Go Ahead

  • Go ahead and drive with your sunroof open:

    [Funny YouTube commercial went here once. Account now terminated. It was about this guy who accumulated a large number of critters in his car while driving in the country.]

  • Go ahead and dare to boldly split that infinitive. Even if you're at Harvard.

  • Go ahead and judge by appearances, you shallow sexist.

  • Go ahead and sue some of your students "(whom shall go unmentioned in this email) of violating Title VII of anti-federal discrimination laws," you wacky writing teacher.

  • Go ahead and get the last smidgen of toothpaste out of the tube.

  • Go ahead and have a last laugh.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:39 AM EDT

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

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

Why, yes, I did watch two Odette Yustman movies in a row. Good catch.

This is another product from the Judd Apatow Raunch Factory, but (as usual with him) it's decently funny. It purports to tell the story of music legend Dewey Cox, from the tragic beginnings of his musical career to its twilight. Along the way, Dewey hits all the clichés that you have ever seen in a musician biopic: sex (in hi-fidelity, lo-fidelity, and infidelity modes), drugs, family dysfunction, creative blockage, commercial sellout, delusions of grandeur and transcendental insight, and so on. (This extends to minor things: as in, scripted dialogue in which famous people call each other by their full names, so the audience will know who's supposed to be who.)

Dewey is played by the great John C. Reilly, and two of my favorite comedienees, Kristen Wiig and Jenna Fischer, appear in major roles as two of Dewey's wives—unfortunately, simultaneous at one point.

I probably missed some of the references, and I noticed a lot of them. There are also a boatload of cameo appearances, even more in the "Unrated Directors Cut" version on the DVD. And it's eminently forgettable, other than the frontal male nudity that I could have done without.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:25 AM EDT

Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life

[Amazon Link]

This is a memoir of Steve Martin's life up to the early 1980s, when he stopped doing stand-up comedy. Books by celebrities are a mixed bag, I don't read very many of them. But I liked this one quite a bit; it's well-written and has sharp observations and insights.

I "grew up" watching Steve Martin, starting just slightly before he became huge. As the book details, his "overnight success" came after years and years of toiling in small-venue semi-obscurity. We overlapped a few years in Southern California, and it would have been easy for me to have seen him at the Ice House in Pasadena. But … I didn't.

A few random notes:

  • It's tempting, watching a wild and crazy performance, to think that it's all very spontaneous. Martin dispells that illusion right up front: everything is calculated. No matter how wacky and out of control the comic appears, the jokes, motions, and facial expressions are scripted well in advance. Behind the jovial mask, the comic is watching and gauging reaction, focused on getting everything right. I'm not sure why I find this interesting, but I do.

  • There's a lot of material about his family, particular his rocky relationship with his father. Being a dad makes me sympathize somewhat with his father; c'mon, Steve, isn't it possible that a lot of this emnity was due to misunderstanding? Well, probably not. But I hope I do better when Pun Son writes his memoir.

  • Perhaps surprising for an untraditional comic, Martin has unabashed admiration for the more conventional stand-ups from the 60s and 70s: he has kind words for Don Rickles, Bob Newhart, Mort Sahl, etc. He has a long appreciation for the genius of Johnny Carson.

  • His story of meeting Elvis is priceless. Elvis says, "Son, you have an ob-leek sense of humor."

  • His politics were (and for all I know, still are) tediously liberal. At one point they were part of his act: "All I had to do was mention Nixon's name, and there were laughs from my collegiate audiences."

    I've heard those laughs; they aren't really born out of amusement. Fortunately, at some point Martin dropped the political jokes.

  • There's an "Also by Steve Martin" page up front, and it includes a list of screenplays. Unsurprisingly, Roxanne and L. A. Story are there. Missing in action are a lot of others, though: A Simple Twist of Fate, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, … What's up with that? There's plenty of space on the page.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:35 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-04-28

  • Virginia Postrel notes yet another case of university professor plagiarism, the plagiarizee being… Virginia Postrel! But not only that:
    It's scandalous that a tenured English professor would lift my prose--scandalous whether it was intentional theft or incompetent research. But it's particularly galling that he changed the passage just enough to make it inaccurate.
    We've noted before that faculty should not get away with academic behavior that would land one of their students in very hot water.

  • Up at Granite Grok, Skip notes the reported efforts of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission to get a blogger to register as a Political Action Committee because he sinfully endorsed election candidates.

    Skip also notes the recently introduced Blogger Protection Act of 2008 which exempts "uncompensated Internet activity by individuals from treatment as a contribution or expenditure under the Act, and for other purposes."

    Skip thinks this is swell, and you may well agree, but I'm a little more fundamentalist on this issue. Patterico said it best: this is too much like asking our masters for permission to speak. So no thanks.

  • George F. Will's latest column is on the same topic, concerning Coloradans "who expressed a political opinion without first getting their state government's permission for political activity." I especially liked this aside:
    The regulator's motto is "Dirigo, ergo sum" -- I boss people around, therefore I am.
    Read the whole thing, especially the last paragraph, which perfectly encapsulates one reason I will have to hold my nose very hard to vote for John McCain this November.

    But Will's proposed motto applies to more than the Speech Police.

  • For example, behold the awesome judgment of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a division of Your Federal Government: their functionaries have ordered the Mt. Shasta Brewing Company of Weed, California to cease and desist!

    Mt. Shasta's crime: sealing their bottled product, "Weed Ales and Lagers" with caps that say "Try Legal Weed."

    Pun Salad's proposed FY 2010 budget for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau: $0.00. [Via Kip Esquire.]


Last Modified 2008-04-28 12:10 PM EDT

Cloverfield

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

It's the same story you've seen a thousand times: Boy gets Girl; Boy loses Girl; Demon Monster from Hell shows up; Boy tries to rescue Girl.

I'm sure I am not the first to point out: this movie is a combination of The Blair Witch Project and Godzilla. It follows a bunch of twentysomething Manhattanites around, first at a tedious party. But soon, five of them—oops, sorry, four of them—are on a nightmarish run from a very ill-tempered creature.

It's a kind of love-it-or-hate-it kind of movie, with me kind of loving it, Mrs. Salad kind of hating it. The protagonists are narcissistic and whiny. The movie is imagined to be shot from a single video camera they cart around with them. As the Rifftrax guys pointed out: it looks more authentic because it's poorly shot and the sound is lousy.

But to be fair, the special effects are impressive; given the premises, you have to admit, yeah, the results would probably look just like that.

It's short at 85 minutes, and they could have trimmed the party scenes more than a bit.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:33 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-04-27 Update

After weeks of decline phony hits seem to be picking up across the board:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-04-20
"Hillary Clinton" phony177,000+7,000
"Barack Obama" phony174,000+7,000
"John McCain" phony161,000+13,000

  • Senator McCain refused to answer the "Political Courage Test" questionnaire [PDF] offered by a group named "Project Vote Smart".

    That wouldn't be so bad—Senators Obama and Clinton haven't answered the questionnaire either—except that Senator McCain is actually on the Project Vote Smart board. Well, at least he was until earlier this month, when he was removed over this issue. Saith Richard Kimball, Project President:

    It is true, we had to kick McCain off our board because he signed letters for the Project that compelled his opponents and a few thousand other candidates to answer the Project’s questions and then refused to answer them himself.

    This gives McCain extra phony points this week.

  • Senator Obama deserves a mention as well. Jake Tapper reports on his latest response to the lapel flag pin issue (which, yes, he referred to as a "phony issue"). On the one hand, he's quoted:

    I get pretty fed up with people questioning my patriotism

    On the other hand, apparently in the same speech, he's quoted:

    "Then I was asked about this in Iowa," Obama said. "And somebody said 'Why don't you wear a flag pin?' I said, well, sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. I said, although I will say that sometimes I notice that they're people who wear flag pins but they don't always act patriotic. And I was specifically referring to politicians, not individuals who wear flag pins, but politicians who you see wearing flag pins and then vote against funding for veterans, saying we can't afford it."

    Obama: fed up with patriotism-questioning, unless he's doing it.

    [This via Little Green Footballs, whose proprietor notes that Obama's excuses explanations for not wearing the flag pin have, um, evolved over time.]

  • Our guest phony this week is former President Bill Clinton, off in Oregon. Here's a story at ABC, headline "Bill Clinton Says Portland Pundits Are Wrong About Rural Oregon"

    "When Hillary's campaign announced that I was going to be speaking all over Oregon and in small towns and rural areas, I heard that some of the pundits in Portland thought I was nuts," he said. "And there's an article, I just read an article in the Associated Press that quotes a Reed College political science professor who says that my coming to see you won't work.

    "Now listen," Clinton told a booing crowd. "He said that Hillary's decision to reach out to rural Oregon was -- quote –- 'old politics.'"

    What makes this notably phony is (similar to the Obama incident above) is: apparently in the same speech, he's quoted:

    "We need to go forward together," Clinton told a cheering crowd. "I think that pretending people in small towns in rural America don't matter is old politics. And I think there's a more important point I'd like to make. This rural/urban/suburban divide in America is bad for our country. It's bad for our country. All these phony divides are bad for our country."

    Yes, he complains about "phony divides" while at the same time castigating those fancy urban college professors, inciting his audience to boos. This is the kind of thing that keeps Hillary on top, phonywise.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 11:04 AM EST

Your search - Obamowegians - did not match any documents.

Pun Salad's famed Lazy Research DivisionTM brings you the results of its latest project: how the web refers to "people who support Obama".

Query StringHit Count
Obamaniacs 28,500
Obamites 25,700
Obamaphiles 10,300
Obamans 4,710
Obamanians 1,640
Obamers 590
Obamoids 468
Obamatics 296
Baraqis 112
Obamateers 57
Obamigos 3
Obamards 3

Uh, I'm out. Anyone else?

Comments: the result for "Obamateers" is disappointing, because that is our current favorite. We have heard that his support is weak in the Hispanic community, so maybe that explains the lack of "Obamigos" while Clintonistas show up with 93,500 hits.

There are 406 hits for "Obamish," 335 hits for "Obamics,"and 146 hits for "Obamese", but the references apply more to language than people. (E. g.: "I left my Obamese to English dictionary in my car!") So those are not included in the table.

And yes, someone's done "Hooked on Obamics."


Last Modified 2014-12-01 11:05 AM EST

Experimental Results

2008-04-27

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

  • 12:30PM on TNT: The Fugitive (Harrison Ford)
  • 8:00PM on AMC: Striking Distance (Bruce Willis)
Theory status: unrefuted for ten consecutive weeks.

Comment: if I'd included Lifetime in my theory's channel lineup, I would have picked up Lucky Number Slevin, with Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman at 2pm. Who knew Lifetime had movies with guys in them?

Pun Salad Does the Math

David Brooks, aka Granite Geek, grabs gas mileage data points as he navigates a short section of the F. E. Everett Turnpike in his Honda Civic hybrid.

After the first two three days, the results on the 5.4-mile stretch are:

at 59 miles per hour* - 63.5 MPG
at 60 miles per hour - 63.1 MPG
at 70 miles per hour - 54.8 MPG

See his article for details and caveats. But it occurred to me to ask some obvious questions:

How much difference in gas consumption is that? Well, between his 59MPH and 70MPH datapoints:


(5.4 miles/54.8 mpg - 5.4 miles/63.5 mpg) = 0.0135 gallons

How much money is that? Let's say gas is (moan) $3.50/gallon; that works out to


0.0135 gallons * $3.50/gallon = about 4.7 cents

How much time is lost? That would be:


(5.4 miles/59 mph - 5.4 miles/70 mph) = 0.0144 hours = about 52 seconds

So: is it worth 4.7 cents to shave 52 seconds off your drive time? As they say, your mileage may vary.

Ah, (you say) but the money adds up! But so does the time. Let's do the same calculations over 70 miles instead of 5.4:


money savings: 
    $3.50/gal * (70 mi/54.8 mpg - 70 mi/63.5 mpg) = 61 cents

time savings = 
    (70 mi / 59 mph - 70 mi / 70 mph) = 11 minutes

You have to drive about 375 miles before you save a whole hour at 70mph as opposed to 59mph. Using David's fuel economy numbers, you'd be buying slightly under a gallon of gas for that time savings, about $3.28 worth.

Drivers make their own calls on the time/money tradeoff but, even with high gas prices, it's not surprising that a lot of them would prefer to zip along at 70.

Monster.com has an illuminating article on cutting one's commuting costs. There's a lot of common-sense advice; e. g., keep your tires properly inflated. There are a number of suggestions where the tradeoffs in time and convenience are elided, e. g. pooling, mass transit. And finally, there's advice on looking for government/employer subsidies: in effect, getting other people to pay for your commute. Good luck with that.

Finally: I would have to turn in my Official Libertarian Propeller Beanie if I didn't point out good articles from Heritage, Cato, and CEI detailing why government-mandated fuel economy standards don't help the environment, don't save energy, but do nudge us into vehicles more likely to kill us. Unfortunately, Congress and the President ignored this advice; higher standards are on the way.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:25 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-04-25

  • Your unintended consequence du jour is from the WSJ yesterday, describing the recent history of Congress's efforts on student loans, where a law passed last September put the industry in the tank, just in time for the upcoming academic year's loan applications:
    Usually, the law of unintended consequences takes so long to reveal itself that no one remembers the culprits. But the speed at which Congress's student lending changes have gone south is raising political danger for Democrats, if Republicans had the wit to point it out. (They don't; that's why they're Republicans.)
    The editorial provides a helpful summary:
    Congress mandated a return on student loans that is too low to attract private capital in the current market. So Congress will now use your money to create artificial investor demand. Taxpayers will bear more risk so that Congress can fashion a new business model to replace the one it just destroyed. The Bush Administration, unwisely but typically, has endorsed this approach.

    Via the brilliant Viking Pundit, also a dedicated observer of UCOs (Unintended Consequential Occurrences).

  • At the Weekly Standard, John Podhoretz looks at the dismal job Hollywood does in portraying college professors. I know some of those, and JPod has a pretty good point, and presents it amusingly well. He looks at the latest attempt:
    You can't blame moviemakers, really. It is very difficult for a defiantly anti-intellectual medium like the cinema to capture what is interesting about someone who spends much of his life living inside his own head. The latest casualty is Smart People, a movie in which -Dennis Quaid plays a fearsomely highbrow English professor. Yes, you read that right: Dennis Quaid plays a fearsomely highbrow English professor. This is on a par with Jessica Simpson playing Madame Curie.
    Nevertheless, it's already in my Blockbuster queue.

    (Unaccountably, JPod fails even to mention Ronald Reagan's performance as Professor Peter Boyd in Bedtime for Bonzo. What kind of conservative magazine are they running there anyway?)

  • But never mind professors. What about college administrators? Aren't their movie portrayals pretty much all stamped from the Dean Wormer mold? Well, there's arguably a good reason for that…

    You may remember this YouTube from a few months back, where some clever folks put subtitles on a clip from Downfall, turning Adolph Hitler into a very disappointed (and, our more sensitive readers should note, a very foulmouthed) Dallas Cowboys fan:

    You can't get away with such shenanigans in North Dakota, though:

    Officials at [the University of North Dakota] and [North Dakota State University] today condemned a Web video that began circulating Wednesday that links the rivalry between the two schools with images of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.
    Yes, they did exactly the same thing, except the subtitles turn Hitler into a UND fan.
    At first, Hitler consoles himself, saying “we still have hockey.” He later becomes irate, yelling “I’m sick and tired of hearing about the Bison,” denigrating UND’s declining student enrollment and making personal attacks on UND administrators, particularly President Charles Kupchella.
    Quoted officials are full of earnest humorlessness on the topic:
    UND Spokesman Peter Johnson said he was “disappointed by the personal attacks” in the video.
    Dude, the personal attacks are coming from Hitler! Wouldn't a normal person consider those to be compliments?
    NDSU vice president for university relations Keith Bjerke was more severe in his denunciation.

    “I just got off the phone with the president (NDSU President Joseph Chapman). He’s in Korea and thank God he hasn’t seen this,” Bjerke said. “All I can say is there’s nothing about Adolf Hitler that I find amusing. We don’t support, condone or endorse anything he’s babbling about.”

    A brave anti-Hitler stance, indeed! I hope Keith will be able to weather the criticism he's in for from the pro-Hitler crowd!

    All I can say is, if North Dakota wants to be known as anti-Hitler, they should rename their capital.

  • Iron Man is a mere one week away. I'm psyched, and trying to avoid reading anything about the movie that might contain spoilers. Spoilers beyond those contained in the various trailers I've watched a few hundred times, anyway.

    Over at Wired, physics prof James Kakalios describes, in a spoiler-free way, the various ways Tony Stark's suit defies physical law. And indicates why geeks consider Shellhead one of their very own:

    This is due, in part, to the fact that instead of getting belted with gamma rays or being born a demon from hell, industrialist and scientist Tony Stark got his super powers by means of his engineering genius.
    Stark is yet another engineer who doesn't know quite enough physics to realize the wonderful stuff he's doing is impossible.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 9:24 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-04-24

  • CNSNews catches Nancy Pelosi in a bogosity:
    In her April 22 Earth Day news release, Pelosi said, "The Bible tells us in the Old Testament, 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.'"
    Only problem is: nobody can find that, or anything close, in an actual Bible.

    The article notes that, in the past, the Speaker has even gone so far as claiming the quote is from Isaiah. If she wants to accurately quote Isaiah, I found something in chapter 65, verse 5 that would be appropriate for her:

    Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou.
    (Via Instapundit.)

  • An occasional stop—OK, OK, an almost daily stop— is http://icanhascheezburger.com/ where animal pictures are paired with bizarre captions, many in so-called Lolspeak, for example:

    humorous pictures

    Awwwww! If that appeals to you, they are hiring:

    "I can haz dream Job? My rezumez! let me showz u thm"

    That's the subject line of a cover letter sent by a job applicant to I Can Has Cheezburger, one of the premier sites for so-called Lolcat pictures.

    Don't think the letter will be rejected out of hand — bad spelling is no obstacle to a job in Lolcat world. It may even be an asset.

  • Seen at the bottom of the Bad Astronomy blog:
    Luke: I am your footer.
    As they say: Heh!

Unintended Consequence du Jour

2008-04-23

Longtime treehugger Lester Brown op-edded at the Washington Post with Jonathan Lewis for Earth Day on "food-to-fuel mandates", specifically ethanol policy. I mainly admired this paragraph for its diplomatic way of saying oops, guess we screwed up:

Food-to-fuel mandates were created for the right reasons. The hope of using American-grown crops to fuel our cars seemed like a win-win-win scenario: Our farmers would enjoy the benefit of crop-price stability. Our national security would be enhanced by having a new domestic energy source. Our environment would be protected by a cleaner fuel. But the likelihood of these outcomes was never seriously tested, and new evidence has shown that the justifications for these mandates were inaccurate.
Emphasis, as always, added.

Over at Knowledege Problem, Michael Giberson quotes that paragraph as well, and wonders out loud:

I must have missed the analysis indicating that ethanol was intended to create crop price stability. I thought the hope was always that the policy would push food prices up. Isn't that how increases in demand work?
And there's lots more.

One would hope that the long track record of failure, rent-seeking, and lies would force energy policymakers to be even a smidge more humble in designing their next grand scheme. Unfortunately, I don't see any evidence whatsoever that's going to happen. We're always on the road to the next set of unintended consequences.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 9:25 AM EDT

RiffTrax

Although I was never a True Fan, I enjoyed watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 when I could. (Telling Factoid: the MST3K page on Wikipedia is over 55K. In comparison, the Jane Austen page is slightly under 40K. You lose, Jane!)

There was a lot of peripheral daffiness in MST3K, but its core concept was to play a cheesy movie, overlaid with ongoing humorous commentary from the show's cast, heavy on sarcasm and pop culture references. It was like a DVD commentary track where the commenters were very bright college students trying to comically one-up each other. At its best, you were flirting with disaster if you tried to drink anything during the movie.

The onetime star and head writer of MST3K, Michael J. Nelson, has extended this idea to Rifftrax. Mike, his co-stars, and occasional guest stars provide an MP3 audio commentary on existing DVD-available movies; you simply play the DVD and the MP3 together, and voila! Pretty close to the original MST3K experience!

I was pointed to the site by Mr. James Lileks who was the RiffTrax guest commenter for Spider-Man 3. The Lileks name was good enough for me to plunk down my $3.99.

There are a number of different ways to do it. I downloaded the "RiffTrax Player", and purchased and downloaded the Spider-Man 3 .riff file; it was about 48 Meg. And then I picked up the Spider-Man 3 DVD from Blockbuster.

There are a lot of (potentially confusing) tweaky bells and whistles in the player, but it wasn't necessary to futz with any of them. It was basically: load the DVD, run the player, load the .riff file, hit play. There are separate volume controls for the RiffTrax and DVD audio. (I found myself confused because it was so simple. That's it?!)

(You can also use the player to extract the MP3 track from the .riff file, play the DVD on your normal TV, and play the MP3 on … uh, whatever you can play MP3s on. I didn't try this myself, but it might be a hassle to get the players synched up, and to maintain the synchronization through bathroom/kitchen/phone interruptions. Especially if you're as uncoordinated as I.)

A couple of your-mileage-may-vary questions:

  1. Is it funny? Well, sure it was; for me, it was slightly over two hours of near-nonstop chortling.

  2. Is it "worth it"? Yes. I'll probably do it again. (Specifically: they have Cloverfield, and that's on its way from Blockbuster.)

It's not a huge investment to check RiffTrax out, and if you're at all interested, I encourage you to do so.

Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:34 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-04-22

  • Brendan Nyhan points out that you don't need to be a conservative to politicize science.

  • In honor of Earth Day, Rebecca Onion at Slate discusses the latest "hatefully regressive" manifestation of misanthropic fantasy: the book World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler. It's a charming tale of post-environmental armageddon. Ms Onion's characterization of the author's POV:
    Why can't the world just collapse already? Then "we"—or, at least, those of us with taste, discretion, and true environmental feeling—could get on with the business of remaking it … without all those pesky extra people around.
    A point we've mentioned before here and here.

  • Wikipedia is probably OK for finding out stuff about Richard Feynman or Martha and the Vandellas, but Lawrence Solomon's bitter experience indicates that it probably shouldn't be trusted for accurate information on "climate change" issues. (Via Shawn at AmSpecBlog.)

Atonement

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

It's yet another madcap British comedy, as class conflict, sexual desire, and mistaken identity give rise to—literally—years of wacky repercussions.

Oh, wait. Not a comedy? Well, nuts. That changes my whole interpretation of the movie.

It takes place in 1935, 1940, and (roughly) the present. The 1935 section is interminable, carefully—too carefully—setting up characters and motivations for the rest of the film. But fortunately, the main characters wind up three-dimensional: people I had thought to be simple upperclass twits turn out to have depth and redeeming qualities.

The scenes set around pre-evacuation 1940 Dunkirk are jaw-droppingly good, catching the filth, chaos, and confused desperation of the British soldiers waiting for a ride across the Channel. If you need a reminder that war is Hell, this is a pretty good choice.

The brief scene set in the present is either (depending on your point of view) a neat little trick, or a dishonest little cheat. I'm ambivalent.

And it did get nominated for 7 Oscars, including Best Picture.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:26 AM EDT

Dan in Real Life

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

Yes, I watched two movies in a row that toss together a hodgepodge of family members for comic result. Good catch!

Steve Carell plays the titular Dan, a widower with three daughters and an advice column in the local paper. He's obviously doing a heroic job raising the young ladies on his own, but the older two are chafing against Dad's, um, concern about their relationships with boys.

Being a father, it was more than easy to sympathize.

To make things worse, or for comedic purposes, better: they're all off to Rhode Island for the yearly family reunion, where the clan is headed up by everyone's dad, John Mahoney, and Dianne Wiest. Sent off by his mother to allow for a cooloff, Dan meets Marie (Juliette Binoche) in a bookstore; they hit it off immediately. The complication: Marie turns out to be the current girlfriend of Dan's brother, Mitch (Dane Cook).

This is professional comedy! Once you know the setup, it's pretty easy to predict the story arc, so you better have some fun along the way. This is very competently done, and Steve Carell demonstrates again that he can play other roles besides "likeable idiot" as in The Office and, later this summer, the Get Smart movie.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:26 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-04-21

  • Missed this in yesterday's phony campaign update: John Dickerson's Saturday report from the Obama campaign in Slate.
    As the Senator's campaign train wound from one speech where he denounced tit-for-tat politics to the next speech where he denounced tit-for-tat politics, his campaign hosted a conference call to engage in the practice the candidate was busy denouncing. I suppose it would have been an even greater act of chutzpah for the Obama campaign to host the conference call while Sen. Obama was denouncing that kind of behavior, but not much more of one.
    That's damn fine phony! And hot! (Via Captain Ed at Hot Air.)

  • All it takes is a decent memory to point out that the current outrage felt by leftists about the media bringing up "tangential character issues" was nowhere to be seen in 2004, when the character belonged to George W. Bush and the issue was his service in the Texas Air National Guard.

  • Janice Brown at Cow Hampshire has cow content. Unfortunately, she tells us we missed celebrating World Cow Chip Day. But she also points out we're right in the thick of Cowboy Poetry Week.

    Since Janice is also a genealogist, this gives me an excuse to boast that I am a distant relation to Chris Sand, aka "Grandpa Boots", once Poet Lariat of Wolf Point, Montana.

    There's also strong circumstantial evidence of an even more distant relation to a younger Chris Sand, aka Sandman, the Rappin Cowboy.

  • And—not that this item has anything to do with the previous item, cousin—you might enjoy—for sufficiently small values of "enjoy"—the most annoying song ever. Based on an online poll of annoyances, it contains elements of or references to:
    … holiday music, bagpipes, pipe organ, a children's chorus and the concept of children in general (really?), Wal-Mart, cowboys, political jingoism, George Stephanopoulos, Coca Cola, bossanova synths, banjo ferocity, harp glissandos, oompah-ing tubas and much, much more.
    I can testify that the more musically sensitive members of the Salad family were begging for relief when I played it.

  • The MinuteMan has changed the subtitle of his blog:
    Clinging To My Blog Out Of Economic Frustration Since 2002
    As they say: heh!

Death at a Funeral

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

This comedy is ostensibly British, but directed by an American (Frank Oz, who will always be Miss Piggy to me). Also one of the Brits is played by very American Alan Tudyk, but he does a decent accent, at least to my ears.

The idea is that a family is getting together to pay last respects to its recently-deceased patriarch. But the family is a collection of neurotics, with various forms of insecurities, There is also one (1) drug dealer and one (1) very short former acquaintence of the deceased (played by Peter Dinklage, also American, but he's playing an American, so that's all right). The recipe is: put these people in confined quarters, stir, and watch frantic chaos and hilarity result.

It's not bad, but it's hard to attach to any of these silly caricatures.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:27 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-04-20 Update

The gap between Barack and Hillary shrinks whisker-thin, while McCain falls further behind:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-04-13
"Hillary Clinton" phony170,000-2,000
"Barack Obama" phony167,000+3,000
"John McCain" phony148,000-6,000

  • It's going badly for McCain when the phoniest thing attached to his campaign is the revelation that the "Cindy's Recipes" section of his website contained plagiarized recipes from the Food Network and Rachael Ray.

  • The Baltimore Sun's Paul West reports this as if it were new:
    Hillary Clinton says Barack Obama is "a good man, and I respect him greatly." But in her final push for Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary, Clinton is portraying her rival in a very different light: as a phony.

    She is blanketing the state with an ad attacking Obama's boast, delivered in one of his TV commercials, that he does not accept campaign contributions from oil companies.

    "No candidate does," Clinton's ad accurately points out, since corporate donations are against the law, and she goes on to list thousands of dollars in individual contributions to Obama from oil company executives.

    I'd say she's trying to paint him not so much as a "phony" but as a "liar". But that's just me.

  • But we're in pot-and-kettle mode, as described by Michael McAuliff of the New York Daily News:
    In the final weekend before the crucial Pennsylvania primary, Sen. Barack Obama double-punched Sen. Hillary Clinton Saturday, slamming her as untrustworthy while his campaign revived her phony tale of ducking sniper fire in Bosnia.

  • That's major-leage phoniness, and McCain is clearly playing Triple-A at best. Is there anything he can do to recover? Josh Brodesky of the Arizona Daily Star reports on a dim hope, the efforts of David Brock of Media Matters for America:
    There is a media love affair that has been going on for years," [Brock] said during a question-and-answer session Saturday with guests.

    "They accept his phony brand as a straight talker, a maverick, a moderate. That needs to be broken through."

    As reported by Newsmax, Brock is currently "spearheading an effort to launch a $40 million campaign to attack Republican John McCain in the months leading up to the November presidential election. But:
    The new group was formed after two earlier organizations, Fund for America and the Campaign to Defend America, failed to raise enough money to launch a full-scale attack on McCain.
    Apparently this organization will succeed due to the magic of David Brock. But PR-wise, Brock's got a way to go:
    But getting Brock to speak in an interview about the planned media campaign against McCain proved as challenging as bridging the gap between conservatives and liberals.

    "I am not going to talk about that today," he said. "That wasn't my subject today."

    He then walked away.

    Another, earlier attempt to speak with Brock was cut off when a woman approached him about her foundation possibly donating money to Media Matters.

    "I love foundations," Brock said, rocking back on his heels, before also walking away.

    For background on Brock's ability to judge others' phoniness, see the article "David Brock, Liar" by Timothy Noah at Slate, and "The Real David Brock by Christopher Hitchens at the Nation. (From the latter: "I would say without any hesitation that [Brock] is incapable of recognizing the truth, let alone of telling it.")

    Sigh. Bad luck for McCain, phony-wise.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 11:04 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2008-04-20

  • One of Pun Salad's solemn duties is to notify our readers of new web-available P. J. O'Rourke content. So check out his account of his trip to the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Sample:
    Carrier launches are astonishing events. The plane is moved to within what seems like a bowling alley's length of the bow. A blast shield larger than any government building driveway Khomeini-flipper rises behind the fighter jet, and the jet's twin engines are cranked to maximum thrust. A slot-car slot runs down the middle of the bowling alley. The powered-up jet is held at the end of its slot by a steel shear pin smaller than a V-8 can. When the shear pin shears the jet is unleashed and so is a steam catapult that hurls the plane down the slot, from 0 to 130 miles per hour in two seconds. And--if all goes well--the airplane is airborne. This is not a pilot taking off. This is a pilot as cat's eye marble pinched between boundless thumb and infinite forefinger of Heaven's own Wham-O slingshot.

  • Did you find yourself wondering why Easter and Passover were so out of step with each other this year? I did. If you're interested, the best summary I found was here. It's a lurid tale of lunar vs. solar calendars, anti-semitism, the First Council of Nicea in 325, and the "blood-letting pagan Hilaria and Taurobolium festivals."

    A calculator for Easter and Passover dates is here, and goes into much detail about various Easter-dating schemes, almost certainly into the "more than you want to know" level.

  • I occasionally need to look at the writing of UNH students, and way too many of them could stand to read "10 flagrant grammar mistakes that make you look stupid".

    Link is via Tom Smith, who has a few more of his own. I'll echo his closing paragraph:

    Please note well that all the mistakes in the post are deliberate, and have been committed so as not to create the impression of a pedantic attachment to the rules of usage.
    Please consider that disclaimer to apply to the entire Pun Salad corpus as well, especially if you type "hopefully" into the Google search box over there.

Experimental Results

2008-04-20

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

  • 9:00AM on FX: Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (Bruce Willis)
  • 7:30PM on AMC: Die Hard (Bruce Willis)
A little thin this week, but neverthess theory status: unrefuted for nine consecutive weeks.

URLs du Jour

2008-04-18

  • Not that we continue to be tax-obsessed or anything, but there's a good op-ed column from Yaron Brook at Forbes convincingly decrying the proliferation of nanny-statism via the tax code. Examples aplenty. The bottom line:
    If government were restricted to its proper functions--police, courts and a strong military to defend individual rights against physical force and fraud--our 66,000-page coercive tax code would be a thing of the past. What's more, a great burden would be lifted, not just from the economy, but from our lives.

    Imagine reasserting ourselves as rational, sovereign individuals, whose rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness include the right to choose values without asking society's permission--and without chasing our own money, like lab rats sniffing cheese, down the twisting corridors of a labyrinthine tax code.

    What he said. (Via GeekPress.)

  • It's kind of old—three whole days!—but lovers of irony will appreciate Bill Bradley's inside account of how Obama's pop-lefty sociology on bitter small-town voters made it into the Huffington Post, with Arianna Huffington herself weighing in from the South Pacific, where she was vacationing on David Geffen's 454-foot yacht.

    I like to imagine that at some point she said, "No, of course Obama's comments don't sound elitist to me, darling! Don't be silly! … No, I asked around, and nobody else here thinks they're elitist either."

  • Beware! May contain Traces of Peanuts! (Via BBSpot.)

  • Yes, that last item contained, arguably, a pun. Those responsible have been sacked.

The Ruins

[Amazon Link]

I really liked Scott Smith's A Simple Plan from 1993, so when I saw he'd come out with another one, I bit. (Yes, he's not exactly prolific.)

While A Simple Plan was a taut tragic-noir thriller, The Ruins is pretty much straight horror, and kind of long at over 500 pages. It doesn't seem bloated though: everything's there for a reason.

It concerns four young Americans vacationing on the Mexican coast; they befriend a German and three Greeks. The German's brother wandered inland with a archeologists to explore, and hasn't returned. He, the Americans, and one Greek decide to go after him. Things go very very badly for them over the next 495 pages.

The book takes its time getting up to speed, but eventually became a page-turner for me. Without going into spoiler territory, both A Simple Plan and this book contain characters with flaws not particularly noticeable in everyday life, but external events conspire to turn those flaws into gaping maws of death, doom, and destruction.

Smith also wrote the screenplay for the movie based on this book, which is bombing in theaters as I type. I'll probably rent the DVD just to see what's different.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:35 AM EDT

The Pianist

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

For some reason, we'd missed seeing this 2002 movie that got Adrien Brody a Best Actor Oscar and serious smoochery with Halle Berry. As I type, it is #56 on IMDB's list of the 250 Best Movies of All Time, it has a solid 95% on the TomatoMeter, and I probably should have liked it even more than I did.

Brody plays Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Jew with the misfortune to be living in Warsaw in September 1939 as WWII kicks off with the invasion of Poland. In a stunning opening scene, he is playing the piano for a live radio broadcast as the bombs begin to fall. Everyone's telling him to stop and run for cover; he continues playing until (nearly literally) the walls are falling down around him. A neat picture of artistic devotion, married to a spacy detachment from the real world.

It's based on a true story. While I kept expecting Spillman to (for example) participate in the Ghetto Uprising, or some other act of resistance, his actions are limited to observing the horror and trying to survive, mainly by dumb luck and the goodwill of others. One of the most powerful developments happens near the end, when he's harbored by a German officer. Just before the closing credits, it's revealed that the German met a richly undeserved fate. Just like pretty much every other decent person in the movie.

The movie is unrelenting in its depiction of the horrible degredation and violence unleashed against the Polish Jews. It's also an unambiguous condemnation of passivity in the face of oppression and aggression.

So after all that, I feel a little guilty that I liked Adrien Brody in King Kong better. Moviewise, under this aging exterior, I'm still a teenage philistine at heart …


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:35 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-04-16

  • Unintended consequence du jour, where one of the folks in charge admits that they don't know what the Hell they're doing, and are too craven to fix a broken policy:
    Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, said he had come to realize that Congress made a mistake in backing biofuels, not anticipating the impact on food costs. He said Congress needed to reconsider its policy, though he acknowledged that would be difficult.

    “If there was a secret vote, there is a pretty large number of people who would like to reassess what we are doing,” he said.

    Here's more on that from a recent SF Chronicle article:
    In the pantheon of well-intentioned governmental policies gone awry, massive ethanol biofuel production may go down as one of the biggest blunders in history. An unholy alliance of environmentalists, agribusiness, biofuel corporations and politicians has been touting ethanol as the cure to all our environmental ills, when in fact it may be doing more harm than good. An array of unintended consequences is wreaking havoc on the economy, food production and, perhaps most ironically, the environment.
    "Other than that, though, it's fine!" (First link via Club for Growth.)

  • Every Obamanian at HuffPo is in full attack mode on Hillary. As I type, the headline is Sam Stein's: Hillary Clinton On Working Class Whites In 1995: "Screw 'Em". Gasp! Key quote is Hillary's input on efforts to attract "working class white Southerners":
    "Screw 'em," she told her husband. "You don't owe them a thing, Bill. They're doing nothing for you; you don't have to do anything for them."
    Stein reports this as big news, but it was in Sally Bedell Smith's book on the Clintons (For Love of Politics: Bill and Hillary Clinton: The White House Years) late last year, as this Jake Tapper blogpost demonstrates.

    As they say: pass the popcorn. I could watch Democrats argue about which candidate is more disdainful of working class people all day long.

    [Update: The Minuteman makes the case that Stein is taking Hillary's comments out of context.]

  • I meant to put this in yesterday's tax-heavy post, but you'll certainly want to read a new Dave Barry article on the subject. His tax preparation method involves this bag of receipts …
    At tax time, I go through this bag, hoping to find receipts that say things like, ''BUSINESS SUPPLIES TO BE USED FOR BUSINESS -- $417.23.'' Instead, I find some ticket stubs for Shrek the Third and several hundred wadded-up snippets of paper on which the only legible printing says ''Thank You.'' Now, because I am mentioning Shrek the Third in this column, I can legally deduct the $10 cost of my ticket, plus a large popcorn, which I estimate cost $53, for a total of $63, or, rounding off, $250. But that still leaves me a little short of what I need, deductionwise.
    God help me, I'm thinking: If the IRS goes after Dave, maybe they'll use the guys that would otherwise have gone after me.


Last Modified 2008-04-17 4:50 AM EDT

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep

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

This is a fun, family-friendly movie about a boy and his sea serpent. No, it's not a live-action remake of Beany and Cecil. I wish! But it's still pretty good.

It's set in a remote part of Scotland—specifically, Loch Ness—during World War II. Little Angus is moody and lonely in the absence of his father, but he enjoys poking around the lochshore, picking up random bits of biology. But one day he comes across this funny egg-shaped rock. Which turns out to be an actual egg. The results are pictured on the DVD box over there on the right. (No, your right.)

There are a number of complications: a British artillery squad commandeers the manor for which Angus's mom is the caretaker. A dark mysterious stranger shows up and is hired as a handyman. Angus wants to keep his pet monster a secret from the grownups, of course—this is a requirement for all such movies—and this gives rise to a number of humorous slapstick scenes.

Acting is very good, and the effects are great. The plot is more than a bit predictable, but I didn't mind that too much. (A quick check of a map of the Loch Ness area shows that the filmmakers also got a little creative with the geography, but that's OK too.)


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:35 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-04-15

  • Happy Tax Day, everybody! Those who can deal with a bit—well, OK, a lot—of profanity will want to check out Rachel Lucas's tirade on tax-paying.

  • A similar post from Megan McArdle is also worth checking out, and Megan keeps it PG, but she's pretty steamed:
    I should not have, in the course of paying my debt to society, to spend nine hours answering questions about my educational habits, proclivity to recycle, the location of my potentially qualified small business, whether or not I happen to farm, or any of the 87 trillion other things TurboTax wanted to know. It might have been 87 zillion. Frankly, I lost count.

    More than two hundred years ago, we fought a whole revolution and everything to get the government to leave us the hell alone. Now it thinks it's entitled to know whether I am a qualified small business owning woman. Small business? Check. Woman? Check. Qualified? Who the hell do you think you are, Mr. Tax Man?

    Megan gets the coveted Read The Whole Thing Award for the day, because there's much more there, including a tax proposal that's both (a) a self-evident immense improvement over the current system and (b) a total political impossibility.

  • You can send your blood pressure still closer to the danger zone by perusing today's WSJ editorial on "The Loophole Factory", which examines how Congress eagerly creates new tax-code "benefits" for well-connected industries.
    Congress is creating all of these new loopholes even as overall tax revenues are slowing and this year's budget deficit could reach $450 billion to $500 billion. This will play nicely into the hands of Democrats who contend that the lower tax rates of 2001 and 2003 must expire to pay the government's bills. So we could soon have the worst of all worlds: a leaky tax code full of exceptions for powerful interests, but with ever higher rates to make up for the loopholes. Congress gets PAC contributions in return for the loopholes, plus any extra revenue from the tax hike. The losers are taxpayers who aren't powerful or rich enough to afford a tax lobbyist.
    My only quibble is with the editorial's description on (today's) main page:
    For Democrats, tax "fairness" means raising rates so they can sell breaks to the highest bidder.
    The body of the editorial makes it abundantly clear that loophole-generation is a bipartisan effort. Republicans are largely angling to get their own giveaways included in legislation, or playing meek doormats. (A regrettable local example is provided by our own Senator Sununu.)

  • It's a good day to recall the words of the great philosopher Arthur Godfrey:
    I am proud to be paying taxes in the United States. The only thing is – I could be just as proud for half the money.
    That's from the Tax Quotes page maintained by … the IRS! At taxpayer expense! I can't decide whether to be outraged or amused!

    (The page dutifully reminds: "These quotes reflect the opinions of their authors; their inclusion here is not an official IRS endorsement of the sentiments expressed." OK. Amusement wins.)

  • On to less taxing matters: Congratulations to Joe Malchow's Dartblog, the deserving winner of this year's "Best College Blog" award from America's Future Foundation. Joe, and the university on the other side of our fair state, should be proud.

  • On the lighter side, we've been occasionally amused by the MPAA's brief explanations under their movie ratings. The Iron Law of the Internet: one person's occasional amusement can be turned into a full-fledged obsession by someone with adequate time on their hands. Hence, you can take Ken Jennings' quiz to see if you can identify a movie, given the year, rating, and MPAA description. An easy one:
    2004: “R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language - all involving puppets.”
    (If you get stuck, the Google loves to look up quotes.) Ken links to an allmovie article containing the "Top 10 funniest MPAA explanations."


Last Modified 2008-04-17 3:36 PM EDT

Beowulf

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

You might remember the basic plot from high school lit class: Hrothgar and his Danish kingdom are sorely tried by ravaging monster Grendel; a band of out-of-town Geats led by our title character show up to dispatch same. But Grendel has a mom, and she's a little ticked at that.

A simple story, but the movie script has been Gaimanized to make it more complicated, gray-scaled, and interesting. Grendel is more like the cranky geezer trying to get the rowdy neighbor to quiet down his raucous partying. Sure, he's overreacting a bit—biting peoples' heads off and all—but we're more sympathetic. Grendel's mom is kind of a babe. And the movie seems to want to make a point about heroic leadership making Faustian bargains with their supposed foes. Fine.

The movie is shot in that CGI/live-action hybrid process previously used in The Polar Express. It allows for spectacular effects, but also gives the human actors a creepy Disney-animatronic look all too often.

There are also a number of shots that will tell you, if you didn't know already, that there's a 3-D version out there somewhere. As anyone who's seen Dr. Tongue's Evil House of Pancakes will tell you, those effects look pretty lame on a TV.

But still, it's a pretty good yarn.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:26 AM EDT

I Give Up on Andrew Sullivan

William Kristol's NYT op-ed column today concerns Obama's "now-famous comment" about how the hicks in the sticks "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

The headline of Kristol's column is "The Mask Slips." He digs out, for comparison, the well known Marxian quote:

Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of a soulless condition. It is the opium of the people.

Andrew Sullivan has a response, titled "Now He's A Godless Commie". Sullivan claims that Kristol's headline is saying that Obama's "voluminous writing and speaking about the sincerity of his own religious faith, and of others, are presumably 'masks.'" Sullivan claims that Kristol infers "Obama's Marxism." And:

He's calling him a lying, Godless communist.

So you can link-click for yourself to determine how on-target Sullivan's claims about Kristol's column are. My view is: they're not even close. For example, the sole occurrence of "mask" in Kristol's column is specifically not about Obama's faith:

What does this mean for Obama’s presidential prospects? He’s disdainful of small-town America — one might say, of bourgeois America. He’s usually good at disguising this. But in San Francisco the mask slipped. And it’s not so easy to get elected by a citizenry you patronize.
Kristol's pretty clear: Obama's "mask" is not convering up his Godless communism; it's covering up his disdainful, patronizing, elitism.

If that were all there was to Sullivan's rant, big deal. So he's misrepresenting his opponents' arguments, and not in a particularly clever way. So what? For Sullivan, this is pretty standard operating procedure.

But in his last paragraph, Sullivan lets his own mask slip:

A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity is calling a Christian a liar about his own faith.

Sullivan's characterization of Kristol's column is wrong. The only true thing about the sentence: Kristol is Jewish. And that little fact is clearly something Sullivan thought he needed to drag into the discussion.

That's odious.

Sullivan has flirted with religious bigotry before, when he teed off on Mitt Romney's Mormonism, including speculations on whether Romney wore "Mormon underwear".

For me, this is the last straw. I probably put up with Sullivan longer than I should have because I enjoyed his anti-Clinton stuff. My bad.

Sullivan may, as he has in the past, admit that he went off half-cocked on this. If he does, I might hear about that by reading others; I won't be going back to his website.


Last Modified 2008-04-14 12:11 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-04-13 Update

It may be that everyone is getting tired of belaboring the obvious …

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-04-06
"Hillary Clinton" phony172,000-8,000
"Barack Obama" phony164,000-5,000
"John McCain" phony154,000-10,000

  • John Dickerson from Slate muses on the likely McCain strategy against Obama:
    The GOP's attack will boil down to the accusation that Obama is a big phony. The Democrat gives them an opening: Obama talks about how he goes in front of hostile audiences, but he doesn't really do it much. He heralds his bipartisan appeal and talent for bringing people together, but his track record on these fronts is thin. He talks about how his administration will put its negotiations over policy on C-SPAN, but he has run a conventionally conservative campaign, keeping press access relatively low. When his top economic aide (and former Slate contributor), Austan Goolsbee, got into trouble, the campaign hid him under a bushel rather than offering him to reporters to answer questions. "Obama talks about doing these things," says a McCain aide, "he just doesn't do them." With big acts of accessibility and reaching out beyond his party ranks, McCain hopes to show as well as tell that Obama's promises to do the same are empty.
    Pun Salad is in favor of keeping the phoniness issue on the front burner, but the pots and kettles on that front burner are all pretty black.

  • A number of people have pointed out the sheer phoniness of Obama's inclusion of "anti-trade sentiment" in his short list of nasty attitudes in the small towns of Pennsylvania and the midwest. For example, Victor Davis Hanson:
    It was not George Bush or John McCain, but Barack Obama himself who tried to salvage Ohio by demagoguing NAFTA and opposing a free-trade agreement with Columbia. His entire campaign is predicated on showing more anti-trade sentiment that the Clintons.
    Stephen Spruiell points out:
    Barack Obama owes Austan Goolsbee an apology. Approximately one month before the Ohio primary, Goolsbee, an informal adviser to the Obama campaign, attended a meeting with Canadian government officials at which he was asked about Obama's apparent hostility to NAFTA. According to a memo written about the meeting, Goolsbee told the Canadians, “much of the rhetoric that may be perceived to be protectionist is more reflective of political maneuvering than policy.”
    Obama channels Smoot-Hawley to the yahoos, and Goolsbee to the elite. For connoisseurs of the phony, that's pretty good.

  • But Hillary's still on top, phony-wise, and for good reason. Dick Morris detects tergiversation in Hillary's current anti-NAFTA rhetoric:
    Trade was no side issue in the Clinton administration; it was central to his key worldview — that he had to lead America to compete successfully in the new global economy. His refusal to submit to protectionism or to legislation to reduce layoffs — his commitment to the free market — was a singular badge of courage in his presidency. For Hillary to indicate now so fundamental a disagreement with a policy so integral to her husbands’ presidency is transparently phony.
    To be fair, you should also read Sam Stein's attempt (a couple months back) at the Huffington Post to say, hey, no, she was really anti-NAFTA back then too. A bunch of people are quoted to that effect, and some of them might not be angling for positions in Hillary's administration.
    So why didn't we hear such protests from Hillary Clinton during her husband's administration?

    "The whole time that she was first lady," said Robert Shapiro, the undersecretary of commerce during the Clinton White House years, "she, like everybody else...[was] not supposed to deviate from the position of the administration. There is no freedom of speech in there, and that certainly applies to a first lady."

    So the defense is: sure, she was phony back then, but we're getting the real deal now.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 11:08 AM EST

Experimental Results

2008-04-13

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

  • 12:00AM and 3:00PM on TNT: Die Hard With a Vengeance (Bruce Willis)
  • 3:30PM on AMC: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Clint Eastwood)
  • 5:00PM on SPIKE: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Harrison Ford)
  • 5:30PM on TNT: The Fifth Element (Bruce Willis)
  • 7:00PM on FX: Batman Begins (Morgan Freeman)
  • 7:30PM on AMC: Hang 'em High (Clint Eastwood)
  • 8:00PM on SPIKE: Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (Harrison Ford)
Some pretty good movies in there! Theory status: unrefuted for eight consecutive weeks.

Last Modified 2008-04-13 7:11 PM EDT

Obama Has a Vision

Who'da thunk that a Huffington Post contributor would send a torpedo into the Obama campaign? Mayhill Fowler transcribes Obama's words to an elite California audience:

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
I thought: I've seen this before. From Thomas Sowell's Vision of the Anointed, pp. 119-120:
For those with the vision of the anointed, it is not sufficient to discredit or denigrate proponents of the tragic vision. The general public must also be discredited, as well as the social processes through which the public's desires are expressed, individually or collectively, such as a market economy or social traditions. In short, all alternative to the vision of the anointed must be put out of court, by one means or another. Nowhere is evidence considered so unnecessary as in making sweeping denigrations of the public. Mass psychoanalysis of "society" is a common pattern …
Sowell follows with a large number of examples from such luminaries as Karl Menninger, Tom Wicker, Anna Quindlen, Jimmy Carter, and many more. Today, he has one more.

URLs du Jour

2008-04-11

  • Our unintended consequence du jour comes from the Shotgun Blog at the Weekly Standard-dot-ca:

    In a press release today from the Alberta government on new royalty programs for high cost oil and gas development, the term “unintended consequences” was thrown around liberally.

    The blogger is correct; I count five occurrences in the short release. It's all about how raising taxes last year caused "unintended" slowdowns in oil and gas production in the province. Comments the blogger:

    So let me get this straight: To generate the oil and gas royalty revenues anticipated in the New Royalty Framework, the government has been forced to lower the royalty tax increases announced last year in the...New Royalty Framework.

    I detect sarcasm! Hey, I'm sure they got it right this time.

  • In the same vein, consider Iain Murray's speculation:

    With the FAA grounding flights in the name of safety, few people seem to have appreciated that the action may well kill people.

    Why? Because a significant fraction of people will use riskier forms of transportation than American Airlines as a result, killing some. Not as spectacular as an air crash, but in onesies-twosies all over the country. Murray calls this a substitution of "a dispersed risk for a concentrated risk."

    Also, probably an "unintended consequence."

  • If Futurama was real. <voice imitation="les_nessman">Oooh!</voice> (Via BBSpot.)


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:36 AM EDT

Starbucks Now OK With Laissez Faire

Jonathan Adler reports that Starbucks is now issuing purchase cards with "laissez faire" as the customer-chosen motto, reversing the stance we mentioned a few days back.

URLs du Jour

2008-04-10

  • Unintended consequence du jour: Journalist George Smith had the unenviable task of writing a column on the doings of the Maine state Legislature, and found it useful to muse on the resulting raft of unintended consequences. Here's my fave:
    In my sportsmen's corner of the world, there is a good example of unanticipated consequences in an action taken last year by the Legislature: a new law requiring alien (non-citizen) hunters to hire a guide to hunt moose, bear and deer.

    Canadian hunters by the bucket load demanded and received refunds on their expensive big game licenses, costing the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife tens of thousands of dollars. Some Canadians signed up to take DIF&W's test to become guides themselves, and DIF&W was required to provide translators for applicants who spoke French, another unanticipated cost.

    North Maine Woods, the recreational manager for 30 private owners of 2 million acres where many Quebec sportsmen hunt, lost 19 percent of its traffic in the fall hunting seasons. To make that up, every Mainer this year will pay an extra dollar a day to access and enjoy that land.

    Ah, if we'd only known!

    [Emphasis added.] There's also stuff about how the Maine/New Hampshire tax difference redounds to the Granite State's favor.

  • Which gives me an excuse to post a link to the Tax Foundation's recently-released list of tax burdens state-by-state as of 2007. Maine's state/local tax burden, 14.0%, is the second-highest; it barely missed out to Vermont's 14.1%. New Hampshire's tax burden is calculated at 8.0%, which puts it second-lowest. (Alaska, at 6.6%, is in the bottom place.)

    Interestingly, when you add in Federal taxes, NH rises to 29th place; ME drops to 10th. People have more income here. To make an obvious point, one major reason for that is the tax policy of other states.

  • In "Best of the Web Today" for, um, yesterday, James Taranto analyzes an article appearing in UNH's student newspaper the day before yesterday.

    James says: "The story delivers an elegant synecdoche for race relations in America."

    I'm almost certain that fewer than one writer for the student newspaper would be able to tell you what a "synecdoche" is.

  • If you're in an appropriate space and in need of some laughs, you might want to look at The 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of All Time.

    There's a lot of Saturday Night Live stuff, understandably, but unaccountably missing is 1997's "Job Interview" with Chris Kattan playing straight man to Steve Buscemi. I can't find a video, but the transcript is here. And it's not even on the "The Best of Chris Kattan" SNL DVD. That sucks!

    To this day, any mention of Pepperdine will cause me to blurt "I've heard of Pepperdine. Is that all right that I've heard of it?"

    I should probably seek help for that.


Last Modified 2008-04-10 6:19 PM EDT

I Took an Online Test and …

Name That Robot


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:29 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-04-08

  • Thomas Sowell has random thoughts, and (as usual) they're more worthwhile than the ordered thoughts of many others.
    Nothing is more fraudulent than calls for a "dialogue on race." Those who issue such calls are usually quick to cry "racism" at any frank criticism. They are almost invariably seeking a monologue on race, to which others are supposed to listen.
    Much more randomness at the link.

  • You can view the editorial cartoons of Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Ramirez here.

  • Also Pulitzerwise: Dave Barry and Joel Achenbach have nice things to say about winner Gene Weingarten. Weingarten's prizewinning piece, about a world-renowned violinist posing as a Metro-stop musician, is hilarious and here. Pun Salad, as did much of the blogosphere, also enjoyed his piece from a couple years back on The Great Zucchini, "Washington's No. 1 preschool entertainer."

  • Unintended consequence du jour:
    A health warning meant to alert doctors about the potential risks of prescribing antidepressants to youth may have actually triggered a significant rise in suicides among Canadians under age 18, a new study has found.
    The warning came from "Health Canda", which claims to be the "Federal department responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health."

  • In dubious taste, but still funny: Charleton Heston Still Refuses to Give up His Gun.
    LOS ANGELES (AP) - Despite numerous promises in his lifetime to allow his guns to be taken from his cold, dead hands, the late Charlton Heston issued a statement today saying that he will retain possession of his firearms into the afterlife.
    Diane Feinstein and Michael Moore are displeased.

Just When I Thought I'd Seen Everything…

I just saw Steven Tyler sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch at the Red Sox home opener at Fenway.

Update [5:19pm] Now, they have Neil Diamond on video doing "Sweet Caroline". He's looking more like Richard Feynman every day.

Update [5:43pm]. They won, 5-0. After that, how could they not? Apparently Bill Buckner threw out the first pitch to Dewey Evans, as well.


Last Modified 2008-04-08 5:45 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-04-07

  • This would never happen at Dunkin Donuts: Starbucks has denied a customer's request to put "Laissez Faire" on his customized Starbucks card. [Update, 2008-04-10: reportedly reversed. Yay!]

  • We did that whole thing on patriotism-questionin' yesterday, and not to beat a dead horse on that or anything, but … Michelle points to a first-person report from the "legislative district caucus" of the 43rd district in Seattle, Washington:
    At the mere mention of doing the pledge there were groans and boos. Then, when the district chair put the idea of doing the Pledge of Allegiance up to a vote, it was overwhelmingly voted down. One might more accurately say the idea of pledging allegiance to the flag (of which there was only one in the room, by the way, on some delegate’s hat) was shouted down.
    "Just don't question their patriotism." Sam Gamgee was there, too.

  • Meanwhile, Obama is trying real hard to ratchet up the patriotism-content. If he's not careful, he'll lose the votes of the 43rd district. (Via Hugh Hewitt.)

  • If you're not yet Hestoned out, Scott at Power Line has a great post; among other tidbits, he's impressed with Stephen Hunter's tribute at the Washington Post, and so am I.

  • Continuing in that mortality vein: if you didn't make it to William F. Buckley Jr.'s memorial at St. Patrick's Cathedral, reading Shawn Macomber is the next best thing. The description of son Christopher Buckley's eulogy is both moving and funny:
    "We talked about this day, he and I," Buckley began as he settled in to give the father he described as "the world's coolest mentor" his due. "He said, 'If I'm still famous try to get the cardinal to do the service at St. Patrick's. If I'm not, just tuck me away in Stamford." The humorist waited two beats then added, "Well, Pop, I guess you're still famous."

    I also liked Rob Long's purloined memo from St. Peter on "recent complaints" about the ruckus Mr. Buckley is causing.

    Mr. Karl Marx has registered several formal complaints with the Administration about your repeated pranks — I believe, but cannot prove, that you and Milton Friedman were responsible for what we’re going to call the “jello incident” — and really, sir, if the gentleman doesn’t want to appear in a debate you’ve arranged on the topic “Resolved: This house believes that Marxism is an esophoric condition,” then please, do not keep asking him. Mr. Marx is here on a rather tenuous basis, and wishes to keep a low profile.

    The same goes for Mr. Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


Last Modified 2008-04-17 4:24 PM EDT

We Own the Night

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

Surprisingly uninteresting!

This movie is set in 1988 New York City, in which the Russian mob is trying to establish a serious drug trade. They're up against the cops, represented by the Grusinsky family: father Bert (Robert Duvall) and son Joe (Mark Wahlberg). The black sheep of the family is Bobby (Joaquin Phoenix), who runs a local popular dance club, in which one of the drug kingpins hangs out. He has a very attractive girlfriend, Amada (Eva Mendes). Problems, and eventually, tragedy, occur when Bert and Joe ask Bobby to help them out in their investigations.

Movies should assume that everyone in their audience comes in with a big why should I care about this? sign on their foreheads. This movie never makes much of an attempt to answer that question.

From the IMDB trivia page:

According to an interview with Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix would get into character by hurling insults at Robert Duvall between takes. This upset Duvall greatly and Wahlberg had to restrain him.
They should have filmed that. That would have been more interesting.

Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:36 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-04-06 Update

A mere gnat's whisker of 16,000 hits separate our candidates:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-03-30
"Hillary Clinton" phony180,000-20,000
"Barack Obama" phony169,000-26,000
"John McCain" phony164,000-19,000

Let's take a look at recent patriotism-questioning:

  • The Blogometer periodically summarizes political blogs. On Friday, it saw fit to characterize a set of posts this way:
    Conservative bloggers continue to question Obama's patriotism:
    It's long been an article of faith that "questioning patriotism" is Beyond The Pale, and something you Just Can't Do. Is the charge fair? Judge for yourself. The links are to:

    My call: To be charitable, Blogometer is missing some serious nuance there.

  • This, on the other hand, is pretty unabashed patriotism-questioning:

    [CNN Quickvote]

    Whoa. What rabid right-wing blogger dared to put that up?

    Bzzzt. Not a blogger. A news site.

    Oh. Well, Fox News, right?

    Sorry, no.

    [To be fair, a right wing blogger did do his own poll in reaction to this.]

  • Like it or not, of the three remaining candidates, Obama draws far more than his share of the "patriotism" comments. Nobody even thinks about McCain's patriotism; it's obvious, and just taken for granted. Nobody thinks about Hillary's patriotism either; it's pretty much assumed that power-hunger is her prime motivator.

    Here's Jonah Goldberg who wonders why the Left (generally) and Obama (specifically) are so reluctant on appealing to patriotism in their otherwise stem-winding campaign rhetoric:

    To invoke patriotism seriously is to brand yourself either an old fogy or a right-wing bully. If Barack Obama spoke about patriotism with the sort of passion he expends on unity, many would take him for some sort of demagogue.
    That's a subtle point. [And for taking the trouble to make the point, Jonah got hit with a "Jonah Goldberg Latest Wingnut To Question Obama’s Patriotism" headline at Firedoglake.]

  • But Jonah's observations are being echoed outside the Wingnut Community. Joe Klein at Time observes:
    Patriotism is, sadly, a crucial challenge for Obama now. His aides believe that the Wright controversy was more about anti-Americanism than it was about race. Michelle Obama's unfortunate comment that the success of the campaign had made her proud of America "for the first time" in her adult life and the Senator's own decision to stow his American-flag lapel pin — plus his Islamic-sounding name — have fed a scurrilous undercurrent of doubt about whether he is "American" enough.

  • This drives doctrinaire lefties bananas. For example, at the Carpetbagger Report, Steve Benen looks at Klein's and Goldberg's comments and pronounces the topic "tiresome". And he links to a Media Matters report that (as near as I can tell) documents every single occasion of Obama's favorable mentions of "patriotism" and "patriots".

    Which of course, is fine. CNN asked Obama back in February how he would "fight the image of being unpatriotic."

    "The way I will respond to it is with the truth: that I owe everything I am to this country," he said.
    That's pretty good! But political rhetoric is primarily judged on how it sways people. As Klein and Goldberg show, Obama's rhetoric, uplifting as it is in other areas, just isn't particularly effective on this topic.

  • You might be forgiven for thinking that actual patriotism-questioning is relatively rare; much more common is outraged reaction to perceived patriotism-questioning. Fred Barnes has a pretty good summary of what he calls "patriotism paranoia":
    When criticized for being soft or wrong on national security, Democrats routinely respond that their patriotism is being questioned. In fact, they're rarely if ever accused of being unpatriotic. But to the paranoid, that's immaterial.
    Open question: how much is paranoia, and how much is phony outrage?


Last Modified 2014-12-01 11:04 AM EST

Charlton Heston

… has passed away.

I said awhile back that Will Smith was the current go-to guy for big-budget science fiction movies. A few decades ago, that niche was inhabited by Charlton Heston: Soylent Green, The Omega Man, and Planet of the Apes. Practically anyone else in those roles would have made those flicks utterly forgettable.

I also enjoyed him a lot as Cardinal Richelieu in Richard Lester's great Musketeers movies.

Back in college, I got the chance to see him as John Proctor in The Crucible at the Ahmanson Theatre in LA. My buddies and I were up in the nosebleed section, but he had enough acting power to fill the room. He was the real deal.

Experimental Results

2008-04-06

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

  • 12:00AM and 11:00AM on USA: Unbreakable (Bruce Willis)
  • 5:30PM on USA: Hostage (Bruce Willis)
  • 8:00PM and 10:50PM on USA: Ocean's Twelve (Bruce Willis)
It's Bruce Willis day on USA. And so, the theory remains unrefuted for seven consecutive weeks.

Last Modified 2008-04-06 7:55 AM EDT

Unintended. But Predictable.

Bloggers of a libertarian bent, are you ever at a loss for ideas? Try searching the Google News for "unintended consequence". New blog-fodder every day. You're welcome.

Today's example is from the New York Times, an article with the headline "In Massachusetts, Universal Coverage Strains Care". Our phrase shows up in paragraph four; I'll also quote paragraph three for context:

In pockets of the United States, rural and urban, a confluence of market and medical forces has been widening the gap between the supply of primary care physicians and the demand for their services. Modest pay, medical school debt, an aging population and the prevalence of chronic disease have each played a role.

Now in Massachusetts, in an unintended consequence of universal coverage, the imbalance is being exacerbated by the state’s new law requiring residents to have health insurance.

[Emphasis added]

It's a "good" article, in the sense that it's well-written, with multiple interviews diligently reported. But on the other hand, I found myself wanting to give the reporter, Kevin Sack, and most of the people he interviewed, a moderate whack upside the head with a clue bat.

The article's hook is provided by Dr. Katherine J. Atkinson ("Dr. Kate"), a family physician based in Amherst, MA. She's got a long waiting list for accepting patients, and—even if you are a patient—her next scheduled opening for a routine physical is in May of 2009.

At the end of the article, Dr. Kate reveals her dissatisfaction:

“I calculated that every time I have a Medicare patient it’s like handing them a $20 bill when they leave,” she said. “I never went into medicine to get rich, but I never expected to feel as disrespected as I feel. Where is the incentive for a practice like ours?”
Hmmm, incentive. Where have I seen that word before?

Gosh, if only there were some sort of system to more efficiently allocate economic resources to where they were most demanded, and to provide incentives for people who provide goods and services to people who want them!

Well, yeah there is. Nobody in Amherst is approaching the local butcher at a ballet recital, begging to be put on his waiting list for pork chops. If an Amherst resident wants an iPod, a hammer, diapers, gasoline, …, pretty much whatever, he or she can get those things today, not schedule an appointment for them to be provided more than a year in the future.

But the good people of Massachusetts decided not to go that direction for medical care. They took a field already unusually awash in government regulation, licensing, red tape, price controls, subsidies … and they then decided to throw in some more, ushered in under the mantra of "universal coverage."

Predictable (but of course "unintended") consequences: shortages, queues, and (as typified by Dr. Kate) resentment.

Nobody in the article seems to know what to do about this, other than more of the same tinkering-at-taxpayer-expense:

Here in Massachusetts, legislative leaders have proposed bills to forgive medical school debt for those willing to practice primary care in underserved areas; a similar law, worth $15.6 million, passed in New York this week.
The single feeble nod to anything resembling a free market reform:
Massachusetts also recently authorized the opening of clinics in drug stores, hoping to relieve the pressure.
Bay Staters, rejoice! It's now legal to do something that never should have been illegal in the first place! Huzzah!

A number of candidates are promising to bring Massachusetts-style "universal coverage" to the rest of us. If that happens, bet on a big upswing in the "unintended consequence" Google hits.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 9:26 AM EDT

Who Could Imagine?

When the minimum wage was increased, some predicted that employers would react by cutting jobs, and cutting hours for those who remained employed. At Cafe Hayek, Russ Roberts relates a yarn Hillary told Jay Leno on the Tonight show:

I was in Indianapolis the other day and I was shaking hands after I spoke. And there was this young boy about eleven years old and he's trying to tell me something—you know the crowd was yelling—so I leaned over and he said, "You know, my mom makes minimum wage and even though it went up, her hours were cut. So we're not making any more money. Can you help her?"
If you're thinking: "I bet Hillary didn't take away the obvious lesson from that", you're right.

(If your first thought was, instead: "I bet Hillary made that up," well, you're probably right about that too. I think she's learning, probably too late, to make her anecdotes as unfalsifiable as possible.)

Friendly Fenway!

… unless you have a name that's easily confused with that of a despised adversary. Then the wildlife attacks. I foresee a 800-page Steven King novel about this.

In other news, the Coke bottles are gone this year.

The Red Sox magic number for winning the AL East: 159.

Coming Soon to a Nanny State Near You

I noted earlier this week that all three leading presidential candidates think it's time for Your Federal Government to "stem the growing epidemic of obesity". So it's worth paying attention to how that sort of thing plays out elsewhere:

Corporate Japan will join the country's battle against bulging waistlines next month with the introduction of compulsory "flab checks" for the over-40s and penalties for firms that fail to bring their employees' weight under control.
About the only ray of optimism here is the observation that We Truly Are One People, despite cultural and racial differences. Because Japanese nanny-staters sound exactly like ours:
"If it can prevent even a small number of people from developing cardiovascular diseases it will be good news for them and their families," Yuji Matsuzawa, director of the Japan Society for the Study of Obesity, wrote in the Asahi newspaper.
The article makes no mention of the new policy's impact on sumo wrestling. (Via Kip Esquire.)

Asymmetry

I've been a Charles Murray fan for a long time, so I put some weight to his even-handed, even charitable, reaction to Barack Obama's race speech last month.

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.
But it turns out that Obama isn't particularly keen on Murray. Hugh Hewitt shelled out $3.95 for an NPR transcript of a 1994 "commentary" from Obama:
"With one finger out to the political wind," Obama continued, "Mr. Murray has apparently decided that white America is ready for a return to good old-fashioned racism so long as it's artfully packaged and can admit for exceptions like Colin Powell."
That was fourteen years ago, but the difference in attitudes is pretty striking.

URLs du Jour

2008-04-03

  • Fans of baseball and grammar have one less thing to worry about today. (Via Language Log.)

  • If (a) you're in favor in "net neutrality" and (b) you're at least semi-receptive to free market arguments, then you should check out "Dumb Pipes, a Dumb Idea: Net Neutrality as 21st Century Socialism" by Clyde Wayne Crews. It might change your mind.

  • What are you most worried about: (a) the current economic crisis; (b) government efforts to "do something" about the current economic crisis? If your answer is (a), you might want to check out:

    • this WSJ editorial on Rep Barney Franks' efforts to effectively transfer billions of dollars from the pockets of people who made responsible financial decisions to the pockets of those who … didn't;

    • Steve Chapman on the same;

    • this analysis by Arnold Kling on the current housing bill's efforts to bail out homebuilders who speculated unwisely on ever-rising housing prices.

    Arnold concludes with a more general lesson:
    Pundits have been braying that the subprime mortgage crisis demonstrates the failure of private markets and the need for more regulation. They say that the crisis is a reminder of why we need more government intervention, not less. The housing bill is a reminder of the opposite.
    So true. (And a sage commenter sagely comments: "Note that when we want to bail them out, they're not developers. They're homebuilders.")

How Can You Tell When a University President is Lying?

When he says things that he knows are drastically at odds with reality. Were you expecting some other answer?

Colorado College, in scenic Colorado Springs, has an inspirational endorsement of free expression on page 34 of its Academic Policies and Procedures handbook:

On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful that it may not be expressed.

[If that seems familiar: it's a direct, unattributed plagiarism quote from the American Association of University Professors' statement "On Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes".]

Which is fine, in theory. In practice, it took Colorado College about 30 minutes to examine their deepest feelings about free expression on campus, and say: Just kidding!

The "Feminists and Gender Studies Interns" at CC print up a newsletter entitled the "The Monthly Rag." You can read a poorly-reproduced copy here, but here is, I think, a fair summary:

The flyer included a reference to "male castration," an announcement about a lecture on "feminist porn" by a "world-famous prostitute and porn star," [the aging Annie Sprinkle, for those of you with fond memories of Wild Pussycats and Satan was a Lady] an explanation of "packing" (pretending to have a phallus), and a quotation from The Bitch Manifesto.

CC student Chris Robinson, and an unnamed accomplice, perhaps taking that "free and open" thing a bit too seriously, published a parody of "The Monthly Rag" entitled "The Monthly Bag" (PDF here) under the pseudonymous "Coalition of Some Dudes". Summary:

The flyer included references to "chainsaw etiquette," the shooting range of a sniper rifle, a quotation regarding a sexual position from the website menshealth.com, and a quotation about "female violence and abuse" of men from the website batteredmen.com.

Which brings nothing to mind more than the very old, but very appropriate, joke:

Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A: That's not funny!

As Chris Robinson relates in a student newspaper op-ed (reproduced here):

The appearance of our satire was handled in a manner which in many ways approximated to, say, the way Wahhabbi Islam hunts down apostasy. Apostasy, for the interested party, is the ultimate crime in Islam: an apostate is one who has known the true faith and deviated from it, and his punishment for this shall be death.

The college opens for business at 8 am. By 8:30 am on the day of publication, I observed security forces tearing down our satire. Wow. Who would have the power and zeal to initiate such a crackdown? I'm not sure, but all I can say is the Chinese Communist Party would be proud.

CC's president, ex-Ohio governor (and Democrat) Richard Celeste apparently issued a mass-emailing of denunciation aimed at the parody, and demanded that the authors present themselves for judgment. They did, and found themselves before the dread Student Conduct Committee. Relates Chris Robinson:

I'd love to tell you more about that proceeding, but I'm not at liberty to do so. I will tell you this, though: it was deadly serious. It was an open-ended procedure which could have led to any punishment up to expulsion. It was a corrupt and biased proceeding which inspired in me a terror I've not felt for many years, and constituted a cruel and unusual punishment in and of itself, which I suspect was its intent.

The thrilling climax:

Two weeks after their hearing before the student conduct committee, Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students Mike Edmonds finally wrote to the "Coalition of Some Dudes" students on March 25, stating that they had been found guilty of "violating the student code of conduct policy on violence" and that as a punishment, they would be required to hold a forum to "discuss issues and questions raised" by "The Monthly Bag." Although Edmonds acknowledged that the intent of the publication was to satirize "The Monthly Rag," he wrote that "in the climate in which we find ourselves today, violence—or implied violence—of any kind cannot be tolerated on a college campus." Apparently, according to Edmonds, "the juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality" in an anonymous parody made students subjectively feel threatened by chainsaws or rifles.

Which is ludicrous on its face. If it hadn't been the chainsaws and rifles, it would have been something else. The policies at CC are vague and arbitrary enough to encompass any sin the administrators feel like punishing.

The canonical behavior of university administrators in such situations is overreaction, followed (if necessary) by ass-covering obfuscation and sanctimony. President Celeste is quoted at Inside Higher Ed engaging in the latter:

Richard F. Celeste, Colorado College’s president, said via e-mail: “Colorado College values and fosters freedom of expression, and in discussions with students regarding “The Monthly Bag,” has encouraged further dialogue about freedom of speech issues on campus. The students involved in creating this publication were found to have violated the college community’s standards, but they were not sanctioned or punished. Instead, they were urged to engage the college community in more inclusive dialogue, debate and discussion on freedom of speech, and through a letter to the editor of the student newspaper and other actions, they are doing so.”

Adam Kissel at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's (FIRE) blog, The Torch, calls bullshit on that:

This statement is false. The students were sanctioned and punished. Take a look at their letter of sanction by Dean of Students Mike Edmonds. Having a guilty finding on one's record is a punishment. Having the letter put in each student's file is a punishment. Being required to hold a "forum" is a punishment. Being publicly shamed in a mass e-mail from the president is a punishment.

Here's hoping that very bad things—nonviolent, of course—happen to Celeste and Edmonds as a result of their contemptible behavior.

FIRE's go-to page on this case is here, from which most of the links in this article were obtained.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:29 AM EDT

Twelve Mile Limit

[Amazon Link]

This is number nine in Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford series. It opens with a seeming tragedy: while four friends are scuba diving a wreck in the Gulf of Mexico, their boat sinks. One makes it to a navigational buoy and is rescued by the Coast Guard; the others are not found after an exhaustive search.

That would probably be that, aside from speculation, if one of the lost divers was not a close friend of the Dinkin's Bay crew, including Doc Ford. The surviving member saw just enough to raise a glimmer of hope in Doc's mind, and he uses his contacts and wiles to pursue the real story. The journey is tough but gripping, the climax grim.

This is (yet another) darn good yarn. Were I to quibble, I'd quibble that Mr. White seems at time to be padding things out to a contractually-agreed word count with digressions, flowery description, and a couple irrelevant subplots. But no matter, because White probably makes it more entertaining than anyone else could. You can actually learn stuff here, not just marine biology, Doc's adopted profession, but also self-defense, meteorology, South American politics, and on and on.

It seems that, in this book, Doc has achieved a breakthrough in introspection, finally making progress in integrating his past life in supersecret service to America with his current persona as a marine biologist. We'll see how this plays out.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:28 AM EDT

That Was Quick

From the March 29 Wall Street Journal article on the wonderful Norah Jones:

For now, with her film finished and her next album a ways off, one ambition is more immediate: "I just want to be home enough this year to get a dog."
From today's New York Times article on Ms. Jones' March 30 concert:
With so many collaborators on hand, her solo set didn’t last long. She sang “Cold, Cold Heart,” the Hank Williams standard, along with an impish new original about her dog.
Ah. Glad that dog thing worked out for her.

Elementary

This well-designed game checks to see how well you remember your chemical elements. It's educational, not a waste of time at all! I got 51, and some of the ones I missed—well, I shouldn't have. (Via BBSpot, whose proprietor claims a score of 53. Hmph.)

Rocket Science

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

This movie got decent reviews (a solid 84% on the Tomatometer). It had a decent number of laughs throughout. (Such is my insensitivity to such matters, I'm not sure if I was supposed to laugh at some of those things. Nevertheless …)

The protagonist is young teen Hal Hefner, who's got a number of strikes against him. He's got a mean speech impediment, which causes him to stutter, not on individual words—he's fine with those—but on whole phrases, which he can't seem to connect all the way through to a complete thought. His mom and dad have split up, and mom's now dating an Asian-American small-claims court judge. His brother, a proud thief of items small and smaller, calls him various girls' names.

And he lives in Plainsboro, New Jersey. Which, I see from Google Maps, is just the other side of US Route 1 from Princeton, but might as well be on the other side of the galaxy for Hal.

Things begin to change when brash, well-spoken Ginny recruits Hal to be her extremely unlikely partner on the high school debate team. She aims to win the state tournament, an honor previously denied her when her debate superstar partner froze up at the podium the previous year.

Now all this is fine, but I began to feel about halfway through that I was being manipulated by the movie as surely as the most formulaic explosion-sodden action flick. Maybe the IMDB's keywords will help a little:

* Middle Finger * Stuttering * Intercom * Teen * Father * Debate * Bra * High School * Dinner * Bus Stop * Cruelty * City * Theft * Nose Bleed * Erotic Fantasy * Private School * Drunk * Older Brother * Practice * Prep School * Interracial Relationship * Closet * Kama Sutra * Public School * Obscene Gesture * Broken Window * Library * Quiet * Agreement * Coming Of Age * Advice * Battle Hymn Of The Republic * Ex Lover * Love * Father Son Relationship * Accent * Locket * Bow Tie * Tournament * Pizza * New Jersey * Cello * Whiskey * Fish * Loser * Sex Education * Bus * Aardvark * Suburb * Brother Brother * Judge * Motto * High School Love * Shore * Cowboys And Indians * Revenge * Relaxation Exercise * School Bus * Separation * Heartbreak * Brother * Angry Wife * Blow Job * Philosophy * Girl * Cleavage * Angry People * Team * Narrator * Inept Teacher * Sex With Animal * Funny Accent * Abstinence * Brother Brother Relationship * Telephone Call * Winner * Snow * Office * Trophy * Ghost * Conversation * Phone Call * Garbage * Cell Phone * Legend * High School Teacher * Singing * Alcohol * Son * Song * Kiss * Banjo * Breathing * Boy * Bath * Teen Drinking * Stutter * Heartache * Marital Separation * Speech * Mom * Winning * Mother * Special Education * Marital Strife * First Place * Spring * Whispering * Fake Accent * Marital Problem * Teenage Sex * Stolen * Cowboy Hat * Making Out * Big City * Lunch Room * Masturbation * Suitcase * Trenton New Jersey * Wading * Window * Bicycle * Divorce * Teacher * Toothbrush * Boutonnière * Mascot * Marriage Problems * Dry Cleaners * Marital Trouble
Yeah, that's kind of a lot of stuff to fit into one small movie. It's as if the filmmakers didn't have quite enough faith in their basic story, so they just kept sticking in little plot doodads, until they got it out to movie length.

The movie also seems to wear quirkiness on its sleeve, which I found a tad annoying. Still, it's not the worst movie you'll ever see.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:34 AM EDT