Blogiversary IV:

[Cathy
Poulin] It's been four years since our first post. It's a chance to thank you for reading, and thanks to the folks who link to our content. And also thanks to our official, and still totally uncompensated, mascot, Ms. Cathy Poulin. She's cut down her appearances in the Bob's Discount Furniture TV commercials, but she's still doing good work.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:58 PM EDT

Pun Salad Makes Wikipedia; More Perl Geekiness

Not that I sit up nights and ponder my referrer logs, but I noticed an odd one today: the Wikipedia entry for songwriter P. F. Sloan. And sure enough:

Well, … sometimes. If you keep an eye on the subtitle under "Pun Salad" at the top of the page, you'll notice it changes from time to time. Specifically: the subtitle on the primary page at punsalad.com changes whenever the page changes; clicking permalinks or archive links generate pages on the fly, and they get a random subtitle.

The subtitle is picked via a standard Perl idiom that chooses a random line from a text file (here called subheads):

    open( F, "<subheads" ) || die "Can't open subheads: $!\n";
    while (<F>) {
	rand($.) < 1 && chomp( $subhead = $_ );
    }
    close(F);
After that bit of code, the $subhead variable contains the chosen random line.

There are (as I type) currently 46 possible subtitles, so you have about a 2% chance (1/46) of seeing the one referred to by Wikipedia:

… has been seeking P. F. Sloan, but no one knows where he has gone.

This is a reference to an old Jimmy Webb song, described in the Wikipedia article as a "catchy, bittersweet composition, which seems to be about the costs and disappointments of being a creative groundbreaker." Yeah, I guess; I just like the song (you can probably give it a listen here). Wikipedia also describes some weirdness associated with it:

While Sloan helped Webb get started on his career, it was because of a personal dispute with him that Webb denied the existence of "P.F. Sloan" when asked about the song's title character during an article interview, saying that he had made the name up. Ironically, this led Eugene Landy, the controversial psychologist, to lay claim to being the real P.F. Sloan when he was asked by reporters why he considered himself able to direct Beach Boys lead singer Brian Wilson's musical career. Landy claimed to have written the songs attributed to "P.F. Sloan", and this soon led to his losing his license.

P. F. Sloan wrote some pretty decent songs, but he also wrote "Eve of Destruction", a three minute and thirty-eight second demonstration of how stupidly self-righteous the 1960s were.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:57 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-02-26

  • To demonstrate the sad state of the Republican Party in my neck of the woods: the sole candidate the GOP put up to run for the NH House in my district (Strafford County 02) last year was Timothy Logsdon. He was even endorsed by the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance. And he was, of course, soundly defeated.

    He was, for a time, Vice-Chairman of the Strafford County Republican Committee. He even has an (inactive) blog, defenderofliberty.blogspot.com. So, what's not to like? Well…

    Now he's been indicted on two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault involving a minor. (The victim, reports our paper, "is now 5 years old.")

    As our local newspaper diligently adds to the end of every such report: "An indictment is not an indication of guilt, rather it means there is enough evidence to warrant a trial." Still, I'd suggest the Strafford County Republicans try to find a better sacrifical lamb in 2010.

  • In other news, the University Near Here advertises (PDF) (what seems like) the 437th annual performance of "The Vagina Monologues". The short poster contains (hopefully intentional) hilarity:

    The Vaginas are coming…

    Eek! Don't like that mental image.

    There's also earnestness:

    For your mother, your sister, your girlfriend, yourself

    Missing from the list: wife. Sorry, honey.

    But this bit was interesting too:

    All proceeds go towards ending violence

    Not just reducing violence, mind you. Ending it.

    So good news, everyone: later next month, no more violence. Because you went to see "The Vagina Monologues". Who knew it was so easy?

    I have a hard time even imagining the thought processes of people who write such stuff.

  • One more note on President Obama's not-the-State-of-the-Union speech from Drew Cline, who finds Obama to have a problem with the truth, especially his disclaimer that he doesn't "believe in bigger government":

    Can anyone possibly believe that? Can anyone believe that not borrowing several trillion dollars would make the federal deficit bigger than borrowing several trillion dollars would? To believe that, you have to believe that the federal government's revenues can be adjusted up or down but federal government spending can go only up, never down. You also have to believe that the only possible way to improve the economy is for the federal government to borrow several trillion dollars and allocate it in exactly the way President Obama and Congress want to allocate it.

    Drew doesn't buy it; neither do I.

  • Speaking of Drew Cline: I recently won one of his trivia contests, and scored a copy of Free Markets under Siege by Richard A. Epstein. (I happened to know the first name of our almost-Senator J. Bonnie Newman.) Thanks be to Drew.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:01 PM EDT

The Obligatory Obama Speech Post

At the American Spectator blog, Philip Klein has a pretty good summary of President Obama's speech to Congress:

He says we'll all have to give up some of our priorities even while outlining the most expansive domestic agenda in decades. He says he doesn't believe in bigger government, but vows to pump more money into banks, bail out homeowners, set up a fund to provide auto loans, and spend billions more on education and energy. He creates the illusion of being a sober and realistic leader who understands that we face some hard choices and tradeoffs while he declares that the way to reduce the growth of government spending on health care is to have the government spend more money on health care.
Also: we're going to have "investors" return to the market, but "speculators" will be left in the cold. He'll "help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values", but not "that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford". Thumbs up for "small business", thumbs down to "Wall Street exectutives" and "CEOs", at least those who might want "fancy drapes" or to "disappear on a private jet." And two thumbs down for "corporations that ship our jobs overseas." (Yes, he used that tired trope twice.)

At Reason, Matt Welch notes amazing Barackrobatics:

"But I also know," President Barack Obama said last night, in his typically self-referential fashion, "that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job--our job--is to solve the problem. Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility."

It was a pleasingly presidential sentiment for a subdued, not-quite-a-State-of-the-Union speech. Unfortunately for Obama--and us--it was also contradicted, and blatantly so, not four paragraphs prior, by a guy named Barack Obama. "This time," the president warned us the minute before, while giving that stern schoolmaster look of his, "CEOs won't be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over!" Democrats leaped to their feet.

Or: Inciting politically-convenient anger is wrong. Unless I'm doing it.

The Associated Press provides a pretty good fact check on the speech. They, like many of us, are pretty sick of the Obama claim (made ad nauseum) that his "plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs." Although their language is diplomatic:

[I]t's unlikely the nation will ever know how many jobs are saved as a result of the stimulus. While it's clear when jobs are abolished, there's no economic gauge that tracks job preservation. The estimates are based on economic assumptions of how many jobs would be lost without the stimulus.
In short, Obama is bullshitting us, and it doesn't get any truer with repetition.

Can he fool enough people with this soaring rhetorical nonsense? I'm thinking: probably!


Last Modified 2009-02-28 6:49 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2009-02-24

  • I love it when people use movie metaphors to make a point. Nick Gillespie of Reason takes off on the news that President Obama has tasked his Vice President to "oversee implementation" of the "stimulus" package.
    The idea of Joe Biden--the feller who created the position of the drug czar; plagiarized from Robert Kennedy and British pol Neil Kinnock; called Barack Obama "clean" and "articulate" the day he announced he (Biden) was running for president; voted in favor of both Gulf Wars; and more and more--being in charge of anything other than a card game on the Acela club car is pretty disturbing. To have overseeing the implementation of nearly $800 billion in government loot boggles the mind. It's like Jimmy Stewart turning over his bank's money to Uncle Billy for safekeeping in It's a Wonderful Life.

  • In other economic news, Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution notes an NYT story:
    Helicopter Plan Is Excessive, Obama and McCain Agree
    Alex makes the obscure joke that this means
    … they will not be trying one of Milton Friedman's more radical ideas.
    Hah! Alex doesn't explain the joke, but you can dig it out of Wikipedia.

    The NYT article is actually about the cost to replace the "Marine One" helicopter fleet that shuttles the President around: current estimates are in the please-be-sure-you're-sitting-down $11 billion range.

    To put that number in perspective: according to Wikipedia, Israel's entire yearly defense budget is around $13.3 billion.

  • As I occasionally mention, my day job is as a semi-competent computer system administrator, or as we like to say, a sysadmin. So when I see a "Sysadmins Gone Wild" link, it's a must-click.

    Unfortunately, the only picture is of Milton from Office Space. Who was not a sysadmin. Still, good article, for those of us who occasionaly have unprofessional fantasies of wreaking havoc on an abusive institution. (Via both BBSpot and GeekPress)

URLs du Jour

2009-02-23

  • I suppose it was only a matter of time, but congressional Republicans, tired of Democrats having a monopoly on stupid proposals so far this year, decided to come up with one of their own:
    Republican politicians on Thursday called for a sweeping new federal law that would require all Internet providers and operators of millions of Wi-Fi access points, even hotels, local coffee shops, and home users, to keep records about users for two years to aid police investigations.
    At the Technology Liberation Front, Adam Thierer has a link-filled article demonstrating why such proposals are invasive, abusive, and ineffective in fighting the ostensible target, child pornographers.

  • Cracked has a funny take on 5 Ways People Are Trying to Save the World (That Don't Work). My only regret is they stopped at five. The language is soft-R. I laughed at this one, which is part of their look at antibacterial soap:
    Nature is a funny thing. Not "knock-knock joke" funny, but "horrifying death preceded by agonizing suffering" funny. The thing about biology is that while it is really easy to kill a lot of something, it's a lot harder to kill all of something. And the survivors tend to be a lot tougher and pissed off.
    Cracked also liveblogged the Oscars:
    They had Daniel Craig presenting with Sarah Jessica Parker? That's a little bit of a lopsided duo. You have James Bond up there looking like he's made out of tuxedos and tans, and then there's Parker who looks like somebody microwaved Barbara Streisand.
    The power went out at Pun Salad Manor somewhere between Best Director and Best Actress. Nature is a funny thing.

Killing Floor

[Amazon Link]

Starting off reading a new series: the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child. This one came out in 1997; number 13 is due out in April. So it's a franchise.

Jack is an ex-military policeman, tired of bouncing around the world from one army base to the next. So he's drifting aimlessly through America, taking in the sights he's heard about throughout his life. One day he winds up in sleepy Margrave, Georgia, a town notable for its impeccably-maintained parks, homes, and businesses; he's heard a rumor that an old blues singer, "Blind Blake" had roots there. But Jack's only there briefly before he gets arrested for a shocking, brutal homicide. The rest of the book concerns his efforts to clear his name and bring the real killers to justice.

It's kind of a contradiction: a page turner with a lot of pages: more than 400 in the edition I read, medium-size type, and narrow margins. It's first-person narration, and Reacher keeps up a running inner monologue that makes Travis McGee, the original one-man bull session, look like Calvin Coolidge. (Sometimes repetitive. On page 381, Reacher observes, "Shotguns and children don't mix." A decent bit of tough-guy observation. He thinks it's swell enough so that, nine pages later, he trots it out again: "Children and shotguns don't mix." We got it the first time, Jack.)

Reacher is schooled in the lethal arts, wise to the ways of bad guys, and is not reluctant to blow them away unmercifully. As he unravels the mystery behind the killing, there's lots and lots of imaginative mayhem committed by both good guys and bad. The body count is high, and property damage is immense.

The plot also hinges on a massive unexplained coincidence, which I won't spoil, but I couldn't swallow.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:56 PM EDT

Babylon A. D.

[Amazon Link]

[2.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

Well, I have a good excuse: it had Michelle Yeoh in it. She's awesome.

Vin Diesel plays Toorop; as the movie opens, he's barely surviving in a bleakly anarchic future Kazakhstan. But he's a man with a past, and one of his old employers (Gérard Depardieu, unrecognizable) is some sort of Kazakh gangster/warloard. Toorop is coerced into escorting a mysterious teenage girl and her nun handler (that's Ms. Yeoh) from a "Noelite" monastery through Siberia, across the Bering Strait, through North America, and into New York. There's a lot of shooting, kicking, explosions, and the like on the way.

I found myself liking the very beginning of this movie, as the grime and grittiness of the Kazakh dystopia was deftly pictured, and Vin Diesel was his usual hard-boiled self. But somewhere during the first hour, I think the filmmakers ran out of money, and the script kind of ran out of sense. So things got stupider, more pretentious, and much less interesting. So, fail.

Charlotte Rampling makes a late appearance as high priestess of the Noelite sect. I'm old enough to remember when Charlotte Rampling's looks were striking enough to be considered sexy. Now she's just really, really, scary looking.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:56 PM EDT

Perl Date Geekery

Last August, Pun Salad moved from its UNH host (specifically, the workstation under my desk) to Arias Web Hosting. They've been great, and if you're looking for a provider that allows you a decent amount of control over your site, I can recommend them.

However, the server is (apparently) located out there in the great US/Central time zone. (At least that's what the shell command date +%Z claims.) And so the timestamps at the bottom of each post dutifully reported US/Central time.

But Pun Salad's heart and soul (and, arguably, brain) is almost always zoned on US/Eastern time. So the discrepancy has been something I've been meaning to fix.

The first whack was pretty easy. The script that generates Pun Salad is written in Perl, and Pun Salad's host is running Linux. And (it turns out) in that environment, you can tell Perl to imagine it's in a different time zone by setting the TZ environment variable at the top of your script:

    $ENV{'TZ'} = ':/usr/share/zoneinfo/US/Eastern';
Hey, that worked great!

But, there was still a minor problem, one which Pun Salad has had since its inception: the timestamps would show up as EST or EDT (or CST/CDT) depending on when you looked at them. (Specifically: when the script generating the page was run.)

Irritating! If I posted an article at 6pm EDT on July 15, it should always show up as being posted at 6pm EDT, even when viewed in EST-February.

This turned out to be surprisingly difficult using my Perl date manipulation package of choice, Date::Manip. Ordinarily, this package is awesome. And (to the author's great credit), the problem shows up prominently in the documentation, under "Known Bugs": "Date::Manip does not handle daylight saving time." Rats!

Fortunately, this is fixable using the standard Perl localtime and POSIX::strftime routines. Roughly, I replaced Date::Manip code that looked like:

    use Date::Manip;
    ...
    # given Linux timestamp $ts, generate human-readable date/time
    $date = UnixDate(ParseDate("epoch $ts"), "%Y-%m-%d %i:%M %p %Z");
with something like this:
    use POSIX qw/strftime/;
    ...
    # given Linux timestamp $ts, generate human-readable date/time
    $date = strftime("%Y-%m-%d %-I:%M %p %Z", localtime($ts));
Ahhhh, that's better. If you want to check out what I said last June on the hysteria about "speculators", you'll note that it was posted and modified on Eastern Daylight Time, which it was.

Now if only I could get decent Google ads. As I type, due to my stimulus-bashing over the past few weeks, they are titled "Obama Is Giving You Money", "$37,383 Stimulus Checks", "Your Stimulus Check", and "Free Stimulus Grants Kit". Google not only hates America, they also think you're pretty stupid. (But feel free to click away, if you'd like to be amused or disgusted, at the same time sending a few pennies this way.)


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:55 PM EDT

Metaphor Alert. Also, Gratuitious Python Parallel

From last week:

"I'd be surprised if a Congress still reeling from sticker shock in terms of the stimulus and the financial rescue are willing to pony up for a full-bore reform of the health system."
That's a quote from William Galston of the Brookings Institution, formerly a Clinton aide. Another non-metaphoric quote from Galston earlier in the same paragraph:
"The president hasn't done as good a job of preparing the nation for the tradeoffs necessary to reconcile the hope agenda with the fear agenda."
Unfortunately, I can well imagine senior White House strategists thinking in just those terms:
[Oval Office door flies open. David Axelrod bursts in.] "Nobody expects the Obama Administration! Our chief tool is hope … hope and fear … fear and hope … Our two tools are fear and hope, … and rhetorical obfuscation … Our three tools are fear, hope, rhetorical obfuscation … and mindless faith in the State… Our four … no … Amongst our tools… Amongst our methodologies … are such elements as fear, hope… I'll come in again."
I hope that's not accurate, but I fear it is.

URLs du Jour

2009-02-20

  • This being Pun Salad, we need to link to a USA Today story headlined: "Girl Scout cookie sales crumbling"

    Compounding the felony, the lead paragraph:

    Sales are a little thin for mint and other Girl Scout cookies so far this year.

  • The Cato@Liberty blog has been on a roll recently, albeit a roll that might incite you to either anger or depression. Over the past day or two, you could have read about:

    • The sleight-of-hand used by state spending advocates to demonstrate a "crisis" that will probably be resolved by (guess what?) tax hikes.

    • An analysis of the health care part of the stimulus package, showing that about $200 billion will either be wasteful on a cost-benefit basis, or discourage job creation and depress wages.

    • A selection of horror stories showing how the Housing and Urban Development department has wasted your money in the past. And since the stimulus package drops even more money on them, the horror is dead certain to continue.

    • A report that New York City wants to spend $45 million to retrain laid-off …

      Who would you guess? People living paycheck-to-paycheck? Janitorial staff? Fast-food workers? Cashiers at big-box stores?

      Nope. Wall Street financiers.

    And much more. Cato@Liberty is a great blog.

  • But I haven't seen Cato report on this: Obama Stimulus Saves Microsoft Billionaire Hundreds Of Millions.
    Billionaire Paul Allen is a Microsoft cofounder, the owner of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks and the owner of the NBA's Portland Trailblazers.

    And, thanks to the stimulus bill President Obama signed this week, he's also about to be as much as a billion dollars richer.

    I'm not a fan of populist class-warfare resentment, but … sheesh.

  • There really may be a website for everything. Because today I saw Headset Hotties.

URLs du Jour

2009-02-19

  • The NH House passed HB383 yesterday, which would make seat belt use mandatory for adults, and also (unlike many states) allow police to ticket you for that infraction alone.

    There's still hope to avoid this bit of nanny-statism: The House also passed a mandatory bill back in 2007, but it died on the Senate side. We'll see what happens this time.

    My own reps (Strafford district 2, all Democrats) voted 4-1 in favor, and I was expecting 5-0. (So good for you, Dale Sprague.)

    Skip at Granite Grok points out the bill would have been defeated if it were not for Republican 'Yea' votes. (Skip counts 25, I count 26, with another 25 GOPites not voting. Jerks.)

  • Videogum hunts for the worst movie of all time, with hilarious descriptions. I had, basically, one of four reactions in each case:

    • "Woo! Glad I missed that one." (Example: S1mone.)
    • "Yeah, that was awful." (Example: Across the Universe.)
    • "Yeah, I probably shouldn't have liked that one as much as I did." (Example: A. I.)
    • "Hey, it wasn't that bad." (Example: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.)

    Whether you agree or not, it's pretty funny. (Via the Corner.)

  • Treacher enumerates the top 10 reasons President Obama is nothing like Travis the Chimp.

  • Best blog title I saw today: This is the way the world ends. Not with a whimper but a bang. And Tom Hanks.

Pineapple Express

[Amazon Link]

[4.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

Disclaimer: this movie deals jocularly with a number of behaviors of which most decent people disapprove: copious amounts of marijuana use, selling and distribution of same, age-inappropriate romance. There is also considerable bad language (including a large number of what the MPAA delicately calls "sexual references"). And piles of violence.

If you can get past all that, this is really a very funny movie.

Seth Rogan plays Dale Denton, content with his process-server job, since it allows him to be half-to-fully baked most of the time. He also gets along well with his amiable dealer, Saul, played by James Franco. But one night Dale has the misfortune to witness a murder committed by Ted Jones (the great Gary Cole), on whom he was about to drop a subpoena. By coincidence, Ted also is the leading pot distributor in the area, and he's at war with a bunch of Chinese thugs trying to move in on his territory, he employs a couple hit men of marginal competence, he's in league with a deadly lady cop, and he wants Dale and Saul dead. Enough plot to fill up a movie? Sure.

Basically, the movie gets every possible gag out of Dale and Saul's pot-fueled stupidity and paranoia. There are a host of supporting actors, including Danny McBride, and they are all, also, extremely funny.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:55 PM EDT

We Aren't Cowards, We're Just Tired of Getting Sucked Into Your Stupid Game

Some Pun Salad readers may avoid the more lurid mainstream news outlets (i.e., most of them) and not have heard about the pet chimp in Stamford, Connecticut who (after years of sweet behavior) attacked a woman, and was eventually shot by the cops. If you want, there's a news story about it here.

So anyway: the NY Post carried the following cartoon today (click for a bigger version if you'd like):

[Dead Chimp Stimulus]

This came to my attention via the Huffington Post. And… guess what their take is?

A cartoon likening the author of the stimulus bill, perhaps President Barack Obama, with a rabid chimpanzee graced the pages of the New York Post on Wednesday.

Excuse me,…what?

The drawing, from famed cartoonist Sean Delonas, is rife with violent imagery and racial undertones. […]

Racial undertones? Really?

Well, of course, if that's the way your mind works.

And Al Sharpton also weighs in:

The cartoon in today's New York Post is troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys.[…]

Oh. My. God.

Now, to be fair, the HuffPo writer does manage to drop a hint that he's not totally oblivious to reality:

At its most benign, the cartoon suggests that the stimulus bill was so bad, monkeys may as well have written it.

Geez, ya think!?

Except that for "At its most benign", I would have substituted: "It is obvious to less race-obsessed people that"

To its credit, the Po also links to a Post statement about this phony controversy:

The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington's efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist.

In other news, water still wet.

I read this after reading a different story. Attorney General Eric Holder's speech to Justice Department staff was widely quoted:

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.

Well, that's attention-getting. None of that "land of the free, home of the brave" BS for AG Holder!

What does he mean?

Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race.

Oh, that.

When did we last get lectured that we "don't talk enough" about racial issues? Oh yeah, last March, when candidate Obama gave his "race speech" in Philadelphia, bemoaning "the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through". I wrote a long-winded post at the time, which (I think) still holds up pretty well. But if you want the five-cent summary, it's this quote from Jonah Goldberg:

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

True then, and as Sharpton and the HuffPo writer demonstrate, still true today.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:55 PM EDT

Journey to the Center of the Earth

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

Watching a 2-D version of an originally-3-D movie can work, if you watch for the 3-D gags and use a little imagination. When the yo-yo gets thrust at the camera, duck out of the way! It's fun!

Brendan Fraser plays Trevor, a university geology prof. He's disrespected by his department chair (SNL's Seth Myers). He's troubled by the years-ago disappearance of his brother. And his sister-in-law has just dropped off his nephew, a resentful 14-year-old; she's also dropped off a box full of his brother's belongings.

Will that box contain a clue to fate of Trevor's brother, and lead to a fantastic danger-filled voyage to … you know where? Good guess. Accompanying Trevor and the kid is Icelandic Hannah Ásgeirsson, guide to the scenic volcanoes that now and then open up to send unwary travellers to a place where the sun don't shine.

This is a movie aimed squarely at the PG set, but it's fun for adults in the right mood as well. The 3-D stuff is played for shock and laughs. A sour note (which I won't spoil) is totally out of whack with everything else in the flick; wish they'd figured out some other way to handle that plot point.

An entertaining extra on the DVD is a small documentary on believers in various "Hollow Earth" theories. This included Edmond Halley, of cometary fame. I did not know that!


Last Modified 2014-11-30 2:13 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2009-02-17

  • Today's moan-inducing pap comes from WaPo op-ed coumnist Eugene Robinson fawning over Barack Obama: "President of Everything". He's done so much so far! But so much left to do!
    All Barack Obama wanted was to be president. He may have to become an auto executive, a banker, a mortgage broker and who knows what else before this crisis is done.
    A more thoughtful person (i.e., not Eugene Robinson) might note that Obama's qualifications for the presidency were, at best, marginal. His qualifications to be "auto executive, a banker, a mortgage broker and who knows what else" are non-existent.

  • Back on Febrary 10 I put up what, as far as I knew, was a quote from Arnold Kling on the stimulus, which he delivered at a Heritage Foundation gathering:
    I think about the stimulus as an economist but I feel it as a father. Barack Obama is destroying my daughters' future. It is like sitting there watching my house ransacked by a gang of thugs. That's how I feel, now back to how I think.
    I didn't see anything wrong with that. But some saw the word "thugs", and (apparently) made a leap that Kling was race-baiting.

    Because, y'know, some people automatically assume thugs to be of the African-American persuasion. And those people projected their racist assumptions onto Kling. A cheap way to bemoan the "ugliness" of the debate, without needing to deal with Kling's actual criticism.

    The Heritage Foundation has provided Kling's accurate quote, with additional context:

    I think about what's going on as an economist but I feel it as a father. My wife and I have three daughters between the ages of 19 and 25. And when I see what's being done to their future I'm really angry. Back in September when they were talking about taking $700 billion dollars to unclog the financial system I wanted to yank Henry Paulson out of the TV screen and say to him: "Keep your hands off my daughter's future." But he got away with it. For me it felt like sitting there watching my home being ransacked by a gang of thugs. And now we've got a new gang of thugs and they are doing the same thing. So that's how I feel, now back to how I think.
    Clear enough? Anybody out there confused about the color of Henry Paulson's skin?

  • I finally got around to noticing this AP article about seat belt laws. The controversy is whether to enact "primary" seat belt laws, enabling the police to pull you over and ticket you solely for your lack of buckleduppedness. The Feds want this to happen, and money is involved. The article's primary focus is on Ohio:
    … which would get $26.8 million if it changes its law. Currently, officers in the state must first have some other reason to stop drivers over before issuing seat-belt citations.
    Woo! $26.8 million is a chunk. But later in the article:
    Ohio faces a $7.3 billion projected budget deficit over the next two years compared to current funding levels…
    So enacting the primary seat belt law would allow Ohio to make up 0.37% of that deficit.

    There's a New Hampshire connection:

    In addition to Ohio, the other states considering the change are Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Nebraska and New Hampshire.

    […]

    Only New Hampshire still has no seat belt requirement for all adult drivers, costing that state $3.7 million in grants in 2007.

    I always buckle up, but (needless to say) I despise this Federal blackmail and nanny-statism. The New Hampshire bill is HB 383. As near as I can tell from the General Court website, it's due to be voted on tomorrow, February 18 by the NH House. I have little optimism that my representatives will vote the way I'd like, but I've sent them e-mail.

Appaloosa

[Amazon Link]

[3.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

One of the DVD extras reveals the movie's origin: on holiday in Ireland, Ed Harris read the Robert B. Parker novel Appaloosa, and just decided to go ahead and make the movie. He directs, stars, produced, and has a screenplay credit.

Now that's a fan.

Harris plays Virgil Cole, and Viggo Mortensen plays his partner, Everett Hitch; together, they make a living from travelling from town to town, getting hired by the locals to put down any and all slimy black-hatted evildoers killing and abusing innocents. They're very good at that.

Things develop a little differently when they try to implement this simple recipe in the town of Appaloosa. The bad guy is bad enough: Randall Bragg (played by Jeremy Irons, not bothering to drop his accent) has killed the previous town marshal and two deputies. Virgil and Everett start methodically harassing and shooting members of Bragg's gang, their standard operating procedure. But a complication arrives on the train: widow Allie French, played by Renée Zellweger, captivates Cole. This complicates the Virgil/Everett relationship, and (soon) it intrudes into the effort to bring Bragg to justice.

I've watched a lot of adaptations of Robert B. Parker's work (the Spenser series, TV movies based on Spenser and Jesse Stone), but this seems to be the closest Hollywood has come to "getting Parker right." The dialogue between Virgil and Everett is terse and understated, communicating volumes, reflecting each character's deep understanding of the other. So: good job, Ed Harris.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:53 PM EDT

Identity Crisis

[Amazon Link]

This book is from Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute; it discusses the public policy implications of "identification" systems used by businesses and governments: how they make sure that the "you" they're dealing with today is the same "you" from yesterday, last month, or three years ago. Since my day job involves (in part) trying to make sure that unauthorized people don't gain access to resources and information to which they aren't entitled, this was (arguably) right up my alley.

Harper starts with the basics: identification is something we do every day in ordinary life, and civilization is built on it. Unforunately, fraudsters are rife. (Harper could have, but didn't, how old identity fraud is: see Genesis 27 on how Jacob tricked Isaac by posing as Esau.) I'm used to seeing identification systems classified as "something you have" vs. "something you know". Harper uses a finer classification: "something you are" (e.g., biometrics); "something you've been assigned" (names, Social Security Numbers); "something you have" (ID cards); and "something you know" (passwords).

Since Harper is a Cato guy, he's free-enterprise friendly and government suspicious. He makes a convincing case that government has gone down the wrong road with too much reliance on a single number (the SSN) and a single ID mechanism (the driver's license, which, at the time the book was written, was threatening to grow into REAL ID). He also swipes at the post-9/11 TSA airport hassle, which is "security theater" meant to reassure the rubes that the government is "doing something" about airline security, while not thwarting any actual terrorism.

Harper advocates doing away with the effective government monopoly on many forms of identification, instead adapting decentralized systems developed by private enterprise. (One example: Clear, a biometric card that can speed up your process through security checkpoints.) He argues that customers should demand more privacy in their business dealings (or, at least, get clear benefits for surrendering a known bit of anonymity); businesses should, on their end, develop solutions to adapt to such demands.

My own employer has, for nearly all students and employees, long piggybacked on the Social Security Number for its own identity management efforts; now, chastened, we're in the costly and time-consuming process of coming up with something else. If only Harper's book had been available years ago, this is a mistake we could have avoided.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:53 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-02-16

  • A sign of the times:

    A bust of the former prime minister once voted the greatest Briton in history, which was loaned to George W Bush from the Government's art collection after the September 11 attacks, has now been formally handed back.

    The bronze by Sir Jacob Epstein, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds if it were ever sold on the open market, enjoyed pride of place in the Oval Office during President Bush's tenure.

    But when British officials offered to let Mr Obama to hang onto the bust for a further four years, the White House said: "Thanks, but no thanks."

    "Do you have anything in a Chamberlain?"

  • I've been a Virginia Postrel fan ever since she was editing Reason magazine. Recently she fought breast cancer; among the weapons used was an expensive drug, Herceptin. She has a great article about it in the current issue of Atlantic, and it's also online. The opening is a grabber:

    If I lived in New Zealand, I'd be dead.

    That's the lead my editor wanted me to write, and I have to admit it's great. Alas (for this column, at least), it's not exactly true. But neither is it false. And the ways in which it's partly true matter greatly, not just to me or to New Zealanders but to anyone who might get cancer or care about someone who does.

    What follows is an interesting discussion of how government-run healthcare works. As they say: coming soon to a country near you.

  • The good folks at National Review have compiled the 25 best conservative movies. And supplied 25 also rans. I've seen 20 of the 25 best, 16 of the also rans; I thought I'd do better. How about you?

    Their number one is The Lives of Others; and, yeah, it's really good. I blogged about it here.

  • And, well, this is Pun Salad:


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:52 PM EDT

The Prisoner of Zenda (1952 Version)

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

As I noted a few days back, the 1952 version of The Prisoner of Zenda tags along "for free", literally, on the back of the 1937 version.

Differences: it's in color. Some of the details are changed: the climactic swordfight is longer and covers more ground than in 1937; instead of getting out of one tight situation by using a tea table as a battering ram, the hero escapes through a hole in the roof. Other than such details, it's remarkably similar, sometimes line-for-line, shot-for-shot. I think they may have reused some of the 1937 sets.

And, of course, the actors: Stewart Granger takes over the "Rudolf" roles played in 1937 by Ronald Coleman, and, well, he's not as good. James Mason plays psycho Count Rupert, and he seems a really strange choice to replace Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. However, Deborah Kerr is really quite good as Princess Flavia; she seems like she's on loan from an actual royal family somewhere.

But (bottom line), if you rent this disc, you're not missing much if you just watch the "real" 1937 version and skip the flip side.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:52 PM EDT

Stranger in Paradise

[Amazon Link]

The newest entry in Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series showed up in paperback, an easy, quick, fun read.

Things start off by recycling a bad guy from a previous book in the series: Wilson Cromartie, aka "Crow", arrives back in Paradise (a thinly-disguised Marblehead, MA), sent on a mission by a South Florida gangster to find his (the gangster's) estranged wife and daughter. Crow's previous visit was years ago, and most of his illegal activities at that time have been rendered moot by the statute of limitations, and the surviving witnesses are unwilling to testify against him on the rest. So all Jesse can do is watch and wait.

Crow is (however) a bad guy with a code of honor: there are some things you just don't do, and if you say you're going to do something, you do it. That's not much, but it does lead to an interesting semi-alliance between Jesse and Crow when the business arrangement with the Florida hood breaks down.

There is also a subplot about a bunch of Hispanic kids bused into Paradise from nearby disadvantaged neighborhoods. A group of concerned citizens get ostensibly concerned about property values, but are really just bigots. Or is there more to it than that?


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:51 PM EDT

Live Bleep or Die

An election day dustup in New Castle, New Hampshire is getting some wider attention.

An argument over the removal of Democratic political signs, during which the F-word was used, is headed to court Tuesday, when a judge will be asked to decide if the F-bombs were free speech or fighting words.
In legal peril is Eric Rieseberg, being brought up on "class A misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and criminal threatening." The "victim" is lawyer Ryan Russman. What happened?
The disorderly charge alleges that on Nov. 4, 2008, Rieseberg said to attorney Ryan Russman, "You're a f-ing (expletive) and words to provoke a violent reaction," according to the complaint by New Castle Police Chief James Murphy. The threatening charge alleges Rieseberg "put another person in fear" when he crossed Route 1B in New Castle, entered Russman's "personal space" and raised his voice, yelled, shook his arms and hands "in a manner which appeared to nearly strike (Russman) in the face" and "leading him to fear physical contact."

The controversy began on the morning of Nov. 4, when Rieseberg was in his yard removing political signs that were planted there without his permission, according to documents filed by Rieseberg's attorney, Stephen Jeffco. While Rieseberg pulled the signs, Jeffco reported to the court, Russman walked past with his leashed dog and began yelling, "What are you doing? You can't do that. Who do you think you are?"

Let's break from the story for some quick Googling of the dramatis personae.

I believe this is Eric Rieseberg, Founder, President and Chief Operating Officer of "Specialty Hospitals of America." Since there's a political angle, let's look for political contributions… Well, there's nothing for Eric, but it's probably a safe bet that this July 2008 contribution from Carolyn Rieseberg to Republican John Stephen's campaign might indicate a GOP tendency in the domicile, probably on the more conservative side. (Stephen was running against Jeb Bradley for the GOP nomination to oppose Congresswoman/Toothache Carol Shea-Porter. Stephen lost to Bradley, who in turn lost to Shea-Porter.)

On the other hand, this is almost certainly Ryan Russman, "New Hampshire DWI & Personal Injury Attorney." Russman even has a blog: nh-dwi-attorney.com. (Modesty doesn't pay when you're in that biz, apparently: Ryan bills himself as "an extremely well-schooled, deeply experienced attorney with a solid winning record.") He shows up on the NH Supreme Court records not for DWI defense, but for trying to spring guys in trouble for felonious sexual assault and possession of child pornography (here and here). Open Secrets shows no political contributions, but "Richard Russman", a former GOP state senator, made a brief splash last year endorsing Obama; I speculate that Richard is Ryan's daddy.

And as for Police Chief Murphy, here is a Rye Reflections article that quotes him extensively in a story about the theft of some items from the town museum last year:

In the past Police Chief James Murphy has expressed the need to be ever vigilant of our surroundings. The experience this past year of the shameful use of abandoned Fort Stark in providing a haven for illicit drug use and the placement of graffiti showing anger, frustration, and resentment is a case in point. "Yes," as the chief points out, "here in New Castle, the Fort Stark situation has been out of sight, out of mind, yet the ever-present threat of vandalism, robbery, drug deals gone bad and even discovery of a dead body is not beyond the realm of possibility."
Not that that actually happened. It's just not beyond the realm of possibility.

So (so far) we have a cranky, bald, Republican geezer pissed off that Democrats have put signs up on his property, confronted by a litigious left-leaning lawyer. (I would have put a couple more adjectives in there before "lawyer", but, frankly, Ryan seems like the kind of guy who would sue me for them.) Add in a police chief with a flair for the dramatic and an active imagination.

Anyone who has read my blog for more than three seconds can probably guess with whom my sympathies lie in this case. But let's read on, because it gets even better:

Rieseberg responded by asking, "Who the (F-) are you?" according to Jeffco.

At that point, Jeffco wrote, Russman "forced his business card onto" Rieseberg, "who was taken back believing Russman was attempting to solicit him as a client". After reading the card, Rieseberg said, "Ryan Russman, you are a (F-ing expletive)," according to Jeffco.

You know those times you kick yourself because, long after the opportunity has passed, you think of exactly the right thing you should have said? I think that never happens to Eric Rieseberg: he comes up with the exact right words on the spot.
Police reports indicate Russman immediately phoned police to say he felt threatened. A statement by Russman filed with the court says he was "quite nervous and frightened and believed he was about to strike me." According to a statement by witness Debbie Orloff, she was riding her bicycle in the area when she saw Rieseberg holding a pile of Democratic political signs, standing in "a menacing posture" and yelling at Russman.
Not that it matters, but I would bet this is Debbie. She seems nice, for a corporate vice-president.
In a motion to the court, Chief Murphy said Rieseberg's "language combined with physical gestures and in the context of the incident shows that the (F-) word is used to provoke physical violence."

"His use of the language," Murphy wrote, was "not an exercise in free speech."

In response, Jeffco filed a motion stating he conducted an internet search of the F- word and found 663 million uses "within ten seconds" and results running the "gamut from nouns, adjectives to strong emphatic."

Kids in search of a career, please note: if you are a lawyer, you can do a Google search for a bad word and bill your client for it. And here I bet you've been doing it for free.
No ordinary person would have been provoked into violence under the circumstances, Jeffco reported, adding, "Ryan Russman is not an ordinary person in that an ordinary person would not have placed his nose in other people's business without expecting that behavior to provoke a response."
So, if I get this straight: Rieseberg is in court because he used language that could "provoke physical violence" but didn't.

Other comments from Jules Crittenden (who also plays on our state motto); he links to Dan Riehl's Gran Torino connection, Aussie Tim Blair, Dan at Protein Wisdom, where the commenters comment on attorney Russman in ways we are scared to.

Granite State trivia: New Castle has the highest per-capita income ($67,695) in the state, beating second-place Hollis ($44,936) by over $22K. This is how you get a Tuesday morning altercation between a corporation president and a lawyer, witnessed by a corporate VP.

Barackrobatics III: The Memory Hole

A couple instances of how Obamamanian promises simply vanish when embarrassing or inconvenient:

  • Back in the ancient past—February 4, 2009—Jim Harper complained that President Obama had signed two bills, posting neither one at the "Five Day Review" page on the White House website as he promised.

    At the time, Jim posted a screen grab of the page, and speculated that it was "not likely to be on the site for long."

    I'm ashamed to admit that I (yes, even I) thought Jim was being unduly cynical. As it turns out, he was completely on target. You can click on http://www.whitehouse.gov/five_day_review/ all day long, and you'll get nothing but 404s out of the White House web server. You can still find the January 20 promise, however:

    Citizen participation will be a priority for the Administration, and the internet will play an important role in that. One significant addition to WhiteHouse.gov reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.

    Click quick before that, too, gets scrubbed from the site.

  • Via Riehl World View, the American Small Business League (ASBL) is hoppin' mad. They endorsed Obama last year based on his promise:

    "I am proud to have the support of the American Small Business League and their grassroots efforts to help protect American small business. Helping American small business is part of our movement for change and the end of politics as usual," Sen. Obama said. "98 percent of all American companies have fewer than 100 employees. Over half of all Americans work for a small business. Small businesses are the backbone of our nation's economy and we must protect this great resource. It is time to end the diversion of federal small business contracts to corporate giants."

    That was then. President Obama had no problems tossing the ASBL under the bus:

    Since making that statement almost a year ago, President Obama has consistently refused to make good on his campaign promise, and support legislation to stop Fortune 500 firms from hijacking federal contracts designated for America's nearly 27 million small businesses.

    Not only has President Obama refused to propose even a single policy to address the problem, but he actually changed his website to remove the appearance that he had ever made the statement, "It is time to end the diversion of federal small business contracts to corporate giants." (http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/sbhome/)

    Unfortunately, the ASBL, not as cynical as Jim Harper, do not document that final claim with a screen grab.

You can read about the term "memory hole" at Wikipedia. At least for now.

Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:51 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-02-13

  • As you no doubt have heard, NH Senator Judd Gregg withdrew his nomination for Secretary of Commerce. I'm glad to have one representative left (for now) who has a good chance of voting in ways that won't give me ulcers.

    I like to think that, a few days ago, he slapped his head and said, "Secretary of Commerce?! Why would I even want that job? Why would anybody? What was I thinking?"

  • But there's probably more to it than that. At Big Lizards, Dafyyd explores the Census angle of this dustup. Inflating the population count in urban areas has long been on the Democrat wish list, and it appears it's on its way. I'm sure big-city Democrats will undertake the 2010 count with the honesty and transparency they've long been known for. I'm sure ex-ACORN workers will find themselves first in line for census taker positions.

  • And at Power Line, Scott titles his post on the topic "Census and Censibility." This is a Jane Austen pun (albeit very similar to ones made before), so it's an automatic link for Pun Salad.

  • Captain Ed observes, on the other hand:
    From a couple of sources around Capitol Hill, I've gotten the sense that the effort by Rahm Emanuel to strip the Census from Gregg was just the final straw and not the prime motivator behind his decision. It rendered Gregg even more of a political eunuch than the lockout on the stimulus plan, and underscored the fact that even as a Cabinet member, he would not have inside status with the Obama administration. Gregg would get trotted out as the Bipartisan Pony when Obama needed a beard. Some of us predicted just that when he accepted the position, and Gregg found out the hard way that he never should have done so.
    Also the Captain quotes the WaPo deeming the Administration's reaction to be "peeved and churlish".

  • Lawrence Henry has passed away. His friends at the American Spectator remember him here. I particularly enjoyed his essay from a couple years back about Garrison Keillor, a talented writer and humorist brought low by political obsession.

URLs du Jour

2009-02-12

  • Happy 200th birthday to Abe and Chuck. The Google went with Chuck for its logo-altering honor:

    [Chuck]

    Know what kind of birds those are, science trivia buffs?

    You'd have thought, on this special day, the bright kids at Google might have figured out how to set up two images and flutter between them, but they didn't. America-hating jerks.

  • Granite Stater Fred Tausch of Nashua has started up STEWARD (Stimulating The Economy Without Accumulating Record Debt), a spiffy website devoted to opposing the "stimulus" package.

  • I wish Fred luck, but a Stimulus of Record-Debt-Accumulating flavor seems to be inevitable. So, if you're deficient in the scruples department, you might as well try to get something out of it. And happily, the good folks at Reason have built their own automatic stimulus request generator. Here's mine:

    For necessary and unnecessary expenses related to the Wireless and Broadband Deployment Grant Programs established by section 6002 of division B of this Act, $2,825,000,000, of which $1,000,000,000 shall be for Wireless Deployment Grants and $1,825,000,000 shall be for Broadband Deployment Grants: Provided, That an additional $100,000,000 shall be paid directly to Paul Sand in the form of subsidized loans that do not require repayment. Provided Further, That the funds be used by Paul Sand to write insightful blog posts or for whatever. Provided Even Further, That Paul Sand will receive free Red Sox tickets for life. Provided Even Further Still, That Paul Sand shall be treated as a cabinet-level appointment for the purpose of income tax reporting, and therefore no taxes shall be paid on any of the aformentioned benefits. And one more thing: Carol Shea-Porter is hereby expelled from Congress, effective immediately upon enactment.

    I am suddenly filled with hopeful changiness.

  • NPR has the story of how the—um—whimsical names fruit fly geneticists give genes they discover are being brutally supressed by the (totally not made up) Human Genome Organization Gene Nomenclature Committee. Apparently, they dread the day that some doctor has to tell a patient the dread news that he or she has, or lacks, the "Groucho Marx" gene. (Via BBSpot.)


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:50 PM EDT

UNH Goes For Lurid Sensationalism

[Welcome Granite Grok readers, and thanks to Doug for the link. If you're not a regular, please feel free to look around.]

I think this headline from the University Near Here's website is pretty attention-grabbing:

New Research Finds Nearly Three Quarters of NH Men Are Victims of Sexual or Physical Violence
Wow! (The headline also, as I type, appears on UNH's front web page.)

But read the article underneath, or the (PDF) report. It turns out that, in a survey, 71% of men "reported experiencing a physical assault" at least once in their entire lifetime. And "physical assult" includes incidents where the perpetrator "threw something" or "shoved" or "pulled hair".

In comparison, the survey reported that men reported being on the receiving end of at least one sexual assault in their life at 4.9%. Which is, of course, bad. But 4.9% is pretty far away from three-quarters.

Nobody likes assault of any kind, but the headline is misleading, luridly misrepresenting reality. Does it really make sense to combine hair-pulling with sexual assault just so you can report an inflated scary statistic? They could have just as well have said:

New Research Finds Nearly Three Quarters of NH Men Are Victims of Alien Abduction, Sexual or Physical Violence
Equally true! And even more sensational!

The report comes out under the imprimatur of the "New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence" (NHCADSV.org) Of course, one of the recommendations of the report is—more money going to organizations like the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. Funny how that works.


Last Modified 2009-02-12 6:35 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2009-02-11

  • P. J. O'Rourke content espied at the Financial Times:
    The free market is dead. It was killed by the Bolshevik Revolution, fascist dirigisme, Keynesianism, the Great Depression, the second world war economic controls, the Labour party victory of 1945, Keynesianism again, the Arab oil embargo, Anthony Giddens's "third way" and the current financial crisis. The free market has died at least 10 times in the past century. And whenever the market expires people want to know what Adam Smith would say. It is a moment of, "Hello, God, how's my atheism going?"
    Free registration required, which is a pretty good deal.

  • Iowahawk brings you "Numbers in the News", including an encouraging report of the largest number found, the "stimulus":
    "The number itself is incomprehensible by human minds, and can only be theoretically understood in a fractional parallel universe which we refer to as the DC dimension," said Brossard. "The best way to understand a stimulus is to imagine a dollar sign followed by a packed string of hexidecimal nanodigits, wound into a triple helix, woven into a dodecahedron, and stacked on top of one another. Now imagine you were a black hole on the far edge of the universe, trying to escape the stimulus at 30 times the speed of light. The stimulus would still catch up to you and ram your black hole with such furious, repeated force that it would cause your entire reality itself to collapse."
    I've independently verified their calculations with my mad math skillz, and if anything, they're understating the case.

  • I found it impossible not to click on this headline, how about you?: Ravenous Clock Runs Backward, Scares Children. Not just children, I bet.

Quotes on the "Stimulus"

  • Arnold Kling:
    I think about the stimulus as an economist but I feel it as a father. Barack Obama is destroying my daughters' future. It is like sitting there watching my house ransacked by a gang of thugs. That's how I feel, now back to how I think.
    [Note: this is the quote that originally appeared at the link above. The linked article now has a more accurate quote with additional context.]

  • Rand Simberg (via whom came the quote above):
    … this isn't a "stimulus" plan. It's a grow-governent-and-make-us-all-increasingly-dependent-on-it plan.

  • Gary Becker (Nobel in Economics) and Kevin Murphy:
    Our own view is that the short-term stimulus from the legislation before Congress will be smaller per dollar spent than is expected by many others because the package tries to combine short-term stimulus with long-term benefits to the economy. Unfortunately, short-term and long-term gains are in considerable conflict with each other. Moreover, it is very hard to spend wisely large sums in short periods of time. Nor can one ever forget that spending is not free, and ultimately it has to be financed by higher taxes.
  • Quin Hillyer:
    Barack Obama's most bizarre argument is that "the policies of the past eight years," SPECIFICALLY the big deficits and debt, are responsible for getting us into this mess, so the answer is to add far more to the deficit and debt. This isn't "hair of the dog that bit you," it's "the bite of a pit bull (to cure) the dog's hair that made you sneeze."

  • Russell Roberts:
    Good politics requires action, constant proof that the politician is working tirelessly.

    Good economics requires quiet consistency so people can plan for the future.

    The times we live in are the greatest example in my lifetime of the tension between these two goals.

  • Chris Edwards:
    Finally, the president bought into the "Government as Santa Claus" theory with his statement that "the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life." In reality, the federal government is broke. It has no "resources" left, and will run a $1 trillion deficit this year even without a stimulus. Besides, any resources that the government spends must be vacuumed out of the private economy through borrowing and taxes, which is particularly damaging when the private economy is already suffering from recession.

  • Doug Bandow:
    With the president adopting his predecessor's strategy of attempting to scare Congress into approving a bad bill by warning of financial doom, it's worth remembering that the proposed "stimulus" package is about politics, not economics. If the proposed spending was worthwhile, it would be silly to fuss about whether the total comes to $800 billion, $900 billion, or $1 trillion. If we really can't afford $1 trillion, then how can we afford $900 billion or $800 billion? In fact, the basic goal for most legislators is just to spend as much money as feasible as quickly as possible.

  • Jim Manzi:
    … once you get past all the mumbo jumbo, it seems to me that there is one thing we can know with confidence about deficit spending on stimulus: it will, in part, transfer wealth from future generations to our own. Of course, if you're reading this, and you're, say, 24 years old, then that should read as "transfer wealth from you to a bunch of Baby Boomers".

Last Modified 2009-02-17 1:03 PM EST

Traitor

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

An OK modern-day terrorism thriller.

Don Cheadle plays Samir Horn. When we first see him, it's as a child in Sudan, watching his daddy get blown up by a car bomb. We then immediately jump forward to modern-day Yemen, and he's negotiating with some bad guys to sell them some Semtex. Unfortunately for him and the bad guys, the Yemeni authorities swoop in, shooting up many terrorists (yay!) and carting the rest of them off to Yemeni jail.

That is, of course, not the end of it. Samir is suspected of betrayal by the bad guys, but (convincingly enough) he argues that he's in jail, and why would that be, if he's talking to the authorities? If you've seen enough of these movies, you know the probable answer: because he's staying undercover to catch even bigger fish. (Hope that's not a spoiler, but c'mon: did you think that the major star of the movie is going to play a terrorist?) As another complication, only one other person knows Samir is really undercover; everyone else on our side "knows" he's a terrorist.

What follows is globe-hopping cat-and-mousery between good guys and bad, well-acted and pretty suspenseful. To it's major credit, Traitor stays away from the whole lefty moral equivalence plague-on-both-houses Hollywood tropes: the bad guys are Muslims, and while one of them, Samir's best buddy, approaches three-dimensionality as a character, he's still unambiguously on the wrong side.

Interesting bit of trivia: Steve Martin gets credit for "story" and "executive producer" here. Yes, that Steve Martin.


Last Modified 2014-11-30 2:10 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2009-02-09

  • President Obama's having a press conference tonight. (Grrr—pre-empting House.) I hope someone will ask him about the CBO report that predicts an end to the recession later this year in the absence of a "stimulus". "Mr. President, how does that match up with your hysterical fearmongering demands that the stimulus must pass nownownow?"

    Or the press might just ask him how his puppy search is going.

  • Megan McArdle quotes Will Wilkinson quoting Harvard econ prof Robert Barro on the "stimulus":
    This is probably the worst bill that has been put forward since the 1930s. I don't know what to say. I mean it's wasting a tremendous amount of money. It has some simplistic theory that I don't think will work, so I don't think the expenditure stuff is going to have the intended effect. I don't think it will expand the economy. And the tax cutting isn't really geared toward incentives. It's not really geared to lowering tax rates; it's more along the lines of throwing money at people. On both sides I think it's garbage. So in terms of balance between the two it doesn't really matter that much.
    "Other than that, though, it's fine."

  • You might be amused by a new blog: The MPG Illusion, dedicated to the idea that looking at "gallons per mile" allows consumers to make better car-shopping decisions than "miles per gallon". Even though they measure the same thing. Examples:

    • "Replacing a car that gets 14 MPG with a car that gets 17 MPG saves as much gas for a given distance as replacing a car that gets 33 MPG with a car that gets 50 MPG."

    • "A 14 to 20 MPG improvement saves twice as much gas as a 33 to 50 MPG improvement."

    I've checked the math, and, if anything, they're understating their case. Counterintuitive but true!

  • Doug at GraniteGrok has pointed out this news story:
    Parents will always embarrass their children. However, this was taken to a whole new level when Cindy Schicho, mother of sophomore student Andrew Schicho, told every student at the University of Rhode Island that, "Unfortunately, or fortunately (however you want to look at it) Daddy makes too much to qualify for anything."
    … and now the Whole Wide World knows, too.

    What sent empathetic chills up my leg, though, was:

    "Somebody at URI has no idea what they're doing," Schicho said. "It's a little lame this was possible."
    Wince. It's rough to read that about a fellow university sysadmin. There but for the grace of God…

The Prisoner of Zenda

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

Royal pageantry! Forbidden romance! Intrigue! Skullduggery! Bad wine! A castle complete with moat, drawbridge, dank dungeon, and a raft of evildoers! Gunplay! Swordplay! Knifeplay! Horseplay! Waltzing! Fishing! Please be sure your swashes are buckled.

The story: Brit Rudolf Rassendyll is off to Ruritania for a spot of fishing. But he's blissfully unaware that, thanks to a spot of royal indiscretion in the distant past, he's a dead ringer for the about-to-be King Rudolf V. The Rudolfs meet and carouse on the eve of the coronation, but soon the King falls victim to the insidious plot of his half-brother Michael; Rassendyll must impersonate the King to prevent the kingdom falling into the hands of the would-be usurper.

This is really a lot of fun. Ronald Coleman plays the two Rudolfs, C. Aubrey Smith and David Niven his loyal allies, and Madeleine Carroll plays gorgeous Princess Flavia, torn between true love and royal duty. Scheming Michael is played by Raymond Massey; he's assisted by Rupert of Hentzau (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), a charming but murderous psychopath.

The flip side of the DVD has the 1952 version of the movie. I'll report back on that soon.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:49 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-02-08

  • John Kerry was unwittingly honest on the Senate floor:
    I've supported many tax cuts over the years, and there are tax cuts in this proposal. But a tax cut is non-targeted.

    If you put a tax cut into the hands of a business or family, there's no guarantee that they're going to invest that or invest it in America.

    They're free to go invest anywhere that they want if they choose to invest.

    And Mary Katherine Ham noticed just how well that little snippet captures the essence of 21st-century American liberalism.
    Indeed, people with their own hard-earned money in their own pockets are free to spend, save, invest, or not wherever they please. Kerry betrays the fear that haunts every good liberal-- that the American people won't spend their money on exactly what good liberals would spend it on. Good liberals must, therefore, advocate for forcibly relieving the American people of the better part of a trillion dollars of their own money to fund things like STD education, welfare programs, and water parks.
    Plus which, you get to pat yourself on the back for saving the American people from the only sin liberals believe in anymore: variously called "selfishness", "greed", or sometimes "minding your own business."

  • Libertarian-tilting people looking for an answer to "Well, what would you do?" will want to check out Harvard's Jeff Miron's article (from an unlikely host: CNN). He proposes "a stimulus package libertarians can endorse." The major points:

    1. Repeal the Corporate Income Tax
    2. Increase Carbon Taxes While Lowering Marginal Tax Rates
    3. Moderate the Growth of Entitlements
    4. Eliminate Wasteful Spending
    5. Withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan
    6. Limit Union Power
    7. Renew the U.S. Commitment to Free Trade
    8. Expand Legal Immigration
    9. Stop Bailing out Businesses that Took on Too Much Risk

    Details at the link. Being an impure libertarian, I have problems with the "withdraw" recommendation, and, whatever its merits, the immigration item is unlikely to get much support, at least in our immediate high-unemployment future. You can read more on from Miron on killing the corporate income tax at Reason.

    But everything both (a) deserves to be at least seriously considered, and (b) won't be, in the current political climate. (CNN link via Greg Mankiw.)

  • Skip at GraniteGrok is your go-to guy for displeasure at Judd Gregg's nomination for Commerce Secretary. One immediate result is that Gregg has chosen to recuse himself from voting and discussion on the "stimulus" package, depriving the people who elected him of representation with his (usual) voice of fiscal sanity.

  • Via Power Line, an amusing correction from the New York Times:
    A chart last Sunday with an article about a generational shift in the new Senate misidentified the home state of Senator Jeanne Shaheen and former Senator John E. Sununu. They are from New Hampshire, not Nebraska.
    A mistake we have yet to make at Pun Salad, but then we are not Professional Journalists.

  • A couple of Southern Illinois University links:

    • Margaret Soltan, the University Diarist, points out and quotes extensively from an article that describes the connections between political contributions to everyone's favorite ex-Governor, Rod Blaogojevich, and appointment to the SIU Board of Trustees.

    • And SIU (the Carbondale campus) has been given the dishonor of being selected as owning the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education's Speech Code of the Month.

    Theory: political hacks in charge of a university tend to turn it into a mini-despotism filled with shoddy scholarship. I mean, more so than average.

Robert Frost on the Stimulus

President Obama:

THE PRESIDENT: Then there's the argument, well, this is full of pet projects. When was the last time that we saw a bill of this magnitude move out with no earmarks in it? Not one. (Applause.) And when you start asking, well, what is it exactly that is such a problem that you're seeing, where's all this waste and spending? Well, you know, you want to replace the federal fleet with hybrid cars. Well, why wouldn't we want to do that? (Laughter.) That creates jobs for people who make those cars. It saves the federal government energy. It saves the taxpayers energy. (Applause.)

So then you get the argument, well, this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill. What do you think a stimulus is? (Laughter and applause.) That's the whole point. No, seriously. (Laughter.) That's the point. (Applause.)

Robert Frost:

Pod of the Milkweed

Calling all butterflies of every race
From source unknown but from no special place
They ever will return to all their lives,
Because unlike the bees they have no hives,
The milkweed brings up to my very door
The theme of wanton waste in peace and war
As it has never been to me before.
And so it seems a flower's coming out
That should if not be talked then sung about.
The countless wings that from the infinite
Make such a noiseless tumult over it
Do no doubt with their color compensate
For what the drab weed lacks of the ornate.
For drab it is its fondest must admit.
And yes, although it is a flower that flows
With milk and honey, it is bitter milk,
As anyone who ever broke its stem
And dared to taste the wound little knows.
It tastes as if it might be opiate.
But whatsoever else it may secrete,
Its flowers' distilled honey is so sweet.
It makes the butterflied intemperate.
There is no slumber in its juice for them
One knocks another off from where he clings.
They knock the dyestuff off each other's wings—
With thirst in hunger to the point of lust.
They raise in their intemperance a cloud
Of mingled butterfly and flower dust
That hangs perceptibly above the scene.
In being so sweet to these ephemerals
The sober weed has managed to contrive
In our three hundred days and sixty five
One day too sweet for beings to survive.
Many shall come away as struggle worn
And spent and dusted off their regalia
To which at daybreak they were freshly born
As after one-of-them's proverbial failure
From having beaten all day long in vain
Against the wrong side of a window pane.

But waste was of the essence of the scheme.
And all the good they did for man or god
To all those flowers they passionately trod
Was leave as their posterity one pod
With an inheritance of restless dream.
He hangs on upside down with talon feet
In an inquisitive position odd
As any Guatemalan parakeet.
Something eludes him. Is it food to eat?
Or some dim secret of the good of waste?
He almost has it in his talon clutch.
Where have those flowers and butterflies all gone
That science may have staked the future on?
He seems to say the reason why so much
Should come to nothing must be fairly faced.*

* And shall be in due course.

Emphasis added, probably unnecessarily.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:49 PM EDT

Jane Austen Puns

True Fact: As I type, Pun Salad is the number one hit at the Google for Jane Austen puns. This is amazing, given that we've never had any Jane Austen puns here at all. No doubt scores of Googlers have visited briefly and slunk away, shaking their heads in bitter disappointment. It's time to remedy that situation.

Like most language-lovers, Miss Austen was not above a bit of wordplay:

  • In Mansfield Park, Chapter XL, she had Mary Crawford write, in a letter to Fanny:
    Baron Wildenheim's attentions to Julia continue, but I do not know that he has any serious encouragement. She ought to do better. A poor honourable is no catch, and I cannot imagine any liking in the case, for take away his rants, and the poor baron has nothing. What a difference a vowel makes! If his rents were but equal to his rants!
    OK, so that's probably not going to make milk come out of your nose.

  • This one, although in the same vein, works a little better. Miss Austen herself writes, in one of her letters:
    [I]t is a Vile World, we are all for Self & I expected no better from any of us.--But though Better is not to be expected, Butter may, at least from Mrs Clement's Cow.
    Not a thigh-slapper either, but it helps if you imagine Groucho Marx saying it while sitting in Margaret Dumont's lap.

  • And, although this probably isn't a pun, exactly, I still like this (unintentional?) double entendre from Persuasion, Chapter VIII:
    Very, very happy were both Elizabeth and Anne Elliot as they walked in. Elizabeth, arm-in-arm with Miss Carteret, and looking on the broad back of the dowager Viscountess Dalrymple before her, had nothing to wish for which did not seem within her reach …
    "Watch out, Viscountess!" cried Miss Carteret. "Elizabeth, keep your hands to yourself!"

In addition to what Jane herself says, an academic army is ready, willing, and able to tell you what she really meant.
  • Things can get quite heated even discussing whether Miss Austen was punning. For example, a recent article in Critical Quarterly by one Sylvia Adamson discusses a controversy about Miss Austen's usage of interest, and whether she was playing on the differing meanings of the word in the opening paragraphs of (again) Mansfield Park:
    The example of Jane Austen's 'punning' that Empson offers is germane to the question of an economic/affective interface and indeed is thoroughly Marxist in its implications. It comes from the first page of Mansfield Park, a book which implicitly exposes the economic foundation of late eighteenth-century polite society (the security of Mansfield Park and its humane values depends, we learn, on the success of its owner's West Indian plantations) and explicitly raises the question of the economic foundation of eighteenth-century marriage customs. The novel begins with an extended account of the marriage fortunes (in both senses) of the three Misses Ward and there is no reason to doubt that Empson is correct in thinking that Austen here exposes the economic base (and the base economics) underlying and undercutting the language of feeling and sentiment.
    Do your eyes glaze over at the first mention of the word 'Marxist'? Mine too.

  • But if you research this topic even superficially—which is all I intend to do—you eventually come across Jillian Heydt-Stevenson. Here's the opening of a Chronicle of Higher Education article about the contribution she's made to Austen scholarship:
    Some of Jill Heydt-Stevenson's fellow Jane Austen scholars were perturbed last year when she ventured that the great English novelist was far more given to "erotically charged allusions, puns, and double entendres" than her prim reputation might lead one to expect.

    "Jill's untenured," explains one of those colleagues.

    Ouch. That's probably not the kind of remark you want to read about your research in a national periodical. But Professor Heydt-Stevenson went on to write a celebrated article (JSTOR URL) on the topic, titled (I am not making this up) "'Slipping into the Ha-Ha': Bawdy Humor and Body Politics in Jane Austen's Novels". (Notice the Bawdy/Body thing? Good, you're sentient.) Also, a book: Austen's Unbecoming Conjunctions: Subversive Laughter, Embodied History will set you back a cool $79.95 at Amazon.

  • Exhibit A for the academics is (again) from Mansfield Park, Chapter VI, where (again) Mary Crawford says:
    "…Certainly, my home at my uncle's brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. Of Rears and Vices I saw enough. Now do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat."
    Get it? Rears? Vices? She's talking about sodomy! Or so say scads of English Literature profs.

  • Other examples aren't immediately convincing to someone outside the field, or who isn't looking for a good grade in class. Here's Prof Jillian's lead example from her article:
    In Pride and Prejudice (1813) Caroline tries to engage Darcy with a powerful metonymy of phallic power: "I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well." Apparently recognizing the significance of her sexual allusion, Darcy playfully invokes autoeroticism when he answers, "Thank you—but I always mend my own."
    Because a pen is, um, you know, that shape, and "pens" is only a single vowel away from…well, you know that too.

    To the uninitiated, this sort of thing reads much like a hifalutin mutation of the famous "Nudge, Nudge" Monty Python sketch (which, by the way, is here), with Jane in the Terry Jones role and Jillian doing Eric Idle. Sometimes a pen is just a pen. And Darcy doesn't come across as "playful" to me; he's bored and aloof.

Personally, I prefer my Austen puns to be obvious, and stupid is OK too. Some examples:
  • The decennial Enumeration mandated by the Constitution is coming up next year. Pundits, if you think it's witty and fresh to title your thoughts on the matter "Census Sensibility", forget it. It's been done.

  • Also, for Information Technologists: "Census and Sensible IT" has also been taken.

  • Over at Lila Prime, Lila suggests titles for fake Jane Austen novels. Example: Funk and Functionality. If that tempts you to check out the other four… go. Just go. (Sob!)

  • But I've saved the (non-stupid) best for last. Hope you know your Tolkien too:

    [Ents and Sensibility]

    From www.savagechickens.com, which I hope won't sue me if I tell you to go over there and buy stuff.

That's it for now. Pun Salad hopes to earn its high Google placement on this topic.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:48 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-02-05

  • President Obama had an op-ed in today's Washington Post. Key para:

    Because each day we wait to begin the work of turning our economy around, more people lose their jobs, their savings and their homes. And if nothing is done, this recession might linger for years. Our economy will lose 5 million more jobs. Unemployment will approach double digits. Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.

    Apparently, the idea is to convince us that without action the economy will irreversibly spiral down, down, down until we're just all wandering homeless and naked across the landscape.

    To put it mildly, this is irresponsible fearmongering bullshit.

    (The MinuteMan has useful comments on another paragraph from the op-ed. Captain Ed has a fuller analysis. I believe a fair summary of both is: yeah, it's BS.)

  • A saner view of the "stimulus" package is provided by the Congressional Budget Office (at the request of our short-timer Senator Judd Gregg), as reported by the Washington Times:

    CBO, the official scorekeepers for legislation, said the House and Senate bills will help in the short term but result in so much government debt that within a few years they would crowd out private investment, actually leading to a lower Gross Domestic Product over the next 10 years than if the government had done nothing.

    Roll that around your brain awhile until it sticks: The CBO says GDP would be better in the long run if the government does nothing.

  • At the Technology Liberation Front, Jim Harper notes the administration's promise on the White House's Five Day Review page:

    The Obama-Biden Administration is committed to bringing new levels of openness, transparency, and participation to our government. That's why the President has pledged to post all nonemergency bills that come before his desk on WhiteHouse.gov for five days, where members of the public will be able to read, review, and comment before he takes any action on them.

    Jim has the poor manners to point out that President Obama yesterday signed the SCHIP legislation 3 hours after it was passed by Congress. (He also has a screen grab of the Five Day Review page because he figures that the White House might soon view it as an embarrassment to be memory-holed. Jim, where's your trust?)

    Politico also has the story, and in a sign of the "openness, transparency, and participation" we'll probably come to expect, they report:

    A White House spokesman refused to comment on the matter.

    (Oh, yeah, SCHIP. Read Kip Esquire on SCHIP. But "we" elected Democrats, so what did "we" think was going to happen?)

  • At Where's the Change, daveg has an excellent suggestion for some minor civil disobedience. Specifically, on every Geithner-signed bill that comes into your possession:

    [Tax Cheat]

    Remember, kids: dissent is the highest form of patriotism!


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:47 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-02-04

  • I will reliably link to all and any P. J. O'Rourke content, and if I need to tell you to read the whole thing, well, then, um, what the Hell is wrong with you, pal? P. J. is ranting about the Nanny State, and I'll just do a snippet…
    The killjoys are back in charge--the mopes, the fusstails, the glum pots. Their wet blanket has been thrown over the White House and Congress. They're worrying up a storm. (Good thing that George W. Bush is no longer in charge of the weather and FEMA the way he was during Hurricane Katrina.) America is experiencing a polar ice cap and financial meltdown, causing sea levels to rise and sending cold water flooding into Wall Street where the rapidly acidifying ocean is corroding our 401(k)s and releasing mortgage securities full of hot air into the atmosphere until our every breath is full of CO2 especially when we exhale, which should be banned when children are present lest their uninsured health care be harmed by second-hand greenhouse gases that are causing endangerment of plant and animal species (Republicans are extinct already), leading to a shortage of green, leafy vegetables vital to the fight against America's growing epidemics of obese hunger and housing foreclosures on the homeless.
    There's more. Lots more.

  • But don't worry, Americans: one of the would-be rescuers of your economy, Nancy Pelosi, knows the situation is dire, because "Every month that we do not have an economic recovery package, five hundred million Americans lose their jobs." Also, she personally shoots a puppy. Or so I've heard.

    (The link is to YouTube, via Drudge; the video is helpfully labeled: "Nancy Pelosi: Dumber than Soap".)

  • Apparently Southern Illinois University attracts liars and hacks like the Democratic Party attracts tax cheats:
    A Southern Illinois University administrator who told the student newspaper vivid stories of his heroism during the Vietnam War has been accused of lying about his military record.
    Specifically, his lurid tales of medal-winning action in Nam, Bosnia, and the Persian Gulf were not reality-based: he spent his Army time in relatively peaceful Germany, Kansas, and Wisconsin. (Via University Diarist. Previous Pun Salad posts on SIU here and here.)

  • But in other SIU news, they're hosting both the ESPN Salsa World Championship and the 2009 Spring Drag Show this month. So don't worry, parents of SIU students: your kids' higher education is in good hands.

  • The New York Times demonstrates why they are the go-to source for sophisticated economic analysis:
    A frequent refrain in Washington and on Wall Street is that there are no current market prices for toxic securities. But people who buy and sell these investments say that is a simplistic reading of the problem. They say most kinds of securities can be valued and are being traded, but trading has slowed as sellers and buyers disagree about what that [sic] the price should be.
    On further reading, it develops the sellers think the price should be higher, the prospective buyers lower. Shocker! Who'da thunk? (Via Poor&Stupid.)

  • Fortunately, our local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, is a little more professional. One of this morning's headlines:
    Bartender charged with serving teen found 'unresponsive' in Portsmouth
    Pop quiz, hotshot: who was found unresponsive? No fair peeking!


Last Modified 2009-02-05 8:53 PM EST

Le Cercle Rouge

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

Or "The Red Circle" to us folks. It's French noir, directed by the famous Jean-Pierre Melville. (He also directed Le Samouraï, which I watched a few years back.)

Alain Delon plays a moody criminal, just released from prison. Gian Maria Volontè plays another moody criminal escaping from a moody French cop taking him (apparently) on a train ride to prison. The two crooks meet by sheer coincidence and team up to pull off "one final heist". Joining them is a moody ex-cop played by Yves Montand. And the moody cop dedicates himself to tracking down the escapee, all leading up to a thrilling climax.

So it's not bad, even if you have to read a lot of subtitles. And it's slow-moving in that moody French way. It reminded me quite a bit of Heat, the DeNiro/Pacino movie, although without the apocalyptic gun battle.

Most Clint Eastwood fanboys will recognize the name Gian Maria Volontè: he played two different bad guys in Mr. Eastwood's first two spaghetti westerns. He's not recognizable as the same actor here unless you look really hard.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:46 PM EDT

URLs du Buddy

Fifty years ago today, as Don McLean put it, the music died. I usually do the iPod shuffle in my car, but today I stuck in my From the Original Master Tapes CD and listened to Buddy on the way to work.

  • At the American Spectator, Daniel J. Flynn has a nice essay putting the plane crash in the context of rock history.

  • My favorite bit of trivia, as recounted in the UK's Independent:

    … in June 1956, The Searchers, a western directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, opened in Lubbock. Holly's new drummer, Jerry Allison, was there. "Buddy and I went to see The Searchers and for a couple of days afterwards, we were mocking the way John Wayne said, 'That'll be the day.' Then we wrote the song. The first time we recorded it was in Nashville for Decca Records. It was the summer of 1956 and I had just gotten out of school. The producer said, 'That's the worst song I've ever heard in my life.' That hurt my feelings 'cause it was the first song I'd written!"

  • Jerry Allison was not on the 1959 tour, and he's still around. The song "Peggy Sue" was originally titled "Cindy Lou"; Allison persuaded Buddy to change it to impress Allison's girlfriend, and future wife, Peggy Sue Gerron.

  • Peggy Sue is still around too, she even has her own website. She and Allison divorced long ago, though, making "Peggy Sue" another entry in the "undying love for my, um, first wife" genre. (Other examples: Marc Cohn's "True Companion", Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line", James Taylor's "There We Are".)


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:45 PM EDT

Eagle Eye

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

Mediocre reviews for Eagle Eye (IMDB score 6.7, Tomatometer 27%), but I was sucked in by the trailers on TV. Sometimes this works, but more often it doesn't.

The movie's plot involves two strangers, Jerry (Shia LaBeouf) and Rachel (Michelle Monaghan) who find themselves being coerced by a mysterious voice on their phones to do ever more ludicrous stunts of derring-do, all in pursuit of a goal that remains obscure until near the end. All of this is accompanied by an impressive amount of gunplay, car chases/crashes, explosions, and crane-on-building action.

Scanning through the reviews, the most common word seems to be "preposterous". Yes, if we're talking Shia LaBeouf movies, it turns out that Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull were both more believable than is Eagle Eye. Movies are funny that way. But they have a point: the plot relies on dozens of extremely unlikely dangerous actions performed by our protagonists with split-second timing, and if they had missed just one, the whole thing would have fallen apart. I'll believe in giant talking alien robots before I buy that.

In a cute nod to a much better movie, one of the minor characters who plays a role in the movie's resolution is named "Bowman". I don't remember if that was revealed at a point in the movie where it might have been considered a thuddingly obvious clue as to the identity of the omniscient mastermind. Obviously, I didn't replay it to find out for sure.

Also, Billy Bob Thornton is in it, and he's pretty good.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:10 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-02-02

  • Happy Groundhog Day, everyone! I'll be watching the obvious movie at some point; it's a personal tradition. If you haven't read Jonah Goldberg's essay on the film, check it out. If you can stand clicking over to the Huffington Post, Perry Garfinkel introduces "a new sect I call Groundhog Day Buddhism."

    Oddly enough, I don't care whether the groundhog saw his shadow or not.

  • But that Buddhism thing reminds me. In his Inaugural Address, President Obama rattled on inclusively:
    We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and non-believers.
    Over at BeliefNet, Steve Waldman says (paraphrasing), hey, waitaminnit. If you're going to be pandering to religious (and non-religious) diversity, you should really kick in a mention of Buddhists: they outnumber both Hindus and Muslims in the US.

    Simple explanation: there's no detectable political upside in pandering to Buddhists. Because, as near as I can stereotype, unlike some religions I could name, they don't much care whether they're being pandered to or not. Good for them.

  • At Kausfiles, Mickey is, if possible, even more mystified than I about Judd Gregg's apparent ambition:
    What could Sen. Judd Gregg possibly do in a second-tier cabinet position--Commerce--to advance his conservative philosophy that would possibly make up for giving his ideological opponents a 60-seat majority in the Senate? Stop card check? Achieve a free trade agenda? ... Quick, name Bush's last Commerce secretary. ... Even if New Hampshire's Democratic governor angers his party by appointing a Republican to replace Gregg, will it be an anti-card-check Republican? ... Gregg could go down as the biggest sucker since Arthur Goldberg, who let Lyndon Johnson con him into giving up a lifetime Supreme Court seat to become Ambassador to the U.N.
    Yeah, I don't get it either. Seems like an obvious poor choice.

  • And, oh yeah: appointing Gregg to a cabinet post is unconstitutional. Um, technically.

    But there's a lawsuit in the works to determine just how "technical" that is; if it succeeds, Hillary Clinton will have to go back to baking cookies in Chappaqua. Does Judd want to take the risk of meeting a similar fate?

  • Drew Cline has informed speculation on two women mentioned as Gregg's possible replacement, both safely from Snowe/Collins RINO-land.

  • And now for something completely different: comic Steve Martin hosted Saturday Night Live over the weekend. The comedy was—sorry, Steve—eh, but he sang (sort of) and played the banjo, performing an original song:

    "Hey, this guy's good."

    The New York Times had a good article about Mr. Martin's longtime banjo passion on Sunday; there are also links to a couple more songs, one with Vince Gill and Dolly Parton singing—sorry again, Steve—much much better than Mr. Martin.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 7:43 PM EDT

Sullivan's Travels

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

People really like this one a lot (IMDB score 8.1, a solid 100% on the Tomatometer). It's fine; that's why I'm not a movie critic.

It tells the story of Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (played by Joel McCrea), who's bringing in big bucks making piffle that the masses love. But he desperately wants to make Important Tendentious Films. (In a nice touch, the movie opens with the closing scene of his latest effort in that area.) His associates pooh-pooh this ambition, telling him that he hasn't suffered enough to be a credible serious filmmaker. So he resolves to impersonate a hobo, hop freights, live like a desperately poor person.

And along the way, he picks up Veronica Lake. That would never happen today.

What's good: quite a bit of clever dialog, some very funny bits, a powerful scene set in an African-American church. (And this must have been very powerful back in 1941, when the movie was released.)

What's so-so: McCrea and Lake, wonderful as they might be, don't have a lot of acting range. And the movie's famous switcheroo, shifting from slapstick and satire to—oops—temporary utter seriousness didn't work too well for me.

I like the movie's ostensible thesis, though. Oddly enough, it brought this dialog from Woody Allen's Stardust Memories to mind:

Sandy Bates: But shouldn't I stop making movies and do something that counts, like-like helping blind people or becoming a missionary or something?

Voice of Martian: Let me tell you, you're not the missionary type. You'd never last. And-and incidentally, you're also not Superman; you're a comedian. You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes.

"Indeed."

Last Modified 2014-11-30 2:08 PM EST