The Phony Campaign

2007-10-31 Update

I don't have the slightest idea what's going on here:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
"Barack Obama" phony909,000+538,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony676,000+84,000
"Ron Paul" phony668,000+80,000
"John Edwards" phony616,000+40,000
"Mitt Romney" phony503,000+111,000
"John McCain" phony458,000+79,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony404,000+71,000
"Fred Thompson" phony397,000+24,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony227,000+60,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony183,000+25,000

Senator Obama managed to double his hits in a mere four days, jumping him from seventh place to a commanding lead. That's unprecedented. What happened? I don't know. I'm not going to read all 909,000 hits to find out either.

Although Rush's "phony soldiers" still turns up in a lot of the hits, that's clearly on the decline. Obama takes some phony collateral damage from this Brian Stelter piece:

Stephen Colbert's presidential candidacy may be phony, but his supporters are very real.
Why? Because a Facebook group titled "1,000,000 Strong for Stephen T Colbert" has more than a million members, as opposed to Obama's "1 Million Strong Group" which has (according to this), a mere 392,000 members.

Or maybe it's his canoodling with that gospel singer who was gay, but now isn't, thanks to Jesus? This writer at the hard-left "Black Agenda Report" is pretty put out:

Barack Obama seems to believe that his personal charm can resolve the myriad contradictions of his presidential campaign. A phony "anti-war" candidate who wants to vastly enlarge the war machine, a constitutional lawyer who needs Rev. Jesse Jackson to remind him that something awful happened in Jena, Louisiana - Obama's disconnect from any actual constituency becomes more visible by the day.
Ooh, that's harsh! Well, whatever the cause, Senator Obama is, at least temporarily, the Phony Candidate to beat.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:42 AM EDT

I Think the Shrinks Call It "Projection"

According to this AP story

Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich questioned President Bush's mental health in light of comments he made about a nuclear Iran precipitating World War III.

"I seriously believe we have to start asking questions about his mental health," Kucinich, an Ohio congressman, said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial board on Tuesday. "There's something wrong. He does not seem to understand his words have real impact."

Well … Salon reproduces a few sentences from Dennis's campaign book, A Prayer for America:
Spirit merges with matter to sanctify the universe. Matter transcends, to return to spirit. The interchangeability of matter and spirit means the starlit magic of the outermost life of our universe becomes the soul-light magic of the innermost life of our self. The energy of the stars becomes us. We become the energy of the stars. Stardust and spirit unite and we begin: one with the universe; whole and holy; from one source, endless creative energy, bursting forth, kinetic, elemental; we -- the earth, air, water and fire-source of nearly fifteen billion years of cosmic spiraling.
"That's the kind of sanity we need in a Chief Executive, man! Dubya never says shit like that. Even when he was on the 'shrooms, he never said shit like that!"

Salon also refers to, but does not quote Kucinich's "Haiku of Hegemony." Fortunately, it's easy enough to find. It seems to be a description of the Kucinich Administration's energy policy.

Plotting gains. False promise low rates,
Political contributions place.
Regulatory controls erase.
Energy supplies manipulate.
Shortages create.
Taxpayers bled.
Ratepayers dead.
Windfall profitgate.
Earnings misstate.
Stock inflate.
Enron investigate.
Bail-outs by state.
System remains.
I'm impressed that the author of the above passages could have the cojones to speculate on someone else's mental health.

[I blogged on Mrs. Kucinich's poetry earlier this year.]

Four Senators Who Want to Destroy the First Amendment

Here they are: Charles Schumer (D-NY), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Thad Cochran (R-MS).

Their vehicle: S.J.Res 21, "A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to contributions and expenditures intended to affect elections." The amendment would grant Congress the "power to regulate the raising and spending of money, including through setting limits, for campaigns for nomination for election to, or for election to, Federal office." It would also grant power to the states to similarly "regulate" expenditures for their own elections and ballot measures.

It's meant to subvert a three-decade-old Supreme Court ruling (Buckley v. Valeo) that invalidated unconstitutional post-Watergate restrictions on campaign funding. Essentially, it means Congress gets to decide the rules on how much their election opponents get to spend campaigning against them. To briefly channel Jeff Foxworthy: "If you think this is a good idea, you just might be … a member of Congress."

You can read a slimy press release at Senator Specter's website that provides that side of the argument. It claims the proposed amendment would "restore Congress' power to regulate campaign finances." I will hop on my libertarian hobbyhorse to point out: Sorry, senator, that's wrong: Congress never had a broad-brush power to regulate campaign finances; if it did, you wouldn't need a constitutional amendment to provide it.

There's a (relatively) straight news story about the proposal from John Bresnahan at Politico here. Unfortunately, it uses the same tendentious formulation that the amendment will "restore Congress' right to create a new campaign finance system." John, please: you can't restore a right that never existed in the first place.

For better analysis, check out Steve Chapman's recent column. Good point there:

Such restrictions are an easy way to accomplish that end [of protecting incumbent members of Congress] in the hallowed guise of fighting corruption. Since they have numerous ways to keep their names in front of voters without spending money, incumbents have little to lose from spending limits. Challengers generally can't win votes unless they can deliver their message to voters, which requires sums of money that campaign reformers hope to deny them.
To their credit, Schumer, Cochran, Harkin, and Specter are at least honest enough to recognize that they need to partially repeal the First Amendment to get the powers they desire. But until they make it illegal, people are free to encourge voters in New York, Mississippi, Iowa, and Pennsylvania (respectively) to vote these guys out ASAP and replace them with any four other guys who have more respect for the Constitution.

Last Modified 2007-10-30 6:42 PM EDT

Weird Trajectories

John Tierney notices something odd about the history of the nanny state:

After seeing the reaction to my post on trans fats, it occurs to me that there's been a weird trajectory in public health policy since the Surgeon General's report on tobacco in 1964: The science has been getting weaker, but the policies have been getting stronger.
Comparing the reaction to tobacco, second-hand smoke, and trans fats, Tierney concludes that a slippery slope mechanism is in effect. See y'all at the bottom!

URLs du Sox


  • I can has free mattress! Now I wish we'd gotten a sofa too. Oh, well, next year.

  • Had I been in Denver, I probably would have been joining in the cheer reported at the WaPo.
    Watching the jubilation on the field, a sizable contingent of Boston Red Sox fans made their voices heard, and loudly, Sunday night following a 4-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies in Game 4 of the World Series, clinching Boston's second championship in four years.

    The chants, in order: "Re-sign Lowell! Re-sign Lowell!" Followed, in short order, by "A-Rod [stinks]!"

    So they didn't say "stinks", hm? Well, we'll have to think about what they possibly could have said instead.

    Mike Lowell had a sweet slide into home plate last night. Also a homer. He's been consistently excellent and mature all year. He's classy and brave. Also hates Castro more than I do. I'd like to see him back too.

  • Maybe not all Red Sox fans peruse Curt Schilling's blog looking for linguistic oddities, but Mark Liberman does. Mark opines: "Curt is a total VPE monster". VPE stands for "Verb Phrase Ellipsis." Mark's favorite example:
    Ouch. I certainly envisioned the start on Sunday ending in a much different manner than it did, but it didn't.
    As Mark says, it is difficult to know how to feel about a game that didn't end in a much different manner than it did. Or did it?

    Curt wrote that after his 9/16 loss to the Yankees. That was the last game he lost this year, I think, so he's totally forgiven for that and his VPE [proclivity].

  • Interesting fun fact from Red at Surviving Grady:
    The first and last pitches Hideki Okajima threw in 2007 were hit for home-runs. Everything in between was pretty awesome, though.
    Indeed. Looking forward to seeing him next year too.

This Week's New Yorker

[New Yorker Cover]

True confessions: I recently became a subscriber to The New Yorker. They gave me a subscription offer I found difficult to refuse. Don't worry, I haven't gone over to the Dark Side. Similar to what they say about Playboy: I only read it for the cartoons.

And, yes, it's like a print version of National Public Radio. For example, notice the image of this week's cover I have stolen borrowed. Helpful tip for fellow members of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy: bookmark the permalink for this post, so the next time your local liberal bemoans that conservatives "demonize" figures on the left, you can pull it up, point to the graphic, and simply raise one eyebrow in the sophisticated manner us New Yorker readers have cultivated. If you want, you can murmur "tu quoque," but be careful not to mispronounce it, lest you be taken for a yahoo.

The cartoons are still pretty good though, and there's even one on page 37 this week from Mick Stevens that will irritate environmental alarmists and make everyone else smile. Don Boudreaux has it here. (I'd reproduce it too, but I'm probably pushing my copyright infringement luck with the cover.)

But what I really wanted to mention is: Steve Martin has a memoir coming out titled Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life, and there's a hefty excerpt in the magazine. As even the excerpt makes clear, he's had an interesting life, and he writes about it well. This sentence leaped out at me:

Through the years, I have learned that there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.
Good advice? Maybe more so for comedians than sysadmins. But I liked it anyway, so if you see any obvious delusions here, you'll know what happened. I just hope I hit on the "valid inspiration" bit someday.

Last Modified 2012-10-16 2:18 PM EDT

You Kill Me

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

I think professional movie critics must have a weak spot in their hearts for professional killers. How else to explain the 77% Tomatometer rating for this movie? Despite the generally good reviews, it went more or less directly to DVD.

Ben Kingsley plays a member of the Polish mob (headed by Philip Baker Hall) in Buffalo, NY. But he's a drunk and a screwup, so he's sent away to San Francisco. He meets Téa Leoni, and they develop a relationship. He goes to AA meetings, and meets colorful people there, including Luke Wilson and Bill Pullman. But the rival Irish mob, headed by Dennis Farina, is stirring up trouble back in Buffalo, so (eventually) Kingsley needs to return.

All these people are very talented, but they one-note their performances here. The most interesting thing is Ben Kingsley's accent, which must be Polish. The whole thing never got very interesting for me at all.

Last Modified 2012-10-16 2:10 PM EDT

Drew Cline on NH Political Demographics

The New Hampshire Union Leader's Drew Cline reports to Wall Street Journal readers on why New Hampshire is trending toward the Democrats. Contrary to popular supposition, it's not Massachusetts refugees who can't shake their habit of reflexive voting for anyone with a (D) after their name.

Transplants into the state are changing the political landscape, but they're not from Massachusetts. They're highly educated professionals and come mostly from mid-Atlantic states. These newcomers have college degrees, many advanced, and work in high-tech, academia and other specialized fields throughout the state. They are affluent and very liberal.
A very sobering article. Guess that whole Free State Project isn't working out quite as planned.

The Phony Campaign

2007-10-27 Update

The race has tightened at the top. Just when I thought Hillary was a complete runaway, her phoniness has collapsed to the point where the other huge phonies, Ron Paul and John Edwards, have a shot at taking the lead.

Query StringHit CountChange Since
"Hillary Clinton" phony592,000-96,000
"Ron Paul" phony588,000+5,000
"John Edwards" phony576,000+38,000
"Mitt Romney" phony392,000-8,000
"John McCain" phony379,000-26,000
"Fred Thompson" phony373,000-30,000
"Barack Obama" phony371,000-57,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony333,000-18,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony167,000---
"Dennis Kucinich" phony158,0000

  • Close followers of the phony campaign will note that we've dropped Dave Burge from the standings, as this was technically a "joke", and we've started to take this whole thing way too seriously. (Dave has since decamped for Mexico, where I'm pretty sure they don't even have a primary, so his dedication to his campaign is in question.)

    We're leaving Kucinich in, though. Probably more than enough laughs there.

  • And we've added Mike Huckabee to the mix, since (as Dean Barnett points out) he actually outpolled Mitt Romney recently. According to this John Fund article, Mike may have a lot of upside potential, phoniness-wise.
    Betsy Hagan, Arkansas director of the conservative Eagle Forum and a key backer of [Huckabee's] early runs for office, was once "his No. 1 fan." She was bitterly disappointed with his record. "He was pro-life and pro-gun, but otherwise a liberal," she says. "Just like Bill Clinton he will charm you, but don't be surprised if he takes a completely different turn in office."

  • I looked at Intrade's prediction markets for the nominations to see if there was anyone else I should include in the standings. Surprisingly, Al Gore ranks higher over there (among Dems) than anyone except Clinton and Obama; he even leads Edwards. What would happen if we put him in?

    Query StringHit Count
    "Al Gore" phony827,000

    That's right: he'd be by far the front runner. I'm not surprised, are you?

Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:41 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • The magic number for Pun Salad's free mattress is now 2. Will this be the year the Red Sox finally break the curse?

    The Boston Red Sox, who have failed to win a single World Series since the departure of relief pitcher Curtis Leskanic in 2004, are attempting to defy the odds and do the impossible: reverse the curse of the journeyman reliever whose ghost has haunted this team since the mid-2000s.

    Curt Leskanic's Wikipedia page is here.

  • The University of New Hampshire gets a mention from Stanley Kurtz at NRO's Corner blog today. Specifically, he's collecting "turn in your fellow student" websites, and, um, someone mentioned the reportit! site, run by UNH's Thought Police Affirmative Action and Equity Office. Stan's not a fan of this sort of thing. If you know of an equivalent site at a school near you, you might want to drop him a note.

    [Update: also see Professor Volokh's comments. This is getting to be a habit.]

  • Professor Volokh throws cold water on yesterday's George Will column that derided the University of Montana's expenditure limit for student government campaigns. Generally, Volokh tends more toward the libertarian side than does Will; they seem to have switched places here. I liked Will's column, but I think this means he and I might be on the legally wrong side here.

  • Interesting article from Stephen Green on his political odyssey. His current situation is disturbingly similar to mine, and a lot of people I like:

    From here, it looks as if the Republicans have become wrong and corrupt, the Democrats are stupid and corrupt, and the Libertarians have gone plain crazy.

    So that's an easy choice, right?

  • I've been a Comcast customer for cable and internet service for a long time, and I may be their only customer who doesn't hate them. Jeff Taylor does hate them, though. He has a pretty good column summarizing their latest clumsy efforts in degrading service to their bandwidth hogs, and how this doesn't imply the need for "net neutrality" regulation from the Feds.

Last Modified 2012-10-16 2:07 PM EDT

Now and Then

[Amazon Link]

It's a happy day when UPS brings me a new Spenser novel. I've been reading the series since 1975, and this is number 35.

Things kick off when Spenser is hired by a moody husband to investigate what his wife has been doing behind his back. That turns out to be all too easy for Spenser, and it's pretty depressing and sordid. But the mere act of bringing it out in the open has its own repercussions, and pretty soon a couple people wind up dead.

A recurring theme over the past few books is that Spenser's clients always regret hiring him. I wonder if that's intentional on Parker's part?

The book's title reflects that Spenser's client's situation is similar to what happened to Spenser himself years ago, when his beloved Susan took off with another man. So there's a lot of discussion between Spenser and Susan about that; longtime readers will know either to lap it up or skip over it, as their tastes dictate. But—gasp!—there's an indication here that the Spenser/Susan relationship may actually be heading for a change.

If I had to quibble, it's with the bad guy. Without giving away too much of the plot: I don't really understand why he does what he does.

Last Modified 2012-10-16 2:07 PM EDT

URLs du Jour


The magic number for Pun Salad's free mattress is now 3. The Rockies, I'm sure, are a better team than last night's game would indicate, but at least we won't have to hear about them being "the hottest team in baseball" any more. It got a little old, somewhere around the 353d time I heard it.

  • New Hampshire's own Concord Monitor (or, as the Grokateers say, Pravda on the Merrimack) publishes a despicable op-ed, and James Taranto calls them on it.

  • Jay Nordlinger. Just go.

  • Another day, another instance of a college administrator behaving like a petty tyrant, this time at lovely Valdosta State College in Georgia. The folks at FIRE say:

    Valdosta State University (VSU) has used its power to expel a dissenting student from campus without any due process simply for having engaged in constitutionally protected speech. As we detail in our press release today, T. Hayden Barnes was "administratively withdrawn" from VSU after vocally protesting the university's plans to spend $30 million of mandatory student fee money to construct two new parking decks—decks that Barnes believes are environmentally irresponsible.

    T. Hayden is probably an irritatingly outspoken tree-hugger, but that's no reason to throw him out of college.

  • But looking for colleges disrespectful of the First Amendment is like looking for … well, it's pretty common, OK? George F. Will takes aim at the University of Montana at Missoula:

    Perhaps the university noticed the praise that speech rationers in Washington receive when, in the name of combating corruption or the appearance thereof, they regulate, as with the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, the timing, quantity and content of political speech. In any case, the university has a rule that limits candidates for student government offices to spending a maximum of $100 when campaigning among the university's 10,000 students.

    If you're like me, you're saying at this point: there are 10,000 students at the University of Montana? I didn't think there were that many people in the whole state. But anyway …

    Restrictions on freedoms, and especially freedoms as fundamental as those of the First Amendment, require serious justifications. So the question is: To what pressing problem did the university's $100 limit respond? Or is it merely another manifestation of the regnant liberalism common on most campuses -- the itch to boss people around?

    Gosh, I think I know the answer to that one, without even having a clear idea of what "regnant" means. The resulting legal case hopefully awaits uptake by the Supreme Court.

  • Another good reaction to the New York Times' "jaw-droppingly stupid" editorial from Daniel J. Mitchell at Cato. With remarkable restraint, Mitchell only calls the editorial "remarkable." But he's got some more links to resources that simply and convincingly debunk the editorial assertion that European levels of taxation are a golden road to prosperity and competitiveness.

    The editorial conveniently forgets to explain, though, how America is less competitive because of supposedly inadequate taxation. Is it that our per capita GDP is lower than our higher-taxed neighbors in Europe? No, America's per capita GDP is considerably higher. Is it that our disposable income is lower? It turns out that Americans enjoy a huge advantage in this measure. Is our economy not keeping pace? Interesting thought, but America's been out-performing Europe for a long time. Could higher rates of unemployment be a sign of American weakness? Nice theory, but the data show better job numbers in the United States.

    Keep the Times editorial in mind in case you're ever tempted to think those guys are smarter than you. They. Just. Aren't.

  • Didja like 300? Do ya like America, bunkie? Well …

    … me too.

Last Modified 2012-10-16 2:27 PM EDT

The Times Channels Engine Charlie

Over a half-century ago, General Motors CEO Charles Erwin Wilson was nominated by newly-elected President Eisenhower to be Secretary of Defense. During his confirmation hearings, there was a controversy whether he'd be able to deal impartially with his old company. Sure, said Wilson, …

… but added that he could not conceive of such a situation "because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa." Later this statement was often garbled when quoted, suggesting that Wilson had said simply, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country."

Ironically, the misquote took off as an indicator of damnable corporate greed. Al Capp introduced a ruthless capitalist character named General Bullmoose into his "Li'l Abner" comic strip; the General's memorable motto was "What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA!" Johnny Mercer and Gene De Paul included the motto in a catchy tune for the 1956 Broadway musical based on the strip. Even today, "good for General Motors" gets 37900 hits at the Google.

So all that was brought back by a recent editorial in the New York Times bemoaning "A Dearth of Taxes" here in the USA.

President Bush considers himself a champion tax cutter, but all the leading Republican presidential candidates are eager to outdo him. Their zeal is misguided. This country's meager tax take puts its economic prospects at risk and leaves the government ill equipped to face the challenges from globalization.
Oh no! "Meager!" That's terrible!
According to a report from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, a think tank run by the industrialized countries, the taxes collected last year by federal, state and local governments in the United States amounted to 28.2 percent of gross domestic product. That rate was one of the lowest among wealthy countries — about five percentage points of G.D.P. lower than Canada's, and more than eight points lower than New Zealand's. And Danes, Germans and Slovaks paid more in taxes, as a share of their economies.
The Times noted the OECD report in an article by (longtime high-tax cheerleader) David Cay Johnston here, and I'll steal their spiffy graphic:

[NYT Taxes]

The Times claims that our low position on this graphic totem pole shows that we're "ill equipped to face the challenges from globalization." But how many countries in positions 1 through 16 on that chart are in better economic shape that the US? It's arguable, of course, but by one measure, only two of them are just slightly better off: Norway and Ireland, both arguably very special cases. That's certainly no evidence for the Times' thesis that high tax takes are a general recipe for prosperity.

Also, of course, that 28.2% figure is a fraction of the biggest GDP in the world. Is that really the best measure? Could it be that government revenue need not rise in direct lockstep proportion to GDP? I'd bet that's true, but exploring such subtle nuance is apparently beyond the powers of the editorial writer.

Continuing with the editorial:

Politicians on the right have continuously paraded the specter of statism to rally voters' support for tax cuts, mainly for the rich. …
I think Times editorial writers have their word processors set to automatically append "mainly for the rich" every time they type the phrase "tax cut".

As for "the specter of statism", let's be clear: the above graph is all about the fraction of each country's economy under control of the state as opposed to under the control of individuals and private institutions. The Times is advocating that we move up on the chart: in other words, to take decision-making for a bigger share of the pie out of private hands and put it into the state's. And then all kinds of wonderful things will allegedly happen.

That's not "the specter of statism": that is statism. The Times should be honest enough to drop the rhetoric and admit it.

But the meager tax take leaves the United States ill prepared to compete. From universal health insurance to decent unemployment insurance, other rich nations provide their citizens benefits that the United States government simply cannot afford.
There's been more than enough discussion about the "universal health insurance" angle over the past few weeks and months, so we'll skip that. But what the Times calls "decent unemployment insurance" mainly buys more unemployment. For example, let's look at numero uno from the above chart, Sweden: this Financial Times article from last year pegs its unemployment at 15%, with a gloomy outlook for the future. Is that the kind of "competitiveness" the Times wants the US to emulate?

But now we come to the paragraph that triggered the Charlie Wilson memories:

The consequences include some 47 million Americans without health insurance and companies like General Motors being dragged to the brink by the cost of providing workers and pensioners with medical care.
I can't improve on Greg Mankiw's on-target comment:
Employer-provided health insurance is just a form of compensation that happens to be provided in kind rather than in cash. What the Times seems to be saying is that because companies like General Motors have promised levels of compensation too large to make them competitive in the international marketplace, we should shift the responsibility for some of that compensation from the companies to the taxpayer.
In other words, the Times is trying to say what Charlie Wilson actually didn't: what's good for General Motors is good for the USA. But, as Greg points out, there's no "free lunch": while a government takeover of GM's medical expenses might rescue the company from the consequences of its historical poor decisions, Joe Taxpayer would have less in pocket to (for example) buy that spiffy new Impala. There's no evidence that this would make GM more competitive on the world stage, either.

Back to the editorial:

President Bush and his tax-averse friends extol the fact that the tax haul has risen over the past two years as evidence of the wisdom of his tax cuts. But if anything, the numbers underscore the economy's weaknesses—mainly its growing inequality.
I'm compelled to point out that the writer skates dangerously close to supply-sidism here: the previously-derided tax cuts for the rich have allowed a bigger "tax haul" from the rich. (Of course they blame "inequality." Go figure.)

Indeed, the growth in tax revenue since 2004 is due mostly to the spectacular increase in corporate profits, which have grown at the expense of workers' wages. Moreover, it's proving ephemeral. As economic growth has decelerated, corporate profits are losing steam and the growth of tax revenue has begun to slow. This pretty much guarantees that the revenue will prove too low to face the challenges ahead.
… and the Times can't quite come to grasp its own logic here. Taxes raised via inequality-driven high incomes and corporate profits are "ephemeral" so … how are they going to accomplish their stated goal of moving the US up the tax-as-percent-of-GDP ladder?

Right. The Times would like to hide behind its eat-the-rich rhetoric, and crocodile tears about "workers' wages" but they're really talking about getting a bigger fraction of income from "workers": (probably) you and (certainly) me. Again, it would be nice if they just said that.

It's possible that the political winds will move in the Times' direction and we will move up the chart to some tax burden number enlightened thinkers deem more proper. In that case, I have a fearless prediction: not only will the fraction of the pie handled by politicians be bigger, the pie will actually be smaller than it would have been. That will make the Times feel better, but I hope it won't fool anyone else.

[Update: The Amazing Megan also comments.]

[Another update: Don Boudreaux shares with us his letter to the Times in response to the "jaw-droppingly dumb" editorial.]

Last Modified 2012-10-16 2:30 PM EDT

The Stuff of Thought

[Amazon Link]

A check-out from the UNH library. The author, Steven Pinker is a Harvard professor whose specialty is in language and cognitive psychology. He's written a number of popular books describing research in those fields, and this is the latest.

It's wide-ranging, but the unifying theme is the examination of how the brain generates and understands language reveals things about human nature. You wouldn't necessarily expect that a facility produced by the random dice-roll of evolution would turn out to be so complex and adaptable to other tasks beyond merely enhancing the survival of the species. You come away impressed not only with both the flexibility and power of language, but also the many ways it can trick us into misperceptions and misinterpretations.

It's clear that Pinker loves his work, and he's enthusiastic about explaining things to the average reader. His prose sparkles, and he's not shy about tossing in jokes, comic strips, and anything else that might be fun and remotely related to his subject. I'd imagine that his college lectures must be a blast.

Probably the most entertaining chapter covers taboo language, describes where it comes from, its history, and possible future. There are more expletives per page than a David Mamet screenplay, so it's not for the timid, but it's eye-opening.

One thing I learned in reading the book: if you're brain-damaged in a way that causes you to understand or use language differently, you can have an interesting side career as a lab rat for cognitive psychologists. Pinker has lots of examples.

Last Modified 2012-10-16 2:07 PM EDT

URLs du Jour


The magic number for Pun Salad's free mattress is now 4. Condolences to the Tribe, it could easily have gone the other way.

  • Cheer yourself up with a PC World report quoting a UCSD security analyst who says Storm Worm infestations are on the wane, thanks to improved virus scanners. (Via Slashdot.)

  • Granite Geek David Brooks points out a semi-direct UNH connection in this New York Times story.
    Several major research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they are put off by restrictions these companies want to place on the new digital collections.

    The research libraries, including a large consortium in the Boston area, are instead signing on with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit effort aimed at making their materials broadly available.

    The consortium is the Boston Library Consortium, of which UNH is a member. So, yay for us.

  • Scott at Power Line points out that the New Republic is continuing its hunker-down on providing the results of its alleged investigation into the "anecdotes" it printed from the fabulist Scott Beauchamp.

    Captain Ed has a good bottom line, after watching Shattered Glass, a movie that chronicles TNR's previous adventure in printing made up crap.

    It's just as indefensible now as it was then -- in fact, given their history, even more indefensible now. Franklin Foer has managed to do more damage to the magazine than Stephen Glass did, thanks to an inept response and continued stonewalling in the face of the truth. In their silence, TNR has acknowledged that they care more for narrative than fact.
    I usually don't pile on, but this is outrageous. And there's no apparent appetite in the MSM for holding TNR's feet to the fire in this matter.

URLs du Jour


My dreams of a free mattress remain alive this morning, thanks to Mr. Curtis Montague Schilling and Mr. David Jonathan Drew.

  • Today's "Read the Whole Thing" award goes to Mr. Steyn, who columnizes on SCHIP, goes from Pete Stark to General John Stark, from Nancy Pelosi to President Sarkozy, and the also the Frost family. Bottom line:
    I'm in favor of tax credits for child health care, and Health Savings Accounts for adults, and any other reform that emphasizes the citizen's responsibility to himself and his dependents. But middle-class entitlement creep would be wrong even if was affordable, even if Bill Gates wrote a check to cover it every month: it turns free-born citizens into enervated wards of the nanny state. As Gerald Ford likes [sic] to say when trying to ingratiate himself with conservative audiences, "A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have." But there's an intermediate stage: A government big enough to give you everything you want isn't big enough to get you to give any of it back. As I point out in my book, nothing makes a citizen more selfish than socially equitable communitarianism: once a fellow's enjoying the fruits of Euro-style entitlements, he couldn't give a hoot about the general societal interest; he's got his, and who cares if it's going to bankrupt the state a generation hence?

    That's the real "war on children": In Europe, it's killing their future. Don't make the same mistake here.

  • On a related (albeit belated) note, Viking Pundit describes how that whole socially equitable communitarianism thing plays out for the "first boomer," who recently signed up for her Social Security payouts.

    (I'm a boomer in good standing. And not one for class warfare. But I'm amazed that everyone younger isn't more pissed off at us.)

  • New York Times columnist Paul Krugman whines about a "dismissive" review of his new book in … the New York Times. (Via Don Luskin, who's especially tickled.)

  • We noted yesterday that Stephen Colbert's presidential campaign was showing up in our continuing research into political phoniness. Kenneth P. Vogel at Politico tries to keep a straight face while investigating how Colbert might land in trouble for "violating election laws, including those barring corporate campaign contributions."
    "You don't get a different set of rules because you're running as a joke," aid Marc Elias, a leading Washington election lawyer who represents Democratic candidates.

    You may get a different set of rules because it's a joke and you're not really running," said Elias, who stressed he was not speaking for any client. "But if it isn't a joke, then there may be any number of issues."

    As the article (perhaps unintentionally) demonstrates, the real joke is arbitrary election law that restricts political expression.

    Alas, it's not that funny.

    But wouldn't it be neat if Colbert actually did some good in pointing that out?

Last Modified 2007-10-21 9:50 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2007-10-20 Update

What's the lowdown in Phonytown?

Query StringHit CountChange Since
"Hillary Clinton" phony688,000-35,000
"Ron Paul" phony583,000+91,000
"John Edwards" phony538,000-5,000
"Barack Obama" phony428,000-5,000
"John McCain" phony405,000-43,000
"Fred Thompson" phony403,000-72,000
"Mitt Romney" phony400,000-21,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony351,000-105,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony158,000-7,000
"Dave Burge" phony88+6

Although Hillary maintains her commanding lead, there were major moves in the standings. Ron Paul has zoomed past Edwards into second place. In a week where most candidates lost hits, he picked up 91,000! And Rudy Giuliani plummeted from fifth all the way down to eighth place. Back to where he was ten days ago. It's a funny old world.

The results continue to be impacted, like a wisdom tooth, by the ongoing discussion of Rush Limbaugh's "phony soldiers" remark. And many candidates picked up hits from a recent George Will column which (among many other things) bemoaned the phoniness of pandering in favor of ethanol in Iowa:

Suppose Iowa did not have crucial presidential nominating caucuses. Or suppose it had them but its crucial crop were, say, broccoli rather than corn. Would the federal government still be, well, rigging the system to create a phony "market" to satisfy a specious "demand" for mandatory and subsidized ethanol? No, but it probably would be mandating broccoli at every meal.
Also showing up as collateral phony damage to the major candidates is the candidacy of Stephen Colbert. This Chicago Sun-Times editorial states:
His phony laugh is much better than Hillary Clinton's, and he certainly can fake cell phone interruptions more entertainingly than Rudy Giuliani.
… and this young man from the University of Wisconsin writes in the Badger Herald:
With Mr. Colbert announcing his phony candidacy on Tuesday night, amid a flurry of red, white and blue balloons on the set of his TV show, he may not have realized that he is, in fact, everything conservative voters are looking for.

With MSNBC, CNN and Fox News running pieces yesterday about the viability of Mr. Colbert winning a primary in South Carolina, the only state he says he's running in for now, conservatives have finally found a candidate who is good enough at pretending to be a conservative to actually win the nomination.

Intriguing idea! If we're going to have a phony president, why not go for the real thing?

Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:42 AM EDT

Mail from Jasmine

Hey, I got mail from a Pun Salad fan! What do you think?

Hello dear My name is jasmine in search of a man who understands love as trust and faith rather seeing it as a way of fun but a matured man with good scence of humor reading about you i derive interest on you contact me with this address (happyjany2007@yahoo.comi believe we can start from here, waiting your urgent reply so i can send pictures for further introductions
kisses Jasmine.
I think Jasmine has "matured man with good sence of humor" thing correct, but I'm not quite sure about the "way of fun" thing—is she for or against that?

Anyway, I'm very unavailable. But something tells me she's not that picky, so I'm throwing it out there for any other matured man with good scence of humor; perhaps she could be persuaded to derive interest on you. And, after further introductions, if money changes hands (as I think it's almost certain to), she might be able to afford a keyboard with a few more working punctuation symbols.

Last Modified 2007-10-21 9:53 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • James Kirchick takes to the op-ed page of the LA Times to say what needs to be said about the raft of "enlightened" people who despise Clarence Thomas and deride him as an "affirmative action hire."
    How can you support a policy of racial preferences and then attack one of its supposed beneficiaries as undeserving? This, ultimately, is the intrinsic hypocrisy of the Thomas bashers. They allege that he's not competent and that the only reason he became a Supreme Court justice was because he's black. And in so doing, they level the exact same arguments against Thomas that they castigate conservatives for making about affirmative action itself. But let's face facts: A program that gives people with a certain skin color an advantage will invariably reward some who would otherwise not qualify.
    Definitely gets the coveted Pun Salad "Read the Whole Thing" award for today. (Via Katie's Mom.)

  • James Kirchick, the author of the column linked above, is on the editorial staff of The New Republic. As much as I liked his column, I don't think anyone should link to anything from anyone involved with that magazine unless they also point out that TNR published made up crap about Iraq, they refuse to admit it, and they hope we'll all just forget about it. Let's not.

    I hope Kirchick is looking for a more reputable publication to work for.

  • Good news from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education:
    Following a three-year dispute and a multi-million-dollar lawsuit, Occidental College and former student shock jock Jason Antebi have settled a lawsuit in which Antebi sued the school for maliciously violating his freedom of speech and due process rights when it fired him and found him guilty of "harassment" for jokes both on and off the air. Stunningly, Occidental used this controversy as a pretext to dissolve the student government and began an aggressive campaign of false accusations and distortions to justify its actions. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which took up Antebi's defense in 2004, is happy to announce that Antebi is pleased with the outcome of the settlement.
    … which probably implies that Oxy is displeased with the outcome of the settlement. Excellent! What is it about college administrators that makes them feel they can act as petty tyrants?

  • I don't blog much about my beloved Boston Red Sox, but I've been paying a little more attention than usual this year. Melissa Lafsky at the Freakonomics blog explains why:
    Earlier this year, Massachusetts furniture chain Jordan's Furniture announced a marketing gimmick that would delight any diehard Red Sox fan: if the Sox went on to win the 2007 World Series, all furniture sales made between March 7 and April 16 of this year would be refunded.
    And, yes, I bought a new mattress for Pun Salad Manor back then. The article describes the insurance mechanism involved.

    I'm kind of amazed that this was legal, because it smells a lot like, well, gambling; the article says that the Mass AG gave it the thumbs up, however.

    Also, I thought that it was kind of cute that all the Jordan's personnel had apparently been coached to not phrase the offer as: "if the Red Sox win the World Series…" Without exception, from salesperson to cashier, they all said: "when the Red Sox win the World Series…"

    Anyway: unless you're a diehard fan of some other team, wish us luck. As I type, the lads only need to win six more games, including the next two. How hard is that?

Last Modified 2007-10-19 5:56 PM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • A few weeks back, I mentioned an allegation (made at a Microsoft-sponsored conference) that the "vast majority" of phishing sites were compromised Linux machines. If that caught your interest, you should also check out Chad Perrin's skepticism on that claim.

  • And if you're still interested, and are looking to get real depressed at the number of ways the cyberbadguys are out to get you, Bruce Schneier recommends a three-part series at CIO on "Hacker Economics": One; Two; Three.

  • Another Linux-related story, a little more cheerful: a UMass-Dartmouth researcher is doing supercomputing tasks with … an array of eight Sony PlayStation 3s, converted to run Linux.
    Khanna says that his gravity grid has been up and running for a little over a month now and that, crudely speaking, his eight consoles are equal to about 200 of the supercomputing nodes he used to rely on.
    Of course, the last time we heard something about UMass-Dartmouth, it was about the kid who made up a story about getting visited by Homeland Security because he'd checked out a copy of Quotations from Chairman Mao from the library. So maybe you should take this with a grain of salt. But here's a reputable-looking page with more details and links to pictures. (Via GeekPress.)

  • One good way to protect yourself against ID theft is to not disclose your Social Security Number to institutions that don't actually need it. Jim Harper provides some details and advice.
    This kind of thing is a good exercise because the next person will have an easier time of it. Do yourself and your neighbor a favor and refuse sharing your SSN when it's not needed, mkay?
    Some really lazy institutions—coughTheUniversityOfNewHampshirecough—use your SSN for an ID number. Generally speaking, you can demand an alternate be used, and that's a good exercise too.

  • Trust the Saladeer: If you don't check out Basic Instructions periodically, you should.

Last Modified 2007-10-19 7:48 AM EDT

URLs du Fear


Be afraid, be very afraid …

  • If you're not alarmed at the Storm botnet now, the Strategy Page will do its best to make you so.
    The most powerful Internet weapon on the planet is hiding in plain sight, and no one can do anything about it. At least not yet, or not that anyone is talking about. The weapon in question is the Storm botnet. This is the largest botnet ever seen, and it is acting like something out of a science fiction story. The Storm network is now believed capable to shutting down any military or commercial site on the planet. Or, Storm could cripple hundreds of related sites temporarily. Or, Storm could do some major damage in ways that have not yet been experienced. There's never been anything quite like Storm.
    There's plenty of blame to go around, but I'd like to extend special thanks to Microsoft for the OS design making this possible. (Via Geek Press.)

  • And if you're not scared by what might be going on with your computer, you might find this a bit disquieting:
    At the federal prosecutor's ffice in the Southern District of New York, the staff, over beer and pretzels, used to play a darkly humorous game. Junior and senior prosecutors would sit around, and someone would name a random celebrity—say, Mother Theresa or John Lennon.

    It would then be up to the junior prosecutors to figure out a plausible crime for which to indict him or her. The crimes were not usually rape, murder, or other crimes you'd see on Law & Order but rather the incredibly broad yet obscure crimes that populate the U.S. Code like a kind of jurisprudential minefield: Crimes like "false statements" (a felony, up to five years), "obstructing the mails" (five years), or "false pretenses on the high seas" (also five years). The trick and the skill lay in finding the more obscure offenses that fit the character of the celebrity and carried the toughest sentences. The, result, however, was inevitable: "prison time."

    Celebrities aren't particularly exceptional as lawbreakers. So the take-home point is: if federal prosecutors decide they don't like even non-celebrity you, it's a relatively simple beer-and-pretzels exercise for them to (at least) make your life miserable. Feel chills up and down your spine yet? (The link is to part one of a Slate series on "the laws we are allowed to break in America and why." It's pretty good so far.)

  • The most creepy of all creepiness is, I'm sure you'll agree, mission creep. Kip Esquire looks at the history of start-small Federal programs and draws an obvious lesson about SCHIP and its supporters:
    … to think that SCHIP will somehow be different, that it will forever avoid mission creep and could never expand even further into a "teaser rate" for socialized medicine, is either unforgivably naive or unforgivably disingenuous.

    Not that it makes much difference which.

  • I'm way too much of a scaredy-cat to go spelunking in the dark caverns of left-wing messageboards and comment threads at "progressive" sites. But Shawn Macomber is made of sterner stuff, and he made it back out alive with a masterful report of how America's Most Deranged reacted to the "right wing hate machine" attack on Air America's Randi Rhodes, which didn't, um, actually happen. After a hilarious quoting of some of the premier members of the reality-based community, Shawn observes:
    There is, however, something bigger going on here, encapsulated in the determination of Rhodes' fans, against all facts to the contrary, to hold-tight to the pipe dream of right-wing fanatics hiring Blackwater agents to beat her as she walked her dog: They so wish it were true. As with global warming alarmism, these sorts of messianic martyr fantasies about neo-Nazi conspirators aligned against liberals' salvation program for the masses are delusions designed to assure people clearly desperate for meaning in their lives that they are historically significant figures living in historically significant times. History, sadly, is not made within the virtual walls of online echo chambers.
    "Read the whole thing."

  • And there's always the space alien menace. I'm glad that a brave resident of Exeter, NH was able to raise this issue in a forum that resulted in national attention.

    [Unfortunately deleted at some point since 2007. Too bad, it was funny.]

    Frankly, I don't think this is being taken seriously enough, and it scares the bejeebus out of me.

  • America's Finest News Source reveals the results of a new poll that (unfortunately) confirms a long-standing Pun Salad theme:
    For a majority of likely voters, meaningless bullshit will be the most important factor in deciding who they will vote for in 2008.
    … aaaand here's the video:

    Yeah, that's scary.

Last Modified 2012-10-16 2:43 PM EDT

URLs du Shame


I have a number of things to be ashamed about today …

  • First, apparently, I'm spoiled. In the context of news reports of Fred Thompson's lack of physical presence in the Granite State, New Hampshire voters are castigated by Prof Bainbridge.
    Is there anybody more spoiled than a NH voter? Except maybe an Iowa caucus voter? Of course, living in such wretched places, getting your butt kissed every four years by prospective leaders of the free world must be about the only thing that makes life bearable.
    He's got a point, sort of. Whether I get to shake a guy's hand or not doesn't imply anything about what kind of President he'd make. (Same point about mastery of debate theatrics: why should I care about how glib someone is on TV?)

    But … "wretched"? Please. I have four words: New Hampshire Photo Tour.

  • So you can dump on me because of the state in which I live … or maybe because of how old I am. On the occasion of the first "official" baby boomer applying for Social Security payouts, Brian Doherty points to Nick Gillespie's stink bomb essay describing the strange new respect we (finally) decided to show our elders.
    However long overdue the boomers' gratitude and empathy may be, there remains something characteristically self-absorbed about it. In an interview with film critic Roger Ebert, Saving Private Ryan director Steven Spielberg referred to World War II as the "key--the turning point of the whole century....It was as simple as this: The century either was going to produce the baby boomers or it was not going to produce the baby boomers. World War II allowed my generation to exist."
    Yes, we're insufferably narcissistic. Sorry.

  • So you can dump on me because of the state in which I live, or how old I am, … or because I'm a member in good standing of the Right Wing Hate Machine, and presumably looking for Air America talk show hosts to mug. Again, sorry.

Perfect Stranger

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

Another generic thriller title generated by the "Adjective Noun" software. That's never a good sign.

Halle Barry plays a supersecret undercover reporter. The opening scenes (seemingly ripped from the headlines) have her ambushing a gay Republican (of course) senator who's been harrassing his interns. She and her skilled-but-creepy tech geek co-worker (played by Giovanni Ribisi) go out and get drunk in celebration of their scoop, only to be notified that a key source has recanted and the story's being spiked. Halle quits in anger.

Not that that has anything to do with the entire rest of the movie, save to show that Halle's used to posing unconvincingly as someone she's not. A childhood friend then shows up, telling her about her illicit affair with advertising exec Bruce Willis, and how she plans to confront his wife. A few minutes later, she turns up gruesomely dead. And Halle's off investigating! Of course, she doesn't give her information to the cops.

It's not surprising to learn from the IMDB:

The filmmakers filmed three different endings to the film, each with a different character as the killer.

Ah, so I wasn't imagining it: the ending really was arbitrary.

Last Modified 2012-10-16 2:06 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2007-10-14 Update

When I notice an AP headline:

Edwards questions Clinton's sincerity
… it means it's time to check out the phony numbers, as long as I can keep my eyes from rolling out of their sockets.

Query StringHit CountChange Since
"Hillary Clinton" phony723,000-72,000
"John Edwards" phony543,000+8,000
"Ron Paul" phony492,000+19,000
"Fred Thompson" phony475,000-47,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony456,000+84,000
"John McCain" phony448,000-18,000
"Barack Obama" phony433,000-71,000
"Mitt Romney" phony421,000-21,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony165,000-14,000
"Dave Burge" phony82+13

You find all kinds of interesting stuff by chasing down the links provided by the Google.

  • For example, one of the Ron Paul links went to—I am not making this up—an article by Lance Selfa in the Socialist Worker Online cautioning "progressives" not to be sucked into the Paulian orbit. I believe a fair summary would be: "Don't vote for him just because he's a wacko; he's not our kind of wacko."

  • What's with Rudy's big increase? Here's one: this blogger refers to "Giuliani's phony fans"; it turns out his campaign released a list of NH supporters, not all of whom had officially committed their fealty. Tsk! (Maybe I should check to see if I made the list.)

  • Here is an article claiming that Barack Obama has taken up a "Sister Souljah" strategy by telling all kinds of interest groups things they don't want to hear. The writer recalls where that term comes from, back when candidate Bill Clinton "criticized the hip-hop singer before a black audience in 1992." (Ms. Souljah had said in an interview: "I mean, if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?")

    What makes it turn up in our Googling is the following:

    In his 2004 autobiography, ``My Life,'' Clinton wrote: ``After challenging white voters all across America to abandon racism, if I kept silent on Sister Souljah I might look weak or phony.''
    Leave it to Bill to have a calculated strategy about exactly what he needs to say in order not to look phony. He took Jean Giraudoux's advice to heart: "The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made."

Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:41 AM EDT

I Took an Online Test and …

Am I cool or uncool? [CLICK]
You are a Square!
You are a total dork. The pocket protecter and thick-lensed glasses give it away. Try watching some popular TV.. Get yourself some fashion sense already! On the plus side, no wait hang on, there is no plus side! Nerdsville, population YOU!
Cool quizzes at

Yeah, I thought so too.

Last Modified 2018-06-24 4:18 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • At the Cato@Liberty blog Chris Edwards notes a solid example of how high corporate tax rates hurt the American economy. It ain't Rocket Science.

  • Also from Cato@Liberty is Will Wilkinson with a longish post considering an argument from Matthew Yglesias on why we should go ahead and raisetaxesontherich without being so damned particular about various issues of morality and economics. Kudos to Will for taking this as seriously as he can, but his take-home point is pretty obvious:
    I suppose a virtue of Matt's argument for redistribution is that it doesn't even pretend to be fixing a problem.

  • Bill Watterson reviews a biography of Charles Schulz. If you remember who those two people are, you've probably clicked already.

  • Like to win the Nobel Peace Prize? Jesse Walker outlines possible strategies.

    And once you do that, you can look forward to a letter from the Nobel Peace Player's Club Selection Committee.

URLs du Jour


  • I really have mixed feelings about this
    Alexey Tolstokozhev …, a Russian spammer, found murdered in his luxury house near Moscow. He has been shot several times with one bullet stuck in his head. According to authorities, this last head shot is a clear mark of russian hit men (known as "killers" in Russia).

    Who hated Tolstokozhev so much as to hire a hit man to assasinate him? Well, I guess you have about one billion e-mail users to suspect. Tolstokozhev was a famous spammer who sent millions of e-mail promoting viagra, cialis, penis enlargement pills and other medications. Links in these e-mails usually led to some pharmacy shop, which paid Tolstokozhev a share of its revenue. This is a well known affiliate scheme employed by spammers worldwide. Tolstokozhev is estimated to be responsible for up to 30% percent of all viagra and penis enlargement related spam.

    Well, actually, my feelings are not all that mixed. Fortunately, I believe I have an ironclad alibi. [Via the finally-good-for-something Andrew Sullivan.]

  • Back when I was reading comic books, first-time meetings between superheros would usually be momentous occasions, taking up an entire issue or more. In contrast, this one seems understated.

  • If you don't want to get sucked into a timewaster, then don't click here. [Link fixed August 2017.] But if you do: (a) it ends, don't worry; (b) try to get at least as far as the guy walking his pet atom, it's a hoot; (c) it helped to turn the brightness control on my monitor up. (And I'll say it, so you don't have to: too bad I don't have one of those for my brain.); (d) Via BBSpot.

Last Modified 2017-08-30 5:57 AM EDT

Congratulations, Al

Good news, everyone! At last, scientists may be able to observe a human being becoming so insufferable that he's transformed into a virtual black hole of insufferability. When such a body breaks free from any controlling legal authority, with no effective offsets in place, normal language skills are expected to fail. Nearby innocents may get sucked in by ever-increasing waves of fearmongering, fact-free assertion, and sheer demagoguery. Eventually the very fabric of reason is ripped asunder.

Michelle has more, too.

The Phony Campaign

2007-10-10 Update

As expected, the dizzying heights of phoniness attained by Hillary Clinton last week could not be maintained.

Query StringHit CountChange Since
"Hillary Clinton" phony795,000-66,000
"John Edwards" phony535,000-34,000
"Fred Thompson" phony522,000+36,000
"Barack Obama" phony504,000-19,000
"Ron Paul" phony473,000+41,000
"John McCain" phony466,000-37,000
"Mitt Romney" phony442,000+51,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony372,000-5,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony179,000-25,000
"Dave Burge" phony69-5

I'm slightly shocked at the increase for Fred Thompson. Surely this is a temporary rip in the fabric of reality; Mitt is much phonier than Fred.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:42 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • I will put some extra pepperoni on my pizza tonight thanks to John Tierney's column on the fading evidence linking dietary fat and heart disease. On his blog, John points out that the low-fat mythology was simply one example of a fad mechanism called an "informational cascade" where a "expert consensus" snowball develops around an initial seed of speculative theory.

  • Remember: just because this blog is called "Pun Salad" it doesn't mean your blogger actually likes salad. (Or puns.)

  • If you were looking for something to worry about, though, you might want to check this New Scientist article, which reports on an e-crime summit at Carnegie Mellon last week. "Security experts" are quoted:
    They predict voters will increasingly be targeted by internet-based dirty tricks campaigns, and that the perpetrators will find it easier to cover their tracks.
    The article is long on speculation, but remember that a lot of botnet activity is linked back to organized crime and (even more speculatively) government officials in Russia and China. Spam "works" by exploiting a small fraction of gullible recipients. Vote fraud using the same techniques could swing a close election. Now are you worried? (Link via Slashdot.)

  • Your mileage may differ, but I thought Professor Volokh's story about left-wing (satirical) hate speech being mistaken for right-wing (non-satirical) hate speech pretty funny. Before the truth was revealed, people were calling for expulsion of the evildoers, but I would imagine there was a pretty quick about-face on that.

  • I've always liked Whoopi Goldberg. Because she's politically unpredictable. (Also see this older item from Virginia Postrel.)

  • James Lileks is predictable though, in the sense that reading his Bleats is predictably worthwhile. How does he do it? Anyway, I especially liked today's throwaway comment about one of the stars of a B movie he watched.
    There is no movie on earth that cannot benefit from the presence of Claude Rains. If I could redo the Star Wars sequel I would have made Yoda look like him and sound like him. Shocked. Shocked am I to gambling find here.
    I put every movie that Lileks likes smack into my Blockbuster rental queue.

Last Modified 2007-10-10 6:02 PM EDT

E-mail: A Tool for Miss Communication

If you (a) read or (b) send e-mail, you might want to check this article.

… if we rely solely on e-mail at work, the absence of a channel for the brain's emotional circuitry carries risks. In an article to be published next year in the Academy of Management Review, Kristin Byron, an assistant professor of management at Syracuse University's Whitman School of Management, finds that e-mail generally increases the likelihood of conflict and miscommunication.
I've noticed this informally. It's incredibly easy for recipients to misinterpret the "tone" of your e-mail, imagining a totally different attitude than the one you intended to convey. That can be disastrous.

And, of course, it works the other way too. If you've ever received e-mail that you thought was rude, obnoxious, shrill, angry, etc.: your impression may well have been totally off-base. As above, there's a good possibility that your misunderstanding can cause bigger problems, usually quicker than you'd expect.

I also noticed—in my younger days—equivalent symptoms on Usenet newsgroups, where sometimes threads on totally innocuous topics between ordinarily reasonable people would quickly blow up into full-fledged flamewars. I would imagine some blogospheric conflict results from the same thing.

It's easier to offer advice to the reader: be aware of the effect and heavily discount any "emotional vibes" you imagine to be present in what you're reading, especially if you don't know the writer personally.

For the writer: take a second—and maybe a third—look at what you've written before you commit it to your SMTP server. Put yourself at the other guys' keyboard, imagine that you're receiving it.

If you send e-mail in the course of your job, it doesn't hurt to ramp up the professionalism a bit. Also, the politeness: can you work a "please" or "thanks" in there? (My job also allows me to work in "sorry" more often than I'd like.) If you worded something as a demand, you might want to think about rephrasing it as a request, recommendation, or suggestion.

Avoid even the hint of sarcasm. For a bigger challenge: avoid even innocent off-the-cuff remarks that can be imagined to be sarcasm. (Unless, of course, that's what you really want … but you don't, do you?)

I've often simply given up on composing messages I couldn't get "right." That's not an awful thing; sometimes a phone call or "facemail" is a better way to go.

[If you're interested in further reading: here's a short blurb on the topic from Wired last year, based on research described here. Here is an entire book chapter devoted to accurately conveying your e-motional tone, full of practical suggestions. ]

Oh, by the way: you're welcome!

The Hypnotoad Commands You!

[Funny Hypnotoad Video removed by Fox. Booo!]

All Glory to the Hypnotoad!

Last Modified 2012-10-16 2:50 PM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • Bruce Springsteen and his sycophants in the media really, really, want people to question his patriotism:
    Springsteen says he is prepared for criticism from those who may take the lyrics on his latest album "Magic" as unpatriotic for speaking out against the Iraq war and U.S. President George W. Bush in war time.
    Unfortunately, what he's getting instead are articles like these, questioning not his patriotism, but his intelligence, his naïvité, and his moral preening.
    If you really want to know what is going on, Bruce, go talk to Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Fleming Rose. They can tell you all about what real oppression is like because they live in daily fear that their next breath could be their last. They constantly fear that waiting for them around the next corner is the bomb, bullet or blade of an Islamo-fascist killer. Preachers of Jihadic hatred incite followers to murder "infidels" like Ali and Rose, and anybody else who won't bow down to Allah.
    Poor Bruce. It's tough when your political opponents won't follow your cues as well as your band does.

  • By the way, if you'd like to hear more about Aayan Hirsi Ali, Michelle has the latest. She's showing the kind of courage every day that Bruce Springsteen will never, ever, need to.

    If Michelle's too ultra-righty for you, here's Ann Applebaum.

  • If you'd like to read something sensible about global warming, the WaPo has given prominent display to Bjorn Lomborg's article on the topic. Good for them. At Wizbang, Jim Addison contrasts Lomborg's approach to … well, a different approach:
    Perhaps annoyed, but undeterred by the constant snickering over his naivety on foreign policy, Senator Barack Obama hastened to add energy policy to the list of subject areas on which he comes off as a sputtering buffoon …

  • The 22 Most Awful Moments in Science Fiction caused many giggles at Pun Salad Manor. For example, from number 19, on 2001: A Space Odyssey:
    Make no mistake, the first 50 hours or so of the movie are daring and innovative and deep. What critics somehow missed is the self-indulgent ugly psychedelic shit Kubrick takes on the audience at around hour 77.
    Via BBSpot.

The Host

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

This is a monster movie from South Korea. The critics loved it (92% on the Tomatometer), but I think this is mostly due to the heavy-handed anti-American political underpinnings.

Yes, the monster is unleashed on Seoul due to environmental misdeeds by the American military, which dumps a huge amount of toxin into the Han River. A few years later, a mutated—something—has emerged; it's angry and hungry. Unfortunately, one family seems to bear the brunt of its ire, and the movie follows the various members as they try to deal with it.

We watched it dubbed into English and English subtitles. There's an unusually large divergence, which makes for occasional entertainment. (Before leaping from a bridge into the Han, one character says to his pursuers either "Have a nice life!" (dubbed) or "See you in Hell!" (subtitle).)

Without totally spoiling things: although there are some funny and imaginitive bits, the movie is also kind of a downer. Not my cup of kimchi, but you might like it.

Last Modified 2012-10-16 2:11 PM EDT

Dead Heat

[Amazon Link]

The arrival of a new Dick Francis book cheers me up, not least because he's coming up on his 87th birthday. This entry has an explicit co-author, Mr. Francis's son Felix. (People have always questioned how much writing Mr. Francis does himself; there used to be speculation that his late wife Mary probably deserved at least co-author status in the past.)

And it's a pretty good one, starting out with gourmet chef Max Moreton laid low with gastrointestinal distress. It gets worse: it turns out that hundreds of guests at a party catered by Max have also gotten ill, landing him in a spot of legal trouble, and also possibly ending his career.

But he wouldn't be a Francis hero if he didn't soldier on, and he soon is involved in a much more deadly incident at (where else) a racetrack. And soon after that, it becomes clear to him (but not, of course, to the police) that his life is in danger. Fortunately, he also meets a cute and equally intrepid viola player.

In short, it's a typical Dick Francis book, and that's pretty good. The collaboration works out well. Here's hoping he keeps up the good work for as long as he wants.

Last Modified 2012-10-16 2:11 PM EDT


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

I almost didn't blog this one, because I fell asleep for a good chunk of it. But I think I was awake for more than half of it. And if a movie isn't interesting enough to keep me fully awake all the way through, don't you, the reader, have a right to know that? Damn straight you do. So here goes.

John Cusack plays Mike, a mildly successful writer in the "supernatural and creepy places" travel genre. (Didn't know there was such a genre, did you? Neither did I. Maybe there's not.) He's a supernatural skeptic himself, though. He had a bad relationship with his father, and the recent death of his young daughter has caused him to abandon his wife.

The movie needs to establish all that, so it takes a long time to get going, following Mike on an uneventful visit to an allegedly-haunted bed-n-breakfast, a sparsely-attended publicity visit at a bookstore, and a surfing accident at Hermosa Beach. Eventually, though, he's enticed into a visit to New York's Dolphin Hotel, and the seriously evil room 1408. Yes, after years of visiting allegedly-haunted places, Mike's found a place that's actually haunted, one that's in-your-face about it, and not at all reluctant to use his emotional baggage and a reasonably large special effects budget against him.

John Cusack is a decent actor, but it's been awhile since he's made an above-mediocre movie. If you haven't seen Being John Malkovich, Better Off Dead, High Fidelity, The Grifters, Say Anything, or—hey—even Con Air, I'd recommend going with those before you check out 1408.

Last Modified 2012-10-16 2:14 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2007-10-05 Update

Wow! Over the past four days, most of our candidates have had six-figure increases in their phony hits. I don't know if these levels of phoniness can be sustained—we've had disappointing decreases in the past—but …

Query StringHit CountChange Since
"Hillary Clinton" phony861,000+392,000
"John Edwards" phony569,000+214,000
"Barack Obama" phony523,000+216,000
"John McCain" phony503,000+184,000
"Fred Thompson" phony486,000+227,000
"Ron Paul" phony432,000+163,000
"Mitt Romney" phony391,000+136,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony377,000+135,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony204,000+78,000
"Dave Burge" phony74+12

My guess is that a lot of this increase is due to the phony outrage over Rush Limbaugh's "phony soldiers" remark.

Hence, Hillary continues to pull away from the pack, not least because of her association with "Media Matters for America", well known among connoisseurs of phoniness. This post from the "Hillary Project", for example, comes up tops in the Google's news hits for the senator.

The best my personal phony favorite, John Edwards, can do is (for example) this article from the Washington Times where his wife weighs in on the Limbaugh phony controversy. Really, Senator: you're going to have to do better than this. Stop relying on the Mrs. for your phoniness; I know you have it in you!

Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:41 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • "Naomi Klein Smackdown" is the title of the Free Exchange link collection of negative reactions to Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. There's a link to the Tyler Cowan review we mentioned a couple days back and many more. John Cusack will not be reading any of them. (Via Pejman.)

  • The American Spectator's "Prowler" dishes plenty of right-wing rumor, but this one has a New Hampshire angle:
    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has signed off on a legislative plan that he thinks will both lead to his party winning an additional seat in the Senate, and new tax revenue for his party to spend in the coming years.
    The "additional seat" is (at least for now) that of our very own Senator Sununu's, and the plan in question is to defeat Sununu's proposal to permanently extend the moratorium on Internet taxation. Quoting unnamed—they're always unnamed—Senate leadership aides:
    "Reid thinks there is enough friction on this issue that there will be no consensus on the moratorium, it will expire, and Sununu can take the fall for no extension. He wants Sununu down and out going into 2008," says a Democrat leadership aide. "We're looking at building a filibuster proof majority of 60 for 2008. That's the goal and Sununu has to go."
    I don't think anyone with a pulse is likely to believe that a Sununu-free Senate is less likely to stick us with tax hikes, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded.

  • The kiddos at Slashdot link to this article at New Zealand's version of Computerworld, where eBay's chief information and security officer, Dave Cullinane, spoke to a Microsoft-sponsored security symposium at Santa Clara University (which is in the US).
    Cullinane's experience with phishing goes back to his previous employer, Washington Mutual, which has been one of the top phishing targets in the US.

    While there, he noticed an unusual trend when taking down phishing sites.

    "The vast majority of the threats we saw were rootkitted Linux boxes, which was rather startling. We expected Microsoft boxes," he said.

    Rootkit software covers the tracks of the attackers and can be extremely difficult to detect. According to Cullinane, none of the Linux operators whose machines had been compromised were even aware they'd been infected.

    Well, um, that's kind of sobering to your blogger, whose major day job is administering Linux boxes. And would prefer not to see even this unsubstantiated slur.

    Free advice to Linux admins: when someone needs to tell you your box has been compromised, you'll feel like an idiot. And you may be right about that. You might want to check out the Rootkit Hunter project, download their software, configure and run it. You don't want to see any bad news, of course, but a rootkit you know about is better than a rootkit you don't know about.

Last Modified 2007-10-05 5:34 PM EDT

Bruce Springsteen is Patriotic

The Boss claims that his new album will cause (unnamed) people to call him unpatriotic.

His response: call those people "unpatriotic" and "anti-American."


Jonah Goldberg's column today observes that liberals "outinely and righteously condemn the 'questioning' of anyone's patriotism — until they have a chance to do it themselves." As Bruce shows, he's right.

Last Modified 2007-10-05 5:30 PM EDT

URLs du Jour


In other news …

  • If you'd like to get depressed about the current state of computer security—or if you just run Windows—check out Bruce Schneier's essay on Storm, the current state of the art in screwing up your computer and the Internet.
    Although it's most commonly called a worm, Storm is really more: a worm, a Trojan horse and a bot all rolled into one. It's also the most successful example we have of a new breed of worm, and I've seen estimates that between 1 million and 50 million computers have been infected worldwide.
    Pun Salad readers would not be caught dead clicking on enticing links in their e-mail, I'm sure. But you might want to pass along that information to your more gullible friends.

    Oh, yeah:

    Unfortunately we have no idea who controls Storm, although there's some speculation that they're Russian.
    You don't want some low-life Russkies controlling your computer do you?

  • I'm probably leaning toward Fred Thompson at this point, but his base pandering to Iowans is pretty disappointing. (Via the Corner.)

URLs du Sputnik


'Twas fifty years ago today that the Russkies launched Sputnik 1. If you need to read a single article about it, make it Joel Achenbach's. Better, read the annotated version on his blog. But one quibble with Joel:

Sputnik's polished aluminum exterior made it visible from the ground after dusk and before dawn as the satellite reflected the sun's rays.
Well… Sputnik itself was sixth magnitude making it practically invisible without optics.

The launcher, also in orbit, was nice and bright. This article seems to treat that as if it were a deep dark secret:

Pravda also published a description of Sputnik's orbit to help people watch it pass. The article failed to mention that the light seen moving across the sky was the spent booster rocket's second stage, which was in roughly same orbit, [...]
In fact, that was pretty well known at the time.

Sky & Telescope hosts a nice rememberance of Project Moonwatch, a worldwide effort to track the satellite. There's a good story from Jim Cook from Agawam MA, who recounts a fruitless night looking for Sputnik 2, the one with the dog Laika in it. They sent out a radio appeal to the general public to scan the skies, which was also coming up empty.

But suddenly a lady called who knew her exact latitude and longitude, the exact time when she observed the moving dot of light, and the background constellations that the light traveled through. This was a fantastic observation. That's what we thought until the woman explained just before hanging up that she took her opera glasses out and checked. She said she could see Laika in the window, and the dog was all right.
I was six, but I remember Mom and Dad taking me to the Oakland, Iowa football field one night to check out the Sputnik booster winking as it tumbled overhead. Fifty years later, here's a picture from the other direction. Amazing.

URLs du Jour


  • Tyler Cowen, blogging at Marginal Revolution, strikes me as being a prime example of urbane equanimity: nothing seems to upset him much, and he's seen it all.

    But he can be set off by extreme cases, apparently, and one is the new book by Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. His review in the New York Sun is here. A snippet:

    Ms. Klein's rhetoric is ridiculous. For instance, she attaches import to the fact that the word "tank" appears in the label "think tank." In her book, free market advocates are tarred with the brush of torture, because free market advocates often support unpopular policies, and torture also often supports unpopular policies. Clearly, by her tactic of freewheeling association, free market advocates must support torture. Often Ms. Klein's proffered connections are so impressionistic and so reliant on a smarmy wink to the knowing that it is impossible to present them, much less critique them, in the short space of a book review.
    Over at the Cato blog, Klein's book is critiqued by Tim Lee and Justin Long. Long points to a Klein interview over at the Huffington Post conducted by the movie star John Cusack. His conclusion:
    One might expect this type of nonsense from Klein, but it's really disappointing to see John Cusack do the interview with his eyebrows raised about an inch and a half above his eyes, apparently floored by Klein's analytical brilliance. A shame, really—the guy's made some pretty good movies.
    But as we know: "Who mouths inanity disorders thought for all who listen."

  • Continuing in the book theme, genius Harvard psych prof Stephen Pinker has a new one out, and that means interviews appearing in the press. Certainly you'd want to read one of those interviews that contains this:
    "Although you wouldn't believe the kind of hate mail I get about my work on irregular verbs," Pinker says, over tea in the library of a central London hotel.
    (Via Language Log.)

  • And still in the book theme, you might have heard that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has a book out exploring his life up to his confirmation; that's served to reanimate the old Anita Hill controversy. Matthew Frank notices a Ruth Marcus column in the WaPo, and describes some witnesses that Ms. Marcus has seemingly forgotten about. Tsk!

URLs du Jour


  • We've discussed geoengineering approaches to global warming mitigation before; today, John Tierney brings us up to date, pointing out a new proposal from a surprising source.

  • You might also want to check out Stuart Taylor's tie-it-all-together column in National Journal, where he finds the common threads between academia's treatment of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Erwin Chemerinsky, Lawrence Summers, and Jim Gilchrist. If you haven't been paying attention over the past few weeks, it's a good review. Concluding paragraph:
    In the words of George Mason's [Professor David] Bernstein, "The Chemerinsky episode, disturbing though it was, should not distract us from the primary challenge facing academic freedom in American universities: the rise of an academic far-left establishment that seeks to use universities as a base for political activism and is perfectly willing to violate accepted standards of academic freedom to achieve that goal."
    Well, yeah. The Bernstein quote is from this LATimes op-ed, also well worth reading.

  • Fred Thompson fans should find this article by J. Peter Mulhern cheering:
    Conventional wisdom is hardening around the proposition that Fred Dalton Thompson is too lazy, ill-prepared, tired, old, lackluster, inexperienced, inconsistent and bald to make a successful run for President.

    Of course, conventional wisdom rarely gets anything right. When it does, it's only by accident.

    In this case conventional wisdom is not just wrong but comically so. Thompson will win the Republican nomination for two reasons. First, he's a very impressive candidate. Second, there's no realistic alternative. He will win the general election for the same two reasons.

    (Via Instapundit.)

  • Do you find you're using too many old clichés? Well, then get on over to the Cliché Rotation Project, and find out the new clichés you can use instead. Or you can suggest your own. For example, instead of:
    A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
    … replace with:
    A website is only as good as its …
    No, wait, that doesn't work at all. Darn, this is harder than it looks!

  • Speaking of which: are they Iraq War Clichés … or something else?

Knocked Up

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

This is the culmination of the Wife Out of Town Film Festival. This movie is pretty good, but probably too irredeemably filthy to appeal to Mrs. Salad.

But, in addition to being irredeemably filthy, it's also very funny, and (as many reviewers noted) sends out strong pro-life, pro-family values, and pro-personal responsibility themes. Kids these days!

The premise is that Ben, an affable dope-smoking loser, falls into a one-night stand with the lovely, upwardly-mobile Alison. (She works for E!) And—you may have guessed it from the title—through a drunken misunderstanding about the need for precaution, she winds up pregnant.

Both Ben and Alison get introduced to each others' worlds. Alison lives with her sister and brother-in-law, who have a strained marriage; Ben lives with four male pot-soaked no-visible-means-of-support zero-prospect buddies, barely above savagery. Much amusement results.

Alison is played by Katherine Heigl, who—honest—I hadn't seen in a movie since she played Steven Seagal's niece in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. I think it would have been kind of cool for Steven Seagal to show up and kick Ben's ass for getting his niece pregnant, but this brilliant idea didn't make it into this movie.

Harold Ramis has a small role as Ben's father; Joanna Kerns has an even smaller one as Alison's mom. It was nice to see both of them again, but Joanna Kerns has aged much, much better than Ramis.

Last Modified 2012-10-16 2:09 PM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • What's the best slogan for MoveOn's effort to shut up its critics?

    • MoveOn: We were for free speech, before we were against it.

    • MoveOn: Dissent is the highest form of patriotism, unless you're dissenting with us.

    • MoveOn: We have all the lawyers that George Soros can buy, so do you really want to mess with us?

    • MoveOn: Why are you picking on us when Dan Rather's back in the news?

    Any other suggestions out there? Well, Michelle has lots.

  • Funny review of Alan Greenspan's book by Andrew Ferguson. Overserious devotees of Ayn Rand will probably want to forgo it, though. Insightful paragraph:
    From "How do we equalize incomes and make American society fair?" the preoccupying question of Democrats and social progressives became, "Say, where'd all this money come from?" Some goose somewhere was laying some kind of gi-normous golden egg! They looked around for someone to credit--for surely it had to be a government official who was responsible--and settled on the owlish fellow in the Poindexter glasses, who spent his days doing God-knows-what in a sealed-up marble sarcophagus on Constitution Avenue. "In Greenspan We Trust," said the headline on newsmagazine covers.

  • Democrats are betting a lot of their political future on populist rhetoric, in hopes that resentment and envy can propel them to political power, and also support tax hikes (on only "the rich", of course) to fuel their various spending schemes.

    It would be nice if, in defense, every single Republican read the City Journal article "What Really Buys Happiness?" by Arthur Brooks. Brooks argues that income inequality by itself doesn't drive resentment among most Americans that populists hope for:

    What I found was that economic inequality doesn't rustrate Americans at all. It is, rather, the perceived lack of economic opportunity that makes us unhappy. To focus our policies on inequality, instead of opportunity, is to make a grave error—one that will worsen the very problem we seek to solve and make us generally unhappier to boot.
    I think GOP policy proposals centered around such insights would be effective vote-getters. And also, not coincidentally, would be far better for the country.

    Of course, that course would require Republicans to have both brains and courage. So prospects are iffy.

The Phony Campaign

2007-10-01 Update

My favorite, John Edwards, has taken a sharp move upward to reclaim second place!

Query StringHit CountChange Since
"Hillary Clinton" phony469,000+72,000
"John Edwards" phony355,000+55,000
"John McCain" phony319,000+18,000
"Barack Obama" phony307,000+58,000
"Ron Paul" phony269,000+33,000
"Fred Thompson" phony259,000+52,000
"Mitt Romney" phony255,000+40,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony242,000+58,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony126,000+13,000
"Dave Burge" phony62+1

But Clinton continues to pull away from the rest of the field. Much of this may be attributable to her new tactic of emitting scary inauthentic laughter at inappropriate moments.

[Scary video removed at some point by Viacom. Booo!]

When the NYT starts talking about the "Clinton Cackle," it may be the sign of a meme taking off.

To me, it's a lot more creepy or obnoxious than it is phony. So maybe my man Edwards still has a shot. Right now, however, the phony campaign is Clinton's to lose.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:41 AM EDT

Eastern Promises

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

So with Mrs. Salad out of town, I figured I might as well check out a movie she would have absolutely no desire to see, no way, nohow. And this one fit the bill pretty well. Set in London, it begins with some pretty unpleasant deaths, one guy getting an unusually close shave at his barber's, and a young girl dying in childbirth.

Naomi Watts plays Anna, the attending midwife in the latter death; she gets intrigued by the dead girl's Russian diary, and develops an attachment to the healthy baby. This combination draws her into investigating further, and—guess what?—before you know it, she's hobnobbing with some of the people involved in the barbershop murder. Prime among these folks is enigmatic Nikolai, played by Viggo Mortensen; he's "just a driver" for the Russian mob. He sends out waves of bemused lethality, but seems to like Anna, who's both frightened and attracted by him, etc.

Before I went to the movie, it was #235 in IMDB's top 250 movies of all time. By the time I got back, it had dropped out. Funny.

I was the only person in the theatre for the showing.

There are a couple of Shocking Plot Twists near the end of the movie, and (I must admit) I didn't see either one coming.

It's rated R for "strong brutal and bloody violence, some graphic sexuality, language and nudity, some involving Viggo Mortensen's wiener." You might want to take that into account when deciding whether to take this one in.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 5:56 AM EDT