URLs du Jour

2009-05-31

  • P. J. O'Rourke had a nifty little essay on cars in yesterday's WSJ.
    The phrase "bankrupt General Motors," which we expect to hear uttered on Monday, leaves Americans my age in economic shock. The words are as melodramatic as "Mom's nude photos." And, indeed, if we want to understand what doomed the American automobile, we should give up on economics and turn to melodrama.
    If you don't at least smile at the antics of P. J. and his cousin Tommy with the family Buick, well, then, you have a heart of stone, sir or madam.

  • Jonah Goldberg is really good on "empathy" and how it relates to the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court: when empathy comes in the door, impartiality goes out the window. And "impartiality" is actually what a Supreme Count Justice must swear to uphold.

    Will Sotomayor cross her fingers when she does that?

    I think it would be pointless for the GOP to go scorched-earth on Sotomayor, but it would be nice to have a reasoned well-publicized debate about the future direction of judicial philosophy in this country; the Sotomayor hearings would be a good place for that to happen.

  • While I'm fantasizing about Things That Will Unfortunately Probably Never Happen, I wonder if the University Near Here—or any major University at all—would dare get Andrew Klavan as a commencement speaker?

URLs du Jour

2009-05-29

  • Politics 101 teaches that if you're gonna lie, you better tell the lie exactly the same way each time. But it seems that someone was absent that day.

  • I would not have expected someone to tie in Frederic Bastiat and Sonia Sotomayor, but John Hasnas did, and it's pretty good. Bottom line:
    Calling on judges to be compassionate or empathetic is in effect to ask them to undo this balance and favor the seen over the unseen. Paraphrasing Bastiat, if the difference between the bad judge and the good judge is that the bad judge focuses on the visible effects of his or her decisions while the good judge takes into account both the effects that can be seen and those that are unseen, then the compassionate, empathetic judge is very likely to be a bad judge. For this reason, let us hope that Judge Sotomayor proves to be a disappointment to her sponsor.

  • Amy Kane is eloquent on the topic of new discount airline JetAmerica, which is considering flying into Portsmouth NH via Pease, although after reading Amy's article, you'll probably be hoping they'll go out of business first.

  • Out at the University of Chicago, a student group called "Men in Power" is being set up to focus on "men's issues." Unintentional self-parody:
    Jessica Pan, president of Women in Business and a fourth-year student, questioned whether Men in Power's goals were being met by existing student groups.
    Or, shorter: "How dare they have the same thing for men that we have for women?"

  • (Another) great thing about Wikipedia: their articles (for example, about typefaces) often include links to webcomics (for example, those making fun of those typefaces).

    You just don't get that kind of service from the Encyclopedia Britannica.


Last Modified 2009-05-30 5:46 AM EDT

Now It's OK

At Slate, Timothy Noah called it "thuggish".

At the New York Times, Paul Krugman deemed it an ominous warning.

And at that same paper, Frank Rich said it was an example of fear "being wielded as a weapon against Americans by their own government."

What was it? The words spoken by then-presidential press secretary, Ari Fleischer, on September 26, 2001. From the second link above, here's Krugman's characterization:

Americans, Ari Fleischer ominously warned, "need to watch what they say, watch what they do." Patriotic citizens were supposed to accept the administration's version of events, not ask awkward questions.
You might (dimly) remember that, because folks like Krugman, Noah, and Rich hyped the quote mercilessly for years afterward to demonstrate how the Bush administration was ushering us into a dark era of dissent-quashing, patriotism-questioning neo-McCarthyite repression.

[For a more honest analysis of Fleischer's words in context, see the essay by Christopher Hitchens in Slate.]

All that was brought to mind by this:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs issued a pointed warning to opponents of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination Wednesday, urging critics to measure their words carefully during a politically charged confirmation debate.

"I think it is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they've decided to describe different aspects of this impending confirmation," Gibbs said.

The comments of Krugman, et. al. are eagerly awaited. I strongly suspect they'll all run along the same theme: But that's different! Sure it is.

(Note: Instapundit is far more instant, having noted this yesterday.)

URLs du Jour

2009-05-28

  • Local lad P. J. O'Rourke muses on the USA's descent into third-worldism:
    I don't mind America becoming a Third World country. The weather is better in the Third World than it is where I live in New Hampshire. And household help will be much cheaper. Does Carl Levin do windows? At my hacienda he won't have much choice. The troubled economy will soon be a thing of the past. Once we've got Third World-style full-blown business and government corruption, there won't be an economy. There will be, however, plenty of money after Beijing hauls away all our coal, oil, uranium, bourbon, and other natural resources that China lacks. Best of all, the GOP has a serious incentive to rebuild itself as a party and score some victories at the ballot box. Nothing motivates like "Win or Die."

  • Thomas Sowell says what needs to be said about the "empathy" of Judge Sonia Sotomayor:
    Nothing demonstrates the fatal dangers from judicial "empathy" more than Judge Sotomayor's decision in a 2008 case involving firemen who took an exam for promotion. After the racial mix of those who passed that test turned out to be predominantly white, with only a few blacks and Hispanics, the results were thrown out.

    When this action by the local civil-service authorities was taken to court and eventually reached the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Sotomayor did not give the case even the courtesy of a spelling out of the issues. She backed those who threw out the test results. Apparently she didn't have "empathy" with those predominantly white males who had been cheated out of promotions they had earned.

    Obama campaigned on "hope and change", but what we're getting is perpetuation of the stale, failed policies of racial preference.

  • My alma mater has been given a "red light rating" by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for "maintaining policies that clearly and substantially restrict free expression on campus." You'd think they'd want to do better than certain other schools.

    For the record, I never got in trouble free-expressionwise back in my college days, even though I was much more obnoxious then.

Graduation Weekend at the University Near Here

Sorry for the lack of timeliness on this post, but the past few days have been busy, busy, busy.

Against all odds, I found myself last weekend attending ceremonies centered around the college graduation of two members of the Salad household. This involved a lot of driving, parking, sitting, standing, walking, and waiting.

It's a huge deal, a major milestone, and I'm very proud.

Having said that, however, I'm going to immediately revert to political-crank mode, because there's nothing more irritating to those of a libertarian/conservative bent than a quick immersion in the cultural/intellectual smog of American higher education.

The first ceremony was the Honors Convocation, which (to my delight and pride) Pun Daughter was entitled to attend. It wasn't extremely exclusive, though: Names were called as the honorees filed up, across the stage, and back, and it took a good couple hours.

It kicked off with a lovely rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by a music student. Things started going a bit downhill with the opening "prayer", which didn't mention God much, but involved a lengthy quote from George Bernard Shaw, noted Fabian socialist and atheist/mystic.

In addition, we attendees endured the keynote address of about-to-be-ex-Provost Bruce Mallory. It was a mishmash: many shout-outs to the current heros of left-liberalism: John Dewey, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Francis Moore Lappé, Martin Luther King Jr. All this wrapped up in a discussion of the superior culture, early education programs, and other social structures of post-WW2 Italy, Mallory's research area. (That's why Italy is today the most prosperous and intelligent country in the world… oh, wait.)

In addition, Mallory gave "diversity" thumbs up to Sandra Day O'Connor, for her moronic decision in Grutter v. Bollinger. And also admitted that he taught a course named "Be the Change You Wish to See: Active Citizenship in a Multicultural World." (No, I didn't make that up.) Required reading therein:

  • the Seneca Falls Declaration of 1848;
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", from 1963;
  • Barack Obama's speech on race, "A More Perfect Union," from March of 2008.
If it were Sesame Street, I would have expected someone to start singing "One of these things is not like the others…"

Worse: no jokes.

The Commencement ceremony itself was more fun. Great weather, just a little cool. Again, it started with another lovely performance of the Star Spangled Banner by the (same) music student. The theme was green, green, green; Al Gore would have been ecstatic.

One of the big announcements of President Huddleston's address was that the ceremony's power was being provided by garbage: specifically, methane piped to UNH from a landfill in Rochester, NH. (This was technically not true, because I had just walked by a large trailer with a loud generator roaring on my way in; I'm pretty sure they weren't running it for laughs.)

You can watch a slick YouTube video about the "EcoLine" project here, or a cute Flash animation here (pay attention when the cows show up, there's a slight gag). EcoLine cost $49 million, and is supposed to pay for itself within 10 years, but neither figure is particularly well-publicized, which makes me skeptical about the payback. Note, if you watch the YouTube video, how deftly Paul Chamberlin (a nice guy, by the way) handwaves off the question about the project's economics.

The commencement speaker was Gary Hirshberg, CEO (or, as he says, "CE-Yo") of Stonyfield Farms. An excellent speaker: finally, we got some actually funny stuff. But the message was pretty much in line with the rest of the day. Stonyfield has made its profits on its "earth-friendly" image, organic, chemical-free, blah, blah, and we heard all about that. (Although he failed to mention that sometimes they screw up.) But he hit the normal eco-catastrophe notes about climate change, pesticides, etc. Hirshberg is a well-known Democratic activist, and Stonyfield's "Politics Down On The Farm" web page shows that it's a no-Republicans-allowed venue.

(The only time Hirshberg dissented from orthodoxy was with respect to the "locavore" gospel; he pointed out that—as far as energy usage goes—long distance transport of food is pretty efficient, so Stonyfield felt no compunction about buying ingredients from far away, blowing off local suppliers. Not surprisingly, you get a bit more skeptical about green propaganda when it impacts your green-as-in-money bottom line.)

Continuing in the green vein, one of the honorary degrees was given to Dennis Meadows, primarily in (belated) recognition for one of the classics of eco-hysteria, the Club of Rome's 1972 book, The Limits to Growth. Never mind that the specific predictions made in the book were wildly wrong. When you're in the business of scaring people in a politically correct cause, you're never simply "wrong"; it's instead claimed that you're "ahead of your time."

Perhaps making up for the Star Spangled Banner, a trio of Music Department folks (one facule, two students) did some songs in Peter, Paul, and Mary style while the graduates filed up to get their diploma covers. First up was "This Land Is Your Land" by that "cuddly old commie" Pete Seeger. But the rest of their performance was apolitical, and they did a great old Dylan song, "Don't Think Twice".

But after some more formalities, that was it, and the net total of Salad family college graduates increased by two. To repeat: I'm very proud, and hopeful that a college education really does teach kids to (at least eventually) think for themselves.


Last Modified 2009-05-28 6:02 AM EDT

The Wrestler

[4.5
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

As I type, The Wrestler holds onto the number 91 spot of IMDB's list of best movies of all time. Well, maybe that won't hold up. But it's very, very good.

It's the story of aging professional wrestler Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, played by Mickey Rourke. Randy is a pretty good guy: kids love him, and has the respect of his peers. (According to this movie, pro wrestling is, behind the scenes, a bunch of swell guys, nary a sleazeball to be seen.)

But Randy's self-destructive, and in a more literal sense than that term is usually used. As depicted in the movie, pro wrestling expects and rewards the giving and receiving of grievous bodily harm; Randy is an expert in both. There's no drug testing, and it seems just about everyone, including Randy, is on a steady diet of pharmaceuticals. All that takes a toll. When not in the ring, he sports a cheap hearing aid and dons reading glasses when necessary. Although he's good-hearted, his heart is on the verge of killing him.

But the normal kinds of self-destruction are around too: Randy's been estranged from his daughter for years. Outside the wrestling arena he's friendless, and is teetering on the edge of financial disaster. His only solace is occasional visits to the lounge where the lovely-but-aging Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) works. She's got her own problems.

It's not for the squeamish. Even I (not particularly squeamish) found myself cringing in a couple spots.

But it's a masterful acting performance from Mickey Rourke, and Marisa Tomei is just as good. They both deserved their Oscar nominations.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 5:49 AM EDT

Memorial Day 2009

Let's all remember.

URLs du Jour

2009-05-24

  • Genius Harvard Econ Prof Greg Mankiw points out that the "cap-'n'-trade" bill under consideration is in direct conflict with promises President Obama made on the campaign trail. And asks, I think puckishly, whether Obama will issue a veto threat.

    (Of course, if we had a non-sycophantic media, you might have heard about this from other sources. Which brings us to …)

  • Patterico notes, quite masterfully, what we mean when we talk about media bias: the disparate treatment of assertions made by Dick Cheney and Barack Obama. Guess whose assertions are singled out as being "difficult to prove"?

  • George Will criticizes a recent law review article by Zephyr Teachout, who sounds horrifying to anyone who takes free speech seriously. Prof Teachout means to find an "anti-corruption context" to "refine the meaning of the privilege of political speech." (Emphasis added.) Hence opening the barn door wide to allow the government to regulate. <sarcasm>Naw, I don't see any problems there, do you?</sarcasm>

  • Ladies and Gentlemen, the Washington Post has the amazing story of the Three Wolf Moon T-Shirt, Available in Various Sizes.

    For a day or two, a black T-shirt featuring an image of three wolves baying at a full moon claimed the top slot at the online store's clothing bestseller list,, beating out the usual, unremarkable mix of Levi's 505 regular-fit jeans, Crocs clogs and Adidas running shoes.

    Why? Because of an Internet meme started at collegehumor.com which pointed out the amusing reviews the shirt was getting.

    The t-shirt is made by a Keene, NH company "The Mountain." They seem equally amused and stunned. (Via Granite Geek.)


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:20 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-05-22

  • Charles Krauthammer notes Barackrobatics in a recent speech:

    Of course, Obama will never admit in word what he's doing in deed. As in his rhetorically brilliant national-security speech yesterday claiming to have undone Bush's moral travesties, the military commissions flip-flop is accompanied by the usual Obama three-step: (a) excoriate the Bush policy, (b) ostentatiously unveil cosmetic changes, (c) adopt the Bush policy.

    (Barackrobatics is a Pun Salad-coined word that according to the Google is finally coming into mainstream usage going nowhere fast.)

  • Rich Lowry makes a good point about how the same speech, beyond its standard flip-floppiness, typified how grating Obama can be to the unenraptured:

    But beneath its surface, the speech […] revealed something else: a president who has great difficulty admitting error, who can't discuss the position of his opponents without resorting to rank caricature, and who adopts an off-putting pose of above-it-all self-righteousness.

    Yes, that's getting pretty old.

  • For your Memorial Day Weekend driving pleasure: states ranked by driver quality and government exploitation of drivers. Yes, Granite Staters: New Hampshire beat Massachusetts on both lists. But not by as much as we might like.

    And for goodness' sake, if you find yourself driving in New Jersey (number 50 in driver quality, number one on the exploitation list): point your hood ornament at the nearest border and punch the gas pedal.

    Idaho, on the other hand, ranks very well on both lists. But 35 years of east-coast living has probably made me unfit to drive there.

    (First link from my close personal friend Dave Barry and the second from Instapundit.)

  • Consumer note: I ordered (through Amazon) this gizmo from a company named "Accessory Genie" out in California for my new iPod Touch. It came much faster than the estimated arrival date, and (so far) works great. Three wishes weren't included, but you can't have everything. So thumbs up for the Accessory Genie.

  • Pun Salad readers who (a) can appreciate geek humor; (b) watched at least the first two Terminator movies; (c) don't mind the usual Cracked-style language will probably enjoy selected e-mail messages sent by Craig Tapers, Senior Tech Support Engineer at Cyberdyne Systems.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:18 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-05-21

  • Brian Doherty of Reaason interviews Thomas Sowell on the ongoing crisis. I especially liked this:
    I think in the U.S. and in most of the world the public understanding of economics is abysmal. But it's one thing not to understand something. I don't understand brain surgery. It's another to want to form policies on things on which you are ignorant. I hear the wonderful phrase "I want to make a difference" when it comes to policy. I would be horrified if I wanted to make a difference in brain surgery. The only difference is more people would die on the operating table.

  • As if cued, Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek neatly skewers Obama's economic hubris.
    We Americans are lucky. President Obama, although having zero experience as an entrepreneur or in the automotive industry, has designed fuel-efficiency standards that (he assures us) will save the average car buyer $2,800 over the life of his or her vehicle. What a deal!
    I'm not sure but I think this may be sarcasm. Read the whole thing and see if you agree.

  • Bruce of No Looking Backwards performs a public service for Massachusetts folks: some formulas to calculate their "New Hampshire Retail Radius", which ballparks the break-even distance to come up here and buy stuff, given the recent MA sales tax boost. Hey, the more you buy, the more sense it makes. So when in doubt… (Via the Viking Pundit.)

    Now someone needs to come up with a calculator that shows when it's more economical to drive back to Massachusetts to save a few percent on the meals tax.

URLs du Jour

2009-05-20

  • A couple very different responses to the following excerpt from yesterday's story about recent changes to credit card regulation.
    "It will be a different business," said Edward L. Yingling, the chief executive of the American Bankers Association, which has been lobbying Congress for more lenient legislation on behalf of the nation's biggest banks. "Those that manage their credit well will in some degree subsidize those that have credit problems."
    Perhaps most typical is Bruce McQuain's (sensible) reaction at QandO:
    You begin to wonder, "why bother"? You pay your mortgage on time and end up subsidizing those who don't. You manage your household finances well and end up paying to bail out institutions which didn't. You stay on top of your credit cards and pay them off regularly and now you'll be subsidizing those who don't.
    But at EconLog, Bryan Caplan strikes a contrarian note:
    Wrong, wrong, wrong. When you make lending to high-risk people less attractive, the result is not worse terms for low-risk people who have been profitable all along. The result is that high-risk people get less credit. They used to be able to get credit despite their credit-unworthiness by paying extra; if the law forbids this, why lend to them?
    So… who knows? Some of Bryan's commenters point out that there's a question of to what extent regulations require "equal treatment" of low-risk and high-risk credit customers, and even I can see how that might mess up the analysis.

    What's nearly certain, however, is the usual results of sweeping onerous regulation: unforeseen consequences for which nobody in Congress who voted for this legislation will admit responsibility.

  • Down in Massachusetts, the legislature has approved a hike in the sales tax from 5% to 6.25%. I liked this bit from the linked Boston Globe article:
    "Maybe we should call this the New Hampshire economic stimulus bill," Senator Robert L. Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican, said with sarcasm.
    … but I'm not sure if that's actually sarcasm at all. If Senator Hedlund had said instead, "Hey, that's great. Just fantastic. I think this will really help our economy."—I think that would have been sarcasm.

    Anyway, to any and all Massachusetts readers: come on up. Buy stuff.

  • Yet another Obama campaign talking point turns out to be demagogic hot air. Anyone keeping count?

  • What geeks on a decent budget and a cool (albeit impractical) idea can accomplish: a working computer with components mounted inside a clear acrylic desk. (Via, of course, GeekPress.)

URLs du Jour

2009-05-19

  • Andrew Klavan watched the Keanu Reeves version of The Day The Earth Stood Still. Bad news for him, but good news for the rest of us.

    Anyway, as to the movie's plot: Keanu Reeves plays a monotonal alien, which is kind of like me playing a conservative novelist. He comes to earth on a mysterious mission so the Secretary of State summons astro-biologist Jennifer Connelly, because when aliens invade your planet, dude, you need the cutest scientist you can find.

    More seriously, Klavan notes that the movie unwittingly captures the "despicable and superstitious" misanthropy underlying at least some parts of the environmental movement.

    I gotta read me some Klavan.

  • You might remember the Barackrobatic campaign promise (noted here recently):

    "I can make a firm pledge," he said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12. "Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes."

    It depends on what you mean by "any form of tax increase", it turns out. If you mean laws and government regulations requiring you to shell out more money, well… Michelle Malkin notes the news story about new automobile "efficiency" standards:

    While the new fuel and emission standards for cars and trucks will save billions of barrels of oil, they are expected to cost consumers an extra $1,300 per vehicle by the time the plan is complete in 2016.

    The lame excuse:

    Obama said the fuel cost savings would offset the higher price of vehicles in three years.

    Due to other Obama policies, gas prices will almost certainly be through the roof by then, so this could be true, in an academic sense.

  • But that's OK, because you'll only have to shell out more money if you're one of the survivors. The new fuel standards, as Steven Milloy points out, won't just make us poorer, it will also kill a lot more of us by forcing us into lighter, more dangerous vehicles. You can get all cost-benefit here:

    The Natural Resources Defense Council said that the 35 MPG standard would save about one million gallons of gas per day. So how does that savings balance against the 2,000 fatalities per year that the National Academy of Sciences says are caused by those same lighter cars?

    For the sake of being utilitarian, let's generously assume that the mileage standards reduced the price of gasoline by $1. That would translate to daily savings of $1 million. Is that savings worth killing more than five people per day, plus other non-fatal injuries and property damage?

    When Andrew Klavan says that environmentalists are dangerous, he's not overstating things. And they're in charge, baby.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:32 AM EDT

Taken

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

Taken got decent reviews, with almost everyone liking the star, Liam Neeson. I suspect that if it starred Steven Seagal instead, it would be near-universally panned as the exploitative xenophobic schlock it is.

Which is fine with me, mind you, because I kind of like exploitative xenophobic schlock.

You may have picked up most of the plot already from TV snippets: Neeson plays Bryan Mills, divorced and lonely, aching to re-establish a relationship with his daughter Kim. She can bend him around his little finger, so when she pleads for permission to travel to Europe with a slightly-older friend, he reluctantly gives permission despite deep misgivings.

Which turn out to be utterly prescient, because like most young female American tourists, about 43 minutes after landing in Paris, Kim is kidnapped by Albanian white slavers. Fortunately, Bryan is an ex-spy. Despite his lumpy middle-aged exterior, he's actually quite good at ruthlessly taking out bad guys with foreign accents. Unless he needs information from them, in which case he tortures them first. And in this regard, he makes Jack Bauer look like Paul Blart, Mall Cop. Bryan is perfectly cool with hooking you up to the local electricity faster than you can say "Nancy Pelosi".

So it's good, mindless fun. It has an impressive body count for its PG-13 rating.


Last Modified 2014-11-30 3:15 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2009-05-17

  • This (PDF) letter is (sort of) old news, but it's yet another illustration of our new era of political thuggery, where individuals exercising their rights under the law are threatened with retribution by powerful government officials. Sent last October, it's from six members of the House Committee on Financial Services (Barney Frank, Maxine Waters, Luis Gutierrez, Paul Kanjorski, Carolyn Maloney, and Melvin Watt) to William Frey, President of Greenwich Financial Services in Greenwich CT.

    Dear Mr. Frey:

    We were outraged to read in today's New York Times that you are actively opposing our efforts to achieve a diminution in foreclosures by voluntary efforts. Your decision is a serious threat to our efforts to respond to the current economic crisis, and we strongly urge you to reverse it.

    The Gang of Six went on to demonstrate their understanding of the word "voluntary":

    Given the importance of this to the economy and to what it means for future regulatory efforts, we have set a hearing for November 12, and we invite you now to testify. We believe it is essential for our policymaking function for you to appear at such a hearing, and if this cannot be arranged on a voluntary basis, then we will pursue further steps.

    Ooh, "further steps." But the not-particularly-well-veiled threats continue:

    For the hedge fund industry, which has flourished for much of the past decade, to take steps so actively in opposition to what is currently in the national economic interest is deeply troubling and will clearly have serious implications for the rules by which we operate in the future if this posture of obstruction of our efforts is maintained.

    Or, shorter: Stop making us mad, or you'll be sorry. (I'm tempted to be more pungent here, but I try to avoid bad language: this Joe Pesci quote from Casino would be a good approximation.)

    In a society that respected liberty and the rule of law, Frank, Waters, Gutierrez, Kanjorski, Maloney, and Watt would no longer be in a position to bully citizens legally pursuing their economic interests. Instead the six were re-elected in November with (respectively) 68.0%, 82.6%, 80.6%, 51.6%, 79.8%, and 71.6% of the vote.

    We are in for a bumpy ride down the Road to Serfdom . Your assigned reading is Chapter 10, "Why the Worst Get on Top."

    (More comments from Clayton Cramer (who links to Frey's measured response), Positive Liberty, and Cafe Hayek. The initial NYT article that got the six Congressional thugs so agitated is here.)

    Punchline: John Berlau reports that when the hearing rolled around in November, Frey's "essential" in-person testimony was cancelled by the committee. Berlau suspects the obvious reason: if they couldn't get Frey to kowtow, the committee Democrats didn't want to give his arguments any further publicity.

  • Charlotte Allen lets atheists have it in the LATimes.

    I can't stand atheists -- but it's not because they don't believe in God. It's because they're crashing bores.

    It's funny because it's true. It gives us a chance to look back on some other atheist-pokers we've liked over the years:

    • James Taranto (himself a nonbeliever) also noted this unfortunate trait back in 2005 (here and here).

    • And of course, we recall George H. W. Bush's famed exchange with Robert I. Sherman of American Atheist Press back in 1987.

      RS:
      "Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?"
      GB:
      "No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."
      RS:
      "Do you support as a sound constitutional principle the separation of state and church?"
      GB:
      "Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists."

    • And Scott Adams:

      Perhaps you will argue that being 99.999999% certain God doesn't exist is just as good as being 100% sure. That strikes me as bad math.

  • NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day for, um, yesterday: Atlantis and Hubble in front of the Sun, slightly before their rendezvous. It was taken by French photographer Thierry Legault from Florida during the 0.8 second window in which the Sun, the spacecraft, and his camera were aligned. It's awesome.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 5:47 AM EDT

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

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

At Pun Salad Manor, we are no longer apologetic for watching kid movies with no actual kid present. Good is good, funny is funny. And you can do worse than this. It's zany, loud, frenetic, and fun.

It's a sequel to Madagascar, which I can not find any evidence I actually saw. No matter, the basic plot is summarized in the first five minutes of this movie: a bunch of New York zoo animals (all talking, of course) escape and make their way to Madagascar. In this movie, they manage to make it to an African wildlife preserve, where more wacky adventures and hijinks ensue. The big lion is reunited with his long-lost parents.

Dreamworks is no Pixar, either in their animation or story-telling skills, but there's (nevertheless) a lot of cleverness and talent involved here, when it could have been a cold, limp effort to squeeze some more money from the rubes, as so many sequels are.

It's PG for "some mild crude humor," mainly double-entendre designed to appeal to your inner sixth-grader. (News: You can get away with saying "Bring me my nuts on a silver platter" in a PG movie if you're saying it to a flight attendant.)


Last Modified 2012-10-08 5:47 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-05-15

  • Victor Davis Hanson looks back on the unmitigated disaster that was the first 100 days of the Palin presidency, as seen by liberal pundits.
    Also in the Times, Gail Collins weighed in on the already-tired yokelism of the new commander in chief. "What we're getting is Wasilla chic. That's what we're getting. She arrives in the Oval Office, and first thing sends back Blair's gift of the Churchill bust as if it's a once-worn Penney's outfit. Then she gives the Brits some unwatchable DVDs as a booby prize -- as if she idled the old Yukon and ran into Target's sale aisle. Did Sarah send Bristol into Wal-Mart back in Anchorage for that 'engraved' iPod for the queen? And what's this don't-bow-to-the-queen stuff, but curtsy for a Saudi sheik? Maybe that explains why she brags to Stephanopoulos about her 'Muslim faith.' So far, the best things going for her are Todd's biceps."
    Of course, they would have probably been just as hard on a Democrat who'd done the same idiotic things.

  • If you need to be reminded of the wacky disconnection between President Obama's fiscal words and fiscal actions, Jacob Sullum is your go-to guy:
    "We can no longer afford to spend as if deficits do not matter and waste is not our problem," the president said last week. "We can no longer afford to leave the hard choices for the next budget, the next administration -- or the next generation." I wish that Obama had some influence on the one who is setting the administration's fiscal policy.
    Indeed.

  • Cool illusions, via Jonah at the Corner. I'm not kidding, they're really neat. None of your father's "which line looks longer" stuff.

URLs du Jour

2009-05-13

  • Mark Steyn wins the coveted Pun Salad Read the Whole Thing Award for today, with his Imprimis essay "Live Free or Die".

    MY REMARKS are titled tonight after the words of General Stark, New Hampshire's great hero of the Revolutionary War: "Live free or die!" When I first moved to New Hampshire, where this appears on our license plates, I assumed General Stark had said it before some battle or other--a bit of red meat to rally the boys for the charge; a touch of the old Henry V-at-Agincourt routine. But I soon discovered that the general had made his famous statement decades after the war, in a letter regretting that he would be unable to attend a dinner. And in a curious way I found that even more impressive. In extreme circumstances, many people can rouse themselves to rediscover the primal impulses: The brave men on Flight 93 did. They took off on what they thought was a routine business trip, and, when they realized it wasn't, they went into General Stark mode and cried "Let's roll!" But it's harder to maintain the "Live free or die!" spirit when you're facing not an immediate crisis but just a slow, remorseless, incremental, unceasing ratchet effect. "Live free or die!" sounds like a battle cry: We'll win this thing or die trying, die an honorable death. But in fact it's something far less dramatic: It's a bald statement of the reality of our lives in the prosperous West. You can live as free men, but, if you choose not to, your society will die.

  • At the American Spectator, Daniel J. Flynn examines the efforts of Massachusetts to levy sales taxes on items bought in New Hampshire by Massachusetts escapees residents. Someone should check the Old Granary Burial Ground to see if Sam Adams is rolling in his grave yet.

  • Continuing today's state-based theme: Granite Staters might want to check out the plan from New Jersey architect Francis D. Treves to replace the Old Man of the Mountain with a giant glass replica head that you could walk around inside and look out. Kinda creepy, but at the same time, kinda neat.

    Daniel Webster famously said, about the original:

    Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoe makers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but up in the Mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.

    So what would Dan say about Mr. Treves's proposal?

  • If Daniel Webster were alive today, and if he were a blogger, and if he were to use the same method I did for naming his blog, he'd have a great choice of names:

    • "Breadline Stew";
    • "Liberated News";
    • "Reliant Dweebs";
    • "Blistered Anew";
    • perhaps even "Baldest Wiener". If he were doing, er, that kind of blog.

  • Few programming geeks will be able to avoid laughing at James Iry's Brief, Incomplete, and Mostly Wrong History of Programming Languages. The first entry should give you the flavor:

    1801 - Joseph Marie Jacquard uses punch cards to instruct a loom to weave "hello, world" into a tapestry. Redditers of the time are not impressed due to the lack of tail call recursion, concurrency, or proper capitalization.

    And, of course, one of the commenters points out that Jacquard's Loom may have lacked conncurrency, but it was multithreaded. (Via BBSpot.)


Last Modified 2012-10-08 5:46 AM EDT

Yi Yi

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

This movie got a passel of film-critic awards and mostly delerious reviews, but was snubbed at the Oscars. (It was the same year as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and apparently there was only room for one Taiwanese nominee.) The writer/director, Edward Yang, died a couple years ago, sad to say.

Yi Yi is a small-scope epic: it follows the Jiang family of Taipei over the course of a few months. There's NJ, the father; the mother is Min-Min; teenage daughter Ting-Ting, and 8-year-old son Yang-Yang. (I am not making up those names.) Each has his or her own problems: NJ's first love from thirty years ago shows up unexpectedly, and his business is being forced to seek out alliances for new products. Min-Min's mother has lapsed into a coma, and her idiot brother is in dire financial straits. Ting-Ting is wracked by guilt over her grandmother's illness, and she's getting sucked into the troubled relationships of the mother and daughter who live next door. And little Yang-Yang is tormented by older girls, and is gamely trying to find out the meaning of life through photography and swimming.

It's long, nearly three hours. But it's very touching, funny in spots, grim in others, ultimately optimistic and upbeat.

I was struck by Western influences: on the edge of the family bathtub are plastic bottles of Dove and Head & Shoulders; when Yang-Yang refuses to eat at a wedding reception, NJ takes him out to McDonald's for some Chicken McNuggets and fries; when Ting-Ting practices the piano, she plays Gershwin's "Summer Time"; a couple of scenes are set in a restaurant named "N. Y. Bagels"; and—for some reason this surprised me most of all—when NJ meets with a philosophical Japanese businessman, they converse in English. I didn't expect that.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:18 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-05-12

  • Much uncritical fanfare over the White House announcement yesterday about $2 trillion-with-a-T in health care cost savings over the next 10 years. But, even at Slate, that number falls apart under rudimentary skepticism. My favorite line, after one of the cost-cutting proposals is quoted:

    What does this mean? "I have no idea," [Princeton health economist Uwe] Reinhardt told us.

  • If you're the kind of rabid right-winger who would be interested in a book garnering this sort of review:

    The book also shows the ugly side of politics and what it does to people once they have become imbedded in Washington DC for too long. The book portrays Speaker Pelosi as vapid, prideful, arrogant, and as an elitist.

    … your Amazon link is right here. (Via Transterrestrial Musings.)

  • Your Gospel du Jour is Matthew 6:5-6:

    "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

    "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."

    Which is why, although I say a lot of negative things about President Obama, and will again, I think he made the right move on the "National Day of Prayer".

  • My pet peeve du jour is exemplified by Joel Achenbach, who is writing about the Hubble repair mission. It's complicated:

    You should have seen the guy from ATK [Alliant Techsystems] use all these customized tools to demonstrate how astronauts are going to break into a spectrograph that was never meant to be repaired. It looked like a challenging job even in the media center. So imagine that in space, at 17,000 miles per hour.

    That final detail is apparently meant to underline the whole inherent complexity of the mission. But, a break must be given unto me: everything will be going at 17,000 mph up there; there will (hopefully) be no relative speed, so it doesn't matter.

    Did you know I'm typing this at (approximately) 66,600 miles per hour? That's the orbital speed of earth around the sun. Ooooh, impressive!

    In his defense, I'm sure Joel knows better. But I see this sort of thing a lot. (Other examples here and here.)

  • Despite all the criticism I post about the University Near Here, I have to admit that it has its pluses.

    [T-Hall]

    (However, where I work is mostly butt-ugly industrial park concrete, metal, wood, and asphalt, and I don't think even Mike Ross could make it look pretty.)

  • Want to have a chuckle at the folly of the New York Yankees and their new stadium? If you were a fan who (for some reason) wanted to watch the Yankees play the Mariners, here are a couple of options:

    Option 1: Two tickets to Tuesday night, June 30, Mariners at Yanks, cost for just the tickets, $5,000.

    Option 2: Two round-trip airline tickets to Seattle, Friday, Aug. 14, return Sunday the 16th, rental car for three days, two-night double occupancy stay in four-star hotel, two top tickets to both the Saturday and Sunday Yanks-Mariners games, two best-restaurant-in-town dinners for two. Total cost, $2,800. Plus-frequent flyer miles.

    Plus also: Seattle's nicer.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 5:50 AM EDT

Lakeview Terrace

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

Random thought: Samuel L. Jackson is Hollywood's go-to guy for menacing. Samuel L. Jackson can't not look menacing. Samuel L. Jackson would look menacing if he were playing the title role in The Clarence Thomas Story in a tutu.

But that's real appropriate here. Mr. Jackson plays Abel Turner, a widowed LAPD cop taking care of his two kids with martinet discipline. When into the house next door moves the "mixed" couple Chris (white) and Lisa (somewhat less white); Abel takes an immediate dislike to the relationship and (especially) Chris. Initial uneasiness on both sides escalates throughout the movie, culminating in, pretty much, outright war. Years of cop experience allows Abel to find and exploit the tiny cracks in the couple's relationship, and he does so as if he's on a mission.

Abel isn't (really) a bad guy; his unexamined loathing of Chris and Lisa's mixed marriage even has a reason behind it, although it's a bit facile. OK, it's hugely facile. But not out of the realm of possibility. (And, at least from my POV, Chris really is kind of a jerk.)


Last Modified 2014-11-30 3:13 PM EST

Resolution

[Amazon Link]

This new-in-paperback Robert B. Parker western hit the threshhold last week, and on the top of the To-Be-Read pile it went. I noticed that the publishers put a "Great Read Guaranteed" sticker on this; you can send it back to them for a refund, if you're feeling churlish. I'm keeping mine.

It's a sequel to Appaloosa. (I previously blogged about both the book and the movie.) The heroes, Everett Hitch and Virgil Cole, split up at the end of that book, after Hitch decided he needed to go outside the law to rescue Cole's relationship with the perennially-unfaithful Allie French.

So Hitch moves on to the law-free town of Resolution, and is hired as a peacekeeper by local saloon magnate Amos Wolfson. It's not a bad gig, although he occasionally feels the need to contend with Wolfson over the decent treatment of his sex workers, which he calls, refreshingly, whores.

Things get complicated by Wolfson's irrational need to run the entire town, which requires elimination of his competition. And Virgil shows up, having been abandoned by his beloved Allie. What transpires is a lot of shooting, and Parker's usual meditations on male/male friendship and the ethical codes of people who make their living via violence mostly on the il- side of legal.

All in all, a good read, and I don't usually read westerns. In between violent episodes, Hitch and Cole discuss the political philosophies of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and try to fit them to their situation. I didn't notice them discussing Thomas Hobbes, probably even more appropriate for his observation of anarchistic life as being "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short"; certainly there's quite a bit of that here. I found myself wondering if there might be a political science professor, somewhere, who might assign this book as secondary reading.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 5:41 AM EDT

URLs du Trek

2009-05-09

Some Star Trek linkage:

  • JPod deems the movie "a mess, and a disgraceful mess at that." He compares it unfavorably with the original series' best episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever." Warning: his reasoning involves spoilers.

    (I don't disagree, but (on the other hand) I don't care either. I still liked it.)

  • The best movie reviewers (of course) are George Mason University professors of law and economics.

    Ilya Somin muses on the apparent socialist nature of the Federation. And points to the possibly-related note from Bryan Caplan who pointed out that the world of the future was pretty darn unimpressive, progresswise. A couple centuries of socialistic economic stagnation will do that to you.

    But Alex Tabarrok cheered the fact that young Vulcans get "rigorous training in mathematics, physics and economics." His marginal blogmate, Tyler Cowan, regrets that the movie lacked "information about the progress of monetary institutions."

    I have to admit, that was not in my top five thoughts.

    Russell Roberts and Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek have not as yet weighed in on the film.

  • Jonah Goldberg is probably the preeminent Star Trek geek in Rightyland, and while he enjoyed the movie, he has peeves. One is pretty long-standing:
    For instance, one of the silliest things about the original Star Trek was the habit of having the most important and most senior officers -- Kirk, Spock, and McCoy; and sometimes Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov -- always performing the most dangerous tasks (indeed, if you actually belonged on an away mission -- particularly if you wore a red shirt -- odds are you were doomed to die a horrible death). There are hundreds of people on board, and yet the captain and first officer are the ones who always have to fight this alien or go undercover on the Nazi planet. (I always wanted to write an SNL skit called "What if Gene Roddenberry Wrote World War II." The whole war would involve Churchill and FDR karate chopping or neck-pinching their way across Europe, all the way to Hitler's bunker, where FDR and Hitler would find it necessary to fight in a gladiatorial pit with long spears.) Abrams builds on this tradition, and has Kirk, Uhura, Sulu, and a 17-year-old Chekov not only take over the flagship of the Federation fleet almost minutes after graduation from Star Fleet Academy, but then in the case of Kirk and Spock, immediately run out and do all the fighting.
    Jonah also has major (spoiler-laden) problems with Spock. Again: (a) point taken; (b) I don't care.

  • Popular Mechanics looks at some scientific issues with the movie. One of their pictures shows Kirk, Sulu, and a red-suited crew member about to embark on a dangerous mission. Guess who doesn't make it back.

  • And for anyone who gets too nostalgic for the good old days, Cracked presents Star Trek's 6 Most Ridiculous Alien Races. Oh, lord, the space hippies. I was hoping to avoid them for the rest of my life. That episode was awful in 1969, and forty years' aging has not improved it.

  • And you may have heard the story about the small movie role given to late CMU CS professor Randy Pausch, but if not, click here.


Last Modified 2009-05-12 2:19 PM EDT

Barackrobatics: A Few More Dimes

A couple days back we noted that whenever President Obama used the term "every dime", it was almost certainly a signal of less-than-optimal truth content in his associated words.

As the math guys say, we can strengthen that theorem. My current speculation is that it's the single word "dime" that should get your BS detectors buzzing.

Exhibit One is this anti-Hillary ad from the Pennsylvania Primary campaign, conveniently titled "Dime":

The unctuous voice guy says: "And Obama's the only candidate who doesn't take a dime from oil company PACs or lobbyists." The helpful onscreen text says "Obama doesn't take money from PACs or Washington lobbyists."

Once the nomination was in the bag, Obama upped the ante by another dime:

"Today as the Democratic nominee for president, I am announcing that going forward, the Democratic national Committee will uphold the same standard -- we will not take a dime from Washington lobbyists," Obama said at a town hall meeting in Bristol, Va.

OK, so?

  • Note the careful phrasing about Washington lobbyists (something that got fuzzed over in much of the MSM reporting). Even Politifact, which can be relied upon to give Obama the benefit of many doubts, rated his claims merely "half true".

    He almost always qualifies his statement to note that he won't take money from federal lobbyists, a distinction that allows him to accept money from well-connected state lobbyists.

    […]

    And Obama still accepts tens of thousands of dollars from people who work for Washington firms that do substantial lobbying. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is an Obama contributor who isn't a registered lobbyist, but works as a consultant for Alston & Bird, a lobbying firm in Washington.

  • The Factcheck folks were similarly unimpressed with Obama's efforts to paint his campaign as oil-free :

    Obama has, however, accepted more than $213,000 in contributions from individuals who work for, or whose spouses work for, companies in the oil and gas industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

    […]

    In addition, two oil industry executives are bundling money for Obama - drumming up contributions from individuals and turning them over to the campaign. George Kaiser, the chairman of Oklahoma-based Kaiser-Francis Oil Co., ranks 68th on the Forbes list of world billionaires. He's listed on Obama's Web site as raising between $50,000 and $100,000 for the candidate. Robert Cavnar is president and CEO of Milagro Exploration LLC, an oil exploration and production company. He's named as a bundler in the same category as Kaiser.

  • Although the announcement that the Democratic National Committee would refuse that filthy, awful money from those dirty, nasty sources got a lot of publicity, a recent Politico article points out this is hardly a universal practice among the Democrats:

    The two major Democratic congressional fundraising committees agreed to forego lobbyist and political action committee cash at a June fundraiser in order to land President Barack Obama as the keynote speaker.

    But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will go right back to taking lobbyist and PAC cash - which Obama refused during his presidential campaign - the day after their June 18 fundraiser with Obama.

    Somehow that got a lot less attention from the media.

  • And don't forget: the purpose of the "Dime" ad was to trash Hillary as hopelessly in bed with corrupting special interests. A mere few months later, that ugly corrupt duckling became the beautiful Secretary of State swan, and nobody said anything more about her unsavory connections and contributions.

Exhibit Two is the oft-repeated tax pledge during the campaign, often worded this way:

"I can make a firm pledge," he said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12. "Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes."

He repeatedly vowed "you will not see any of your taxes increase one single dime."

That's from this recent AP story, appropriately dated April 1. The reporter goes on to say:

Now in office, Obama, who stopped smoking but has admitted he slips now and then, signed a law raising the tobacco tax nearly 62 cents on a pack of cigarettes, to $1.01. Other tobacco products saw similarly steep increases.

OK, so that's not an increase of a single dime; that's actually an increase of nearly four dimes. It's one of the Federal Government's regressive excise taxes, which kick lower-income folks harder in the teeth

And, finally, Exhibit Three, from a June campaign speech on "retirement security":

Right now, the Social Security payroll tax is capped. That means most middle-class families pay this tax on every dime they make, while millionaires and billionaires are only paying it on a very small percentage of their income.

Technically true, but incomplete enough to mislead: the payroll tax is capped, but so are the (eventual) benefits. The "millionaires and billionaires" get about the same-size Social Security check as the folks who made the around the salary cap.

Worse, Obama's actual proposal, fairness-wise, was even worse than the status quo: to keep his other promise not to increase taxes by a "single dime" for people with incomes under $250K, the rates got a little wacky, as Lawrence Lindsay described in the WSJ at the time:

Reporters cited the Obama statement without asking for the logic behind having someone making $100,000 pay on every dime and someone making $250,000 pay on just 41% of income, while someone making $10,000,000 would pay on 98.5% of income. There is no economic principle or theory of tax law that would endorse such a result.

It made pretty good political sense, though, in that the rubes were bamboozled enough to not laugh the proposal out of town. Politifact notes that Obama hasn't taken any action on this scheme yet.

Bottom line: when the President starts talking about dimes, watch yours.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 5:40 AM EDT

Star Trek

[5.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

You might have noticed I've been chomping at the bit. We went to the 9:40pm showing at the Strand Theatre in Dover, NH, a beloved dumpy old place with a big screen.

Although I invariably blog about movies I see, I don't consider them "reviews"; it's just stuff I feel like saying. And Star Trek is pretty much review-proof: you almost certainly know whether or not you want to see it, and nothing you read here will change your mind.

That said, it's fantastic. There's plenty of action from start to finish. The characters are sharply drawn without descending into psychobabble.

And, as usual, the guy in the red shirt gets it.

There's lots of humor, including many of the catchphrases we Trek geeks love.

Why, there's even a brief nod for the three dozen or so of us who liked Enterprise.

A huge amount of fun for someone who's been watching Star Trek in one form or another since 1966.


Last Modified 2014-11-30 3:12 PM EST

Stupidest Made-Up Word Seen Today

cybrary

URLs du Jour

2009-05-07

  • It's Odd Day; celebrate appropriately, but responsibly.

    (Actually, I thought just about any day I washed my socks was Odd Day.)

  • I think just about everyone in the universe hopes that Jerry Remy will get well soon. His subs in the NESN broadcast booth (Buck Martinez, Rex Hudler, Eck) have been "OK, but…"

  • I liked Manny too, but I'm kind of glad he's someone else's problem now.

  • Summary of this Washington Post story on Obama's budget "cuts": (1) It's $17 billion, which sounds big, but is actually 0.5% of the $3.4 trillion budget, and 1% of the proected $1.7 trillion deficit; (2) there's a considerable similarity to cuts proposed by Dubya; (3) nobody expects these cuts to actually happen, thanks to Congress; (4) the Department of Education maintains an "attache" in Paris. How do you get that job?

  • An actual headline in this morning's Foster's Daily Democrat:
    Judge drops deferred sentence for former Newmarket mother who dropped her child in Portsmouth
    With Foster's you're never sure whether this sort of thing is intentional or not. Later in the story, the reporter notes that the "former Newmarket mother" has been through "substantial substance abuse treatment"; that makes me lean toward intentional.

Barackrobatics: "Every Dime"

Back in February, in remarks made in nominating Judd Gregg to be Commerce Secretary, President Obama said:

We will act swiftly and we will act wisely. The vast majority of the investments in the plan will be made within the next 18 months -- immediately creating jobs and helping states avoid painful tax hikes and cuts to essential services. And every dime of the spending will be made available to the public on Recovery.gov -- so every American can see where their tax dollars are going.

He repeated the "every dime" usage in March:

It is the most sweeping recovery plan in our nation's history, and with a plan of such size comes an obligation to be vigilant with every dime we spend.

That promise lasted only slightly longer than Judd Gregg's nomination. Similar to what Mary McCarthy said about Lillian Hellman, every word was a lie, including "and" and "the".

Today, a USA Today article reports on the testimony of Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board, to a House subcommittee:

Although President Obama has vowed that citizens will be able to track "every dime" of the $787 billion stimulus bill, a government website dedicated to the spending won't have details on contracts and grants until October and may not be complete until next spring -- halfway through the program, administration officials said.

Oops. As Barbie is often (mis-)quoted as saying: "Math is hard." And putting names and numbers up on a website is a real tough technical challenge. Government employees might have to learn Excel, or something, and pay attention to the names on the checks they're sending out.

That "every dime" verbiage turns up quite a bit on the presidential teleprompter; as near as I can tell, it's a reliable marker for utter bullshit.

For example, Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in August:

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I've laid out how I'll pay for every dime -- by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don't help America grow.

At the time, even Newsweek noted that was false.

From the first presidential debate with McCain, denying his massive spending increases would bloat the deficit:

I think those are pretty important priorities. And I pay for every dime of it.

And, at the time, this was also noted as a lie. (Insert obligatory "not that McCain was much better" disclaimer here.)

More recently, Obama has used "every dime" in talking about the Chrysler bailout:

It's a partnership that the federal government will support by making additional loans that are consistent with what I outlined last month. As part of their agreement, every dime of new taxpayer money will be repaid before Fiat can take a majority ownership stake in Chrysler.

Uh oh. Given the history, I wouldn't bet a single dime on that happening.

And note the careful phrasing: "new taxpayer money". This is designed to avoid describing what happened to the $7 billion in old taxpayer money (i.e., a few months old), which, as Jim Lindgren notes, is gone and ain't never coming back.

The Washington Times also reported on Devaney's appearance at the subcommittee hearings. (And, to repeat, he's the chairman of the Accountability and Transparency Board.) Although the citizenry is currently unable to track the money, it turns out that our elected representatives aren't all that interested either.

Just three of the 10 members bothered to show up for the subcommittee's second meeting, dramatically titled "Follow the Money Part II."

Devaney was pressed by one of the three appearing members, on Obama's job promises:

Mr. Broun was most interested in Mr. Obama's claim that the recovery plan would create "or save" 4 million jobs, but noted that the number of jobs "saved" is likely unknowable and that since the president took office, 1.3 million jobs have been lost.

"How do you plan to verify the actual number of jobs created?" he asked.

"Sir, we haven't really received any information about that on the Web site," Mr. Devaney said.

It's Other People's Money, and what Milton Friedman once said about New York City applies pretty well to our whole country today:


Last Modified 2012-10-08 5:39 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-05-06

  • [Penny Black] It's the 169th anniversary of the world's first postage stamp, the "Penny Black". It bore the profile of Queen Victoria, then merely a year into her reign. Trivia that might win you some cash on Jeopardy!: because they invented stamps, the United Kingdom (unlike any other country) does not need to put its name on its stamps. It's assumed. And all UK stamps to this day contain a picture or silhouette of the current monarch.

    The great innovation of the Penny Black was the sender-pays concept for mail. The Penny Black image here was filched from Microsoft's Penny Black research project page, which is devoted to making senders incur additional costs for e-mailing, thereby making mass-spamming a less attractive economic prospect. As near as I can tell, this is going nowhere.

  • [44-cent yellow] Here in the US, postage rates are going up (again) in a few days. Instead of the Penny Black, we have the 44-Penny Yellow; since we don't have a reigning monarch, we make do with the next best thing.

    Consumer note: you can buy Forever Stamps now that will continue to work after the price increase. This Slate article contends (probably accurately) that Forever Stamps are not a good long-term investment. But these days, what is?

  • Further consumer note: As someone who once took an actual chemistry course, I recommend you avoid buying carbon-free sugar.

  • In continuing news, Jonah Goldberg points out that, gosh, the Democrats, having been swept into power largely on the perception of GOP corruption, are themselves pretty corrupt.

  • And Jacob Sullum points out that, gosh, the Obama Administration, having been swept into power amidst perceptions of Bush Administration lawlessness, is itself operating with little respect for the law.

  • And the indispensible Geraghty points out that, gosh, Obama has tasked Democratic tax cheats in the Executive and Legislative branches with going after "overseas tax cheats". (And for more datapoints in this particular vein: here and here.)

  • Fearless prediction: over the next few years, we'll be having an ongoing fascinating debate on what most typifies Democratic rule: corruption, lawlessness, or hypocrisy. It's gonna be a tough call.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 5:39 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-05-05

  • Happy Cinco de Mayo, the 147th anniversary of a famous French military victory. It's F. A. Hayek's birthday, and Sixteen Candles came out 25 years ago, er, yesterday. Which makes Molly Ringwald, errrrrr, yes, 41. Sheesh.

  • But at the White House yesterday, it was Cinco de Cuatro. I guess it wasn't on the teleprompter.

  • It's T minus 2 days until Star Trek. (The official release date is May 8, but the Strand in Dover NH has a couple Thursday night shows, see you there.) Bide your time with with "Instruction Manuals for the USS Enterprise". (It's Cracked, there's one bad word.) Sample from the Bridge Regulations:

    WARNING! All control consoles double as Firework Storage Lockers.

    On detonation of fireworks, please leap dramatically to the floor and feign unconsciousness.

  • In related news:


Last Modified 2012-10-08 5:38 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-05-04

  • Last week I mentioned a central tenet of the Statist faith: spending (or "investing") taxpayer money is an effective method to achieve worthy goals. The natural corollary: if you're not getting the goals you want quickly enough, the only possible problem is that you're not "investing" enough taxpayer money.

    Adherents to the faith have no problem with taking a turn to the ghoulish, as a recent interview with ex-Republican Arlen Specter demonstrates, in talking about government funding of medical research:

    Mr. Specter continued: "If we had pursued what President Nixon declared in 1970 as the war on cancer, we would have cured many strains. I think Jack Kemp would be alive today. And that research has saved or prolonged many lives, including mine."
    Specter is a true, childlike believer in the magical abilities of the State. Push more money in this end, cancer cures come out the other! Also ponies!

  • Mickey Kaus has a short post about how teachers' unions make it near-impossible to get lousy teachers out of the classroom. Via Mickey, the LA Times has a great pictorial of the maze of procedures that must be invoked to dismiss teachers accused of misconduct. It's jaw-dropping.

  • As one of his throwaway pearls of wisdom, Lileks remarks:
    […] the three most confusing words in the English language are "previously, on Lost."
    So true.

Bolt

[IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A non-Pixar animation offering from Disney, although Pixar's John Lasseter is the executive producer; it's pretty good!

Bolt is a cute little doggie, adopted from the shelter by cute little girl Penny. Penny's father is a good-guy scientist, abducted by sinister villains; but before he's taken away, he uses his scientific hocus-pocus to give Bolt superpowers: super-strength, super-speed, heat vision, etc. And Bolt pledges to protect Penny as she sets off on her quest to rescue her father.

Well, all except for the first sentence, none of that's actually true, but that's what Bolt believes. Because he's actually just a doggie method actor, starring with child actress Penny in his own dog-superhero TV series.

But one day, he's lost and accidentally shipped across country. Naturally, he has to figure out how to reunite with "his person," Penny. Will he meet up with a couple of ragtag companions to accompany him on his quest? (Yes, that's them over there on the DVD box.) Will he undergo amazing and amusing adventures, complicated by his superhero delusion? Will he eventually learn his true non-super nature? Will he be re-united with Penny? Will he do so while saving her from actual peril? (Have you ever seen any of these movies before?)

Anyhow: it's cute and clever, and you don't need kids around to have a good time watching it.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 5:37 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-05-03

  • The lads and lassie at the Right Coast continue to churn out massive amounts of sensibility. Tom Smith garners the coveted Pun Salad Read the Whole Thing award for today, for his political advice to Republicans: "The GOP Should Cowboy Up".

    In many ways, we live in fairly simple times. Obama has clarified things; you have to give him that. He and his supporters in Congress show every sign of seriously pursuing an agenda that stands a good chance of leading to if not economic ruin, at least hard times that go on for a long time. As I have said before, I think it is unfair to Socialism to call the Obama plan socialist. Obamaworld is a lot more like the corporatist capitalism of the 1930's variety, FDR and those Euro- New Dealers who went on to make such a mess of things. Italians. Germans. Japanese. You know whom I mean.

    The GOP has screwed up a lot, but turning themselves into an Obama-Lite party would be even stupider.

    The Transterrestrial Muser has more on the general topic here.

  • The New York Times has an interesting article describing how ecoAmerica, a "nonprofit environmental marketing and messaging firm in Washington" is recommending more effective (by which they mean: obfuscatory) language in environmentalist propaganda. Example:

    Instead of grim warnings about global warming, the firm advises, talk about "our deteriorating atmosphere." Drop discussions of carbon dioxide and bring up "moving away from the dirty fuels of the past." Don't confuse people with cap and trade; use terms like "cap and cash back" or "pollution reduction refund."

    The article tries hard to imply that both sides engage equally in this sort of bullshit creative wordplay. It doesn't seem that way to me, but make your own call; either way, beware of folks who try to sell you a spade by calling it something other than a spade.

  • Up at Bowdoin College, they're doing them some art in the annual "Naked Art Show."

    "We strip naked to distract ourselves from the fact that sexual attraction, innuendo, and cinematic romance exist at the expense of a broader-encompassing love for that unfathomable notion of humanity," [Bowdoin sophomore Bryant Johnson] said.

    No word on whether parents, especially Bryant's, are demanding a tuition refund. Sophomoric Bryant also opined:

    "These bodies are shocking [...] They are the bodies of college students invested in the future, determined to shatter the social coordinates of the privileged class' modes of distinction in a highly choreographed way."

    If you can make it up to Brunswick ME, it's free and open to the public, and it's probably the only way for you to see naked college students without getting arrested, perv. (Via University Diarist.)

  • Famous Bowdoin alumni include Franklin Pierce, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Admiral Robert D. Peary, and DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid, although I can't find any evidence of their participation in the Naked Art Show.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 5:37 AM EDT

Driving Like Crazy

[Amazon Link]

Here at Pun Salad World Headquarters, any book P. J. O'Rourke writes is a must-buy-in-hardcover, and it gets plunked right on top of the To-Be-Read Pile.

The subtitle is too small to read in the picture, and deserves quoting in full:

Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-bending, Celebrating America the Way It's Supposed To Be — With an Oil Well in Every Backyard, a Cadillac Escalade in Every Carport, and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Mowing Our Lawn
It's a collection of P. J.'s automotive journalism, although you don't have to be a Car Guy to enjoy the book; I'm not. Relatively little is actually about the vehicles themselves: most often, the pieces are about the misadventures of taking said vehicles to strange foreign places they really weren't meant to go, driving them in ways they shouldn't be driven, often in the company of people who might or might not be under the influence of substances licit or illicit.

The earliest piece is one I remember reading in the old National Lampoon magazine: "How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink"; it's still guaranteed to send members of MADD, NOW, and DARE into a quick swoon. (In fact, me just typing the title might be a valid entry in R. Stacy McCain's National Offend A Feminist Week link collection, although that's his call.) Better yet, there's a contemporary followup essay on the same issues; the title is even longer, and contains the phrase "the Drugs Are Mostly Lipitor".

Although technically a humor writer, P. J. does not do a lot of jokes, relying on his sharp powers of observation, and his Chandleresque ability to nail colorful metaphors. Michael Nesmith (yes, the ex-Monkee) is a participant in a number of chapters, and he actually gets the best joke in the book, at the end of a story about off-road truck racing in Baja California:

The only thing I couldn't understand is why anyone would do it. "Well," Nesmith said, "I like the big trucks and I like the people. But there's something else. I don't know if you'll know what I'm talking about. But I grew up poor in West Texas. There wasn't much to do. Sometimes one kid would say to another, 'Come on over to my house—we're gonna jump off the roof.'"
In opening and closing chapters, P. J. mulls the demise of the American car industry. He declines blaming the usual suspects (management, unions), instead pointing his finger right at the folks he calls the "Fun Suckers"; and now, of course, the Fun Suckers are in charge.

Last Modified 2012-10-08 5:36 AM EDT

RIP, Jack Kemp

I met him. Just before the New Hampshire Primary in 1988, he and then-Senator Gordon Humphrey were pressing the flesh at the (then) Shop n' Save in Dover. I wished him luck; I think I even voted for him that year. (He came in a distant third, behind winner George H. W. Bush and runner-up Bob Dole.)

Although written in January when Kemp's cancer was discovered, this article from Jeffrey Lord at the American Spectator is a pretty good retrospective.

"When you tax something you get less of it, and when you reward something you get more of it."

With that simple exhortation -- and this is a man born to exhort -- Jack Kemp changed his party, changed his country and, ultimately, changed the world.

If we had more politicians who had even that simple understanding of economics, we'd be in a lot better shape today.

Last Modified 2017-12-04 6:28 PM EST