URLs du Doom and Gloom

2008-09-30

Lots of hand-wringing and finger-pointing out there today, after the failure of the House to pass the bailout bill. Certainly all the doomsayers might be right, but I'm more persuaded by folks like Iain Murray:

There are all sorts of people today who normally talk about free markets but who have got themselves into a tizzy over the failed bailout. We need to get one thing straight - the bailout was the wrong answer to the wrong question.
Also commenting in the same vein: Kip Esquire (with lots of links and pithy quotes); Michelle Malkin; Harvard econ prof Jeffrey Miron; Steve Chapman; Mark Levin.

Relevant points, summarized from the above, adding some of my own:

  • The bailout was designed by people who either (a) didn't see the crisis coming, or (b) had an active role in causing it.

  • Those same people predicted a 30% drop in the stock market unless their panic-driven emergency plans were enacted posthaste. As bad as things were, that didn't happen, casting further doubt on their powers of accurate prediction and competence.

  • Those same people also have a vested interest in promulgating the myth that the government is able to step in and "rescue" markets that are too stupid to properly value their assets. (Cue the Mighty Mouse theme: Here I come, to save the day! I understand Barney Frank sings that in front of the mirror every morning.)

  • But in fact, the government has only one relevant super-power not possessed by the market: the power to coerce, including the ability to demand tax dollars to fund its schemes, and debauch the currency.

  • There is zero, nil, nada, reason to expect they'll do that wisely. There's no incentive for them to do so. The political incentives dominate:

    • evade (probably deserved) blame;

    • be perceived as "doing something" (even if it's pointless or counterproductive);

    • take (probably undeserved) credit for whatever things go well;

    • exchange goodies and perks with well-connected friends.

  • Market corrections are painful, but sometimes necessary. That's almost certainly the case here. Government action might delay them, but that just pushes the pain down the road and makes it bigger.

I'm kind of a free-market ideologue, more than a little cynical, so discount the above as you feel appropriate.

Street Kings

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

Right at the beginning of this movie, we get the feeling that Keanu Reeves is playing a troubled, sensitive soul. He looks at himself despondently in the washroom mirror. He barfs into the toilet. He picks himself up a bunch of those handy airline-size vodka bottles, and starts nipping away behind the wheel.

I'm not often hugely sensitive to subtle personality clues in movies, but somehow I picked up on this right away.

Anyway, Keanu plays police detective Tom Ludlow, who is part of a covert team that administers rough vigilante justice to evildoers. That sort of thing is technically illegal, and in any case never works out well. Pretty soon, his estranged ex-partner winds up dead of extreme lead poisoning, and Tom gets caught up in the investigation.

Good actors Hugh Laurie and Forest Whitaker appear as Keanu's fellow cops. (Laurie keeps his House accent, but not his limp.) There's a lot of violence and the dialog is testosterone-soaked, and it kept me playing along right to the end, even though its who-can-you-trust conspiricism doesn't rise to even semi-plausibility. The guy who wrote this doesn't like cops very much.


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:37 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-09-29

  • The coveted Pun Salad Read the Whole Thing Award for the day goes to "Barack Obama and the Strategy of Manufactured Crisis" by Jim Simpson at the American Thinker.
    America waits with bated breath while Washington struggles to bring the U.S. economy back from the brink of disaster. But many of those same politicians caused the crisis, and if left to their own devices will do so again.
    Good point, and if the article merely made that point to enough people, it would be a plus. But Simpson goes further to point out that bringing a situation to "crisis" is an explicit "progressive" strategy. It even has a name:
    The "Cloward-Piven Strategy" seeks to hasten the fall of capitalism by overloading the government bureaucracy with a flood of impossible demands, thus pushing society into crisis and economic collapse.

    The crisis du jour is the obvious housing/financial one. But—gee, guess what?—this makes a lot of sense when reviewing recent history of health care policy, education policy, energy policy, terrorism policy, drug policy, … (Via Liberal Fascism.)

  • P. J. O'Rourke had cancer. Read him too.

  • The New York Times passes along unedited a bit of stupid partisan rhetoric:
    Democrats say that in the long run, Mr. Obama’s approach will appear as an appealing alternative to President Bush and his choice as a successor, Mr. McCain.
    Emphasis added. I guess all that primary campaigning was a sham, then. It was Dubya's "choice" to make, and he made it, so there. (Via Prof Althouse.)

  • Our local paper reports on an Abraham looking for his Hagar:
    A Newmarket man has been banned from the University of New Hampshire after police say he tried to recruit female students to serve as concubines.
    If you are too creepy for UNH, you are creepy indeed.

  • Even Cerberus, the hound from Hades, was a cute little puppy once.

The Band's Visit

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

Here are some adjectives gleaned from reviews of The Band's Visit: heartfelt, humane, funny, lonely, inspiring, sad, beautiful, fab, charming, engaging. All true. It got a big 98% on the Tomatometer.

But, nevertheless, I liked it.

It's short and simple: The Ceremonial Police Band of Alexandria, Egypt travels to Israel to play at the Arab Culture Center in Petah Tiqva. But instead a misunderstanding dumps them off in (fictional) Bet Hatikva, a small burg in the middle of the Negev. There's no transportation out until the next day; the band is stuck. This sets up amusing and deft interactions between the Egyptian visitors and Israeli inhabitants. Most of the time is spent on relationship between straitlaced band leader Tawfiq and earthy, free-spirited Dina, the oddest of odd couples.

If there's a message here, it's pretty simple: people can get along, even from cultures with a history of animosity. But the movie doesn't beat you over the head with that.

Fortunately, some band members speak English, as do all the Israelis. And, at dinner, they accidentally fall into a rendition of Gershwin's "Summertime". So perhaps there's a message there about American cultural imperialism: it's good for you.


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:37 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-09-28 Update

Maverick hangs onto, and in fact slightly widens, his phony lead:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-09-21
"John McCain" phony1,270,000+170,000
"Barack Obama" phony1,240,000+150,000
"Bob Barr" phony44,400+7,400

The financial blowup was, of course, a huge driver of phoniness this week.

  • At Slate, John Dickerson compares and contrasts McCain's suspend-the-campaign-I'm-here-to-help posturing with Obama's:

    McCain's maneuver might look phony—but then, he and Obama have been engaging in phony activities since this financial crisis hit. Both candidates have been huddling with economic brains, as if they were already a government in waiting. They've both tried to act in ways that help voters see them as competent crisis managers. Perhaps McCain will help us define that line between the charades that voters allow and those they think are ridiculous, but he got an assist from the president. Bush called for a bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders and for McCain and Obama to talk about the crisis. Obama had to accept, a tacit buy-in into the McCain strategy. McCain and Obama also issued a joint statement calling for bipartisan cooperation. (Obama's appended the plan he wanted McCain to agree to in the joint statement; McCain issued just the three-paragraph statement.)

  • Unfortunately for Obama, Greg Pollowitz was counting the five "core principles" he appended to the Wednesday joint statement. But in the Friday night debate, he was down to four.

    Which "core principle" got dropped? This one:

    Fifth, we both agree that this financial rescue package should move on its own without any earmarks or other measures. We have different views about the need for other action, but this must be a clean bill.

    But that was in contradiction to a major Democrat proposal to dirty the bill: the earmarking of 20% of any (potential) profits to a so-called "affordable housing fund". So, that fifth point became forgettable quite quickly. Given a chance to "lead", Obama got led instead.

  • Darrell Hubbard, a Washington Times letter writer, thinks he has spotted a "phony Obama supporter":

    I am very disturbed that former President Bill Clinton, a proclaimed Democratic Sen. Barack Obama supporter, who purports that his Clinton Global Initiative is a bipartisan forum for discussing and improving global issues around the world, would allow Sen. John McCain to give a partisan Republican speech at Thursday's Global Initiative conference in New York.

    Mr. Clinton should have made it very clear and read the speech ahead of time to ensure that the speech focused on the spirt of his organization and was not a speech to promote the Republican agenda.

    This calls into question Mr. Clinton's true support for Mr. Obama and the Democrats.

    Why would he allow such a thing? Would Mr. Clinton rather compromise the most important presidential election in the past 50 years over his own personal endeavors?

    The icing on the cake is that Mr. Clinton provided courtesy videotape to the media of Mr. McCain's partisan rhetoric.

    What was he thinking?

    Please heal my wounds. I am hurt by this.

    Geez, how could this happen? Bill Clinton always seemed like such a genuine straight shooter in the past.

    But in Bill Clinton's defense [and let me just interject here that those last five words are ones I would not have ever expected to type], if you only went by Darrell's letter, you might not realize that both Obama and McCain spoke at Clinton's meeting. You can watch, listen to, or read their speeches via this page, and if you can detect any extra partisanship in McCain's, well, good for you, but …

    Hm. Who would benefit from painting Clinton unfairly as a "phony Obama supporter"? That "heal my wounds" thing—isn't that just a wee bit over the top? Could it be that Darrell Hubbard is the real phony here?


Last Modified 2014-12-01 1:22 PM EST

Experimental Results

2008-09-28

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

  • 12:00AM on AMC: The Dead Pool (Clint Eastwood)
  • 7:30AM on AMC: Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood)
  • 10:30AM on AMC: Magnum Force (Clint Eastwood)
  • 1:00PM on AMC: The Enforcer (Clint Eastwood)
  • 3:00PM on AMC: Sudden Impact (Clint Eastwood)
  • 5:00PM on AMC: The Dead Pool (Clint Eastwood)
  • 7:00PM on AMC: Mystic River (Clint Eastwood (director))
  • 8:00PM on TNT: The Fugitive (Harrison Ford)
  • 10:30PM on TNT: The Fugitive (Harrison Ford)

Yes, it's a Dirty Harry marathon today at AMC. If you're feeling lucky, punk, turn on the tube at 7:30am (EDT) and leave it on for eleven and a half hours. (There's an hour break at 9:30am for an episode of Mad Men, so head off to church then.)

I also found this article via IMDB:

Clint Eastwood has not ruled out the possibility of making another Dirty Harry movie.

The actor said he thinks he is too old to star in another film, but admitted that he would not reject the idea out of hand.

He told MTV: "I'm 78 years old, and you're pretty well drummed out of the police force by that age.

"There could be a scenario. I suppose if some mythical writer came out of nowhere and it was the greatest thing on the planet, I'd certainly have to think about it, but it's not like I've ever courted it."

He added: "I feel like that was an era of my life, and I've gone on to other things. I'm not sure about being Dirty Harry again, but who knows?"

Clint also revealed that he was only offered the role after Frank Sinatra suffered a hand injury and was unable to hold a gun.

So: if you're a mythical writer, currently nowhere: you have a project. Get cracking!

Theory status: unrefuted for 33 consecutive weeks.


Last Modified 2008-09-29 12:47 PM EDT

Baby Mama

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

Why, no, I didn't watch the presidential debate last night. Instead, I watched Baby Mama. Let's check Virginia Postrel's review of the debate…

McCain is rambling and incoherent, and Obama keeps repeating the untruth that there's hardly any regulation on Wall Street. I want to puke.
So I score that as a win for me. Although there are a couple puke jokes in Baby Mama, I did not actually want to puke myself.

In case you missed the thousands of TV ads: Tina Fey plays a single high-achieving professional woman who desperately wants to become a mother. Unfortunately, her uterus is in bad shape (literally, apparently; I'm not sure how that works). So she goes the surrogate route, hiring white-trash Amy Poehler to host the developing baby.

So the situation is ripe for all sorts of gags: pregnancy gags (including the aforementioned puke gags), culture-clash gags, odd-couple gags, family gags. Also thrown in are business gags; Tina is a "Round Earth Foods" executive, a grocery store for yuppies, helmed by pony-tailed new-agy Steve Martin.

All this is pulled off by professional comic actors. It's OK, not great. Normally this would rate three stars, but my insane infatuation with the lovely, funny, intelligent Tina Fey compels me to stick on an extra half star.


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:39 PM EDT

A Sitcom Joke Explained

I have DVDs of the first three seasons of The Bob Newhart Show at home. It was a great, great show, and I laugh as much today as I did when I first watched it in the 1970s. No commercials, and—hallelujah and hooray!—no political commercials.

I noticed something interesting in Episode 14 of Season 2 ("T. S. Elliot"). And I thought I'd share:

The setup is that one of Bob's patients, the acerbic neurotic Elliott Carlin, has fallen for Bob's receptionist, Carol, and proposes marriage. The flustered Carol refuses to come to work and calls in a replacement. The replacement is an older woman, entirely ditzy. The introductory dialog goes like this (and thanks to the miracle of Hulu, you can view it yourself, about 16 minutes into the episode here):

BOB (exiting elevator, walking to office, oblivious): Good morning, Carol.

RECEPTIONIST: Oh! Good morning. Can I help you?

BOB (double-takes, looking at receptionist, then looking at office door to make sure he's on the right floor, then back at receptionist): Yeah, I'm, ah, I'm Dr. Hartley, a-and this is my office, and (looks at receptionist's desk) these are my messages, but you're not my secretary.

RECEPTIONIST: Oh! I'm your Friedman Fill-in Girl! (taps self to indicate who she's talking about) Debbie!

Big laugh!

There's more and it's funny, but … What's so funny about "Debbie!"?

I think it's this (and yes, I'm going to wreck the joke by explaining it):

  1. The episode is from 1973.

  2. Debbie appears to be at least 60-something.

  3. Meaning she was born well before 1920.

  4. If your browser has an appropriate Java plugin, you can view the historical frequency of girls named "Deborah/Debra/Debbie" here.

  5. The "Deb(ora|ra|bie)" name was a semi-craze that peaked in the 1950s; "Deborah" was the fifth-most-popular name for girls in that decade. But in the 1910s-1920s, it was almost unheard of as a baby name.

  6. So circa-1973, Debbie was a young woman's name; the laughter stems from the incongruity between the receptionist's name and her age.

Nowadays, the joke doesn't play as well: Debbies born in the 1940s/1950s really are getting as old as Debbie in the show. The age/name conflict is absent; result: more puzzlement than laughter.

Soon enough, the joke will seem odd for a different reason: the name's popularity fell off drastically after the 1950s. So in (say) 35 more years, there won't be that many Debbies left; to anyone watching the show in 2043, it will be as if she said "Doris". And they will be totally mystified at the laughter from the probably-all-deceased studio audience.

As long as I'm blogging about Debbie: she was played by the actress Shirley O'Hara, who, as her IMDB page indicates, had a long successful career, mainly doing bit parts in TV shows and occasional movies; she reprised the role of Debbie in a couple episodes in 1974 and 1976. She was actually only 49 in 1973; but she "played old" very convincingly.

Ms. O'Hara appeared in seven different roles in the private eye show Mannix. (As far as I know, Joe Mannix never noticed that the same aging dame kept showing up with different names in his cases—some detective!)

Finally: the consensus seems to be that the episode's title, "T. S. Elliot", is playing off the name of the poet, and that "T. S." stands for "Tough Shit", referring to Carlin's ill-fated one-episode romance with Carol. That's pretty edgy for a 1973 network TV show, you might think. But, lemme tell you youngsters, it was a time for pushing the envelope that way.

Elliot Carlin was the most frequent non-starring character on the show. IMDB claims that he appeared in 29 of the show's 88 episodes.


Last Modified 2008-09-27 9:57 AM EDT

Bumper Sticker du Jour

Unfortunately fictional, but one I'd like to see:

Too
Much Respect

(Click for full size.)


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:40 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-09-24

  • Rob Long has obtained a memo from the latest Federal bailout target, a Scottish restaurant chain of which you may have heard.
    All along, as we faced a softening demand for our products and in the wake of our increased exposure to losses in the commodity derivatives market of beef futures, hog swaps, egg instruments , bun swaptions, potato debt flotations , and partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil puts, it was our intention to reach some productive and effective understanding with our creditors and our business partners. Unfortunately, due to market conditions, that was not to be.

    Effective close of business today, the McDonald’s Corporation is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Federal Department of Agriculture. They wisely — and quickly — stepped in to provide management with a credit facility, in exchange for ownership of the company. If you’ve seen the recent news about what the Treasury Department has done for AIG, the troubled insurance giant, you’ll understand what happened here. It’s basically the same, but with fries.

  • OK, that's fun and everything, but for real insight, you'll want to check out Iowahawk's debate on the credit bailout with Linda Mustaine from First Coralville Mortgage.

  • At the Freakonomics blog, Stephen J. Dubner summarizes and analyzes a Heritage Foundation report on the demographic makeup of American military forces. Stereotypes are destroyed.

  • If you're like me, you'll want to read any blog post that contains both the phrases "Sha Na Na" and "Hayek, Goldwater, and Buckley."

  • Are you Of A Certain Age? But nevertheless want to text like all those young whippersnappers that keep traipsing across your lawn, with their god-awful music, funny hair, and hideous clothes?

    OK, why would you want to do that?

    But anyway, if you do, check out "New Texting Acronyms for the Elderly." One sample:

    ROFLACGU: Rolling on the floor laughing and can't get up

Do Something!

Excerpts from Sunday's Meet the Press transcript:

MR. BROKAW: … All of this will be borne on the backs of the taxpayers. And I know that it's urgent to do something. But don't taxpayers deserve more answers…

SEC'Y PAULSON: … And we need to do something to deal with this and deal with it quickly. …

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: … And it's up to the Treasury with the acquiescence of Congress, but to do something quickly. And nobody knows exactly what they should do, but anything is better than nothing.

Obviously, we're fully in the grip of Do-Something Syndrome when such high positioned people sound like characters in Blazing Saddles:
GOVERNOR WILLIAM J. LEPETOMANE: Holy underwear! Sheriff murdered! Innocent women and children blown to bits! We have to protect our phoney baloney jobs here, gentlemen! We must do something about this immediately! Immediately! Immediately! Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph!
Or Animal House:
HOOVER: We've gotta do something.
BOON: He's right.
OTTER: You're right… We've gotta do something.
BOON: Absolutely.
OTTER: You know what we gotta do?
OTTER & BOON TOGETHER: Toga Party!
This is totally cheap-shot criticism, of course. I have no idea what to do either. But still…

In case you missed it, George F. Will ripped John McCain for his call to fire SEC Chairman Chris Cox:

In any case, McCain's smear -- that Cox "betrayed the public's trust" -- is a harbinger of a McCain presidency. For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are "corrupt" or "betray the public's trust," two categories that seem to be exhaustive -- there are no other people. McCain's Manichaean worldview drove him to his signature legislative achievement, the McCain-Feingold law's restrictions on campaigning. Today, his campaign is creatively finding interstices in laws intended to restrict campaign giving and spending.
It is (however) considerate of McCain to find ways to not make me feel so bad if he loses.

But also interesting was Kevin Hassett's finger-pointing:

Enough cards on this table have been turned over that the story is now clear. The economic history books will describe this episode in simple and understandable terms: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac exploded, and many bystanders were injured in the blast, some fatally.
We've talked about the FMs before, but Hassett is pretty convincing. And …
Oh, and there is one little footnote to the story that's worth keeping in mind while Democrats point fingers between now and Nov. 4: Senator John McCain was one of the three cosponsors of S.190, the bill that would have averted this mess.
Follow the link to S.190 and you'll find the sponsor:
Sen Hagel, Chuck [NE]
and co-sponsors:
Sen Dole, Elizabeth [NC]
Sen McCain, John [AZ]
Sen Sununu, John E. [NH]
I like Senator Sununu a lot, and this made me like him a little more.

Unfortunately—check the date—this bill was offered up in the heady days when the GOP controlled both sides of Congress. You can caterwaul all you want about the darn Dems, but apparently the FMs had a number of Republicans in their pockets as well.

Finally, I kind of liked this from Mr. Ross Douthat, reproduced, with links, in its entirety:

I'm refraining from commenting on what's obviously the most important story of the last week, and possibly the most important story of the next decade or more, because I have no expertise on a subject that requires real expertise to discuss intelligently, and thus nothing useful to add to the reams of commentary being produced by people who understand the situation - to the extent that anyone does - far, far better than I do. Like James Poulos, I stand ready to offer vaporous commentary on American culture and society that may or may not relate to the current crisis - but only after the crisis itself is at least some distance in the rearview mirror.

Last Modified 2008-09-24 1:42 PM EDT

Redbelt

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

A few days back, I dumped on Definitely, Maybe for its "No person would actually ever say this" dialog. It would be kind of easy to point that finger at David Mamet too. Were I a professional film reviewer, I would worry about this obvious inconsistency. Since I am not a professional film reviewer, I explain it thus: Mamet is great, and Definitely, Maybe was very very bad. Redbelt was written and directed by Mamet, and it's really, really good. Although perhaps not a chick flick.

Redbelt stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mike Terry, who runs a small martial arts studio in LA. Principles and philosophy prevent him from entering the lucrative pro fighting circuit, so he's perpetually on the edge of financial ruin, and also perpetually nagged by his wife. This is all indicated with great precision and economy. One night, a strung-out lady lawyer (Emily Mortimer) wanders in, a gun goes off, an expensive window shatters. Mike heads to a local bar to hit up a sleazy relative for a loan; there, he defends a self-loathing action movie star (played by, of all people, Tim Allen) in a brawl. This draws Mike and his wife into the glitzy world of easy-money showbiz.

You would not believe the amount of trouble that causes.

The movie also features a host of regular Mamet actors, e.g. Ricky Jay, Joe Mantegna, Rebecca Pidgeon. (Also, it turns out: Al Bundy himself, Ed O'Neill, and Jennifer Grey. Totally did not recognize them.)

In the DVD extras Mamet compares Chiwetel Ejiofor's acting style to Henry Fonda's. Fine, although I would not have to cut-n-paste "Henry Fonda" from IMDB to make sure I was spelling it right.

There's a massive spoiler on (of all places) the front of the DVD box. Don't look at it if you plan to see the movie. (Too late? Sorry.) Also check out Shawn Macomber's review of Redbelt in American Spectator, which caused me to bump it up to the top of my Blockbuster queue.


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:40 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-09-22

  • Both libertarian Will Wilkinson and conservative Jonah Goldberg think this essay by Roderick T. Long on large-scale popular misperceptions of America's economic history is the cat's pajamas, so you better read it. It has obvious implications to the current imbroglio. It won't cheer you up.

  • Looking for insightful economic analysis on the mess? Boy, are you in the wrong place. Although there's a lot of good sense out there, and ringing true for me is Jim Manzi:
    It is a Hayekian nightmare on several levels, and as I said previously, its ideological consequences are likely to be substantial, long-lasting and negative. I can make the arguments as loudly as anyone, and I believe them, that the causes of this problem that can be laid at the feet of government are ill-advised market interventions and poor regulation, rather than insufficient controls on the market. The best long-term solutions, in my view, all involve less government intervention. It will be important to make these arguments. But the patient has been hit by a car, and is lying on the ground bleeding. It’s all well and good to discuss how irresponsible he was to wander drunk into the street, how we should better design our traffic control systems, and so on. But first we need to stabilize the patient and stop the blood loss.
    Not too cheerful either.

  • Also not cheerful, but on a different topic: Betsy Newmark has a good review of current efforts to muzzle Obama critics. The Washington Times recalls good old Al Gore's fulminations about "digital brownshirts" who (he imagined) were under directions to "harass and hector" Bush-critical journalists. Al, where are you now?

  • In our college life category:
    [Indiana University student Lucas] Widdicombe told police he had not urinated in the cup and had no intentions of pouring it on people. Widdicombe said someone had given him a cup of urine while he was in the restroom, and he decided to take it back to his seat to show his friends.
    I'm thinking that this news story will pop up every time a potential employer Googles "Lucas Widdicombe". Good move, Lucas. (Via University Diarist.)

Bella

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

Picked up via the online recommendation of Kathryn Jean Lopez at National Review Online, this is a small and decent movie about life-changing moments and decisions.

It opens with soccer player Jose, with his agent, about to sign a pro contract for $2 million. ("2.2 million," his agent reminds him. "We don't round down.") He's ebullient and cocky.

The movie suddenly jumps forward a few years, and Jose is not a soccer star; he's a cook in an upscale NYC Mexican restaurant, withdrawn and impressively bearded. He's working for his all-business brother Manny, who chides him for getting too lavish with the employees' pre-opening meal. Also in trouble is waitress Nina; she's been calling in sick and tardy, and it's the last straw for Manny, who fires her.

But Jose sees Nina as a troubled soul and puts her under his wing; they wind up spending the day together, and the movie follows them around as they wander New York, hop out to Long Island to visit Jose's family, revealing things about themselves as they go.

So: pretty good. Also made me hungry for upscale Mexican food.


Last Modified 2013-07-19 10:12 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-09-21 Update

And we have … a new leader:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-09-14
"John McCain" phony1,100,000+156,000
"Barack Obama" phony1,090,000+138,000
"Bob Barr" phony37,000+3,800

This marks McCain's first appearance in first place since July. What's going on?

  • One of the top hits is from reliable lefty David Corn, a blog entry headlined: "Obama Better Watch Out for McCain's Phony Populism". Corn takes McCain's recent comments about "excess and greed and corruption" and, essentially, sobs:
    Right now, McCain is sounding a more populist tone than Obama, whose strategy seems to be to portray McCain as too tied to George W. Bush and too out of touch to be trusted with this hurting economy. So even with McCain stumbling (by declaring the "fundamentals" are strong), McCain looks more like the fighter, the guy who's ready to knock heads together--the heads of the greedy SOBs responsible for this mess--and get things going again with a healthy dose of reform. It's phony populism. It's like the head of a Mafia family decrying a crime wave caused by his own lieutenants. But that doesn't mean it cannot work politically.
    An intriguing mixture of fact and nonsense. McCain's populism certainly isn't "phony": when he speaks from his unscripted heart, his rhetoric reeks of the demagoguery, scapegoating, and economic illiteracy on which full-throated populism depends.

    And, if you're in the mood for the kind of follow-the-money finger-pointing corruption-seekers love to do, check out the relative positions of Obama and McCain on the list "All Recipients of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Campaign Contributions, 1989-2008." For extra credit, reflect on how hard Obama had to work to get that high on the list during his relatively brief political career. And then play "spot the phony."

    [Seriously, wouldn't it be nice if voter revulsion turned out every single politician appearing on that list? That would lose one guy I kind of like, John Sununu. But I'd make that trade in a heartbeat to get those other weasels out of office.]

  • Also appearing in the hit list is a National Journal interview headlined "Campaigns Capitalize on 24/7 News Cycle With 'Phony' Ads". In an interesting development both campaigns are producing "ads" that might never (in the wording of the article) "actually make it on the air as legitimate commercials." Instead they're designed to pop up in talking-head segments of cable news networks. (And, I would guess, sympathetic blogs and other websites.)

    The article deems such ads "phony" because of their low-cost, low-repetition distribution. But (note) these are traditional ad guys talking, and whether an ad is "legitimate" or not, for them, seems to hinge on whether they are funnelling campaign dollars to traditional media.

    To anyone not involved in the ad industry, however, the phenomenon seems not so much "phony" as it is "an obvious development that should have been pretty easy to foresee." High-quality video production is cheaper and faster than ever, distribution over the Internet is low-cost, news shows are hungry for current content and controversy, … Why did they not see that coming?

    Goodness knows there are more than plenty of "legitimate" ads on the tube, though.

  • Speaking of how technology changes things: there's a real neat article at Slate that summarizes the Obama campaign's recent changes to its website policy pages. Most notably for a campaign that's been recently been trying to scare Florida seniors by lying about McCain's position on Social Security, automatically tracked with software at Versionista:
    And this week the Obama campaign modified his position on a sensitive issue: Social Security. Compare the current "Seniors & Social Security" page with the previous version. Now, tell me why, oh why, would the Obama campaign decide to delete the following sentence: "[Obama] does not believe it is necessary or fair to hardworking seniors to raise the retirement age." Is he trying to stoke anxiety about his position on Social Security?
    Changing positions and pledges in mid-campaign, hoping nobody will notice is very, very phony. (But at least Obama's providing me with "change I can believe in.")

    I think Versionista is going to be a great resource over the next few weeks.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 1:22 PM EST

Burn After Reading

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

We rarely go to the movie theater any more, save for the obligatory blockbusters. But I think the Coen brothers are great, and when Mrs. Salad indicated her desire to go see Burn After Reading, we were off. For her part, no matter how much she might try to deny it, I think she's got kind of a thing for George Clooney.

The plot kicks off when Osborne Cox, played by John Malkovich, gets shitcanned from his CIA post. Cox is a snarling bag of insecure misanthropy and pride; he's married to cold-hearted bitch Katie (Tilda Swinton), who's having an affair with Harry (George Clooney). Meanwhile, fitness-center worker Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) is desperately trying to turn her lonely life around with expensive cosmetic surgery and Internet hookups. Her goofy and greedy co-worker Chad (Brad Pitt) stumbles across a CD with, he thinks, valuable spy stuff on it; it turns out to belong to Osborne, and Chad and Linda hatch a get-rich-quick scheme.

I managed to get through that description without sticking "the great" in front of every actor's name; they are all excellent here. But I'll go out of my way to mention the great Richard Jenkins as Ted, who plays the straight-arrow fitness-center boss, mournfully infatuated with the oblivious Linda. Jenkins gives consistently excellent performances even in mediocre movies.

To pigeonhole, it's a black screwball comedy, and the main characters tread a very fine line: they are flawed and very stupid, but all are interesting, and most of them likeable. The movie might not be to everyone's taste, but I had a great time.


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:43 PM EDT

Out of the Deep I Cry

[Amazon Link]

On a lark, I put all five of the Edgar Award nominees for "Best [Mystery] Novel" into my TBR pile.

That was in 2005. And this is only the second one I've read in the group. Moan.

But it's good, of course. It spans decades, from the 1920s to the present day, in the fictional Millers Kill, New York, a "seemingly ordinary" town in the Adirondacks. In the distant past, failed farmer Jonathen Ketchem went missing without a trace, leaving a wife and daughter behind. Now the doctor at the local clinic has also vanished, and his case has weird similarities and connections to the Ketchem case.

Trying to sort through it all is Clare Fergusson, priest at the local Episcopal church; she's also an ex-army helicopter pilot, and she's pretty awesome. Also in the mix is town native Russ Van Alstyne. Thirty years previous, he bravely saved the Widow Ketchem from a suicide attempt, and now he's police chief. They make an unlikely crime-fighting duo, but it worked for me.

This turns out to have been the third book in a (so far) series of six. A more-aware reader might have picked up on this, but I didn't notice. To Ms Spencer-Fleming's credit, it works well as a stand-alone, not relying on the reader's knowledge of her characters' past exploits. There's a big honking loose end at the finish of this book, though. It would be interesting to see how that works out, but given the state of my TBR pile …


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:43 PM EDT

Experimental Results

2008-09-21

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

  • 4:30AM on AMC: Clear and Present Danger (Harrison Ford)
  • 7:30AM on AMC: Patriot Games (Harrison Ford)
  • 7:30AM on TBS: Die Hard with a Vengeance (Bruce Willis)
  • 10:00AM on TBS: Die Hard (Bruce Willis)
  • 3:30PM on TNT: The Fifth Element (Bruce Willis)
  • 5:00PM on AMC: Clear and Present Danger (Harrison Ford)
  • 6:00PM on TNT: Men in Black (Will Smith)
  • 8:00PM on TNT: Men in Black II (Will Smith)
  • 9:45PM on TNT: Men in Black II (Will Smith)
  • 11:30PM on TNT: Men in Black (Will Smith)

Whoa. Our lads are all over the cablewaves today. And let's not forget our ace in the hole:

  • 1:30AM and 2:00PM on AMC: The Hunt for Red October
"I would like to have seen … Montana." Man, that always makes me tear up.

Theory status: unrefuted for 31 consecutive weeks.

URLs du Jour

2008-09-20

  • Virginia Postrel calls John McCain a demagogic lunatic for his comments on the current financial turmoil, specifically his calling for the firing of SEC Chairman Chris Cox. Professor Bainbridge calls it moronic. The WSJ thinks McCain is scapegoating Cox.

    Well, yeah. He seemed to be diligently at work this week, reminding me why I didn't like him in the primaries.

  • Harvard freshman Jacob Benson relates his experience in an American history class taught by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Ostensibly titled "Pursuits of Happiness: Ordinary Lives in Revolutionary America," it turned, more or less, into an Obama campaign event. She had asked the class to submit a list of things that came to mind about the American Revolution. After a tally was made, she pronounced herself disappointed at how few had written down "slavery".
    This comment began the second half of her lecture, which might well have been titled, “A Short Break From American History to Glorify, Not the Founding Fathers, But Barack Obama.” Professor Ulrich, after mentioning the (real and disturbing) relationship between the founding fathers and slavery, proceeded to play, on two massive projector screens, the first few minutes of Barack Obama’s famed speech on race in Philadelphia this past March.
    Professor Ulrich used to be up here at the University of New Hampshire; when she left for Harvard, it was widely seen as an understandable move for greener—specifically, more lucrative and prestigious—pastures. She's widely known for her book A Midwife's Tale, which won the Pulitzer in 1991, and according to Mrs. Salad, is a good read too. I would expect that she'd be a great history professor. If Harvard were to attempt to justify its stratospheric tuition, she'd be one of the people they'd point to. It's a shame that her class turned into the equivalent of an hour or so of MSNBC, which you can get instead for the price of a Basic Cable subscription.

  • I'm a sucker for state rankings, and also a sucker for economic freedom, so a study that ranks states on economic freedom—well, that's just nifty.

    New Hampshire is only number 8. (South Dakota is first.) That sounds way too low for the Live Free or Die state, but we stick out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the Northeast. (Maine: #35; Vermont #42; Massachusetts #33; Connecticut #39; Rhode Island #49; New York dead last at #50).

    Still, we could do better. But probably won't.

URLs du Jour

2008-09-19

  • Stuart Taylor's thesis today:

    We still have many great journalists, but I no longer trust the major newspapers or television networks to provide consistently accurate and fair reporting and analysis of all the charges and countercharges.

    Examples provided.

  • Matt Welch provides the (admittedly half-hearted, caveat-laden) libertarian case for voting for John McCain. I think reason seven is kind of a stretch:

    7) He would, along with Sarah Palin, bring sexual tension back to the White House.

    Awkward hugs, an aging flyboy, a jealous wife...bring the popcorn!

    That's not a particularly libertarian reason. I think we can all agree that would be fun.

  • But making the libertarian case against John McCain is … John McCain. In his prepared speech in Green Bay today:

    In short order, we are going to put an end to the reckless conduct, corruption, and unbridled greed that have caused a crisis on Wall Street.

    Please, Senator. If you're going to "put an end" to one Deadly Sin, be consistent and go after them all. A refresher for all you heathens:

    LustGluttonyGreed
    SlothWrathEnvy
     Pride 

    In terms of how much economic mischief and misery these Sins cause, I'd have to rank Pride and Envy up above Greed. If you include lust-for-power in with Lust, then I'd rank that above Greed as well.

  • We have some catching up to do with the Rochester (NH) Police Logs: 8/26/08 to 9/3/08 and 9/4/08 to 9/7/08. My favorite is from the latter:

    Sunday, Sept. 7

    11:39 p.m. — Girl meets boy on Craig's List — now hopes he'll take a powder. His photo of a gun in fist, quite oddly has not wowed her.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 1:23 PM EST

Definitely, Maybe

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

If you get fired from Hallmark, you can always go into writing movies like Definitely, Maybe. Geez, I'm even irritated by the cutesy title.

It stars Ryan Reynolds, on the verge of divorce, who is begged by his daughter (Abigail Breslin) to tell her his romantic history. As he relates the yarn, it's illustrated for us cinematically. It's told in a manner that neither Abigail nor we know which of the women in his past life (Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz) will turn out to have been Abigail's mother. We're supposed to care.

The major problem is the dialog, and that's a real problem in a movie where just about nothing happens except people talking to each other. I don't demand, or even expect, complete verisimilitude on that score, but practically every line here screams: "No person would actually ever say this."

Which wouldn't be so bad, if the characters ever actually said something genuinely funny (like in When Harry Met Sally), interesting, insightful, quirky, or unpredictable. They never do. (On that last score: the dialog is so predictable, I actually called out an upcoming line in a couple cases. Mrs. Salad did not appreciate this.)

If I were a real movie reviewer, I'd end with: "So, to Definitely, Maybe, you should say 'Definitely, No'."


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:48 PM EDT

Security Lessons from Sarah

For the sake of argument, let's believe this account of how Sarah Palin's e-mail account was hacked:

In the past couple days news had come to light about palin using a yahoo mail account, it was in news stories and such, a thread was started full of newfags trying to do something that would not get this off the ground, for the next 2 hours the acct was locked from password recovery presumably from all this [ineffective] spamming.

after the password recovery was reenabled, it took seriously 45 mins on wikipedia and google to find the info, Birthday? 15 seconds on wikipedia, zip code? well she had always been from wasilla, and it only has 2 zip codes (thanks online postal service!)

the second was somewhat harder, the question was “where did you meet your spouse?” did some research, and apparently she had eloped with mister palin after college, if youll look on some of the screenshits that I took and other fellow anon have so graciously put on photobucket you will see the google search for “palin eloped” or some such in one of the tabs.

I found out later though more research that they met at high school, so I did variations of that, high, high school, eventually hit on “Wasilla high” I promptly changed the password to popcorn and took a cold shower…

In other words, her account was (allegedly) automatically put into a "locked" mode by bad guys trying to guess her password. Yahoo's "self-service" recovery relies on "security questions" to unlock the account; the idea being that only the actual owner of the account knows how to answer them.

The problem being: one's answers sometimes aren't that difficult for others to guess, even less so if one is the kind of person with a Wikipedia entry.

So there's a lesson for ordinary people in there. If you have an account "protected" by security questions, your best guidelines for answers are:

  1. Lie. Security-wise, the worst possible answer you could give for a security question is the true one. Go another way. It's just a stupid computer. It's not going to notice, let alone rat you out.

  2. But lie in a way you'll remember. It's a total hassle if you forget the lie you told.

Your birthday? November 22, 1963.

Your high school name? Communist Martyrs High.

Your mother's maiden name? Garbo.

Don't use these, of course. Sorry, I should have mentioned guideline three:

  1. Be Original. Never use a published example for either a password or a security question's answer.

Write 'em down if necessary. Or do what I do: store them in an encrypted file. I roll my own, but Password Safe is a reputable and free alternative.

For more (indirect but very funny) advice on security questions, see Lore Sjöberg. More serious information and a host of good links can be found at Wikipedia.

Once you've dinked your security questions, feel free to run for high office. But not until then.

"But Pun Salad," you ask. "What of the moral and legal issues of this particular case?" I'm of the same mind as Protein Wisdom:

Does this mean that gone are the excuses being trotted out by the mainstream press — and those on the left side of the blogosphere — for running with this pilfered private info? “Clerical stuff” justifies this breach of privacy, and yet these are the same [people of questionable ethics] who’ve spent years screeching about data mining communication traffic patterns for terrorists with one point outside the US?

The press, and their progressive empaths, have just had lopped off yet another limb, it seems to me. And McCain should scoop that [issue of questionable ethics] up and run with it.

So, yeah. But fix the answers to your security questions too.

URLs du Jour

2008-09-17

  • Back in my math-nerd days, I'd done some poking around with Fibonacci numbers (the sequence 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89,… where each number is generated by adding the previous two). I learned that Fibonacci numbers popped up in various spots in nature, like the shell of the Chambered Nautilus.

    Another childhood myth destroyed! This turns out not to be true at all. If you want me, I'll be in my bed, fetal position, crying my eyes out… (Via BBSpot.)

  • When going up the Fibonacci sequence, dividing each number by its immediate predecessor gets you ever-closer to the so-called "Golden Ratio", φ, where

    phi formula from Wikipedia

    I'd also "learned" that rectangles whose sides were in the Golden Ratio were supposed to be most pleasing to the eye, and popped up in painting, architecture, and … Well, that's probably not true either. Debunking of that claim and others can be found here.

  • Apparently, J. J. Abrams' new TV show Fringe is into Fibonacciality. They have a mind-bending website at 1.61803398874989484820458683436563811.com, where you'll learn that if you draw a rectangle joining the Iowa towns of Estherville, Cresco, Carroll, and Vinton, the sides will be in the Golden Ratio!

    Spooky! Inside this rectangle is Mason City, Iowa, so I would guess there's a Masonic conspiracy lurking in there somewhere. Or perhaps a tie-in with The Music Man, which would also be very cool.

  • J. J. Abrams is also producer/director of the new Star Trek movie, due in May 2009. Captain James T. Kirk is widely expected to be born in Riverside, Iowa sometime within the next few centuries. Riverside is, unfortunately, not within the rectangle described above.


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:49 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-09-16

I have some really untimely stuff today. Worse, even, than usual.

  • Pun Salad missed commenting in a timely matter on Obama's TV ad about John McCain's out-of-touchiness: "Can't send an email." But Instapundit went to town on it, though. And I love this quote he reproduced from an Ace of Spades commenter:

    I think they spent months trying to figure out how they can position Obama as better qualified than McCain, and basically came up with the fact that Obama can type.

    Indeed.

  • Pun Salad's sophisticated political analysis from August 30 was borne out, as Tina Fey appeared on Saturday Night Live over the weekend as Governor Palin:

    To be fair, this sophisticated political analysis also occurred to approximately thirty million other bloggers.

    Allahpundit quotes McCain advisor Carly Fiorina who played the "sexist" card against SNL. Like Allahpundit, I say: "Please." That's a losing game best left to Democrats.

  • Brilliant writer David Foster Wallace committed suicide last week. He had a long history of depression, was trying to deal with it without drugs, and that apparently didn't work out for him.

    Whenever this sort of thing happens, my thoughts seem to go right to the banal and stupid. Maybe the Substances caught up with him. If only he'd have just popped in a DVD of Singin' in the Rain instead—wouldn't that have cheered anyone up?

    I read his 1-kilopage Infinite Jest a few years back. It was tough, but worthwhile. I have a book of his essays, Consider the Lobster, on my TBR pile.

    Shawn Macomber is (to my mind) on-target with his comments and his impatience with shallow appreciations in the MSM.

    Wallace’s work was grandiose, lyrical and at times very tough to penetrate, but it was never condescending or about being insular for insularity’s sake, which is apparently much more than we can hope for from his posthumous critical peanut gallery. My advice on this sad day would be to read something by Wallace rather than about him. It'll be a much more gratifying experience.

    Good point. Maybe I'll move Consider the Lobster up a few notches in the pile.

  • If you'd like to know whether the Large Hadron Collider has destroyed the world yet, you can check that out at: http://hasthelargehadroncolliderdestroyedtheworldyet.com/. (Via BBSpot.)


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:49 PM EDT

Inane · Tedious · Sloppy

I was attracted by the weird headline of a recent article from the Media Relations Department of the University of New Hampshire:

UNH Plans Economically and Environmentally Sustainable Installation of President Huddleston Sept. 16

Yes, UNH is talking about the inauguration of its president as if he were a new biodiesel-powered backup generator for the data center. "Just slide him in right here! On those cinder blocks!"

If you were a normal person, you might wonder briefly about the concept of a "sustainable installation"; is that an installation you don't have to redo a few months later, because you skipped a couple of key steps in the installation manual?

No. Or at least, I don't think so. This is an economically and environmentally sustainable installation. Which means, I think (roughly speaking): we could keep doing this forever, and it wouldn't overdraw us at the bank or kill any polar bears.

Hm… Maybe the article will better illuminate things:

DURHAM, N.H. - Mark W. Huddleston will take a unique approach to his installation as the 19th president of the University of New Hampshire Sept. 16, 2008, …

A "unique approach to his installation" would be if he rappelled in from the skylights in the Granite State Room of the Memorial Union Building. That would be not only unique, but also kind of neat.

But I'll bet he'll approach via the doors, just like presidents One through Eighteen.

… choosing to highlight the university's efforts around sustainability and resourcefulness.

Ack. You don't make efforts around—you make efforts toward. And "resourcefulness" isn't a goal in itself; instead, it describes your ability to meet goals.

They mean something else; they can't be bothered to figure out how to say it.

Out-of-town dignitaries will be encouraged not to attend …

I would have loved to see those—what would you call them—disinvitations? "The honor of your presence absence is requested …"

… and the installation ceremony will be rolled into the larger, annual celebration of University Day to reduce the event's carbon footprint and save money.

The ceremony will be rolled, but said rolling will not be assisted by internal combustion engines. Hopefully rolling the ceremony head-on into a large celebration won't cause any injuries.

The two words "save money" are refreshing by their unusual straightforwardness in a sea of marketing/environmental bafflegab. Naturally, however, no actual effort is made to quantify how much money will be saved. Or, for that matter, how big the "carbon footprint" would have been, or how much shrinkage they expect to cause. It's all about our perceived good intentions, and let's not sully that with any actual numbers.

Given the economic pressures facing the university, President Huddleston has chosen not to host separate events to mark his inauguration but to build on existing activities in an effort to avoid excess and direct resources toward our students, faculty, and the citizens of New Hampshire.

Sheesh. "Pressures" don't typically "face" you. Just say "on".

The "toward" that should have used in the previous paragraph is used here, nonsensically.

And, although the article previously mentioned "resourcefulness" favorably, that better not actually involve, you know, resources. We're avoiding those. Especially "excess" ones. Or "direct" ones. Indirect resources are still OK, though.

UNH Transportation Services has agreed to make buses free for the day for the greater Durham community and those on campus are encouraged to walk or bike to the ceremony.

Translation: parking will be an even bigger bitch than usual. Don't even bother to try.

Well, let's go to the Inauguration Website. The eye-catching Official Logo:

Inauguration 2 Point Oh!

Oh, dear Lord. It just screams: "Here at UNH, we strive to use only the tiredest and lamest marketing gimmicks."

The "2.0" thing is meaningless, and hence grating. If Dr. Huddleston is the 19th UNH president, wouldn't it make more sense to call it "Inauguration 19.0"? And do you ever want to buy the point-0 version of anything?

And the three-word slogan? Already noticed as overused months ago, even in academia.

But seriously: you can watch the ceremony streaming on the web. Pun Son will be performing, so I'll be webbed in.

Also seriously: despite his administration's tolerance for embarrassing marketing, President Huddleston seems to be a pretty good guy. I wish him luck.


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:50 PM EDT

The Kite Runner

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

'Twas multicultural night at Pun Salad Manor, as we watched yet another tale of ordinary people caught up in the maelstrom of Russian imperialism and religious extremism.

It starts in 1979 Afghanistan, just before the Russian invasion, and an unlikely cross-ethnic and cross-class friendship between two young boys: Amir, a privileged son of a rich family, and Hassan, the son of one of their servants. They share a love of kite flying and American movies. (Especially ones with Steve McQueen, and who could blame them?) Hassan is brave, standing up to local threatening bullies; in a moment of shocking cowardice, he's betrayed by Amir. Their friendship is destroyed, and then the Russians invade, and Amir and his father hightail it to America. But years later, revelations about Hassan force an adult Amir to make a tense return to his Taliban-controlled country.

This got a so-so reaction from the critics, but I liked it quite a bit. Yes, it's full of emotional manipulation, cheap symbolism, and one might argue the ending is a bit pat. You know what? I don't care.


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:50 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-09-14 Update

Another week of tightening! Just like the real campaign, the phony race could remain close right down to the wire.

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-09-07
"Barack Obama" phony952,000+32,000
"John McCain" phony944,000+72,000
"Bob Barr" phony33,200+19,800

And it's been another week of phoniness:

Sunday
Many people, including the MinuteMan, take note of Obama's claim that he signed up for the draft when he graduated from high school in 1979, and seriously considered enlisting for real. Obama (in fact) didn't register until he was a sophomore at Occidental College; he'd not previously mentioned his inclination to military service in either of his two autobiographies.

Monday
An AP news story reported the latest crumbling campaign pledge:
Democrat Barack Obama says he would delay rescinding President Bush's tax cuts on wealthy Americans if he becomes the next president and the economy is in a recession, suggesting such an increase would further hurt the economy.
Note that this is only a delay in hurting the economy. Once it gets up off the ground, Obama still plans to kick it in the teeth.

Tuesday
A "highly knowledgeable source" at Power Line questions Obama's claim to have cooperated with GOP Senator Lugar to "help lock down loose nuclear weapons." The source points out that Obama's contributions didn't have anything to do with nukes, instead with small anti-aircraft weapons. And even at that, the legislation didn't do much to keep such weaponry out of the hands of our enemies, but did manage to largely disarm our allies, such as Georgia.

Scott Johnson adds the comment that the press is just way too busy to do this kind of skeptical research of campaign claims, since they've devoted most of their research staff this week to Sarah Palin's per diem reimbursements as Governor. I'm sure they'll get right on this, real soon now.

Wednesday
And of course, there was the whole "lipstick on a pig" thing this week. I'm sure Obama thought that was a clever jape, but as David St. Hubbins famously remarked, "It's such a fine line between stupid, and clever." And, like Prufrock, Obama was forced to say, “That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all.”

Sen. Barack Obama angrily challenged Republican claims that he insulted Gov. Sarah Palin by using the expression "lipstick on a pig" to describe Sen. John McCain's attempts to paint himself as an agent of change, and called the GOP indignation "phony outrage and Swift boat politics."
This is pretty funny, coming as it does from the side that specializes in phony outrage. "How dare they do that. That's our thing."

Thursday
The blogosphere took notice of the prose stylings of Wendy Doniger, Professor of the History of Religions, University of Chicago’s Divinity School, who was able to convince the Washington Post to publish her thoughts on Governor Palin. Among the usual mad-lib litany of atrocities, this stood out:
Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman.
There's now a test you have to pass, I guess. The rest of Professor Doniger's rant is equally well-grounded in reality, but is well worth reading as a display of unhinged hatred.

Jonah Goldberg devoted a fine column to the phenomenon of woman-on-woman warfare, using Doniger as one of his examples.

It’s funny. The left has been whining about having their patriotism questioned for so long it feels like they started griping in the Mesozoic era. Feminists have argued for decades that womanhood is an existential and metaphysical state of enlightenment. But they have no problem questioning whether women they hate are really women at all.

Since we know from basic science that Palin is a woman — she’s had five kids, for starters — it’s clear that these ideological thugs aren’t talking about actual, you know, facts. They’re doing what people of totalitarian mind-sets always do: bully heretics, demonize enemies, whip the troops into line.

Friday
McCain showed that he's still in the phony game, coming up with a Spanish-only ad that underlines his support for "comprehensive immigration reform." Mickey Kaus states the obvious: McCain would not dare run that ad in English.

Saturday
Roger L. Simon comments on Whoopi Goldberg's recent queries to John McCain about the possibility that his Supreme Court nominees could bring back slavery. Many speculated that Whoopi was merely demonstrating the common stupidity of her Hollywood peers. Not so, says Roger. Whoopi's actually quite bright.
No, Whoopi is just a fake - quite willing to say and do anything she wants to make a point or, even more, for her own self-aggrandizement. Her attendant disrespect for John McCain - who on other occasions might even lay down his life for her - is contemptible. But it’s typical of her class in Hollywood where extreme narcissism outweighs any sense of reality or decency.
Too bad. I like Whoopi very much as an actress.

In our semi-continuing feature: we've narrowed the gap, but "Obamafuscation" continues to out-googlehit our word "Barackrobatics" by 641 to 7.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 1:23 PM EST

Experimental Results

2008-09-14

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

  • 11:30AM on FX: The Sum of All Fears (Morgan Freeman)
  • 2:00PM on FX: Firewall (Harrison Ford)
  • 4:00PM on AMC: Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman)
  • 6:00PM on TBS: Along Came a Spider (Morgan Freeman)

Good day for catching Mr. Freeman.

Theory status: unrefuted for 30 consecutive weeks.

URLs du Jour

2008-09-13

  • Andrew Ferguson examines the feelgood concept of "national service", both the current enthusiasm for new, new, new programs to (once again) encourage it, and its history over recent decades. He points out the Orwellian nature of the state spending a lot of money and resources in getting people to "volunteer."

    He also notes the irony of a recent forum on "national service" being held at Columbia University, which forbids both ROTC and military recruiters to sully its campus. To adapt another Orwellian saying: at Columbia, some services are more equal than others.

  • That Columbia forum was also remarked upon by Jonah Goldberg at (appropriately enough) his Liberal Fascism blog. He makes much of Obama's remarks:

    And when I think of 9/11, I think of that spirit after the tragedy had occurred, how the outpouring of patriotism, emotion, volunteerism, the desire for service was in the minds of everyone.

    And that was also a moment when the petty bickering and partisanship that comes to characterize our public life was set aside. And so the question is, how do we recreate that spirit, not just during times of tragedy, not just during 9/11, but how do we honor those who died, those who sacrificed, the firefighters, the police officers, how do we honor them everyday?

    How does it reflect itself in our government? How does it reflect ourselves in how we conduct our own civic life? And my sense is that the country yearns for that. It’s hungry for it. And what has been missing is a president in the White House that taps into that yearning in a serious way.

    I will go ahead and brazenly quote most of Jonah's spot-on reaction to what he calls Obama's "moral equivalent of war argument":

    In short, he wants to recreate the spirit after 9/11 — just without 9/11. He wants Americans to act like they did when we felt we were under attack and at war, but just without war.

    Two points:

    1) This is the century old American progressive project, pure and simple. Create a climate where everyone joins in a collective, state-run or directed, effort without the external threat of actual war. This Jamesian vision was the galvanizing principle behind progressivism and fascism alike, and they endure today — and we call them noble.

    2) It can't be done. You cannot sustain a civil society war footing without a war (or natural disaster) for long before people (rightly) return to their own lives.

  • McCain's remarks are also included in the transcript, and they're marginally better than Obama's.

    WOODRUFF: Senator, do you — what are there — what are the obligations of citizenship, other than paying taxes? Should there be — do you see service connected to what you’re talking about in Washington and should there be something compulsory?

    MCCAIN: I don’t think so, Judy. I don’t think — because I think when you compel someone to do something, then you basically are in contradictions to the fundamental principle of having people wanting to serve and willing and eager to serve.

    Americans are still eager to serve. Americans, when we look at all of the programs that we made available, almost all of them, in fact, all of them are oversubscribed by people who are volunteering.

    That's pretty good. In fact it's a more spirited defense of individual liberty than I've heard McCain make before. It probably would have been ungracious for him to have questioned the underlying purpose of the forum any more than that.

  • But on a totally unrelated note, I've watched this four times now, and laughed each time. Boston Red Sox first baseman Sean Casey asks teammate David Ortiz for his favorite five movies of all time:

    I love that. If you don't recognize Papi's number two pick—I'm pretty sure Casey didn't—I think it's this one.


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:52 PM EDT

Smart People

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

The action here centers around Carnegie-Mellon English prof Lawrence Wetherhold, played by Dennis Quaid. He's a widower, and a misanthropic mess. In an economical illustration of his mindset, he habitually parks his Saab diagonally across two parking spaces.

This is the nearest thing a University has to a capital offense; when his car is towed, Wetherhold's temper and impatience land him in the hospital, where he's cared for by an ex-student, Janet, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. Will love bloom between these two? If you've seen, like, three movies in your entire life, you should already know the answer.

There is a rich supporting cast, most notably Thomas Haden Church playing Lawrence's brother ("adopted brother," as Lawrence unhesitatingly points out to everyone); he's an anti-academic, a careerless stoner and perpetual mooch. And there's daughter Vanessa, a Young Republican high school senior, engaged in cutthroat competition for college admission; she's played by Ellen Page, widely known from Juno. These characters bounce off each other in unexpected but believable ways.

It's easy to make characters like this tedious and unlikeable, but (at least for me), the strong script and acting talent, especially from Dennis Quaid, prevented that.


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:52 PM EDT

Seven Years

It seems longer than that to me. It seems shorter to my wife. Funny. I've never blogged about this before, and it's not that interesting, but:

I'd been teaching a Unix tutorial all morning, holed up in a small classroom away from the normal office gabbing. I finished up at noontime. There were no TVs or radios around, but maybe I picked up on some nervous despair in the atmosphere; I asked a co-worker what was going on.

And he told me, as accurately as anyone knew at the time, what had happened.

My first reaction was disbelief—surely, this guy had been yanking my chain in a very morbid and disturbing way. But I got back to my office and soon found out for myself that while I'd been yammering on about Unix shell syntax, the world had changed out from under me.

So: it's a day to remember and reflect. Regular blogging to resume soon. Just not today.

URLs du Jour

2008-09-10

  • USA Today has a short article about Steve Jobs' presentation yesterday of new Apple stuff. I thought this was kind of cute:
    Jobs opened his remarks by poking fun at critics who said he looked so thin at the last Apple event that he was clearly ill. He smiled under a slide that said, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

    In the USA TODAY interview, he said the furor "put me in a small distinguished club … with Mark Twain, and Alfred Nobel. (Nobel's) obituary was published (while he was alive), and it's what caused him to create the Nobel Prize. We meet every other Thursday and talk about it."

    USA Today found it necessary to explain the joke:
    Nobel died in 1895.
    In case you didn't hear—apparently USA Today didn't—the Bloomberg financial newswire accidentally published a Jobs obituary a couple weeks back.

  • Lore Sjöberg continues in his fascination with creative ways to dispose of one's remains. This week he looks at environmentally-friendly methods. Example:

    Ecopod

    Even if you want to be buried in a traditional cemetery with stone angels, immaculate lawns and drunken goth teenagers, you can reduce your carbon death mask by being buried in a coffin made of post-consumer recycled material. (Particularly apt, given that you're a post-consumer.) There are a lot of options here but my favorite is the Ecopod, a recycled newspaper coffin that looks like something Steve Jobs would crawl into, only to emerge later as a huge luna moth.

    That's two items in a row that mention death and Steve Jobs. Shall we go for three?

  • Sure, why not? Here is Steve's 2005 commencement address at Stanford, in which he talks about life, love, loss, and guess what?
    When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

    Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

    Of course, that's easy for #189 on the Forbes Billionaire List to say. Doesn't make it wrong, though.

  • Speaking of Forbes, and following our entirely unintentional theme, check out their article "Five Things Steve Jobs Must Do Before He Dies". Unaccountably missing from the list: "Cancel subscription to Forbes."

URLs du Jour

2008-09-09

  • The Volokh Conspiracy is kind of a one-stop for debunking Palinsanity:

  • Ah, but let's not totally dwell on Sarah today. As yesterday's USA Today headline cheerfully put it: "Taxpayers take on trillions in risk in Fannie, Freddie takeover". Who do we have to thank for that favor?

    One guy is Congressman Barney Frank, as described by the WSJ editorial page today:

    Taxpayers are now on the hook for as much as $200 billion to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and if you want to know why, look no further than the rapid response to this bailout from House baron Barney Frank. Asked about Treasury's modest bailout condition that the companies reduce the size of their high-risk mortgage-backed securities (MBS) portfolios starting in 2010, Mr. Frank was quoted on Monday as saying, "Good luck on that," and that it would never happen.

    At EconLog, econ prof Arnold Kling compares statements from naive newbie Sarah and seasoned old pro Barney and finds that the former might be more in tune with reality than the latter. In response to the Frank assertion that the FMs were necessary to "subsidize the construction of affordable rental housing and lower borrowing costs for low-income home buyers," Arnold points out:

    In the United States, we have a huge inventory of unoccupied homes. We have trillions of dollars of mortgage debt. We need a government-sponsored enterprises to encourage more homebuilding and more debt about as much as we need a government enterprise to stimulate teenagers to want more sex.
    It's been a long time since I was a teenager, but … yeah, I get what he's saying.

    There's certainly plenty of Fannie/Freddie blame to be extended to both parties. The media are at their worst in dealing with such issues. Unless an issue can be framed as a partisan Elephant-Donkey fight, they quickly get confused and uninterested.

  • The media also has an inherent pro-government bias. Hans Bader is irate about how that impacts the Fannie/Freddie coverage. Summary:
    Many reporters are so ideologically invested in depicting the mortgage crisis as the result of a lack of government involvement that they simply cannot accept the reality that Government-Sponsored Enterprises were at the root of the problem.  Government meddling, along with federal regulatory pressure on lenders to promote “affordable housing” and “diversity,” helped erode traditional lending standards, resulting in more risky mortgage loans to irresponsible people with bad credit.
    But thou shouldst, yea verily, read the thing in its entirety.

URLs du Jour

2008-09-08

  • Check the polls. Saturday Night Live might consider recycling this sketch from 1992. "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy."

    At QandO, McQ explains what's going on to an incredulous Huffposter.

    So your problem, in short, is most American's don't like mean spirited people who distort and lie about other people and their accomplishments. Unfortunately for you it appears your compatriots on the left just cannot help themselves. It has been an unseemly and, frankly, disgusting display. The present effect, for the record, is known as a "blowback". Enjoy.

  • The coveted Pun Salad Read The Whole Thing Award for today goes to Steve Chapman who looked, unsuccessfully, for even any rhetorical nod toward liberty at the national conventions.

    You will scour the presidential nominees' acceptance speeches in vain for any hint that your life is rightfully your own, to be lived in accordance with your beliefs and desires and no one else's.

    There are important differences between Obama and McCain, of course. But neither one feels the need to even pay lip service to individual freedom, preferring instead to advocate "unselfish" servitude to their preferred collective causes.

  • In related news—well, I think it's related—the Libertarian Party-nominated Bob Barr has qualified to appear on the November election ballot in the Granite State.

    In a typically big-L Libertarian self-destructive move, Barr rival George Phillies will also appear on the NH ballot.

    And Ralph Nader too. Did you know he's actually older than John McCain?

  • Don LaFontaine has passed away; as his website says, he was "arguably the most successful Voice Actor of all time." I'm not going to argue. You've probably heard his voice on uncountable commercials and movie trailers. One of my favorites was for Jerry Seinfeld's Comedian, where… oh right, this is the YouTube era. See for yourself:


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:53 PM EDT

Reprise

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

Here are some reasons I thought I might like this movie:

  • It's Norwegian, and I am ethnically Norwegian.

  • It got a high Tomatometer score from the critics (86%)

  • It got "Amanda" awards (Norwegian Oscars) for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

  • One of the actors is named "Elisabeth Sand", and it's possible she's a distant relative.

So I didn't go into this movie expecting to dislike it, yet …

It's the story of two young friends, both aspiring writers. One has early success, but an ill-fated romantic entanglement turns him into a self-destructive nutcase. The other tries to be supportive, but is impeded by his professional jealousy. (Or maybe he's just an idiot; it's hard to tell with these guys.)

There's a lot of angst and enigmatic dialog. But the characters aren't very likeable or interesting, unless, I guess, you're a moody Norwegian writer.

Not for the first time in my life, I said a silent thanks to my grandparents and great-grandparents for emigrating to America. (To any Norwegians reading this: just kidding!)


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:54 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-09-07 Update

Both major-party candidates got huge bumps from the conventions. But—heh—due to Phonyland's perverse dynamics, Obama's biggest rise came this week, after the GOP's convention, while McCain got a bigger increase after the Democrat's convention.

But there's plenty of phoniness to go around. Obama widened his slim lead slightly this week:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-09-01
"Barack Obama" phony920,000+107,000
"John McCain" phony872,000+83,000
"Bob Barr" phony13,400+200

  • Mickey Kaus points to a prime bit of phony rhetoric in McCain's acceptance speech:
    McCain would like everyone to think his campaign imploded last summer because of his courageous support for the surge in Iraq:

    I fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq, when it wasn't a popular thing to do. And when the pundits said my campaign was finished, I said I'd rather lose an election than see my country lose a war.

    --McCain's acceptance speech, 9/4/08
    This bit of history was repeated by the McCain campaign in at least one WaPo group interview I attended--suggesting it's an accepted talking point. It's also bogus. McCain's campaign imploded last summer because of his support for "comprehensive" immigration reform, including legalization of existing illegals (semi-amnesty).
    Good points, all: McCain's Iraq position wasn't particularly brave during primary season; Ron Paul had the pro-defeat vote all to himself at that time, and see what it got him: lots of hype, not too many votes.

    But McCain did have an arguably courageous position on immigration, and—gulp!—he decided he'd rather flip-flop on it than lose the nomination. He'd "learned a message" [sic] and pledged to "secure the border first."

    A few months back, Bryron York looked at this "flexibility" and wondered "which McCain is the real McCain?" Thanks for asking, Byron; the answer is: the phony one.

  • And this may be the first time Pun Salad has linked to Daily Kos but your blogger would be failing his phony duties if he didn't link the story of stock feelgood photos of black people used in the video introduction to McCain's acceptance speech.

    (Pun Salad speculates that the video also used stock feelgood photos of white people, but that's not a scandal to your average Kossite.)

  • Sarah Palin's VP nomination gave rise to a host of phony rumors. Remember all those Democrats tut-tutting about the "politics of personal destruction" and "Swiftboating"? Remember "fighting the smears"? (It seems like it was only a few months ago… oh, wait, it was.)

    If you bought that rhetoric, well, then, more fool you. It turns out that Democrats are positively entusiastic about trotting out slurs, innuendo, and lies about Caribou Barbie. Charles Martin is attempting to provide the definitive list of Sarah Palin rumors, so if you've gotten some scurrlious e-mail about Sarah's brats, tats, bikini pix, book-banning tricks, etc., check it out.

    Captain Ed makes a good point:

    Just spitballing here, but what stereotypes of naughty women have the media and the lunatics missed?  So far, they’ve made her out to be a slut, a b***h, a beauty-queen airhead, and an unfit mother. She’s obviously not frigid, so that smear won’t work. How many other demeaning gender-based slurs can they throw her way?
    I suspect you'll only need to turn on MSNBC or read the New York Times to find out.

  • And also check out Dean Barnett on tracing one of the smears. Andrew Sullivan seems to be the foremost propagator in this particular case, but it's only one example where he's eagerly and uncritically passed along a sewer-spawned rumor handed to him by people who would conveniently prefer to be anonymous. He's dragging down The Atlantic's journalistic standards to sub-tabloid levels. (More on Slimeball Sullivan from Ace and Patterico.)


Last Modified 2014-12-01 1:22 PM EST

Experimental Results

2008-09-07

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

  • 1:40AM on TNT: Die Hard (Bruce Willis)
  • 6:30AM on TNT: Blood Work (Clint Eastwood)
  • 11:30AM on TNT: Air Force One (Harrison Ford)
  • 1:30PM on AMC: A Fistful of Dollars (Clint Eastwood)
  • 6:00PM on FX: Firewall (Harrison Ford)
  • 8:30PM on FX: I, Robot (Will Smith)

Ah, a full slate of manly action. But who doesn't have Die Hard memorized by now? "Hello, this is agent Johnson. … No, the other one."

Theory status: unrefuted for 29 consecutive weeks.

Rochester's Thin Blue Line

Another installment of the Rochester (NH) Police Log. Sample:

Wednesday, Aug. 20

12:28 a.m. — At Wal-Mart there is one car and three people arranged as follows: 1 driver, 1 passenger, 1 kid outside body-slamming the vehicle, which is going all over the parking lot.

Friday, Aug. 22

3:15 p.m. — A home on Harding Street has been burgled, with DVDs, knives, a PlayStation, games and medication stolen. A second call comes in to cancel the report, followed by a third to reinstate it. Things get more complicated when a fourth call is made.

Saturday, Aug. 23

5:08 p.m. — On North Main Street, a neighbor allegedly moved out two months ago and abandoned a pet turtle, which has been cared for ever since by someone else who has now made arrangements for it to go to a turtle rescue farm in a couple days time — but now the first woman wants the turtle back, so the second woman wants to know if she can keep it until Tuesday. Police inform her of her turtle rights.

Monday, Aug. 25

2:50 p.m. — At Rochester East Apartments a man threatens to kill the manager and other residents, especially if John McCain is elected president. He has also thrown feces around the building.

Yes, the political season is heating up.

Contextomy at the New York Times

One Rachel Kleinfeld, writing at one of the New York Times blogs:

John McCain has told us — over and over again — that he is willing to fight. In fact, he relishes a fight. So much so that, in his own words Thursday night, he said he liked to “pick a few fights for the fun of it.”
On the strength of this quote-snippet, she continues for a few hundred more words to trash McCain as a reckless warmonger.

But what about that quote? Thanks to the comrades at Commie Radio, I checked out the transcript of McCain's acceptance speech. The relevant paragraph of the speech:

On an October morning, in the Gulf of Tonkin, I prepared for my 23rd mission over North Vietnam. I hadn't any worry I wouldn't come back safe and sound. I thought I was tougher than anyone. I was pretty independent then, too. I liked to bend a few rules, and pick a few fights for the fun of it. But I did it for my own pleasure, my own pride. I didn't think there was a cause more important than me.
In short, McCain's obviously not talking about his current mindset; he's talking about pre-POW days in order to contrast with his current mindset.

So you won't find a neater example of quoting out of context. Rachel Kleinfeld is either stupid, or thinks her readers are. I'm leaning toward the latter, how about you?

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

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

We tried watching Sister Aimee, based solely (I think) on the professional appearance of the DVD box sitting on the Blockbuster shelf. After about 15 minutes, we gave up; Sister Aimee makes Freaky Farley look like Citizen Kane. Fortunately, we had this as a backup.

Miss Pettigrew is a romantic comedy with screwball overtones, set in London on the brink of World War II. The title character is played by the great Frances McDormand; she's a down-on-her-luck nanny, fired from one job after another due to her quirky personality. Desperate, she misrepresents her way into a job with airheaded American actress/singer Delysia Lafosse, played by Amy Adams. Delysia is determined to sleep her way to comfortable stardom, which involves juggling multiple lovers. Once Miss Pettigrew figures this out—it takes awhile—she disapproves, but gets caught up in Delysia's scheming.

The sets and costumery are impressive, and the acting is first-rate. The final outcome is never in doubt, but it's a lot of fun watching how they get there.


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:55 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-09-04

  • Victor Davis Hanson, September 2008:
    […] I think […] that millions of Americans are simply tired of being lectured at by smug elites.
    Victor Davis Hanson, July 2007:
    Americans […] are blissfully uneducated. They have not acquired a broad knowledge of language, literature, philosophy, and history.
    Quotes are via University Diarist in her "Scathing Online Schoolmarm" mode. She's not a fan of Hanson.

    But I think she's taking a cheap shot here. Couldn't Hanson be right on both counts? I think he is.

  • Best quote I've seen on Sarah Palin is from an Althouse commenter.
    From now on, when a Democrat says "But what if McCain drops dead on his first day in office?!?!?!" I'm going to say "dude -- don't tease me like that."

  • Iowahawk gathers a representative selection of R-rated American voices on "Bristol's bastard bun-in-the-oven". For example, an "Andrew S" says:
    As a mainstream conservative Catholic of conscience, I am shocked and disgusted by all of the suggestions of Palin family baby-snatching and witchcraft and shape-shifting that I've been reading about in my columns. How can we really know that Bristol's new baby isn't actually the result of an incestuous prenatal affair between Trig and his probably-aborted missing twin sister during Bristol's still secret pregnancy last year? How many heads does it have? Is this new baby itself pregnant, or possibly wearing a tiny rubber pregnancy suit as a distraction from other Palin family pregnancy scandals? Americans need to know the truth whether this fetal mutant is Palin's grandchild, great-great-grandchild, or double-grandcousin uncle in-law twice removed.

  • Fortunately, the other side is cool with all that post-partisan stuff. Via Clayton Cramer, we have Ms. Fatimah Ali, writing in the Philadelphia (aka City of Brotherly Love) Daily News:
    If McCain wins, look for a full-fledged race and class war, fueled by a deflated and depressed country, soaring crime, homelessness - and hopelessness!
    Race war, hm? That reminds me…

  • But let's not make it all politics today. Wired has a list of iPhone/iPod apps you can use to replace your tools. Read to the end; I think they strained for that last one a bit.


Last Modified 2008-09-12 10:17 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2008-09-03

  • Feeling like watching Sarah Palin's speech tonight? Frank J suggests a drinking game:
    SARAH PALIN SPEECH DRINKING GAME RULES

    * Every time you get nervous, take a shot.

    You don't have to wait until the speech starts to begin the game.

    So I've started already. When does the game end?

  • Feeling bitter? So is Arnold Kling, and he knows where to point the finger.
    To me, political campaigns are not sacred events, to be eagerly anticipated and avidly followed. They are brutal assaults on reason. I look forward to election season about as much as a gulf coast resident looks forward to hurricane season.
    I recommend the Dual-Costello Strategy:

    1. Try to be amused. (Elvis)

    2. Try to find out who's on first. (Lou)

  • Feeling mortal? You might want to check out Lore Sjöberg's rundown of alternate options for disposal of your remains. (My favorite is the same as Lore's and it's here. The "Marine" service, please. A little pricier than the other packages, but… way cooler.)

Pun Salad Sophisticated Political Analysis: Sarah Palin 2

If only Obama had picked someone named "Drome" for the VP spot, then it could have been the "Palin-Drome Debate."

MODERATOR: Governor Palin, shouldn't the Vice-Presidential limo be replaced by something with better gas mileage?

PALIN: A Toyota! Race fast, safe car: a Toyota.

MODERATOR: Congressperson Drome, the Supreme Court recently issued a very divided decision…

DROME: Some men interpret nine memos!

MODERATOR: Governor Palin, will John McCain be taking any steps to stop the propagation of Soviet weaponry into space?

PALIN: No, it never propagates if I set a gap or prevention.

MODERATOR: Congressdroid Drome, what did Senator Obama say about his openness to alternate views and opinions?

DROME: "Dogma: I am God."

MODERATOR: Governor Palin, any clichés you'd like to use to wind up our debate?

PALIN: Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?

MODERATOR: Congresscritter Drome, Governor Palin's the clear winner here. Thoughts?

DROME: Dammit, I'm mad!

This has been your Pun Salad Sophisticated Political Analysis for today.

Last Modified 2017-12-05 6:17 AM EST

Marc Cohn (AKA: What I Did Last Weekend)

I'd like to mention (however belatedly) that I had a good time over Labor Day weekend, taking a short overnight trip up north with Mrs. Salad to see the great singer-songwriter Marc Cohn.

Marc—I call him Marc—had a small backup band: Shane Fontayne on electric guitar, Jon Ossman on string bass, both doing backup vocals. Marc alternated between grand piano, acoustic guitar, and, for one song, electric keyboard.

(They usually have a drummer, but he was not present due to what Marc mysteriously called a "clerical error." In a tribute to professional musicianship, they covered his absence quite well; in fact, if we hadn't been told that there usually was a drummer, we wouldn't have guessed it on our own.)

It was a fine show. Marc did a mixture of his early hits and selections off his most recent album, Join the Parade. His between-song banter and storytelling was funny and engaging, and the audience was ecstatically responsive.

It's a little regrettable that Marc hasn't enjoyed recent popular recognition like he had in the early 90's with "Walking in Memphis" and "Silver Thunderbird." (My first listen to "Silver Thunderbird" made me a Marc Cohn fan for life.) On the other hand, it makes it much easier to see Marc in a relatively intimate venue. And he seems OK with it too.

Speaking of which: the venue was the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine. (Irrelevant question: how uncreative do you have to be to name a mountain "Stone Mountain"?) This is a very attractive and modern barn-style music hall, set, roughly, in the middle of nowhere. But, surprisingly, a lot of other people were able to find it besides us: it was packed. They serve pre-concert grub and drinks; although we did not partake, it looked good. (Marc had chicken, and raved about it throughout his set.)

We overnighted at Eaton, New Hampshire's Inn at Crystal Lake, a historic Greek-Revival house converted to a bed-and-breakfast. They offered a package deal: lodging, dinner, concert tickets, a round-trip shuttle, breakfast. All excellent.

Summary: Marc Cohn, Stone Mountain Arts Center, Inn at Crystal Lake; all recommended for you in any combination.

(No money, and nothing of monetary value, was accepted in exchange for those plugs, unfortunately.)


Last Modified 2008-10-04 2:19 PM EDT

Odds Against Tomorrow

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

I was deceived! Mr. James Lileks described this movie in a Bleat last month, and I was intrigued enough to put it in my Blockbuster queue. But…

Anyway: it's a noir from 1959, a variety where the unlikeable protagonists make a lot of obviously stupid decisions on the way to their inevitable doom. Ed Begley Sr. is an ex-cop, bitter about being kicked off the force for refusing to testify about corruption. His plan is to knock over a bank in the sleepy Hudson River Valley town of "Melton"; it seems like easy pickings. But he needs a couple guys to help. So—obviously—he picks a whiny sadistic racist, played by Robert Ryan, and a whiny gambling-addicted black guy, played by Harry Belafonte. Good plan, Ed Begley, Sr.!

There's a lot of dialog (mostly unnatural and incoherent), acting (mostly over-), and "character development" (mostly clichéd and uninteresting) on the way to the ill-fated heist. We get to meet Ryan's and Belafonte's significant others, their acquaintances, and get to know way too much about their motivation in falling in with Begley and his idiotic scheme.

But finally, the big finish, and everything is tidily wrapped up in a heavy-handed metaphor about American race relations. (Remember: 1959.) I'll spoil it: instead of trying to escape from the cops hot on their trail, Ryan and Belafonte start shooting at each other. Unfortunately, they do this in a flammable environment and merely manage to blow themselves up. A cop at the end is standing over their charred bodies, and is asked "Which is which?" He responds: "Does it matter?"

Oh, I get it!


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:56 PM EDT

Silks

[Amazon Link]

This is the second book Dick Francis has co-written with his son, Felix. Dick Francis is coming up on his 88th birthday, so it's not clear how much actual writing he's doing these days. Still, it's a good read, and I am committed to buying anything that comes out with his name on it, until one or the other of us kicks the bucket.

The protagonist here is a British lawyer/amateur jockey, widower Geoffrey Mason, called "Perry" by his jockey friends. At the beginning of the book he is defending Julian Trent, a violent sociopath. Everyone knows he's guilty, including Geoffrey. And he's duly sentenced to a jail term. So good riddance, right?

Well, sorry, not right. Otherwise the book would have been very short. Trent gets out after a few months, after some jury members claim to have been improperly approached by the prosecutor.

In a seemingly unrelated thread, a despised jockey is murdered. (Method: pitchfork. Ouch.) Another jockey is almost certainly being framed for the crime; Geoffrey is roped into the defense. But Trent is (somehow) involved here too, attempting to get Geoffrey to botch the trial and get his client convicted.

The book has an unusually disturbing ending, related to the ongoing theme: throughout the book, the British legal system, from cops to judges, seems uninterested and incompetent in coping with the dedicated evil-doers threatening Geoffrey and his loved ones. How close that is to a fair and accurate picture, I don't know.


Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:56 PM EDT

New Hampshire Raises Its Minimum Wage

In an article by reporter John Quinn, our local paper headlines the news: "Minimum wage hike gets mixed reactions".

Unfortunately, the "mixed" part is perfectly summed up in the article's first paragraph:

Business owners and residents said Sunday that they're glad the state is increasing the minimum wage, but expressed concern that a 75-cent raise won't be enough for struggling workers.

No "struggling workers" making the minimum wage were actually interviewed for the article, and no business owner interviewed seemed to be paying minimum wage.

They did interview a couple of politicians, though. Here's one:

"We are leveling the playing field with the rest of New England and recognizing the need to provide greater earning power to some of our most valuable workers, including women, who make up more than 60 percent of those earning the minimum wage in New Hampshire," state Sen. Martha Fuller-Clark, D-Portsmouth, one of the original bill's co-sponsors, said in a statement late last week.

To put it kindly, deeming people making the minimum wage "some of our most valuable workers" shows that economics is—literally—the furthest thing from Senator Fuller-Clark's mind. I'm sure minimum wage workers are nice people, but … no, as workers, they are not that valuable, in any sense that might be meaningful to an employer. For businesses looking to their bottom lines, they will be the first to be let go, or to have their hours cut back.

And there will be a number of low-skilled would-be workers who'll never get hired at all.

And the compassionate Senator Fuller-Clark will not be around to be interviewed for that, and in the unlikely case that ace reporter John Quinn does the story, it will almost certainly not occur to him to seek her out.

And as far as "leveling the playing field with the rest of New England", here's the reported unemployment rates for the relevant states:

New Hampshire4.0%
Vermont4.7%
Massachusetts5.2%
Maine5.3%
Connecticut5.4%
Rhode Island7.5%

Anyone want to guess how long it will take for this playing field to be leveled as well?


Last Modified 2014-12-01 1:22 PM EST

The Phony Campaign

2008-09-01 Update

We predicted a "bump" in phoniness due to the Democratic National Convention; we did not foresee that McCain would get an even bigger bump. Obama's lead continues to narrow:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
2008-08-24
"Barack Obama" phony813,000+62,000
"John McCain" phony789,000+89,000
"Bob Barr" phony13,200-52,900

But what's the phony story behind these raw numbers?

  • A read-the-whole-thing for phony fans is Tom McGuire's reaction to the Obama acceptance speech: "Achingly Phony".

  • Writing in the Hartford Courant, Ms. Yvonne R. Davis is disimpressed with McCain's GOP outreach:

    With stiff upper lips and phony grins, black Republicans are going to the Republican National Convention in Minnesota to be dissed by the party. Many will make believe they are down for Sen. John McCain — too afraid to come out the closet for Obama

    Well, that's just what you'd expect from a Democrat partisan, right? Sure, but:

    Since the 2000 and 2004 Republican conventions, a lot has changed for African American Republicans. I was a vice chairwoman for Bush in Connecticut, a national co-chairwoman for African Americans for Bush, a surrogate spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee and worked on Latino outreach efforts nationwide. With a number of blacks, I served on various committees to plan events at the Philadelphia and Big Apple conventions. There were rainbow coalitions of interns and delegates. Featured speakers such as Colin Powell, J.C. Watts Jr., Condolezza [sic] Rice, black actors and ministers and gospel singers played a role on prime-time television.

    There's probably more to the story, but it seems that the post-Dubya GOP has gone out of its way to sideline Ms. Davis. Her column contains probably the only kind words for George W. Bush that the Courant has published all summer.

  • With plagiarism charges and serial fabrications about his education, Joe Biden brings major-league phoniness to the Democratic ticket. But Steve Chapman points out that it takes the mainstream media to really obfuscate things about Biden's past.

    In his Wednesday night speech at the Democratic convention, Biden referred to "those of us who grew up in middle-class neighborhoods like Scranton and Wilmington." In the video preceding his address, he said that the people he knew as a boy didn't regard themselves as working class but as middle class.

    So what did the news media report? "Sen. Joseph R. Biden accepted the vice presidential nomination of the Democratic Party with a speech that hearkened back to his working-class roots in Scranton," said The Washington Post. The Wall Street Journal informed readers that "Sen. Joe Biden showcased his working-class upbringing." The New York Times said he "spoke frequently, and earnestly, of his blue-collar background."

    No, he didn't. In fact, he did just the opposite. Anyone paying attention would have noticed as much. But the legend of Joe Biden, born in a welding shop, dies hard with political reporters, who find it easier to romanticize a gritty, hardscrabble childhood than a conventionally comfortable one.

    Joe, relax: you don't have to make stuff up any more. The media will do that for you.

  • Is there anything phonier than Real ID? If the issue is strong enough for you to base your vote on it, your choice is clear.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 1:22 PM EST