea so absurd that some idiots won't embrace it.

  • And today, the NYT leads with a story:
    On Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail, Democrats are increasingly moving toward a full-throated populist critique of the current economy.
    Only problem is, as Dan Drezner points out, a lot of that "critique" involves pandering to economic illiteracy about trade. Congressman George Miller is quoted:
    Trade may not be the reason, or the number one reason, they're losing their jobs, but they think it is.
    … and the Dems are all too willing to bow to that silly misconception.

  • But the NYT also occasionally prints some sense. People who like to put the words "fair" and "tax" in close proximity should read N. Gregory Mankiw before they are tempted to do that again:
    Fairness is not an economic concept. If you want to talk fairness, you have to leave the department of economics and head over to philosophy.
    Really.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:56 AM EDT

Live Free or Die Hard

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

Random thoughts:

  • If you're going to have the "I'm a Mac" guy be John McClane's sidekick in a Die Hard movie, shouldn't you also get the "… and I'm a PC" guy to be a henchman of the evil mastermind? Thoughts like these explain why I'm a university computer geek instead of a Hollywod casting director.

  • In my post about Apocalypto the other day, I wrote that the hero was "made to endure physical abuse that would send a normal person into a quivering mercy-begging fetal position." So I can't really write the same thing here, much as I'd like to.

  • Most common line: "Hang on!," shouted approximately ninety-three times from Bruce Willis to Justin Long.

  • Viewed as a progression over all four Die Hard movies, the bad guys' plots seem to make less and less sense, but do allow for more chase scenes and bigger explosions. Roughly consistent is their marksmanship when shooting at McClane, which remains, fortunately, low.

  • Speaking of which, I liked the vital correction appended to the NYT's review:
    Because of a transmission error, a film review yesterday about "Live Free or Die Hard" misstated the critic's description of the plot. It should have been described as "logic-defying," not "logic-defined."
    Indeed.

  • It really is a lot of fun.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 5:32 AM EST

Ten Thousand Islands

[Amazon Link] If I wanted to be more than a little simplistic, I'd paint this entry in Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford series as about 80% Travis McGee, with 20% of Dave Robicheaux thrown in, for moodiness and supernaturalism. That's a little too easy, though. If coming up with books like this were that easy, a lot more people would be doing it.

The premise is that our as-ever-reluctant hero is dragged into investigating the desecration of the grave of a long-dead child. Doc would much prefer to be running his marine biology supply business, as usual. But, also as usual, events and character propel him ever forward.

I've been reading this series in order, and found this to be the best entry yet. Very little feels padded, and the suspense builds throughout. The final chapters are just about as thrilling as words on a page can get.

As always, White lets Ford's drug-fueled buddy Tomlinson have all the best lines. I've said this before, but I'm also impressed at how White allows Ford's first-person narration to reveal more about Ford than Ford himself knows. As writer's tricks go, that's a pretty good one.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:47 PM EDT

Apocalypto

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

The premise of this movie doesn't exactly scream "sure-fire boffo box office." Yet Mel Gibson got it made, so good on him. And the detail and atmosphere leave little doubt he made it the way he wanted: it's pretty much exactly as if we had a magical time-travelling eye that we could plunk down anywhere we wanted in the past, and we happened to catch onto a thrilling drama set in the late Mayan civilization. With a helpful auto-translator supplying subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

It's pretty brutal, although not unrelievedly so. I liked the opening scenes, which will make you realize, yes, despite wide differences in details, guys in all times and places share an important characteristic: the urge to execute elaborate sex-related practical jokes at the expense of their gullible buddies.

It's a Gibson movie, so our Gibsonian hero also is made to endure physical abuse that would send a normal person into a quivering mercy-begging fetal position. But our boy soldiers on, and the only question is: will he wind up like Jesus and William Wallace, or will he pull a Martin Riggs turnaround? No spoilers here!

It drags a bit in the middle, is all.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:38 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-07-12

  • <quote source="Futurama">Good news, everyone!</quote> In case you've been living in a cave for the past few days, emerging only to read this blog: "ginormous" is now an Official English Word, according to the dictionary people at Merriam-Webster.

  • Just in time, in fact, for me to post a picture of this ginormous yellow duck.

    [Ginormous Yellow Duck]

    From the linked page:

    A yellow spot on the horizon slowly approaches the coast. People have gatherd and watch in amazement as a giant yellow Rubber Duck approaches. The spectators are greeted by the duck, which slowly nods its head. The Rubber Duck knows no frontiers, it doesn't discriminate people and doesn't have a political connotation. The friendly, floating Rubber Duck has healing properties: it can relief mondial tensions as well as define them. The rubber duck is soft, friendly and suitable for all ages!

    Y'know the Tall Ships Ginormous Ships visited fair Portsmouth Harbor a while back, and I didn't go. But I'd totally be there for the Duck. I'm pretty sure I have mondial tensions out the wazoo, which I could stand to have either reliefed or defined.

  • Drew Cline points out that Fred Thompson has an excellent shot at winning the New Hampshire Primary if he can get a lot of people wearing these t-shirts.

    [Fred T-Shirt]

    [bigger image]

  • But it's not all frivolity at Pun Salad today: all right-thinking Americans should get over to check out the Porkbusters Scorecard page to see how your state's senators voted on earmark-reducing legislation.

    For NHites: Senator Sununu garnered a top score of 100%, an honor only shared by one other senator. Senator Gregg scored a disappointing 50%; while that's pretty bad in an absolute sense, it's well above the median for the entire august body. But should we be grading on a curve?

    Well, maybe. Scores for current senators from neighboring states: Collins, 25%; Kerry, 16.66%; Kennedy, Leahy and Snowe, 8.33%; Sanders 0.00%. So it could be worse. And probably will be.

  • Someday I will stop quoting people on the wonderfulness of Ratatouille. But that day is not today. Here's Peter Suderman, direct from the Fort Lauderdale airport:

    I want to start with a proposal: When they make Die Hard 5: Die Really Hard, and For Real, This Time, which may not happen till far into the future at a point when the studio will have to graft a digital Bruce Willis face onto some poor stunt-shmuck and recreate his voice using a version of Pro Tools so smart that it will eventually control our nuclear weapons systems before turning on us, Skynet-style—when this movie is made, as it (or some variant) surely will be, I want Brad Bird to be the director.

    Me too.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 6:00 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-07-11

  • Inside Higher Ed reports on a big change in admission algorithms at Tufts:

    During the last year, Tufts University started a pilot project that represents one of the most significant shifts in undergraduate admissions policies for a competitive research university. The experiment involves additional essays used to identify applicants who are creative, who possess practical skills, or who have wisdom about how to promote the common good — characteristics Tufts says are consistent with its vision of higher education, but which may not be reflected in SAT scores or high school grade point averages.

    Good news for all you stupid creative high school seniors, especially those slackers with practical skills and wisdom! But it doesn't hurt to point out that Tufts' embrace of creativity only goes so far. Should you actually use that creativity in a way that some people find offensive

    The president of Tufts University, Lawrence Bacow, looked the other way when a student-faculty committee put a conservative Tufts publication on trial for publishing two parodies. One was a mock Christmas carol making fun of racial preferences in college admissions, the other a satire on Islamic Awareness week.

    The publication, The Primary Source, was convicted of harassment for what would pass as free speech on most other campuses. The committee ordered the publication not to run any unsigned articles in the future, a rule not applied to other campus publications. The committee also hinted that funding would be cut if other controversial articles were published.

    If you're a student looking for a college, and you're really creative, you'd best try to creatively come up with a list that doesn't include Tufts.

  • This is sad news:

    A new psychology study at Washington University was no laughing matter: It found that older adults may have a harder time getting jokes because of an age-related decline in certain memory and reasoning abilities.

    On the other hand: a freelance humor researcher at the University of New Hampshire reports that if you find yourself sitting through an entire half-hour of Scrubs without cracking a smile, it's not that you're getting old; the show actually stopped being funny a number of years ago.

  • I recently visited Fuller Gardens in North Hampton, NH with my family. Janice Brown has the facts beyond the flowers and fish. (Shameless self-promotion: she links back to my picture—aieee!)

    Janice's Cow Hampshire blog has been named "Best of New Hampshire 2007", a richly deserved honor. Go look around.

  • The other "Best of New Hampshire 2007" blog is Amy Kane's Atlantic Avenue, a reliable source of sanity and beauty; here she reports and comments on the recent finding that, despite the widespread myth otherwise, men talk just as much as women. But, as she points out:

    I will generalize and say: I think women speak more words that men do not listen to.

    That's a good point … wait, what?!


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:49 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-07-10

  • Are you an American? Do you need to be complimented on your smarts? Almost certainly you can get satisfaction here:

    You Are a Smart American
    [Smart American] You know a lot about US history, and you're opinions are probably well informed.
    Congratulations on bucking stereotypes. Now go show some foreigners how smart Americans can be.

  • Of course, you might feel otherwise should you take the thought experiment suggested by Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts:

    I'd like to survey a cross-section of Americans and ask them how many active NBA players, Major League Baseball players, and "American Idol" finalists they can name. Then I'd ask them how many living American poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors, architects, classical musicians, conductors, and composers they can name. I'd even like to ask how many living American scientists or social thinkers they can name.

    He goes on to explain that it used to be different:

    Fifty years ago, I suspect that along with Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Sandy Koufax, most Americans could have named, at the very least, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Arthur Miller, Thornton Wilder, Georgia O'Keeffe, Leonard Bernstein, Leontyne Price and Frank Lloyd Wright. Not to mention scientists and thinkers like Linus Pauling, Jonas Salk, Rachel Carson, Margaret Mead and especially Dr. Alfred Kinsey. I don't think that Americans were smarter then, but American culture was. Even the mass media placed a greater emphasis on presenting a broad range of human achievement.

    Hey, I'm old enough so that I could come up with most of those names too. But Gioia's uncomfortably enough on-target: I'd have a real tough time naming any 21st-century equivalents.

    What happened? Well, I became a Philistine, of course.

    I note, however, that the increasing arts-illiteracy of the American people correlates strongly with the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts. Whattya think about that, Gioia?

  • Apropos of precisely nothing: Genius hero Ken Jennings asks:

    What American cities have renamed streets (or sections of streets) near a stadium/ballpark/sports arena after a beloved local sports figure?

    There are no sports fans like University of Nebraska football fans, thought I. Surely there must be an Tom Osborne Avenue or a Bob Devaney Street right near the stadium?

    But no. Instead there's an Exegesis Street right near the stadium. That has to be one of the strangest names for a street, ever. What's the story there? I have no idea.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 6:08 AM EDT

URLs du Rat

2007-07-08

  • Julian Sanchez detects the philosophy of Ayn Rand in Ratatouille. Is Brad Bird a crypto-Objectivist? Cool! (Arguable spoilers at the link, which means you should just go see the movie, for goodness' sake.) But that's not all …

  • Peter Suderman says:
    I have a lot to say about Ratatouille, even beyond that it's the finest movie about a French rat chef ever made (which it is), and that, so far as I can tell, it's the best movie of the summer, and currently vying with Fincher's Zodiac for the best movie of the year.
    But he doesn't have time to say much beyond that, so he links to …

  • Ted Pigeon, who states:
    Make no mistake, though; this is a brilliant movie. Not a brilliant Pixar movie. Not a brilliant animated movie. A brilliant movie. So brilliant, I contend, that I would proclaim Brad Bird as one of the really unique voices in American cinema.
    Ha! I knew it! Ted's got a lot backing up this soon-to-be-conventional wisdom. But he also links to …

  • Brendan Bouzard, who (among other things) claims:
    Ratatouille's greatest formal innovation might be the incredible way it articulates focus as a storytelling element into popular computer animation. Its execution here is flawless, perfectly mimicking the depths-of-focus one might expect from various lensings used in the film, and adding yet another layer of stunning false indexicality to draw a viewer into the narrative.
    Gosh, that almost makes me want to find out what the Sam Hill "false indexicality" might be. If you haven't seen it yet, though, pay some attention to the focus.

It's nice to see one's plebeian movie instincts supported by Totally Serious film reviewers. ("See, smart people liked it too!")


Last Modified 2012-10-19 6:09 AM EDT

Flushed Away

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

Animated movies aimed at kids are pretty risky, but this turned out to be a win. The creativity is from Aardman Animations, but unlike their venerable Wallace and Gromit, this is a purely animated feature. It has the Aardman "look", though.

The tale is of Roddy, a pampered pet mouse kept in posh surroundings in Kensington. A home invader dispatches him, via the loo, to the sewer system underneath London. A classic fish out of water story, his efforts to get back home land him in even more complications.

Since the overall plot is pretty much the same as Cars, or any of a few hundred other movies, the movie has some work to do to rise above mediocrity. And it does. The visuals are clever, the dialog is funny (delivered by some excellent voice talent); even the music seemed above average to me. Lots of gags flash by; I missed a lot of them, but that's why we have the IMDB trivia page. It's not quite up to Pixarhood, but gets close enough so I didn't feel my time was wasted.

So it's an excellent movie to watch with the kiddos, and not bad even if you don't have any kiddos around.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:41 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-07-06

  • Pun Salad was far from the only blog noting the labelling of terrorists as a "diverse group." Iowahawk helpfully forwards a recent warning from British safety officials:
    London - British public safety officials today increased the national alert level to "Quite Elevated Indeed" -- the highest category possible -- and appealed to UK citizens to "keep a sharp lookout for diverse people engaged in activities."

  • Unfortunately, looks as this is no mere thoughtless nod to Political Correctness. Little Green Footballs links to this Daily Mail article, which outlines the new Anti-Clarity Guidelines in effect in England and the rest of Europe.
    Gordon Brown's ban on the word "Muslim" in relation to terrorism can be blamed on the EU.

    The prime minister has told Cabinet members not to mention "Muslim" and "terrorism" in the same breath.

    It comes after the European Commission issued a guide for government spokesmen to avoid offence by ruling out the words such as "jihad", "Islamic" or "fundamentalist" in statements about terrorist attacks.

    It has been working with governments to make sure "non-offensive" phrases are used when announcing anti-terrorist operations or dealing with terrorist attacks.

    It is not the first time the EU has tackled the issue of language - last year its guidelines suggested that the phrase "terrorists who abusively invoke Islam" should be used rather than "Islamic terrorism".

    In other news, the EU suggests a "spade" be called "an implement commonly used for digging, but don't stereotype it in that way, you dreadful bigot."

  • Buzz Lileks continues to amuse and impress at his new gig. If you've ever seen Hints from Heloise in your newspaper, you'll want to check out his speculations on how Hinters think. Commenters chime in cleverly on his suggestion: "Rejected Hints for Heloise."

  • Sorry, Miss New Hampshire, I've already committed to root for someone else at the pageant this year. (Via Ace, who remarks: "Judges were impressed by her pageant talent, which consisted of killing a Taliban by jabbing a crochet-hook through his eye.")


Last Modified 2012-10-19 6:10 AM EDT

USA Today: Accomplice in Rent Seeking

Something from last week that slipped through the blogging cracks was this page-one USA Today story entitled "U.S. Net access not all that speedy". Like most USA Today articles, it's short and punchy. Unfortunately, it's also a good example of a common MSM malady: acting as an uncritical megaphone for a special-interest group. The group in this case is the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union.

The USA trails other industrialized nations in high-speed Internet access and may never catch up unless quick action is taken by public-policymakers, a report commissioned by the Communications Workers of America warns.
Oh, no! Another crisis, one that can only be solved by "public-policymakers"! And—as anyone who has even a hint of cynicism in their bones might expect—the solution involves plenty of regulations, mandates, subsidies, tax breaks, and outright government spending, that all wind up sending money into the pockets of CWA workers and (hence) their union.

Now, of course you would expect the CWA to be in favor of that. You might not expect USA Today to be taken in so completely by a slick rent seeking union campaign, but there it is. There's nary a hint in their story that—just maybe—there are other things Americans might want to spend money on besides high-speed Internet access, and (in any case) it might be a good idea for market mechanisms to work out matters of supply, demand, prices, and costs. The story might as well have been written by the CWA, with USA Today's reporter simply putting her name on the top.

The article helpfully points the reader to the slick website the CWA has set up in support of this campaign, www.speedmatters.org, full of smiling Americans of all colors, ages, sexes, and abilities demanding "high speed internet for all." And—I must admit—they have a very cool page where they'll measure the upload and download speed to the computer from which you're browsing. You can compare your speeds with the "typical" results from your state, the US, Canada, Germany, Iceland, Sweden, and Japan.

[A slight boast, not that you care: I have standard-issue Comcast cable modem access, which scored a 6408 Kbps download speed, which was faster than all but the Swedes and Japanese. The upload speed was 2287 Kbps, better than all others in the comparison. Heh! "I got mine, Jack." But despite these good results, I don't feel unusual. I've just decided to spend some extra money on faster access, without asking the government to force someone else to provide it.]

URLs du Jour

2007-07-04

Happy Birthday, USA!

  • If you're an American, as I am, one of your Independence Day duties is reading this article from Thomas Sowell.
    Too many Americans take the United States for granted and are too easily impressed by what people in other countries say and do.
    I plead guilty, at least to the former. I avoid the latter by being compulsively xenophobic, which is probably not great either, but …

  • If you recycle, as I do, you'll want to check out this article by Michael Munger. Despite the fact that he's a Poli Sci prof at Duke, his article is well-written and funny. You'll almost certainly learn some things. Unfortunately, if you're like me, one of the things you'll learn is that you're a sap.
    There is a simple test for determining whether something is a resource (something valuable) or just garbage (something you want to dispose of at the lowest possible cost, including costs to the environment). If someone will pay you for the item, it's a resource. Or, if you can use the item to make something else people want, and do it at lower price or higher quality than you could without that item, then the item is also a resource. But if you have to pay someone to take the item away, or if other things made with that item cost more or have lower quality, then the item is garbage.

  • If you drink bottled water, as I do, you might be interested in Buzz Lileks' post; bottled water is apparently on the horizon as the Next Big Environmental Hatefest. Especially if you read Munger's article linked above, you'll enjoy this quote from a San Francisco news story:
    "It costs millions of dollars for our cities to dispose of plastic bottles, whether it's through recycling or landfill or where they end up in the waste stream," said Gigi Kellett, Campaign Director for Corporate Accountability International. "This has a huge impact on where that money could be spent on other aspects of city life, like maintaining our public water systems."
    So garbage is garbage, no matter if you call some if it "recyclables."

    I also liked one of the commenters at the Buzzzzz:

    I can taste the difference between tap and bottled, unless the latter has been opened, left in a car in the hot sun for four days, right next to an old dirty sock. Then the two are indistinguishable.
    In our case, the local water has had a decades-long problem with high arsenic levels, lovingly chronicled at the Google. According to the EPA:
    Non-cancer effects can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting; diarrhea; numbness in hands and feet; partial paralysis; and blindness. Arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate.
    "Other than that, though, it's fine!" They can have my Poland Springs bottle when they pry it out of my numb hands.

The AP Spies Diversity

The AP's headline reads "Diverse Group Allegedly in British Plot" And they name the people being held in the car bombing scheme: DeShawn Washington, Peggy Sue Brockelman, Lars Thorvaldsen, Patrick O'Reilly, Pierre Dubois, Nguyen Xuan Huong, Boris Golovastov, and Kumar Patel. Wow, that is diverse!

Oops, sorry. The actual suspects are Muhammad Haneef, Mohammed Jamil Asha, Marwa Asha, Bilal Talal Abdul Samad Abdulla, Khalid Ahmed, Sabeel Ahmed, and two suspects as yet unnamed, but it's safe to bet the names aren't Dave and Debbie.

Now that's not too shocking in itself, but who is the AP trying to kid with the "diverse" headline?

It Wasn't Road Rage, Exactly …

… she was just a little pissed. From tonight's local paper:

DOVER [NH] — A road rage incident that began on the Spaulding Turnpike Friday afternoon ended with a Barrington [NH] woman throwing a bottle of her boyfriend's urine at another motorist whose vehicle she had followed into the city's downtown, police said.
In Dover, she's now known as Public Enemy Number One. She's in a wee bit of legal trouble, and the charges against her are not piddling. The name of her victim has not been leaked, but law-abiding citizens are relieved she's finally off the streets.

A Sentence I Never Expected to See at a National Review Website

"That's an important statement by Bono."

One Small Cheer for Carol Shea-Porter

Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) successfully added an amendment to the Financial Services Appropriations bill last week to prohibit funds from being used by the FCC to "impose the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters."

We've railed against the move to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine and other "progressive" efforts to squash inconvenient speech before. (Here, here, here, here, and most recently here.) So the passage of this amendment is good news.

Better news: mine own Congresswoman, Carol Shea-Porter actually voted for the Pence Amendment. She joined all Republicans, and 112 of her fellow Democrats in doing so.

115 Democrats voted against. People in New Hampshire's other congressional district will want to know that Paul Hodes was one of them, joining such luminaries as Dennis Kucinich, John Conyers, and Barney Frank.

This is, as near as I can tell, the only time Ms. Shea-Porter has voted against the prevailing lefty-Democrat orthodoxy in her short House career. And just when I thought I had her pegged as someone who would never do that. So I'm pleasantly surprised, good for her. Any chance we could see more of that kind of independence?

Chinese Sysadmin Farming?

At the redesigned American Scene blog, Matt Frost posts on "All Candy All the Time", riffing off the phenomenon of "Chinese Gold Farmers" who are paid actual money to play World of Warcraft or other big multi-user role-playing games, accumulating points (or "gold") for Western players. Those Western players want to get to higher levels in the game, but don't want to spend time actually playing the game at lower levels to accumulate the necessary points. So they effectively pay the Chinese to do that for them.

Bizarre! But what are the implications for—say—computer system administrators, who could also "farm out" mundane tasks to overseas cheap labor? Or—gulp!—perhaps their supervisors will do that anyway?

Dang, just when I was getting the hang of this job.

Anyway, Matt's short post has a lot of interesting twists and turns, and fascinating links you'll want to follow. But I wanted to quote this in particular about those gold farmers:

Through this Ricardian alchemy, players in wealthy nations escape days, even weeks, of drudge leisure.
"Drudge leisure." I love that, and (unfortunately) know exactly what it means.

Newsflash: Senators Still Arrogant and Secretive

I was derisive of Carol Shea-Porter, my Congressperson, and her failure to respond to a CNN query about her "earmark" spending requests. Since then, she's come up with a lame defense of her secretiveness, which you can read; it's good for a chuckle.

I would be less than fair if I failed to point out that CNN asked the same of all senators last week. And it turned out that NH senators Gregg and Sununu also failed to respond to the query.

That's disappointing. But not unusual. 68 other senators did the same. 18 more responded with a refusal. Only six responded with a list, and six said they had no earmarks.

Any chance that someday our representatives could be open and transparent about their sausage-making?

Elevator to the Gallows

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

A better title for this might have been Criminels français stupides, or something like that. Because the whole movie hinges on a "clever" murder, made to look like suicide, but—frankly—the murderer's plan is seriously flawed, involving, as it does, a climb up the side of an office building in broad daylight, in front of a bunch of windows behind which, almost certainly, sit a lot of employees. How are we supposed to believe that could work?

Of course, then the murderer makes a serious mistake. (Eyes roll.) All the major characters enable the self-destruct devices on their lives in one way or another, and things work to their inevitable and unsurprising conclusion. Fortunately, it's short. Since it's French, everybody's full of attitude and ennui on their way down.

The original score is by Miles Davis, and it's really the best thing in the movie.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:39 AM EDT

What I've Been Doing Besides Blogging

Wall-to-wall carp petting!

[Me and Carp]

Taken at Fuller Gardens in North Hampton, NH, by my lovely and talented sister.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 6:10 AM EDT

Review of a Review: Sicko

Do they give an Oscar for "Most Unintentionally Hilarious Movie Review?" No? Well, they should. And this year has already given us a clear frontrunner for that category: David Denby's review of Michael Moore's Sicko, appearing in a recent issue of the New Yorker magazine.

The New Yorker is kind of a bastion of "respectable" not-quite-Nation left-liberalism. And Michael Moore's movie is (as near as I can tell without actually seeing it) a tidy bit of agitprop for a long wished-for on that end of the spectrum: socialized health care in the USA. So you might expect a rave review.

But David Denby, as it turns out, has had it:

Michael Moore has teased and bullied his way to some brilliant highs in his career as a political entertainer, but he scrapes bottom in his new documentary, "Sicko."
Oh, no! A bully? A tease? You just noticed? What's wrong?
Moore … zeroes in on the situation of three volunteer Ground Zero rescue workers, who have trouble breathing or who suffer from stress and can't get assistance from the federal government.
Moore takes those Ground Zero workers, along with some other allegedly sick people, off to Cuba: first stopping at Guantánamo Bay to get the same (socialized) healthcare for the workers that's offered to the various terrorists held there. Denied access, Moore continues on to Havana, to get "care" from Cuba's government.

Now, for what it's worth: Jane Galt points out that "everyone who worked at Ground Zero has multiple medical programmes itching to cover any and every possibl[e] site-related illness." Had Denby known about that he might have been able to make an intelligent quibble: doesn't Moore show that "programmes" run by the government are remarkably ineffective at producing patient satisfaction?

But no. Instead, Denby says:

Hauling off seriously ill people to a military base where they won't receive treatment is a dumb prank.
"Wait a minute," we say. "Isn't David Denby aware that "dumb pranks" are exactly what Michael Moore does all the time?"
And the insensitivity isn't much relieved …
"And isn't David Denby aware that Michael Moore is approximately as sensitive as a three hundred pound lump of visceral fat?"
… by the piece of whimsy that comes next: Moore and the rescue workers (the other sick voyagers having mysteriously disappeared) wander onto the streets of Havana and ask some guys playing dominoes if there's a doctor nearby. They go to a pharmacy and then to a hospital, where the Americans are admitted and treated.
Whew! But, wait, Denby has problems with all this!
Few people in Moore's audience are likely to be displeased that they receive help from a Communist system.
So is Denby saying that "Moore's audience" is cheered when a Commie system is "shown" to be superior to ours? "Holy crap," we say. "This is the kind of allegation that we are used to seeing from Ann Coulter. Yet here it is in the New Yorker!"
But what is the point of Moore's fiction …"
"Whoa," we say. "Denby's finally noticing that Moore's métier is in relating the 'fictitious'!"
… of a desperate, wandering quest for medicine on the streets, as if he hadn't known in advance that Cuba has free health care? Why not tell us what really happened on the trip—for instance, what part Cuban officials played in receiving the American patients?
"Whoa," we say. "Denby's finally noticing that Moore leaves out important and relevant information when producing his 'documentaries'!"
After the early tales of the system's failure, "Sicko" becomes feeble, even inane.
"Whoa," we say. "Denby just noticed that Moore's works become feeble and inane if you approach them with the teensyest bit of skepticism!"
A recent poll shows that a majority of Americans not only favor a national health service but are willing to pay higher taxes for it. In that case, wouldn't it have made sense for Moore to find out what features of universal care in other countries could be adapted to America?
"Ah," we say. "Denby's real problem is that Michael Moore is off-message. He's not being policy-wonkish enough!"
Instead of sorting through any of this, Moore and his crew go from place to place—to Canada, England, and France, as well as Cuba—and, at every stop, he pulls the same silly stunt of pretending to be astonished that health care is free. How much do people pay here in France? Nothing? You've got to be kidding. But isn't everyone taxed to death to pay for health care? Well, here's a nice, two-income French couple who have a great apartment and collect sand from the deserts of the world. Not only haven't they been impoverished by taxation; they travel. And so on.
"Again," we say, "for anyone who's been paying attention to the Mooreian ouvre, this is very old news. Moore's argument-by-anecdote is unconvincing except to those whose are already convinced."
In each country, Moore interviews doctors who speak proudly of how well their country's system works. But the candor of these doctors is no more impressive than that of the corporate spokesmen Moore has confronted in the past.
If there's a criticism here, it seems to be that Moore has become an ineffective propagandist for socialism. Why, the government employees we're supposed to take at face value sound just like the corporate employees we're supposed to giggle at! What's next? Will Moore start reading from The Road to Serfdom?
No one mentions the delays or the instances of less than first-rate care. We find out that a doctor in Great Britain makes a good income (about two hundred thousand dollars), but not how medical care in, say, Toronto might differ from that in a distant rural area, or how shortages may have affected the quality of Cuban health care. Moore winds up treating the audience the same way that, he says, powerful people treat the weak in America—as dopes easily satisfied with fairy tales and bland reassurances.
"Denby," we say. "Michael Moore hasn't changed. This is what he does. The difference is that you've just started to notice his tactics."

So why is that? Well, take a good guess:

And since he doesn't interview any of the countless Americans who have been mulling over ways to reform our system, we're supposed to come away from "Sicko" believing that sane thinking on these issues is unknown here. In the actual political world, the major Democratic Presidential candidates …
… light dawns …
… have already offered, or will soon offer, plans for reform. A shift to the left, or, at least, to the center, has overtaken Michael Moore, yielding an irony more striking than any he turns up: the changes in political consciousness that Moore himself has helped produce have rendered his latest film almost superfluous.
Michael Moore, it appears, has failed to genuflect properly to the "plans for reform" from "the major Democratic Presidential candidates." This is sufficient reason for the scales to drop from David Denby's eyes. He's no longer an efficient anti-Republican propagandist! No more plum seats at the Democratic National Convention for you, Mr. Moore!

Last Modified 2017-12-05 12:16 PM EST

Evan Almighty

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

No, I haven't seen Spider-Man 3 yet. Nor have I seen Shrek 3, or Pirates 3. Not even Die Hard 4. Noooo. Instead I go see Bruce Almighty 2, actual title being Evan Almighty, because both Jim Carrey and Jennifer Aniston decided to do other things. So minor character Evan Baxter, played by Steve Carell in the previous movie, steps up to play out the seemingly random choice by God (reprised by Morgan Freeman) to build an ark and change the world.

Let me get the negative stuff out of the way first: the first thirty minutes or so of this movie are laugh-free. The slimy-politician-rapes-the-environment-for-mere-profit plot driver is beyond cliché. It is every little bit as sappily sentimental as you can imagine.

But speaking of imagination: try imagining the number of animal-poop jokes that one movie could possibly hold.

This movie has twice that number of animal-poop jokes. And, just to mix things up a bit, there's an alpaca-spit joke near the end. Ho!

But, in spite of myself, I had a decent time. Because (a) I can really believe that Morgan Freeman is God, even if he's much more of a touchy-feely type God than the actual Old Testament guy; (b) Steve Carell can (eventually) make any old crap funny if he tries; (c) Wanda Sykes is funny even when she's not trying; (d) animals are cute; (e) I suspended disbelief, and found myself saying: yeah, if God decided to redo the Noah story, it probably would go something like that.

So I can't recommend it, but if the family consensus is to go, you won't have a bad time.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 5:35 AM EST

Bangkok 8

[Amazon Link]

Perusing my book postings over the last few iterations, one might think that I almost never read outside a small number of my favorite genre writers. Not so! This is a totally different author, John Burdett, and a totally different kind of mystery. (Indeed, when I looked for Burdett's books at the local Barnes & Noble, they were in the "Fiction and Literature" shelves instead of "Mystery". Fine, I can read "Fiction and Literature" if provoked.)

The protagonist is one Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a detective in Bangkok, son of a Thai prostitute and an unknown American serviceman. Within the first eight pages, an American marine has been murdered, as has Sonchai's partner and "soul brother" Pichai. Sonchai starts off on a mission of revenge.

What's here is lots of matter-of-fact sex, commercialized and catering to just about every hidden kink you could imagine, and—assuming you're the straight and upstanding person I think you probably are—some you probably couldn't, and wouldn't want to. Mixed in: drugs, jewelry, corruption, Buddhism, and culture clash, mostly between American and Thai. Not a bad read, maybe a little don't-call-me-a-mystery pretentious; only thing is, you'll maybe want to read some Hardy Boys afterward to pull your mind out of the gutter.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 5:40 AM EDT