Experimental Results — 2008-08-31

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

  • 12:00AM and 10:00AM on TNT: Along Came a Spider (Morgan Freeman)

That's it, although there's a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air marathon on TBS this morning for all you Will Smith fans. And we didn't include the Sci-Fi Channel in our original theory statement, but if you get it, and you can't go through a Sunday without Bruce Willis, there's Unbreakable at 9pm.

Theory status: unrefuted for 28 consecutive weeks.


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Pun Salad Sophisticated Political Analysis: Sarah Palin

Tina Fey needs to guest on Saturday Night Live for the Palin-Biden debate parody:

Tina! Sarah!
This has been your Pun Salad Sophisticated Political Analysis for today. (Idea provided by Mrs. Salad.)

Last Modified 2008-09-12 10:37 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-29

  • Quoted in its entirety, Jesse Walker's condensed version of Obama's acceptance speech:
    Government cannot solve all our problems. Just the ones involving energy, education, work, the weather, cities, the countryside, sick children, sick mothers, joblessness, hopelessness, and frightening foreigners who do not live in Iraq. Now if you'll all look under your seats, every one of you is going home with a new car!

  • Freudian Slip Department:
    "Hillary told us in no uncertain terms that she is going to do everything she can to elect Barack Obama. That makes two of us," [Bill Clinton] told delegates, who waived American flags. "Barack Obama will lead us away from division and fear of the last eight years back to unity and hope."
    I bet. (Emphasis added, of course. Via Cato@Liberty.)

  • Dave Barry files his last report from the Democratic National Convention:

    I was on the convention floor Wednesday for the historic roll-call vote that nominated Obama. The roll call is one of the most entertaining parts of any convention, because it's when the state-delegation chairpersons, before casting their votes, name the various things that their states are proud of, as in:

    ``Madam Secretary, the great state of [name of some state that no normal person would ever call ``great''], where the wind blows horizontally and water goes down the drain counter-clockwise; birthplace of the inventor of a key chemical component of Cool Ranch Doritos; home of the world's largest organically grown rutabaga . . . ''

    I am not exaggerating by much. One highlight of Wednesday's roll call was when John Knutson, chairperson of the Maine Democratic Party, said -- and I am not making this quote up -- ``The sun comes up in Maine first in the nation. And we feel very honored to be . . . to have that as our singular . . . whatever. Privilege.''

    Maine: The Whatever State.

  • The US Chamber of Commerce had an actually-funny anti-Jeanne Shaheen ad on TV last night. A refreshing change from the usual anti-advertising, which tends to run to grainy unflattering photographs and ominous-sounding voice-overs. There's a story at NPR about the Chamber's efforts, with a link to a video of the ad. (Video not embeddable here, as near as I can tell. NPR: Windows-centric commies.)

    NPR has this story as part of its "Secret Money Project", although the funding for this particular ad has to be one of the worst-kept secrets I've seen lately.

  • The Granite Geek, David Brooks, argues that "somebody with scientific training" would be a "ground-breaking presidential candidate."

    I've left a comment there about Herbert Hoover, Stanford geology major. (Hoover also worked as a mining engineer, ground-breaking in a more literal sense.)


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The Last Winter

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

The DVD box—you can read it right over there—claims that this is "the scariest movie of the year", but it's not really that scary. It's creepy enough, though.

But it is topical, telling us what's in store should we dare start drilling for oil in the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve, and it's not pretty. A small group of oil company employees are tasked with initial exploration; unfortunately, the main things they discover are (a) unusually warm weather, and (b) their activities have apparently unleashed demon-spawn from hell. Or maybe hallucinatory gases. And, as is the norm for such movies, people start dying in unusual but low-budget fashion.

So, as one IMDB commenter put it: it's the kind of horror movie Al Gore would make. Ron Perlman plays a tough oilman. And there always has to be someone we hope survives to the end of the movie; here, that's Connie Britton, the perky Nikki from Spin City.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:19 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-27

Some bloggers enthusiastically blog about, even live-blog, convention speeches. Good for them, but I can't stand to watch speeches, either Democrat or Republican. Evaluating them (example) is much like being the cowpie judge at the state fair, awarding points for consistency, shape, aroma, and color. I'll pass.

So:

  • Shawn Macomber lends support to the thesis that way too many kids were irretrievably harmed by exposure to a certain author.

  • Dave Barry is on the convention floor, and provides a minute-by-minute:

    7:41 -- I step onto the convention floor and am immediately caught up in a surging mass of humanity consisting of every Democrat who has ever lived. Grover Cleveland is in here somewhere. Yes, he died in 1908, but the crowd is so dense that he is unable to fall down.

    7:43 -- Somewhere in the distance is the podium, where an important Democratic dignitary is speaking about Change. He is for it. Down here on the floor, we are wishing that our fellow surgers would change to a stronger deodorant. We are pressed together so tightly that some of us could easily wind up pregnant by as many as eight different people, and I am not ruling out Grover.

    Dave deserves our thanks for throwing himself on the live grenade that is political convention coverage. Click the link for his description of "strong and direct buttular contact" with a famous politician.

  • Meanwhile, Barack Obama is displaying his devotion to the principle of free speech:
    Barack Obama is striking back fiercely and swiftly to stamp out an ad that links him to a 1960s radical, eager to demonstrate a far more aggressive response to attacks than John Kerry did when faced with the 2004 "Swift Boat" campaign.

    Obama not only aired a response ad to the spot linking him to William Ayers, but he sought to block stations the commercial by warning station managers and asking the Justice Department to intervene. The campaign also planned to compel advertisers to pressure stations that continue to air the anti-Obama commercial.

  • Great. So fortunately the other guy believes in the First Amendment, right? Well…
    In April 2006, when Don Imus still roamed the airwaves, he asked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., about the charge that his campaign-finance legislation violated the First Amendment.

    McCain’s response was revealing. “I would rather have a clean government than one where quote 'First Amendment rights' are being respected that has become corrupt,” McCain said. “If I had my choice, I’d rather have the clean government.”

    So it looks as if whoever takes the oath on January 20 will be needing to cross their fingers when it comes to that part about "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

  • Plus which, I doubt either candidate will take a strong stand on the birdwatching menace.


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CJ7

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

I really enjoyed two of Stephen Chow's previous movies, Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. This was (unfortunately) not quite as inspired-crazy as those, but still a decent viewing.

Little Dicky is desperately poor, but his widower father has struggled to send him to a fancy private school. (Chinese movie clichés are sometimes the same as American movie clichés: Dicky is ridiculed and bullied by the richer kids at school.) His father tries to instill him with the virtues of integrity, honesty, and hard work, but that's kind of tough to abide by when you're a kid. Dicky makes a scene in a toy store when he can't get the latest robotic dog.

Dad is used to scavenging for most of their meager posessions, so he checks out the local dump for a gizmo he can give Dicky. Coincidentally, the dump's being used as a hiding place by an alien spacecraft; they take off, but leave behind a creature, which Dad mistakes for a toy. Zany hijinks ensue.

It's rated PG, but littler kids might find some things a wee bit intense. And impressionable tikes will probably need to be cautioned not to treat their local pets the way Dicky treats his "toy".

Also: I've noticed before that Chinese movies sometimes contain explicit poop jokes; that observation is borne out here.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:15 PM EDT
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Yet Another Coded Discussion of Race.

Brendan Nyhan is one of the few left-leaning bloggers I read; he's occasionally willing to call a foul when someone on his side goes overboard. But he recently went off the deep end himself, seeing the veiled specter of racism in the comments of one Karl Rove.

Karl Rove is again pushing the suggestion that Barack Obama is lazy, a claim that connotes ugly racial stereotypes about African Americans.
What was Rove's sin this time? It occurs in a WSJ op-ed from a couple days back.

Mr. Obama, on the other hand, needs to reassure Americans he is up to the job. Voters recognize he represents change, yet they are unsettled. Does he have the experience to be president? There are growing concerns, which the McCain campaign has tapped, that Mr. Obama is an inexperienced celebrity-politician smitten with his own press clippings.

And is there really a "there" there? Besides withdrawing from Iraq, it's not clear what issues are really important to him. Does he do his homework or is he intellectually lazy? Is there an issue on which he would do the unpopular thing or break with party orthodoxy? Is his candidacy about important answers or simply about us being the "change we've been waiting for"? Substance will help diminish concerns about his heft and fitness for the job.

Nyhan also quotes previous Rovian utterances that bring up the 'lazy' criticism. But (importantly, in my view), Rove has also provided examples of (possible) symptoms of such (alleged) laziness: "present" votes, relying on charm over substance, vague answers to specific questions, etc.

There's no indication that Rove is trying to fan racist flames here. One could easily see him making the same criticism of a white Democrat. (And certainly enough Democrats have said it about Dubya.) For someone like Nyhan, who regularly decries the tactic of "mind-reading" one's opponents to discover the true motivation behind their words, this is pretty lame.

If you really do think Obama is intellectually lazy, that ought to be an arguable point, not easily dismissed by crying "racism!"

It appears we're in for a few months where all communications concerning Obama will be analyzed for subtle hidden meanings and veiled slurs. Recent examples:

  • Someone called Obama skinny. Racist!

  • A whole bunch of people called Obama "articulate". Yes, even compliments can be racist, Senator Biden. You too, President Bush. And, sorry, Karl Rove: you can't win.

  • And it's not just words, but also symbols: specifically phallic symbols. To be safe, no GOP ad had better have any pictures of anything longer than it is wide.

  • And let's not forget the whole Antichrist thing. (Fortunately, Snopes says that's false. Thank goodness for Snopes, otherwise I'd totally buy it.)

  • And someone has even gone out of their way to point out that Obama doesn't look like all the other presidents on dollar bills, a comment that a majority of voters see as racist.

    Wait… what?

    Ah, never mind.

When Saturday Night Live returns this fall, they'll have a tough time trying to parodize reality.

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Rainbows End

[Amazon Link]

This book won the Hugo Award for best science-fiction novel last year, and it was well deserved. I don't read a lot of science fiction any more (I keep saying that, I know), but Vernor Vinge is on the very short list of authors I try to catch as new stuff appears.

The novel is set mostly in San Diego, just a couple of decades from now, but the technological changes have been stunning. Nearly everybody "wears": contact lenses, ear implants, and smart clothing allow you to experience a convincing virtual reality of choice overlaid on actual reality. Combined with ubiquitous networking, this allows personal interaction with people from around the world, as if they were actually present.

Cheap, sophisticated technology is available to bad guys too. The immediate threat is a YGBM ("You Gotta Believe Me") brainwashing weapon, spread through a combination of bioengineering and networking. In a nice libertarian touch, the mastermind of this plot is a would-be for-your-own-good social engineer.

A mysterious cyber-presence assembles a very unlikely team to thwart the evildoers; most of the team have no idea what's going on. Members include a once-famous poet recovering from Alzheimer's, his plucky granddaughter, and a well-meaning remedial classmate from the local vocational high school.

It's a pretty good read, probably better if you're familiar with San Diego and the UCSD campus, where a lot of the action occurs. I was there long ago, and was awestruck by the Geisel Library; it has a pivotal role here. To paraphrase Dr. Venkman from Ghostbusters: generally, you don't see that kind of behavior from a major library building.

By sheerest coincidence, John Tierney has a column and a blog post up about Vinge and Rainbows End today. (With a picture of the library, currently behaving.)


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:14 PM EDT
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The Martian Child

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

Back when I read a lot of science fiction, I read a bit of David Gerrold: When HARLIE Was One, The Man Who Folded Himself; he also had some involvement with Star Trek, most notably writing a pretty good episode of the Original Series, The Trouble With Tribbles. But that was long ago. This movie is based on one of his later works, and is loosely autobiographical. I would have probably skipped it, but Mrs. Salad is this huge John Cusack fan, so …

It's about a recently-widowed science fiction writer who decides to adopt a special-needs child. Specifically, a boy who is the oddest of balls, a lonely outcast who believes he's a Martian, only on Earth for a brief scouting mission.

Now, I'm the kind of philistine who sees this setup and thinks that it would be really neat if the kid were actually a Martian, which could be played out in any number of interesting ways, preferably with some gags based on his alien powers, also possibly explosions, spaceships, and other cool special effects.

But no such luck. Instead, the kid has some pretty serious psychological problems, which John Cusack attempts to deal with by endless amounts of platitudinous and sentimental dialogue and tedious heartstring-plucking. (Also predictable. He has a dog. I said, "That dog is doomed." About fifty minutes later: "See?")

So, an extra half-star for Gerrold, but otherwise, bleah.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:14 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-25

  • Dave Barry is going to Denver for the Democratic National Convention. His first report is right here. His reporting may not be, technically, "accurate"…
    Already there has been sporadic gunfire between the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton delegates. Political observers see this as indication that there is still some underlying tension between the two sides. Yes, Clinton has been making speeches urging her supporters to work for Obama; but at the same time she has also been using what one Obama adviser described as ``a lot of air quotes.''
    … but I'm sure it will hit on deeper truths than you're likely to get from CNN or MSNBC.

  • George Will is merciless toward Obama's grand schemes to completely rework the economy via government fiat:
    Obama has also promised that "we will get 1 million 150-mile-per-gallon plug-in hybrids on our roads within six years." What a tranquilizing verb "get" is. This senator, who has never run so much as a Dairy Queen, is going to get a huge, complex industry to produce, and is going to get a million consumers to buy, these cars. How? Almost certainly by federal financial incentives for both -- billions of dollars of tax subsidies for automakers, and billions more to bribe customers to buy these cars they otherwise would spurn.

    Conservatives are sometimes justly accused of ascribing magic powers to money and markets: Increase the monetary demand for anything and the supply of it will expand. But it is liberals like Obama who think that any new technological marvel or other social delight can be summoned into existence by a sufficient appropriation. Once they thought "model cities" could be, too.

    It's magical thinking from people who aren't exactly clear on what a "fossil fuel" is.

  • But if you liked George excoriating the Dems, you should probably also check out Don Boudreaux's letter in response, in which he deems McCain's ideas to be "equally moronic".
    Washington is no less diligent than is Hollywood at satisfying the public's demand for heroic adventures, epic fantasies, and fairy tales. Each production stars supercilious superstars portraying characters boasting magical powers and godly goodness.

    The only difference between Hollywood and Washington is that, while audiences understand Hollywood's leading men and women to be acting, this same ability to distinguish fantasy from fact disappears when the executive producer is Uncle Sam.

    An easy thing to forget in these partisan times. Which is why I look to Dave Barry for the straight scoop.


Last Modified 2008-09-12 10:38 AM EDT
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Pelosi on Natural Gas

Patterico noted Nancy Pelosi's Meet the Press interview yesterday, where Tom Brokaw challenged her on investing in T. Boone Pickens' natural gas plans.

REP. PELOSI: […] This is the package we sign up for, this is what they invest in. But that's not the point. I'm, I'm, I'm investing in something I believe in. I believe in natural gas as a clean, cheap alternative to fossil fuels.
Yes, readers: Nancy fancies herself as able to design our country's energy future, but she thinks natural gas is not a fossil fuel.

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Drillbit Taylor

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

Why yes, this is the second movie in a row I watched about bullied high school students where the title is the name of one of the characters. Good catch.

There are important differences, however. There are three kids beset by bullies, not just one. And instead of turning to drug-dealing and amateur psychiatry like Charlie Bartlett, the students decide to hire a bodyguard, the eponymous Drillbit. He is (unbeknownst to the kids) a homeless bum, looking to make a quick score so he can start a new life in Nunavut.

Although the overall shape of the movie is very predictable, the details are engagingly quirky, and everyone involved does a fine job. Although Judd Apatow produced it, and Seth Rogan had a hand in the screenplay, it's not as filthy as some of their other movie work, earning a solid PG-13. Although it's a little long, I laughed all the way through.

I liked this bit of IMDB trivia:

Adam Baldwin has a cameo as a bodyguard being interviewed. During the interview, he comments on how stupid it is for a bodyguard to protect kids from bullies, while wearing an identical costume to the one he wore in the movie My Bodyguard (1980) (where he played a bodyguard to protect a fellow student from a bully).

Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:10 PM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2008-08-24 Update

Wow! Everybody's up, way up, in the phony hit parade. Even Bob Barr. This might be a glitch, and we'll come crashing down again next week. Or the Web may be Wising Up.

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-08-17
"Barack Obama" phony751,000+45,000
"John McCain" phony700,000+39,000
"Bob Barr" phony66,100+53,700

I've heard that Tropical Storm Phony will hit Denver this week, and is predicted to target Minneapolis soon after. There's no telling how that will impact the Phony Campaign, but this past week was impressive enough:

Sunday
Rand Simberg pays attention to space policy, and examined the Obama campaign's latest iteration. He noted a report:
Lori Garver, an Obama policy adviser, said last week during a space debate in Colorado that Obama and his staff first thought that the push to go to the moon was "a Bush program and didn't make a lot of sense." But after hearing from people in both the space and education communities, "they recognized the importance of space." Now, she said, Obama truly supports space exploration as an issue and not just as a tool to win votes in Florida.
Rand asks:
I'm not sure that Lori helped the campaign here. What does that tell us about the quality and cynicism of policy making in the Obama camp? They opposed it before they were for it because it was George Bush's idea? And does that mean that space policy was just about votes in Florida before this new policy? I know that there are a lot of [Bush Derangement Syndrome] sufferers who oppose [Bush's Vision for Space Exploration] for this reason, and this reason alone, but it's a little disturbing that such (non)thinking was actually driving policy in a major presidential campaign.
When viewed through the lens of phoniness, everything looks a lot clearer.

Monday
Taranto took a hard look at one of Obama's answers to Rick Warren at Saddleback Church. Warren asked about "the most gut-wrenching decision you ever had to make", and Obama pointed to his "opposition to the war in Iraq".

Taranto quotes Obama's comments at the time: to put it mildly, they don't display any wrenching of the gut.

If Obama told Warren the truth about his own deliberations in 2002, then he misled the voters back then by concealing his sympathy for (notwithstanding his ultimate disagreement with) what he believed to be a politically expedient position. Perhaps a psychiatrist could offer some elaborate explanation of why he would do this, but Occam's razor suggests that what Obama is saying now is simply at variance with the truth.
Or, in our own language: massively phony.

Tuesday
AllahPundit digs deep into the legislative history of the Illinois anti-infanticide bill Obama fought against in 2003. It's an easy issue to obfuscate, and a considerable amount of Barackrobatics has been expended to do so. If you're interested you should read the whole thing, but AP's headline sums it up pretty well: "Obama camp: He only voted against that born-alive abortion bill because it might actually have an effect"

Wednesday
MichalW at QandO noted Obama's Saddleback Church assertion that America's "greatest moral failure" was its failure to abide by the Christian teaching "that whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me."

Coincidentally, the Italian version of Vanity Fair discovered George Hussein Onyango Obama, Barack's half-brother, living in a Kenyan shack on (he claims) less than a dollar a month. Comments MichaelW:

Okay, let's see. Americans get lectured to about being stingy (which is false) by a man who hasn't done a damned thing for his own flesh and blood. Is this what hopey-changitude is all about? Mind-boggling hypocrisy and selfishness?
We've been watching this for quite awhile, and we'd have to answer: yeah, pretty much.

Thursday
Obama's promise to announce his running mate via text message gave rise to (roughly) everyone receiving forgeries of the announcement. Among the amusing phony choices: Hillary Clinton, Michael Phelps, Walter Mondale, Eliot Spitzer, and Joe Biden.

Wait, … what?

Friday
As you may have heard, Politico caught McCain with a gotcha! question on how many houses he owned. Henry Payne points out the real phoniness on that issue.
As a senator who has embraced cap-and-trade, federal fuel mileage laws, and is fluent in green-speak (“Greenland is the most outstanding example of what’s been happening [due to global warming],” he told The Detroit News in a Dec. 2007 interview), McCain would demand huge sacrifices of the American economy even as he lives like a king.

Like any limousine liberal, McCain prefers the symbolic gesture to walking the walk. In our News interview, he was asked what kind of car he drove. As with Politico’s question about home ownership, he didn’t know and had to ask a nearby aide. “A Cadillac CTS,” she told him. But then the senator was quick to point out that he had bought his daughter a Prius — the prefect halo symbol for his green pretensions.

Saturday
Obama made his choice for veep! Usually we fixate on the top of the ticket, but having Biden back in the news recalled Andrew Ferguson's mass review of candidates' books from last year, and its section on Biden's:
What does a discerning reader learn from Biden's book that we didn't already know? Perhaps not much, if you're a regular watcher of C-SPAN or a longtime resident of Delaware. But there is something unforgettable about watching the man emerge on the page. His legendary self-regard becomes more impressive when the reader sees it in typescript, undistracted by the smile and the hair plugs. Biden quotes at great length from letters of recommendation he received as a young man, when far-sighted professors wrote movingly of his "sharp and incisive intellect" and his "highly developed sense of responsibility." These qualities have proved to be more of a burden than you might think, Biden admits. "I've made life difficult for myself," he writes, "by putting intellectual consistency and personal principle above expediency."

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

There was apparently no effort to balance the Democratic ticket on the phoniness measure.

Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:35 PM EDT
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Experimental Results — 2008-08-24

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

  • 6:00AM on TNT: Deep Impact (Morgan Freeman)
  • 12:30PM on FX: Hollywood Homicide (Harrison Ford)

Slim pickings! I liked Hollywood Homicide for its "Hey! That's…" casting of Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson in small but pivotal roles.

Theory status: unrefuted for 27 consecutive weeks.


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Obama Magazine Covers — Outrageous!

Newsbusters gripes: "Obama on Time's Cover AGAIN!".

Via Drudge we get the recognition that Time Magazine has once again placed the Obamessiah on its cover. This makes the 7th time in the space of a year that Obama has graced the cover of Time Magazine.

Thus far, McCain has found the favor of the front cover precisely two times.

Queries Newsbusters: "In the tank much?"

Hm. Pun Salad original research: National Review comes out every couple weeks, half as often as Time. In their sixteen issues so far this year, Obama's been on the cover six times (February 11, April 7, May 5, June 30, August 18, and the latest, September 1). He's been pictured on a hot air balloon, portrayed as the Messiah, looking young and shiftless on a Chicago street, speaking intensely, cariacatured as a citizen of the world. And on the latest, well, he just looks snooty.

And Michelle Obama has been on once (April 21), looking aggrieved.

Number of times McCain has graced NR's cover in 2008: Zero point zero times.

So, please, Newsbusters: if you really want to OD on Obama magazine covers, renew your subscription to National Review.

Uh, although your basic point is correct: Time is in the tank for Obama.


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Charlie Bartlett

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

You don't necessarily expect a high school drug dealer to be a sympathetic character, but …

Seventeen-year-old Charlie desperately wants to be popular, but the only tactics that occur to him are ones that put him at odds with school and legal authorities; as the movie opens, he's being thrown out of his latest private school for the manufacture and sale of fake IDs. We learn that his family is insanely rich, but his dad is mysteriously absent, and his well-meaning mom lives in a clueless fog fueled by Chardonnay and Klonopin. In desperation, she decides it's time for Charlie to live at home and attend public school.

Things don't start well for Charlie; his preppy accessories and manners irk the local bullies, and he can't make inroads with the popular kids. But he hatches a scheme when his psychiatrist carelessly misprescribes Ritalin for his problems. Soon Charlie's playing shrink for the entire school, supplying prescription drugs as he deems necessary. (Fortunately, Charlie's perceptive and empathetic, and a quick study in matters pharmaceutical, so this doesn't immediately turn into a disaster.) He woos and wins the lovely Susan, and runs afoul of the princpal, Susan's father, played by Robert Downey Jr.

The movie is (slightly) honest when it finally plays out the consequences of Charlie's amateur psychiatry and drug-dealing. It's way too facile in resolving the various resulting crises. But it's funny and unpredictable, and I had a good time.

The actor playing Charlie, Anton Yelchin, is also in the new Star Trek movie, playing Chekov. This raised my Trek-fanboy expectations for the movie even higher.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:14 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-21

  • If you looked at yesterday's post on the Amethyst Initiative, and your first thought was "Thbpptt! Everyone knows that the Federal mandate of a 21-year-old drinking age saved lives by cutting down drunk driving," then you might want to check this post from Brandon Arnold of Cato@Liberty, who cites a study purporting to debunk that. Abstract:
    The minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) is widely believed to save lives by reducing traffic fatalities among underage drivers. Further, the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act, which pressured all states to adopt an MLDA of 21, is regarded as having contributed enormously to this life saving effect. This paper challenges both claims. State-level panel data for the past 30 years show that any nationwide impact of the MLDA is driven by states that increased their MLDA prior to any inducement from the federal government. Even in early adopting states, the impact of the MLDA did not persist much past the year of adoption. The MLDA appears to have only a minor impact on teen drinking.
    As Brandon points out, this does not stop the likes of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) from confidently claiming that "science" is on their side, accusing the Amethyst Initiative of using "deliberately misleading information", and urging people to pressure any university administrator who dared to sign onto Amethyst to withdraw support.
    “As the mother of a daughter who is close to entering college, it is deeply disappointing to me that many of our educational leaders would support an initiative without doing their homework on the underlying research and science,” said [MADD President] Dean-Mooney. “Parents should think twice before sending their teens to these colleges or any others that have waved the white flag on underage and binge drinking policies.”
    It's the nature of MADD to be mad, I guess. For a better argument against the Amethystites, check Steve Chapman at Reason.

  • Tom Smith writes from the Right Coast on John Edwards, mistresses, Russian billionaire oligarchs, and yachts. I'll spoil his bottom line: "Traditional values are once again vindicated."

    Other than that, though, you should read the whole thing.

  • The constant battle of the boys in blue against antisocial behavior is chronicled once again in the Rochester (NH) Police Log. As usual, we have samples:
    Thursday, Aug. 7

    10:58 a.m. — On Governors Road there is a loose cow. Police go to mooove it.

    1:00 p.m. — On Salmon Falls Road a man screams about a computer issue. Millions sympathize.

    4:51 p.m. — On Cross Road a baby skunk has died in a backyard and there are three skunks "out right now." NH Wildlife has called it abnormal, but they could be mourners.

    Friday, Aug. 8

    12:58 p.m. — Profile Bowmen's building has been burgled and a new archery bow stolen. Police aim to target the thief.

    3:59 p.m. — A dog has killed a skunk on Cross Road. Only two left.

    Saturday, Aug. 9

    2:07 a.m. — A generator has been stolen from Royal Crest MHP. It was chained to a deck. Now there are only drag marks.

    Sunday, Aug. 10

    6:18 p.m. — On Warren Street, eight people stand outside a woman's home and yell obscenities about her cat. Robert Welch, 24, of 1 Warren St. is charged with simple assault.

    Monday, Aug. 11

    3:59 p.m. — A woman leaves a purse with over $200 in it on a bench opposite Moe's. Guess what? It's gone.

    Tuesday, Aug. 12

    6:18 p.m. — Down there on Myrtle the fighting folks hurtle, to make sure that they are a part of the fray. There's shoving and shouting, and cuffing and clouting, and there's little doubting, they'll have a nice day.


Last Modified 2008-09-02 11:50 AM EDT
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Amethyst Initiative

The "Amethyst Initiative" is an effort by a group of college presidents and chancellors to get the drinking age lowered back to 18. The argument is that the current age limit "is not working." It contributes, they say, to off-campus binge drinking; fake IDs erode respect for the law. They point out that 18-year-olds "are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military"; the notion that they're not mature enough to handle alcohol is inconsistent.

Their website explains the name:

The word Amethyst is derived from the Ancient Greek words meaning “not” (a-) and “intoxicated” (methustos). According to mythology, Amethyst was a young girl who incurred the wrath of the God Dionysus after he became intoxicated with red wine. Amethyst cried to Goddess Diana for help.  Diana immediately turned the girl into a white stone. Upon discovering what had happened Dionysus wept, and, as his tears fell into his goblet, the wine spilled over the white rock, turning it purple.

The lesson for today's college students is clear: if you run afoul of a mean drunk, asking a Goddess for help isn't likely to work out: you get stoned, then stained. You might want to carry pepper spray or a 9mm Glock instead.

Our local paper, Fosters Daily Democrat, covers the Amethyst Initiative here, and notes that while the presidents of Dartmouth and Southern New Hampshire University have signed on, UNH's president, Mark Huddleston, has so far declined.

Instapundit is, as usual, sensible: this should (at least) not be a Federal issue. At Patterico, DRJ has a number of informative links.

When looking for informed comment on college drunkenness, however, my first thought is: what does Dartblog say? (Hmmm, I may not have meant that quite the way it came out…) In any case, Jennifer Bandy is skeptical.

Unless the college presidents who have joined this initiative are interested in actively changing the American culture, they are doing nothing more than blowing hot air, and that is as it should be.

Good point. It's in the job description, after all.

One comment on the Amethyst website. There's a big fat button on the right of the front page:

See our debates on opposing
views

… but (as I type) hitting that button gets you right to a 404: "The page you were looking for doesn't exist." Theory: this is either (a) a subtle comment on the typical University administrator's respect for dissent, or (b) their web designer is a drunken 18-year-old.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:17 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-20

  • China shows its willingness to tolerate dissent:
    BEIJING — Two elderly Chinese women have been sentenced to a year of “re-education through labor” after they repeatedly sought a permit to demonstrate in one of the official Olympic protest areas, according to family members and human rights advocates.

    The women, Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, had made five visits to the police this month in an effort to get permission to protest what they contended was inadequate compensation for the demolition of their homes in Beijing.

    I believe the NBC folks will be too busy covering Beijing’s Hip-Hop Grannies to pay much attention to Wu Dianyuan or Wang Xiuying. Sorry, ladies: Meredith Viera will not be interviewing you!

  • In other Olympian news, Michael Phelps will soon get his physiognomy on boxes of Kellogg's … well, now they're called "Frosted Flakes of corn", but your blogger is old enough to remember when they were proudly "Sugar Frosted Flakes." Not everyone's happy about that.
    Olympic legend Michael Phelps will appear on boxes of the Kellogg's brand sugar cereal, drawing sharp criticism from health experts worried about the message he'll be sending to children across America.

    "I would not consider Frosted Flakes the food of an Olympian," said nutritionist Rebecca Solomon of Mount Sinai Medical Center.

    "I would rather see him promoting Fiber One. I would rather see him promoting oatmeal. I would even rather see him promoting Cheerios."

    I'm not gonna argue too much with a nutritionist, but: a cup of Cheerios is 110 calories, and nearly everyone puts sugar on them. A cup of Frosted Flakes will get you 143 calories. That's not a big deal.

    And—you'veprobablyalreadyseenthisbut—Michael's on a 12,000 calorie per day diet. Although it's said he usually has grits for breakfast, if he's sentimental about Tony the Tiger, he's probably got room for a bowl of Frosted Flakes.

  • And speaking of Michael, I doubt he's making any money off this T-shirt.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:41 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-19

  • Yay! The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest winners have been announced. The contest is for "bad opening sentences to imaginary novels." I'm a sucker for the Detective category:
    Mike Hummer had been a private detective so long he could remember Preparation A, his hair reminded everyone of a rat who'd bitten into an electrical cord, but he could still run faster than greased owl snot when he was on a bad guy's trail, and they said his friskings were a lot like getting a vasectomy at Sears.
    That's from Robert B. Robeson of Lincoln, Nebraska.

  • A tale that begs for bathroom humor:
    Seattle has officially washed its hands of the five self-cleaning toilets.

    The toilets cost the city $5 million. They sold on eBay Thursday evening for $12,549.

    Let's see… that's, um, $4,987,451 down the crapper, right?
    The high-tech public toilets, with sanitizing water jets and automatic doors, were installed in 2004 to accommodate tourists and transients in Pioneer Square, Capitol Hill, the central waterfront, Pike Place Market and the Chinatown International District. But the city canceled its contract this spring after the commodes became filthy hide-outs for drug use and prostitution.
    Obviously, that outcome was impossible to predict. Nobody could have seen that coming.
    "We sold them for what the market determined them to be worth," said Andy Ryan, spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities. "Did we get hosed? I'm not sure."
    Since I am not a spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities, I'll answer the question: Seattle taxpayers got hosed. Yes, I'm sure.

    But wait, there's more:

    The city paid more than it planned to take care of the toilets. Workers had to clean the stalls after trash clogged the self-cleaning mechanism. Losing the toilets will save the city some $4.5 million on the remainder of its operating contract and in cleaning costs over the next several years.
    Note the peculiar bookkeeping here: the city will "save" money by not cleaning self-cleaning toilets they won't have any more. Geez, if only the city had bought ten times as many toilets they could have "saved" $45 million!
    But the city still has to arrange to remove the toilets, which were closed to the public earlier this month. And it will cost an estimated $250,000 to restore the park sites where the toilets were installed.
    Free advice to Seattle taxpayers: there are other things that need to be removed too. Specifically any and all elected officials or city employees who thought this was a good idea. They treat your money as if it were toilet paper.

    (Via the obvious source.)

  • "I don't know much about art, but this is cra… hey, it's getting away!"
    A GIANT inflatable dog turd by American artist Paul McCarthy blew away from an exhibition in the garden of a Swiss museum, bringing down a power line and breaking a window before it landed again.
    (Apparently the story about the self-cleaning toilets has influenced my blogging. Sorry. I'll try to get my mind out of the sewer tomorrow.)


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Rendition

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

This movie is one of numerous recent Hollywood films made in support of American efforts to track down and thwart terrorist bad guys before they take more innocent lives.

Just kidding! Hollywood hasn't done that sort of thing for decades! Instead, this is one of those movies where the CIA sneaks people off on flimsy evidence to unnamed North African countries to have them interrogated and tortured by the locals, and local CIA agents look on.

In this case, it's an engineer named Anwar; he has a green card, a passport, and an American wife played by Reese Witherspoon. He's on his way home from South Africa, but phone records say that a terrorist's phone has placed a call to his at some point. So CIA bigwig Meryl Streep coldly approves the "rendition" of the title, and Anwar's off for some very rough treatment at the hands of a Telly Savalas lookalike.

Rendition was a major dud at the box office, like most of the movies that attempt to portray American post-9/11 policies as a mixture of bumbling, cravenness, and evil. But I thought I should check at least one of those out and see if it was as bad as all that. It was.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:20 PM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2008-08-17 Update

The phony gap between Obama and McCain narrows again! These kids are making it interesting.

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-08-10
"Barack Obama" phony706,000-16,000
"John McCain" phony661,000-7,000
"Bob Barr" phony12,400+500

It's been another big week in phoniness. In (roughly) chronological order:

  • Last Sunday, Greg Mankiw, who had previously said nice things about Obama's economic instincts, found reason to reconsider as he struggled to make sense out of Obama's view of oil companies as uniquely exempt from normal economic rules, and hence deserving of uniquely punitive taxation.

    Maybe Obama is saying that the forces of competition are absent in the oil market and that the deliberate decision by oil companies to keep capacity below competitive levels is the reason for today's high prices. That would be a logically coherent story, but not an empirically plausible one. It is not lack of competition that is keeping oil prices high but, rather, the basic forces of supply and demand. Even if you blame OPEC for noncompetitive behavior, that fact would hardly provide a rationale for taxing domestic oil producers, as Senator Obama is proposing.

    This is one of those cases where you have to hope Obama is being phony, that he doesn't buy his own populist rhetoric.

  • Also last Sunday, Michael Tomasky recalled Obama's stirring speech to the 2004 Democratic convention, the one that put him on the national stage, and asks:

    Whatever happened to that Obama, to that enemy of excessive partisanship and evangelist of national unity?

    Tomasky longs for the return of that theme of post-partisanship. As near as I can tell, he misses the obvious explanation: the theme was phony, jettisoned as soon as it lost its lustre and usefulness. Jennifer Rubin makes that point, good for her:

    The better explanation is that nonpartisanship is a pose and a sword to attack his opponents. It is remarkable that Obama continually leaves liberal pundits scratching their heads. How do his flip-flops mesh with the New Politics? How can he speak to nonpartisanship and run grainy ads of McCain standing next to President Bush? Please. If we’ve learned anything during this campaign it is that Hillary Clinton’s assessment of her former opponent was on the money: it’s just words.

    (Both links via Betsy Newmark, who also comments.)

  • We've mentioned before that the Phony Campaign really, really, misses John Edwards; on Monday, we were reminded that we really miss Hillary Clinton too. Her campaign manager griped to ABC News that if news of Edwards' philandering had only come out before the Iowa caucus, Clinton could have won there, and been in a much more favorable position for the following primaries and caucuses.

    Jonah Goldberg made the devastatingly obvious point:

    Look, the Clintons have their understandable, if not always legitimate, gripes about losing the nomination. But there is just one thing the Clinton camp can't ever, ever, ever complain about. Can you guess what it is? No? Well, here it is: You can't whine about smooth-talking southern politicians who cheat on their wives and then brazenly lie about it.

    Well, you can. But it's pretty phony.

  • On Tuesday, the Jammie-Wearing Fool pointed out a scurrilous accusation against Mrs. Obama:

    Any American woman who meets her would immediately identify her as a fellow traveler.

    What rightwing slimeball would stoop to such McCarthyite … oh, it was Barack Obama who said that? Never mind.

  • Also on Tuesday, Jeremy Lott checked out David Freddoso's new book, The Case Against Barack Obama, and it seems he's right in tune with our theme:

    Mr. Freddoso does not believe the presumptive Democratic nominee is an America-hating Marxist or a foreign agent or the Second Coming. Rather, he argues at length that Mr. Obama is a big phony. The Illinois pol may have "crafted himself an image as one of those rare reformers who succeeds," but "the idea of Barack Obama as a reformer is a great lie" that many now devoutly, and wrongly, believe in.

    Not just a phony. A big one.

  • But let's try to be fair. On Wednesday, Jacob Sullum took a look at a little-noticed McCain half-gainer on his devotion to Federalism, and how it relates to the federal prosecution of Californian medical marijuana providers, engaged in an activity legal under state and local law.

    In April 2007 [McCain] said, "I will let states decide that issue." But he quickly abandoned that position, and this year he said he'd continue the DEA's medical marijuana raids, declaring, "It is a national issue and not a [state] issue." By contrast, McCain's Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, has promised to stop the raids.

    John McCain: Federalist when convenient.

  • On Thursday, Berin Szoka of the Technology Liberation Front checked out McCain's tech policy and found it an "outrageous" example of "doublethink." Click over for the details; he argues convincingly that McCain's ostensibly free-market attitude toward tech is full of weasel words that leave the door wide open to regulation of providers and content.

    … you don’t have to be much of a libertarian to scan down the list of the government programs and regulations [McCain] supports–especially “Internet Access For All Americans”–and realize that he is, at best, a fair-weather free-marketeer. If free-marketeers have learned anything from Kevin Martin’s reign of terror at the FCC, it’s that a “free-market” Republican president can appoint regulators who pay lip-service to free market ideas while selling them out at (almost) every turn–especially when it comes to content Republican voters don’t like.

    As anyone who followed the McCain-Feingold process knows, McCain's pretty happy to jettison constitutional protections when they get in the way of his more important goals.

  • On Friday, Betsy Newmark gazed upon the deal between the Clinton and Obama camps for the upcoming convention. Schedules and procedures have, apparently been rejiggered to provide "catharsis" for Clinton supporters, allowing them to psychologically Move On to enthusiastic post-convention support of Obama. Betsy comments:

    I just can't relate to these voters. I'm not a Democrat, but if that's what I believed in, I'd want to get behind my party's nominee. And if I were still upset over Hillary's loss, would some fore-doomed roll call vote wouldn't suddenly make me feel all better. I would either be willing to vote for the guy I think is the best of the two candidates or I'm not. Seeing the Clintons pretend that they support Obama wouldn't change my mind. We all know that they are secretly hoping that Obama loses so she could run again in 2012. Her supporters are either willing to vote for Obama or not; no phony catharsis moment should make a difference to anyone in how they vote.

    I think there's a real nugget here about how some approach political activism as a kind of cheap psychotherapy. (But maybe a blogger shouldn't throw stones at that particular glass house before he's sure he's not in one himself.)

  • And finally, just last evening, both Obama and McCain were interviewed by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life. Many have commented on this exchange between Warren and Obama:

    Warren: Which existing Supreme Court Justice would you not have nominated? [Audience: laughs, scattered applause.]

    Obama: That's a good one. That's a good one. Um… uh, I would not have nominated, uh, … Clarence Thomas. [Applause.] Uh, I don't think that he, uh, uh, I, I I-I-I. I don't think that he was an exp–, as strong enough jurist or legal thinker, uh, at the time, uh, for that elevation, setting aside the fact that I profoundly disagree with his interpretations of a lot of the Constitution. Uh, I would not nominiate Justice Scalia, although I don't think there's any doubt about his intellectual brilliance, uh, because he and I just disagree …

    Oh, it would have been so cool had Obama not braked his tongue before getting out the whole word "experienced." That could have played in hundreds of ads between now and November. (Instapundit was all over this, recognizing what he calls Obama's "Holy crap, I can't say that!" moment.)

    As it is, we'll have to live with the obvious implicit disrespect for Thomas in Obama's singling out of Scalia for "brilliance."


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:37 PM EDT
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Experimental Results — 2008-08-17

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

  • 4:45AM on AMC: A Fistful of Dollars (Clint Eastwood)
  • 6:00AM on TNT: In the Line of Fire (Clint Eastwood)
  • 8:30AM on TNT: Space Cowboys (Clint Eastwood)

It's an all-Clint Sunday, and you have to get up pretty early for them. But the theory stands unrefuted for the past 26 weeks.


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New Site for Pun Salad

Pun Salad has been hosted on the University of New Hampshire network for the past 3.5 years or so. Specifically, on the Linux workstation in my cubicle. That's been very convenient, not to mention inexpensive.

But the blog's URL has always been kind of ugly and painful. And, although blogging did not interfere with my day job (honest, boss!), the system's work usage sometimes impacted the blog's availability.

So Pun Salad is moving to http://punsalad.com. Or, if you like, http://www.punsalad.com. Some notes on the move:

  • I plan to run the blog in parallel at both sites for a number of days. But at some point, I'll just set up a redirect at UNH to the new site. If you have bookmarks, feel free to update now.

  • Although I occasionally aimed some barbs at the free-speech policies of universities generally, and sometimes UNH specifically, UNH never made a single gripe about hosting my personal blog on their network. This may mean that they were blissfully unaware of it.

  • At UNH, Pun Salad had to remain strictly non-commercial. At the new site, there might be some effort to offset web hosting fees.

  • Speaking of which: Web hosting for punsalad.com is via Arias Web Hosting. Their operation is smooth and quick and painless and professional. They provide a Linux virtual host, including, for a little extra hassle, shell access. I'm not sure if they're right for everyone, but if you're a geek with modest needs, like me, they seem to be a very good fit.

As always, thanks for reading Pun Salad. If you notice anything broken at the new site—other than my stupid opinions—please let me know.

Last Modified 2008-08-16 7:01 AM EDT
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Shrinks Think Earth's at Brink, Raise Stink, Get USA Today Ink and Pun Salad Link

The story in Wednesday's USA Today (which would, I guess, make it USA Day Before Yesterday) is headlined "Psychologists determine what it means to think 'green'".

Those who make human behavior their business aim to make living "green" your business.
Uh oh. Those who mind their own business, and think others should do the same, should read on.
Armed with new research into what makes some people environmentally conscious and others less so, the 148,000-member American Psychological Association is stepping up efforts to foster a broader sense of eco-sensitivity that the group believes will translate into more public action to protect the planet.
Yes, an organization that bills itself as a "scientific and professional organization" is looking to spur "public action" in an area in which they have no expertise.

In other news, the Association for Computing Machinery will soon be offering diet tips and movie reviews.

"We know how to change behavior and attitudes. That is what we do," says Yale University psychologist Alan Kazdin, association president. "We know what messages will work and what will not."
Ah, Professor Kazdin? Here's what doesn't work: telling people you're on a mission to improve the bad behavior and ignorant attitudes of the masses, to make them more like… well, you.

You gotta keep such arrogant pronouncements sotto voce, lest the rubes get wind of your scheme.

People have wanted to mold the "behavior and attitudes" of the unenlightened for years and years now. Does Kazdin really have some new social-engineering tools he can bring to bear on us? Reading on, here's some of the "new research" that promises to deliver us into eco-utopia:

Walking outside rather than inside — even for just 15 minutes — makes you feel happier, more energetic and more protective of the environment, found two studies involving 220 students conducted by psychologists at Carleton University in Ottawa.
If your local psychologist starts demanding that you walk outside 15 minutes per day, this is why. It's all part of Professor Kazdin's plan, and has been proven effective by studies of 220 Canadian college students.
Negative feedback can backfire. In two studies, psychologist Amara Brook of California's Santa Clara University and colleague Jennifer Crocker of the University of Michigan asked 212 undergraduates about their ecological footprint. For those not heavily invested in the environment, negative feedback about their ecological footprint actually undermines their environmental behavior, they found.
Translation: Nagging people, at least American undergraduates, about their eco-piggery does not work.
News stories that provided a balanced view of climate change reduced people's beliefs that humans are at fault and also reduced the number of people who thought climate change would be bad, according to research by Stanford social psychologist Jon Krosnick.
Translation: the masses cannot be trusted to hear skepticism. If Professor Kazdin's plan is to come to fruition, these voices must be silenced!

Also interviewed for the story was "social psychologist" Jessica Nolan, who, like the psychologists above, had a captive research flock of undergraduates. She looked at "global warming, recycling and improper disposal of used motor oil":

She found that students are not particularly inclined to disapprove of the non-sustainable behavior of others.

"People showed strong approval for other students who recycled. You would hope to see people disapprove of people who don't recycle, but they didn't disapprove," she says.

But, she says, the response was stronger if the activity was perceived as more harmful: More students said they would scold someone if they saw that person improperly disposing of motor oil.

So another part of the strategy is, apparently, to turn Americans into a bunch of neighbor-eyeballing nags and scolds. Great. But what about Amara's and Jennifer's research findings on negative feedback?

I know, it's USA Today, and that was fifteen whole paragraphs ago.

To paraphrase Lincoln Steffens: I have seen the future, and it's tedious, strident, self-contradictory, and stupid.


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Caught in the Spam Filter

I got an amusing e-mail a few days ago. First, let's look at some relevant header lines.

From webmaster@owl-tipps.de  Sat Aug  2 09:40:03 2008
Return-Path: <webmaster@owl-tipps.de>
Received: from s556.evanzo-server.de (s556.evanzo-server.de [62.140.23.56])
        by jaffrey.unh.edu (8.13.8/8.13.8) with SMTP id m72DcGfs003417
        for <pas@unh.edu>; Sat, 2 Aug 2008 09:38:18 -0400
To: Peter@PSDT.com
Subject: COMPENSATION TO SCAM VICTIMS
From: BRITISH HIGH COMMISSION <secretary.consular.office@gmail.com>
Reply-To: consularbhc2008abuja@aol.in
  • The subject line might as well say: If you've been gullible in the past, you're probably a prime target to be swindled again!

  • The envelope's From says it's from 'webmaster@owl-tipps.de', which is Germany. And the message was received from some German server. OWL Tipps is (as near as I can tell) a travel site for the East Westphalia-Lippe region. I smell a hacked account.

  • Ah, but the message has its own From: line, which is the BRITISH HIGH COMMISSION. Sounds official. But why would the BRITISH HIGH COMMISSION have a Gmail address, secretary.consular.office@gmail.com?

  • Best of all, the message has a Reply-To: consularbhc2008abuja@aol.in. (Many mailers will send your reply to the Reply-To: address without asking.) It's in India.

  • The To: line doesn't contain my address; which means my address was probably in the Bcc: line of the message, along with (almost certainly) a few hundred others.

On to the message itself:
BRITISH HIGH COMMISSION

Metro Plaza, Plot 991/992

Zakari
Maimalari Street

Cadastral Zone AO,

Central business district
Abuja.

This is the most accurate part of the message. That's actually a valid Nigerian address, but it currently appears to be a Visa Application Center for the UK, run by VFS, a commercial partner of the British High Commission. (Google indicates the address used to appear on the BHC website, but doesn't any more.)

Needless to say, it's unclear why the GMail-addressed BHC in Nigeria might be sending this important e-mail out through a German travel site server with an Indian reply-to address.

Onward:

Attention,

The BRITISH High Commission in Nigeria, Benin Republic, Ghana and Bokinafaso received a report of scam against you and other British/US citizens and Malaysia Etc. […]

Right. The 'Etc.' is a nice touch. A New Zealander receiving this message might otherwise think it was bogus.
The Countries of Nigeria, Benin Republic, Ghana and Bokinafaso have recompensed you following the meeting held with the Four countries' Government and various countries' high commission for the fraudulent activities carried out by the Four countries' Citizens.Your name was among those scammed as listed by the Nigeria Financial Intelligent Unit (NFIU).
A skeptic might note the unusual wording, dodgy punctuation, non-standard capitalization. And then there's the spelling: "Bokinafaso" is probably "Burkina Faso" and "Nigeria Financial Intelligent Unit" is probably meant to refer to the "Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU)", both of which actually exist.
A compensation has been issued out to all the affected victims and has been already in endorsement to all the victims. Yours was among those that was reported unpaid as at on Friday and we wish to advise you to see to the instructions of the Committee to make sure you receive your compensation immediately.
Ooooh! Compensation! And it's coming immediately! What do I have to do?
We advise that you do the needful to make sure the NFIU endorse your payment on Monday. Contact the office of the consular for an advise on how your recompense will be effected to you.

consularbhc2008abuja@aol.in

I need advise on how to do the needful to get my recompense effected to me? And I thought you said the compensation was "already in endorsement to all the victims." I'm confused!

I'll give the author this, however: they get the distinction between 'affect' and 'effect' right, a feat that eludes (or "alludes") many American college students.

Be advised that you should stop further contacts with all the fake lawyers and security companies who in collaboration scammed you.
"Don't talk to all those other fakers! Talk to us!"
Immediately to check if the endorsement date suits you.
Um, sure. That was "Monday", right?
Yours in Service,

Joy Daniel
Secretary

I'll be in touch, Joy!

(Other versions of this: here, here, here.)


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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-14

  • Jim Harper rightly ridicules the efforts of the "Coalition for Free Broadband Now" by adding "… and a Pony".
    Two things are for sure: 1) Somebody’s going to pay for it. There is no free lunch, and there’s no free broadband. 2) It’s not going to happen now. It’s now right now, and that free broadband isn’t here.
    Good points. Going to the coalition's treacly website, it seems the sole backer for this FCC/Congressional lobbying effort is a company called "M2Z Networks". As near as I can tell, nobody there works for "free", and their investors are almost certainly looking for a return as well. And it's much easier to do that by government fiat, rather than creating products and services that people might actually buy of their own free will. (Via TLF.)

  • A number of libertarian folk are pointing to a short essay by Robert Higgs: "Must the Government Combat Americans’ Addiction to Foreign Bananas?" It is, as you may have guessed about "energy independence".
    If we were talking about bananas, everybody would see immediately the foolishness of seeking “banana independence.” Nobody would fall for half-baked arguments about our addiction to foreign bananas or our love affair with banana bread. It’s obviously uneconomic to grow millions of bananas in this country; it could be done, but doing it would entail much greater costs than buying them from producers in places better suited to their production (that is, places where they can be produced at lower opportunity cost).

    The argument with regard to oil, or anything else, is identical.

    Only problem is, there's a pretty easy rejoinder: if foreign banana supplies were cut off tomorrow, we'd be … going without bananas. If foreign oil supplies were cut off tomorrow, we'd soon find ourselves in dire straits.

    Higgs might have a decent answer for that, but the objection is so obvious, he should deal with it, and not dwell on a not-very-apt analogy. The essay is an example of too-facile libertarian argument.

  • The Rochester (NH) Police Log provides its offbeat interpretation of recent Lilac City shenanigans. Samples:
    Thursday, July 31

    9:23 p.m. — A varlet kicks in a Knight Street door.

    Friday, Aug. 1

    2:28 a.m. — An Old Dover Road resident reports her back door bell has been rung. Police find a couple of deer grazing nearby but don't consider they'd be game to do such a thing.

    3:18 p.m. — An aluminum extension ladder is stolen from a yard on Riverview drive. Police take the usual steps to find it.

    Saturday, August 2

    12:54 a.m. — At Northgate, a woman reports the theft of $450 ... no, wait. she says she has found it.


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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-13

  • People who eagerly sought government regulation to ensure "network neutrality" from Internet Service Providers will no doubt be aghast at what comes next.
    There’s a huge concern among conservative talk radio hosts that reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine would all-but destroy the industry due to equal time constraints. But speech limits might not stop at radio. They could even be extended to include the Internet and “government dictating content policy.”

    FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell raised that as a possibility after talking with bloggers at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. McDowell spoke about a recent FCC vote to bar Comcast from engaging in certain Internet practices – expanding the federal agency’s oversight of Internet networks.

    Regulation advocates imagine that regulation will happen exactly the way they want it. History says that's a myth. Once you open the door, it opens very wide. And the people who walk through it…

    James Gattuso at the Technology Liberation Front has additional commentary.

  • Also at TLF, Adam Thierer points out another promising avenue for government meddling: regulation of internet advertising. Of course, it's "for the children."

    But government has this nasty habit of thinking we're all children…

  • But it's not all matters of Internet meddling here at Pun Salad today. Charles Murray has an op-ed in the WSJ today provocatively titled "For Most People, College Is a Waste of Time".
    Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:

    First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn't meet the goal. We will call the goal a "BA."

    You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that's the system we have in place.

    The essay is adapted from Mr. Murray's new book which I've long had on pre-order from the Amazonians.

  • If you were embarrassed by your low score on yesterday's quiz (guessing the 100 most common English words) … today, you can embarrass yourself by trying to identify peoples' accents. (Again, via BBSpot.)


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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-12

  • Mr. Mark Ambinder provides the 54-page PDF draft of the 2008 Democratic Party Platform.

    Mr. Michael Kinsley has a number of pungent observations about the draft. For example, on page 10, you'll read:

    We should … remove some of the cost burden of catastrophic illness from employers and their employees …
    Kinsley asks a perceptive question about that burden:
    And borne by? Who’s left? I guess the unemployed.
    It will be interesting if that particular passage survives Kinsley's ridicule and makes it into the final version.

  • A mere 14 days ago:
    With fewer than 20 legislative days before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, the entire appropriations process has largely ground to a halt because of the ham-handed fighting that followed Republican attempts to lift the moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration. And after promising fairness and open debate, Pelosi has resorted to hard-nosed parliamentary devices that effectively bar any chance for Republicans to offer policy alternatives.

    “I’m trying to save the planet; I’m trying to save the planet,” she says impatiently when questioned. “I will not have this debate trivialized by their excuse for their failed policy.”

    But now, apparently the planet can go straight to hell when Democratic Congressional seats are at risk.
    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday night dropped her staunch opposition to a vote on offshore oil drilling in the House.
    Betsy Newmark is skeptical; the last time Speaker Pelosi indicated a willingness to vote on the topic, she almost immediately "jerked back the football."

  • Trivia question: what single sentence broadcast by a Utah NPR station caused Ken Jennings to turn off his car radio? The answer is here.

  • Sure it sounds simple: See how many of the 100 most common words in the English language you can guess in 5 minutes. (Via BBSpot.)


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Campus Chemistry at RPI

In academia there's an well-known chemical reaction:

thin skins + arbitrary power → unexpected despotism

The reaction is also strongly exothermic, generating a lot of heat, not very much light.

The latest tale comes (via Inside Higher Ed) from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), where Research Professor Donald Steiner recently complained in e-mail to a faculty discussion group about a recent missive from President Shirley Jackson:

Sadly, I found more of the same subterfuge and insulting pabulum.
Prof Steiner sent another e-mail to the Provost (cc:'ing to the faculty discussion group):
Should not a ‘provost’ be the advocate for the rights of all faculty? You have not done so. Therefore you are not a ‘provost.’ Should not a ‘provost’ uphold the Faculty Handbook procedures? You have no done so. Therefore, you are not a ‘provost.’ Should not a ‘provost’ be truthful in dealing with the faculty? You have not done so. Therefore you are not a ‘provost.’
RPI's reacted according to the formula above: they yanked Prof Steiner's e-mail account. Their justification for the move was the RPI policies against "harassment" and in favor of "respect" for "diversity."

There's no indication in the article that any due process was followed in yanking the e-mail account.

This incident also illustrates the infinite elasticity of vaguely-worded "harassment" policies and how they can be used to cover arbitrary petulant actions by those in charge.

Unsurprisingly, RPI also earns (like UNH) a red light from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for its record in censoring student speech. It's too late for Prof Steiner, but people considering whether to attend or be employed by RPI might want to take that into account.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:21 PM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2008-08-10 Update

Obama continues in the phony lead, but it's looking kind of shaky, as McCain creeps up this week:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-08-03
"Barack Obama" phony722,000+8,000
"John McCain" phony668,000+23,000
"Bob Barr" phony11,900-500

  • It's almost unnecessary to say that the Phony Campaign really misses John Edwards. Ms. Kirsten Powers explains to us, in the pages of the New York Post, that "HE WAS ALWAYS A FAKE".

    JOHN Edwards "shocked" the political world yesterday by admitting he'd cheated on his wife of 30 years with a campaign aide, Rielle Hunter.

    If it looks like a phony, walks like a phony, quacks like a phony, it's a phony.

    Indeed. Or if it runs for President.

  • Barackrobatics I is the somersault on NASA funding noted by the lovely and talented Mary Katherine Ham. From "Obama's Plan for Lifetime Success Through Education:

    The early education plan will be paid for by delaying the NASA Constellation Program for five years, …

    But as of last Sunday, that's no longer operative:

    In a dramatic reversal of policy, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama on Saturday told supporters on the Space Coast he no longer favors slashing NASA's budget, declaring that the United States "cannot cede our leadership

    Sorry, kids, you'll have to stay stupid as long as Obama needs electoral votes from Florida!

  • Barackrobatics II is noted by the MinuteMan. We got a foreign policy compare-and-contrast moment when the Soviets invaded Georgia; Obama's initial statement was characterized widely as "mush" while McCain's was firm.

    A new day, however, …

    In their latest emanation Team Obama has figured out which side we are on and rivals the bellicosity of McCain and Rice in backing Georgia and calling on Russia to withdraw its troops. Geez, this is almost like watching "Follow The Leader". Too bad it's not a game.

    No worries.  Once we elect Obama I'm sure he'll be able to get stuff like this right the first time.

    Sure.

  • But let's be mean to McCain for once. The folks at Factcheck.Org seem to be picking over the campaign ads of both candidates fairly. Here's one from July 30:

    McCain's new ad claims that Obama "says he'll raise taxes on electricity." That's false. Obama says no such thing.

    Wha!? But McCain can't make this kind of thing up, can he? It turns out to be based on an interview from last February:

    Guerra: Have you considered other funding sources, say taxing emerging energy forms, for example, say a penny per kilowatt hour on wind energy?

    Obama: Well, that’s clean energy, and we want to drive down the cost of that, not raise it. We need to give them subsidies so they can start developing that. What we ought to tax is dirty energy, like coal and, to a lesser extent, natural gas.

    … and a tax on coal and natural gas is indirectly a tax on electricity produced from those sources.

    Obama's campaign (now) explains that Obama was referring to cap-and-trade, the proposal to decrease American carbon emissions. Which would make, roundabout, electicity (and all carbon-based energy) more expensive by government fiat. FactCheck quotes an economist who points out that cap-and-trade is, effectively, a tax.

    So McCain's ad is true, right?

    Well, sure. Only problem is that McCain is also a huge fan of cap-and-trade. Which makes his ad sort of … you guessed it, technically accurate, but 100% phony.

  • In our semi-continuing feature: "Obamafuscation" continues to out-googlehit our word "Barackrobatics" by 1680 to 5. Sigh. And it's such a good word, too.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:35 PM EDT
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Experimental Results — 2008-08-10

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

  • 1:55AM on TNT: In the Line of Fire (Clint Eastwood)
  • 2:00AM on AMC: Striking Distance (Bruce Willis)
  • 2:15PM on AMC: Coogan's Bluff (Clint Eastwood)
  • 5:30PM on TNT: Die Hard With a Vengeance (Bruce Willis)
  • 8:00PM on TNT: Die Hard (Bruce Willis)
  • 10:30PM on TNT: Die Hard With a Vengeance (Bruce Willis)

Not to mention our old standby:

  • 7:00AM on AMC: The Hunt For Red October

Lots of choices for non-fans of the Olympics. And the theory stands unrefuted for the past 25 weeks.


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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-09

  • Alex Tabarrok links to recent video of Barack Obama being heckled for not opening a recent event with the Pledge of Allegiance. Alex finds the Pledge to be "creepy" and, as he details its ideological DNA, it's hard to disagree.

  • Instapundit asks a question that will probably not get answered in a timely manner:
    SO NOW THAT WE KNOW THAT THE PRESS COVERED FOR EDWARDS -- just as, pre-invasion, they covered for Saddam -- that raises a question: What else are they not telling us for fear it will hurt the Democrats' prospects?
    (In case you've forgotten about Iraq, click here.)

  • You may have heard of the thuggish efforts of "Accountable America", who are apparently sending "**WARNING**" letters to Republican donors.

    Iowahawk, ahead of the curve as always, has received a FINAL WARNING from Accountable America, and folks it ain't pretty.

  • Dave Barry is in China. He's not only blogging, he is also writing actual articles for his employer, the Miami Herald. Today he writes about his visit to the Great Wall of China.
    It's not easy, using mere words, to describe the Great Wall, but I will try, using professional-writer skills: It is really, really big. There is no way you could lift it without help. Not only is the wall high and wide, but it is 6,400 kilometers long, which would be even more impressive if you actually knew what a kilometer was.
    You can click around to find his other stuff, including pictures from locations to which the NBC cameras dare not venture. You will not want to miss, for example, the picture captioned: "Nothing goes with corn like scorpions!"

  • Who knew that dealing with Muslim extremism could be so easy?
    SOUTH WINDSOR, Conn. -- Members of the East Central Narcotics Task Force arrested a man in South Windsor in connection with a drug transaction that they learned was expected to take place. […]

    The suspect was identified as Almighty Supremebeing Allah, 35, of West Hartford.

    So, lock him up, toss the key, game over, right?

    Although, I have to say: the picture doesn't look like him.


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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-08

  • We're still unbanned, as far as we know, by Red China. www.conceptdoppler.org is a website devoted to figuring out the filtering methods used by the "Great Firewall of China".

    Wonder if the GFC is smart enough to figure this out:

    [cartoon]

  • Jay Tea boasts about "how awesome New Hampshire is." Agreed.


Last Modified 2008-08-16 4:55 AM EDT
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The Black Swan

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

Quite literally, they don't make them like this any more.

It's a rip-roaring pirate movie set somewhere in the 1670s on the fabled Spanish Main. Jamie Waring, played by Tyrone Power, is a pirate, but a cheerful one. He gets the opportunity to go straight when his old boss, Captain Henry Morgan, returns from England as the new Governor of Jamaica. This causes resentment from the existing Jamaican power structure, and the rest of the movie is filled with intrigue, derring-do, swordplay and double crosses. Maureen O'Hara, the former Governor's daughter, turns into a feisty love interest for Jamie.

It's a lot of fun, and you can pick out the seeds of (for example) Pirates of the Caribbean. There are good and bad pirates, although it's hard to tell exactly what distinguishes one from the other; both are devoted to good old rape and pillage, and it's only a whim that makes the "good" ones semi-legit.

This was probably pretty risqué for its day (1942). It's pretty clear that the pirates carting off the ladies slung over their shoulder have some purpose in mind other than having them do their laundry, but the details remain off-camera.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:17 PM EDT
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Good News, Everyone!

I've mentioned before that a number of our local users have fallen for phishing spam, merrily sending out account passwords in response to semi-grammatical e-mail demands from bad guys posing as official system administrators.

We've sent out warnings: a mass e-mailing, dire notices on our website, even a rather clever dead-tree postcard to faculty, staff, and students. These measures have probably worked to decrease the problem, but they have unfortunately not eliminated it.

But now, at least readers of Mary Worth will know better, thanks to the about-to-be unfortunate example of Victoria "Toby" Cameron, dimwit:

mary worth

(Via Comics Curmudgeon, who has snarky comments about the median age and technical expertise of Mary Worth readers. Hmph! If your paper doesn't get Mary, I suggest you cancel your subscription with a cranky letter to the editor, and follow her at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website.)


Last Modified 2008-09-12 10:43 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-07

  • Daniel Henninger is on target today, musing on the type of person who promises "nothing less than a complete transformation of our economy." Guess who has the arrogance to think that he has the ability to accomplish such a feat?
    Mr. Obama and his Democratic colleagues in Congress want a "complete transformation" of an already successful economy. Not partial. complete. Can any of them say what the odds are that all this economic activity, including the nation's electrical grid, will work as well with their new fuels? Assuredly, growth's odds aren't as good as the ones we have now.
    I've said this before, I know, but: any sensible American grownup must fervently hope that Obama is a total phony who does not take his own rhetoric seriously. That's actually the best-case scenario.

  • I've also said this before: The nicest thing you can say about McCain is that he's not quite as bad as Obama. Jeff Jacoby drives home that point quite well, outlining the looming fiscal crisis, and observing:
    But where is the presidential candidate who will talk honestly about this? McCain insists he will balance the budget and "provide the courageous leadership necessary to control spending." Yet his economic plan is devoid of details, offering little more than windy promises to "stop earmarks, pork-barrel spending, and waste" and freeze nondefense discretionary spending for a year while spending programs are reviewed.

    Obama won't even go that far. His campaign touts a "Plan for Restoring Fiscal Discipline" that is as vague as McCain's, but he rules out balancing the budget - "because," he told reporters last month, "I think it is important for us to make some critical investments right now in America's families." The National Taxpayers Union Foundation, tallying the promises made by the presidential candidates, calculates that Obama 's "investments" would cost taxpayers another $344 billion a year. McCain's add up to an extra $68.5 billion.

    We are awash in a sea of red ink, and the tide is coming in. Alfred E. Neuman isn't worried. Are Obama and McCain?

    Via Viking Pundit, who has additional comments.

  • They told me that if George W. Bush was re-elected, publishing houses would cravenly refrain from publishing books that might offend religious groups and they were right.

  • Dave Barry's in China, or as we prefer to call it: Red China. (Apparently they're having some sort of event there.) Check out his visit to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

    Dave notes that, although he can post to his blog, he can't read it: it is one of many that is blocked by the Red Chinese government.

    My weblogs tell me that Pun Salad is not blocked in Red China, so:

    Hey, Chinese people: your Commie government sucks!


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:44 PM EDT
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I'm Not There

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

I'm not a major Bob Dylan fan, but I've got a bunch of his songs on my iPod, and his memoir is probably one of the few in the genre that's actually worth reading. But …

Upfront, this movie claims to be "inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan." And they take that "many lives" thing seriously: we follow six disparate characters (none named "Bob Dylan") played by six different actors (including, notably, Cate Blanchett). They have various adventures, contending with wives, the media, the man, fickle fans, beatnik poets, Jesus, and runaway dogs. The movie jumps between these threads unpredictably.

I found the absurd premise and loopy dialogue agreeable at first, and it was fun to pick out the little bits of Dylan trivia scattered throughout like breadcrumbs. But there's not much more than that: the movie doesn't go anywhere, tie anything together, or offer much illumination. The gimmicks get tired after about an hour, and it teeters over into "pretentious crap" territory.

And now I'm off to the iTunes store to pick up "Simple Twist of Fate." That's a great song.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:20 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-06

  • Matthew Hoy does a great job of showing why it's a really bad idea to trust anything you read in the long-worthless pages of …
    Time magazine came out with an article this week ,which curiously isn’t labeled opinion, that misstates what Barack Obama said and then comes to the conclusion that Obama was right all along when he said that proper tire inflation and regular tune-ups can save as much gas as we would net if we were to drill off the outer continental shelf.
    Matt awards Jake Tapper of ABC a silver medal for his analysis of the proposal, but the gold goes to John Hinderaker of Powerline.

  • Another good reason to privatize the Post Office: they're a bunch of Commies who can't draw the American flag right.

  • I probably wouldn't make a special trip to Melbourne to see the Eureka Tower Carpark, but it has some pretty amazing signage. (Via Geek Press.)

  • Lore Sjöberg discovers his previously unknown need for a Halligan bar, and he may awaken the same in you.


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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-05

  • If your local Democratic Congresscritter suddenly starts sounding more eager to (say) allow increased domestic oil production, there's an explanation:
    California Democrat Nancy Pelosi may be trying to save the planet — but the rank and file in her party increasingly are just trying to save their political hides when it comes to gas prices as Republicans apply more and more rhetorical muscle.

    But what looks like intraparty tension on the surface is part of an intentional strategy in which Pelosi takes the heat on energy policy, while behind the scenes she’s encouraging vulnerable Democrats to express their independence if it helps them politically, according to Democratic aides on and off Capitol Hill.

    So… now they can "express their independence" because Nancy's given them permission to do so. Do I have that right?

  • The Reason Foundation has produced its "17th Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems (1984–2006)" See how your state is doing on twelve different measures of safety, congestion, and cost.

    New Hampshire scores in a dismal 46th place, down 12 places from last year. So, in-state readers: you're not just imagining the crummy roads. (Although we can, if we like, feel superior to Hawaill, Rhode Island, Alaska, and New Jersey., 47th through 50th, respectively.)

  • In other depressing news, New Hampshire ranks second-worst in terms of credit card debt, with a median of $2109 per card holder. It's not me, honest!

  • Heh! Calvin and Jobs.


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The Jane Austen Book Club

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

In the whole genre of chick flicks, this is one of the chickiest. I contemplated getting a DNA check afterward to make sure my Y chromosome hadn't vanished.

It's the story of a bunch of women with varied problems: one has been dumped by her hubby, one's been through six of them. There's one who just kind of forgot to have any kind of social life while concentrating on her doggies instead, and there's an accident-prone lesbian, not that there's anything wrong with that. And a repressed high-school French teacher, who's disappointed that her husband didn't take her to France, as promised, instead heading out for the NBA playoffs.

So they all decide to discuss the six Jane Austen novels, one per month. If you were counting in the last paragraph, you'll notice that they're one person short. Naturally, they pick up a guy, named (I am not making this up) "Grigg", a wealthy science fiction fan, cheerfully clueless about Austen. He also fills one of the "young tempting hunk" roles in the movie.

As the movie moves through the books and months, various things happen to the club members and their significant others. It's very contrived, and too talky in parts, but still held my interest. You don't have to know anything about Jane Austen or her works to follow along, although it might help.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:18 PM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2008-08-03 Update

No real surprises, as the phony hits continue to increase for both major party candidates, with Obama padding his lead, and Bob Barr keepin' it (relatively) real:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-07-27
"Barack Obama" phony714,000+38,000
"John McCain" phony645,000+13,000
"Bob Barr" phony12,400-500

And it's been a huge week, phonywise:

  • Barackrobatics I:

    1. Wednesday: Obama saith:

      And so the only way they figure they’re going to win this election is if they make you scared of me. So what they’re saying is, ‘Well, we know we’re not very good but you can’t risk electing Obama. You know, he’s new, he’s... doesn’t look like the other presidents on the currency, you know, he’s got a, he’s got a funny name.

    2. Thursday: are we saying that McCain is going to appeal to racism? Oh, of course not!

      Not so, Obama's campaign said, explaining that Obama was referring only to being new to Washington politics.

      "Barack Obama in no way believes that the McCain campaign is using race as an issue, but he does believe they're using the same old low-road politics to distract voters from the real issues in this campaign, and those are the issues he'll continue to talk about," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said.

    3. Friday: Playing the race card? No way!

      "I was in union, Missouri which is 98 percent white - a rural, conservative. and what I said was what I think everybody knows, which is that I don't look like I came out of central casting when it comes to presidential candidates. … There was nobody there who thought at all that I was trying to inject race in this."

    4. The same day: oh, yeah, I guess he was referring to his race:

      Sen. Barack Obama's chief strategist conceded that the Democratic presidential candidate was referring to his race when he said Republicans were trying to scare voters by suggesting Obama "doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

    5. Saturday: Oh, yeah, I guess I was referring to my race:

      But Obama also admitted that, despite what Obama senior adviser Robert Gibbs told reporters, there was a racial dimension to his Missouri remarks in which he said McCain and the Republicans would make an issue of the fact that he doesn't look like presidents who have been on the dollar bills.

      "I don’t think it’s accurate to say that my comments have nothing to do with race," Obama said. "

    Impressive phoniness! (Most of those links, by the way, were from Betsy's Page. She is awesome.)

  • Barackrobatics II:

    1. A couple weeks back: Obama: Drilling would "merely prolong ..failed energy policies"

      "If offshore drilling would provide short-term relief at the pump or a long-term strategy for energy independence, it would be worthy of our consideration, regardless of the risks. But most experts, even within the Bush administration, concede it would do neither. It would merely prolong the failed energy policies we have seen from Washington for 30 years. …"

    2. Friday: Obama would consider off-shore drilling as part of comprehensive energy plan.

      U.S. Sen. Barack Obama said today he would be willing to open Florida's coast for more oil drilling if it meant winning approval for broad energy changes.

      "My interest is in making sure we've got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices," Obama said in an interview with The Palm Beach Post.

    3. Saturday: Marc Ambinder hurries to calm the disquiet among the environmentalist mob:

      This strikes me as less of a shift and more as a gesture of sorts …

    I believe Ambinder has it right: specifically, it's a head-fake, a move Obama has down cold. Obama needs to appear "reasonable" on the issue (distinguishing and distancing himself—for now—from Congressional Democrats) for the election; once he's in, the "gesture" can be conveniently shuffled into oblivion.

  • Barackrobatics III: The MinuteMan analyzes Obama on the hot topic of affirmative action.

    Rachel Swarns of the Times delivers a comedy classic in trying to whitewash cover Obama's evolving views on affirmative action.  Over the past twenty years Obama has been all over the map, which is fair enough - people ought to be allowed to change their thinking as they accumulate new experiences and encounter new ideas.  However, as the Times reporting makes clear, most of Obama's new thinking seems to be about how best to position himself politically on this topic.

    The Times story notes that Obama declined to comment for the article; MM observes: "Obama is so eager for a national conversation on affirmative action that he won't talk to the Times about it, but we can look to the day when he shines his light into the darkness of America's soul."

  • In our semi-continuing feature: "Obamafuscation" continues to out-googlehit our word "Barackrobatics" by 1110 to 4. Come on, readers, we can do better! Put it on your web pages, put it into your e-mail, work it into your everyday banter!


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:37 PM EDT
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Obama's "Emergency" Economic Plan

I, like Mike Allen of Politico can't resist putting the snark-quotes around "Emergency" when typing about the latest proposal from Barack Obama. (My guess is the "emergency" here is McCain closing the gap in polls at a time when Obama expected to be pulling away.) The key provision would:

… give families a stimulus check of $1,000 each, funded in part by what his presidential campaign calls “windfall profits from Big Oil.”
Shorter: vote for me, I'll give you money.

Reactions are varied. Pejman headlines his discussion: "Worst. Economic. Plan. Ever?" On the other hand, IBD says it sounds "more like the rantings of an extremist fringe candidate than a serious contender for the presidency."

But my favorite quote on the scheme comes from Don Boudreaux:

In other words, a critical part of Sen. Obama's strategy for reigning in high gasoline prices is to subsidize gasoline consumption and more heavily tax its production. This plan - which increases the demand for gasoline and reduces its supply - makes as much sense as trying to put out a fire by dowsing it with jet fuel.
John McCain and Hillary Clinton came in for a decent amount of derision for proposing a Federal gas tax moratorium, which approximately 100% of economists considered to a dumb idea. It strikes me that Obama's plan is an even more economically illiterate boob-bait gimmick, so I wonder if Obama will be held to the same standard of scrutiny? Isn't it pretty to think so?

Last Modified 2008-09-12 10:44 AM EDT
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Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

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

I confess: I laughed quite a bit at this sequel to Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. It suffers a bit from sequelitis, where the themes and gimmicks from the first movie are recycled and cranked up to 11.

It starts out the morning after the events of the previous movie; the boys decide to take off to Amsterdam in pursuit of Harold's true love. Unfortunately, they are quickly mistaken for terrorists, and immediately shipped off to the site mentioned in the title. What follows is the escape mentioned in the title, and a desperate attempt to clear their names, complicated (as in the previous movie) by the people they enlist to aid them. Including (as in the previous movie) Neil Patrick Harris, playing a demented, very heterosexual, version of himself.

The MPAA R-rated the theatrical release for "strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language and drug use." The unrated DVD version, I assume, ramps all that up a couple notches, especially the crude.

IMDB moment: That was Beverly D'Angelo? Mrs. Clark Griswold? Geez, I'm old.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:16 PM EDT
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Experimental Results — 2008-08-03

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

  • 12:00AM on USA: Mercury Rising (Bruce Willis)
  • 1:00AM on SPIKE: Pulp Fiction (Bruce Willis)
  • 9:30AM on FX: High Crimes (Morgan Freeman)

Even though you have to get up early for 'em: Unrefuted for the past 24 weeks.


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URLs du Jour — 2008-08-01

  • The New York Times, July 24, 2008:
    The federal minimum wage increases by 70 cents on Thursday, to $6.55 per hour from $5.85.

    The New York Times, August 2, 2008:

    The nation’s employers eliminated 51,000 jobs in July, the seventh consecutive contraction in the labor market, as the unemployment rate reached a four-year high,…

    Part of the problem is a paucity of jobs for young people, one out of five of whom are unemployed. The teenage unemployment rate rose to 19 percent, its highest level in 16 years.

    Confused? Don't be.

    Don Boudreaux did a good job translating the first story last week:

    In other words, Uncle Sam today arbitrarily increases the cost of employing low-skilled workers by 12 percent.

  • Beldar goes quote-picking to do a self-image comparison between Senators McCain and Obama. This is perhaps unfair. But you'll want to click over there anyway, because the "endorsement" in his blog's right hand column is very much on-target.

  • In response to Obama's well-publicized remarks on tire pressure, the Iowahawk campaign comes out with their own position on this important issue, and makes a call for citizen activism. Which neither I nor Iowahawk will be responsible for, should you get caught.


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