You’re Doing It Wrong

Students at the University of Texas-San Antonio were asked to draft a section on plagiarizing, for the student honor code. They ended up lifting the plagiary section from BYU’s honor code word for word, without attribution.

Up next: Have them write a paper about irony!

(Hat tip: Jonathan Blanks)

[Note: in honor of the theme, this is a copy of a post from Radley Balko.]

I Am Legend

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

Will Smith can do no cinematic wrong in my book, and I especially appreciate him being a go-to actor when Hollywood decides to produce big-budget science fiction movies. (E.g., Men in Black, Independence Day, and I even liked I, Robot.)

This one is based on an old Richard Matheson novella, which has been movied three times previously (twice American, once Spanish).

[Meanwhile the world still waits for a single decent Robert Heinlein movie adaptation. With all due respect to Richard Matheson—and a lot of respect is due to Richard Matheson—this is insane.]

Anyway: the Fresh Prince plays Robert Neville, a scientist stranded in Manhattan when a cancer cure goes horribly wrong, killing all but a small fraction of everybody on the entire planet. Of the tiny number of survivors, nearly all are mindless and violent, and conveniently photophobic, so they only come out at night. Only Neville seems to be totally immune.

This gives rise to some misanthropic fantasy scenes, as Neville explores a city that's populated by just him, his dog, and the monsters.

It's pretty good, and Will Smith acts the heck out of a role that has him teetering on the edge of insanity. But—personal taste here—I prefer things a little more upbeat.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:17 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-03-30 Update

The phony race continues to be tight as a tick.

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-03-16
"Hillary Clinton" phony200,000-25,000
"Barack Obama" phony195,000+3,000
"John McCain" phony183,000-15,000

  • The Pew Research Center, apparently not sold on the merits of our Google-hit research methodology, actually polled Democrats on the phoniness of their candidates. Key phony results:
    • "roughly twice as many white Democrats say the word 'phony' describes Clinton than say it describes Obama (30% vs. 16%)."

    • "Democratic women voters are about as likely as Democratic men to say the descriptors hard-to-like and phony apply to Clinton."

    • "views of Hillary Clinton among white Democratic voters are more influenced by perceptions that she is phony than by any other trait or emotion tested."

    It's completely awesome that a reputable polling firm is asking voters about whether their candidates are phony.

  • Both Obama and Clinton look forward to solving the Medicare funding crisis with a huge increase in Nanny-statism aimed at Americans of Mass:
    Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton may differ (slightly) on health-care policy reform, but at least they agree on how to pay for it. At one debate, Mr. Obama announced that "if we went back to the obesity rates that existed in 1980, that would save the Medicare system a trillion dollars." Mrs. Clinton mirrors the claim on her Web site: "Medicare could save over a trillion dollars over 25 years if obesity among seniors could be returned to levels in the 1980s."
    That's from a Dallas Morning News op-ed from Daniel Engber. Engber is quick to reality-check the claim:
    Some fact checking revealed that their numbers (apparently taken from a RAND Corp. study) were a bit off. According to Eric Finkelstein, a widely cited authority on the economic cost of obesity, they should have said the savings would be $200 billion.
    Ah. What's a mere $800 billion overstatement in the heat of a campaign? We'll still be able to save a bunch in medical costs for taxpayers if we get those tubbies to slim down, right? Not so fast:
    But a pair of new epidemiological studies reveals that these attempts to wring money out of the obese are misleading and misguided. Worse, the obesity cost estimates used to justify them are a danger to public health.
    I encourage you to check out the details at the link; it's a good debunking of the notion that it's an easy economic call to have government save us from ourselves. Engber's conclusion:
    We're all interested in the most efficient ways to extend life spans and improve our quality of life. But the rhetoric of wasted fat dollars does little for our health; the claim that obesity costs the government $1 trillion is absurd at best and self-fulfilling at worst.

    Instead, presidential candidates should pledge support for a federal ban on weight-based discrimination. If we stop blaming fat people for our problems, they might start feeling better – and start saving us money.

  • Engber aimed his guns at Obama and Clinton, but McCain's looking to hire the nanny for us as well. At his official site, ironically under the heading "John McCain Believes in Personal Responsibility":
    Public health initiatives must be undertaken with all our citizens to stem the growing epidemic of obesity and diabetes, and to deter smoking.
    Sigh. You might as well bookmark the Official NHLBI BMI Calculator [link updated 2014-07-02, thanks to Ryan Bauer] now; BMI reporting will probably become mandatory sometime next year, no matter who wins.


Last Modified 2014-07-06 10:05 PM EDT

Experimental Results

2008-03-30

This week's test of the Sunday Basic Cable Movie Actor Theory:

  • 2:00PM on USA: Kiss the Girls (Morgan Freeman)
  • 4:30PM on A&E: Die Hard with a Vengeance (Bruce Willis)
  • 9:00PM on USA: Bruce Almighty (Morgan Freeman)
The theory remains unrefuted for six consecutive weeks.

American Gangster

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

As I type, this movie is number 185 on IMDB's top 250 movies of all time. Please. But it's pretty good.

It's the story of the rise and fall of Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington. At the start of the movie, Frank is the flunky of Harlem crimelord Bumpy Johnson, a small role played by Clarence Williams III (who will always be Linc Hayes from The Mod Squad to me—yes, kids, that's how old I am).

Frank's climb to the top goes largely unnoticed by the police, since black criminals are assumed to be owned by white higher-ups. Frank is a criminal entrepreneur, often making analogies to legitimate business practices. That doesn't stop him from killing people, though, both directly and by satisfying Harlem's huge hunger for heroin.

Opposing him is Detective Richie Roberts, who is, according to this film, one of only a handful of honest cops in the New York City metropolitan area. He's played by Maximus himself, Russell Crowe. Richie's a New Jersey schlub, dedicated to shutting down the unusually pure junk Frank is importing from Thailand using his US military contacts.

It's very watchable, with two huge acting talents at the top of their game, and a great director, Ridley Scott.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:18 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-03-28

  • A reproduced article from a November 1968 issue of Mechanix Illustrated: "40 Years in the Future":
    IT’S 8 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008, and you are headed for a business appointment 300 mi. away. You slide into your sleek, two-passenger air-cushion car, press a sequence of buttons and the national traffic computer notes your destination, figures out the current traffic situation and signals your car to slide out of the garage. Hands free, you sit back and begin to read the morning paper—which is flashed on a flat TV screen over the car’s dashboard. Tapping a button changes the page.
    As you might expect, the prognosticator got some things right, many things hilariously wrong, and totally missed on others.

    On the other hand, we have nearly eight months to go before November 18, so there's still time to come up with some of this stuff … (Via GeekPress.)

  • For example Mechanix Illustrated failed to foresee something like this: Thanks to a data breach at Hannaford, the Pun Salad preferred supermarket chain, we got our first replacement credit card yesterday; probably a couple more are in the pipeline. The Boston Globe has details on the breach that I hadn't seen elsewhere:
    A massive data breach at Hannaford Brothers Cos. was caused by a "new and sophisticated" method in which software was secretly installed on servers at every one of its grocery stores, the company told Massachusetts regulators this week.
    This sounds like a remote compromise, unless the bad guys had an inside IT accomplice at Hannaford. In which case, I recommend drawing and quartering.

  • Republicans have to be disappointed in Hillary Clinton, who's engaging in the politics of personal self-destruction. Rich Lowry examines the symptoms:
    Oliver Sacks may have a new case study in Hillary Clinton. The neurologist and author who writes about people afflicted with bizarre disorders (e.g., “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”) might find Hillary’s faulty memory an avenue for new research.

    It’s the case of “The First Lady Who Mistook Herself for a Risk-Taking International Diplomat.” The patient is a 60-year-old white female, known for her intelligence, impeccable work ethic, and emotional reserve. Although capable of bouts of absent-mindedness — especially when subpoenaed billing records are involved — the patient is cautious to a fault.

    And in case you haven't seen it:

  • You think I'm kidding about "the politics of personal self-destruction"? Not really.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:28 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-03-26

  • Law Prof Steven Bainbridge comments on the short unhappy New Hampshire legal career of Daniel Hynes, who was recently convicted of extortion. His plan for riches: threaten lawsuits against hair salons with different prices for men's and women's haircuts. His letter in one case said: "I demand payment in the amount of $1,000 to avoid litigation." Instead he got arrested, and now faces possible fines, imprisonment, and (hopefully) disbarment.

    Prof Bainbridge points out that (in many cases) the problem is not mean and nasty lawyers, but mean and nasty laws that allow them to pull stunts like this. He also features an amusing excerpt from Much Onliged, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse on the difference between blackmail and extortion.

    The Concord Monitor news story on Hynes' conviction is here.

  • Blog post title of the day: The Day our Brains Stood Still.

  • Yet another post about Obama's race speech, but worth reading: Mick Danger at Luskin's Poor and Stupid blog, it's in "open letter to Senator Obama from a Typical White Person" format:

    Today’s failures are caused by you, Senator Obama. You caused this problem by not solving it, by blaming boogiemen, by using the power of words and an actor’s talent for preying on the anger and hurt of generations young and old. You are the cause because you perpetuate a system of failure. You actually figured out how to get more power by denying the real problems. You use your God-given brains and your Harvard education to snooker people far less gifted than you with the same old socialist bullshit. You’re not Moses; you’re Huey Long.

    Want to hear a harsh reality about race in the minds of today’s rich, white people?

    We want success for “the black community,” not failure. We want you to have better schools, better neighborhoods, and better lives. Want to know why? Because it's safer for us if you are more like us. But, that's not the only reason. It's also because we're mostly nice people and we want more niceness. It's why so many rich, white people support you, Obama.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:30 AM EDT

Ocean's Thirteen

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

Better than Twelve, not quite as good as Eleven. And I've nearly overdosed on George Clooney.

The thin reed of plot is that Elliot Gould has been screwed over by casino owner Al Pacino. The rest of the (charming, funny, harmless) gang of criminals comes together to help out their friend, and plot the inevitable ruin of this new thug. Amusingly, former nemesis Andy Garcia gets involved as a temporary (albeit untrustworthy) ally. Previous episodes' eye-candy, Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones, sit this one out; their place is taken by Ellen Barkin, playing a tough-as-nails assistant to Pacino.

I've given up keeping track of character names here; it's OK, because their acting effort of the all-star cast is minimal. The heist itself is also by-the-numbers.

But it's fun, twisty, and very commercial.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:16 AM EDT

How Dare They?

I avoided commenting very much on Obama's "Race Speech" last Tuesday. But now I've been sucked into it by a blog posting from Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post. Joel's quite upfront about what he sees as the problem:

Obama says he wants to unite the country. Right-wing pundits say: Over our dead bodies.

Oh oh. And he's also quite straightforward about his opinion of The Speech:

Obama gave what this reporter thought was an honest, thoughtful, nuanced speech on one of America's most sensitive issues. And he did it right in the middle of sound-bite season. (I retract my statement of yesterday saying it was the best speech since Lincoln's Second Inaugural: It was actually the best since Henry V offered that excellent pep talk on Saint Crispen's Day before the Battle of Agincourt.)

So what's the problem with those "right-wing pundits"? Other than the their sheer effrontry in daring to criticize Obama and His Speech, it turns out to be tough to say.

But a number of pundits on the right really loathed the speech. They have called it dishonest and cynical. They basically say you can't believe a thing Obama says. No doubt they believe Obama's latest book should have been titled "The Mendacity of Hope."

How dare they?

Newt Gingrich told Hannity that the more he read the speech, "the phonier it got." On another Fox show, Gingrich said, "Look, I think it was a great speech, and I think he is a great speech maker. And I also think it was intellectually, fundamentally dishonest."

Gingrich's remarks on Hannity's show are here. Joel's second link goes to Media Matters; there's a direct transcript here. Joel's comment:

Phony? Dishonest? What it was, actually, was defining: It has helped Speaker Gingrich, for example, remind us that he remains, at core, the same ol' congressional back-bencher who loves to throw the verbal hand-grenade.

In other words: How dare he?

My guess is that there's nothing Obama could have said that would have satisfied some of these folks. Charles Krauthammer writes that the Obama speech was "brilliantly sophistic," which is a fancy way of saying that it was full of specious arguments, which is a fancy way of saying that it was dishonest.

How dare he? Fortunately, there's a link, so you can make your own call on Krauthammer's "fancy" argument.

Some on the right are even more vituperative. Faced with a candidate whocalls for Americans to stop believing the worst about their political opponents, they respond by asking voters to believe the worst about such a candidate.

The link goes to an Allahpundit post at Hot Air. Again, how dare he?

The core of their argument is that Obama is a fraud, a charlatan, or at the very least a slippery character. He's Tricky Barry.

How dare they say something like that? Or imply it? Or at least make Joel Achenbach think they implied it?

Here's Mona Charen: 'It's a mistake to try to pigeonhole Barack Obama. He is too smart and too agile to succumb to easy categorization. But the candidate's eloquence is often more of a curtain than a window to his soul -- and one is left to wonder where his heart truly lies. As George Burns said of acting, "Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you've got it made." '

I think that quote is more accurately attributed to Jean Giraudoux.

Rich Lowry: "Swaddled in all the high-mindedness was rhetorical sleight of hand about the Rev. Wright." Lowry writes that Obama's base is "the media," which probably comes as a surprise to the tens of thousands of people who show up for his rallies.

Lowry writes that Obama's speech was designed so that it "couldn't possibly get anything but lavish praise from the press." Fresh from providing said lavish praise, Joel sputters: How dare he say such a thing?

Patrick Buchanan: 'What is wrong with Barack's prognosis and Barack's cure? Only this. It is the same old con, the same old shakedown that black hustlers have been running since the Kerner Commission blamed the riots in Harlem, Watts, Newark, Detroit and a hundred other cities on, as Nixon put it, "everybody but the rioters themselves." '

Joel's substantive criticism of all this:

Wow.

He finishes up:

There are dissenters from this ideological line. Andrew Sullivan has an interesting analysis of a Wright sermon. See also Peggy Noonan's column (via Memeorandum).

I liked the Noonan column too. Sullivan, of course has long been even more besmitten by the Obama charm than Joel Achenbach. After listening to Obama's call for unity, he pronounced that "large swathes of today's conservative movement truly are hateful"; after scanning through responses to Obama's speech at the Corner he discovered "anger and bitterness" which was "palpably fueled by fear and racism."

A number of people are pointing out the contradiction in using Obama's speech to encourage a "new conversation" on race in America while simultaneously trashing any person who dares to point out that this particular emperor isn't wearing any more clothes than your typical pol. For example, Jonah Goldberg:

In fact, doesn't it seem like the majority of people begging for a "new conversation" on race are the same folks who shout "racist!" at anyone who disagrees with them?

Well, yeah. Also see Tom Maguire and Ann Althouse in the same vein. Frankly, if the Obamamanian appeal to "unity" is used to mask (yet another) unfair and stupid wave of attacks in the conservatives-are-all-scummy-racists-who-should-just-shutup mold, whatever was of value in Obama's speech is severely degraded. And for that degradation, we have to thank folks like Joel Achenbach and Andrew Sullivan.

Of course, it's happened before. Back in 1997 Bill Clinton launched his "Initiative on Race" to "promote a dialogue in every community of the land" on racial issues. Plenty of inclusive talk at the outset, but a few months later:

President Clinton's advisory panel on race decided to restrict testimony and not consider the views of opponents of affirmative action when it held a hearing on how to achieve diversity on college campuses. The chairman of the panel, John Hope Franklin, said opponents of affirmative action, like Ward Connerly, the University of California regent who led the fight to ban the use of race in admissions to state universities, were unlikely ''to contribute to this discussion.''

So much for "dialogue". A few months after that, an opponent of "affirmative action" did manage to wangle an invitation to a "town meeting" in Akron. Abigail Thernstrom found herself confronted by Bill Clinton himself. As recounted by John Hood at Reason:

In that celebrated exchange, part of the president's national "conversation" on race, Clinton--impersonating Geraldo Rivera on a bad day--asked participants whether they supported affirmative action in higher education. Thernstrom interjected, correctly, that the real question was whether racial preferences, not some vague concept of "affirmative action," ought to continue.

"Abigail," said the president in mock familiarity, towering over her as she sat in her chair, "do you favor the United States Army abolishing the affirmative action program that produced Colin Powell?" When she hesitated, he pressed on. "Yes or no?" he demanded. "Yes or no?"

Thernstrom refused to take the bait, and began: "I do not think that it is racial preferences that made Colin Powell...."

"He thinks he was helped by it," the president interrupted.

This is, apparently, the kind of conversation that the president would like to foster on race: superficial, bullying, and misleading.

(The late WFB, Jr. also commented on the then-President's graceless performance in Akron.)

When Clinton's panel completed its report 15 months after his initial announcement, it landed with a dull thud in the midst of Monicagate. Positive effect on American race relations: zero.

As Achenbach and Sullivan show, we're all ready for another round of this charade. The "progressives" can't stand honest debate on this issue, because they know they can't win on this basis. The best they can do is snark and slime.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:33 AM EDT

Michael Clayton

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

I wasn't prepared to like this movie as much as I did, but it turns out to be an intelligent character-driven suspense thriller.

George Clooney is in the title role. Michael works for a prestigious New York law firm, technically as a lawyer, but actually in a role variously described as a "bagman", "janitor", or "fixer." He's called upon to deal with Arthur (Tom Wilkinson), who's gone off his manic-depressive meds while doing a deposition in Wisconsin, removed his clothes, and pursued the deponent, a young Midwestern farmgirl named Anna, out in the parking lot. (Fortunately, we only see the beginning of this.)

But it turns out that Arthur is not only crazy, but right. The corporate client his firm is representing has been marketing a deadly herbicide that they know has a proclivity to kill people; if this gets out, they're likely to be on the hook for billions, and probably up against criminal charges as well.

George Clooney is dead solid perfect in this role, simply because he's so credible as an aging prettyboy whose charmed life is slipping into disaster on every side. He's got financial problems caused by entering into a bar business with his druggie brother; his ex-wife resents him for neglecting their young son, and so does the son; it's not clear what his long-term professional future is, since his firm is in merger talks, and it's not clear if they'll have any role for an ethically-challenged whose talents are in decline.

Unfortunately, all this wonderfulness is chained to the most hackneyed of plot devices, the corporation that retains murderous thugs to remove inconvenient trouble-making people who Know Too Much. I overdosed on this cliché when I saw it on Kojak for the eleventh time, sometime circa 1974. (The writer/director, Tony Gilroy, also wrote the Bourne films, which mine a slightly different lefty paranoia vein.)

But, given the politics of Hollywood, we're likely stuck with this sort of thing for the foreseeable future. If you suspend disbelief on that score, you'll see a pretty good movie.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:18 AM EDT

Experimental Results

2008-03-23

This week's test of the Sunday Basic Cable Movie Actor Theory:

  • 12:00PM on A&E: Die Hard With a Vengeance (Bruce Willis)
Comment: Pretty slim pickings; perhaps the schedulers think everybody's watching basketball.

The Hunt for Red October is on at midnight (on Spike), although that's technically Monday.

But one movie's good enough to deem our theory status to be: so far unrefuted.

URLs du Jour

2008-03-21

Look much like spring where you are? Here neither.

  • Katherine Mangu-Ward discusses the tendency of Florida to mess up otherwise orderly elections.
    This winter, the Florida Democratic party moved their primary up to a week before Super Tuesday, eager for the nation to watch its pilgrimage to the voting booth with bated breath once again. The national party warned that there would be consequences for states that jumped the line, and lo and behold: The Florida Democrats were stripped of their convention delegates.

  • What to do? Never fear. Floridian Dave Barry provides the answer.

  • I didn't have anything intelligent to say about the Obama speech on his nutty minister. Over at the Corner, Charles Murray does. Bottom line:
    I can’t vote for him. He is an honest-to-God lefty. He apparently has learned nothing from the 1960s. His Supreme Court nominees would be disasters. And maybe he is too green and has lived too much of his adult life in a politically correct bubble. But the other day he talked about race in ways that no other major politician has tried to do, with a level of honesty that no other major politician has dared, and with more insight than any other major politician possesses. Not bad.
    I would have been just snarky enough to append "… for a politician" there. But read the whole thing.

  • It was no picnic for Jesus, so what are your odds? Crucifiction is bad for you. (Via Geek Press.)

Gone Baby Gone

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

I'm a pretty good fan of crime novelist Dennis Lehane, and I read the book version of Gone Baby Gone back in 2003. This is one of the most faithful movie adaptations of a book I can remember, from script, to atmosphere, to casting. Ben Affleck does a great job directing; he also co-wrote the screenplay.

Private eye Patrick Kenzie and his lover/partner Angie Gennaro are brought into a child abduction case that has so far stumped the Boston cops. Angie (wisely, it turns out) has misgivings, but good-hearted Patrick thinks (wrongly, it turns out) that they can't do any harm by trying. It doesn't help that the missing little girl has a foulmouthed drug-abusing slutty mother.

The movie is shot in some of Boston's least appealing neighborhoods and deals with some of its scummiest characters. It is unrelievedly grim and gritty, with nary a side trip to Fenway or the Common.

And yes, this does make the fourth Casey Affleck movie I've watched this month. Good catch.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:17 AM EDT

Arthur C. Clarke

Like many geeks my age, I went through a heavy science fiction phase in my youth. The big three writers were Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. When I was feeling slightly more literary, I'd throw in some Ray Bradbury as well.

Heinlein and Asimov are long gone, and the news tonight is that Arthur C. Clarke has passed away.

In his prime writing years, Clarke's story ideas were unmatched. His characters were less memorable. In trying to think of any off the top of my head, I can only bring up the ones from 2001, and only because of the movie.

So, for example, I remember Rama, the mysterious hollow asteroid-sized spaceship passing through the Solar System, and its awe-inspiring exploration. Couldn't tell you anything about the human explorers, though.

Clarke was also a pretty good non-fiction writer, and I remember reading his Profiles of the Future when I was a lad, which was all about technogical prognostication. He came up with his three "laws" of prediction:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Number three was especially perceptive, I think. From the perspective of 1962, iPods, DVDs, and the Web would all seem pretty magical.

(OK, so we didn't have anything like 2001's HAL in real-life 2001. We're not even very close in 2008.)

A movie version of Rendezvous with Rama is planned for next year. Can't wait.

Since Clarke was a hardcore atheist, it would seem inappropriate to say "rest in peace" or similar sentiment. And I haven't read anything by him for many years, so saying "he will be missed" also misses the mark. But I deeply appreciate the entertainment and education he provided.

URLs du Jour

2008-03-18

  • One hundred fifty-five words, plus an eighty-two word correction. Read the whole thing and adjust your next shopping list accordingly. (Via Prof Bainbridge, who calls it, accurately, "a little gem.")

  • A number of bloggers (e.g., Shawn Macomber and Patterico) have pointed out this NYT article profiling Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., pastor to Senator Barack Obama from April 2007. Final paragraph:
    "If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me," Mr. Wright said with a shrug. "I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen."
    Rich Lowry also quotes it in his syndicated column. And it's risen to the attention of ABC reporter Jake Tapper.

    This, to put it mildly, puts in doubt Obama's recent claim that Pastor Wright's batshit remarks "were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation." If he wasn't aware of Wright's bonkeritude back then, why did he say he might have to "distance himself"?

    Now, in one sense, this is not a huge deal: Obama's still got a ways to go before his truth-shading and cynical posturing approaches Clintonian levels. But he was supposed to be Special and Different, that's his thing! How much air will go out of his campaign when his followers, trying to reach out and touch the hem of his garment, find out that it's mostly polyester?

  • Another sign of scales dropping from MSM eyes: AP reporter Ron Fournier opines that Obama is "bordering on arrogance"; he "can be a bit too cocky for his own good"; he and his wife "ooze a sense of entitlement"; he "can be aloof and ungracious".

    Ouch. At least Fournier didn't describe Obama as "uppity". And, to be fair, Fournier says that Obama's arrogance is still measured in the milliClinton range. But he's supposed to be Better Than That.

  • Thomas Sowell has it right:
    Senator Barack Obama’s political success thus far has been a blow for equality. But equality has its down side.

    Equality means that a black demagogue who has been exposed as a phony deserves exactly the same treatment as a white demagogue who has been exposed as a phony.

Oh Boy, Oh Boy, Oh Boy

Just in case you haven't caught this on one of the 9473 other blogs that have it today:

(Via Club For Growth.)


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:36 AM EDT

Ocean's Twelve

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

Working our way through the Ocean's Trilogy. This one isn't that great.

The premise is that Terry Benedict, the casino owner/thug ripped off for millions in the previous movie, has discovered the identities and locations of the gang members. (Who are, in this moral universe, the good guys, because they're cute and funny.) Terry aims to get repaid, and is threatening enough so the gang meekly go along. This involves, of course, stealing other stuff from other people.

It's pretty tedious, and nobody involved in the movie seems to be having any fun.

The soundtrack was annoying.

At a key point in the movie, the character played by Julia Roberts—is called upon to impersonate Julia Roberts! Wacky! But also confusing! Why doesn't the character played by Brad Pitt impersonate Brad Pitt, the character played by George Clooney impersonate George Clooney …

Anyway, some chuckles, and some cleverness, but basically everyone's doing it by the numbers, with no other justification besides squeezing some movie dollars out of the rubes.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:16 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-03-16 Update

Interesting. As the campaign undergoes an unusually phony week, the phony hits go down. I don't understand, but the Google does not lie:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-03-09
"Hillary Clinton" phony225,000-14,000
"John McCain" phony198,000-8,000
"Barack Obama" phony192,000-13,000

  • The most notable trend has been the fake outrage generated over, not what a candidate might have said, but instead what an associate of the candidate said. Michael Kinsley does a good job of imagining where this all could lead:
    First of all, I unequivocally dissociate myself from remarks by my second cousin to the effect that my worthy opponent is a "prize bitch." My cousin is a dog breeder and thought she was being complimentary. She did not appreciate that such phraseology could give offense to certain segments of the population who are unfamiliar with dogs. Nevertheless, there is no room for canine imagery in a national political campaign, and Cousin Maisie has dropped out of our family in order to avoid causing any distraction from the central issues that we ought to be debating, such as terrorism and health care.
    The candidate muses further on the role of the media in all this:
    Is this part of a scheme by my opponent to introduce race into the campaign? That's not for me to say. It is my job to talk about the issues, such as health care and the subprime mortgage crisis. It is your job as members of the press to ignore all that boring crap and to fan the flames of phony issues with no evidence whatsoever, and I call upon you to do your job.

  • Should I care more than I do about Obama's wacky pastor and his ugly opinions and rhetoric? I don't think so! And an unlikely source, Matthew Yglesias, showed me why:
    But of course they're right that it'll hurt him electorally because Obama's going to have a hard time explaining that I take to be the truth, namely that his relationship with Trinity has been a bit cynical from the beginning. After all, before Obama was a half-black guy running in a mostly white country he was a half-white guy running in a mostly black neighborhood. At that time, associating with a very large, influential, local church with black nationalist overtones was a clear political asset (it's also clear in his book that it made him, personally, feel "blacker" to belong to a slightly kitschy black church). Since emerging onto a larger stage, it's been the reverse and Obama's consistently sought to distance himself from Wright, disinviting him from his campaign's launch, analogizing him to a crazy uncle who you love but don't listen to, etc. The closest analogy would probably be to Hillary Clinton's inconsistent accounting of where she's from (bragging about midwestern roots when trying to win in Iowa, promptly forgetting those roots when explaining away a loss in Illinois, developing a sporadic affection for New York sports teams) -- banal, mildly cynical shifts of association as context changes.
    This puts the issue in my phony comfort zone: it's a phony controversy, which Obama can't respond to effectively, since it would reveal his religious posturing as phony. Sweet!

    David Bernstein has more serious thoughts:

    Yglesias may well be correct about Obama, but when you're left with the choice of either acknowledging that you had sincere close, personal, and political ties with a minister whose views most Americans find beyond the pale, or defending yourself by using the "hey, I'm just a cynical politician who uses religion to get votes just like anything else, and I don't believe in it any more than I really believe that NAFTA is bad" excuse, I think you may be in for some trouble.
  • Andrew Ferguson has a great essay at the Weekly Standard about the meaning of Obama's slogan, "We are the ones we've been waiting for."
    Certainly Obama fans won't admit how obscure the sentence is--though several have claimed that it's lifted from a prophecy of the Tribal Elders of the Hopi Indians. Hopi prophecies are famously obscure.

    But this is just wishful thinking. The origins of the phrase aren't nearly so glamorous or exotic. Two years ago, before Obama even said he wanted to be president, the left-wing-radical-feminist-lesbian novelist Alice Walker published a book of essays and called it We are the Ones We've Been Waiting For. Believe me: If the line had come from the Tribal Elders of the Hopi nation, Alice Walker would have been more than happy to say so. Instead she said it came from a poem published in 1980 by the left-wing-radical-feminist-bisexual poet June Jordan. Neither Walker nor Jordan has said what the sentence means. But Walker did offer this hint in the introduction to her book of essays: "We are the ones we've been waiting for because we are able to see what is happening with a much greater awareness than our parents or grandparents, our ancestors, could see."

    Ah, so it's the whole our-generation-is-smarter thing. Alice Walker is actually much closer to being in m-m-my generation than Obama's, though.

    Andew has much more to say on Obama's rhetoric, and I encourage you to read the whole thing.


Last Modified 2014-07-06 11:05 PM EDT

Experimental Results

2008-03-16

This week's test of the Sunday Basic Cable Movie Actor Theory:

  • 12:00am on USA: Mercury Rising (Bruce Willis)
  • 10:30am on TNT: The Legend of Bagger Vance (Will Smith)
  • 12:20pm on TBS: The Whole Ten Yards (Bruce Willis)
  • 2:30pm on USA: Hostage (Bruce Willis)
  • 4:30pm on FX: I, Robot (Will Smith)
  • 7:00pm on FX: Enemy of the State (Will Smith)
  • 9:00pm on TBS: Men in Black (Will Smith)
Comment: Bruce and Will are hard to avoid today. Theory status: so far unrefuted.

URLs du π Day

It's a day to celebrate that most mysterious and beautiful number. If everything goes right, this should show up on the blog on 3/14 at 1:59:27pm EDT. How geeky is that?

Some argue that one should celebrate at 1:59:26pm instead. Those people are Truncaters. I am a Rounder. Death to the Truncaters!

  • For a good intro, read John Tierney:

    If this is 3/14, it must be Pi Day. In fact, it’s the 20th anniversary of the first Pi Day, a feast that began at the San Francisco Exploratorium and has been rightfully spreading in a great circle around the world.

    Heh! John has opportunities for prizes if you write a π poem.

  • The Exploratorium's main Pi Day site is here.

  • Speaking of poetry: It's not original, but here's my favorite:
    Now I, even I, would celebrate in rhymes inept,
    the great immortal Syracusan rivall'd nevermore
    who in his wondrous lore passed on before
    left men his guidance how to circles mensurate.
    Exercise for the reader: find the hidden message!

  • You might also want to see the "official" Pi Day web site. (It's nice, but … please. Official? Who said?) Don't miss the Pi Clock, so you can torment your friends by telling them you'll meet them at π/2 past three.

  • The Wikipedia article on π is good. For example, you can learn why, even though π's decimal expansion is endless, learning more than a handful of digits is unlikely to have practical application:
    For example, a value truncated to 39 decimal places is sufficient to compute the circumference of any circle that fits in the observable universe to a precision comparable to the size of a hydrogen atom

  • There's also an entry for the "Feynman Point", which is a good acid test to determine your True Geekiness.

    The Feynman Point is the sequence of six 9s which begins at the 762nd decimal place of π. It is named after physicist Richard Feynman, who once stated during a lecture he would like to memorize the digits of π until that point, so he could recite them and quip "nine nine nine nine nine nine and so on."

    If you think that's funny, congratulations: you're a geek.

  • But in any case, whether you be geekly or not, try to have a piece of pie today. As long as the pie is round; despite what you learned in school, true pie are not squared.

Foundation and Empire

[Amazon Link]

I am, for some reason, working through the science fiction novels of Isasc Asimov. This one is made up of two stories, "The General" and "The Mule", that originally appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1945. They were first joined together in book form in 1951, and remain together to this day.

It's the middle volume of Asimov's "Foundation Trilogy" (which was later expanded into seven books, plus more by other authors). The Foundation was the project of psychohistorian Hari Seldon, who foresaw the imminent collapse of the Galactic Empire. The Foundation was established on Terminus, waaaaay out on the edge of the galaxy, to re-establish civilization and prosperity in a much shorter time than would otherwise be the case.

"The General" describes the final clash between the dying Empire and the surging Foundation. Things look grim for the Foundation, as an upstart military man, Bel Riose, decides to use the Empire's dwindling, but still vast, resources to rein them in. But he ultimately fails, and much of the story is devoted to showing how this was inevitable, and all in accord with Seldon's vision.

"The Mule" is the more interesting story; it involves the unforeseen wild card of a mutant with psychic powers, who single-handedly builds his own empire, and threatens the Foundation. Seldon's psychohistorical equations deal with mass societal trends, and are unequipped for a powerful single individual like the Mule.

This is a book I first read when very young, and by that time it was already a science fiction "classic". It's not as good as I remembered, but the Mule stuff is still pretty good.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:18 AM EDT

Becoming Jane

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

'Twas a chick-flick evening at Pun Salad Manor.

This is a fictionalized exploration of a period in Jane Austen's short life where she needs to decide whether to (a) succumb to societal pressue to marry well; (b) marry for love; (c) to strike out on her own and "live by her pen"; or (d) bust Charles Darnay out of the Bastille. Anyone with a nodding familiarity with Miss Austen's life knows how it turned out, so the element of surprise is gone. But on the way, there's a lot of clever and flowerly dialogue, fancy costumes, and splashy parties.

I gather that a number of scenes and situations in the film are constructed for Austenophiles to sit up and say, "Ohhh, so that's where she got the idea for …" Since my prior Austen knowledge involves dozing through a lot of movies, I could only do a little bit of that. Still fun, though.

Anne Hathaway does a pretty good job of playing Jane; some of the critics didn't think she did a good job with the accent, but it seemed fine to me.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:18 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-03-12

  • Dear reader, are you a brain-dead liberal? Worry not, for if there's hope for David Mamet, there's hope for you. [Warning: the excerpt below contains a word you can get by with saying only one to three times in a PG-13 movie.]
    As a child of the '60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.

    These cherished precepts had, over the years, become ingrained as increasingly impracticable prejudices. Why do I say impracticable? Because although I still held these beliefs, I no longer applied them in my life. How do I know? My wife informed me. We were riding along and listening to NPR. I felt my facial muscles tightening, and the words beginning to form in my mind: Shut the fuck up. "?" she prompted. And her terse, elegant summation, as always, awakened me to a deeper truth: I had been listening to NPR and reading various organs of national opinion for years, wonder and rage contending for pride of place. Further: I found I had been—rather charmingly, I thought—referring to myself for years as "a brain-dead liberal," and to NPR as "National Palestinian Radio."

    Read the whole thing. Then go watch The Spanish Prisoner again. David Mamet's wife is Rebecca Pidgeon.

  • Dubya has words on the Fairness Doctrine, while speaking to the National Religious Broadcasters 2008 Convention:
    … there's an effort afoot that would jeopardize your right to express your views on public airways. Some members of Congress want to reinstate a regulation that was repealed 20 years ago. It has the Orwellian name called the Fairness Doctrine. Supporters of this regulation say we need to mandate that any discussion of so-called controversial issues on the public airwaves includes equal time for all sides. This means that many programs wanting to stay on the air would have to meet Washington's definition of balance. Of course, for some in Washington, the only opinions that require balancing are the ones they don't like.
    The website notes, helpfully, that this was met with (Laughter and Applause). Applause here too. (Via Extreme Mortman.)

  • General proposition: Democrats aren't serious about Social Security reform. The latest data point in support of that proposition is here, an article from former Social Security principal deputy commissioner Andrew Biggs on Obama's reform proposal:
    The problem is two-fold: His proposal would be a very large tax hike, yet it won't be enough.
    "Other than that, though, it's fine." The longer we avoid reality now, the more painful things will be in a couple decades.

    But perhaps by 2030 or so, Purina will offer cheap "Geezer Chow" in those forty-pound bags. Here's hopin'!

  • From Chapter One in How Not to Design a Hybrid Bus:
    The Municipal Railway will not use buses from its new hybrid fleet on one line that runs through the public housing projects in San Francisco's Hunters Point neighborhood until officials can stop troublemakers there from turning off the buses' power switches.

    Muni drivers have reported over the last couple of weeks that people have been shutting down the power on their buses by flipping a switch that can be accessed easily through an unlocked panel on the outside of the bus.

    (Via the Bleat.)

  • Three words: Food Court Musical.

Is This Irony? I Can Never Tell.

Hillary supporter Geraldine Ferarro gripes that "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position."

But if Geraldine Ferraro were a white man, we'd all be saying "Who?"

(We'd probably also be saying "Isn't Geraldine kind of an odd name for a white man?" But never mind that.)

The Hinderaker Correction

With regard to the controversy that inspired a huffy post here, John Hinderaker revises and extends his remarks on conservative criticism of McCain:

Conservatives are of course free to criticize anyone they choose, a privilege I indulge in freely.
That's a 180 from this:
And if [conservatives are] going to sit it out, I'd appreciate it if they would sit it out entirely; in other words, stop attacking McCain for his "impurities."
Fine. We'll go with the more recent version.

URLs du Jour

2008-03-10


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:39 AM EDT

Shut Up, They Explained

John Hinderaker of Power Line reacts to a McCain-critical column from L. Brent Bozell. Bottom line:

If there are conservatives who sincerely believe that it makes little difference whether the Executive Branch is run by John McCain or Barack Obama, they are entitled to sit out the election. And if they're going to sit it out, I'd appreciate it if they would sit it out entirely; in other words, stop attacking McCain for his "impurities."

And Hugh Hewitt says: Amen.

Senator McCain understands the stakes and believes in winning the war. No matter the number or intensity of the other disagreements he has with conservatives, this ought to be enough to bring the base on board.

If it isn't, then I am with John: Sit it out. Entirely.

I'll be charitable: when normally excellent and thoughtful bloggers churn out thousands of words a day, they're bound to get it wrong at times. And this is one of those times.

Cheerleaders are one hundred percent behind the team. But you don't ask a cheerleader to provide insight. You don't expect a cheerleader to know (or even care) about the team's weak spots. And a cheerleader wouldn't tell you about them in any case.

And since you don't expect to hear a cheerleader's honest reporting about the weak spots, why should you really trust a cheerleader to be straight with you on the strong points either? You can't.

If you really want to get the whole story, you need to discount the cheerleaders heavily. They can be fun to watch, even interesting. They'll even tell you the truth, if it makes it past their self-censorship filters. (You'd want to check it with an independent source, though.)

In short, it's tough to take cheerleaders seriously.

John and Hugh (seemingly) want to be cheerleaders, put their critical faculties on hold until November or so, and break out the pom-poms for Our Team.

That would be bad enough, but they think that all like-minded people should be cheerleaders too. And if not, we should just "sit it out."

Pun Salad traffic is a mere flyspeck compared to those blogs, but for what it's worth, Pun Salad declines.


Last Modified 2008-03-10 6:19 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-03-09 Update

We don't have Mike Huckabee to kick around anymore. How are the other phonies doing?

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-03-02
"Hillary Clinton" phony239,000+3,000
"John McCain" phony206,000+13,000
"Barack Obama" phony205,000-2,000

Hitting the past week's high points:

  • Since Obama is leading in delegate count, and McCain has sewn up the GOP nominiation, it's very encouraging to see this opening in a recent New Republic article by Michael Crowley:
    Though they differ in many ways, John McCain and Barack Obama have one thing in common: Each sees the other as a posturing phony.
    To which we say: no need to quarrel about that, boys. You can both be right.

  • Ed Whelan pens a scary summary of Obama's judicial philosphy. He finds it to be a "prescription for lawless judicial activism". He details Obama's "gross misrepresentations" and reckless allegations about Circuit Judge nominee Leslie Southwick in 2007. He reads Obama's campaign book and finds it "unctuous," cloaking "extreme positions in sweet-sounding rhetoric." And more. Whelan's conclusion:
    In the end, an examination of Obama's record and rhetoric discloses the stuff he is made of--his own constitution. Beneath the congeniality and charisma lies a leftist partisan who will readily resort to sly deceptions to advance his agenda of liberal judicial activism.
    Other than that, though, he's fine.

  • We won't even discuss Obama's ongoing advisor problems.

  • Virginia Postrel is back, after some health-related downtime, but absence has not made her heart grow fonder for McCain. She quotes extensively (and, for any conservative Republican, painfully) from last month's Chait article. Her supplementary comments:
    McCain is an instinctive regulator who considers business a base pursuit. It doesn't help that the senator's personal connections with commerce are largely limited to a highly protected local industry (distributing beer) and outright corruption (the Charles Keating scandal). And he's every bit as moralistic as Hillary Clinton, our would-be national nanny. His first response to something he doesn't like--particularly something commercial he doesn't like--is to ban it.

  • Virginia also quotes from a TNR blog entry from Richard Stern, who finds major phoniness in Hillary's, uh, adaptive speech patterns:
    Why isn’t it noticed, or, if noticed, not commented upon? At least in her Ohio and Texas talks, Hillary Clinton drops the final "G" from the "ing" words (participles, gerunds)--an annoyance, especially to those who’ve heard her talking to other people and groups where not one "G" is dropped and she sounds like the young woman who gave a famous Wellesley College commencement address, was one of America’s 100 most successful lawyers, was first lady of Arkansas and the United States, and has been a successful U.S. senator from New York State for eight years.
    Now, Virginia finds this less than persuasive:
    I am not a Hillary fan, but attacking her for dropping her final g's is culturally moronic. Picking up local accents, especially ones you've spent most of your adult life around, is not a sign of "dumbing down" your speech to pander. It's only natural to speak like those around you, and there's nothing particularly ignorant-sounding about an American dropping g's. Would you attack the junior senator from New York if she used an occasional (and equally non-standard) Yiddishism? The poor woman is stuck with that horrible Midwestern screech. Cut her some slack for softening it with a little bit of drawl.
    Virginia uses herself as an example, since in her native speech she claims to sound "like a country music singer."

    I sympathize too. When I go back to visit my Midwest relatives, I start sounding like a character from Fargo, myself. Still, this is a rare instance where I'm in disagreement with Virginia.

    Why? Because Hillary's a phony.


Last Modified 2014-07-06 11:06 PM EDT

Experimental Results

2008-03-09

This week's test of the Sunday Basic Cable Movie Actor Theory:

  • 1am on A&E: Die Hard With a Vengeance (Bruce Willis)
  • 1pm on TNT: Air Force One (Harrison Ford)
Theory status: so far unrefuted.

High Profile

[Amazon Link]

This entry in Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series is just out in paperback. Jesse is police chief in Paradise, MA. The book begins with the discovery of the body of famous radio talk show host Walton Weeks hanging from a tree. Soon another body is found. And Jesse's ex-wife shows up saying she's been raped. So things get a little busy for the next 280 pages.

As is usual with Parker's books, there's not a lot of brilliant deduction in finding the perpetrators. Instead, Jesse and his crew pick away doggedly at the backstory of the victims and their acquaintances, and eventually truth outs. Along the way there's plenty of good chatter.

There's also more than usual soap opera: Jesse's obsession with his ex, his drinking problem, his new girlfriend Sunny Randall, etc.. This drives some readers crazy, I know. But Robert B. has long since paid his dues, and to my mind can write his books any way he damn well pleases.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:17 AM EDT

Ocean's Eleven

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

So Mrs. Salad said: "I would like to see Ocean's Thirteen."

"Doesn't that mean we should see Ocean's Eleven and Ocean's Twelve first."

"I guess."

So that's why we watched this seven-year-old movie. And, yes, that does make two Brad Pitt movies in a row. Also (it turns out) two Casey Affleck movies in a row.

Anyway: it's a heist flick, where the robbers are likeable and funny, wouldn't hurt a fly. They're up against a Vegas casino manager with a thin translucent layer of sophistication over a thuggish center. I won't go through the entire cast, but it's what they call star-studded.

Everybody here seems to be having a great time, it's professionally put together, it's very slick and clever. Nothing wrong with that.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:17 AM EDT

An Old Joke Updated with New Information

The astronomer was concluding his lecture at the synagogue: "And some of my colleagues believe that our own sun will expand and swallow the earth in 7.6 billion years."

"How many years did you say?" asked Mrs. Siegel from the back of the room.

"7.6 billion," replied the scientist.

"Whew!" said Mrs. Siegel. "I thought you said million!"

URLs du Jour

2008-03-07

  • In the WSJ today:
    Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior. Much paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics, including calls to regulate subprime mortgages.
    A essay from beyond the grave from Friedman or Hayek? No! Click over, and the answer may make your jaw drop.

  • That was pointed out by Arnold Kling of EconLog. He also points to this from Jonah Goldberg:
    The fundamental insight of libertarianism is that the government is the government. It cannot be your mommy, your daddy, your big brother, your nanny, your friend, your buddy, your god, your salvation, your church or your conscience. It is the government. A big bureaucracy charged with certain responsibilities, some of which it is qualified to carry out, many of which it is not.
    A good quote for a depressing political season where nearly all candidates seem devoted to the opposite view. Jonah's book sits atop the current NYT bestselling non-fiction list. Good for him.

  • I remember—must have been back in 1991 or so—seeing my first picture of Hillary Clinton campaigning in our fair state, and thinking, "that lady is craaaazy." Back last year, Don Danz put together a montage:

    [hillary-clinton-faces-horizontal-thumb]

    I know … totally unfair. But still. This is via a Larry David article at the HuffPo, and he comments (after watching her famous "3am phone call" ad):

    Here's an idea for an Obama ad: a montage of Clinton's Sybillish personalities that have surfaced during the campaign with a solemn voiceover at the end saying, "Does anyone want this nut answering the phone?"

Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:43 AM EDT

Adventures in Campus Journalism

One of the small joys of working at the University is reading the student paper. The most recent issue contains an article about one of my favorite issues, weather-related service curtailments, including an interview with Richard "Dick" Cannon, the decider in this area. I'm not sure whether this bit of genius was accidental or not:

For Cannon, this is his third year calling the shots on the campus-wide curtailment process.

Also, at least in the online version as I type (update: it's been removed), the author says:

(Note - time was not on my side when I was putting this story together, so I acknowledge that there may be some organizational discrepancies in the piece, especially since some of the quotes came at the last minute. Therefore, feel free to do whatever you want with this without calling me for permission)

I don't know if that made it into the print edition or not.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:45 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-03-06

  • Captchas are little tests meant to insure that a web form is not being gamed by a program. John M. Willis has a collection of what he deems the Top Ten Worst. Since I'm a geek, I liked this one:

    [Challenging Captcha]

    [It's been a long time since I did that kind of thing, but I think the answer's zero. The π/2 term shifts the sine curve to the right so it has a minimum at x=0, hence the derivative is zero there. Yes?]

  • Lore Sjöberg has the scoop on PowerBocks:
    Powerbocks are devices that you strap to your feet because you feel that it's been way too long since you fell down. They're like stilts, in that they make you a bit taller. They're like springs, in that they help you jump higher. And they're like replica swords, in that they prove you have more money than sense.
    There's video!

  • And in our occasional Aieee! We're all gonna die! series, we have this:
    A spectacular, rotating binary star system is a ticking time bomb, ready to throw out a searing beam of high-energy gamma rays — and Earth may be right in the line of fire.
    Fine. As long as it waits until after Star Trek comes out …


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:46 AM EDT

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

[Amazon Link]

This is the latest novel from Michael Chabon, a fantastically gifted storyteller and writer. It's been nominated for both an Edgar award (given to mysteries) and a Nebula award (given to science fiction). It's just a plain old good book, though, and Chabon should be honored to have both genres fighting over its ownership.

What makes it at least vaguely SF: it's set in an alternate history in which millions of Jews were accepted as refugees by the pre-WW2 US. Good news: the Holocaust "only" kills two million; bad news: the refugees settle in and around Sitka, Alaska, without full citizenship. When the novel opens in the roughly-present-day, America is about to take back even that stingy offer, and yet another Jewish diaspora is threatened.

What makes it a mystery: the hero is a down-on-his-luck police detective named Meyer Landsman. He lives in the downscale Hotel Zamenhof, where he "drinks to medicate himself, tuning the tubes and crystals of his moods with a crude hammer of hundred-proof plum brandy." One night the manager summons him to the room of heroin addict "Emmanuel Lasker", who's been professionally shot in the back of the head. Meyer's intrigued by a chess set, poised in midgame. Even though (seemingly) nobody really cares about a dead junkie, Meyer's still a good detective and is soon enmeshed in a thicket of conspiracy, etc.

Chabon gives Meyer good wisecracking dialogue in the tradition of hardboiled fiction; he does a fantastic job of seasoning it with weary Jewish ruefulness.

Should you undertake this 400+ page reading project, it helps to pay attention to what initially seem to be colorful people and events that seem only to be adding atmosphere and character development; many turn out to be integral to the plot. (And you don't have to have a familiarity with Jewish custom and the Yiddish language to get through it, but it would probably help.)

The book's Wikipedia entry says there are plans in the way to make The Yiddish Policemen's Union into a movie, with the Coen brothers directing. That would be awesome. The article also summarizes what the book says (and sometimes only hints at) how the alternate history differs from ours. But—wait a minute—also be careful about reading the entry before you read the book since it summarizes the entire plot all the way to the end.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:17 AM EDT

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

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

This movie garnered good critical reviews, and was nominated for a couple Oscars: Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor, Casey Affleck. I don't understand what makes Affleck a "Supporting" actor here, since he plays the Coward Robert Ford, who is right there in the title.

And the movie is pretty well summed up by its title. It follows the mayhem around the last few months in Jesse James' life, with a small coda about what happened to the Coward Robert Ford.

Casey Affleck portrays the Coward Robert Ford as an obsessive creep, the Mark David Chapman of his day. Brad Pitt is Jesse James, who's charismatic and unstable. (But I'd recommend 12 Monkeys instead, if you want to see Brad Pitt being charismatic and unstable.)

The movie is very long, and pretentiously arty. I made two false starts in watching it, falling asleep both times. And I nodded off in a couple of places on my third try, but dutifully skipped back and powered through till the end.

Ironically, the movie's Jesse James is as big a coward as the Coward Robert Ford. Both characters' favorite mode of attack is from behind a helpless victim. This observation isn't particularly interesting, but it's the most interesting thing about the movie.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:16 AM EDT

One of the Best WFB Anecdotes

The right side of the web has been rife with rememberances of William F. Buckley, Jr. Too many to link to, so I haven't tried. But this from Conrad Black is pretty good:

He had one of the largest vocabularies of any English-speaking person in public life but, I discovered when we and our wives took a cruise together, was hopeless at Scrabble because he was unaccustomed to using words of eight letters or less.
I'll have to remember that one the next time I lose at Scrabble. (Via The Corner.)

Illegal Tender

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

Another movie from the Adjective Noun genre. This one lives up to that low standard.

The story begins with a brief 1980s prologue establishing that Wilson DeLeon, even though he be a gangster, is a pretty decent guy, showing mercy to a shopkeeper his minions have been beating on. Never mind, though, because a few minutes later Wilson spurns his wife's pleas to stay home and enjoy the fortune she's laundered for them, is betrayed by his colleagues, and dies of acute lead poisoning.

We then jump forward to the present day, where Wilson DeLeon, Jr., born on the day his daddy died, is presented to us as a serious college student with a hot car and an even hotter girlfriend. Unfortunately, it turns out (unbeknownst to Junior) the bad guys have been after him and his mom all this time, for reasons that will not be made clear until the end of the movie.

The movie is not without its fun moments, but a lot of them result from the ludicrous plot and dialogue that ranges between unbelievable and pointless. (The NYT review calls it "telenovela dialogue", which, given the Hispanicity of the cast, is a dreadful stereotype, but also probably true.)

The movie's bad-guy professional killers are also probably the most inept to ever appear in a major movie. Their strategy for locating their targets is apparently to wander through northeastern US supermarkets and playgrounds looking for them; no wonder it takes twenty years.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:15 AM EDT

Sometimes You Get the Tribble, Sometimes the Tribble Gets You

Bad news: the release of the new Star Trek movie has been moved back from Christmas 2008 to May 8, 2009.

Let me just say: if my doctor tells me I have one year to live, I'm gonna be kind of pissed off about this.

On the other hand, good news: it appears CBS has put every episode of the original series online. For free.


Last Modified 2008-03-03 9:09 PM EST

You Heard It Here First

Pun Salad, December 17, 2007.

Genius Harvard Economics Professor Greg Mankiw, March 2, 2008.

Advantage: Pun Salad!

(Disclaimer: Just kidding. Prof Mankiw's blog pointed me to the original data. Still.)


Last Modified 2008-03-03 7:40 PM EST

Why Do People Take Polls Seriously?

It's been less than two months. Doesn't anyone remember this?

Pun Salad Recommended Screen Cleaner

This product right here. It cleans the side of the screen you can't normally get to.

Congress Hates Big Oil, Except …

… except when a Big Oil company is owned by their favorite dictator. From Investor's Business Daily:

On the surface, H.R. [5351] is awful all by itself. Passing 236-182 last week, the bill scrapped the tax deduction routinely given to the major integrated oil companies — Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips — that helps them explore, extract, refine and market the energy that drives our economy. […]

Congress made this even worse by ensuring that its discrimination against the big oils would benefit Citgo, which happens to be owned by those same companies' worst tormentor abroad — the brutal leftist dictatorship of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Under this bill, the dictator's oil subsidiary keeps its 6% deduction for U.S. domestic manufacturing — the one the American oil companies lose — because Citgo, technically, buys from Chavez.

[Bill number incorrect in the original, corrected here.]

Michelle has further comments. Like all but eight Democratic congresspeople, New Hampshire's Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes voted for this bill.


Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:48 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-03-02 Update

Obama crashes back to earth after his brief phony lead, and Huckabee finds himself, for the first time, in the coveted number one phony spot this week:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-02-22
"Mike Huckabee" phony241,000-7,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony236,000+8,000
"Barack Obama" phony207,000-323,000
"John McCain" phony193,000+14,000

In fact, the phony race is tighter than ever.

  • We haven't shown Huck much Pun Salad love. But we are suckers for self-deprecating humor, and his bit on last week's Saturday Night Live "Weekend Update" segment was a classic of that genre. If you missed it:

  • The big phoniness for Clinton has been her "3am phone call" ad:

    The phoniness here speaks for itself, but managed to be compounded during a press conference call with Clinton's top campaign officials, when John Dickerson asked an obvious question, as reported by Jennifer Skalka of the National Journal:

    "What foreign policy moment would you point to in Hillary's career where she's been tested by crisis?" he said.

    Silence on the call. You could've knit a sweater in the time it took the usually verbose team of Mark Penn, Howard Wolfson and Lee Feinstein, Clinton's national security director, to find a cogent answer. And what they came up with was weak -- that she's been endorsed by many high ranking members of the uniformed military.

    (Aside: I think someone meant retired military. I'm pretty sure a political endorsement from active military is a no-no.)

    Also see Prof Althouse on the subliminal racial epithet contained in the 3am ad. Such is the Althousian genius, I'm not sure whether she's kidding.

  • When Harvard econ prof Greg Mankiw refers to Obama's economic advisors as a "great group," that carries a lot of weight. But that group includes Chicago econ prof Austan Goolsbee who got caught up in controversy about what he did or didn't say about NAFTA to Canadian officials.
    The latest from Canadian Television (LINK) on that story that a senior member of Sen. Barack Obama's campaign team had reached out to the Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. to tell him not to take seriously Obama's fiery anti-NAFTA rhetoric includes questions about a conversation on this subject between Obama senior economic adviser Austan Goolsbee and the Canadian Consulate General in Chicago. […]

    ABC News' Jennifer Parker spoke to Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economics professor, Thursday who would not confirm or deny that he had a conversation with Georges Rioux, the Canadian Consulate General in Chicago. Rioux, in meetings this week in Ottawa, would also neither confirm nor deny any conversation took place. Both men did say that they know each other.

    Riiiight. Megan McArdle quotes from the above, and comments:
    Well, I certainly hope [Obama is] lying, because I think he's going to be the next president of the United States. But of course, as I've said before, I do not like it that politicians seem to feel the need to lie shamelessly to the electorate.
    We live in interesting times when you have to hope that the odds-on favorite to win the Presidency is lying.

  • The featured phoniness from the McCain campaign this week is is small in comparison but (unfortunately) telling. It's long been reported that McCain despises Brad Smith, a critic of McCain-style campaign finance reform, (hence) a First Amendment champion. Byron York interviewed Smith in 2005 at the end of Smith's tenure at the Federal Elections Commission:
    "McCain has always refused to meet with me," Smith says. "I tried to meet him once at a public hearing. He was at the table, and I went up and I said, 'Senator,' and I held out my hand. And he instinctively took my hand, and then he looked up and realized who it was, and he yanked his hand away and said, "I'm not going to shake your hand. You're a bully and a coward, and you have no regard for the Constitution. I don't have to talk to you. I'm not going to talk to you.' It was right in front of a large number of people, so I don't think he wants to talk to me."

    "He said you were a bully and a coward?"

    "Uh-huh. And corrupt, too. He always calls me corrupt. And my wife says, 'If you're corrupt, you're the worst corrupt person I've ever seen. Where are the fur coats? The watches? The cars? The fancy trips?'"

    Recently Paul Mirengoff of Power Line reported on a blogger conference call with McCain:
    … I asked how McCain feels today about his refusal to shake the hand of Brad Smith, the former FEC commissioner with whom he clashed over campaign finance. I was hoping that McCain would answer to the effect that bygones were bygones. Instead, the Senator stood by his conduct, stating that Smith had savaged his character and his integrity on many occasions, so that there was no reason to shake his hand.
    Only problem with that is, as Paul's co-blogger Scott Johnson points out, one can look high and low without finding a single instance where Brad Smith has impugned McCain's character or integrity.
    I called Professor Smith this morning to ask him for a comment. Professor Smith was mystified and amused. He said he laughed out loud when he read Senator McCain's comments, viewing them as a projection of Senator McCain's treatment of him. He recalled having criticized Senator McCain's understanding of the issues implicated by campaign finance regulation, but nothing aimed at Senator McCain's character.
    While Smith has not criticized McCain's character, I'm perfectly happy to: McCain's a jerk. Yes, he's a hero, and admirable in many ways. And I'll probably be voting for him, with one hand holding my nose, in November. But still: he's a jerk.


Last Modified 2014-07-06 11:06 PM EDT

Experimental Results

2008-03-02

This week's test of the Sunday Basic Cable Movie Actor Theory:

  • 7am on TNT: Bad Boys (Will Smith)
  • 10am on FX: Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (Bruce Willis)
  • 2pm on A&E: Star Wars: Empire of Dreams (Harrison J. Ford)
  • 730pm on AMC: In the Line of Fire (Clint Eastwood)
Theory status: so far unrefuted.

Press Release

DURHAM NH, March 1, 2008 — The University of New Hampshire today announced suspension of its operations until further notice.

The announcement, issued from Fort Myers, Florida, by Vice President for Finance and Administrative Affairs Dick "Boom Boom" Cannon, claimed that the entire school had fallen victim to an epidemic of Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as SAD.

Reached for further comment, Cannon said that he just couldn't ask anyone to put up further with the apparently endless snowstorms that have socked the state for months.

"Really," said Cannon. "It was nice to have a white Christmas. But, hey, it's March. This is ridiculous. I'm not coming back until there are crocuses blooming outside my office. I set up a webcam to monitor the situation before I left. I'll let you know."

"I saw a USA Today story yesterday about how New Hampshire was 'two good snowstorms away from having the snowiest winter on record.' That's [expletive] insane. Nobody should be asked to put up with that [situation]," added Cannon. "I took off for the south, as any person wishing to maintain their sanity should."

Asked about how the students would make up their classes, Cannon minimized the impact. "Most of the stuff that goes on in our classes is [nonsense] anyway. Sure, some kids might miss hearing about the Schrodinger equation in Physics 701. But, frankly, they can look up that [material] in Wikipedia. Finals aren't until May, sometime, I think."

Cannon then cut off further questions, as he was leaving to watch a Red Sox exhibition game against the Minnesota Twins. "It's 78 degrees and sunny, suckers," he claimed. "I'm wearing shorts."

Efforts to reach UNH President Mark Huddleston failed, as he was travelling in Costa Rica.


Last Modified 2017-12-05 7:09 AM EST