URLs du Jour — 2008-12-31

Some suggestions for your end-of-year clicking:

  • Don't forget to smooch your sweetie an extra second tonight. Not surprisingly, the French are behind this.

  • Thomas Sowell speaks wisely, as always:

    Whoever called politics "the art of the possible" must have had a strange idea of what is possible or a strange idea of politics, where the impossible is one of the biggest vote-getters.

    People can get the possible on their own. Politicians have to be able to offer the voters something that they cannot get on their own. The impossible fills that bill perfectly.

    Examples are provided, and I have the feeling we'll be able to find our own examples aplenty in the coming year.

  • Jacob Sullum has highlights from the past year's blame-shifting. (And we'll undoubtedly see plenty more of that in the coming year too.) This was the most painful:

    Stop Me Before I Borrow Again. Except in cases of fraud, people who took out risky mortgages and later had trouble making their payments should have known what they were getting into. Perhaps they were careless, or perhaps they miscalculated, assuming that home values would keep rising. In many cases they misrepresented their assets or income.

    Yet when asked whether "greedy lenders" or "risky home buyers" were "at fault" in the "subprime lending meltdown," Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin replied, "Darn right it was the predator lenders, who tried to talk Americans into thinking that it was smart to buy a $300,000 house if we could only afford a $100,000 house." She was notably easier on the reckless borrowers: "I think we need to band together and say never again. Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars."

    Yeah. I like Sarah, but she should leave the coarse populist scapegoating to the Democrats.

  • BBSpot posts an intriguing link:

    … with the helpful mouseover tip: "Keep zooming out."

    I didn't know anything about the place, and spent some enjoyable time learning about it. For your own amusement and edification, I'd suggest you try the same. But their official home page is here. And, unfortunately like us, they're having government finance woes. Perhaps we could try one of their methods:

    Budget Box

    President-elect Obama, take note!

  • And in local news:

    A radio-collared bear being tracked as part of a University of New Hampshire professor's research project was shot and killed last month by Nottingham police after it tried to break into a woman's home.

    Despite how it sounds, the research was not about getting bears to break into houses under radio control. At least that's the professor's story, and he's sticking to it. (Via Granite Geek.)


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:03 AM EDT
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Death Race

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

I'll give an extra half-star to a movie that has Joan Allen say, "Okay c---s----r. F--- with me, and we'll see who s---s on the sidewalk." You don't often hear that kind of dialogue from a multiple Oscar nominee not named Al Pacino. (In case you don't believe me or are just having trouble with filling in the gaps, IMDB has the uncensored quote.)

The premise is, that in the near future, sometime around the end of President Obama's first term, the American economy is in the toilet, crime is rampant, and the public has a depraved thirst for ever more violent pay-per-view reality shows. Hence: "Death Race", which pits convicts held in a privatized prison against each other in no-rules car races; each vehicle is equipped with enough firepower to take out the armies of any two Third World countries. And the warden (the previously-mentioned Joan Allen) will do anything to goose the ratings.

Into this scene comes Jensen Ames, played by Jason Statham, framed for killing his wife. He's coerced into taking over for masked driver "Frankenstein", after the previous inhabitant of the role got seriously killed in his previous race.

I kept waiting for the movie to rise above schlock level, but it never did. The races aren't very interesting: it's like watching someone else play a stupid video game.

In addition to Joan Allen, the acting talent of Ian McShane is also wasted in the role of "Coach", the hero's ace mechanic.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:04 AM EDT
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Hamlet 2

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

Something may be rotten in the state of Denmark, but things are also pretty bad in Tucson, where failed actor Dana Marschz is well on the way to becoming a failed high school drama teacher. This, incidentally, is fine with his wife: she urges him to go back working for Rite-Aid, and "start bringing in some real money."

Dana sees one desperate way out: to write, produce, direct, and co-star in the play "Hamlet 2". ("Didn't everyone die in the first one?" asks his wife. "I have … a device.") The movie follows his against-all-odds quest for redemption.

It's very R-rated funny. Steve Coogan plays Dana as teetering on the edge between delusion and self-awareness, but always coming down firmly on the side of delusion. Catherine Keener plays Dana's wife, who's clearly got problems of her own, although my psychobabble isn't good enough to describe those accurately. Amy Poehler shows up late in the picture as Cricket Feldstein, foulmouthed ACLU lawyer. And especially wonderful was Elisabeth Shue, a very good sport, playing herself as someone who's quit the Hollywood acting game in disgust, reinventing herself as a Tucson nurse.

"We're going to Hell for doing this play," a character remarks at one point. Watching is probably OK, though. I hope.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:05 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-29

  • At Phi Beta Cons, David French recounts the case of two Georgia Tech students who sought to reverse unconstitutional policies at their school. For their trouble, they were reviled by the university, some of their fellow students, and much of the press.

    Good news: they finally won—because, as with most public universities, Georgia Tech's policies really were blatantly unconstitutional. And Georgia Tech will not only need to rescind those policies, they will wind up paying a hefty amount in fees.

    Hopefully, more schools, including (say) the University Near Here, will pay attention and fix things before they're dragged into court for additional embarrassment and expense.

  • Michelle, ma belle, notes disparate press treatment of the physical training regimen of the current president and the next one. Basically, as she summarizes, the story is:
    Fit Republican president = Selfish, indulgent, creepy fascist.

    Fit Democratic president = Disciplined, health-conscious Adonis role model.

    In today's Googled and blogged world, I think these comparisons are going to be pretty easy to make.

  • One should never miss the Dave Barry Year in Review. And he also has comments on our impartial press. For example, recalling the January Iowa caucuses:
    On the Democratic side, the surprise winner is Barack Obama, who is running for president on a long and impressive record of running for president. A mesmerizing speaker, Obama electrifies voters with his exciting new ideas for change, although people have trouble remembering exactly what these ideas were because they were so darned mesmerized. Some people become so excited that they actually pass out. These are members of the press corps.

  • And something's afoot in North Hampton:
    If you look closer, it's easy to trace
    The tracks of my deer
    This is the last pun we'll report at Pun Salad this year, unless we see another one in the next couple days.


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Transsiberian

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

A decent thriller set in an exotic, mostly white, locale. Pretty much an anti-advertisement for anyone tempted to travel the Trans-Siberian Railway. While the scenery is picturesque, and your fellow travelers (heh) are colorful, the employees are surly, and you (still) don't want to run afoul of the authorities.

Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer play Roy and Jessie, an Iowa couple, returning from mission work in China via rail through Siberia to Moscow. They immediately befriend Abby and Carlos, a decision that bodes ill for them. Meanwhile, in Vladivostok, Russian law-enforcement agent Grinko (Ben Kingsley) peruses the frozen corpse of a drug smuggler, a knife protruding from the back of his neck. Will this impact Roy and Jessie? You betcha.

While I enjoyed it, it could have been tighter. Without spoiling it too much: a character goes missing at one point, just after we've seen another character act in what might be construed as a surreptitiously menacing manner. I was sure that portended something, but … it didn't, really.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:05 AM EDT
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O is for Outlaw

[Amazon Link]

I am also playing catchup with Sue Grafton's alphabetically-ordered series about the intrepid private investigator Kinsey Millhone. She's up to T, and (as you see) I'm only on O.

During a lull in her paid investigative work, a blast from the past confronts Kinsey: a storage unit rented by her ex-husband has gone into default, and the contents snapped up by a "scavenger" looking to make money off its contents. The scavenger tracks down Kinsey, and sells her one of the stored items: a box of her memorabilia. But one of the items therein is something Kinsey's never seen before: a letter from a barmaid revealing unknown facts about her ex-husband and the incident 14 years previous that had caused their divorce.

It's a pretty good yarn, although, via Ms. Grafton's word processor, Kinsey (as always) tends to tell us way too much about the mundane details of her day: her exercise regimen, her diet, driving routes, all irrelevant to plot or characterization. By now, I've learned to put up with this, like accepting a few bad habits of a loved one. (Although I can't seem to stop complaining about it. Here's an old Usenet rec.arts.mystery thread where I called Sue Grafton the "Queen of Pointless Description")


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:16 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-26

  • Here's a stupid idea from Lauren Stiller Rikleen, writing in the Washington Post:
    With another highly credentialed spouse preparing to enter the White House, it is time to negotiate a clearer role for the first lady -- one that has a job description and a salary appropriate to the range of responsibilities that come with being the president's spouse.
    This would give a whole new meaning to "serving at the pleasure of the President". How do you fire the first lady? Can Lauren Stiller Rikleen even spell "accountability"?

  • Bastiat watch: Caroline Baum notes that Obama's goal of creating 3 million jobs via a $750 billion stimulus package is an instance of Bastiat's broken-window fallacy. But even on face value, that's $250,000 per job, which is not a lot of bang per buck. (Via Robert Stacy McCain.)

    Jacob Sullum also invokes Bastiat in talking about Obama's "job fetish":

    Obama's job fetish is apparent even when he talks about spontaneous economic activity. "Businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs," he declared in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. In a free market, businesses exist because they provide goods or services that people value. A business that makes job creation its overriding goal will not be employing anyone for long.
    Forecast: an extended period of economic foolishness, broken only by brief glimpses of sanity.

  • If you followed the regulation/FCC links a couple days ago, you'll also want to check Adam Thierer's analysis of Larry Lessig's proposal to "reboot" the FCC. Adam points out that, while Lessig's FCC-destruction is exhilarating, his proposed replacement—eh, not so much.

  • Memories of the ice storm brought back by the Rochester (NH) Police Log:
    Friday, Dec. 12

    6:25 a.m. -- Trees come down on Washington Street, Whitehall Road and Pine Street. The ice storm has arrived.

    10:20 a.m. -- A line for gas forms on North Main Street.

    1:49 p.m. -- Meanwhile, normal life goes on, with an ex-girlfriend reportedly punching a man in the face several times.

    2:59 p.m. -- Janet Street residents have blocked the road, sparking complaint, but it is due to a live wire being down.

    3:39 p.m. -- Cars hoping for gas get snarled lining up at Cumberland Farms on Knight Street. Police arrive quickly, but everything is OK.

    4:03 p.m. -- On Second Street, a tree falls on a dog, which promptly bites the hand trying to free it. A man goes to Frisbie; the ACO helps out, and the dog is on a gurney bound for Portsmouth.

    4:04 p.m. -- A gas truck arrives at the Ten Rod Getty, but motorists in a line won't give an inch.

    Saturday, Dec. 13

    8:21 p.m. -- A man on the "bracelet" it is reported, has discovered that he can't be monitored due to the power cut. Now he is drinking, doing drugs and threatening people, it's alleged.

    9:05 p.m. -- Home Depot says it is getting a shipment of generators, but gauges that demand will far outstrip supply. There is concern about what could happen.

    Sunday, Dec. 14

    11:35 p.m. -- Police check on a suspicious car on Secretariat Way. It is a local resident trying to stay warm.


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Bitterroot

[Amazon Link]

This is the 2001 entry in James Lee Burke's series about Texas attorney Billy Bob Holland. Yes, I have some catching up to do.

Billy Bob has gone up to Montana to visit his friend, Doc Voss, who lives amidst the spectacular scenery with his 16-year-old daughter Maisey. You'd think he'd be able to catch a break up there, but Billy Bob attracts trouble, and troubled people. There's a bunch of bikers, a neo-Nazi militia leader, an alcoholic mystery writer with a coke-fiend actress wife, a mafia bigwig, a mysterious female doctor whose ex-husband and son were murdered, another mysterious Native American woman, some ATF guys, a loquacious-but-cantakerous sheriff and … did I miss anyone? Oh yeah, there's the psycho rodeo cowboy who blames Billy Bob for the death of his sister. And more.

Most people in James Lee Burke's books are haunted, Billy Bob more so than most: the ghost of L. Q. Navarro, who Billy Bob accidentally killed years back, occasionally pops up to discuss ongoing events.

Probably more than anyone else I read, Burke is given to colorful vividness:

That night dry lightning rippled through the thunderclouds that sealed the Blackfoot Valley. The wind was up and the trees shook along the riverbank and I coulds see pine needles scattering on the surface of the water. I walked through Doc's fields, restless and irritable and discontent, a nameless fear trembling like a crystal goblet in my breast. The Appaloosa and thoroughbred in Doc's pasture nickered in the darkness and I could smell river dam and pine gum and wildflowers and wet stone and woodsmoke in the air, as though the four seasons of the year had come together at once and formed a dead zone under clouds that pulsed with light but gave no rain. I wished for earsplitting thunder to roll through the mountains or high winds to tear at barn roofs. I wished for the hand of God to destroy the airless vacuum in which I seemed to be caught.

You are there.

Burke also peppers his books with dialogue that nobody in my experience actually speaks, but one kind of wishes they did. Here's the sheriff, put out at Billy Bob:

"I think your mama put you outdoors before the glue was dry, son. I really do," he replied.

Good stuff.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:17 AM EDT
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Merry Christmas!

Pun Salad hopes your Christmas is perfect. As always, we encourage our readers to avoid behavior that might make baby Jesus cry.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:43 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-24

  • At Cato@Liberty, Jim Harper comments upon an illuminating phrase uttered on Meet the Press by one Erin Burnett: that the Madoff scandal demonstrated that "we need a real regulator." His spot-on reply:
    Ms. Burnett, the SEC that failed to prevent this is a real regulator.

    When regulators fail to address a problem ahead of time, when they regulate inefficiently, when they hand their rulemaking organs to the industries they are supposed to oversee, those are all the actions of real regulators. That's what you get with real regulation.

    What Burnett meant when she called for a "real" regulator, of course, was "the regulator I can imagine." The regulators people imagine are foresighted, interested only in the public good, they're resistant to lobbying, and they run efficient organizations. But these characteristics are simply imaginary.

    At the Technology Liberation Front, Tim Lee expands on that notion:
    Ponzi schemes and dishonest bookkeeping are already illegal. Had the SEC been so motivated, it had all the authority it needed to investigate Madoff's books, discover the problems, and shut his firm down. In a rational world, this would be taken as a cautionary tale about the dangers of assuming that regulators will be vigilant, competent, or interested in defending the interests of the general public rather than those with political clout. Instead, we live in a bizarro world in which people believe that the SEC's failure to do its job is an illustration of the need to give agencies like the SEC more power.
    Some "enlightened" individuals love to poke fun at the religious (the "oogedy-boogedy" folks, in the words of Kathleen Parker), but are totally blind in their devotion to their secular theology of the State. When three tons of money goes down a government rathole to no effect, their only conclusion is that—gosh, if only it had been four tons.

  • Also at Cato, David Boaz notes the strange language that allows people to call the proposed Obama cabinet picks as "centrist".
    That's what you would expect from a bunch of statist ideologues who have been waiting years or decades for an election and a crisis that would allow them to fasten on American society their own plan for how energy, transportation, health care, education, and the economy should work. That's not centrist, it's a collectivist vision hammered out by Ivy Leaguers and activists over the past couple of decades. In its more idealistic formulation, it's based on the premise that smart people know what the people need better than the people themselves do, and that command and control work better than markets and individual choice. In its more practical application, it's interest-group rent-seeking dressed in the trappings of public interest.
    People who prefer limited government and free markets are going to be in for a rough stretch.

  • However, here's a bright spot: in Newsweek, Larry Lessig calls for a "reboot" of the Federal Communications Commission. By which he means…
    The solution here is not tinkering. You can't fix DNA. You have to bury it. President Obama should get Congress to shut down the FCC and similar vestigial regulators, which put stability and special interests above the public good. In their place, Congress should create something we could call the Innovation Environment Protection Agency (iEPA), charged with a simple founding mission: "minimal intervention to maximize innovation." The iEPA's core purpose would be to protect innovation from its two historical enemies--excessive government favors, and excessive private monopoly power.
    This is such an insanely great idea, I'd guess it has no chance of happening. But it's nice to see a prominent person advocating it in a prominent publication. (Via Volokh.)

    Previous Pun Salad FCC posts here, here, here, here, here.

  • If you'd like some more libertarian wishful thinking—and don't we all need some?—John H. Richardson at Esquire examines the chances that Obama might decriminalize or even legalize marijuana. His utterances and signals have so far been mixed.

  • Think you're too old to be beguiled by toys? You might want to check out Cracked's guide to modern versions of classic kids' toys. Or, as they put it, "8 Old School Toys That Got Badass Makeovers." Whoa. ("Honey, is it too late to revise my Christmas list?")


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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-23

  • Pun Salad will probably not be able to sustain the poetry theme for long, but here's another entry: "If...Kipling Had Met Blagojevich"

    If you can keep your job while all about you
    Are fielding bribes and blaming it on you,
    If you can duck the Feds while all men doubt you,
    And bleep-ing show the charges are untrue,
    If you can fight and not be tired by fighting,
    Or, being wiretapped, profess surprise,
    Or argue that there will be no indicting
    Because it's all a bleep-ing pack of lies.

    Via Betsy.

  • The more verbal half of Steely Dan, Donald Fagen writes on Jean Shepherd for Slate. If most of what you know about Shepherd is A Christmas Story, Fagen has much, much more.

  • Enjoyed this bit of cheap-shottery at Michelle's (click the image to go there):

    [Entitled]

    Quoted is the NYT story that discusses Sweet C's refusal to disclose information that would be required for someone, y'know, actually submitting themselves for election.

    If she were running for election to the Senate, Ms. Kennedy would have to file a 10-part, publicly available report disclosing her financial assets, credit card debts, mortgages, book deals and the sources of any payments greater than $5,000 in the last three years.

    But Ms. Kennedy, who has asked Gov. David A. Paterson to appoint her to succeed Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton -- and who helped oversee the vetting process for Mr. Obama's possible running mates -- is declining to provide a variety of basic data, including companies she has a stake in and whether she has ever been charged with a crime.

    Ms. Kennedy declined on Monday to reply to those and other questions posed by The New York Times about any potential ethical, legal and financial entanglements. Through a spokesman, she said she would not disclose that kind of information unless and until she becomes a senator.

    Why should she be subject to the rules applying to … commoners?

  • I watched "The Menagerie" episodes of Star Trek last night, paying special attention to the performance credited to M. Leigh Hudec: "Number One" under Captain Christopher Pike. But her obituaries last week used her more recent name: Majel Barrett-Roddenberry.

    Her Wikipedia entry tells us why she's special to all Star Trek geeks:

    In various roles, Barrett had been in every dramatic incarnation of the popular science fiction Star Trek franchise, including live-action and animated versions, television and cinema, and all of the time periods in which the various series have been set.

    Her larger roles included Nurse Christine Chapel on the original series, girlfriend of the doomed Roger Korby, and later infatuated with Mr. Spock. She also had a continuing role on the Next Generation series as Deanna Troi's ribald mom Lwaxana.

    And when Starfleet computers talked, it was usually with her voice. In a very nice touch, this will include the upcoming new movie, titled simply Star Trek (due to be released on May 8, a mere 136 days away as I type, but who's counting?).

    Star Trek is not known for great acting—we love it for other reasons—but she was very good.

  • Behold the genius that is Iowahawk:


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:18 AM EDT
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Man On Wire

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

This is a documentary about Philippe Petit, a Frenchman who wirewalked between the World Trade Center towers on August 7, 1974. Petit was a street performer, doing juggling and magic tricks for urban crowds. But his joy was in tightrope-walking, and his obsessive target, ever since he saw the plans, was the WTC. He had previously done similar stunts on Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

There's a "caper" aspect to the story, covering the sneaking around that led up to the unauthorized and illegal stunt. (Much of this part is done via re-enactments.) Also there's some (underplayed) engineering: how to get a 3/4" cable across 140 feet of empty space a quarter-mile above the ground. But most of the film is interviews with Petit and the present-day versions of his 1974 coterie. Petit is a charming motormouth, used to speaking in poetic terms about his feat, and this works OK.

There's no explicit reference in the film to 9/11, but that context is present for anyone who watches. For me, it demonstrated the stark contrast between Petit's obsessive courage and joy in an ultimately harmless prank and the cowardly death and destruction over a quarter century later.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:19 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-22

I notice that a lot of bloggers apologize for their light blogging. That seems presumptuous to me, so I won't.

  • At the Corner, James S. Robbins compares a story of private charity with the "stimulus" package on the fast track, headed for a stalled car at a crossing, filled with taxpayers.
    The personal fortunes that will be arranged -- I hesitate to say "made" -- from this stimulus bill will be a national shame. But they will be well concealed in the depths of legislation, policy and administration. This bill is theft on a grand scale, standing on questionable economic theory and cloaked in the language of altruism. We will wind up paying for it, and those who are right now arranging this unconscionable act will get away with it, unless there is any justice at election time in 2010.
    "Other than that, though, it's fine."

  • At Contentions, Jennifer Rubin notes that advocates of the stimulus package, when you get them to talk about it honestly, are pretty modest about its effectiveness:
    Still, the political challenge is daunting, given that economists expect this recession to last for years. "The stimulus package will keep it from getting as bad as it would otherwise be, but that is very hard to measure," said Alice Rivlin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, who addressed House Democrats recently. "All you can say is, 'It's probably not as bad as it would have been.' But that is very hard to prove."
    Boy, hundreds of billions of dollars just don't go as far as they used to.

  • Here's something surprising I learned only by reading this Matthew Labash article about Detroit: Martha Reeves, of Martha and the Vandellas, currently sits on the City Council there.

    Also, Detroit is in much, much worse shape than you probably imagined, although this is not Ms. Reeves' fault.

  • And Little Green Footballs fills us in on The Two-Minute Hokey Pokey Hate. Because you've always suspected: that's what it's all about.

  • Continuing our poetry theme from a few days ago: "Casey at the Bat" expressed in baseball cards. Wow. (Via Surviving Grady).)


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Step Brothers

[Amazon Link]

[3.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

Another movie from the Apatow factory, chock full of good filthy fun.

The premise: Brennan and Dale (Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, respectively) are spoiled never-grown-up adults, total leeches on their single parents (played by Mary Steenburgen and the great Richard Jenkins). But said parents get married, and move in together as married people do, dragging their unwilling offspring along. It's hate at first sight between them.

I laughed a lot. I'm not proud of that, but there it is. In my (slight) defense, the movie stays true to its over-the-top exploration of this particular dysfunction. There are a whole bunch of supporting players, who are all hilarious.

Richard Jenkins is fine here—he can do no wrong—but there's no room here for his usual subtle, nuanced performance.

On a related note, I've been waiting (approximately) forever for another Mary Steenburgen movie, In the Electric Mist. It's based on one of my favorite James Lee Burke books featuring his Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux. Ms. Steenburgen plays Dave's wife, Bootsie; in what I consider to be dead solid perfect casting, Dave is played by Tommy Lee Jones. It now appears that the movie will be going straight to DVD on March 24.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:19 AM EDT
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Linearly Regressed Movie Watching

Although I know all the cool kids use Netflix, I've been a customer of Blockbuster Online for awhile. I have a hopelessly long queue, both movies and TV shows. I can, of course, move things up and down in the queue.

I started wondering if there was some way I could optimize the queue. All the movies have ratings at the Internet Movie Database (IMDB); most also have ratings at Rotten Tomatoes (RT).

Hm.

So I did the Statistics 101 thing, aided by some Perl web-crawling scripting and Gnuplot: a scatter plot for each movie in my queue that had both an IMDB rating and a RT rating. (click to embiggen):

bbq1

I've seen worse data! They look kind of correlated, so let's also put in the linear best-fit line:

bbq2

Looks almost like science! For anyone who knows what "correlation coefficient" means: it's 0.79 for this data.

Some miscellaneous observations:

  • The data should not be taken to represent anything general about IMDB and RT ratings. For example, I've either already seen, or decided I don't want to see, very high-rated movies. Similarly, there aren't a lot of dreadful movies in the queue. So the movies in the data aren't necessarily representative of movies in general

  • RT advertises their "Tomatometer" ratings prominently, but I used their fine-print "Average Rating" instead. The Tomatometer is (roughly) the fraction of critics who liked the movie; the Average Rating is more comparable to what IMDB does: each movie gets a score between 0-10.

  • Fun facts: although IMDB rates movies from 1-10, there are only two movies at IMDB with ratings greater than 9: The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather. And there are only 38 movies with ratings under 2. I'm pretty sure the lowest-IMDB-rated movie I've ever watched is Epic Movie, which has a 2.2.

  • The movie up there in the northeast corner of the plot is The General, a silent Buster Keaton movie from 1927. It gets an 8.3 at IMDB and an 8.8 at RT. I'll move that up in the queue.

  • Down there in the southwest corner with IMDB ratings under 5.5 and RT ratings under 5.0: M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening; The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor; and Balls of Fury (the ping-pong comedy with Christopher Walken). Maybe I shouldn't bother with those, at least not until I've seen every other better movie.

  • Somewhat interesting are the outliers: Eagle Eye was relatively despised by the critics (RT rating: 4.6) but the rankers at IMDB didn't think it was that bad, giving it a 6.8. (In the same boat: War, with Jason Stethem and Jet Li, 6.2 at IMDB, 3.9 at RT.)

    The other way around: the RT critics adored Sidekick, a direct-to-DVD underperformer (7.3 Average Rating, 100% on the Tomatometer). But the IMDBers were like, eh!, giving it a mediocre 5.7.

    Not sure what to do with those.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:20 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-18

  • Pun Salad must link to Rich Galen's explication of the latest financial scandal: He Madoff With All the Money.

  • It's getting to be that time of year where people write up their "Best of 2008" lists. (It seems to get earlier every year, doesn't it? Isn't it risky to do that with a couple weeks left in the year?)

    Anyway, connoisseurs of the mugshot photo will want to enjoy this collection from The Smoking Gun. There are semi-famous people: Andy Dick, Heather Lockyear. And number 10 is from the Concord (NH) Police Department, who busted Peter Abramczyk back in September after he advertised himself as a "passable crossdresser" on Craigslist. Frankly, he's not going to be confused with Heather Lockyear anytime soon.

  • Quote du jour is from Frank J at IMAO, who's talking about Chelsea Clinton as a possible replacement in her mom's Senate seat:
    We're conservatives. We have jobs, families, responsibilities. Because of this, we have a very limited supply of rats' asses.
    Truer words were never spoken. Well, maybe they were, but these are still pretty good.


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But Waste Was of the Essence of the Scheme

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has an entertaining (for a sufficiently generous definition of "entertaining") PDF document "2008: Worst Waste of the Year", a guide to your tax dollars at work. A total of $1,315,476,562 is chronicled.

New Hampshire's 0.016% contribution to that total is a $205,800 HUD grant to the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, earmarked by Senator Judd Gregg. Frost lived there for approximately 11 of his 88 total years. But there are no doubt unloved walls, unstaying gold, untaken roads, etc. New Hampshire residents can visit for free.

I've heard, however, that if you are caught singing "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" to the tune of "Hernando's Hideaway", you will be escorted from the premises.

Update: It occurs to me that our younger readers may not be familiar with "Hernando's Hideaway". Here's the appropriate clip from The Pajama Game:

I might as well also toss in some lines from Frost's little-known first draft of the poem (from a very old copy of National Lampoon):

Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though.
He will not see me stopping here,
To sign my name in yellow snow.

(Post title from here.)


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:20 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-16

  • The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports:
    FIRE found that approximately 74 percent of schools surveyed maintain policies that clearly restrict speech that, outside the borders of campus, is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    This includes policies of the University Near Here.

    FIRE has a 1.000 batting average in challenging unconstitutional speech codes, so they know whereof they speak.

  • The "stimulus pacakge" won't work, except to encourage this type of behavior:
    With estimates of the package, which will be considered by the new Congress starting in January, topping out at anywhere between $500 billion and $1 trillion, ailing sectors such as home builders and sellers, airlines, railroads -- and, yes, the auto industry -- view the stimulus as a means to get healthy again.

    That includes the air conditioning industry, America's libraries and even catfish farmers.

    Perhaps inspired by those last two words, the metaphor "chum in the water" is employed later in the article. (Via Club for Growth.)

  • Out of context quote du jour from Professor Ann Althouse:
    It seems to me that pornography teaches men to take care of their problems on their own.
    It's an argument against bad metaphors. Honest.


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The Edge

[Amazon Link]

The Dick Francis hero in this outing is Tor Kelsey; he's independently wealthy, but to keep himself from falling into degenerate lassitude he has a real job: undercover investigator for the British Jockey Club. He's trying to nail one Julius Apollo Filmer, a dastardly villain who's trying to worm his way into horseracing via intimidation, blackmail, and murder.

The plot is probably one of Francis's most contrived, but it's still entertaining: Filmer is going on the "Great Transcontinental Mystery Race Train", a trans-Canada rail trip that transports rich owners and their horses from Toronto to Vancouver. They stop along the way to race and sightsee. And, for entertainment, a group of professional actors is aboard to stage a semi-improvisational mystery play inamongst the passengers during the trip. How this all gets involved in Kelsey's efforts to thwart Filmer is unlikely, but fun.

The rear-jacket photo of Dick Francis shows him on the train engine, and his acknowledgments thank a number of train folk. So I assume he experienced a version (hopefully less perilous) of the voyage himself; it shows up in the book's details and descriptions.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:21 AM EDT
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I Sing the House Electric

Power came back on at Pun Salad World Headquarters last night around 8:30. About a sixty-hour outage, and I'm lucky it was that short.

[Please imagine I penned a funny yet profound Lileksian right essay here on taking things for granted, especially the modern marvels that would have dropped my ancestors' jaws to the floor.]

  • At EconLog, David Henderson makes the observation that what did Democratic Illinois Governor Blagojevich in was not so much the corruption, but his dreadfully poor manners in discussing it explicitly and profanely.

    Why do I say that? Consider a case of #1 that received little objection. In 2005, shortly after her husband became a U.S. Senator, Michelle Obama was promoted to vice-president of the University of Chicago Hospitals, with a salary increase from $121,910 to $316,962. One of her bosses said she was "worth her weight in gold." In 2006, Obama requested a $1 million earmark for his wife's employer. How upset have people got about this? But take away the explicit exchange and the crass language and she and her husband did what he Illinois Governor did. Yet where's the outrage?

    Indeed. Of course it's not just Illinois, and it's not just Democrats.

  • For example, Daniel J. Mitchell at Cato points out a recent AP story concentrating on how GOP-affiliated lobbyists raked in millions in fees from Freddie Mac.
    Interestingly, at least one of these former politicians is contemplating a return to the political arena. He even portrays himself as a friend of the taxpayer. It is unclear, though, how much of a friend he really is considering that the story reveals that, "Freddie Mac enlisted prominent conservatives, including Gingrich..., paying [him] $300,000 in 2006, according to internal records."
    If Newt decides to run for President, here's hoping he gets pummelled about this in every NH campaign stop until he quits the race out of sheer embarrassment.

  • In other news: Rain causes wet streets, gravity makes things fall down, and minimum wage laws lower real earnings and decrease job opportunities for the working class.

  • Iowahawk is five years old, and if you follow the link, you'll find pointers to 25 of the best (or, as Dave puts it, "least-suck") articles from the past.

  • If you're looking for a gift for that Chosen Person, I have four words for you: No Limit Texas Dreidel. (Well, three more: via the Corner.)


Last Modified 2008-12-16 8:53 AM EST
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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-14

At Pun Salad Manor, a day without electricity is like a day without lights, heat, showers, laundry, decent food, clean dishes, Internet connectivity, and most forms of entertainment.

Other than that, though, it's fine.

I don't think I'm going insane, but I'm mighty irritable.

That's all for today, Saladeers. We now return you to your regularly scheduled shivering.


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Random Thoughts on the Passing Scene

  • Life is boring without electricity. I'm getting reminded of that today.

  • I hear this line all the time in TV shows and the occasional movie:
    "What are you doing here?"
    This strikes me as something you never hear in normal life, because it's kind of rude. But it must be in a screenwriters' manual somewhere as an all-purpose trick to advance the plot.

  • How many marriage proposals do you think the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, gets per week? I'm thinking it's gotta be dozens. At least.

  • I have no problem with people pronouncing "nuclear" as noo-kyoo-lur. But hearing "artic" or "antartica"—it's fingernails on the chalkboard.

  • Actually, I've never been that bothered by fingernails on the chalkboard either.

  • I wish we had more newspapers with Picayune in their names.

  • I've always been fond of Jefferson Starship's We Built This City on Rock and Roll. (Ah, here's the video. Knee deep in the hoopla, indeed.) Wikipedia has a good summary of why this shows my complete lack of musical taste.

  • Irony: Consumer Reports sends its subscribers piles of junk mail hawking add-on products: newsletters, website goodies, gift subscriptions. Without exception, they use cheesy marketing gimmicks ("NON-TRANSFERABLE. For Recipient Only", blares their latest envelope). Pretty much the same kind of tactics they deride in the magazine.


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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-10

  • You can check on how your Congresscritter voted on the auto bailout here. Democrats voted for it 205-20, Republicans against 150-32. Despite my urgent plea, Carol Shea-Porter voted for it, as did NH's other rep, Paul Hodes.

    Shea-Porter voted against the "Wall Street" bailout back in October. But she had an imminent election coming up then.

  • Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek has an op-ed in today's WSJ that explains why the vote was so awful. Here's a sample:
    A government bailout of the Big Three keeps huge amounts of productive inputs in firms that can't use them efficiently. Forcing taxpayers to subsidize the continued employment of gargantuan quantities of raw materials, labor and capital goods in unproductive pursuits is a recipe for economic stagnation. The popular and politically convenient myth has matters backwards: The bigger the unprofitable firm, the more vital it is that it be allowed to fail.
    … but if you need more convincing, read the whole thing.

  • Via Amy Kane's Atlantic Avenue, a post for the perpetually offended. Not that any Pun Salad readers fit in that category, but maybe you know someone…

  • Lots of male-female strife recorded in the Rochester (NH) Police Log:
    Wednesday, Nov. 26

    12:01 p.m. -- A woman harassed by her husband says he has been spitting on doors and door handles and blowing smoke at her, in apparent celebration of a lapsed restraining order. She calls again to say he has just thrown a lighted cigarette into the house before taking off in a truck.

    Thursday, Nov. 27

    4:08 p.m. -- A gentleman invites his ex for dinner, but now that the meal is over, she won't leave, and he wants her out.

    Saturday, Nov. 29

    4:21 p.m. -- On Lafayette Street, a woman who has just moved here, reports that the car lent to her by her grandmother, has been stolen. Her boyfriend is also missing, and she surmises that both items could be heading back to the Midwest.

    10:26 p.m. -- A gentleman, who is not supposed to be in a North Main Street apartment, has arrived, and a lady is apprehensive that he might "grab her leg or punch her in the head again." He holes up in the bathroom and police go to flush him out, but he slips away ere they arrive.


Last Modified 2013-04-22 12:52 PM EDT
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Annals of Poor Interface Design

Encountered while paying tuition bills from a University Near Here:

Bad Dialog

And, yes: you click "OK" to cancel, and "Cancel" to not cancel.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:21 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-10

  • Sean Higgins is talkin' 'bout my generation and its reaction to the notion of appointing Sweet Caroline Kennedy to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat.
    Dear 'Boomers,

    What the hell is it with you and the Kennedy clan? Why do you adore that family so? You have a devotion to them normally only seen in teenage girls for the boy band of the moment. For the love of God, why?

    Yeah, we suck. Sorry.

    We're also about to collect tons of your entitlement cash too. Again, sorry.

  • Iowahawk has screenshots of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's eBay offering. Warning: contains language of the sort Governor and Mrs. Blagojevich use.

  • Apparently Senate Republicans are trying to throw themselves in front of the oncoming locomotive that is the auto bailout. If it's not too late, e-write your state's Senators and your Congresscritter to let them know your thoughts. If you're stumped on the wording, I suggest this bit of eloquence from Tom Smith at the Right Coast:
    I am so with the Senate Republicans on this one. What is Bush thinking. This is just pure dumbness. Some things you think won't work. But this thing just can't work. An "auto czar"? Are you kidding? Who is this unknown genius who can pull industries out of the tank? What a man of mystery he must be, since with talent that that, he should be worth billions. Does he live in a Palace of Solitude somewhere? This $15 billion would be better spent giving it to some nunnery in France and asking them to pray 24/7 for a miracle.
    … or something like that.

  • Via Protein Wisdom, the periodic table of awesoments. This would go up on my cubicle, were it not for element Bb. That would get me shipped off to a mandatory sexual harassment sensitivity awareness workshop.

    Oh, wait, that's happening anyway.


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Hancock

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

Most of the time, I'm in general agreement with critical consensus. Hancock is a big exception; I liked it quite a bit, while IMDB users gave it a 6.6 (Get Smart got a 7.0), and Rotten Tomatoes scores it at 39%. (Get Smart: 53%)

The titular character is played by Will Smith: Hancock has superpowers, but as a superhero, he's lacking. He's an obnoxious drunk, and totally uncaring about the collateral damage to property and bystanders he causes during his clumsy efforts to do good deeds, thwart bad guys, and save people. He lives a lonely and miserable existence. In a running gag, most people call him "asshole" to his face.

But one day he saves the life of Ray (played by Jason Bateman), who is the most decent public relations guy imaginable, heavily into do-gooderism and an optimistic believer that he can turn Hancock's life around via tweaks to his appearance, attitude, and demeanor. Hancock also gets roped into Ray's family: his beautiful wife Mary (played by conveniently-beautiful Charlize Theron) and cute son Aaron.

There is a lot of humor in the movie, playing off Hancock's misanthropy and obliviousness, Ray's earnest PR-babble, and their mutual fumbling attempts at rehabilitation. (And there's a hilarious description of the origin of "Red", one of the villains.) This worked for me, but—see critical consensus—it doesn't for everyone, and may not for you.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:22 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-08

  • P. J. O'Rourke reports on Disneyland's House of the Future, past and present. Basically: in the past, the future was better. That's the way I see it too.

  • But there's trouble elsewhere in the park too…
    Disneyland management has fired four actors who portrayed swashbuckling pirate Jack Sparrow, but Disney officials deny charges that the pirates were replaced by Tinker Bell fairies, it was reported Saturday. One former cast member says Disney officials were worried that the swashbuckling actors were causing young female parkgoers to flash more than their riggings and yardarms late at night.
    (Via, of course, Dave Barry.)

  • Rich Lowry points out the free-lunch fallacy of "green jobs" as pushed by Obama and other powerful Democrats by citing an economic thinker we've been citing quite a bit ourselves:
    The "green" jobs enthusiasts are making a classic error illustrated by the 19th-century French economist Frédéric Bastiat. When a railroad was under construction from France to Spain, someone in Bordeaux suggested that there be a break in the tracks to boost the town's economy with all the extra work for porters to cart luggage between trains, etc. Bastiat pointed out that if breaks in the tracks were such an economic benefit, every town should have one and France should build a "negative railroad" consisting entirely of interruptions.
    Rich winds up with a point we've made a time or two as well:
    It's always a mistake to believe that government can "create" jobs. It only creates jobs by taking resources from the economy, and therefore destroying jobs out of sight. It should attempt to create a favorable business climate and leave the rest … to the market.

  • If you're a parent, or an ex-child, of the correct age, you'll recognize the literary work on which If You Give the Federal Government $700 Billion is based:
    If you give the federal government $700 billion, it will just ask for more.

    When you say you're not sure about more and ask what the money will be used for, the federal government will stamp its foot, tell you you're too dumb to figure it out, and then ask you for a handkerchief to cry in because it now hates you.

    The handkerchief will remind it of …

    It's a lot more credible than the last 300 Paul Krugman columns, so check it out.

  • Speaking of stupid ideas, here's one that I hadn't seen yet: resurrecting FDR's Federal Writers Project.

    Proposed by, guess what, a writer.

    Because there's just not enough unread writing around; it needs subsidy.


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Get Smart

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

It's not awful, and there are some laughs, but overall…eh.

It is, if you didn't know, a remake of the 40-year-old TV spy parody Get Smart, with Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart, Anne Hathaway as Agent 99. They work for the super-secret agency CONTROL; Alan Arkin plays their Chief. They're up against their nemesis agency KAOS, as usual, with Terence Stamp playing arch-villain Siegfried.

The movie ritually recycles many of the old show's gimmicks and catchphrases: "Sorry about that, Chief"; "Would you believe…"; the shoe phone; the Cone of Silence; and many, many more. The screenwriters appear to have been working off a checklist, which is fine, but makes the whole thing scream "this is a contrived remake made solely for crass commercial purposes" just a bit louder.

Anti-spoiler: Agent 99 makes numerous references to her mother, and the movie seems to be setting up for a Barbara Feldon cameo. (Ms. Feldon, youngsters, played the original 99, and she was awesome.) Doesn't happen, though. Instead we have to be satisfied with a brief appearance by Bernie Kopell, the original Siegfried. There are a couple other cameos as well, including Bill Murray, who should have been given something, well, funnier.

Consumer note: the DVD has a gimmick that allows you to view alternate line readings and deleted scenes within the movie itself. Don't bother; this makes the movie much longer without being any funnier.

What's next? The Man from U.N.C.L.E. movie? Or perhaps Gomer Pyle, USMC.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:22 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-07

  • Tom Smith at the Right Coast gets the coveted Pun Salad Read the Whole Thing Award for the day. Right here. Go.

  • At OpenMarket.org, Ryan Young tells a current events joke based on Obama's recently-annouced fiscal stimulus/jobs creation schemes:

    President-elect Obama has a plan to create 2.5 million jobs over the next two years.

    One of his ideas is to install energy-efficient light bulbs in federal office buildings.

    In other words, we're about to find out exactly how many federal employees it takes to screw in a light bulb.

    My guess: a lot.

    Heh. Mine too. Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen is less amused, but equally negative:

    When it comes to fiscal policy, many projects are not very good. Most projects take a long time to come on-line. The fiscal stimulus should, most of all, be directed at an effective marginal incentive scheme to keep up state and local spending. I am still enthusiastic about Obama's economic team, but I am starting to worry a little. How many of these expenditures actually help needy people? How many actually will help the economy? In fairness to Obama this was a radio address, and thus hardly the setting for meaty analysis, but still I am a little underwhelmed.

    I predict the underwhelming will continue, especially among those who expect government to do what it has never shown any particular skill at doing: restoring prosperity via taxation, spending, regulation, and subsidy.

  • I've loved The Who for (gulp!) slightly over forty years. The two surviving members are among the recipients of this year's Kennedy Center Honors in Washington tonight "for their lifetime contributions to American culture."

    Yeah, they're Brits. So?

    Anyway, the Washington Post has a big story on them today, interviewing Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, and Who fans will not want to miss it. There is nobody like Townshend for yammering on endlessly, being simultaneously funny, iconoclastic, pretentious, self-deprecating, interesting, and off-the-wall. Here he is, allegedly about Tommy:

    If it had a [expletive] ending it wouldn't work. This isn't [expletive] Don Giovanni. This is rock, this is about creating something that will last 1,000 years. This is poetry, this is high [expletive] art.

    "Oh, you're an artist now, are you? An artist, pretentious [anatomical reference]."

    The Mona Lisa isn't a great painting at all. It's just iconic. When we see the Mona Lisa, that's a picture you know, everybody knows. Why? Why do you think it is? Because we don't know what the [heck] it's about. We don't know who she is. We want to? We don't want to? Is it us? What is it about her? It's just a [expletive] face for [expletive's] sake. You know, most of us can't even get close enough to it to see the [expletive] brush work. It mustn't have a raison d'etre. Or its raison d'etre can't be something that can be defined on the spur of the moment.

    Compare and contrast Roger Daltrey, on The Who:

    Good band, in'nit? Pound for pound.

  • I never got around to figuring out my TV's V-chip, but I really like the public service ads for it. Here, via YouTube magic, is a collection of four of them, my two favorites at the beginning:

    In the PSA spirit, here's theTVboss.org.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:23 AM EDT
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UNC Scrooges It Up

Another setback in the War on Christmas:

For as long as anyone can remember, Christmas trees adorned with lights and ornaments have greeted holiday season visitors to [University of North Carolina] Chapel Hill's two main libraries.

Not this year.

The trees, which have stood in the lobby areas of Wilson and Davis libraries each December, were kept in storage this year at the behest of Sarah Michalak, the associate provost for university libraries.

Michalak's decision followed several years of queries and complaints from library employees and patrons bothered by the Christian display, Michalak said this week.

As symbols go, Christmas trees have about as much religious content as the Easter bunny. Associate Provost Michalak manages to outdo the ACLU, which has never (at least not yet) raised a stink about government sponsorship of holiday decorations, including Christmas trees in public locations.

In fact, here's a story from a couple years back where officials in Maui, under legal threat from the local ACLU, hastily erected a Christmas tree. Because—I am not making this up—they had a menorah on display. Explanation:

In its letter to the county sent Tuesday, the ACLU cited case law that found government displays of religious symbols on their own could be perceived as an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. But government displays that included secular holiday symbols, like Christmas trees, alongside religious symbols, did not endorse religion.
So it's not as if the library was an imminent lawsuit target. Instead, it appears that Associate Provost Michalak was most interested in promoting her own religion, brain-dead relativism:
Aside from the fact that a UNC Chapel Hill library is a public facility, Michalak said, libraries are places where information from all corners of the world and all belief systems is offered without judgment. Displaying one particular religion's symbols is antithetical to that philosophy, she said.

"We strive in our collection to have a wide variety of ideas," she said. "It doesn't seem right to celebrate one particular set of customs."

Indeed. For in this season of joy, peace, generosity, and love, it's just not fair that misery, hatred, selfishness and violence aren't given their fair share of the public discourse. You wouldn't want to foster the impression that the University is taking sides on something like that.

Over the next few weeks, I suppose Associate Provost Michalak and the (I suspect mostly imaginary) "employees and patrons" who complained will look at the bare empty spots where the Christmas trees used to stand and get a wee bit of black self-satisfaction. I caused that. Me. One suspects that removing a bit of beauty—even secular kitschy beauty—from the lives of others is as good as it gets for them.

To nobody's surprise, many, many more complaints about the trees' absence were generated as a result of the Michalakian action. As a result, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp issued a statement, which is good enough to quote in full:

I understand that the Library staff made the decision not to put up a Christmas tree this year after giving it a lot of thought. The university administration doesn't get involved in decisions like that. Departments can choose to put up a tree or not. And if you take a walk across campus, I think you'll see that. The facade of Memorial Hall, our major performing venue, is fully decorated for the holiday, and The Nutcracker is its major December attraction. Student Stores is like any retailer this time of year. They have a tree decorated with Carolina ornaments in the window and, in the store, there is a mantle decorated with Carolina stockings. The Student Activities Fund Office has a Christmas tree in its window. There's a big Christmas wreath with a Carolina-blue ribbon on it in the Student Union. Our own Carolina Inn is again featuring its Twelve Days of Christmas displays throughout the hotel. And just as we have for the last 59 years, our Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is featuring The Star of Bethlehem.

So Christmas is recognized on this campus.

Thanks for your interest in Carolina, and have a joyous Christmas season.

Holden Thorp

If I may paraphrase Chancellor Thorp: pay no attention to the crazy lady in the library.

I particularly like how Thorp refers to an Associate Provost as "Library staff". In Academia, that's major disrespect.


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Car Wars IV: A New Hope

This is some rescue. When you came in here, didn't you have a plan for getting out?

I was struck by this paragraph in today's Washington Post story about the current status of the automaker bailout:

The sums being discussed by lawmakers and the White House fall well short of the automakers' request. Democratic aides said they are talking about providing $15 billion to $17 billion, which would be expected to see GM and Chrysler through the end of March, when president-elect Barack Obama would be in position to take over long-term plans for returning the industry to profitability.
This is our most desperate hour. Help us, Obami-Wan; you're our only hope.

Because, thank goodness, Obama has shown great aptitude in the past in returning giant industries to profitability.

Oh, wait…

I find your lack of faith disturbing.

The Big Three have been in decline for decades. The only question is whether they're going to burn up billions more in taxpayer money on their way out.

It's not as if America doesn't know how to build stuff. Here's Joel Kotkin at Forbes:

Indeed, until the globalization of the financial crisis, American manufacturing exports were reaching record levels. Overall, U.S. industry has become among the most productive in the world--output has doubled over the past 25 years, and productivity has grown at a rate twice that of the rest of the economy. Far from dead, our manufacturing sector is the world's largest, with 5% of the world's population producing five times their share in industrial goods.
We could have a healthy manufacturing sector, including automobile manufacturing, but propping up mismanaged firms makes that less likely. Here's the WSJ, speaking sense to all that will hear:
The car makers' request for a bridge loan, by contrast, looks like a $34 billion bridge to nowhere. It has already morphed into an opportunity for political extortion -- and we don't even have a bill yet. When, in a couple years, costs have not come down as expected because of political pressure to keep the unions happy and the green cars aren't selling -- because they were designed in Washington, not for consumers -- the companies will be back for more money.
Back to Capitol Hill, in their hybrid landspeeders! You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.

As the WSJ points out, the incentives are all wrong. You can't serve two masters: the more automakers need to keep the President and Congress happy, the less likely they will be to keep customers happy, by making cars at a profit that people actually want to buy.

And on the flip side, government won't want its blank checks to go for naught. So "it will only be a short step for Congress to begin to coerce consumers to buy the cars that Washington prefers."

I have a very bad feeling about this.

[Quotes, some lightly-altered, from IMDB.]


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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-05

  • My inner-nine-year-old joke of the day: instead of the "Employee Free Choice Act" (EFCA), they should call it the "Free Employee Choice Annihilation Law" (FECAL).

    Heh, I crack me up.

  • Frank J. lightly fictionalizes Obama's introduction of his national security team. Excerpt:
    "Moving on," Obama said, "My choice for Secretary of Homeland Security is Janet Napolitano. She lived in a border state."

    "So what are your qualifications to secure the United States?" a reporter asked Napolitano.

    "I can see Mexico from my house!" Napolitano answered.

    Saturday Night Live should hire Frank J.

  • A rough Saturday, as reported in this week's Rochester (NH) Police Log:
    Saturday, Nov. 22

    3:00 a.m. -- On Maple Street, someone has thrown a bottle with something in it (probably not a ship) at a car.

    8:10 a.m. -- A fat old woman is seen kicking a dog on Portland Street.

    8:54 a.m. -- A bike is found in a Lafayette Street back yard.

    1:10 p.m. -- At the station a man reports his bike was stolen from Signal Street this morning. Hmm.

    2:38 p.m. -- On Brock Street an aquarium, appears to hold a snake; police say it's not there-ium, it could be a mistake.

    6:55 p.m. -- Missing from Academy Street is a black, longhair cat with a white strip, giving the appearance of a skunk. As an extra drawback, it is deaf.

    10:22 p.m. -- There is a fight outside Gary's Sports Bar over "a Mountain Men issue." No one is willing to talk.

    10:42 p.m. -- Eight boulders crash into a house on Wallace Street.

    For a bonus, there's this bit of observation relating to New Hampshire's general lack of diversity:
    Sunday, Nov. 23

    3:55 a.m. -- At Cumberland Farms on Knight Street, three men, described as white and intoxicated (which rules out hardly any person still afoot) steal wood from the front of the store.


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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-04

  • They told me if I voted for John McCain, we'd have troops stuck in Iraq for an indefinite period, maybe a hundred years.

    Well, I didn't vote for McCain, but still

    [The Iraq] status-of-forces agreement remains subject to change, by mutual agreement, and Army planners acknowledge privately that they are examining projections that could see the number of Americans hovering between 30,000 and 50,000 -- and some say as high as 70,000 -- for a substantial time even beyond 2011.

  • For fans of The Hunt for Red October: the USS Dallas, in its non-fictional incarnation, arrived at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard yesterday, escorted by a seal pup, for routine maintenance and upgrades.

  • I don't know much about architecture, but I know what I hate: Brutalism, exemplified by the painful Boston City Hall. Yet some people take it seriously. A recent Slate article asks if the reputation of the leading Brutalist architect can be rescued. Lord, I hope not.

    (We previously blogged about how the District of Columbia was preventing a hideous, dysfunctional church from being torn down because it was a sterling example of Brutalism. Yeesh!)

  • In our occasional Aieee! We're all gonna die! category: Cracked presents "5 Cosmic Events That Could Kill You Before Lunch". As usual with Cracked, actual science-based reporting is salted heavily with R-rated language and general hilarity.


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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-03

  • At Cafe Hayek, Russell Roberts looks at a news story ("supposed to be serious", as he puts it) that describes various government functionaries reviewing the "plan" put forth by the Big Three automotive companies pleading for money. His comment is right on:
    Why don't the Big Three save the money it takes to put together Congressional testimony and the time it takes for the people in charge to make the trip. Why don't they just take out ads in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times outlining what they're going to do with the money. Then they can try this really novel idea. They can sell bonds and borrow the money. If the plans look good, people might lend them the money. If the plans are lousy, they won't get the money.
    If you need help answering those questions, click over to see Russ's take. Or even if you don't.

  • Confederate Yankee notes a Thomas Friedman column which examines President Obama's likely course in Iraq. The column contains the following paragraph:
    If he can pull this [successful outcome] off, and help that decent Iraq take root, Obama and the Democrats could not only end the Iraq war but salvage something positive from it. Nothing would do more to enhance the Democratic Party's national security credentials than that.
    CY does a quick reality check:
    House and Senate Democrats, including President Elect Barack Obama, did everything in their power to lose the Iraq War, and deserve no credit for any success.
    Indeed. If the Democrats are looking for enhanced "national security credentials"—awarded by someone less credulous than a New York Times columnist, anyway—they'll have to try some other path.

  • Earth Times weeps bitter tears over the apparent demise of yet another Obama campaign pledge:
    While on the campaign trail, Obama made provocative statements regarding the cost of energy and its respective negative impact on American families. On May 6, 2008, Obama stated, "It isn't right that oil companies are making record profits at a time when ordinary Americans are going into debt trying to pay rising energy costs. That's why we'll put a windfall profits tax on oil companies and use it to help Indiana families pay their heating and cooling bills and reduce energy costs."
    But now… um, never mind about that. I'm in agreement with Ron Bailey at Reason, from whence the link: "Hooray for economic sanity." And it's always fun to see irate leftists. They're cute.

  • Just possibly the best Slashdot headline ever: Alien Comet May Have Infiltrated the Solar System.


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The Great Debaters

[Amazon Link]

[3.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

A "based on a true story" movie, produced by Oprah Winfrey, directed by Denzel Washington, starring Washington and Forest Whitaker.

Set in the 1930s, It's about the debate team at tiny historically black Wiley College in Marshall Texas. Denzel plays the coach, faculty member Melvin B. Tolson. His team is exceptionally sharp, but has many obstacles in its way: primarily, a legal system that denies black people equal protection of the laws. But the team members are also experiencing the usual college-student turmoil with sex, drugs (hooch, in this case), and rock and roll (1930s blues, in this case).

It's good, important, uplifting, etc. Washington and Whitaker give their usual great performances. But it's on the long side, and, even though the sport is debate, the normal sports-movie clichés are not avoided, just transplanted.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:23 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2008-12-02

  • Since I like both movies and computers, this NYT article was pretty interesting. It's about Netflix's contest to improve their "recommendation engine", the software that analyzes the ratings Netflix customers give to movies, and tries to predict accurately what unseen movies they'd like. The prize for a 10% improvement is a cool $1 million; as you can tell by that fact alone, it's a very tough problem.

    "Quirky" movies are especially hard. For example, even given a lot of data about a customer's past preferences, it's very tough to predict whether they will like Napoleon Dynamite. (Via GeekPress.)

  • The University Diarist marks up a recent student newspaper article about classroom laptop use at a University Near Here. It's not pretty.

  • Here's a sentence I wish I'd written:
    If I could change one thing about myself it's the way I'm the embodiment of all that is wrong with America and the human species more broadly.


Last Modified 2008-12-03 7:50 AM EST
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Kung Fu Panda

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

This is a pretty good Dreamworks animation release, aimed at kids who can stand PG levels of (as the MPAA puts it) "sequences of martial arts action" and (as Pun Salad puts it) a "pretty scary bad guy." Dreamworks animation is clocking in at about 0.85 Pixars, and that's pretty good. It's sweet, funny, and adult-watchable.

The story: Po, a panda who kind of sounds like Jack Black, is obsessed with Kung Fu, though he is but a lowly assistant in his father's noodle shop. But one day, through a series of bumbling pratfalls, he finds himself anointed as the prospective "Dragon Warrior", destined to save his homeland from the evil Tai Lung. Everyone greets this with extreme skepticism, including his reluctant master (a red panda who sounds just like Dustin Hoffman), and the "Furious Five", a group of warriors (Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Viper, and Crane) idolized by Po.

And Jackie Chan is in it, voicing Monkey. His performance is, as always, Oscar-worthy, even if there isn't exactly a category for it. ("And the winner for 'Best Jackie Chan-like supporting performance in an animated feature' is… Jackie Chan!")

One drawback: if you're like me, you will be unable to get the song "Kung Fu Fighting" out of your head for a couple of days.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 8:24 AM EDT
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