URLs du Jour — 2009-07-31

  • I'm a fan of both (a) Dave Barry and (b) the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), so when they collaborate on a video, it's a must-post:

    FIRE's article on the video is here. Dave's currently having fun in Idaho.

  • Not surprising that robbing Peter to pay Paul is very popular with Paul.
    The House of Representatives voted to provide an emergency $2 billion for the "cash for clunkers" program on Friday, and the White House declared the program very much alive, even though car buyers appear to have already snapped up the $1 billion that Congress originally appropriated.
    Hell, why stop with $2 billion? Make it 20!

    Both New Hampshire Congresscritters voted for it, of course. Grant Bosse at NH Watchdog is on target as usual.

    The dead weight loss to the American economy is staggering. Thousands of perfectly good cars will be scrapped because Congress wants to curry favor with car dealers and car companies. Reader William Albenzi reminds me of the Broken Window Parable, in which destruction is mistaken for economic activity. Regardless of the cost to the Treasury, the cost of scrapping functional automobiles for a marginal increase in fuel economy is huge. Even weighed on purely environmental grounds, the benefits of increases as small as one mile per gallon must be offset by the sheer tonnage of rusting hulks added to American scrapyards.
    And a number of people are noting the wisdom of a New Yorker, reported by the local TV station:
    "If they can't administer a program like this, I'd be a little concerned about my health insurance," car salesman Rob Bojaryn said.
    Ya think?

  • On a self-interested note, it's System Administrator Appreciation Day. (Are we so starved for appreciation that we need one? Guess so.) So if your local sysadmin looks mopey, do something to buck him, or her, up.


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:09 AM EDT
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Coraline

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

This animated horror story is allegedly for kids, but—geez—I'd want to make sure your kid is pretty much immune to scary and disturbing images and intense situations.

Coraline is a smart and funny little girl, stuck with parents who aren't very nice to her, and stuck in an out-of-the way old house with oddball creepy neighbors. One night she discovers a doorway to some sort of alternate reality, where she meets her "Other Mother" and "Other Father", and various magically wondrous things happen.

The only off-putting thing, at first, is the Others' eyes: they're buttons. But everything else is a huge improvement! And the only downside is that Coraline keeps getting zapped back to the real world every morning.

Alas, things are not what they seem, and Coraline is called upon to be brave, clever, and resourceful in order to save herself, her real parents, and other victims of the surprisingly evil villain.

It's a very imaginative film, a stop-motion animation fest, and (sorry to use this cliché) visually stunning. A feast for the eyes. Lots of details zip right by, and I'm sure multiple viewings would be rewarding.

But (as I said) it might give your sensitive kiddos nightmares. Actually, I wouldn't have been too surprised if it had given me nightmares.

Consumer note: the DVD has a 3-D version on one side that you can view with red-green glasses. We didn't do that.


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:09 AM EDT
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Stimulus Lies

I've belatedly added NH Watchdog to my bloglist; it's run by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, and it's probably not good for my blood pressure. For example, it led me to this Union Leader editorial describing how $2 million in Federal "stimulus" funds is being used:

Here is the Obama administration's idea for how to stimulate the New Hampshire economy: Provide Boston commuters with free buses.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced on Friday that it is sending $2 million in stimulus money to the state DOT to buy four buses.

I won't cut-n-paste the whole thing, but read it yourself: it's brief, eloquent, and depressing. One Peter Rogoff of the "Federal Transit Administration" is quoted:
These funds are creating jobs now while investing in the future of our transit systems.
The skeptical Union Leader asked Jim Jalbert, the guy who runs the buses, how many "new jobs" would be created. His answer: four, maybe five. The math is pretty simple: that's $400K-$500K per job.

Now, I don't know Jim; even though we both live in scenic Rollinsford NH, we don't run in the same circles. It's a good bet that my property taxes would be higher if he weren't around, so I'm grateful for that. I'd like to say this is a payback to a reliable Democratic Party contributor, but a quick check of OpenSecrets.org shows that he's a GOP guy, and his political sympathies, if anything, are a couple notches to the right of mine. I'm sympathetic, because he operates a service that's highly regulated and his competition, such that it is, is also highly subsidized. He has a response further down on the editorial's web page, which you should read. But I think the conclusions are unavoidable:

  • Painting the $2 million as job-creating "stimulus" is dishonest. It's a handout, plain and simple.

  • If bus service is really that popular, it should be supportable by its passengers.

  • If that $2 million were left in private hands, people might use it to choose to support bus service, they might not.

  • The jobs that would have been created from the (theoretical) $2 million in private hands are "unseen" (read Bastiat for a refresher on that). I bet it would be more than four or five, though.

  • The point is: the folks running the "stimulus" would prefer not to take the chance you would make the "wrong" choice, and create the "wrong" jobs.

  • Jim Jalbert should buy his own damn buses.


Last Modified 2009-07-29 2:20 PM EDT
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A Darkness More Than Night

[Amazon Link]

Michael Connelly is on the short list of authors I'm trying to catch up with. By my count, this 2001 book was his tenth novel, and he's currently up around twenty. At this rate… ah, it's too depressing to think about.

But Connelly's really, really, good. If you like hard-boiled crime fiction, you'll like him. This one is long, about 470 paperback pages, but it's a page turner.

It has two main characters, both from previous Connelly books: Terry McCaleb from Blood Work, and Harry Bosch from a lot of previous books. McCaleb is fragile, a heart transplant patient taking over fifty pills a a day. He's married to the sister of his heart's previous owner (long story there), and is living a more or less contented life on Catalina.

But in his previous life, McCaleb was an FBI profiler, one of the best. A stumped local cop pulls him into a murder case, and McCaleb's investigation points to an unlikely suspect: the aforementioned LAPD detective Harry Bosch, who had tried and failed to nail the victim for the murder of a prostitute.

What's going on? Harry has been the hero of a number of previous Connelly books, but he's always been a little less likeable and a little more squirrelly than your traditional crime fiction protagonist. Could he have gone that far around the bend, though?

Anyway, it's a compelling and suspenseful read, with a thrilling climax, a satisfying conclusion, and a surprise twist right at the very end.


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:08 AM EDT
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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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

Going to see the latest HP movie has become a tradition for us. We waited for a week, though, and the Saturday afternoon showing at the Strand Theatre was sparsely attended. If you want to see it, you might want to brush up on what's gone previously. I'd forgotten some points, like exactly who/what the death-eaters are. (And even now that I know who the "Half-Blood Prince" is, I'm not sure why he's called that, or why it's important.)

It's Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts, there's a new professor (Slughorn, played amusingly by Jim Broadbent), Snape is still moody and dark, and Dumbledore assigns Harry to find out what's going on. This seems to be a task that for which Harry is woefully inadequate, but (as in previous entries in the series), he always seems to do an adequate job and survive until the end of the film.

Also, there's an amusing subplot about raging teenage hormones; prospective wizards have those too. Much talk about "snogging"; I wonder if they considered releasing the movie with American subtitles?

But if you've read the books, you know that the ending of this, the penultimate one in the series, is not a happy one. The final book is being made into two final movies, which only shows that the filmmakers know people like us too well.


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:08 AM EDT
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Bob Bestiani: I'd Be a Bigger Porker Than Carol Shea-Porter

The Granite Grok folks allowed GOP candidate Bob Bestiani to rant about the person he'd like to replace, Congresswoman/Toothache Carol Shea-Porter:

Our Congresswoman, Carol Shea Porter proudly reported today that she had secured all of $1.5 million to fund two local New Hampshire projects. One million of this was for streetscape improvements in the Gaslight District in Manchester and $500,000 for infrastructure improvements for the Berwick Bridge in Somersworth.

Great, thank you! In the meantime, the State Department of Transportation has a Red List of 77 bridges most in need of repair. The projected cost, according to DOT, would be $403 million. The DOT estimates that there are resurfacing needs on highways that would cost $58.7 million. A quick calculation shows that this appropriation represents 3/10 of one percent of what New Hampshire needs.

I guess the fight against pork-barrel earmarks is over, when the NH GOP's best and brightest can only complain that the Democrats are ineffective at it.

It's not as if better lines of attack against Spendocracy aren't available. Here is a Word doc from the Josiah Bartlett Center's Grant Bosse (from back in January) with a more focused look:

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation Wish List for spending the anticipated federal windfall from the Obama Administration ignores legislative priorities from the Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan, and misses an opportunity to fix every Red List bridge in the state.
The big culprit: the DOT asking for a cool $300 million for implementing commuter rail on the Lowell-Nashua-Manchester line. Not only are the upfront priorities dubious, at best a new commuter rail line would put NH on the hook for ongoing subsidies, roughly forever.

Last Modified 2009-07-26 9:55 PM EDT
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Last Chance Harvey

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

A perfectly pleasant little movie with first class acting and no surprises. You can get most of what's going on by looking at the DVD box over there: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, London.

Dustin plays Harvey Shine, a musician who's been reduced to writing music for commercials, and even that's in jeopardy. He's in London for his daughter's wedding, but he seems doomed to remain on the periphery of events, placed in a hotel while the rest of the wedding party stays in a rented house. Worse, his daughter wants handsome new daddy Brian to give her away.

Meanwhile, Emma plays Kate Walker, who seems to be well on her way to old-maid status. She has a job interviewing incoming tourists at Heathrow; her co-workers try to set her up, but it doesn't work out.

So (yes) these two lonely people find each other. It's an OK movie, and it's always difficult for me to take my eyes off Emma Thompson. It follows the usual romantic comedy plot: setup, meet-cute, getting-to-know-you, crisis, reconciliation. Very short at 93 minutes, and they take their sweet time in telling the story, so there's not much to it.


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:08 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-07-23

  • My very own Congressperson, Carol Shea-Porter is featured at Hot Air, and is skewered by Captain Ed for her remarks on health care.
    "I just wanted to make a couple of comments. I heard one of my colleagues say 'waiting in line,' that people would be waiting in line for medical care. I would like to say that many of my constituents would love to wait in line for medical care," Shea-Porter stated. "They are yanked out of line because they don't have coverage."
    Carol's solution means that everyone will wait in line. Ed points out that, for people in the Obama/Shea-Porter mindset, the real issue isn't improving health care; it's a fetishistic imposition of "equality".

  • Skip at GraniteGrok notes the latest embarrassment associated with the University System of New Hampshire, the final (PDF) report from the "Governor's Task Force on Young Worker Retention". Page 13 deserves special attention:
    The Task Force received several comments regarding the issue of branding the state that would help attract and retrain young workers. Through input and discussions, there is strong sentiment that the "live free or die" slogan does not connect with this demographic and that something else is needed.
    How about "Get the Hell Off My Lawn"?

    Skip is eloquent in his takedown of this nonsense.

  • Apparently at last night's news conference, President Obama accused doctors of getting rich off unnecessary tonsillectomies. Frank J helps out with some possible strategies if your kid's doctor is playing this game. For example:
    Take your child's medical files and send [them] to Barack Obama. He or another qualified bureaucrat will determine whether the operation is necessary.
    Actual physicians are more diplomatic in expressing their disagreement. (Remarkably so, given the president's intimation that they were all a bunch of greedy slimeballs.)


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Shut Up, Hurry Up, Pay Up, Drop Dead

Gosh, things are all, like, fast and furious on the Obamacare front.

  • In a conference call to lefty bloggers last night, President Obama revealed his "shut up" strategy:
    While [Obama] refused to insist that lawmakers stay in Washington during the August recess, he declared definitively that, "the time for talk is through."
    Of course, he wasn't asking the lefties to shut up. What he means is that the time for deliberation and careful consideration is over. (That time was from 3-5pm on Friday, April 17. Sorry if you missed it.)

  • But—wait a minute—the White House also floated a different "shut up" argument the day before:
    President Barack Obama's advisers are urging critics of their health care overhaul to wait for Congress to finish writing legislation before issuing verdicts.
    So either the "time for is talk through" or it's not here yet. Either way, the message is clear: shut up.

  • Rich Lowry points out the "hurry up" prong of the Obamacare strategy:
    Do it now, before anyone can grasp what exactly it is that Congress is passing. Do it now, before the overpromising and the dishonest justifications can be exposed. Do it now, before Obama's poll numbers return to Earth and make it impossible to slam through ramshackle government programs concocted on the run. Do it now, because simply growing government is more important than the practicalities of any new program.
    It makes a perfect complement to the "shut up" demand.

  • The "pay up" part is also being handwaved around. The main idea here is to obfuscate the winners and losers, but math says that if you have to come up with a trillion (and probably more) over the next ten years, there are gonna be a lot of losers. Nancy Pelosi, in a meeting with USA Today's editorial board used revealing language:
    "Many members think there's more to be squeezed from hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and docs out of this bill," Pelosi said. "I believe there's more to be squeezed."
    Squeezed, huh? All together now, folks: Moooooo

    The same article also quotes a Senator:

    Finance chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., emerged from a meeting late Monday to say members are considering several new ideas to pay for health care legislation proposed by Obama's budget chief, Peter Orszag.

    "They're interesting, they're creative," Baucus said. "Some of them are kinda fun. But I don't go farther... who knows which ones we're going to agree to or not."

    Fun! Well, kinda fun. The main point: he's the one having fun. Good luck on finding out how much fun you're going to have until it's too late to do anything about it.

  • Finally, one item that might benefit from additional scrutiny and deliberation is section 1233 of the House bill, which is currently titled "ADVANCE CARE PLANNING CONSULTATION", but probably could be renamed to something like "WOULD YOU FOR CHRISSAKE JUST DIE ALREADY TO SAVE US SOME MONEY". It requires seniors to get a tutorial from a "practitioner" on end-of-life issues. No word on whether the "practitioner" would need to wear a hooded black cloak and carry a scythe.

    At Q&O, Dale Franks makes pithy observations on the topic:

    Forget all the kind rhetoric about "dignity". Let's call it what it is: Geriatric Euthanasia. And let's be very clear about why we want the old people to die: We've sucked all the economic productivity we're going to get out of them, and it's more convenient to kill them than it is to assume the financial burden of their care. You can pretty it up with all the flowery language you want, but at the end of the day, it comes down to, "You cost too much to keep alive. Just die."
    In other words: When your troika is headed down the Road to Serfdom, you need to toss the occasional poor sap to the wolves in pursuit.


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URLs du Jour — 2009-07-20

  • Wired has a great collection of Apollo 11 anniversary links.

    I'm repeating myself from a couple years ago, but still like what Ray Bradbury had to say back then:

    "Now look. Everyone shut up. You don't know a damned thing about what's going on here tonight, and that's why people like myself are needed in the world. I want to tell you what in hell it means. This is the greatest night you will ever know!

    "There are two nights the Western world will look back upon a million years from tonight. A million years! I'm not talking about a hundred or a thousand years. I'm talking about a million years from tonight.

    "The birth of Christ probably is a very important date that changed the world in many ways for the better and, in some ways, for not very much good at all.

    "But the second most important date is this night that we're going through right now. Because it's the night when we become immortal-when we begin the steps that will enable us to live forever. Now, if you don't know this, you don't know anything about space."

    Only 999,960 years to go to find out if Ray was right.

  • William Kristol looks at a Newsweek essay by Teddy Kennedy and Robert Shrum on health care "reform" and detects policy prescriptions that could be characterized as "rationing". From their godlike perch, Shrum and Kennedy detect "unnecessary" procedures that could easily be abolished by easy-peasy new regulations and payment schedules.

    Riiiiight. Sure they could.

    But, as Kristol notes, that alleged totally-sensible reform could happen with Medicare right now, without the the whole "universal coverage" thing. If it's such a great idea, why don't they do that first?

  • Drudge is all over the bizarre "stimulus" spending data posted at recovery.gov. My "favorite" so far: $1,444,100 to "REPAIR DOOR BLDG 5112" at Dyess AFB just outside Abilene, TX.

    That's a mighty fine door. (To be fair, it's probably a hangar door. But still… you feeling stimulated yet?

  • Dave Barry remembers his friend Frank McCourt. Funny and touching; read the whole thing.


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:07 AM EDT
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Prayers for the Assassin

[Amazon Link]

Robert Ferrigno came to my attention via a 2004 Slate article where various authors were asked for their presidential voting choices. The folks voting for Dubya were vastly outnumbered: Orson Scott Card, Roger L. Simon, Thomas Mallon, and Ferrigno. Here's his explanation:

Mark me on the Bush side of the ledger, a lonely side for this survey, I'm certain. Most novelists live in their imagination, which is a fine place to be until the bad guys come knock knock knocking. I don't agree with Bush on shoveling free meds to granny and grandpa, or his antipathy to fuel conservation along with opening up the arctic reserve, but this is small stuff. I'll be voting for Bush because his approach to stopping the people who want to kill my children is the right one, i.e., kill them first. Kerry will dance the Albright two-step with Kim Jong-il, consult with Sandy Berger's socks, and kowtow to the U.N. apparatchiks who have done such a fine job of protecting the Cambodians, Rwandans, and the Sudanese. No thanks. No contest.

Uh, wow. At the time, I was reading the Usenet group rec.arts.mystery; the above caused at least one sensitive soul to drop Ferrigno from her reading list. But it put him right on mine.

Ferrigno had been writing rather straightforward hard-boiled crime fiction, but this is a thriller set in a nightmarish near future. It's premised on nuclear terrorist attacks in 2015 which leaves New York City and Washington D. C. in rubble; a dirty bomb has rendered Mecca radioactive for the next few dozen millennia. The attacks are convincingly pinned on Mossad agents. This causes massive conversions to Islam in the US, and an eventual civil war between the evangelical-Christian old south and just about everyone else. Israel is destroyed, and everywhere else the market for kosher food goes way, way down.

The main part of the book is set when things have settled, thirty years later. Seattle, the new capital, is a mixture of religious despotism, ecological wasteland, and tolerated libertinism. (Go out of the cities, though, and things have devolved into a nasty-brutish-short Hobbesian fantasy.) The protagonist, Rakkim, is an ex-Fedayeen, ex-cop, now making a living transporting refugees to the relative safety of Canada. His true love, Sarah, has gone into hiding while doing historical research into the terrorist attacks. Her uncle, who happens to be Director of State Security, appeals to Rakkim to track her down. But even more deadly and mysterious figures also want to get their hands on Sarah. Conspiracy, betrayal, and danger abounds.

I don't know that an Islamic takeover of much of the US is very credible, but, on the other hand, I don't know that it isn't either. That aside, Ferrigno's imagined world is meticulously researched, much based on practices in actual "Islamic republics".

The book is the first in a trilogy, so I'm signed up for the others as well.


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:13 AM EDT
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Knowing

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

Well, here's the story: In 1959, a Lexington, Massachusetts elementary school class draws pictures for inclusion in a time capsule. The only exception is strange little Abby, who insists on covering the page with digits. Nevertheless, it goes in with the other students' work. Jump to the present day, the time capsule is opened, and Abby's number list falls into the hands of young Caleb Koestler. His widowed semi-alcoholic father John, played by Nicolas Cage, is intrigued, and eventually works out that it's a chronicle of disasters, describing the time and place of major losses of human life. And only most of them are in the past.

The rest of the movie chronicles John's frantic efforts to figure out what's going on and see if Abby's final prediction of disaster—and as you can probably dope out from the DVD box over there, it's kind of a biggie—can be prevented.

Spoiler: nope, sorry humanity.

The only out is these weird, slightly menacing, folks hovering around Caleb (and also, as it happens, Abby's granddaughter). What's up with them?

I'm not a fan of movies where nothing the characters do make the slightest bit of difference to the final outcome. (Although they go through a lot of anguish on the way.) The movie also adds in heavy dollops of new-agey sophomoric mysticism, which also irritates.


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:06 AM EDT
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Perverse Incentives

This econ course handout reports on the experiences of econ prof Judith Thornton, now at the University of Washington. When Professor Thornton was a student in Moscow she noted "...the small, blue metal lamp on my dormitory desk was so heavy it took two people to lift it. The lamp base had been filled with lead ..."

Here are a couple hints about what was going on: (1) This was while the Soviet Union existed; (2) Soviet factory managers were given "output targets" to meet and were incentivized to exceed them. The handout asks:

Predict the basis on which the quota of the lamp factory was set.
What do you think?

Professor Thornton also reported on what happened when the lamp's bulb burnt out and she went shopping for a replacement: all she could find were "...tiny night lights or giant flood lights but not bulbs suitable for a desk lamp." This was the result of a changed output target. The handout asks you to fill in the blanks:

The output target that resulted in thousands of tiny night lights was _________________. When the output target was changed to ______________, the result was giant flood lights.
Again, I don't think you'll have much trouble answering.

I was reminded of that story by a report in the Boston Globe noted by Arnold Kling of EconLog. The story is about Massachusetts' efforts to rescue the health care "reform" it enacted in 2006.

A state commission recommended yesterday that Massachusetts dramatically change how doctors and hospitals are paid, essentially putting providers on a budget as a way to control exploding healthcare costs and improve the quality of care.

The 10-member commission, which includes key legislators and members of Governor Deval Patrick’s administration, voted unanimously to largely scrap the current system, in which insurers typically pay doctors and hospitals a negotiated fee for each individual procedure or visit. That arrangement is widely seen as leading to unneeded tests and procedures.

Think of patients as the Soviet lamps and lightbulbs, and doctors and hospitals as the Soviet factory managers, responding to incentives imposed under a grand "reform" plan.

Then ask yourself: what's the health-care analog of Professor Thornton not being able to find a replacement bulb for her impossibly heavy blue desk lamp?

Arnold's comments are eloquently on target, and I'll just swipe them:

Maybe the commission's proposal is a step in the right direction. Even if it is, I would suggest that perhaps no expert knows how to design the health care system. We may need a lot of trial and error. Government takeover means that you try something new every few years...maybe. Your choices are limited because entrenched interests preclude many options.

With markets, trial and error takes place continuously. A lot more things get tried. Failure gets weeded out more ruthlessly.

Of course, no one on the Left believes that. The core belief there is that experts know best, and that experts are only thwarted by evil corporations and stupid conservatives. The notion that no expert knows very much, and that the evolution of market processes produces better outcomes, is too threatening to contemplate.

I'll extend that: the old Soviet planners were not (exactly) stupid, but they were operating under the worldview that their economic "system" was entirely rational and capable of producing prosperity.

Today, we know they were wrong, but advocates of "health care reform" are operating under a similar hubris: myriads of regulations, subsidies, taxes, and penalties will give us a "system" where everyone will thrive and prosper. Any chance we'll take the right lesson from the Peoples' Republic of Massachusetts, before the country as a whole wanders down that road?


Last Modified 2011-02-04 1:50 PM EST
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URLs du Jour — 2009-07-18

  • The effort by the Bureau of the Public Debt to engage "Humor in the Workplace" presentations for an upcoming meeting (that we blogged about yesterday) has been cancelled. Awww.

    Your Federal Government pledges to try to waste your money in less-easily lampoonable ways in the future.

  • Eugene Volokh writes on a funny feature with the Amazon Kindle: what Amazon provides, Amazon can also de-provide.

    Fans of 1984: make sure you catch the comment at the end.

  • The Gorilla Glue Company wants you to know that they do not, repeat, do not, advocate use of their product to keep President Obama in the Oval Office desk chair.

  • Usually NSFW refers to … um, something else, but at Cracked it's very literal. Avoid if you're averse to either the usual Cracked bad language or simulated workplace carnage.


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Laughing All The Way

There are differing opinions as to what location deserves the title of "The Happiest Place on Earth". Some say Disneyland, some say Denmark. But as near as I can tell, nobody thinks it's the Bureau of Public Debt. They describe their task thusly:

Our job is to borrow the money needed to operate the federal government and to account for the resulting debt.
In other words, for someone who cares about the fiscal health of the nation, it must be a damnably depressing place to work.

Little wonder that they're looking for a little joy and sunshine (via Drudge):

This is a sources sought notice and not a request for quotations. The purpose of this announcement is to seek qualified contractors with the capability to provide presentations for The Department of Treasury, Bureau of the Public Debt (BPD), Management Meeting with experience in meeting the objectives as described herein.

The Contractor shall conduct two, 3-hour, Humor in the Workplace programs that will discuss the power of humor in the workplace, the close relationship between humor and stress, and why humor is one of the most important ways that we communicate in business and office life.

So—let me get this straight—managers are trying to learn how to be funny in the workplace.

Everyone who has read more than three Dilbert cartoons knows: this is hopeless. What kind of a joke would managers in the Bureau of Public Debt find amusing?

Q: How many managers in the Bureau of Public Debt does it take to borrow $7,238,613,847,252.09 from the public?

A: All of them.

They go into more detail on what they're looking for:

Participants shall experience demonstrations of cartoons being created on the spot. The contractor shall have the ability to create cartoons on the spot about BPD jobs.
Cartoons? Really?

[DEBT]

I can't help but think that BPD-specific cartoons wouldn't be very funny at all.

The presenter shall refrain from using any foul language during the presentation. This is a business environment and we need the presenter to address a business audience.
The BPD doesn't make it easy; try looking at this graph without using foul language:

[Whoa]

Federal Debt Held by the Public Under CBO's Long-Term Budget Scenarios (Percentage of GDP)

More guidelines from the BPD:

Upon completion of the course, participants shall be able to:
  • Understand the importance and power of humor in the workplace in a responsible manner
  • How to use talents in a creative way that adds humor to everyday experiences
  • Alleviate stress in home and the office
  • Know how and why humor is important to communication
  • Improve work-place relationships
  • Prevent burn-out
Keep in mind that it takes scores of living, breathing Federal employees to write this stuff, approve it, put it on the web, handle responses, etc. And nothing that comes out of this process will be amusing in the slightest.

A Bureau of Public Debt manager and a taxpayer are in a bank, when armed robbers suddenly burst in. While several of the robbers take the money from the tellers, others line the customers up against a wall, and proceed to take their wallets, watches, etc.

While this is going on, the BPD manager jams something in the taxpayer's hand.

Without looking down, the taxpayer whispers, "What is this?"

To which the BPD manager replies, "It's that $7,238,613,847,252.09 I owe you."

Personally, I think they'd get better results just running six hours' worth of Marx Brothers movies.

I went to visit the Bureau of Public Debt. There was a sign on the door: "Cashier has less than $10,000,000,000,000.00 at any time."

Anyone got more?

The village idiot was giving a talk before an AARP chapter. "We're going to go bankrupt as a nation," said the idiot.

"Well, people that I say that to say, 'What are you talking about, you're telling me we have to go spend money to keep from going bankrupt?'" the idiot said. "The answer is yes, I'm telling you."

Oops, not much of a punchline. Because, unfortunately, that one's not a joke.


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:06 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-07-16

  • First off, P. J. twitters the Constitution. Sample:
    Flame on -church+guns. No GIs n cribz. No frisk w/o ProbCawz Due Pross rox Plea5th Get off my lawn SpeedTrialz w/jur&shystr. Pwr 2 D Peeps.
    Why, it's written so a 15-year-old could understand it! Please fetch me a 15-year-old.

  • The Washington Post is editorially opposed to the House Democrat plan to fund "health care reform" via a huge surtax on high-income taxpayers. Good for them, but for true eloquence on the general topic, read Captain Ed at Hot Air:
    Nowhere in the Democrats' plan do they explain why 2.1 million Americans should have to pay to reform the health-care system for 300 million Americans, nor does the Post explain why 2.1 million Americans should have to pay for the massive deficits created by Democrats in Congress and Barack Obama. Both accept the notion that government exists to transfer wealth without explaining at all the basis for a free government to do so.  If we need massive health-care reform, then the costs should be borne by everyone -- and when that happens, you will find massive health-care reform to be a lot less popular than when Obama, Rangel, & Co try to pass it off as something for nothing.
    Chiming in and piling on is Eric Lindholm at Viking Pundit:
    This President and Congress have already decided - like the apocryphal Winston Churchill story - that the "rich" are a piggy bank to be smashed in perpetuity. Now they're just haggling over the price.
    We've mentioned before that once you swallow the "progressive taxation" pill, you lose any objective notion of fairness or equitability in the tax code. A politics that promises you goodies that you won't have to pay for is inherently corrosive to liberty and limited government; looks as if we're gonna find out how much.

  • When they run out of rich people to tax, though, it turns out potheads look promising.

  • I don't want to seem like a fulltime Richard Feynman blogger, but Bill Gates bought the rights to the "Character of Physical Law" lecture series that Feynman gave at Cornell back in 1964. And's Bill's put them up here. (I'm pretty sure you're out of luck unless your browser can handle Microsoft "Silverlight" content.) The lectures are "annotated" with various links, pictures, and subtitles, clearly a labor of love. There's more background at John Tierney's blog here.

    I'm not sure how accessible the lectures are to everyone, although Bill Gates says that his 10-year-old son can grasp them. (You can consider that a challenge if you want.) I watched the first one last night, and thought Feynman did a great job of communicating the wonder of universal gravitation: the grand mechanism that holds galaxies together also handles the mundane chore of keeping your ass in your chair. I liked it; you might too.

  • Did I see an "Evony" ad over there on the right at some point? For all I know, maybe there's one there now.) Anyway, they can be, um, eye-catching; you may have seen them elsewhere.

    Jeff Atwood at Coding Horror has done some research and concludes that Evony ads "take advertising on the internet to the absolute rock bottom." See what you think. Warning: it has to do with increasing cleavage, and it's illustrated. (Via Galley Slaves.)


Last Modified 2009-07-16 7:04 PM EDT
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The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

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

Note: the old version. I'd seen this when it came out back in the 70s. The recent remake with Denzel Washington and John Travolta caused John Nolte to reminisce, and mainly point out that the new version was significantly worse. That was enough of an incentive to queue it up at Netflix.

It's a taut little thriller, kicked off when Robert Shaw and three other guys hijack a subway train in Manhattan. (The "Pelham One Two Three" terminology means that the train originally left Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx at 1:23pm.) They demand a million bucks for their hostages, and their main communications conduit to the outside world goes through everyschlub Walter Matthau, playing transit cop Zach Garber.

It's much different from today's thrillers. The body count remains low. Although there's violence, the screenwriter didn't feel compelled to plug in a scene of gratuitous mayhem every few minutes, lest the audience be bored. Acting is first rate, and there are some funny bits. (On the other hand, there's a lot of f-wordage (etc.), in a way that did feel gratuitous. I think that was an early-70's phenomenon.)

It was kind of fun to see Doris Roberts as a super-cynical wife of New York's mayor, and Jerry Stiller in a supporting cop role.

And the last shot is classic, one of my all-time favorite movie magic moments.


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:05 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-07-13

  • For Granite Staters: the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance has issued their (PDF) "2009 Liberty Rating" for our state legislators.

    My reps in Strafford District 2 earned (in descending order) a D-plus, a D, two D-minuses, and an F. D-minus was the most common score, earned by 91 of the state legislators.

    My senator, Amanda Merrill, wangled a D-minus as well.

    Amazingly, this was an improvement over last year's dismal performance. But not enough of an improvement to make me vote for any of them, ever.

  • President Obama wrote (well, put his name on) an op-ed column in Saturday's Washington Post. Interesting rebuttals:

    • Keith Hennessey decries the President's historical revisionism. Keith was Dubya's senior economic advisor, so he's compelled to defend that record, but feel free to discount that. One of his points is especially on target, where he considers the President's (convenient) plea for patience, because his stimulus "was, from the start, a two-year program":
      This did not have to be a two-year program. Congress could have front-loaded the stimulus had they instead given the cash directly to the American people, as they did on a bipartisan basis in early 2008. We would have saved much of it, paying off our mortgages, student loans, and credit cards (which would not be a bad thing). We would have spent the rest much more quickly than the federal and state government bureaucracies now stumbling through their usual corrupt, slow and inefficient processes. Instead the President handed the money and program design over to a Congress of his own party, who saw it as a big honey pot rather than as an exercise in macroeconomic fiscal policy. The President’s primary macroeconomic policy mistake was allowing Congress to pervert a rapid Keynesian stimulus into a slow-spending interest-based binge.
      Indeed. Let's not forget John Kerry's honesty back in February when he explained why he opposed stimulative tax cuts: "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." Much better to leave those "investment" choices safely in the hands of Democratic politicians.

    • Bill Kristol has a shorter but even more damning indictment of Obama's op-ed:
      […] here are some words you won’t find: profits, investment, incentives, taxes, risk, enterprise or markets. Or freedom, or liberty.
      Also missing: capital/capitalism, private, regulation.

      We're in bad shape when the President can't even pay his usual lip service to free markets and capitalism.

    • At Pajamas Media, Jennifer Rubin concentrates on the bipartisan reaction to the Administration's claim to be taken unaware by the seriousness of the economic meltdown. Everyone agrees: it doesn't pass the giggle test with anyone with a memory longer than a few months.

  • Richard Feynman was a theoretical physicist whose Nobel-prizewinning research could make one's head spin. (And he'd be happy to point out that your head was conserving angular momentum while spinning.)

    But he was unparalleled at exploring and explaining more mundane topics too. Check out the video where he describes how trains stay on the track. Without even a chalkboard, a 147-second masterpiece of teaching. (Via GeekPress.)


Last Modified 2009-07-16 6:13 AM EDT
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Monsoon Wedding

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

Recommended by a blogger with impeccable taste, it was pretty good, if a bit soap-operaish.

It's mostly a drama with heavy comic relief. The Vermas, an upper-middle-class Punjabi family in New Delhi, are in chaos as they prepare for the arranged marriage of daughter Aditi. Father Lalit is getting stretched financially. Scores of relatives are incoming (some from Australia and America) for the multi-day celebration. But there are plenty of problems under the surface: Aditi's still into hanky-panky with her married co-worker. Her cousin, Ria, is without romantic prospects and (for some reason) regarding rich Uncle Tej with barely-disgused hatred.

Fortunately, the Vermas can rely on event planner Dubey for logistics, technical services, and general wheeling and dealing. But then Dubey notices the Verma's quiet servant girl Alice …

Random observations: (1) Although it's not a musical, people are likely to break out in song and dance at the slightest provocation. (2) Given the name, I would have expected a little more rain. (3) One of the relatives is a dead ringer for Sonia Sotomayor.


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:05 AM EDT
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Dear Obameter:

Thanks for maintaining your website that keeps track of President Obama's record in fulfulling promises made during his campaign. And thanks for providing an e-mail address soliciting comments.

I'm writing about Promise Number 238. You provide the language from the President's still-working campaign website (although the current URL is http://www.barackobama.com/issues/ethics/index_campaign.php, slightly different than the link you provide):

Conduct Regulatory Agency Business in Public: Obama will require his appointees who lead the executive branch departments and rulemaking agencies to conduct the significant business of the agency in public, so that any citizen can see in person or watch on the Internet these debates.

You currently have this promise ranked as "No Action". I'd like to suggest it be changed to "Promise Broken", based on:

Enough? In any case, thanks for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Paul A Sand
pas@punsalad.com

Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:04 AM EDT
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Consumer Reports: Mindless Shills for "Health Care Reform"

Consumer Reports (CR) devoted nine of the 68 pages in its August 2009 issue to an article titled "A prescription for health care". I believe it's accurate to say that it's an unpaid ad for ObamaCare as currently conceived: an insurance "exchange" containing private plans, but also a "public plan" run by the government. Exchanges will be sliding-scale taxpayer-subsidized to accomodate the non-rich. Insurers will be required to accept "everyone", and everyone must get insured. The usual blue-sky handwaving about how current practices will be reworked (by edict) to make them cheaper and more effective. And so on.

If you ramble around the political side of the web at all, you can find plenty of substantive claims, counter-claims, and arguments on all sides of this issue. I don't want to duplicate that here, but instead concentrate on CR's advocacy style: it's full of Obama-like rhetorical tricks and fallacies, without Obama's distracting charisma. Not a full-fledged fisking, just some comments about things I found irritating and/or amusing.

At the above link, one of the first things you'll read:

On the political right, you'll find conservatives for whom "reform" is just the first step toward European-style socialism. You've seen their ads pop up on TV, sponsored by groups you've never heard of, full of scary warnings about faceless bureaucrats standing between you and needed care (as if you didn't have that now from insurance companies).

On the flip side, you'll hear some left-leaning commentators claim that the only solution is to nationalize health care as the British and Canadians have done. Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, has long argued for stronger government protection for consumers. But that doesn't mean we'd favor creating a huge new federal bureaucracy to manage an industry that constitutes a whopping 18 percent of the economy.

The right solution in today's environment lies somewhere between those poles.[…]

This is almost the "argument to moderation" fallacy: what we're advocating is between these two extremes, so it must be correct.

But look a little closer, and you'll notice it doesn't even rise to the level of fallacy. CR doesn't bother to describe what "conservatives" advocate. So their "poles" are effectively (a) the status quo, and (b) complete socialization. Conveniently, they arrive at the "moderate" position of halfway-socialization. (That's today. Once we're halfway there, do you really think we'll stop? There are plenty of reasons to doubt that.)

Also note the characterization of "conservatives": obscure groups sponsoring "scary" and (allegedly) misleading TV ads. Accusing the other side of being fear-mongerers is kind of a reflex on the left these days; but it rings especially hollow when surrounded by lurid anecdotes of sick people unable to afford needed medical services, people driven to financial ruin, and the country as a whole being bankrupted by skyrocketing health costs.

But we're not fear-mongering; it's those other guys.

Immediately after the above quote:

And it must be a truly American solution, one that takes advantage of our traditional ingenuity and entrepreneurship while preserving freedom, fairness, and choice.
CR combines flatteryyou're so ingenious and entreprenurial, America!—with an array of features nobody could be against.

One will, of course, look in vain for any of those features in the actual policies CR proposes. On this page, CR tries hard: they provide the anecdote of a small-business owner struggling with health benefits costs for employees. It's sad! But their "solution" doesn't take advantage of "entrepreneurship"; instead it advocates cost-shifting from the employer to—guess who? You and me, pal. ("Under the health-care reform that we support, small firms that couldn't otherwise afford coverage could buy it--with a subsidy, if needed--through the same National Health Insurance Exchange available to individuals.")

This Obamaesque feint toward moderation is amusing:

Not every reader will agree with each position here, of course, and we respect those differences of opinion.
This is after they accuse "conservatives" of being fear-mongering liars, so you might want to take that with a grain of salt. Like Obama, CR's "respect" for differences of opinion doesn't extend to presenting dissenting opinions fairly.

CR's overview concludes with a stirring call to action—one that the writer almost certainly imagined himself delivering with a triumphal trumpet-heavy soundtrack evoking thunderous applause:

Fixing health care will take hard work by many and some degree of sacrifice by all. But Americans have faced, and conquered, bigger challenges in the past. Consumers Union thinks the effort is well worth it. And we support reform as an essential investment in our country's future, one that will result in lower costs and better health for you, your family, and the generations to come.
When those moving words just sit there on the page, though, they invite skepticism: "hard work" and "some degree of sacrifice"—how much, exactly? And by whom? "Lower costs" and "better care"—enough to offset the "sacrifice" you're telling me I have to make?

CR provides no answers to this skepticism, which is unfortunate. Probably their readers would appreciate an honest, independent take on costs and benefits, winners and losers under the Democrats' plan. Instead CR just wields a big rubber stamp: "Don't ask questions, just trust us."

CR provides a whole separate section devoted to "fears about health reform".

Now that health-care reform is a possibility, the forces of opposition are gearing up. Anti-reform campaigns with names like Patients United Now, Partnership to Improve Patient Care, and Conservatives for Patients' Rights are trying to make meaningful reform sound dangerous.
Even in the webbed version, CR doesn't link to those "anti-reform" organizations; readers might—heaven forfend!—check out the opposing arguments for themselves, rather than rely on CR's caricatures. So I've added the links myself.

It's probably worth pointing out that, while "Patients United Now" and "Conservatives for Patients' Rights" are straightforwardly opposed to the "reform" advocated by Obama and CR, throwing "Partnership to Improve Patient Care" under the same bus seems misguided. The PIPC website appears to be a low-key non-ideological advocacy for "Comparative Effectiveness Research" (something that CR claims to support itself). The PIPC member list includes such right-wing organizations as Easter Seals and the National Latina Health Network.

The response to one "fear" reflects the unfortunately long lead time faced by magazines:

Fear Health reform will take away the good coverage from your job.
And how does CR counter that "fear"?
Fact If you're satisfied with your job-based coverage, you would be able to keep it.
Ah, we've heard that (and more) before! Obama's June 15 speech to the AMA:
I know that there are millions of Americans who are content with their health care coverage -- they like their plan and, most importantly, they value their relationship with their doctor. They trust you. And that means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. (Applause.) If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. (Applause.) No one will take it away, no matter what.
And a few minutes after that, like CR he was deriding "naysayers" who were "not telling the truth."

It took about 43 seconds post-speech for skeptics to say hey, wait a minute! Eventually Obama had to walk back that language.

But -- as the president acknowledged at his news conference Tuesday -- that's not really a pledge he can promise to deliver on. Private companies are always free to choose different health plans for their employees, and that's not something Obama's plan would change.

"When I say if you have your plan and you like it, . . . or you have a doctor and you like your doctor, that you don't have to change plans, what I'm saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform," the president said Tuesday.

While Obama had to admit that his "be able to keep" promises were empty, apparently CR didn't get the memo in time; they just echo the President's original talking point uncritically. Clearly the "Fear" in this case is more factual than CR's "Fact".

Which is kind of the point of this whole exercise. Consumer Reports does a decent job of sorting through competing products, testing for quality, skeptically and independently checking out producer's claims.

But when it comes to politically-tinged issues, CR drops its independence and skepticism faster than you can say "Obama's so dreamy!" They have no problem engaging in the kind of specious argument that they'd rip to shreds if offered up by a corporate bigwig.

They should stick to reviewing cars, appliances, and electronics.


Last Modified 2009-07-09 6:19 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-07-07

  • Need a couple good reasons to tell your state's Senators to vote against Waxman-Markey? You'll find them here, plus forty-eight more. Summary:
    Two main things to understand about Waxman-Markey: First, it will not reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, at least not at any point in the near future. The inclusion of carbon offsets, which can be manufactured out of thin air and political imagination, will eliminate most of the demands that the legislation puts on industry, though in doing so it will manage to drive up the prices consumers pay for every product that requires energy for its manufacture -- which is to say, for everything. Second, it represents a worse abuse of the public trust and purse than the stimulus and the bailouts put together. Waxman-Markey creates a permanent new regime in which environmental romanticism and corporate welfare are mixed together to form political poison. From comic bureaucratic power grabs (check out the section of the bill on candelabras) to the creation of new welfare programs for Democratic constituencies to, above all, massive giveaways for every financial, industrial, and political lobby imaginable, this bill would permanently deform American politics and economic life.
    But click on through for details.

  • If you need a fifty-first reason, however, check out Section 205, a Federal program to emit grants for tree-planting to electric companies. As long as such trees are planted according to…
    a comprehensive list of science-based measurements outlining the species and minimum distance required between trees planted pursuant to this section, in addition to the minimum required distance to be maintained between such trees and (A) building foundations (B) air conditioning units; (C) driveways and walkways; (D) property fences; (E) preexisting utility infrastructure; (F) septic systems; (G) swimming pools; and (H) other infrastructure as deemed appropriate.
    … because we're just too damn dumb to figure this out ourselves, apparently. As Joyce Kilmer noted:

    I think that I shall never see
    A poem lovely as a tree.

    A tree planted under Section 205
    which Waxman-Markey did contrive.

    A tree of species specified;
    Which will at mininum distance abide.

    A tree that will, in decades hence,
    Not destroy my neighbor's fence.

    Upon whose bosom federal grants
    Have enhanced its noble stance.

    Only God can make a tree?
    Not according to Waxman-Markey!

    Mr McQ has more substantive comments.

  • As if the GOP doesn't have enough problems: Shawn Macomber notices an announcement of a plot to kidnap UPenn Young Republicans.

    The punchline is: "because they will elicit the least public sympathy." Ouch!


Last Modified 2009-07-10 9:41 AM EDT
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The Lodger

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

It's not even close to good, but it's not as bad as the IMDB and Tomatometer ratings indicate. A Mrs. Salad pick, because she loooves Simon Baker in The Mentalist TV series.

But here, Simon Baker is not The Mentalist. Instead, he is The Lodger, a semi-creepy cipher who shows up at the door of the Bunting household in Hollywood, looking to rent out the guest house out in the back.

Unfortunately, at the same time, serial hooker homicides are afoot in Hollywood. The detectives assigned to the case (Manning and Wilkinson, played by Alfred Molina and Shane West respectively) can't help but notice the new murders mirror some "solved" homicides for which a guy named Rodriguez was executed a number of years back. And (eventually) they notice parallels with London's Jack the Ripper.

What's going on? Well, it's one of those movies where they throw up a lot of red herrings. The killer might, after all, be The Lodger; he's certainly an odd duck. But Mrs. Bunting (played by Hope Davis) is kind of quirky too. Her husband keeps telling her to take her pills—what's that all about? And what about her husband, who conveniently is out of the house most evenings?

Also Detective Manning has some dysfunctional relationships of his own: his wife is in the loony bin, and his daughter blames and despises him. And he's also put on a pile of weight since he was Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2. And he sent that guy Rodriguez to the … chair? gas chamber? Wherever they execute guys in California these days.

So there are a lot of potential suspects, and eventually it all seems to be sorted out at the end,… or is it? (One of the problems with red-herring-laden movies is that you really should play fair with the viewer and show how all those herrings make sense in retrospect. As near as I can tell, this movie doesn't do that.)

In the nothing-new-under-the-sun department: this is the fifth movie remake of the original source material, a 1913 novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes. (The 1927 silent version was directed by Alfred Hitchcock.)


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:03 AM EDT
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Consumer Reports: Oops

A few months back we blogged about residents of Spokane, Washington smuggling dishwasher detergent with phosphates from relatively nearby Coeur d'Alene, Idaho when those products were banned in their county.

We pointed to this breezy quote from a Sierra Club website:

Consumer Reports in its March 2005 publication concluded that phosphate-free products work as well regular brands, noting it is the enzymes and not phosphates that get dishes clean.
Spokanites disagree, apparently.

And now, so does Consumer Reports. I don't have the March 2005 issue around, but the most recent issue (August 2009) is pretty straightforward about contradicting what they (allegedly) said back then:

Proposed federal legislation to ban dishwasher detergents containing all but trace amounts of phosphates is designed to help the environment. But many of the eco-friendly products in the latest batch we tested are not great at cleaning dishes.

Detergents without phosphates--which help clean but also boost algae growth in freshwater, threatening fish and other plants--tended to perform worst overall.

Something smells bad here, and it ain't the algae. What happened between 2005 and 2009? After over four years of R&D, the soap companies have developed low-phosphate detergents that are actually worse at cleaning than they were before?

I don't think so. Instead, I suspect low-phosphates were never very good.

Consumer Reports doesn't come out and say that a phosphate ban would be a bad idea—they have a reflexive bias in favor of Federal regulation—but they do note that dishwasher detergents "have a relatively low level of phosphates." Nobody is particularly fond of freshwater algal growth, but there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that a ban would pass a cost/benefit test.

But the main point here is: you really want to take reassurances that "eco-friendly" regulations will be pain-free with a grain of phosphate-free salt.


Last Modified 2009-07-06 3:25 PM EDT
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America Alone

[Amazon Link]

Back when I was a young'un, checking out books on the conservative side of the spectrum, I read The Suicide of the West by (then) one of the primary big-thinkers at National Review, James Burnham. It was about how mid-twentieth-century Western liberalism was no match for a Communist ideology that was out to bury us.

Old habits die hard, so this book, with its catchy subtitle "The End of the World As We Know It", by (now) one of the big-thinkers at National Review was a must (eventually) read.

Steyn's thesis-in-a-nutshell: Europe as a bulwark of enlightened Western liberalism is pretty much doomed to eventual domination by radical Islamism. Part of the problem is raw demographics: the Judeo-Christian/secular fraction of Europe is failing to reproduce adequately, while the Muslim population is exploding due to immigration and general fecundity. Another factor: Europe (either as a whole or individual countries) doesn't seem to be very interested in defending Western civ, mired in a cultural impotence that mirrors its lack of reproductive vigor.

At the time of the book's writing, 2006, it was probably easier to be (relatively) optimistic about America avoiding Europe's fate; since then, however, we seem to be eagerly marching toward Europitude as well.

Steyn and Burnham are poles apart in terms of writing style: as far as I can recall, Burnham could be relatively stuffy. Steyn, as any recent NR reader knows, is witty and accessible, drawing heavily on pop culture and telling anecdotes.

The parallel with the Burnham book was much on my mind while reading this one, though: obviously, we (more or less) muddled through our fight with ideological Communism, no thanks to liberals. Any way we can blunder our way through this mess? Steyn's cheerful style doesn't offer a lot of hope on that score. But, as Yogi said, predictions are difficult, especially about the future.

Although there's an index, the book is free of footnotes or references. So that's a quibble: if you want to read the sources behind any of Steyn's assertions or anecdotes, you'll have to fire up the Google and do your own digging. (One of the Amazon reviewers says Steyn's just wrong in his allegations about Muslim fertility rates in Europe. I have no idea, but it would be nice to know where Steyn's numbers come from.)


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:02 AM EDT
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The Last King of Scotland

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

I'm not a violent person, but there's something about James McAvoy that makes me want to give him a good slap. (I didn't quite consider Atonement to be a feelgood movie, but I was probably less depressed by the ending than the average viewer.)

Here, "Slappy" McAvoy plays Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, a young doctor fresh out of medical school who desperately wants to get out from under the thumb of his stuffy family. Unfortunately, it's the 70s, and he picks Uganda as his place to go out and do good. (He also has a serious case of can't-keep-it-in-his-pants-itis.) Via a series of unlikely occurrences, he finds himself in close orbit around Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. At first he's charmed and persuaded by Amin's huge charismatic personality. Only later does he become aware of the flipside: Amin's also a homicidal maniac. Can't have everything.

Forest Whitaker plays Amin, a role for which he won many plaudits, including an Oscar for Best Actor. Well-deserved.

Although the movie's obviously based on actual events and people, the Garrigan character is largely made up; Amin did have a close relationship with a white advisor, but the advisor was even less sympathetic than Garrigan. Cracked (my usual source for insightful movie criticism) has the scoop, where The Last King of Scotland is number 3 in their article "6 Movies Based on a True Story (That Are Also Full of Shit)".


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:02 AM EDT
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URLs du Independence Day 2009

  • When, in the course of human events, you need to preserve a certain historical documentWired has the fascinating story. (Via GeekPress.)

  • It's an Independence Day tradition to trudge over to Google and see if their image is celebrating the Fourth, or just business as usual. This year…

    July 4th 2009 Google

    So: Yay, Google.

  • Spend a quarter hour with the great man himself, P. J. O'Rourke, embedded at Pun Salad via Reason TV.


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:01 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-07-02

  • The Official Progressive Politician's Guiding Philosophy on Tax Fairness and Equity:

    1. You got the money.
    2. We want the money.
    3. So gimme the money.

    … or so it seems. At Cato, David Boaz remembers that Senator Barbara Mikulski, in a refreshing moment of candor, came pretty close to saying exactly that once:

    Let's go and get it from those who've got it.
    David goes on to the various ways the Obamites are implementing that philosophy, and the list is sobering.

    I say "sobering", because one of the proposals is a massive hike in taxes on beer, wine, and liquor.

    David also recalls the words written 233 years ago:

    He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
    Try saying that to an Obamalator today, and the reply would no doubt be: "You say that like it's a bad thing!"

  • One of the few actually good ideas John McCain had during the campaign was to replace the tax break for employer-paid health plans with an individual tax credit. (Genius Harvard Econ Prof Greg Mankiw liked it; so did Cato's Michael Cannon.)

    And, of course, McCain was relentlessly demagogued on the issue by Obama and Biden.

    All the more ironic then is the Obama Administration's willingness to embrace the idea now. The difference being that McCain's proposal empowered individuals and their private health care choices; Obama's looking for money to grease the skids toward a totally socialized system making us all more dependent on government.

    This was number 2 on Shikha Dalmia's list of Obama's health care lies blogged yesterday. Today, however, you should read a couple in-depth takedowns of this brazenly dishonest Barackrobatic hypocrisy by an NRO tag team: (1) Jim Geraghty with the text version recounting the $44 million in Obama campaign ad buys savaging the proposal; (2) Guy Benson with a video collection of YouTubed examples.

  • The "Troubled Asset Relief Program" (TARP) was a horrible idea, but at least offered the prospect that taxpayer funds could be eventually "paid back" by the bailed-out financial institutions.

    But…

    But now Rep. Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has come up with a proposal to spend any TARP profits before they can be returned to the taxpayers. Last Friday, Frank introduced the "TARP for Main Street Act of 2009," a bill that would take profits from the program and immediately redirect them toward housing proposals favored by Frank and some fellow Democrats.
    Moral: once you send money down the rathole, the rats won't give it back without a fight.


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Captain Horatio Hornblower

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

Ah, this is more like it. Good guys. Bad guys. Guys sticking together through thick and thin. True love. Ships shooting at each other with cannons. Outwitting the French. It's all here.

Gregory Peck plays the title character in this 1951 action-adventure movie. As near as I can tell, he doesn't bother with an English accent. He travels the world for King and Country, and he's not one to back down from a scrape.

It's a lot of fun. Great special effects for 1951. (I was about to say: they don't make them like this any more, but every so often, they do.)

Gene Roddenberry sold the idea of Star Trek as kind of a Hornblower-in-space. Many parallels are noted here. I think it's arguable that Alexander Courage kind of ripped off a measure or two of this movie's theme for the show as well.


Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:00 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-07-01

  • Barackrobatics du Jour: At Forbes, Shikha Dalmia rattles off President Obama's top five lies about health care; two during the campaign to get himself elected, three in current rotation to snooker the American people into acquiescence. See if you can guess them before clicking over.

  • We can add at least one lie to the total that Ms. Dalmia doesn't specifically mention: Candidate Obama's promise:
    "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."
    David Freddoso transcribes the recent tergiversations of White House press secretary Robert Gibbs as he was pressed to reaffirm that (already broken) "firm pledge".

  • If you weren't completely outraged by the passage of the Waxy-Markman Crap-N-Fade bill—I'm so put out I'm even making third-grade puns, you'll notice—Ed Morrissey notes one of the last-minute provisions to buy the vote of an Ohio Congresswoman (quoting a Washington Times story):
    They finally secured the vote of one Ohioan, veteran Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo, the old-fashioned way. They gave her what she wanted - a new federal power authority, similar to Washington state's Bonneville Power Administration, stocked with up to $3.5 billion in taxpayer money available for lending to renewable energy and economic development projects in Ohio and other Midwestern states.
    And that's only one example; the bill is shot through with similar larcenies against your tax money.

    If you haven't done so already, I urge you to check the vote tally to determine how your representative voted.

  • And you probably need to get your blood pressure down after that. Ladies and gentlemen, Web Site Story:


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