The Kingdom

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

We'll give this movie props for an all-too-rare occurrence: the bad guys are the Islamofascists; the good guys are (mostly) American. The movie deals harshly with weak-kneed Willies in America, represented by the State Department and the attorney general. Some of the more liberal film critics have relearned how to spell "jingoistic" as a result.

It starts out in Saudi Arabia with a scene of carnage. Then things get worse. And then they get even worse. When it's finally over, a whole bunch of people are dead, and its time for the FBI to send over a crack team of investigators. This only happens via some deft political manipulation by one of the investigators: Ronald Fleury, played by Jamie Foxx, a buddy of one of the victims.

Chris Cooper plays one of the very good FBI investigators, somewhat ironic since this role followed him playing a very, very bad FBI guy in Breach. He atones here. The other two people on the team are played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner, and they're fine.

Richard Jenkins has a small role as the FBI Director. Pay attention, he does his usual outstanding job. Is he the most underrated actor in Hollywood today? Maybe.

One of the final scenes deserves a little discussion. Without spoiling things, here's what the USA Today reviewer had to say about it:

But the finale feeds on a sense of bloodlust and then tries to pull back to show us the error of maniacal revenge. Trying to have it both ways rarely works.
What?! I took away a totally different point from the scene to which the reviewer refers. Everything in the movie argues against the kind of moral equivalence the reviewer assumes must be there somewhere. If the scene says anything, it says that we're in a long-term struggle to the death with these guys, not to be remedied by a successful one-time response to a single horrible incident. Go see it for yourself, and make up your own mind, though.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 5:54 AM EST

Worse Than Phony

One of the most surprising features of the presidential campaign has been the transformation of John Edwards from just another vaguely irritating Democrat into someone who has become a symbol of just about everything I find politically loathesome.

And it's not just that he's transparently phony and dishonest. I'm a big boy, and know a certain amount of that is inevitable. (Although indications are that, even for a politician, Edwards is an overachiever in this area. For today's take on that, see Drew Cline's post where he put together six different examples of Edwards' slipperiness. And there's no hint that Drew even needed to think very hard about it—he got six things off the top of his head, and stopped not because he couldn't come up with more, but simply because he'd made his point.)

It's worse than that, I think. Here's an example of the sort of thing that really sets my teeth on edge: Edwards' response in the 9/27 MTV/MySpace forum, noted both by Jim Geraghty and James Taranto. A UNH freshman asked him about what he would do to "help eliminate inner-city kids [from] partak[ing] in violence." (I know: partaking? As if "violence" was some sort of free buffet, and the kids were just grabbing some from the steam table? But never mind …)

In response, Edwards rattles off the standard liberal panaceas about education, health care, job training, drug rehab, and eliminating the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. About the only single unifying theme around those solutions is: not a single one has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing violence. But the painfulness comes before that, at the beginning of Edwards' answer:

We cannot build enough prisons to solve this problem. And the idea that we can keep incarcerating and keep incarcerating — pretty soon we're not going to have a young African-American male population in America. They're all going to be in prison or dead. One of the two.
Geraghty deems this (accurately enough) hyperbolic, and offers some numbers to counter. Taranto gets closer to the real problem:
Does Edwards really mean that all young male blacks are criminals? Or is the idea that the purpose of the criminal justice system as currently constituted is to imprison young black men regardless of guilt?

Either view is plainly false. The former would be one of the most racist statements uttered by a major American politician in the past 40 years; the latter, one of the most irresponsibly demagogic.

Initial gut response: maybe the truth is somewhere in between: Edwards is 50% racist, 50% demagogue. Just a guess.

[Update: The MinuteMan also notes Edwards' response; one of his commenters notes:

I wonder just how many in the "black community" will contest this ? You don't even need any "soft racism" to have "reduced expectations". It comes for free.
Also a good point.]

But I think a more accurate observation is that we're overanalyzing a statement that completely lacks sense or substance. And is almost certainly not meant to: instead it's more of a howling signal that the utterer is a reliable, earnest member of the pack (and by the way, is running for Top Dog). There's no indication that there's any signal buried in the noise of Edwards' answer, no indication of any actual thought behind the words.

And, of course, no indication that Edwards gives two toots about inner-city violence, let alone figuring out policies to reduce it.

I've quoted Richard Mitchell from his book Less Than Words Can Say a couple times before, but here he is one more time. Application to the current case is left to the reader.

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.
With respect to that point, It doesn't help my mood to observe on the video that both the UNH freshman questioner and the MTV moderator are both nodding in response to Edwards' answer like cheap bobbleheads.

Last Modified 2007-09-30 9:56 AM EDT

Pandora Impressions

I'd tried Pandora briefly a number of years ago. I dimly remember being unimpressed at that time. Summary: either Pandora's gotten a lot better, or my standards have gotten a lot lower. I was prompted to retry by a recent Steven Levitt post at the Freakonomics blog.

Briefly, Pandora is an Internet "radio station" that allows you (once you've established an account) to input some of your favorite artists or songs; the player then uses software based on the Music Genome Project to provide a playlist consisting of songs that resemble your favorites' musical "DNA."

For example (as I type), Pandora's playing "So Far Away" by David Gilmour. Hey, it's pretty good! When I ask Pandora why she's playing the song, she replies:

Based on what you've told us so far, we're playing this track because it features mellow rock instrumentation, acoustic rhythm piano, major key tonality, and many other similarities identified in the music genome project.
(Apparently I'm a huge fan of major key tonality. I see that a lot when I ask Pandora for explanations.)

As songs play, you can hit "thumbs up" or "thumbs down"; this allows Pandora to (if I'm reading their FAQ correctly) fine-tune your preferences. So—in theory—you can tell Pandora that you like The Who; judicious use of the thumbs might let you refine that to Tommy/Quadrophenia/Who's Next-era Who instead of "early" Who or "dead-Moon" Who.

After listening for a few days, I'm impressed. Pandora plays good stuff by numerous artists, some of them I've told Pandora about, and some I've never heard of. And it's particularly impressive when Pandora "deduces" one of your favorite artists that you haven't told her about. She's pretty and smart!

As near as I can tell, however, Pandora doesn't make any judgments based on song lyrics. At least, that's the simplest explanation for her offering Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle". That might be listenable—if Harry had ripped out the mawkish lyrics and sung something else instead. But as it is, approximately two seconds into the song: Emergency Thumbs Down! Down, I say!

Similarly, Pandora played a Reba McEntire song, which was entirely fine—until Reba stopped singing, and started talking. You know, the way country singers sometimes do. Sorry, Reba; the only musician I allow to yak at me is Van Morrison. Thumbs Down!

As you can tell, playing with Pandora can be a little bit of fun.

I'm also hoping it will help detect some new artists for me. I used to rely on FM radio ("The River - 92.5 FM") for this, but ever since I got a car player for my iPod, I don't do that any more.

The basic service is free, supported by unobtrusive advertisements on the web-page player. (You can buy a subscription to be free of ads, which also allows playback on some cell phones and home audio gear.) There are "social networking" features for those people who like to share.

[Update (2007-09-30): I should also mention that, even though Pandora only advertises support for Windows and MacOS, it wasn't too tough to make it play nicely with my home Linux box, running Fedora 7. Although, as installed, Fedora doesn't understand the license-encumbered MP3 streaming format, or contain a Flash player, you can follow E-Z instructions here to remedy those shortcomings.]


Last Modified 2007-09-30 1:00 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-09-28

  • David Weigel shows why, in a just world, there would be nobody even close to competing with John Edwards in the Phony Campaign.

  • David Freddoso lists the senators who, by their votes for SCHIP, "voted for a very large tax increase yesterday." In the list is John Sununu (R-N.H.). Moan. My guess is that he prefers not to add to his "attackable" record for next year's campaign. Still: wish he'd voted the other way. (Here's CATO on SCHIP as a policy. Here's Robert Novak on the politics.)

  • But it's not all guys named David here at Pun Salad: National Review Online is having a Star Trek Weekend, with eleven articles around that theme. Someone lost a bet, or something. If you're interested, … oh, you're already gone. (But, for true Trekkies: try to find the egregious error in the Lileks article.)


Last Modified 2007-09-28 7:22 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-09-27

  • Bryan Caplan's Reason article (referred to here) on "The 4 Boneheaded Biases of Stupid Voters" is available for free on the magazine's website, so go check it out. Don't worry, he's not talking about you. Unless he, um, is.

  • Jim Geraghty reports from beautiful Durham, NH here and here. At the former link, he reports on his encounter at downtown Libby's Bar and Grill, where:
    … the not-quite-entirely sober young lady at the bar will begin regaling you about her childhood journey to Washington and meeting "the President—I'm not sure whether it was Clinton or the one before him."
    I'm confident this was not the Pun Daughter. Who was in my sight the entire time we visited Washington.

  • I will shamelessly echo this link from Dave Barry: analysis of the ingredients of a Twinkie;

    I'll also echo Dave's identification of the key quote: "I was surprised that so many not only came from petroleum, but at least five came from rocks."

    But a close second is: "Sorbic acid is made from natural gas. That really blew my mind."

The Phony Campaign

2007-09-27 Update

I continue to be surprised at the volatility of the Phony Campaign. I'm also surprised that candidates' phoniness numbers ever go down. Especially John Edwards'. Anyway:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2007-09-20
"Hillary Clinton" phony397,000-19,000
"John McCain" phony301,000-24,000
"John Edwards" phony300,000-47,000
"Barack Obama" phony249,000-32,000
"Ron Paul" phony236,000-95,000
"Mitt Romney" phony215,000-18,000
"Fred Thompson" phony207,000-25,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony184,000-14,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony113,000-8,000
"Dave Burge" phony61+2

The big news is that Ron Paul has stumbled badly; even in this week of generally declining phoniness, he plummeted from second place all the way down to fifth. And John Edwards edged under John McCain to eke a third place showing.

I'm in agreement with this part of Paul Mirengoff's analysis of last night's Democratic debate:

… [P]art of me hopes that Edwards did make headway because he's too phony for anyone but a committed Democrat not to see through.
Indeed. How can this man not be the clear leader in this analysis?

Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:44 AM EST

Murderous Intent

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

Sometimes we watch movies just because Mrs. Salad sees them at Blockbuster and likes the look of actors on the DVD box. Occasionally this works out, other times we get stuck with utter turkeys like this.

This is a deservedly-straight-to-DVD movie; at some point in its past it was titled Like Minds, and that's the title that appears at IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. The new title, Murderous Intent, is breathtakingly generic, probably generated by the same Adjective-Noun software that gave us Basic Instinct, Lethal Weapon, Fatal Attraction, etc.

It's about a police psychologist, played by Toni Colette, tasked with interviewing a sullen kid about the death of his classmate. The tale is told with a lot of flashbacks, showing the relationships between the kid and his equally obnoxious and creepy buddies. There's a thick layer of pretentiousness overlaying the whole thing. Dialog meant to be cleverly elliptical is just stupid. Shots seem to go on way longer than they need to. The "shocking twist" at the end can be seen coming from the beginning of the movie.

They probably could have made a mediocre hour episode of Law & Order out of the premise. Come to think, they probably have.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 2:46 PM EDT

Quote of the Day. Maybe the Month

"I just don't want to end up like Katie Couric. I want people to take me seriously." Source here.

Official Pun Salad Position Post: Amazon Miraculousness

Megan McArdle ends this post with an observation made at Pun Salad dozens of times:

By the way: we really do live in miraculous times.
Her example miracle du jour is the sale of non-DRM MP3s at Amazon.

The Pun Salad position on this: Fine, but no miracle. I'd upgrade to "miracle" status if they were selling the 17-minute version of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" for 99 cents. Instead, it's pretty much the same as iTunes: you can get the 3:01 version from K-Tel's Days of Flower Power album. Please. This is like reading the Classic Comics version of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment instead of the book.

Official Pun Salad Position Post: Free Speech for Maniacs

I've had nothing to say until now about the visit of Iranian President Ahmadinejad to the United States, and the various courtesies extended to him by Columbia University, the United Nations, and various relevant entities of the local, state, and federal governments. Numerous correspondents have demanded an Official Pun Salad Position on the matter (where "zero" is considered to be a number). Here it is:

"We fervently believe in free speech here at Pun Salad, and Ahmadinejad should be treated with all the respect and deference that we would provide to Cosmic Stan:

[Cosmic Stan]

"No more than that, though. And, frankly, if both Stan and Ahmadinejad want to speak at Columbia, Ahmadinejad should get in line behind Stan, and any other NYC street lunatic.

"This policy applies also to 9/11 Truthers, Holocaust Deniers, et. al. Thank you."

Meanwhile, New Hampshire's own Drew Cline imagines the free speech tennis ball bounced over to the Iranian side of the court.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 2:57 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-09-24

  • Looking for a tough, independent magazine that maintains impeccable journalistic standards in its political coverage? Keep looking.

  • Ben Stein is a little wacky sometimes, but he speaks for me here:
    But here is a truth: a freshly cooked Crisp Taco Supreme at Taco Bell tastes better than almost any food at any restaurant. A fresh McDonald's cheeseburger on a fresh bun tastes as good as any meal at any $100 a person restaurent.
    That will horrify the gourmands. Too bad. Also:
    Junk food is not the problem. In fact, in normal quantities, there is no such thing as junk food.

    Junk thought is the problem.

    Ben gets today's coveted Pun Salad "Read the Whole Thing" award.

  • Another kind of wonderfulness awaits those who (perhaps) have sat through numerous vocal performances of college or high school chorales and thought: that's nice, but I wish these talented kids would sing something, well, good. Lore Sjöberg's Slumbering Lungfish brings you: College All-Male A Capella Groups Sing Covers.

  • Meanwhile, over at Wondermark, little Marcus gets the inside scoop on the Internet, a lesson all bloggers should probably post within viewing range of their keyboards.

300

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

I would wager that just about anyone reading this who might want to see 300 already has done so. Nevertheless, my impressions:

It's the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, where a small and disciplined band of Spartans went up against the massive Persian army. (The movie refers to the battle taking place at the "Hot Gates". Many hours afterward, I made the connection to "Thermopylae." Duh.) Based on a comic book graphic novel by Frank Miller, it has distinctive and spectacular visuals. It also has a distinctive point of view, with the Spartan good guys on the side of freedom, justice, and reason, happily sacrificing their lives for in the service of the polity that supports such goals. And they have impressively large muscles.

The bad-guy Persians, on the other hand, represent mysticism and slavery. Worse, a lot of them sexually ambiguous, perverted, or monstrous.

Couple all this with a number of Spartans that are less than loyal to their side, and see nothing wrong with taking some gold from the Persians in order to subvert and delay effective action on the home front.

Not surprisingly, this irked some whiny lefties, and even got poor marks from the foreign reviewers. As a remedy, and a guide to what's real and what's fake about the movie, Victor Davis Hanson is your guy, probably best to be read after you see the film.

Bottom line: it's a lot of impressive fun, and worth seeing for anyone not put off by (as the MPAA says) "graphic battle sequences throughout, some sexuality and nudity."


Last Modified 2012-10-17 2:59 PM EDT

Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart

[Amazon Link]

The good folks at the UNH Library ordered this at my suggestion. It is an overview of how statistical analysis and modeling of (typically) large datasets predicts and explains events in a myriad of settings. Ayres, a law prof at Yale, draws examples from the operating room, car dealerships, market research, moviemaking, wine criticism, sports, and many, many more. The underlying theme is that people who use statistics, regressions, and neural networks are ever more likely to outperform their counterparts who forego these tools and rely on more old-fashioned forms of expertise.

The book is heavily marred by its style, unfortunately. The constant repetition of the "Super Crunch*" tag wears very thin by approximately page 20. The Super Crunchers are coming to Super Crunch your data in the Super Crunching revolution, etc., etc. It sounds like a marketing campaign for a new cereal.

This irritation is augmented by the book's frothy style, which may work OK in a magazine column (Ayres writes them for Forbes), but … well, take this sentence from page 129: "More and more information is digitalized in binary bytes." Oh, really? Binary bytes, you say? As compared to those other kind of bytes they used to use? And, since "digitalized" kind of means that the information is being represented in binary, isn't that redundant anyway? And you say more and more information is going that way? Gee, and here I thought it was less and less. Silly me. Thanks for clearing that up.

Argh. Tyler Cowen called this book "highly readable", but it obviously doesn't work for me.

A possibly more substantive criticism of the book is the glaring omission of the stock market. If anyone has a lot of data, a lot of computer power, and a lot of incentive, it's stock-pickers. Where's the evidence that "Super Crunching" enables them to uncannily out-predict the seat-of-the-pants experts?

That said, however, there are a number of good stories and compelling examples in the book. You can read the first chapter at the New York Times. A generally positive review by David Leonhardt is here; he discovers, however, another of Ayres' unfortunate tendencies: to—um—reproduce others' words in his book without quotation marks.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 2:45 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-09-21

  • Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute despises the FDA even more than I, and that's quite a feat:
    The FDA wants your money—it needs your money if it is to continue poorly regulating the safety of drugs and killing citizens by stalling the process of creating new drugs. That is why the house passed a bill that allows the FDA to increase the "fees" they extort from drug and medical device manufacturers. It also gives the agency authority to scrutinize drugs even after they've been introduced on the market, and to mandate label changed.
    Two more paragraphs after that, so go check 'em out.

  • Genius Harvard economics prof Greg Mankiw knows a lot of stuff, but—also important—knows what he doesn't know:
    We economists have rigorous and fundamental theory to explain why we have environmental regulation (externalities) and to explain why we have antitrust laws (market power), but there is no consensus about what market failure calls for the existence of a central bank.
    Prof Mankiw also provides a link to a WSJ story where Comedy Central's Jon Stewart essentially stumps Alan Greenspan on this. What a wonderful country, what a wonderful time we live in. Speak truth to power, Jon!

  • The world waits with bated breath for the latest installment in the Inspector Dan Rather series. (I'm working on a small Perl script to watch Iowahawk's RSS feed, and fire off a message to the official Pun Salad pager when it shows up.)

    Until then, here's Jonah.

    Frankly, we need this. And by "we," I mean a grand coalition of people who delight in watching one of the 20th century's most pompous gasbags fall from the top of the laughingstock tree and hit every branch on the way down
    "Indeed."

  • I've always tried to avoid "emoticons" in my online prose; my logic is, if the plain old English words on the screen don't adequately communicate (say) my amusement, then I should work harder on the words, not give up and append a smiley to them.

    Anyway, you may have read about the 25th anniversary of the ASCII smiley a few days ago. Benjamin Zimmer at Language Log commemorates the occasion by excavating the prehistory of the emoticon, which goes all the way back to 1887 and Mr. Ambrose Bierce.

    And I'm not kidding. :-)


Last Modified 2007-09-22 8:02 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2007-09-20 Update

It's truly an exciting time for devotees of the Phony Campaign, as the situation continues to be dynamic.

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2007-09-16
"Hillary Clinton" phony416,000+38,000
"John Edwards" phony347,000+55,000
"Ron Paul" phony331,000+32,000
"John McCain" phony325,000+27,000
"Barack Obama" phony281,000+34,000
"Mitt Romney" phony233,000+30,000
"Fred Thompson" phony232,000+12,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony198,000+19,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony121,000+3,000
"Dave Burge" phony59-6

Yes, John Edwards has jumped back into second place! Ron Fournier of the Associated Press has helped a lot with his recent article, headlined: "Analysis: Is Edwards Real or a Phony?"

Now (probably) you and (certainly) I think that's about as stupid a headline as "Analysis: Is Water Dry or Wet?" But (predictably) the Democratic Underground is incensed about it for other reasons; Brendan Nyhan is also peeved. But the beauty of it is: the article and all the reaction, positive or negative, drive the Google hits. We'll check back in a few days to see if Hillary's top spot might be in trouble.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:45 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2007-09-19

  • … or should that be URRRRRRLs du Jour, mateys?

  • Dan Rather is the gift that keeps on giving:
    Dan Rather, whose career at CBS News ground to an inglorious end 15 months ago over his role in an unsubstantiated report questioning President Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service, filed a $70 million lawsuit this afternoon against the network, its corporate parent and three of his former superiors.
    … because—really—I'd love to see a lot of under-penalty-of-perury testimony about that incident, wouldn't you?

  • Would you like to see if you're smarter than an average college student, American civic literacywise? I'm sure most Pun Salad readers are, but you can get confirmation on that by taking the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's civics quiz.

    What is a major effect of a purchase of bonds by the Federal Reserve? Hey, I'm sure they know; that's why we pay them the big bucks. Ben Bernanke misses this question, then I worry.

    (Yes, that's the one I missed. But I'm not alone.)

  • Ilya Somin keeps his eye on the truly important questions, and he recently looked at a biggie: How Federal is Star Trek's Federation? He makes a strong case for the Federation having a Dirty Little Secret. There are (as I type) a lot of comments, and I don't have the heart to read through and find out how many come from outraged Trekkies.

  • It's been a long time since your humble blogger worked as a salesperson, but certainly I could have used these helpful guidelines for dealing with customers. (Via BBSpot.)

Immigration Sneakiness

Michelle Malkin is all over the current attempt to (once again) force immigration "reform", this time in the form of an amendment to the DOD authorization bill.

I've sent the following missive to my state's senators:

I understand there is a current amendment (Senate Amendment 2237) under consideration that would re-introduce illegal immigration "amnesty" previously defeated. I'd like to urge you to vote against this amendment, both on its merits, and (if that's not enough) its general sneakiness.
If you feel strongly on the issue, you might want to contact your state's senators as well.

The Fountain

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

This is a mystical and confusing flick, in the "arty" science fiction genre. It jumps around between three different eras: the 1500s, the (roughly) present-day, and the far-flung future where they can make cool interstellar spaceships that look like soap bubbles.

Hugh Jackman plays (in the modern day) medical researcher Tom, trying to save Rachel Weisz as his desperately ill wife Izzi, using that a compound extracted from a Central American tree. Their 16th-century counterparts are conquistador Tomas and Queen Isabella of Spain, threatened by the Inquisition, in need of the fabled Tree of Life, coincidentally located in Central America. And in the future scenes, Jackman's character is an astronaut, transporting a dying tree to a dying star within a gaseous nebula.

Really.

But it's all pretty interesting, and it's fun to notice the connections made between the three eras, and to (at least attempt to) figure out what's going on. I would have thought the critics would have been kinder to the movie, but it scores a mere 50% over at the Rotten Tomatoes site. Apparently, it's too arty for some.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:02 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2007-09-16 Update

Today's update shows only minor movement in phoniness … with one obvious exception!

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2007-09-12
"Hillary Clinton" phony378,000-8,000
"Ron Paul" phony299,000+41,000
"John McCain" phony298,000-6,000
"John Edwards" phony292,000-1,000
"Barack Obama" phony247,000-2,000
"Fred Thompson" phony220,000+2,000
"Mitt Romney" phony203,000-12,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony179,000-1,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony118,000-4,000
"Dave Burge" phony65+4

Yes, Ron Paul has made a big move upward, from fourth to second place. I don't think we've seen a two-place jump in phoniness since we started keeping track.

But the news behind the hits is mixed, at best. For example, it appears Dr. Paul may be losing his grasp on the hate-filled paranoid lunatic vote, as typified by this site. The news is grim:

The original version of this website has been discontinued due to our former sponsor keeping the revenue earned and canceling our agreement.
Oh no! But that's not all:
Furthermore, we no longer support Ron Paul for President in 2008 since he has abandoned the millions of 911 truth seekers and honest people who thirst for truth, justice and honor. Ron Paul has given in to pressure and now supports the government's lies.
In normal-people English: Paul's no longer deranged enough for them. Oh, bitter betrayal!

There's also a "simple cartoon" on the site that "explains very quickly how the World Bank operates". You'll laugh, or cry, maybe both.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:44 AM EST

The Myth of the Rational Voter

[Amazon Link]

Bryan Caplan is an econ prof at George Mason University, and co-writes the nifty EconLog blog with Arnold Kling. He recently authored this book; when it became available at UNH's library, it was a no-brainer to pick up.

Speaking of no-brainer… the book fleshes out the notion hinted at by Robert Heinlein, speaking as Lazarus Long:

Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How's that again? I missed something.
That's not bad for a punchy summary of the book. But note that the title mentions rationality. Bryan's making a very specific, and not particularly judgmental, assertion in that regard: that the voting public makes systematic errors when making decisions that affect public policy. They have biases that invariably pull the polity away from optimality. He illustrates this with examples from economics, where the average voter holds numerous beliefs seriously at odds with mainstream thought.

The book is refreshingly clear of jargon, and its prose is clear, direct, and persuasive. There is a little bit of my least-favorite symptom of academic writing: a slow-motion debate with other peoples' books; these book-discussions can bounce back and forth over decades. ("People! That's why we have blogs now!") But I can live with that.

I was especially impressed with Bryan's ability to read my mind as I was processing through his argument. For example: around page 185, I was quoting Churchill to myself: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." But by page 190, Bryan takes up Churchill and describes why he doesn't find that slogan particularly enlightening. Scary!

But recommended. If you'd like a low-cost taste of Bryan's thesis (and lack access to a decent library), the book is excerpted in the current issue of Reason, and cleverly illustrated on the cover. It's not available at the website as I type, but will be someday.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 2:44 PM EDT

Bobby Z

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

This movie is based on the book The Death and Life of Bobby Z by Don Winslow; that's actually its "official" title at the IMDB. It has well-known actors Paul Walker and Laurence Fishburne. If I'm reading the IMDB correctly, it was only released in movie theatres in Germany back in May, and was dumped off to DVD release shortly after.

I liked the book quite a bit, but I'm long used to seeing moviemakers turn good books into lousy movies. My prime example: Carl Hiaasen's Strip Tease turned into Demi Moore's Striptease . Aieee, it still hurts to think about it. This isn't quite that bad.

Anyway: Walker plays Tim Kearney, genial borderline crook, in jail after a series of bad breaks. But he looks much like famous and rich drug dealer Bobby Zacharias; Fishburne plays a cop who recruits Kearney to impersonate Bobby Z in a prisoner swap, with a get-out-of-jail-free card as bait. Kearney has apparently seen no movies like this before, otherwise he'd know this is a total setup. Before you know it, he's on the run from numerous people who'd like to kill him.

Things move along OK, but the movie doesn't quite know how it serious it wants to play things, and the ending feels contrived and tacked-on.

The movie also contains Joaquim de Almeida as a drug kingpin; he seems to be Hollywood's go-to guy for drug kingpin casting. I've seen him in numerous movies and a couple TV shows—all as a typically smooth and murderous bad guy, a role he can do in his sleep. C'mon, movie guys: put him in just one movie as the hero. As long as it's not a remake of Striptease.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:04 PM EDT

Pun Salad Can Be Bought

Longtime readers may have noticed that Pun Salad gets a lot of inspiration from the good folks at the Torch, the blog of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. They currently have an offer in place I could not refuse, leading me to insert the Javascript widget you might have noticed over there on the left er, right. Wish it had better news about our fair University, but … well, the widget will let you know if the situation changes.

Bloggers who are similarly inclined and situated might want to check out the link above. I hear rumors that a free t-shirt from FIRE is on the way.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 2:54 PM EDT

Picking Bones (but no Skulls) with Phi Beta Cons

Over at Phi Beta Cons there's a post titled "The Easy Way Out at Yale" from Travis Kavulla. He bemoans the (probably true) fact that Yale lacks a "core curriculum with prescribed courses that every Yale student would have to take;" instead they require that a certain number of courses be taken from each of a list of approved choices in a few select categories.

This brings up the issue of "guts": courses that fulfill the graduation requirements while demanding the absolute minimum of student time and skull-sweat. Travis posts an anonymous e-mail billing itself as "the Fall 2007 Installment of my Semi-Annual Yale University Gut Course Review." Travis calls it "both funny and telling," and he's not wrong; go check it out.

I noted a small problem down in the Computer Science section, though:

computer science and the modern intellectual agenda: Yeah, I read the title to this and asked myself "uhh, what is the modern intellectual agenda?" too. This may get the award for the most random mix of subjects to the point that there is pretty much nothing to say. It'd be like having a class on pornography in the boer war. Seriously, there cannot be more than like 5 sentences to say about that in the universe. If you are willing to really have no clue what you are getting in to, this looks like a great gut.
Gut or not, it looked interesting, so I went on over to Yale's website and found
CPSC 150a Computer Science and the Modern Intellectual Agenda David Gelernter
MW 11:35-12:50
An introduction to the basic ideas of computer science (computability, algorithm, virtual machine, symbol processing system) and of several ongoing relationships between computer science and other fields, including philosophy of mind, classical cognitivism, connectionism, and artificial life. No previous experience with computers necessary.
Whoa. Observations:
  • Even I've heard of David Gelernter.

  • He's a very well-known and respected computer scientist with interesting and provocative views.

  • He survived being blown up by the Unabomber.

  • He's a frequent contributor to various publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, and—you may have seen this coming—National Review, the hosting entity for Phi Beta Cons.

  • It's pretty clear that the anonymous smartass e-mailer has no clue about the course other than its title.

  • In the light of the above, I'd wager that the course may be pretty far from Gutdom.

  • In fact, I find myself kind of wishing I could sit in. New Haven's kind of a hike though.

I sent mail to Travis Kavulla pointing some of this out. We'll see if I hear anything back, or get any revised and extended remarks out of Phi Beta Cons.

The Phony Campaign

2007-09-12 Update

It's over a week since we looked at the phony numbers! What's the haps? It's been another period of solidly increasing phoniness across the board, is what:

Query StringHit CountChange
Since 9/4
"Hillary Clinton" phony386,000+74,000
"John McCain" phony304,000+64,000
"John Edwards" phony293,000+32,000
"Ron Paul" phony258,000+52,000
"Barack Obama" phony249,000+40,000
"Fred Thompson" phony218,000+65,000
"Mitt Romney" phony215,000+47,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony180,000+36,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony122,000+28,500
"Dave Burge" phony61+8

Comments:

  • Hillary widens her lead. News stories like this help, as the phrase "funneled phony donations from contributors" appears.

  • But McCain "surged" into second place. Over John Edwards?! I don't buy it myself, but the Google doesn't lie.

  • Ron Paul also edged past Obama into fourth.

  • And after moving past Guiliani last week, Fred Thompson has leapfrogged Romney into sixth place. But (please note) things like this count.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:44 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2007-09-12

  • Reductio ad absurdum: sometimes it happens quickly, but in Merrimack, NH, it takes two years.
    A New Hampshire teenager's yearbook photo has been rejected, because she's holding a flower. Merrimack High School student Melissa Morin's senior photograph featured her and a small red flower. School officials, however, said the picture is not going to make it in the yearbook because props aren't allowed. […]

    The policy stemmed from a 2005 controversy in Londonderry, where a student posed with his gun. A judge ruled in favor of the school, but Merrimack officials said they didn't want to face similar scuffles.

    As a wise man once said: "Sailing the ship of policy to avoid controversy guarantees it will run aground on the rocky shore of ridicule."

    Well, actually, it wasn't a wise man, it was me.

  • But it's not just in New Hampshire.
    Under a new school rule, students at Hobbton High School [in Newton Grove, North Carolina] are not allowed to wear items with flags, from any country, including the United States.

    The new rule stems from a controversy over students wearing shirts bearing flags of other countries.

    Surely some other state can give NH and NC some competition in the coveted "dullest school administrators" competition?

  • Radley Balko has a good piece at Politico excorciating the GOP for being weak on federalism, specifically with respect to federal raids on marijuana clinics in states that have legalized medical pot. Fred Thompson is the lone Republican hope:
    Thompson is the only candidate yet to take a public position on the raids. While he's right to note his impressive pro-federalist voting record in the Senate, he also voted for a number of bills strengthening the federal war on drugs.

    And while Thompson's campaign essays rightly decry the federalization of crime and the soaring U.S. prison population, they're curiously silent on the war on drugs — a leading cause of both of these troubling trends. Thompson's campaign did not respond to inquiries about his position on the DEA raids for this article.

    In response to the recent request for blogospheric Fred-questions, I submitted:
    How does your enthusiasm for Federalism apply to the War on Drugs?
    … it'll be interesting if I hear anything back on that.

  • I spotted the New York Times using my favorite euphemism for aging boomers: "New Social Sites Cater to People of a Certain Age" (emphasis added). Also amusing was the reporter's apparent cluelessness in passing along this quote from "Martha Starks, 52, a retired optician in Tucson":
    "They don't even know who Aretha is — she's the queen of soul!" she said.
    Martha not only remembers Aretha from the 60s, she also remembers Steely Dan from 1980. Hard times have befallen the soul survivors.

    [UPDATE (2007-09-30): Ms. Starks wrote me to confirm my guess about the NYT's reporter:

    ... during two different conversations, the reporter couldn't even PRONOUNCE Aretha correctly!
    Ah, kids these days!]

  • In the same vein, the Torch points out how modern-day University administrators are probably too young (or, more likely, too humor-impaired) to remember the line from 1975's Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "Now go away, or I shall taunt you a second time!" Specifically, failure to have a well-rounded Pythonesque background can cause one to write ever more idiotic speech codes.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:09 PM EDT

Purple Cane Road

[Amazon Link]

This is the year 2000 entry in James Lee Burke's series about Louisiana police detective Dave Robicheaux. As usual, Burke is an unequalled master at putting the reader into a scene, showing the vivid colors, smells, and textures. Also as usual, he puts all the characters in the book through several assorted flavors of Hell; no modern fictional detective suffers from this treatment more than Dave Robicheaux.

In this outing, Dave is trying to assemble evidence to provide clemency for Letty Labiche, a woman on death row who has (apparently) killed a cop that used to abuse her. But soon he and his colorful sidekick Clete run into a lowlife who claims he has information on the foul-play death of Dave's mother years ago. Various other characters appear: the colorful but ficticious Louisiana governor; the Louisiana attorney general; a sociopathic hitman who develops a connection to Dave's daughter Alafair; a dirty cop who used to have a relationship with Dave's wife Bootsie. Everything is resolved at the end, with many of these people becoming deceased along the way.

I notice that they're bringing out a movie based on In the Electic Mist with the Confederate Dead, a previous book in the series. (They've shortened the title to In the Electric Mist.) Dave is played by Tommy Lee Jones, which (to my mind) is just about perfect casting; I've "seen" Dave Robicheaux as Tommy Lee Jones since I read the very first novel long ago. (A previous attempt at a Dave Robicheaux movie, Heaven's Prisoners had Alec Baldwin as Dave; this wasn't as bad as it sounds, but it wasn't great. It's your go-to movie for seeing Teri Hatcher in the altogether, though.)


Last Modified 2012-10-17 2:52 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-09-11

No cuteness or smart remarks today; it's a day of remembering. I'd suggest reading Amy Kane, Chuck Simmins, Dean Barnett, and the inimitable Frank J..

Just a sample. You'll find good stuff elsewhere by just running down the blog roll on the left. Don't be terrorized, and we'll see you tomorrow.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

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

Seemingly shot on location in 18th-century France, this movie is rated R for "aberrant behavior involving nudity, violence, sexuality, and disturbing images." They're not kidding about that "aberrant" part either.

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a Frog born with an exceptional sense of smell. But, unfortunately, people keep winding up dead around him. At first this occurs by coincidence and circumstance; later it becomes more intentional.

Lots of scenes of great beauty, also a lot of squalor. Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman act up a storm. All in all, though, not my cup of tea, as the main character is an unsympathetic antihero, and the ending is unsatisfying.


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

URLs du Jour

2007-09-09

  • Other than—heh—being married to an Adjunct Associate Professor of Pediatrics there, I've no direct interest in how Dartmouth College runs itself.

    But if I did, I'd be even more pissed off than Joe Malchow is. A charming picture of the overweening arrogance involved in the modern governance of higher education.

    There are also multiple link-filled posts at Power Line: here, here, and here.

  • Also in the "unsurprising but depressing" department: environmentalist porn marketing a recent book The World Without Us. James Lileks memorably described the mentality last year: "bitter little pills who hate people and wish them gone so Gaia can breathe free."

    However, I think just about any homeowner will classify the flash movie Your House Without You to be excessively optimistic. What they show in "Year 10" I see happening to my house closer to "Year 1".

  • But speaking of Lileks, he reports today on the local traffic problems:
    A reminder if you're trying to get around today: 35W is closed between two exit ramps — specifically, the 8th street ramp in Duluth and the last exit before the Iowa border. I-94 is on fire in the Midway area; winged monkeys are hurling cement blocks on 169, and 280 has been closed — and I'm quoting from the press release here — "to block off all possibility of escape and allow the dark army of soul-harvesting machines to fulfuill their horrible duty." Whatever that means. Persons who wish to travel from the west side of the 35W gulch to the east side are advised to string a rip line between phone poles and make an adventure out of it; the Crosstown, meanwhile, has been reduced to one lane, which must accommodate traffic moving in both directions. Expect delays, detours, and the sudden terrifying sight of your airbag exploding in your face like your steering column threw up a pillow or suddenly gave birth to the Pillsbury Doughboy.
    I'm grateful for the bizarre chain of circumstance that allows me to read things like this.

  • Also along those lines: readers of A Certain Age will enjoy Joel Achenbach's observations on "The Rise of the Alpha Geezer."
    Boomers always get a lot of ink, as do teens and twixters and Gen-Xers and all the other cohorts that are viewed by advertisers as demographically desirable. We're youth-obsessed to the point where the elderly have nearly disappeared from popular culture. Go to the racks at the checkout stand: You see 40-year-old women buying magazines whose editors want to reach 30-year-old women by running photos of women who appear to be about 22 but are actually 17.
    One fact Joel mentions that I'm trying not to be depressed by: the editor of AARP: The Magazine is younger than I am.

  • And for people who come to Pun Salad looking, usually fruitlessly, for puns: you might want to hie on over to Beltway Blogroll for about 341 of them based on apprehended Democrat fundraiser Norman Hsu. My fave: Hsu's on first?

Live Free or Die

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

This independently-made movie was shot in scenic Claremont, New Hampshire, and it takes the NH state motto for its title. This made it a must-see for me, but I can't recommend it to anyone not similarly motivated.

The protagonist is John "Rugged" Rudgate, and longtime fans of The Onion may note an uncanny resemblance to that magazine's longtime columnist Jim Anchower. Rugged is a perpetual loser with a minor gift of foulmouthed gab; his driving ambition seems to become a petty criminal, but he can't even get his act together enough to manage that. At the beginning of the movie he meets up with a high school acquaintance who has inherited half-ownership of the local self-service storage facility. This sets the plot clunking and sputtering along to its eventual conclusion.

It's 89 minutes, but it seems longer. There are some funny bits, but it's essentially a mediocre TV sitcom with dirty words. It was written and directed by two guys (Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin) who wrote some episodes of Seinfeld.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:11 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-09-07

  • You've probably heard the justification for many regulations: "If it saves even one life, it's worth it!" The Washington Post reports on how that sometimes works out in the unsimplistic real world.
    Warnings from federal regulators four years ago that antidepressants were increasing the risk of suicidal behavior among young people led to a precipitous drop in the use of the drugs. Now a new study has found that the drop coincides with an unprecedented increase in the number of suicides among children.
    This via Hans Bader at the CEI Open Market blog, who comments:
    That's one more reason to stop letting federal regulators at the FDA delay approval of life-saving drugs for years on end, based on speculative or nonexistent risks—and to prevent bureaucrats in other countries from blocking technological advances based on the "precautionary principle."
    Bottom line: the FDA continues to kill citizens via regulation. And that's not an issue of incompetence or stupidity: that's the way it was designed to work.

  • There are two kinds of geeks: Paul Graham fans, and those who haven't read Paul Graham yet. His recent essay on colleges is much worth reading:
    A few weeks ago I had a thought so heretical that it really surprised me. It may not matter all that much where you go to college.
    Good stuff to think about if you, or someone you know, is picking a college. Also immensely reassuring to any UNH student.

  • Knowing how many readers come to Pun Salad for research-based tips on their love life:
    It is a moment of high anxiety in any romantic relationship. But now researchers have found that the first kiss may be even more important than anyone suspected.

    While a kiss may just be a kiss for a man, for a woman it's an all-important means of gauging a prospective partner's compatability. She uses it, the study suggests, to assess a "rich and complex exchange" of romantic and chemical clues that pass between partners as their lips touch.

    This is no surprise to anyone who remembers the wise words of "The Shoop Shoop Song":
    Does he love me, I wanna know,
    how can I tell if he loves me so?
    (Is it in his eyes)
    oh no you'll be deceived
    (is it in his sighs)
    oh no he'll make believe.
    If you wanna know
    (shoop shoop shoop shoop shoop shoop shoop)
    if he loves you so
    it's in his kiss
    (that's where it is.... oh yeah!)
    Although I believe the recent research is slightly harder to put to music. (Via GeekPress.)

Going to the Candidates' Debate

As previously mentioned, I went to the so-called "First in the Fall" Presidential Debate last night at the Whittemore Center. (I pedantically pointed out to anyone who would listen: it's not actually fall yet. Most people smiled politely and found an excuse to be elsewhere.) To avoid bias, I haven't listened to any analysis or spin; the transcript is here. Herewith my belated reactions and impressions, in no particular order:

  • Part of the show was the pre-game activities. If you've never been to one of these extravaganzas, it's a little jarring to see all the extracurricular activity from activist organizations targeting the incoming audience.

    One of the first signs I saw: "ED in '08". I wracked my brain … which one is Ed? But this turned out to be a pro-education group.

    The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease was also a major presence, with signs, handouts, even a plane-towed banner overhead. Regrettably, the pro-chronic disease folks didn't show up, making things a bit one-sided. Also in view were the AARP, the Carbon Coalition, Students for Saving Social Security (pro-personal accounts!), the American Family Business Institute (from whom I received a 'Kill the Death Tax' button).

    Ron Paul also had a banner in the air. I vaguely hoped for some sort of dogfight between the Chronic Disease plane and the Ron Paul plane, but it didn't materialize.

  • Speaking of Ron Paul, his supporters were by far the most vocal. I believe every single libertarian in the state was on hand. They had a cheer/chant alternating between loud and very loud:
    Ron Paul!
    RON PAUL!
    Ron Paul!
    RON PAUL!
    Ron Paul!
    RON PAUL!
    … etc. Not the most cerebral libertarian argument I've heard.

  • Not to be outdone—except that they were outdone—Mike Huckabee fans came up with their own ditty:
    We Like Mike!
    We Like Mike!
    We Like Mike!
    We Like Mike!
    … and that went on for awhile. Other candidates had their supporters; the Romneyites were probably in second place in numbers, but they refrained from chanting, at least while I was there. Very quiet and polite folks.

  • Also seen: a person in a yellow duck suit with a sign: "FRED, why are you ducking the debate?" Heh. (Update: Drew Cline has pictures, including one of the duck.)

  • Lots of standing in line, and nobody was in any particular hurry in processing people through. One young lady, unfortunately handling my line, was severely challenged by looking up my name, in a list alphabetized by last name.

  • Before things started, I counted eight podiums in front of the spiffy animated American-flag backdrop; could I come up with the eight participants? … I got up to seven, and had to check the program … I'd forgotten Brownback.

  • As for the debate itself: I noticed they got the Fred Question out of the way right up front; McCain had the best gag here: "Maybe we're up past his bed time."

  • Generally speaking, in fact, I thought McCain had a pretty good night. He was funny, relaxed, genuine, and well-spoken. Too bad about that whole McCain/Feingold thing, which continues to drop him off my list of tolerable candidates.

  • Fireworks were provided by an Iraq back-and-forth between Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul. No fisticuffs, unfortunately. Although Ron Paul's fans continued to be loudly supportive during the debate, he reinforced my notion that his foreign policy is a joke: pull out from everywhere, immediately, close our eyes, and wish real hard that people will like us again.

    But the real hit on Paul came not from Huckabee, but Chris Frickin' Wallace: "You're basically saying that we should take our marching orders from Al Qaida? If they want us off the Arabian Peninsula, we should leave?"

  • Romney: my completely subjective impression is that he's gone beyond "polished" to outright "slick." Apologies to his fans, but I didn't get the feeling that he actually believed a single thing he was saying.

  • Giuliani: hey, didya know that he used to be Mayor of New York City? But, other than his constant hammering on that point, I thought he came off pretty well, and avoided saying anything in New Hampshire about the New York Yankees, a wise move. On performance, I'd give him second place after McCain.

  • Huckabee: decent performance, marred by an idiotic analogy:
    We have to continue the surge, and let me explain why, Chris. When I was a little kid, if I went into a store with my mother, she had a simple rule for me: If I picked something off the shelf at the store and I broke it, I bought it. I learned I don't pick something off the shelf I can't afford to buy.

    Well, what we did in Iraq, we essentially broke it. It's our responsibility to do the best we can to try to fix it before we just turn away.

    Gosh, I never realized foreign policy was so easy to understand! It's just like being a kid in a store, after all!

  • Tancredo, Brownback, Hunter: although seemingly decent people—for politicians, that is—I can't figure out why they're here. Not very impressive, sorry.

  • I'm sure I wouldn't have enjoyed this as much if I'd watched it on TV. If you get a chance to go to one of these shindigs, I recommend it.

  • I'm still strongly leaning toward Fred.


Last Modified 2007-09-06 7:01 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2007-09-04 Update

Ah, I knew it was only a matter of time before America came to its senses and started crying "phony!" once again.

Query StringHit CountChange
Since 9/1
"Hillary Clinton" phony312,000+39,000
"John Edwards" phony261,000+60,000
"John McCain" phony240,000+35,000
"Barack Obama" phony209,000+24,000
"Ron Paul" phony206,000+28,000
"Mitt Romney" phony168,000+24,000
"Fred Thompson" phony153,000+25,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony144,000+18,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony93,500+10,200
"Dave Burge" phony53+4

Comments:

  • Edwards has regained second place. At which no sane person should be surprised.

  • Thompson has moved past Giuliani; sorry, Fred, but I think that's what happens when you decide to go on Jay Leno's show, instead of keepin' it real with the rest of us in Durham, NH.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:44 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2007-09-04

  • I took a jaunt onto campus this afternoon. In preparation for tomorrow night's debate, Fox News has parked their satellite truck in front of the Dairy Bar, and their banners now embellish the front of the Whittemore Center Arena.

    Not that it matters. Just wanted to use the word "embellish."

    In preparation, I have studied Jennifer Rubin's Ten Things You WON'T Hear at the GOP Debate. Favorite:

    2. I'd rather be on Jay Leno too.

  • I enjoy (for a sufficiently elastic definition of "enjoy") looking at Congressional voting record report cards. Shorn of all political rhetoric, votes are (literally) what count.

    But you might not want to bother with The Top Ten Worst Tax Votes over at the Club for Growth, which ranks your state's Senators and mine. It doesn't show much other than straight party-line (and, I suspect, largely symbolic) votes; only three senators (Maine's Snowe and Collins, Nebraska's Nelson) fell in the broad range between 21% and 88%. One anomalous Republican (Voinovich of Ohio) scored 10%. But unless you live in Ohio, Nebraska, or Maine, it doesn't say much besides: Republicans pretty much vote like Republicans, Democrats like Democrats.

  • John Tierney announces the results of his Talk-to-the-Prime-Designer Contest.

  • I was recently reminded of one of my favorite poems …
    Space is deep
    Space is dark
    It's hard to find
    A place to park
    Burma Shave
    (Via BBSpot.)

  • By the way, if you'd like some humbling perspective on the above link: Voyager 1 is coming up on its 30-year anniversary tomorrow, launched on September 5, 1977. It has been winding its way out of our solar system since then. It's currently (as far as we know) the most distant artificial object from Earth, about 9.6 billion miles away, or 103.77 Astronomical Units. That sounds like a long way, but works out to be merely 0.00164 light years, extremely negligible in comparison to interstellar distances.

    Something to remember when those candidates promise "universal" health care: the universe is a real big place.

The Lives of Others

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

Back in 1984, we Americans were patting ourselves on the back for avoiding the bleak fate predicted in George Orwell's 1984. Apple even made a famous Super Bowl ad about it; the biggest threat to our liberties was overuse of IBM PCs and compatibles.

But in East Germany, they were living 1984. A corrupt and bankrupt state spent enormous resources seeking out and punishing disloyalty in all imaginable forms. This movie revolves around three main characters caught up in that: Georg Dreyman, a regime-favored playwright; his girlfriend/actress Christa; and Wiesler, the Stasi functionary assigned to dig up dirt on Dreyman.

I watch a lot of by-the-numbers movies; given the premise and the genre, you can pretty much guess the broad outlines of how the movie will proceed. I don't mind that much, because even predictable movies can be enjoyable. But The Lives of Others is completely detached from formula; there are multiple unpredictable twists in plot and character. It's impeccably acted and intelligently shot. It's a tad long at 137 minutes, but it doesn't feel padded; everything's in place for a reason.

I won't go into further details; I recommend you see this movie knowing as little as possible about what happens. As I type, it's number 70 on IMDB's top-250 movies of all time; usually when a recent movie shows up on that list, I scoff. In this case, however, I'm saying: "Yeah, maybe." It received the Oscar for last year's best foreign movie.

I note that Ulrich Mühe, the actor who played Wiesler, passed away last month. That's a shame.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:11 PM EDT

The Power of the Dog

[Amazon Link]

The title of the book comes from Psalm 22:20:

Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
I previously became a Don Winslow fan via the crime novels The Death and Life of Bobby Z and California Fire and Life. This book, in comparison, is a sprawling epic, weighing in at 542 pages. However, it's what they call a page-turner; there's suspense and action throughout.

The book covers about 29 years in the life of protagonist Art Keller, an ex-CIA Vietnam guy who takes up with the DEA afterward, and is assigned to the Mexican front of the war on drugs. He soon becomes obsessed with taking down the drug-kingpin Barrera family; it takes every one of those 29 years for things to come to a conclusion.

Along the way, there are a host of colorful characters: priests, hookers, mob guys, mercenaries, traitors, conspiracists, associated family members. Most wind up dead in unpleasant ways; all get their lives near-irreparably damaged in one way or another.

Even Opus Dei makes an appearance; shades of The Da Vinci Code! It's a real kitchen sink.

People wanting to undertake the book should be aware that the violence described is extreme and unremitting. For me, it lost the power to shock around page 340 or so.

One major theme was the pointlessness and waste of the USA's war on drugs, and how it funds evil policies. I was already a believer on that point.


Last Modified 2012-10-17 2:48 PM EDT

Mr. Bean's Holiday

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

I was kind of surprised (pleasantly, though) to see another Mr. Bean movie; I looked, and it's been ten years since the last one.

For people not acquainted: Bean is the oddest of odd ducks. Nearly wordless, he causes confusion and chaos whereever he goes. In this outing, he goes to France, on a richly deserved holiday to Cannes. The only French he knows: oui, non, and … gracias. Along the way, he interacts with a snooty French waiter, a Russian father and son, an egomaniacal American film director, a beautiful French actress, and assorted minor victims.

I would rate this slightly higher, but—I just realized—I don't remember thing one about the first Mr. Bean movie, and precious little about the TV series; there's something about this kind of humor that doesn't stick with me. Never mind, I had a good time. G-rated, so you can take the kiddos.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 5:58 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2007-09-01 Update

What's happening? Hillary, of course, continues to run strong. Any challengers to her yet?

Query StringHit CountChange
Since 8/27
"Hillary Clinton" phony273,000-5,000
"John McCain" phony205,000-2,000
"John Edwards" phony201,000-6,000
"Barack Obama" phony185,000-8,000
"Ron Paul" phony178,000-12,000
"Mitt Romney" phony144,000-6,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony126,000-14,000
"Fred Thompson" phony128,000unchanged
"Dennis Kucinich" phony83,300-1,500
"Dave Burge" phony49-5

Comments: the long two-week decline in phoniness shows indications that it's bottoming out. I continue to be optimistic that my favorite candidate will start challenging Hillary again.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:43 AM EST