URLs du Jour

2007-11-29

  • I didn't watch last night's GOP debate. At the Weekly Standard campaign blog, "Richelieu" assures me that was a good choice.
    What a depressing debate. CNN's long slide into mediocrity accelerates. Is this what running for president of the greatest democracy in the world has become? Standing in front of CNN's corporate logo in a hall full of yowling Ron Paul loons and enduring clumsy webcam questions from Unabomber look-a-likes in murky basements?
    Yeah, probably.

  • And (via Betsy), Fred Barnes has pointful comments.
    By my recollection, there were no questions on health care, the economy, trade, the S-chip children's health care issue, the "surge" in Iraq, the spending showdown between President Bush and Congress, terrorist surveillance, or the performance of the Democratic Congress.

    Instead there were questions--ones moderator Anderson Cooper kept insisting had required a lot of time and effort by the questioners--on the Confederate flag, Mars, Giuliani's rooting for the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, whether Ron Paul might run as an independent for president, and the Bible. The best response to these questions was Romney's refusal to discuss what the Confederate flag represents. Fred Thompson discussed it.

    Sounds as if I made the right call in watching Pushing Daisies. Really, it's an excellent show.

  • And then there were the plants. Don't get me started on the plants!

  • And (via Insty), Ken Wheaton of Advertising Age is wondering if CNN took a stupid pill:
    Like George W. Bush finding out which 30% of the country still supports them, then doing something to frustrate even those voters, CNN seems intent on finding its few remaining Republican voters and driving them into the arms of Fox News.
    I especially like the actress who plays "Chuck" on Pushing Daisies. Pretty, with impeccable comic timing, and if she's not smart herself, she knows how to act smart, almost as good.

  • But why watch a debate, when you can weigh in (heh) on the candidates' cookie recipes? Amy Kane notes Yankee Magazine's "Cookie Primary" where you can vote for your favorite. Even if you're uninterested in cookies, I defy you to read Amy's mention of Ron Paul without at least chuckling.

    True fact: Bill Richardson's recipe calls for "1 pound lard (a must, no substitutes)". He's a man after my own heart. And arteries.


Last Modified 2012-10-16 6:03 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-11-27

  • Andrew Ferguson wins the coveted Pun Salad "Read the Whole Thing" Award for today. At the Weekly Standard, he reviews six books by presidential candidates (Biden, Edwards, Clinton, Huckabee, Romney, Dodd); the results are hilarious. From the Biden section:
    What does a discerning reader learn from Biden's book that we didn't already know? Perhaps not much, if you're a regular watcher of C-SPAN or a longtime resident of Delaware. But there is something unforgettable about watching the man emerge on the page. His legendary self-regard becomes more impressive when the reader sees it in typescript, undistracted by the smile and the hair plugs. Biden quotes at great length from letters of recommendation he received as a young man, when far-sighted professors wrote movingly of his "sharp and incisive intellect" and his "highly developed sense of responsibility." These qualities have proved to be more of a burden than you might think, Biden admits. "I've made life difficult for myself," he writes, "by putting intellectual consistency and personal principle above expediency."

    Yes, many Biden fans might tag these as the greatest of his gifts. Biden himself isn't so sure. After a little hemming and hawing--is it his intelligence that he most admires, or his commitment to principle, or his insistence on calling 'em as he sees 'em, or what?--he decides that his greatest personal and political virtue is probably his integrity. Tough call. But his wife seems to agree. He recounts one difficult episode in which she said as much. "Of all the things to attack you on," she said, almost in tears. "Your integrity?"

    But, really, read the whole thing.

  • Is Mike Huckabee a "false conservative"? Find out in Robert D. Novak's recent column headlined "The False Conservative".
    Huckabee is campaigning as a conservative, but serious Republicans know that he is a high-tax, protectionist, big-government advocate of a strong hand in the Oval Office directing the lives of Americans. Until now, they did not bother to expose the former governor of Arkansas as a false conservative because he seemed an underfunded, unknown nuisance candidate. Now that he has pulled even with Mitt Romney for the Iowa caucuses with the possibility of more progress, the beleaguered Republican Party has a frightening problem on its hands.
    Unfortunately, Novak fails to use the word "phony", so this won't boost Huckabee's low standings in the ongoing Phony Campaign.

  • And in the Aieee! We're all gonna die! department, it turns out that we may be destroying the entire universe simply by observing it.
    Have we hastened the demise of the universe by looking at it? That's the startling question posed by a pair of physicists, who suggest that we may have accidentally nudged the universe closer to its death by observing dark energy, which is thought to be speeding up cosmic expansion.

    Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and colleague James Dent suggest that by making this observation in 1998 we may have caused the universe to revert to a state similar to early in its history, when it was more likely to end. "Incredible as it seems, our detection of the dark energy may have reduced the life-expectancy of the universe," says Krauss.

    "Oops. Sorry."

    Apparently there's no other intelligent life in the universe we could blame this on, either.

Black Book

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

This movie is set in the occupied Netherlands near the end of World War II (with opening and closing scenes set in a 1956 Israeli kibbutz.) The Netherlands is still a dangerous place to be Jewish at that time, and Rachel Klein is in hiding with a Christian family, who force her to recite from the New Testament in exchange for shelter.

Rachel, a somewhat spoiled free spirit, clearly chafes at hiding, but it's better than what comes next. The house is accidentally bombed by a careless Nazi pilot, and she decides to try to escape to liberated territory with her family. This has tragic results as well; despondent, she joins up with the Dutch resistance, and becomes a spy.

There's a lot of betrayal and danger involved throughout, and complications occur when Rachel falls for a Nazi-with-a-heart-of-gold played by Sebastian Koch. But the suspense is somewhat muted, because we've seen her in the 1956 kibbutz, and we know she survives.

This is directed by Paul Verhoeven, and it's a total change of pace from his American oeuvre (e.g., Starship Troopers; Total Recall; Robocop; Showgirls). There's no tongue-in-cheek here at all; but lots of (to quote from the MPAA) "strong violence, graphic nudity, sexuality and language." Quite a bit of general degradation is involved as well, which, even in these jaded times, can still disturb me.


Last Modified 2012-10-16 5:54 AM EDT

College Sloganeering

One of our continuing themes here is making fun of Higher Education. So a recent article in Chronicles of Higher Education is a must-blog. It recounts the travails of colleges trying to come up with catchy mottos. For example, there's the University of Idaho:

Last year it dropped its motto "From Here You Can Go Anywhere" for a new marketing theme dubbed "No Fences," with the accompanying tag line "Open Space. Open Minds." The words were intended to evoke both the romantic landscape of Idaho and the boundless intellectual opportunities at the university. It was perfect.
Also notable is Stanford's motto, which sounds like a prank inspired by Bart Simpson: "The wind of freedom blows."

And the vacuum of freedom sucks, I suppose.

At the University of New Hampshire, we've had the same one for (as far as I know) ever: "Science, Arts, Industry". OK, it's not flashy, but neither is it embarrassingly lame marketese.

I've always liked the motto of my alma mater, unabashedly taken from John 8:32, King James Version: "The Truth Shall Make You Free". Not bad for a hotbed of scientistic atheism! Unfortunately, I was there a little bit too early to know Sandra Tsing Loh, but a couple years ago, she gave (quite possibly) the greatest commencement speech ever where she reflects on the motto and more.

Wacky Libertarianism on the Minimum Wage

The newspaper's editorial headline: "The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00". It's in response to an effort by organized labor to raise the Federal minimum wage.

Anyone working in America surely deserves a better living standard than can be managed on [the current minimum wage]. But there's a virtual consensus among economists that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed. Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market. A far better way to help them would be to subsidize their wages or - better yet - help them acquire the skills needed to earn more on their own.
Well (stop me if you've heard this): the newspaper is New York Times. Unfortunately, the editorial is from 1987.

We dump on the Times a lot, but it deserves thanks for opening up its archives so we can see how its wisdom has degraded in the past 20 years.

The Winter of Frankie Machine

[Amazon Link]

Mr. Frank Machianno spends the first 39 pages of this book going about his normal everyday routine, and we learn he has an ex-wife, a girlfriend, an adored daughter about to enter med school, an impressive number of business ventures at which he works diligently and honestly, with a straightforward sense of fair play.

Fine, but boring in its Proustian detail. Read through this as fast as you possibly can.

His life starts to unravel on page 40, though. It turns out that Frank is also known as "Frankie Machine", and his cohorts in the San Diego area mob are demanding his attention once more. They make him an offer he can't refuse; just when he thought he was out they pull him back in. (And, yes, he muses on the effect the Godfather movies have had on the actual mob.) And so the bodies start piling up.

Winslow's a very good depictor of the world of organized crime, suspense, and violent action. He does a good job here of creating a hero out of a mob hitman, whose sense of honor and ethics (like: never whack guys in a situation where civilians might be hurt) is, to put it mildly, unshared by all his colleagues. If you can buy that, you'll have a pretty good time reading this.


Last Modified 2012-10-16 5:52 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-11-25

  • Mark Steyn wins the coveted Pun Salad "Read the Whole Thing" Award for this fine day.
    Let me ask a question of my Democrat friends: What does John Edwards really believe on Iraq? I mean, really? To pose the question is to answer it: There's no there there. In the Dem debates, the only fellow who knows what he believes and says it out loud is Dennis Kucinich. Otherwise, all is pandering and calculation. The Democratic Party could use some seriously fresh thinking on any number of issues — abortion, entitlements, racial preferences — but the base doesn't want to hear, and no viable candidate is man enough (even Hillary) to stick it to 'em.
    Our favorite campaign word (begins with "p", ends in "hony") makes an appearance.

  • Continuing on the phony highway, Tom Maguire has related thoughts on the narrow ideological spectrum a Democratic presidential candidate must tread, and concludes:
    As a consequence the Dems have routinely offered candidates (Al Gore, John Kerry) to whom the "phony" label is easily affixed. And why not? - the disconnect between what is aspirational to the party base and what is acceptable to the Great Unwashed virtually obliges them to be phony.
    That explains a lot.

  • Over at American Thinker, neither Andrew Waldman nor Thomas Lifson is a huge Ron Paul fan. Both mention New Hampshire's own Jim C. Perry, until recently the Executive Director of the group "Jews for Ron Paul". I don't know Mr. Perry, and it's probably not (heh) kosher to blame a candidate for the flaws of his supporters, but (quoting the Sultan Knish website linked to by Lifson) …
    Jim C. Perry (James Christian Perry, the C is short for Christian), the Executive Director of Jews for Ron Paul and heavily featured as the spokesman for the front group. Like many Jews for Jesus figures, Jim C. Perry claims to be an Orthodox Jew. … The real Jim C. Perry though is not an Orthodox Jew, though he makes a point of dressing up like one until he's virtually a cartoon. He's gay and is currently married to a gay man and a self-identified Churchgoing Unitarian Universalist. Here he identifies himself as a Seminarian. He has another account where he calls himself Reverend Jim C. Perry H.P., M.D.A. (he also claimed to have a doctorate in English which he apparently modestly left off here all at the tender age of 22) and a Pagan Minister. Briefly he appears to have gone Ward Churchill and began calling himself Jim FlyingEagle. (He may have also used James L. Rush and posted at Cherokee Pride as James L. Rushing River pretending to be Cherokee)
    Whoa, that's … quite ecumenical!

  • But it's not all politics here at Pun Salad. If it's the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it must be time to check out Dave Barry's Holiday Gift Guide.
    Yes, the sad truth is that there are bad people out there -- people who see the holiday season as an opportunity to perpetrate crimes and cruel scams on innocent victims. A good example is this Annual Holiday Gift Guide, which we publish every year in lieu of something that might actually be useful. This year is no exception. We have assembled a collection of gift concepts so unusual, so distinctive, that you will say: ``You made those up, right?''
    But no. Don't miss the "hand soap".


Last Modified 2007-11-25 12:50 PM EST

The Phony Campaign

2007-11-24 Update

It's been a long nine days since I updated; frankly, there's not much happenin' on the phony scene:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2007-11-15
"Hillary Clinton" phony521,000-35,000
"Ron Paul" phony413,000-15,000
"Barack Obama" phony362,000-37,000
"John Edwards" phony354,000-19,000
"John McCain" phony351,000+8,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony291,000-22,000
"Mitt Romney" phony280,000-19,000
"Fred Thompson" phony273,000-20,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony183,000+2,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony157,000-31,000

Comments and Observations:

  • Dennis Kucinich rises from his long stay at the bottom of our compilation; only he and McCain gained phony hits since we last looked.

  • William Safire is coming up on his 78th birthday, but he's still spry enough to note a couple of interesting words that have started to creep over political writing, like the black goo in Spider-Man 3: "gotcha" and "smackdown". Of the latter, Safire writes:

    In current political use, smackdown is less serious than confrontation or conflict and more colorful than fracas; more a clash of two individuals than brawl or melee and not as bookish a fight as affray or as boring from overuse as battle.

    A useful political neologism. To my ear, it has the sound of humorous exaggeration, a phony fury as exemplified by the clash of show-biz titans in the wrestling arena. We may be present at the birth of a gleeful burst of exuberance in campaign coverage.

    In short, the implication is that a lot of political rhetoric is as authentic as pro wrestling. Hmmm…

  • Our phony frontrunner has brought out a new TV ad attempting to combat the whole phoniness issue. A man named Joe Ward speaks to the camera:

    "Let me tell you a little story. My son Joel had a terrible illness. He needed a bone marrow transplant that our insurance wouldn't cover and we couldn't afford.

    "We called Senator Clinton and asked for help. Her office called the next day letting us know that the hospital was going to absorb the cost of the transplant. Now, her opponents are saying that Hillary can't be trusted. I trusted this woman to save my son's life, and she did."

    I'm glad Joe's son is better. But his conclusion that Hillary is somehow trustworthy seems like a glaring non sequitur. Does anyone actually doubt that she's a true believer in the delusion that government can and should "enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else"?

    Hey, if, as Senator, she can get a hospital to "absorb the cost" of a major operation for Joe's son, as President she'll be able to get everyone else's medical costs to be "absorbed", right?

    Can that actually happen? No. Is it phony for the ad to imply otherwise? You bet.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:21 AM EST

Shrek the Third

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

You'll note that the DVD box screams: "THE BEST SHREK YET". And on the day after Thanksgiving, I get to give thanks for the fact that we live in America and nobody can be jailed for uttering such outright lies.

Yes, this is the second movie in a row I watched that is the third in a series. I suppose I can be grateful that the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie isn't out yet.

And it suffers the same quality dropoff observed with Spider-Man: TomatoMeter rates the three Shrek films: 89%, 88%, 42%. At IMDB, the user ratings go: 8.0, 7.6, 6.3. You can't just animate a big green ogre and expect the viewers to swoon.

Still, it's Shrek, so although the laughs aren't as huge or continuous, they're still there. But they turned the preachiness dial up a few notches. And unfortunately there's nothing like the scene in the first movie where Fiona's singing caused her accompanying bird to explode. Man, that never gets old.


Last Modified 2012-10-16 5:58 AM EDT

Spider-Man 3

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

I know I've made this point before (and it's certainly not original with me), but here's the problem with blockbuster movie series: they can run out of interesting things to say about the characters, and instead become going-through-the-motions exercises all about shaking down the rubes in the sticks for more cash.

So how about this one? The good news, I suppose, is that it's not as bad as it could have been. But it's clearly a couple of notches away from the insane greatness of the first two entries in the series. (Tomatometer ratings for the three movies: 90%, 93%, 67%; IMDB user ratings: 7.4, 7.8, 6.7.)

So, something's missing. The romantic troubles between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson seem contrived. Aunt May is reduced to a tedious moralizer. The villains—many more than there should be—are nowhere near as clever or menacing as Doc Ock or the Green Goblin; they're just strong and near-indestructible. The wit is gone, replaced by some funny stuff from J. Jonah and Bruce Campbell (who's had cameos in every Spidey movie).

But, hey, it's Spider-Man! So if you're like me, you'll line up dutifully, even if only for the DVD.


Last Modified 2012-10-16 5:58 AM EDT

URLs du Thanksgiving 2007

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope the holiday finds you as blessed as I.

  • I'm still thankful for all the things I was thankful for two years ago.

  • And I think last year's turkey-themed post is still pretty good, and all the links still work except for Lileks' "Myth of Tryptophan" article from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which is apparently chintzy enough to not keep even classic articles online.

  • Replace that with his "Thanksgiving Video: A Meal for Less than Ten Bucks"

    Note: we will be having the cranberry sauce from that video. Because that's how the Salad family rolls.

  • And Lore Sjöberg brings us Next-Gen Ideas for a Truly Savory Thanksgiving.
    The Biggest Bird

    Why settle for a turkey when you can have a turducken? More to the point, why settle for turducken when you can have ostemugooturduckenuailinch? That's an ostrich, stuffed with an emu, stuffed with a goose, stuffed with a turkey, stuffed with a duck, stuffed with a chicken, stuffed with a quail, stuffed with a finch. How does it taste? Don't ask! It has a great name, though. And next year, if genetic experimentation goes according to plan, they'll be offering a velociraptostemugooturduckenuailinch.

    I am giving thanks today for Lore Sjöberg.


Last Modified 2007-11-22 9:21 AM EST

How Jane Smiley Thinks

A recent Huffington Post article by Jane Smiley entitled "Why Human Rights are More Important than National Security" begins:

On Friday, the morning after the Democratic debate, I was stunned to read in the War Room column over in Salon that Governor Bill Richardson had said the wrong thing about national security versus human rights. Tim Grieve wrote, "We're not sure which office Richardson is seeking these days, but he came pretty close to disqualifying himself from either of them last night when he insisted that human rights are more important than America's national security." …
The link Jane provides to Grieve provides doesn't work well for me, here's a better one. And in case you'd like to see what Governor Richardson actually said that fateful night to grieve Grieve, here is CNN's debate transcript.

Jane continues:

I'm not sure what planet Tim Grieve is living on, but on our planet, it is human rights that are precious and rare and always to be preserved and "national security" that is ever and anon a cant boondoggle. I was not alone in my dismay. I read War Room almost everyday and have liked Grieve's posts in the past. When I first read what he was saying, I thought he was joking; so did other readers. The entry got 57 responses. Almost all of them were outraged, and several called on Tim to explain himself. He never did.
Shorter: Grieve stands accused of heresy. "Almost all" of 57 Salon commenters agree! Must be true!

Note Jane's sneer quotes around "national security". They'll show up again.

You wouldn't know from Jane's description that the actual debate topic concerned human rights in Pakistan, apparently involving, among other things, the weighty topic of whether President Musharraf continues to wear his spiffy army uniform. I'm sure there are good arguments to be made on all sides, tradeoffs to be made, delicate issues to consider, etc. But Wolf Blitzer insisted on making things as simplistic as possible, boiling it down to (numerous times): "What is more important, human rights or national security?" Congratulations, Wolf! You made the candidates look nuanced and thoughtful in comparison.

But (unfortunately) only in comparison. And Richardson made it pretty clear that, if you'd like a return to Carter-era foreign policy, he's your guy. (I don't think Kucinich weighed in here.)

But back to Jane:

Human rights are defined, most notably in the U.S. Bill of Rights. They are defined because the Founding Fathers realized that if they were not defined, they would be more likely to be abrogated or lost entirely. The Founding Fathers understood the temptation on the part of governments to give and remove human rights arbitrarily, because they had experienced such things before the Revolutionary War -- in the Stamp Act, in the quartering of British soldiers on American households, and in illegal searches and seizures, in no taxation without representation. They recognized that although British Law customarily acknowledged various human rights, it was essential to name, codify, and write them down to make it less likely that they could be taken away.
Plenty of room for quibbling here—the BofR was perfectly compatible with slavery for decades, wasn't it?—but let's move on.
Human rights are profoundly local -- they reside in individuals. According to humans rights theory, if someone is human, he or she has the same rights as every other human. The rights of American citizens as described in the Bill of Rights have been expanded and extrapolated around the world so that they apply not only to us but to everyone.
I'd give that maybe a B+ as a description of natural rights theory, and a D as history.
While in the U.S. this idea is a bit controversial, in other countries it is standard, accepted, and cherished.
Woops, make that a D-. What other countries take natural rights more seriously than the US? I'd say, approximately, none.
The codification of human rights, and the widespread acknowledgment of this, is one of the things that makes the modern world modern. To roll back human rights, even for some individuals, is to return to a more primitive, hierarchical, and un-American theory of human relations.
One example, of course, concerns women. Can women routinely be imprisoned, sold, mutilated, or killed by their relatives? U.S. law says they cannot; …
"Thanks for pointing that out!" As far as I know, Jane, those laws apply to men too.
in practice, many are, but no one openly promotes what many secretly do.
Fortunately, in all those other countries where BofR rights are "standard, accepted, and cherished" that kind of thing never happens at all.

But never mind, Jane's about to make the transition from "simplistic" to "deranged":

If a candidate, even a Republican, ran on a platform of reducing the legal rights of women, he wouldn't get far (ask me again in 10 years, though). Or consider lynching. The U.S. has a long tradition of lynching. It was only after the Second World War that the Federal Government and state governments began enforcing their own anti-lynching laws. This was a victory for human rights. Do you want to go back? The Republicans would like you to, in the name of: "national security."
Those fun sneer quotes again. And glad to know that the GOP is in favor of lynching. But Jane's on a roll:
Guess what? There is no such thing as "national security"; it's a concept that not only hasn't been defined, it can't be defined. It is a psychological state. The very phrase describes an impossibility. All boundaries in the U.S. and in every other country are porous. Planes come and go, as do ships, trains, trucks, autos, information superhighways, human relationships, and human emotions. In addition, the smaller any threat becomes, the less safe we are against it. We no longer live in the world of Mutually Assured Destruction, where our thousands of warheads aimed at the Russians protected us, psychologically, from their thousands of warheads aimed at us. Since the end of the Cold War, threats have gotten smaller and more invisible. Where is that suitcase of nuclear material? Where is that vial of anthrax? But as they have gotten less easily detected, they have also gotten more local. 9/11 is what we always think of when we think of a breach of national security, but in fact, the destruction was not national, or even city-wide, or even district wide -- although the World Trade Center was less than a mile from the New York Stock Exchange, the NYSE was only closed for six days after 9/11.
Only six days? Less than a mile? Gee, why did we ever think this whole 9/11 thing was a problem?

Can we make any sense out of this? I don't think so. Jane claims that national security "can't be defined"—but obviously she knows well enough what it means in order to deem it "an impossibility." She claims it's a mere subjective "psychological state", but she immediately rattles off enough threats to convince me that—gee, just maybe—there's a substantial component rooted in objective reality as well.

The phrase "national security" cannot mean anything in a nation of almost 10 million square miles. …
The area of the US is not a particularly relevant fact, but Jane manages to get it wrong; it's about 3.8 million square miles.
The Bush administration and the corporatocracy knows this perfectly well. Witness how our chemical plants have not been secured from the possibility of terrorist attack -- there are too many of them, and the likelihood of any one getting attacked is too small to make it worthwhile for either the nation or the chemical industry to fortify them. The Dubai Ports deal of a couple of years ago demonstrated the same understanding on the part of the administration, that "national security" is merely rallying cry for fear.
Yes, this is why chemical and nuclear plants have no security measures whatsoever. Because security is (either) "impossible" or it "can't mean anything."

Does anyone else find it ironic at this point that Jane wondered "what planet Tim Grieve is living on"?

The Bush administration has spent some trillions of dollars (I shrink from naming a figure, since, as big as it is, it is surely a lie) to attack a nation of a mere 437,000 square miles. In doing so, they have chosen to ignore such items of U.S. national security as public health and infrastructure maintenance.
Ah, here Jane has turned off the sneer quotes around "national security"; and—previously having deemed the concept both impossible and undefinable—now pronounces it to involve "public health and infrastructure maintenance." And completely achievable, once we stop that whole Iraq thing! Yes, it's that easy to turn on a mental dime when you are Jane Smiley.

You'll be happy to know, however, that after botching the area of the US, … she also botches the area of Iraq. It's about 170,000 square miles.

The population of the U.S. is demonstrably poorer, hungrier, less healthy, more homeless, more likely to be injured in an infrastructure failure, and more likely to suffer from a weather related loss than it was before the Bush administration came into office.
It's a grim Thanksgiving at the Smiley house this year.
A huge debt means that the economy is more likely to fail. The prospects of our children for a peaceful and prosperous future are worse. Nothing that the Bush administration or the Republicans or the Military Industrial Complex has done in the last seven years of foolish incompetence and braggadoccio [sic] has benefited the nation as a whole, though it has benefited a small class of investors and government cronies. As a result of the Iraq War and the Bush attack on the Constitution, I can be afraid of the obliteration of the entire idea of the U.S. -- I am afraid of that, thanks to the tyrannies of the Bush administration and the professions of the current crop of Republican candidates -- but not of the obliteration of the U.S. itself.
Because there's no such thing as "national security," right?
Indeed, the war in Iraq shows more than one thing about the idea of national security, because even though the Iraqis have been attacked by the largest military in the world, they have been damaged but not subdued. The same would be true of the U.S., no matter who attacked us.
In Smiley World, the Iraqis are showing true American Spirit by shooting and blowing up American soldiers—and many more of their fellow Iraqis.

"This is me," Jane says. "This is where I'm coming from."

Liberals, progressives, and Democrats recognize, at least intuitively, that "national security" is a code word for tribalism, while "human rights" is a code word for the rule of law. Governor Richardson was straightforward in acknowledging this fact, and deserves praise rather than blame, especially from a writer for Salon.
Shorter: Democrats good, Republicans bad! No tribalism there!

A couple final comments:

For all Jane's idolization of the Founders and the Bill of Rights, and her various self-inconsistent ravings against the "impossible" concept of national security, I don't think she managed to read as far as Amendment number Two:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Apparently Jane's unaware that the Founders thought enough of the concept of the "security of a free state" to write it right into the BofR. (In an article entitled "What I Think About Guns" she referred to "well-armed second amendment fanatics;" it appears her respect for the BofR is selective.)

Also, as long as I'm here, I noticed that Chris Dodd—of all people—had an interesting response to the issue:

BLITZER: What is more important, human rights or national security?

DODD: Obviously, national security, keeping the country safe. When you take the oath of office on January 20, you promise to do two things, and that is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and protect our country against enemies both foreign and domestic. The security of the country is number one, obviously.

Not bad for an off-the-cuff response! I imagine Senator Dodd has fantasized about uttering those words on January 20, which made the response easy to come up with. And I admire the sentiment.

But in fact, that "enemies foreign and domestic" phraseology is for all Federal employees, government officials, and the military, but not the President. The President's oath is mandated by the Constitution:

Before he enter on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation:--"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
No enemies there, foreign or domestic. Perhaps Senator Dodd should brush up on his Constitution before he tackles the big job. And then he can attempt to explain it to Jane Smiley.

The Scary Campaign! Boo!

A Reuters article by Ellen Wulfhorst (called to Pun Salad's attention by James Taranto) is headlined "Giuliani style evokes concern among critics". It contains the following paragraph:

Type the word "scary" and names of Republican candidates for president into a leading database of articles. The name of the former New York mayor will get the most hits.

Hey, that's kind of what we do for phoniness! Mainstream media reporters can be just as lazy as low-tier bloggers! Let's check the Google to see how its results match up against "a leading database of articles":

Query StringHit Count
"Hillary Clinton" scary806,000
"Ron Paul" scary686,000
"Barack Obama" scary585,000
"John Edwards" scary514,000
"John McCain" scary456,000
"Rudy Giuliani" scary371,000
"Mitt Romney" scary364,000
"Fred Thompson" scary329,000
"Dennis Kucinich" scary226,000
"Mike Huckabee" scary168,000

Observations:

  • Clearly, at least according to the Google, Rudy's far from the scariest candidate. Even among Republicans, he's merely number 3. How could our results be so different from those obtained by Ellen, the intrepid Reuters reporter? To quote Roy Neary from Close Encounters of the Third Kind: "This means something. This is important."

    Well, maybe not that important. I'd wager that the search universe Ellen used (Nexis, probably?) is filled with people who find Rudy scarier than the Whole Wide World indexed by the Google. I'd make a further (smaller, but still non-zero) wager that Ellen tried Googling first—because, really, who wouldn't?—resorting to Nexis only to get the result she was looking for.

  • The Reuters article linked above (of course) comes in at the top of the Google hit parade for Rudy. Call it the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle applied to search results: writing an article about the search hits you get against a certain phrase will itself increase the hit count for that phrase.

  • There's an impressive correlation between "phony" hits and "scary" hits. Almost without exception, the scary rankings above are identical to the phony rankings we gathered last week. (The exception: Dennis Kucinich, who the Google finds to be scarier than Mike Huckabee, but less phony.)

  • Also, for a given candidate, the "scary" hits are (without exception) greater than the "phony" hits. Does this mean (generally) that candidates are scarier than they are phony? Well, that's understandable, I guess. We can call that the Wizard of Oz Principle: people find these guys scary, but they're really just phony. You should pay more attention to the men (and woman) behind the curtain.

  • Ron Paul got some collateral-damage scary hits due to a recent Jonah Goldberg column headlined: "Ron Paul isn't that scary". And Jonah's bottom line is: what Mike Huckabee represents is significantly scarier.
    I would not vote for Paul mostly because I think his foreign policy would be disastrous (and because he'd lose in a rout not seen since Bambi versus Godzilla). But there's something weird going on when Paul, the small-government constitutionalist, is considered the extremist in the Republican Party while Huckabee, the statist, is the lovable underdog. It's even weirder because it's probably true: Huckabee is much closer to the mainstream. And that's what scares me about Huckabee and the mainstream alike.
    Indeed.

  • Of course, there are also cheap shots. Looking at the image results for our Number One Scary Candidate will cough up multiple occurrences of:

    [Scary Hill 1]

    and

    [Scary Hill 2]

    … well, maybe they have a point there.

    Whereas for Rudy, you'll merely get this:

    [Scary Rudy]

    … scary only to people with an unusual aversion to recreational cross-dressers, I think. (More costumed Rudy pictures here, if you're into that sort of thing. Sicko.)

    And for our man Fred Thompson:

    [scary fred]

    Scary? Hmph. Maybe to terrorists and hippies.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:21 AM EST

I Took an Online Quiz and …

[2012 update: Well, the results are gone now. Had something to do with movies.]


Last Modified 2012-10-28 8:13 AM EDT

No Country for Old Men

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

I wound up my last night in Dallas with a trip to the mall where this new movie was playing. All signs were good: I liked most of the Coen brothers' past movies; I think Tommy Lee Jones is a great actor. And the IMDB has it as the #91 in their top 250 movie list of all time. This last one is probably an overstatement, but I wasn't disappointed.

It's pretty easy to compare No Country for Old Men with Fargo: lots of people talking in their regional accents, including the law. An initial crime puts inexorable life-destroying forces in motion. Tommy Lee Jones plays the Marge Gunderson role here, much smarter than anyone gives him credit for, and the moral center of the movie. Much of the movie was filmed in Texas: according to the IMDB, Marfa and Eagle Pass. The Texans in the audience seemed to enjoy the localisms and the regional dialogue. So did I.

There's quite a bit of violence, and a lot more violence takes place offscreen. And the ending might seem a little ususual to many. Nevertheless, it's good.


Last Modified 2012-10-16 5:56 AM EDT

Shark River

[Amazon Link]

This is entry number 8 in Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford series. As usual, it's excellent. It begins with Doc and his friend Tomlinson taking a working vacation at a rich-person resort. But in a very few pages, Doc has met a Bahamian woman who claims to be his sister and has gotten grazed by a bullet while foiling a kidnapping attempt by Columbian drug gangsters.

Also, Tomlinson has wiener problems.

Doc spends the rest of the book attempting to recover from these complications. As always, he's more than a little irritated at being called away from his actual marine biologist job.

Randy Wayne White is a very good writer, although at times he seems to be trying to imitate John D. MacDonald a little too much. (On the other hand, who better to imitate?)


Last Modified 2012-10-16 5:56 AM EDT

Next

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

This got slagged by the critics (28% at the Tomato), but I liked it OK. It's based (very very very loosely) on a Philip K. Dick short story which I haven't read. Nicolas Cage plays Cris Johnson, who has a psychic gift/curse; the ability to see his immediate future, and change it if he likes. He's trying to live in obscurity as a seedy Vegas magician, also raking in small amounts of winnings at local casinos. And he's waiting for his true love (that nice Jessica Biel), who he's glimpsed coming into a restaurant at 8:09 at some point in his future.

Unfortunately, while he meets Biel, nearly everyone figures out that he's got this handy knack. The FBI, represented by a cool and ruthless female agent (Julianne Moore), wants to use him to catch terrorists who have a nuke in Los Angeles; the terrorists want to kill him; also casino security is a little peeved. The problem with short-range clairovoyance, apparently, is that it's hard to see this kind of stuff happening until it's almost too late.

Anyway: lots of action, good special effects, some genuinely funny scenes, decent acting. The plot is (obviously) ludicrous but nevertheless fun.


Last Modified 2012-10-16 5:52 AM EDT

Jay Tea Defends the Great New Hampshire Town Dump

Apparently some snooty out of staters have been casting aspersions on New Hampshire due to a NYT article detailing the goings-on at the Hollis Town Dump. Jay Tea at Wizbang comes up with an able defense.

I was able to compare dump amenities in other towns with ours. Like Lebanon, my fair town of Rollinsford has a dump bookshelf where you can grab a discarded goodie or two. Hollis has a "still good" table where people leave stuff that's … well, still good. That's a great idea; wish Rollinsford did that.


Last Modified 2007-11-16 7:36 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2007-11-15 Update

We're seeing a trough in the waves of phoniness hits at the Google:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2007-11-10
"Hillary Clinton" phony556,000-373,000
"Ron Paul" phony428,000-513,000
"Barack Obama" phony399,000-489,000
"John Edwards" phony373,000-509,000
"John McCain" phony343,000+152,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony313,000+137,000
"Mitt Romney" phony299,000+120,000
"Fred Thompson" phony293,000-131,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony188,000+24,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony181,000+85,100

Also, Ron Paul has relinquished his brief stay at number one.

The phoniest thing we've noticed over the past few days is from our personal phony favorite, John Edwards. Mickey Kaus is suitably amused/offended over this idiotic "promise" from a recent Edwards ad:

When I'm president, I'm going to say to members of Congress, and members of my administration, including my Cabinet, I'm glad that you have health care coverage and your family has health care coverage. But if you don't pass universal health care by July of 2009, in six months, I'm going to use my power as president to take your health care away from you.

Mickey deems this a "disingenuous display of substanceless bravado" since (as even an alleged lawyer like Edwards should know) the President has no power to take away health care from anyone. He concludes: "It's a phony threat from a ..." (Teasing us to finish the thought ourselves, but nevertheless resuting in a hit at the Google.)

C'mon folks. John Edwards deserves a much higher position here.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:21 AM EST

Brainiac

[Amazon Link]

Back in 2004, Ken Jennings won 74 consecutive episodes of Jeopardy! … and lost the last one, to Nancy Zerg. According to Wikipedia his winnings over this period came to $2,522,700. I'd always watched Jeopardy! off-and-on, but Ken's streak turned it into a must-see. Ken was funny and smart. My favorite anecdote (fortunately remembered accurately at WikiPedia):

During game 53 of his streak, Jennings was given the clue "This term for a long-handled gardening tool can also mean an immoral pleasure seeker." Without missing a beat, Jennings replied, "What's a ho(e)?" Trebek replied "No", caught the audience's laughter, and said, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, they teach you that in school in Utah, huh?" (The correct response was "What is a rake?")
In addition, Ken was living my fantasy of going on Jeopardy! and cleaning up.

So this book (once it came out in paperback, anyway) was an automatic buy. Ken relates the story of his Jeopardy! experience, from watching the old Art Fleming version, to his tryout, and the highlights of his appearances, with special emphasis on hist first show and his last.

But wait, there's more: the subtitle is Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. So, interspersed with the Jeopardy! tales, Ken also delves into the history and some current manifistations of popular trivia. Understandably, as a competitive sort, he concentrates on contests: college competitions, the 50-hour trivia marathon in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, bar-based contests. (Ken plays one night on a trivia team at a bar in Weymouth Mass.)

You might not expect this book to be very well written … but it is very well written. Ken has a keen observational eye, a fantastic memory for telling details, and he's funny and clever. Interspersed in each chapter are little trivia questions you can try yourself; answers at the end of the chapter.

Ken blogs here. Also recommended.


Last Modified 2012-10-16 5:48 AM EDT

Bug

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

The truly amusing Amazon.com reports that (as I type), the Bug DVD is a best seller in:

#47 in DVD > Drama > Military & War
#55 in DVD > Special Interests > Home & Garden
#82 in DVD > Mystery & Suspense > Mystery
Free consumer tip from Pun Salad: A purchaser looking for Home & Garden tips from Bug is likely to be either vastly disappointed or cruelly misled.

None of Amazon's other categories are right, either. At Wikipedia, the director (William Friedkin) is quoted:

It's not a genre film, but marketing works in mysterious ways. They have to find a genre for it. "This is a comedy. This is a melodrama. This is a love story. This is a horror film. This is an adventure film." Bug doesn't fit easily into any of those categories.
He deems it, instead "in many ways, a black comedy love story." Yeah, so was Romeo and Juliet. And how did that turn out?

Ashley Judd plays Juliet Agnes, a drug-abusing boozy floozy with a waitress job at a lesbian bar. She gets silent phone calls from what she assumes is her ex-husband, just out of the slammer. Other weird and startling things happen to her. Then she gets intoduced to Peter who is seemingly quiet and shy, but (nevertheless) gets invited for a post-work party back at the dingy motel where Agnes lives.

Then things get a little weird. Or a lot weird, actually. The movie leaves some ambiguity about what's actually going on, but (without spoiling things too much), things do not end well for Agnes or Peter.

Bug was based on a play, and it shows: most of the scenes play out in that squalid motel room. And there's a lot of talk, talk, talk, with much ambiguity about whether what's being said is true, false, and (if, as is likely, false) whether it's intentional deception or paranoid delusion. It's not very interesting, though.


Last Modified 2012-10-16 6:09 AM EDT

The Sixth Floor Museum

I'm in Dallas this week at my annual Sysadmin Meeting. I don't do a lot of touristy things, but the meeting venue is an easy walk from Dealey Plaza and the Texas School Book Depository Building, from where Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

Well, that's how I would describe it. But more on that in a bit.

Since then, the building has been renamed the "Dallas County Administration Building". But the sixth floor became a museum. And if your first reaction is: Isn't that kind of ghoulish?, my response is: Yeah, I think so too.

What I noticed first, however, was the oddball language in the descriptions I read. Here's one:

This is a permanent exhibition of the tragic events leading to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Opened in 1989, the museum is located in the Texas School Book Depository building, where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot the late President.
Note the "allegedly"? Isn't that kind of unusually mealy-mouthed?

It turns out that the museum doesn't seem to want to take a stand on exactly what Oswald did or didn't do up there on that day. From their FAQ:

Q: Why is it called The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza?

Because the sixth floor of this building, the site of the Museum, is where a sniper's nest and rifle were found after the assassination of President Kennedy.

Oh.

There's even a museum store, where ghoulishness is married to commercial bad taste. You can get a t-shirt with the building's image on it. (Just the thing to wear the next time the next time the president visits your town.) You can get replicas of newspapers' November 22/23 front pages.

The DVD for Oliver Stone's JFK is prominently displayed. And, generally, conspiracy books are interwoven on the sale shelves with conspiracy-debunking books. To be fair, there's a lot of plain old Kennedy memorabilia and straight history, the kind of stuff I would imagine you can get at the Kennedy Library. But the whole vibe of the place was kind of creepy.

The museum itself? It cost $13.50 to go in. I told the nice lady at the desk I would pass. I suppose I can be a little ghoulish, but I'm not gonna spend $13.50 for the privilege.

Is It Christmas?

Find out at www.isitchristmas.com. (Via BBSpot.)

"Nora!" Said Pun Salad, "Why Are You So Dumb?"

Nora Ephron writes, in part, at HuffPo:

It's hard to be a Democrat, don't you think? … It's especially hard to remember that the real enemies are the Republicans, when the Democrats tend to break your heart and the Republicans are just the boys you'd never go out with anyway.
"The real enemies." And, gosh, just in time for Veteran's Day!

I suppose it's hard to be a Democrat. But when you're as superficially silly as Nora, it's impossible to be anything else.

[Headline explained here, although it's also kind of dumb.]


Last Modified 2007-11-12 9:07 AM EST

The Weather Man

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

IMDB billed this as a "black comedy". This means, in this case, "not actually funny." Let me explain:

Nicolas Cage plays Dave Spritz, Chicago TV weatherman. Dave earns big bucks, and is good at his job, but otherwise he's a mess. He's childish and narcissistic. He's separated from his shrewish wife, who despises him; his troubled son is seeing a pedophilic counselor as a result of pot use; his fat sullen daughter has taken up a cigarette habit; his respected and famous father (played by Michael Caine) is dying, which doesn't stop him from expressing his despondent disappointment over the trainwreck of his son's life.

There's no way this can be funny. But the filmmakers tossed in some bizarre plot elements. People routinely throw takeout fast food at Dave: Big Gulps, soft tacos, Wendy's Frosties, etc. In one of his continuing feeble attempts in drawing his daughter out, he signs her up for archery lessons. When it turns out that she's really only interested in archery as a means to killing animals, he drops her out of it and takes it up himself. He's in the running for the weather-guy spot on "Hello, America", a (fictional) network morning show helmed by Bryant Gumbel, who plays himself.

Also, Michael Caine is always pretty good. So there's about 1.5 stars worth of movie here.

But at the center, Dave is essentially unlikeable, and doesn't really change that much over the course of the movie. Ho hum. If you really want to see a movie about how a flawed TV weatherman turns his life around, there's Groundhog Day.


Last Modified 2012-10-16 6:00 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2007-11-10 Update

Huge movements in phoniness over the past few days:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2007-11-07
"Ron Paul" phony941,000+464,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony929,000+343,000
"Barack Obama" phony888,000+251,000
"John Edwards" phony882,000+432,000
"Fred Thompson" phony424,000+106,000
"John McCain" phony191,000-179,000
"Mitt Romney" phony179,000-176,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony176,000-160,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony164,000-37,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony95,900-72,100

  • We're seeing—at least for now—a bifurcation in phoniness, with Phony Haves (Paul, Clinton, Obama, Edwards) at the top, the Phony Have-Nots(McCain, Romney, Giuliani, Huckabee, Kucinich) at the bottom. With only Fred Thompson in the vanishing Phony Middle Class. Can phony class warfare be far behind?

  • This is Ron Paul's first appearance in the top spot: welcome, Ron! My guess is this may be due to the Wired investigation of phony websites that appear to be for a candidate's supporters, but are actually thinly-disguised hit jobs. (Here you go: RudiGiulianiForum.com; FredThompsonForum.com; MittRomneyForum.com; and … well, you can figure out the others.) Comments the article:

    "A lot of [the website content] is sarcastic, and playing to stereotypical impressions," says Bill Beutler, a senior online analyst with the political consulting group New Media Strategies in Arlington, Virginia. "It is my impression that a majority of people on the (FredThompsonForum.com) board are Ron Paul supporters."

    Indeed, Texas lawmaker Ron Paul seems to have escaped the phenomenon. A Ron Paul forum hosted from the same IP address, and with the same layout as the others, is packed with genuine supporters in earnest discussion. The registered owner of that domain did not respond to interview requests from Wired News.

    Very phony, Ron Paul supporters! Congratulations!

  • But is there hope for Hillary to regain her former solid hold on the coveted Phoniest Candidate position? She's trying! With phony planted questions in Iowa, for example:

    Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton's campaign admitted Friday that it planted a global warming question in Newton, Iowa, Tuesday during a town hall meeting to discuss clean energy.

    If nothing else, this shows Hillary is well-qualified to handle FEMA.

    And then there's the matter of Anita Esterday, waitress at the Toledo, Iowa Maid-Rite restaurant. Andrew Sullivan despises Hillary with a white-hot passion, so he's all over the story of how Anita was stiffed, tip-wise, when the Clinton campaign blew through her restaurant at lunch. Andrew observes:

    I covered the Clintons for eight years. The one thing I learned about them is that they lie. It's reflexive to them; after decades of the lying that tends to infect the households of addicts, they don't have a normal person's understanding of truth and falsehood. They have an average sociopath's understanding of truth and falsehood. They lie about big things; they lie about small things; and they lie about things that are so trivial you can't believe anyone would bother lying about them. But the Clintons do. They did for eight years. They put the entire country through a trauma because they have no sense of what's true and false any more. Living in a relationship where lying has been integrated into its very essence will do that. They can't help it. Lying is their entropic state of being - big lies, small lies, and everything in between.

    Irrelevant personal comment: I grew up in Iowa, and one of the numerous things I miss are Maid-Rites.

  • Our own favorite, John Edwards, languishes in fourth place, but still in striking range of the top. His phony efforts in Exira, Iowa were recently noted in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

    [Edwards] asked an old friend to warm up the crowd, which included men in coveralls and baseball caps and a woman in a sweat shirt with dancing teddy bears on it.

    "I want to introduce you to someone who resonates with the heart of America, just like 'The Dukes of Hazzard' resonates," said Ben (Cooter) Jones, who played Cooter Davenport on the television series and once was a Georgia congressman. "The reason I like John Edwards is he hasn't for-got who he was.

    "He's not gotten above his raisin'."

    Riiight. I'm trying to detect the Edwards campaign's logic here: "Let's get a guy who used to play a hick on TV to talk like a hick in front of a bunch of Iowans. That will show how much we respect Iowa hicks Democrat voters."

    The article is has some churlish observations on other candidates too. (Fred, if you're gonna kiss a pig, change out of your Ferragamo loafers first!)

To paraphrase the ancient Chinese curse: May you live in phony times.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:21 AM EST

Chronic

Pat Hynes sent me an e-mail message:

Would love it if you could attend and blog about it ...
Where "it" was a lunchtime forum on the UNH campus devoted to a recent study of the economic burden of chronic disease on the United States and on the state of New Hampshire.

So, I'm like: "Really? Me?" But a good rule of thumb for bloggers is: when Pat Hynes invites you, go. Besides, there was a free lunch.

The main speaker was Ross DeVol of the Milken Institute, an economic think tank founded by Michael Milken. He was introduced by Mil Duncan of UNH's Carsey Institute; after his talk, Ned Helms of UNH's New Hampshire Institute for Health Policy and Practice, and UNH econ prof Bob Woodward offered their comments. (Update: Please note that Ross DeVol was the only participant speaking on behalf of the Milken Institute; Mil, Ned, and Bob were speaking for themselves or, as appropriate, their respective organizations.)

DeVol presented a massive Milken-funded study of how chronic diseases impact economic growth and health care spending. It was clear that a lot of money was, and is, devoted to running and promoting this study: we got a slick brochure describing the results of the research, and there's even a very professional website devoted to it.

The chronic diseases the researchers looked at were: (1) cancer; (2) diabetes; (3) heart disease; (4) hypertension; (5) stroke; (6) mental disorders; and (7) pulmonary conditions (mostly asthma). They estimated both direct costs due to the medical care of these conditions, and also indirect costs due to lost economic productivity; it turns out that the lost-productivity costs were greater than the treatment costs, and, for most of the considered diseases, much greater.

The study also broke things down by state, and we got a (again, slick and professional) handout showing how New Hampshire compared, chronic-diseasewise, against other states and the US generally.

There are a lot of reasons to be pessimistic about trends. As baby boomers age, they are—we are—projected to cause chronic disease cases to rise faster than population growth. Obesity drives a number of chronic diseases; since we're getting fatter, that also tends to make the rates go up. (Increased occurrence of Type 2 diabetes in our tubby youth was mentioned a number of times.)

The study contrasted their gloomy "if trends continue" scenario with what they called their "optimistic scenario": that (somehow) obesity, smoking, alcohol abuse, and illicit drug use all decline, while people exercise more, air quality improves, and medical care gets more effective at early intervention and medical costs decrease. This causes a significant improvement in the numbers; the savings run into the trillions of dollars.

This is where we verged into social engineering territory, because much of the underlying problem is due to what are euphemistically termed individual "lifestyle choices": diet, exercise, etc. Frankly, nobody seemed to have "solutions" that didn't involve a lot of massive, intrusive, and fundamentally obnoxious government action: varying combinations of nagging, taxation, and regulation. Twinkie taxes? Portion restrictions in restaurants? Outlawing the Hungry Man meal? Mandatory phys-ed in K-12? Given the massive, well-funded push behind this effort, I wouldn't be surprised by any proposal.

Unsurprisingly, the Milken Institute also funds the "activist" side of this coin: at the website for the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, you can sign the "Petition to the 2008 Presidential Candidates", which basically demands: Do Something, where the "Something" is left pretty vague.

In short, the forum was both educational and depressing. And it reminded me that I really should get to the gym more. Thanks to Pat for the invitation.


Last Modified 2007-11-09 11:31 AM EST

I'm Liking "Depths of Norm"

Since Pun Salad is an anagram, this article giving anagrams of the names of the major presidential candidates was a must. (Via IMAO.)

What Is This Blog's Reading Level?

[High School]

But a really good high school, right?


Last Modified 2012-10-16 6:11 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-11-07

  • Pejman Yousefzadeh asks: Does Andrew Sullivan read what he links to?

    It's nice when you can figure out the answer simply by looking at the question.

  • I, for one, would love to see a one hour, uncensored, no ground rules, interview of John Kerry by Tom Maguire.

  • Via BBSpot, a collection of self-reference jokes. Like this:
    I'm the humblest person I know.
    Not included, but I think could be, is this old one from Ronnie Shakes:
    I was going to buy a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking, and then I thought: What the hell good would that do?

The Phony Campaign

2007-11-07 Update

Barack Obama comes back to phony earth: he's still leading, but looks catchable:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2007-11-04
"Barack Obama" phony637,000-292,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony586,000-67,000
"Ron Paul" phony477,000-48,000
"John Edwards" phony450,000-68,000
"John McCain" phony370,000-44,000
"Mitt Romney" phony355,000-71,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony336,000-49,000
"Fred Thompson" phony318,000-40,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony201,000-10,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony168,000-16,000

The last few days have seen a decrease in hits across the board, but if we've learned anything from past history, it's only a matter of time until the Next Big Phoniness hits.

One minor phony news story was the recent effort to impeach Dick Cheney led by our space-case hero, Dennis Kucinich. All but 5 House Democrats voted to shuffle this embarrassment off to committee. (Amusingly, almost all Republicans voted with Kucinich to keep it on the floor. "Bring it, Dennis!") The UnCapitalist Journal comments:

Let us now pause, if only briefly, to give thanks to the majority of the House Democrats, without whom no one would ever have realized how many words there are in the English language for compromised, cowardly, cowering, faint-hearted, fearful, feeble, groveling, gutless, impotent, inadequate, ineffective, irresolute, lily-livered, phony, poodle-oriented, self-serving, slithering, spineless, submissive, testicle-deficient, timid, toadish, useless, vacillating, valueless, weak-kneed, wimpy, worthless, wussie men and women who pretend to be some kind of bulwark of opposition to the madness, criminality, and venality of George W. Bush and his puppet master.

Ha ha! The UnCapitalist got a new thesaurus as an early Christmas present! He or she also identifies Kucinich as being "(R-OH)", so I'd suggest picking up the Almanac of American Politics as well.

But … "poodle-oriented", huh?


Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:21 AM EST

I Took an Online Quiz, And …

Your Inner European is Irish!

[Irish]

Sprited and boisterous!
You drink everyone under the table.

Yeah … not quite true, but has the advantage of making me look more interesting than I actually am. I think "Norwegian" must not have been included in the possible outcomes. (Via Virginia, who is Innerly Italian.)


Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:20 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2007-11-06

  • According to Anne Applebaum, all the useful idiots are traipsing off to Venezuela, following the pattern established last century when their equivalents went off to Moscow to kowtow to Lenin and Stalin.

  • Unfortunately too late for this year, Scott Johnson at Power Line nominates Thomas Sowell for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Jay Nordlinger agrees. Here is today's column about …
    Among the many mindless mantras of our time, "making a difference" and "giving back" irritate me like chalk screeching across a blackboard.
    Dr. Sowell gets Pun Salad's Medal of Agreement.

  • Dean Barnett has a very good article on Barack Obama, wherein he uses his old Harvard contacts to find out the low level dirt.
    The results surprised me. Regardless of his classmates' politics, they all said pretty much the same thing. They adored him. The only thing that varied was the intensity with which they adored him. Some spoke like they were eager to bear his children. And those were the guys. Others merely professed a profound fondness and respect for their former classmate.

    Even more interesting was what wasn't said. In dozens of conversations, not a single person said anything negative about him, and some were hardly the senator's political fellow travelers. Also noteworthy is that virtually everyone seemed to know Obama. Usually people who have such a high profile on law school campuses have their detractors. Obama apparently didn't.

    Dean is impressed, and … so is Pun Salad.

  • And, lastly, in our occasional "Ah. That explains a lot" department: Yesterday, David Frum debunked the latest historical blather from Andrew Sullivan, and added as an afterthought:
    I thought the Internet was supposed to make us all smarter.
    Today he posts the reply from one of his readers:
    No.

    The Internet is supposed to make it easy for us to copy each other's work. As in school, however, there's no guarantee that the person from whom you are copying has the right answer.

    All together now: "Ah. That explains a lot."

Super Cruncher Also Super Plagiarizer

A few weeks back I blogged on the book Super Crunchers by Ian Ayres, which described how sophisticated statistical analysis of large dynamic datasets was revolutionizing many fields. It was OK, but seriously marred by a frothy style. I also linked to an NYT review of the book where the reviewer noted Ayres' "quite troubling" tendency to reproduce others' words in his book without quotation marks.

Ayres is a law prof at Yale, and the Yale Daily News student paper apparently smelled a story in the NYT review. They looked into things on their own, and reported:

Several passages in Yale Law School professor Ian Ayres' … newest book are unattributed verbatim reproductions or nearly identical paraphrases of passages from various newspaper and magazine articles published in the last twenty years, an investigation by the News has shown.
Woops! In addition to the one reported by the NYT reviewer, the Yale Daily News turned up eight more.

The article quotes Ayres' prepared apology and a mixed bag of other people with varying ideas about the nature of this misbehavior. In Ayres' (slight) defense, the investigation was aided immensely by the fact that the original sources are referenced in the book's endnotes, and were easy to look up and compare. So there's no indication that Ayres was trying to hide anything; it's just that he was too lazy to either phrase things in his own words or to clearly indicate the quoting in the main text.

Other than the apologies and fixes to future printings of the book, it looks like Ayres will skate. Not everyone's happy. For example, read this Inside Higher Ed "University Diary" blog entry. (I enjoyed the snarky title: "Plagiarism: Yours, Mine, and Ayres'") The author compares Ayres' behavior with similar instances at Southern Illinois University and Harvard, and makes the obvious point: tuition-paying students would have been in serious trouble for plagiarism in their academic writing. Higher-ups, on the other hand, continue to rake in royalties for their mass-appeal works containing similar sins. The Diarist deems these cases "instructively clear instances of oligarchic corruption," and believes more examples are on their way to a university near you.

Columbia law prof Michael Dorf has worthwhile observations here and here.

(Original link to Inside Higher Ed via Clayton Cramer. He comments: "That Ayres is one of the academic community's gun banners just makes it sweeter.")

The Happiness Hypothesis

[Amazon Link]

This book got a laudatory mention from Will Wilkinson. There was also a flurry of web discussion in many of the sites I frequent about how the theories of the book's author, Jonathan Haidt, intersect with American politics. (Jonah Goldberg joins the discussion, and points to a lot of others here.) So I picked it up at the UNH library, and it's a pretty good read.

The subtitle is "Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom" and the sub-sub-title is "Why the Meaningful Life Is Closer Than You Think". It sounds like a schlocky self-help book, and you can probably use it for that, but it's more. Haidt is a research psychologist at the University of Virginia, and his work shows where and how those old coots in robes had decent insights into the mind.

At the beginning, Haidt introduces, an arresting metaphor that weaves itself into the rest of the book.

Modern theories about rational choice and information processing don't adequately explain weakness of the will. The older metaphors [proposed by Buddha and Plato] about controlling animals work beautifully. The image that I came up with for myself, as I marvelled at my weakness, was that I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I'm holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn't have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I'm no match for him.
Obviously, rogue elephants can be rough on both the rider and innocent bystanders. So the discussion of happiness quite quickly becomes a story about how to control your inner elephant better. And (it turns out), this rapidly becomes a discussion of moral systems: the happy life is the ethical life.

Haidt describes himself as a "Jewish atheist" and a "political liberal," so it's especially revalatory to have him take up seriously in the later chapters discussions of religious insights into morality. He (seemingly reluctantly) has come to believe that these can't be ignored when discussing how to live the good life; to a happiness researcher, they're as real as gravity and electromagnetism are to the physicist.

If you'd like to see more about the book, there's a website devoted to it here. You'll note that the paperback version has an elephant on the cover …


Last Modified 2012-10-16 5:52 AM EDT

Went to See Fred. Also Rich.

Well, I'm back from the grand Fred Thompson event held at the Orchard Street Chop Shop in the upstairs bar. I don't go to very many of these things, but it was fun.

There was a wait involved; the event was scheduled to start at 4:45pm, but that came and went with no Fred. Fortunately, we were in a restaurant, and the hosts graciously offered a plates full of raw veggies, bacon-wrapped scallops, crab cakes, and stuffed mushrooms. This kept people happy until the candidate showed up.

And he did, introduced by some young NH GOP whippersnapper. Fred spoke for about 10 minutes, giving (I'm pretty sure) his standard campaign speech, hitting on the main themes. As you can read at his website, those are:

SECURITY • UNITY • PROSPERITY
And just to mix us up, he did PROSPERITY first (entitlements, pork barrelling, free markets, etc.), followed by SECURITY (terrorism and immigration/secure borders), and finally UNITY (partisan bickering).

I thought he did a good job, speaking without notes. He had nice things to say about New Hampshire, and indicated that he would be back more as the primary draws closer.

His one fluff was calling the guy he talked to yesterday on Meet the Press "Chris Matthews". A few seconds later someone mentioned to him that it was Tim Russert. The crowd was in a forgiving mood for this gaffe. ("We can't tell them apart either!")

As the speech ended, it was clear he had to get back on the road; no time for shooting the breeze. Looking around, I saw the familiar face of Rich Galen, proprietor of Mullings, and a "paid consultant to the campaign of Fred Thompson." So I rushed over and introduced myself as a longtime fan. We chatted briefly as he waited for the candidate to make his way out of the room. I can report that Mr. Galen is every bit as nice a guy as he appears to be on his blog.

The Phony Campaign

2007-11-04 Update

I still don't understand it, but Senator Obama has widened his already huge lead over his phony rivals:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2007-10-31
"Barack Obama" phony929,000+20,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony653,000-23,000
"Ron Paul" phony525,000-143,000
"John Edwards" phony518,000-98,000
"Mitt Romney" phony426,000-77,000
"John McCain" phony414,000-44,000
"Rudy Giuliani" phony385,000-19,000
"Fred Thompson" phony358,000-39,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony211,000-16,000
"Dennis Kucinich" phony184,000+1,000

Obviously stung by his phony upsurge, the senator took to last evening's SNL to rebut the charge:

I quote: "I have nothing to hide. I enjoy being myself. I'm not gonna change who I am just because it's Halloween."

I'm sorry, Senator, but the Google doesn't lie!

Meanwhile, in the "Pot Calling the Kettle Black" department, it seems everyone pointed to this Edwards entry:

And it's true: nothing says "I'm a phony" more than not being able to maintain at least superficially consistent talking points throughout a period of a few minutes.

That's my first thought. Unfortunately for John Edwards, my second thought is: "It's pretty funny that this is coming from John Edwards." To quote Marty Kaplan at the Huffington Post:

Hey, John Edwards: You've got the Two Americas thing down, and no one's going to call you Republican lite. But the only message the media is letting the voters hear from you is Inauthentic. The trial lawyers money turns your hose-out-Washington message to mud. To the press, the big house and the four-Benjamin coif expose your populism as politics-as-usual. The storytellers and gatekeepers in the circus that politics has become are never going to pronounce you not-Hillary (and not-Bush) until you first become not-Haircut. Confession, rehab, renewal: that's what your story needs now. You can't skip a chapter in your narrative; the media will only let you get from today's phony firebrand to tomorrow's populist President if you first walk through the valley of the shadow of Oprah.

In other words, … hm … well, I think it means some people shouldn't blog when drunk, lest they come off sounding like a cheap parody of Phil Donahue.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:21 AM EST

Meet the Robinsons

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

This got reviews on the high side of mediocre from professional reviewers (65% on the Tomatometer). But I liked it a lot better than that would indicate. Perhaps because it's based on one of the funny and inventive kids books by William Joyce that we used to read our kids back in the day. (Specifically: this one.)

The movie is made by Disney's non-Pixar animation studios, and they've learned how to do it with computer graphics, though with a noticeably different look than Pixar's. It turns out to be a great way to adapt Joyce's style. (Pixar's John Lasseter was one of the executive producers, and IMDB says he had a lot of input into the finished product.)

Joyce's original book didn't have much of a plot, so that's grafted on here: little Lewis, left at the orphanage as an infant, is having a hard time getting adopted. His first love is invention, and he's intense and brilliant enough to scare off potential parents. But one of his inventions turns out to work well enough to attract visitors from the future, one who wants to steal it, and one who wants to prevent that from happening. Then things really take off.

There's a lot of fun stuff here; the folks at Disney put together a lot of stylish inventiveness and clever wit and wrapped it around Walt's old philosophy of cheerful optimism about the future. The plot hinges on some well-worn time-travel clichés, but you know what? It worked for me.

So, dear Disney guys: while you're at it, I would really like to see movies of George Shrinks and Dinosaur Bob and his Adventures With the Family Lazardo.


Last Modified 2012-10-16 5:50 AM EDT

Gonna See Fred

[Fred] Fred Thompson is scheduled to be up here in Dover, NH on Monday (November 5) at the Orchard Street Chop House between 4:45 - 5:45 pm. Details at the link.

I think I'll probably be there, so if you see another big bald ugly guy in the room, come up and say hello to your humble blogger.

In other campaign-related news, I took the 2008 President Selector Quiz recommended by Prof Bainbridge. Like him, I found my results were scary: Alan Keyes was the candidate most in line with my quiz answers, followed by Duncan Hunter, Stephen Colbert, Tom Tancredo, Mitt Romney, … with Fred Thompson all the way down in 11th place. What the …?

All the way down at the bottom, among major candidates, were Hillary at #21, Obama at #27, and Kucinich at #28. At least they got that right.


Last Modified 2012-10-16 5:55 AM EDT

Looking for a Good Obituary?

Well, I'm not. Hope you aren't either. But if I were, I think I'd check out Lore Sjöberg's idea of an alternate-universe obituary.

I think Lore is one of the funniest writers around.

Krugman at the Brink

Brink Lindsay has a good article inspired by his reading of Paul Krugman's latest book, The Conscience of a Liberal. Brink bemoans Krugman's downward progress from a once "immensely talented economist" to today's partisan hack. He does a masterly job debunking Krugman's "stick-figure morality play" that pits heroic/angelic left-liberals against the demons of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

That would be good enough, but Brink goes on to make a larger point about partisanship generally:

To be a partisan is, by definition, to see the world partially rather than objectively: to identify wholeheartedly with the perspectives of one particular group and, at the extreme, to discount all rival perspectives as symptoms of intellectual or moral corruption. And the perspective Krugman has chosen to identify with is the philosophically incoherent, historically contingent grab bag of intellectual, interest group, and regional perspectives known as postwar American liberalism.
Brink doesn't like partisanship much, and it's hard to disagree. It can get pretty tedious cheering for a team with many players that are only marginally less slimy than the opposition.

Brink leaves it at that, but I'll point out that Krugman is an obvious devotee of what Thomas Sowell called the vision of the anointed: the devout belief that

… it is not the innate limitations of human beings, or the inherent limitations of resources, which create unhappiness but the fact that social institutions and social policies are not as wisely crafted as the anointed would have crafted them.
In short, Krugman, and folks like Krugman, start out with the premise that the only thing holding us back from the bright and shiny future he can imagine is stupid and evil people on the other side. It's not surprising he's shrill and angry; his vision practically demands it.

Talkin' 'Bout My G-G-Generation

Pun Salad likes reading snarky articles about the Baby Boomers. And there's nobody snarkier than P. J. O'Rourke, so go check him out.

How can present Social Security allotments be expected to fund our sky-diving, bungee-jumping, hang gliding and white-water rafting, our skiing, golf and scuba excursions, our photo safaris to Africa, bike tours of Tuscany and sojourns at Indian ashrams, our tennis clinics, spa treatments, gym memberships and personal fitness training, our luxury cruises to the Galapagos and Antarctica, the vacation homes in Hilton Head and Vail, the lap pools, Jacuzzis, and clay courts being built thereat and the his and hers Harley Davidsons?
Yeah, baby. You heard him: "thereat." So cough it up, kids.

Congress Continues Its Expensive Train Hobby

The Boston Globe reports:

Ten years after Amtrak vowed to end its reliance on government subsidies and become self-sufficient and four years after it failed to meet that goal, the Senate voted yesterday to increase the beleaguered passenger railroad's government funding and release it from a mandate that it turn a profit.
Yes, after a record of dismal failure and broken promises, the punishment is: you get more taxpayer money, and we'll forget about those promises in the future. Lessons learned for other subsidees?

David Freddoso at NRO:

Ronald Utt of the Heritage Foundation notes that in 2006, Amtrak lost enough money per passenger on at least three of their long-distance routes — Orlando to L.A., ($436 per passenger), Seattle to L.A. ($227), and New York to Florida ($132) — hat they could have easily come out ahead by collecting passengers' fares and handing them round-trip airline tickets. As of August, Amtrak had lost approximately $845 million for the year.
David also points out: "Amtrak may be the only commercial enterprise on earth that actually loses money selling beer." Ouch!

The Senate vote is here. New Hampshire's senators, Sununu and Gregg, came out on the short end of a 70-22 vote. Senator Sununu offered an amendment that would shut down some of the more unprofitable routes; it, of course, failed.

Marlo Lewis at the CEI OpenMarket blog comments on the Senate vote, and compares it with another subsidy:

In the case of ethanol, we're told, government must mandate and subsidize biofuels because "next generation" technologies are not yet "mature" Well, Amtrak shows that maturity ain't got nothin' to do with it. Trains have been around longer than Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), the bill's chief sponsor. Corn may not always be King in Washington, D.C., but Pork will always wear the crown.
Senator Sununu is up for re-election; if he loses, it will be a huge signal to politicians that voters don't care too much about government profligacy. In which case, get ready to see a bigger fraction of your paycheck float off to DC. (It won't be taking the train, either.)