URLs du Jour — 2009-09-30

  • I missed this when it came out last month: Granite State Geek Guru Dean Kamen talks about health care at, of all places, Popular Mechanics. Sample:
    Each side of this debate has created the boogieman and monsters, like "We don't want let this program to come into existence because that will mean rationing." Well, I hate to tell you the news but as soon as medicine started being able to do incredible things that are very expensive, we started rationing. The reason 100 years ago everyone could afford their healthcare is because healthcare was a doctor giving you some elixir and telling you you'll be fine. And if it was a cold you would be fine. And if it turns out it was consumption; it was tuberculosis; it was lung cancer--you could still sit there. He'd give you some sympathy, and you'd die. Either way, it's pretty cheap.
    (via The Agenda.)

  • The Granite Geek, David Brooks, is overly gleeful about "three large utilities" leaving the U. S. Chamber of Commerce over its position on global warming.

    David calls the move "surprising", but it's not really. At OpenMarket, Marlo Lewis offers a tutorial on the concept of "rent-seeking". Specifically:

    So it should come as no surprise that some corporations love Waxman-Markey. Indeed, the corporate coalition known as the United States Climate Action Partnership (US CAP) outlined the main features of the Waxman-Markey bill months before it was introduced in a January 2009 report titled A Blueprint for Legislative Action. US CAP members don't worry that Waxman-Markey might destroy millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in cumulative GDP. They expect to get a bigger piece of a smaller pie.

    Lewis also quotes the CEO of one of the companies, Exelon, predicting an increase of "$700 to $750 million to Exelon's annual revenues for every $10 per metric ton (Mt) increase in the price of CO2 allowances."

    So, yeah, the companies may be "green", but only in the sense of the color of those figures above.

    Any doubt about from whom those dollar signs are coming? Hint: famous poker player Amarillo Slim is quoted as saying: "Look around the table. If you don't see a sucker, get up, because you're the sucker."

  • In our always-busy Egomania Department: Foster's Daily Democrat published my short letter to the editor. You read it here first.

  • A disaster preparedness suggestion for the University Near Here.


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URLs du Jour — 2009-09-29

  • There's P. J. O'Rourke content at the Weekly Standard. P. J. meekly says mea culpa to various allegations of racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, etc. But he's having a tough time finding outlets for his hatred:
    I live in rural New Hampshire and we are, frankly, short on people who are black, gay, Jewish, and Hispanic. In fact, we're short on people. My town has a population of 301. When it comes to bias we're pretty much reduced to an occasional slur against French-Canadians. But my grandfather was French-Canadian, so I feel that it is somewhat inappropriate for me to express scorn for Frenchies. That is, liberals have a monopoly on self-loathing as a result of neurosis entitlements and affirmative anxiety programs for which I, as a Republican, do not qualify. Thus it is that I have to drive all the way to Dorchester and then out to Provincetown and down to New York City and back to be narrow minded enough to satisfy Jimmy Carter, Nancy Pelosi, Rahm Emmanuel, and their friend Hugo Chávez.

  • How many hits do you think the Google would cough up for Fairpoint bit off more than they could chew?

  • A neat visualization of the distribution of my favorite Scottish restaurant, McDonald's, across the US. As a bonus, the visualizer also determined the spot in the 48 contiguous states furthest away from a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, or, as we call it, "civilization."

  • Debunking Michael Moore is like shooting a very large fish in a very small barrel. But Billy Hallowell's article at Big Hollywood is pretty good, and, even better, it's illustrated with something large, rusty, dangerous, and obsolete—much like Moore himself. And anyone who's driven between Portsmouth and Dover, New Hampshire in the past seventy-four years will recognize it right away.


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State of Play

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

Another movie the critics seem to love more than the ordinary joes. Again, my inclination is to side with the ordinary joes.

Things kick off with a shadowy assassin murdering a terrified black guy; he also shoots an unexpected witness in the back. And the next morning, a lovely young girl, Sonia, falls onto the tracks in a DC Metro station. Is her death a suicide, an accident, or murder? Is it connected to the others? (Come on: how many of these movies have you seen?)

On the case is Cal (Russell Crowe), a scruffy old-time reporter for the "Washington Globe". He's forced into an uncomfortable partnership with Della (Rachel McAdams); she's a symbol of the new journalistic reality, a "blogger" for the paper's online presence. (At one point, the phrase "bloodsuckers and bloggers" is used, and it's clear there's not a lot of difference between them.)

It develops that Sonia was a researcher for Congressman Collins (Ben Affleck). He's investigating "PointCorp" a Haliburton-like defense contractor, whose operations are a little too mercenary for his taste. To complicate things, Collins was having an affair with Sonia. To further complicate things, Collins and reporter Cal were old college buddies. To even further complicate things, Cal had a long-ago fling with Mrs. Collins, played by Buttercup herself, Robin Wright Penn. It all adds up to a complex and twisty plot.

The movie does an OK job of showing Cal and Della tracing down leads, under pressure from both the cops and their boss (the Queen herself, Helen Mirren). Nobody has much of an interest in telling them the truth. The cinematography adds to the general atmosphere of corruption, conspiracy, and danger.

It's not too bad, but Ben Affleck's character is an irritating demagogue, kind of a Kos Kid in Kongress. (Although <spoiler>things are improved somewhat by the twist ending, where he turns out to be the bad guy</spoiler>.) An awful lot of acting talent, though, spent on a movie that's not really that compelling.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:24 PM EDT
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Choice

From President Obama's radio interview with Michael Smerconish on August 20:

Choice, competition, reducing costs -- those are the things that I want to see accomplished in this health reform bill.
As much as we give President Obama grief for his misrepresentations and half-truths, we should point out the cases where he's on target. It turns out the Senate's proposed legislation does offer you and me a choice:
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) received a handwritten note Thursday from Joint Committee on Taxation Chief of Staff Tom Barthold confirming the penalty for failing to pay the up to $1,900 fee for not buying health insurance.

Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and could face up to a year in jail or a $25,000 penalty, Barthold wrote on JCT letterhead. He signed it "Sincerely, Thomas A. Barthold."

See? It's your choice. (Via QandO)

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URLs du Jour — 2009-09-25

  • The "High Hopes" gabfest, which promised to "explore the diverse and layered meanings of hope and the real-life manifestations and complications of change in the 'era of Obama'" was held Wednesday at the University Near Here, and from the news report it went pretty much as Pun Salad predicted. Except that there was a tiny bit of dissent from the prevailing opinion. Waaaay down at the bottom of the article:

    David Watters, an English professor and Democratic state representative from Dover, cautioned against overly focusing on the impact race is having on the national debate.

    He said those opposing Obama are primarily "working-class folks. They have been hit extremely hard by the recession and they're not sure whether this big government is doing anything to get them a job," he said. "I don't believe that this is all racism. I don't believe that at all."

    Yes, the only reported disagreement was whether the opposition to Obama was entirely racism or if there just might be some tiny fraction of people honestly concerned about big government getting even bigger.

    That's from my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat. Our student newspaper didn't cover the event, reserving today's headline for the rescheduling of the Akon concert from October 8 to October 7.

  • Stanford econ professor John B. Taylor presents the graphs he uses in class to illustrate projected trends for the Federal deficit and debt. Here's one:

    [Debt Chart]

    Professor Taylor calls his charts "alarming", and that's a classic example of detached academic understatement. The younger you are, I would imagine the more "alarmed" you'd be. (Personally, I don't see myself staying on that curve all the way to the end.)

  • At Language Log, Ben Zimmer notes the grand renaming of the Wisconsin Tourism Federation to the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin. For obvious reasons.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:23 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-09-24

  • Jim Geraghty juxtaposes a couple of quotes from New York Governor David Paterson on the effect of high taxes.

  • Iowahawk tells us all how to "Earn Big $$$ the NEA Way!".
    If YOU can DRAW, SKETCH, or DEMONIZE
    You can earn big $$$ in PROPAGANDA!
    … so you'll want to check that out.

  • And we haven't looked at the Rochester (NH) Police Log lately…
    Monday, Sept. 7

    8:57 a.m. -- At the Lilac Mall Hannaford's, tensions rise when a suspicious man, wearing headphones and a white shirt walks into the store "with some sort of device strapped to his chest." Police make contact and find it is an infant wrapped in a blanket.

    It's tough being a parent.

  • You never know when you might need to know something about Charles Gates Dawes, allegedly "the most obnoxious vice-president in history." Given the current holder of that office, that's a pretty solid achievement. But there's much more to know about Dawes, and Mark Steyn has it all. Egocentric trivia: Dawes died precisely one week before your humble blogger was born.


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A Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:

A letter from Judith W. Gardner in the September 23 edition of Foster's Daily Democrat advocates a "single-payer" health-care system, and inveighs against insurance companies who "skim off profits from money that should go for caring of the sick."

An article by David Goldhill in the September 2009 issue of the Atlantic magazine throws cold water on the simplistic notion that if only we could eliminate profit from the health care system all would be well. He noted that if we were to (somehow) confiscate all the yearly profits of the "famously greedy health-insurance companies", that money would pay for about four days of health care for all Americans.

If you throw in the profits of the ten largest US drug companies, another favorite whipping boy, that would buy you another seven days.

And finally, even if you were to grab all the profits from all American companies in every industry, you "wouldn't cover even five months of our health-care expenses."

Ms. Gardner doesn't like Senator Baucus's proposed legislation; neither do I, probably for very different reasons. But scapegoating private companies, and pretending all would be well if not for their "large profits" is fallacious. We need reality-based discussions on this issue; a good place to start would be to realize that there's no "free lunch" to be had by plundering private enterprises and their profits.

Yours truly,

Paul A. Sand


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URLs du Jour — 2009-09-23

  • I still remember the first time I heard Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run. Late fall, 1974: I was sick, miserable in my dorm-room bed at the University Near Here. I had Boston's WBCN on the stereo. And it started playing…

    I swear that song healed me. My heart started doing about 120; I got up feeling fine.

    All that was brought back by Louis P. Masur's Slate article about Born to Run. If you remember the song fondly, check it out.

  • The title is "Five Health Care Promises Obama Won't Keep." That's not news to Pun Salad readers, I hope; but I'm kind of surprised that the link goes to CBS News.

  • I don't usually link to the GOP either, but they have an excellent point about the disparate treatment given to Humana (noted yesterday) and the AARP.

    This week the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced it was investigating Humana for providing "misleading" information regarding the Administration's proposed cuts to Medicare Advantage policies-and prohibited other Medicare Advantage plans from providing similar information on how Democrat health "reform" could take away their current coverage.

    Yet the Administration's edict prohibiting plans from communicating with their beneficiaries failed to include AARP, which sponsors a Medicare Advantage plan but has been a prime advocate of Democrats' government takeover of health care-quite possibly because AARP has been supporting a health care overhaul from which it stands to gain overall handsomely. Even as AARP advocates for cutting Medicare Advantage plans by more than $150 billion, an analysis of the organization's operations reveals that it stands to receive tens of millions of dollars at the expense of seniors' medical care-with Democrats' full approval […]

    This is why I throw all AARP mail in the trash on my way in from the mailbox.

  • I have yet to see a Michael Moore movie, but Sean Higgins is braver than I. Also funnier:
    Just before the film started, Moore asked the audience to turn off any recording devices because the studio did not want bootleg versions of the film getting around. Apparently this socialism stuff has its limits.


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Glory

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

Somehow I missed seeing Glory until now. But something made me put it in the Netflix queue, and it eventually worked its way to the top. IMDB has it squeaking into their top 250 films of all time at #249 (as I type). Denzel Washington won his first Oscar for his role here.

The main character is Robert Gould Shaw, played by Matthew Broderick. This was only three years after Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and … well, you couldn't think of two more complete opposites than Shaw and Bueller. As the movie begins, Shaw's seeing his first combat action in the Civil War. Unfortunately for him, that action is the Battle of Antietam, which (as George F. Will points out) is "still the bloodiest day in American history." Shaw is wounded, and returns to his parents' home in Boston.

Even though his performance was undistinguished—a fact which Shaw is clearly aware of—his political connections allow him to wangle a command position: he's put in charge of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, made up of free black men. Glory follows the regiment through training, looks at the inevitable friction between white and black soldiers, and culminates in the assault on Fort Wagner in July of 1863.

It's a fine war movie, well acted. (Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes, and Andre Braugher are in it too, all great.) In addition to Denzel Washington, the cinematography also netted an Oscar.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:23 PM EDT
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Shut Up, He Explained

You may have heard about it, but if not, here's the WSJ's editorial summary:

Political intimidation has always been part of the current Congress's health-care strategy: "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu" is tattooed on every lobbyist and industry rep in Washington. But Max Baucus's latest bullying tactics are hard to believe by even these standards, as the Senate Finance Chairman has sicced federal regulators on the insurer Humana Inc. for daring to criticize one part of his health bill.
Humana's specific sin was to engage in free speech to its Medicare Advantage customers, a mass mailing letting them know how much the various Democratic health care bills plan to squeeze out of their program, encouraging them to contact their representatives.

Senator Baucus intimated that Humana's mailing was an example of "scare tactics" aimed to "mislead" its customers. And he set the hounds upon Humana, in the form of the Federal agency known as the "Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services" (CMS); it obediently ordered Humana to "cease and desist", and notified that an investigation was being opened with the possibilty of "compliance and enforcement actions." (Baucus posted the CMS letter here (PDF) and his accompanying press release is here (also PDF).)

This all made me wonder: what was actually in the Humana letter that got Baucus and CMS all censorious? I turned it up at, of all places, the Huffington Post. You can view the mailing here (PDF) and even the envelope it came in here (PDF). The HuffPoster, Dawn Teo, is (like Baucus) extremely exercised about it, claiming that recipients were "alarmed and confused" by Humana's "scare tactics". In a later post, she called it part of a "massive misinformation campaign."

But fortunately, Ms. Teo was honest enough to post the actual mailing, allowing you and I to make our own call on the matter.

And here's my call: (a) the letter clearly was sent only to Medicare Advantage participants; (b) the key paragraph is:

Leading health reform proposals being considered in Washington, D.C., this summer include billions in Medicare Advantage funding cuts, as well as spending reductions to original Medicare and Medicaid. While these programs need to be made more efficient, if the proposed funding cut levels become law, millions of seniors and disabled individuals could lose many of the important benefits and services that make Medicare Advantage health plans so valuable.
(emphasis in original); and (c) Humana's description is absolutely true. Back to the WSJ:
In fact, the Baucus draft legislation slashes $123 billion over the next decade from Medicare Advantage, which Democrats hate despite the fact that almost one-fourth of beneficiaries have chosen it over traditional fee-for-service Medicare. One reason seniors like it is because private insurers focus on quality and preventive care and try to manage benefits, as opposed to simply paying bills.
The irony is that Humana has been generally supportive of ObamaCare; and why not, its envisioned mandates promise to deliver many more involuntary customers into Humana's fold. But even the smallest dissent threatens to bring the whole thing down; hence the "shut up" tactics.

As we've seen, Democats "debating" strategy on ObamaCare is to marginalize as many opponents as they can as racist and un-American. Where that's impossible, as with Humana, their first instinct is to reach for excuses in order to quash the inconvenient speech. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey could have told them about the "progressive" devotion to free speech on this topic.

I like what Captain Ed has to say on the topic:

It seems to me that Humana is rightly and rationally warning these customers that big and unpleasant changes will be coming with ObamaCare in all its various forms at the moment, including the Baucus plan. Only a government afraid of its people and afraid of the truth would turn that kind of communication into a crime. Maybe HHS and the White House should spend a little time re-reading the First Amendment instead of attempting to intimidate people out of the political debate, especially the stakeholders.
But, as David Henderson points out, it's not as if we haven't been warned about this sort of thing:
For years, various commentators have said that Friedrich Hayek, in The Road to Serfdom and Milton Friedman, in Capitalism and Freedom exaggerated the dangers to freedom of speech from government control. But also for years, drug companies have feared criticizing the FDA because the FDA has so much discretionary control over their economic livelihoods. Now HHS has upped the ante. Will the defenders of freedom of speech step up to defend Humana's rights, as opposed to Humana's statements. How many people will there be who disagree with what Humana said, but who defend (I don't even need "to the death"--I'll settle for a letter and postage stamp) their right to say it?
I've added the Amazon links to Henderson's comment; if you don't have those books already, you might want to snap them up before they're prohibited for their un-American scare-mongering and misinformation.

Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:22 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-09-21

  • Big Hollywood has everything you need to know about efforts to turn the National Endowment for the Arts into a propaganda arm of the Obama Administration.

  • Like just about every American, Pun Salad is amused at President Obama's insistence that a mandate to purchase health insurance or face a fine is "absolutely not a tax increase." This was exacerbated by a further assertion: "Nobody considers that a tax increase."

    In response, the interviewer, George Stephanopoulos, quoted the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of "tax" to President Obama. Obama shot back that <sarcasm>Merriam and Webster were total racists</sarcasm>.

    Philip Klein makes the non-dictionary argument that the bill under discussion actually refers to the amount nicked from people who fail to buy health insurace as an "excise tax."


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:21 PM EDT
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Happy-Go-Lucky

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

Note the score disparities: Rotten Tomatoes says Happy-Go-Lucky is a critical favorite, with the ordinary schmoes at IMDB going basically, "So what?" Being an ordinary schmoe myself…

The movie follows the character of Poppy, a relentlessly outgoing and cheerful young English primary school teacher. She does not have an unvoiced thought, always chattering up a storm, and she doesn't take initial unresponsiveness from a new acquaintance (or, for that matter, a total stranger) as a signal to back off. Instead, she dials up her mania a couple more notches.

The movie has a number of side episodes involving flamenco lessons, a homeless guy, back woes, a troubled schoolkid, her family, etc. But things center around her relationship with Scott, her driving instructor. Scott's her polar opposite: a perpetually grumpy misanthrope who's all business, and views Poppy's frivolous attitudes and attire with a mixture of puzzlement, disgust, rage, and attraction. Not to mention the really bad teeth. It's England.

The acting and directing are great, but the movie as a whole suffers from the "why should I care?" problem.

That would be good enough for three stars, but I knocked another half-star off for Scott's character. He's a caricature of a right-winger as seen from a typical "progressive's" viewpoint: a bigoted loner, religiously wacky, filled with resentment and misery. (Poppy tries to get him to talk about his family and childhood—from whence she knows all misery springs—but Scott refuses that particular bait.) It much reminded me of President Obama's famous pigeonholing of bitter small-towners clinging to guns, religion, bigotry, etc.; Scott's the film version of that attitude. A better film would have made him a real character rather than a cheap stereotype.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:21 PM EDT
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High Apple Pie In the Sky Hopes

If you're free next Wednesday, the University Near Here has a major event: "High Hopes", which is described this way:

President Barack Obama's election and presidency hold different meanings for many people. The University of New Hampshire will explore the diverse and layered meanings of hope and the real-life manifestations and complications of change in the "era of Obama" at an event Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009.
Uh, ok. But what's it about? Take it away, Cait Vaughn:
"Since November, whether one is having an academic conversation in a university setting with faculty and students, or sitting on the porch with friends, or talking to young children -- the themes of hope, change, and possibility continue to emerge and they grow more complex and layered with each conversation," said Cait Vaughan with the UNH Center for the Humanities.
Yes, I've noticed that myself. Emerging, complex, layered themes out the wazoo. It's a mess, frankly. But the thing, again: what's it about?
At this event, participants will explore what import and substance these concepts have to the culture of the United States, now and in the future. How do people of all different backgrounds view and understand "the price and promise of citizenship," particularly under the Obama administration? What do President Barack Obama's words, ideas, and style of leadership convey to and demand of U.S. citizens as we work toward the perfecting of our union?
Where do people learn to write like this? Where's the style guide that suggests overstuffing your paragraphs with vagueness and bullshit?

Oh well. Maybe there will be a part where everyone writes letters to themselves about how they can help the president.

Who's going to be there?

The event will consist of a moderated panel discussion followed by questions and a group discussion with the audience. Panelists are Marla Brettschneider, professor of political science and women's studies; Carol Conaway, assistant professor of women's studies; and Melissa-Leigh Gore, an undergraduate student in English and Africana and African American studies.

The event is sponsored by the minors in Africana and African American Studies; American Studies; and Race, Culture and Power under the UNH Center for the Humanities.

I think it's safe to say this will be yet another shining example of the University's political monoculture delivering a tongue bath to its current idol. (Apparently they couldn't coax anyone with a token Y chromosome to participate.)

I found Melissa-Leigh's blog, by the way. Interesting! Her qualifications to be on the panel?

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
This year I fell in love with Barack Obama!

36. What political issue stirred you the most? Haha see number 35.

She'll fit right in.

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URLs du Jour — 2009-09-18

  • In today's "This Is How Those People Think" Department, Patterico quotes LA Times writer Noam N. Levey:
    Imagine the debate over healthcare legislation on Capitol Hill as a tussle among three friends out for dinner.

    All three have been struggling to pay their bills lately. When the check arrives, they try to figure out how to divide it. The problem is no one can really afford the meal. And if one manages to pay less, the other two will go home even deeper in the hole.

    […]

    Think of our three friends as consumers, businesses and government, the three major groups that pay for healthcare in America.

    Uh huh. I'm sure readers will note the problem there, so I won't beat you over the head with it; if you'd like to see Patterico's analysis, click over.

    Mr. Levey probably thought he was making a clever analogy, and (even worse), the LA Times editors agreed, and (even worser) the LA Times probably paid him for it.

  • Jonah Goldberg has a great column today, noting the race cards that so many Obama supporters have been playing in an effort to discredit and muzzle critics of the Administration. His final point, inspired by a recent Maureen Dowd column containing this gem about Congressman Wilson's "You lie!" shout during Obama's recent speech:
    But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!
    Jonah's response:
    It's the "fair or not" that gives Dowd away. She admits to hearing racism whether or not it's warranted. That's called prejudice. And unlike Wilson's foolish outburst, Dowd's was carefully considered. Dowd, Carter and Sharpton can't grasp that conservatives are less hung up on race than they are and that we can get past Obama's skin color. "Some people just can't believe a black man is president and will never accept it," writes Dowd. She's right. She's one of them.

  • Iowahawk foregoes his usual laff riot and pays tribute to Norman Borlaug, the greatest Iowa farmer who ever lived. That boy can write.


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URLs du Jour — 2009-09-17

  • Pun Salad shies away from foreign policy, but Gateway Pundit makes a juxtaposition that even your blogger understands:
    Next week the Obama Administration will allow Ahmadinejad, Castro, Chavez, Gaddafi and several other international thugs into New York City to speak in front of the United Nations General Assembly. However, one country's president will not be allowed into the United States.

    President Roberto Micheletti from Honduras will not be allowed to enter into America. The Obama Administration revoked his visa back in July.

  • And, well, you've probably heard about Obama's decision to scrap plans for a missile defense system based in the Czech Republic and Poland. Commentary's Jennifer Rubin echoes my feelings with one sentance in a longer post:
    Obama is in the business of kowtowing to the world's bullies.
    Put this together with the previous item, and I'd find it difficult to conclude otherwise.

  • Will Wilkinson posts a video of our mutual hero, Milton Friedman "arguing for the abolition of licensure for doctors at the Mayo Clinic." Will compares the "histrionics" of today's conservatives unfavorably with Professor Friedman. Point taken, but just about anyone, liberal or conservative, then or now, compares unfavorably with Professor Friedman.

  • On the other hand, GQ compiled a list of America's 25 Douchiest Colleges. Spoiler: the University Near Here is not in that list. But a University Near You might be, so check it out.

    It would be tough to find a better response to GQ than that of the University of Virginia's student paper. Sample:

    Though the recognition is appreciated, GQ has in reality doled out a backhanded compliment: clearly, the University deserves to be ranked much higher on this list. Furthermore, we have qualms with the word "douchey" -- it is not that students here are douches, but rather that they are simply better than everyone else.
    (Via University Diaries.)


Last Modified 2009-10-13 11:24 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-09-16

  • A much younger version of your blogger once stood in line behind George F. Will at a Shakey's Pizza Parlor in Bethesda, Maryland. And he will never forget Mr. Will's words to his wife that day:

    Honey, do you want beer, or root beer, or what?

    That story has nothing to do with anything, but your blogger nevertheless likes to tell it. According to their website, the Shakey's nearest to Pun Salad World Headquaters is 1009 miles away, in Warner Robins, Georgia. And, what do you know, there it is.

  • Today at Newsweek, Mr. Will notes that not only are an increasing number of Americans disbelieving President Obama, they "do not believe that he believes what he says." Arguably worse! Among the contributing factors is the one we ranted on a couple days ago:

    He says America's health-care system is going to wrack and ruin and requires root-and-branch reform--but that if you like your health care (as a large majority of Americans do), nothing will change for you. His slippery new formulation is that nothing in his plan will "require" anyone to change coverage. He used to say, "If you like your health-care plan, you'll be able to keep your health-care plan, period." He had to stop saying that because various disinterested analysts agree that his plan will give many employers incentives to stop providing coverage for employees.

  • At the American Spectator, Peter Ferrara similarly hooks the president's speech up to a lie detector, and notes the needles twitching wildly, lights flashing, and smoke coming out of various orifices:

    If you are one of the almost 12 million Americans with low cost Health Savings Account insurance plans or similar high deductible plans, and you like it, too bad, because Obama's promise of allowing you to keep your plan does not apply to you, just as it does not apply to the 10 million seniors with Medicare Advantage, or the 88 million estimated to be dumped into the Obama/Democrat "public option." Obama offered the nation another calculated deception last Wednesday when he proclaimed "nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have." No, nothing will require it, it will just have that effect, as Obama knows, which is why he so carefully and misleadingly phrased it this way.

  • But if you'd like to get away from Obamacare for awhile, you can read the sad story of yet another effort to run a public institution of higher education (specifically, East Georgia College) via arbitrary whim:

    Professor Thomas Thibeault made the mistake of pointing out--at a sexual harassment training seminar--that the school's sexual harassment policy contained no protection for the falsely accused. Two days later, in a Kafkaesque irony, Thibeault was fired by the college president for sexual harassment. More than a month later, despite multiple requests for information, Thibeault has never received a statement of the charges against him, nor any evidence, nor any idea of whether there is actually an accuser, nor any hearing.

    If Kafka had never written, I wonder what we'd call these kinds of proceedings?

  • I suspect that given the chance to do so, about 5-10% of the respondents in a random polling sample will falsely claim to hold bizarre and extreme views. Just to mess with the pollster's mind, man.

    I wonder how you could test that hypothesis?

  • Google sends a lot of people our way looking for ginormous rubber duck images, due to this 2007 post. We are happy to oblige with a slightly newer pic:

    [Ginormous Rubber Duck]

    That's the 26-meter one in Nantes. Also available in slightly-less-ginormous 12-meter and 5-meter versions. There's a video at—where else?—Cute Overload


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:20 PM EDT
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P Is For Peril

[Amazon Link]

Another outing for the intrepid private eye Kinsey Millhone, this one being number … um…


% perl -e 'print ord('P') - ord('A') + 1, "\n";'
16
… number 16 in Sue Grafton's conveniently-titled series. Ms. Grafton's U book is coming out in December, which puts me five behind. (I did that calculation on my fingers.)

In this one, Kinsey is hired to find a missing doctor, by the missing doctor's ex-wife. In a subplot, Kinsey also needs to find some new, affordable office space, as her current arrangement is becoming increasingly untenable. Both efforts immediately get complicated, as (a) Kinsey gets involved in the innermost workings of the family and work associates of the missing doc; (b) she finds an ideal office, but her prospective landlords are a pair of brothers with a shady past, and (worse) one develops kind of a romantic obsession with Kinsey. Nevertheless, she does some real detecting here; and, yes, at one point she's in actual peril.

I found this installment in the series to be a significant improvement over the ones immediately preceding. As always, Kinsey is a sharp-eyed observer of her environment and others, and she's not so hot at self-reflection. (Although the books are written with Kinsey first-person narrating, Ms. Grafton somehow wangles to reveal more about Kinsey than Kinsey knows herself. Good trick.)

As an extra current-events bonus, Medicare fraud is involved.

I should also note that Ms. Grafton seems to cut back here on the semi-annoying habit of including piles of irrelevant details, for which I previously awarded her the title "The Queen of Pointless Description".


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:28 PM EDT
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Seven Men From Now

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

I can't believe it took me so long to watch this. A fine movie with outstanding performances from Randolph Scott and Lee Marvin.

Randolph Scott plays Ben Stride, on the hunt for the gang that knocked over the Wells Fargo office in Silver Springs and murdered his wife. Along the way, his mission is compromised when he reluctantly teams up with John and Annie Greer, a greenhorn couple trying ineptly to drive a wagon to California. Adding even more complications: bad guy Bill Masters (Lee Marvin) and his henchman, Clete, invite themselves along for the ride as well.

Randolph Scott plays Stride wonderfully well; he's a man of few words, and every one of those words means something. He's stoic, but Scott allows us to discover that he (a) is wracked by guilt over the death of his wife, (b) views the hapless John Greer with sympathy but little respect, and (c) has growing feelings for Annie.

Lee Marvin, on the other hand… has anyone, before or since, been able to do a smooth-talking menacing villain better than Lee Marvin? His role here is the flip side of Stride's: a bad guy who knows he's a bad guy. He and Stride know they're irretrievably on opposite sides, but each views the other with respect. (Significantly, he addresses Stride as "Sheriff", even though Stride no longer wears the badge.)

After I watched this, I said to myself: I bet Robert B. Parker is a Randolph Scott fan. One quick Google search later: yup.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:19 PM EDT
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You Can Keep It. Unless You Can't.

One of Pun Salad's bêtes noires in the ObamaCare debate has been what I've come to think of as the "you can keep it" lie. Previous posts mentioning this are here, here, here, and here. For those who don't want to wade back into all that, here's the (not so) short version:

The "you can keep it" lie has been one of ObamaCare's primary talking points for months. Here's the president, only a few weeks back, speaking in Portsmouth, NH:

Now, let me just start by setting the record straight on a few things I've been hearing out here -- (laughter) -- about reform. Under the reform we're proposing, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.
Might this have been an accidental misstatement? Nope. It was one of Obama's primary reassurances, hammered home time and again. The White House has a "Reality Check" web page entitled "You can keep your own insurance" with a video hosted by chief ObamaCare propagandist Linda Douglass.

Unsurprisingly, most Democratic politicians are happy to repeat this:

  • Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi:
    [Health insurance reform] will allow every American who likes his or her current plan to keep it.

  • Senator Max Baucus:
    Healthcare reform will […] ensure that those who are happy with the healthcare coverage they have now can keep it.

  • My own Congresswoman, Carol Shea-Porter:
    […], under this plan, if you are happy with your present insurance, you can keep it.

  • NH Senator Jeanne Shaheen:
    […] if you have health coverage that you like you can keep it.

In addition, the Administration's sock puppets have mindlessly repeated this talking point:

  • MoveOn.org:
    If you're happy with your coverage and doctors, you can keep them.

  • The AARP:
    If you like the coverage you have, you can keep it …

  • Consumer Reports:
    If you're satisfied with your job-based coverage, you would be able to keep it.

Truly a herd of independent minds.

In contrast, anyone who looked at the claim with any skepticism whatsoever found "you can keep it" to be (depending on their mood and attitude) less than accurate:

  • Factcheck.org:
    … he can't make that promise to everyone.

  • Camille Paglia:
    You can keep your doctor; you can keep your insurance, if you're happy with it, Obama keeps assuring us in soothing, lullaby tones. Oh, really? And what if my doctor is not the one appointed by the new government medical boards for ruling on my access to tests and specialists? And what if my insurance company goes belly up because of undercutting by its government-bankrolled competitor?

  • Keith Hennessey:
    The President overpromised. So far the best he can deliver is, "If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, as long as you're not one of the 10 million people whose employer will decide to stop offering you health insurance through your job." I think that loses some of its rhetorical punch.

  • The Wall Street Journal:
    You can keep it, as long your insurance company or employer can meet all the new regulations Mr. Obama favors.

  • Even the reliably Obama-tilted Politifact could only rate Obama's language "Half True", and if you read their analysis, that's just way too generous:
    It's not realistic for Obama to make blanket statements that "you" will be able to "keep your health care plan." It seems like rhetoric intended to soothe people that health care reform will not be overly disruptive. But one of the points of reform is to change the way health care works right now. So we rate Obama's statement Half True.

So, I had mixed feelings when, in last week's speech to Congress, Obama significantly failed to use the "you can keep it" lie. Here's version 2.0:

First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. Let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.
Ah. Somewhat less reassuring. And it gets less reassuring the more you read it.

And this language shift was enough for Politifact to upgrade the president's assertion from "Half True" to "OMG Obama Is So Frickin' Awesome".)

Obama's statement from the speech is more carefully phrased than his earlier statement. In his speech, he said that if you are "already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have." That is true, there is nothing in the plan that proactively forces these kinds of changes, and the bills clearly intend to leave much of the current health care system in place. We rate Obama's statement True.
Presumably all the other talking point-echoers will now update their now-obsolete "you can keep it" line with something reflecting the new-n-improved reassuring language. Eventually, "you can keep it" will vanish down the Memory Hole.

One thing's obvious to all but the Obama-enraptured: Given the massive layers of new regulations, subsidies, taxes, and penalties in the legislation, it would be completely unrealistic to expect that just about everyone's health care arrangements would be not be in for any number of changes, some foreseeable, some not. Although these changes aren't technically "required" by the legislation, they would be, nonetheless, inevitable.

  • Cato's Michael Tanner isn't shy about pointing this out:
    [Obama's assertion] of course is quite simply untrue. The president favors a requirement that everyone must carry basic health insurance. But the individual mandate that he favors and included in the bills before Congress doesn't just say you have to have insurance: It specifies what benefits your insurance must have, even if you don't want those benefits or they boost the cost of your policy. […]

    [T]he reality is that, because a taxpayer-subsidized government plan could undercut private insurance premiums, employers would have every incentive to dump their employees into the government plan.

  • Diana Furchtgott-Roth weighs in:
    […] the vast web of regulations on insurance companies laid out by the president virtually ensures that some insurance plans will go out of business. Some Americans will not be able to keep their coverage or their doctor.

  • In addition: one thing missing from the president's "no changes" list is Medicare Advantage. The WSJ points out just how dishonest that is:
    So no cuts, for anyone--except, that is, for the 24% of senior beneficiaries who are enrolled in the Medicare Advantage program, which Democrats want to slash by $177 billion or more because it is run by private companies.

  • Shikha Dalmia deemed Obama's speech to be "the policy equivalent of the middle finger" to his critics. After detailing his many broken promises, misstatements, and unlikely predictions, she concludes:
    Obama lambasted the critics who claim his reform plan amounts to a government takeover of the health care system. But the plan he laid out Wednesday night will control every aspect of the medical transaction. It will tell patients when, what and how much coverage they must buy; it will tell sellers when, what and how much coverage they must sell. This is not a government takeover of health care? Then Tony Soprano is just a decent, hard-working businessman.

Bottom line: just because President Obama and his enchanted followers have changed their language, it's a mistake to think they've gotten any more honest. Their strategy is: say anything to get the legislation passed. David Harsanyi is suitably merciless, and unexcerptable. Read the whole thing.

Last Modified 2009-09-14 6:40 PM EDT
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I Love You, Man

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

Disclaimer: you'll probably like this movie better than I did. I mean, check out that decent score from IMDB.

Paul Rudd plays Peter: for one reason or another, he's never had any close male friends. Dilemma: he's getting married, and finds himself in desperate need of a best man. Fortuitously, he meets Sydney, played by Jason Segal. Sydney is very quirky, however; one of his endearing traits is to not clean up his dog's public pooping, and then going postal on anyone who calls him on it. The relationship between Peter and Sydney is a rocky one, and threatens to break apart Peter's engagement.

All this is accompanied by (as the MPAA puts it) "pervasive language, including crude and sexual references." "Pervasive" doesn't really do it justice; more like "ubiquitous". Also gratuitous. I'm no prude, and maybe this movie just caught me on a bad evening, but …

In addition, although I think the Peter/Sydney characters are meant to be charmingly "quirky" and "endearing," they went off into "whiny" and "annoying" much too often.

On the plus side: Jane Curtin, J.K. Simmons, and Lou Ferrigno. And it's not totally without laughs. And (as I said) you might like it more than I did.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:19 PM EDT
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Eight Years.

No "bickering" about ObamaCare today. This is pretty good:

Klavan_2009_09_11


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:18 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-09-10

Your non-diligent blogger did not watch President Obama's speech last night; Netflix sent us Hawaii Five-O, Season One, Disk Two. And some things naturally take precedence over others.

  • Apparently there was a brouhaha at the speech, as an unusually outspoken legislator decided to Speak Truth to Power, albeit somewhat rudely. Bruce McQuain has the context.

  • Jennifer Rubin was also deeply creeped out by the speech:

    The scope of his ambition and the disdain with which he regards his opponents are startling. Never once in his speech did he concede the merits of his opponents' concerns. It is all silliness, lies, misunderstanding, and partisanship--by the other guys.

  • And John Hinderaker has a long analysis. I liked this reaction to Obama's statement that the "time for bickering is over":

    I'm not sure whether Obama and his handlers understand how this sort of talk grates on those of us who are not liberal Democrats (a large majority of the country). Debating public policy issues is not "bickering." Disagreeing with a proposal to radically change one of the largest sectors of our economy is not a "game." This kind of gratuitous insult--something we never heard from President Bush, for example--is one of the reasons why many consider Obama to be mean-spirited.

    I plan on continuing to bicker, myself.

    John also makes the good point that Obama decried "scaremongering" shortly before doing some scaremongering himself, an equally grating habit that doesn't wear well on the unenchanted. All in all, John concludes, that it was "not … a speech that was directed at thinking people."

  • Matt Welch concentrates on Obama's lies misrepresentations, exaggerations, and prevarications. One stuck out:

    And in a critical, tic-riddled passage that many of even his most ardent supporters probably don't believe, Obama said: "Here's what you need to know. First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits-either now or in the future. Period." In case you couldn't quite read his lips, the president repeated the line for emphasis. Then: "And to prove that I'm serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don't materialize."

    Emphasis added. Pun Salad has blogged about that "dime" formulation before: here and here. Matt agrees with our conclusion: when Obama says "dime", it means he's probably lying being less that straightforwardly honest.

  • But returning to more important topics: Hawaii Five-O had, if not the greatest TV theme music ever, certainly in my top five. (YouTube video not embeddable, sorry, but if you click over, be prepared to have that music stuck in your head for a few hours.) More info at Wikipedia.

  • The episodes themselves: enjoyably quirky. The ones we watched last night had (1) Sal Mineo as a wayward kid staging a his own kidnapping in a plea for attention from rich daddy Harold J. Stone; (2) Ricardo Montalban playing a Japanese crime lord, but (of course) with his normal Roarke/Khan accent. McGarrett had no comment on that. Both Mineo and Montalban were, eventually, booked.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:18 PM EDT
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"Time To Stand Tall," Urged the Dwarf

Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein made a few waves last month by deeming ObamaCare opponents to be "political terrorists". That's me, dear readers, and maybe you too.

So Pearlstein is fond of equating people who don't agree with him to murderers of the innocent. <satire>Ah, but what else would you expect from a political pedophile?</satire> Let's see what he has to say today, in a column headlined "Time for Obama to Stand Tall."

In his speech to Congress on Wednesday night, President Obama will try to regain control over a national conversation on health care that has been hijacked by ranters and ravers of all stripes and members of Congress who don't know their own minds and cower before their own constituents.
Summary: Free speech is a bitch. Legislators are stupid and cowardly.

Fortunately, Barack Obama (and, coincidentally, also Steven Pearlstein) are smart and brave. They'll try to rise above it all.

Anyone else out there failing to meet Pearlstein's standards? Why, yes:

It's disappointing that Obama must also overcome the timidity of some of his own political advisers who seem to have succumbed to the dreaded Washington disease, whose symptoms are a fixation on polls and an unnatural gullibility for conventional wisdom. It is one thing to accommodate political reality but quite another to sacrifice first principles, embrace bad policy in the name of compromise and capitulate to political thuggery.
Yes, even some of Obama's own advisors are trembling under their desks. Because of polls.

I also like the phrase "unnatural gullibility for conventional wisdom." Is there a natural gullibility for conventional wisdom? If so, is that better, or worse, than the unnatural variety?

We are left to wonder: just exactly how smart can President Obama be, when (after all) he hired all these timid, gullible advisers? I guess that puts him a couple steps below Steven Pearlstein, smartwise. Steven Pearlstein would never have made that mistake.

At the memorial service for Ted Kennedy in Boston last month, Vice President Biden remarked that Kennedy's strength as a leader was that he never acted in a small or petty way, so "people didn't want to look small in front of him -- even the people who were small." Obama's task Wednesday is to demonstrate the same sort of leadership, not only by laying down the moral and economic imperative of health-care reform but by coming clean on some of the tradeoffs that will be necessary in achieving it.
Ah, we're getting to something here. Because in fact, Obama has been babbling about the "moral and economic imperative of health-care reform" for months. If you include the campaign, for years.

But Pearlstein has a new demand: that Obama also begin "coming clean on some of the tradeoffs".

Well first, why just some of the tradeoffs, Steven? Why so timid? Why don't you demand that Obama come clean on all the tradeoffs?

But never mind that quibble: what Pearlstein is implicitly saying is what we on the other side have been yammering about for weeks now: President Obama has not been "coming clean" on tradeoffs during this debate. And for our troubles, guys like Pearlstein have been smearing us as "political terrorists."

Go figure.

What makes reform such a difficult puzzle is that the fundamental policy goals of universal coverage and cost containment are inconsistent with the political instincts to assure Americans who already have health insurance that they will be able to keep everything they already have, to assure that nobody will get a tax or cost increase and to assure those in the health-care industry that there will be no reduction in their income. Obama's mistake so far is not that he left it to Congress to hammer out the details of competing reform plans, but that he failed to give Congress political cover by helping people understand that there can be no gain from reform without at least some fairly apportioned pain.
Short version: (1) there ain't no such thing as a free lunch; (2) Obama has been (so far) pretending otherwise.

What Pearlstein doesn't say: it's no surprise that ObamaCare opponents ("ranters and ravers") are irate about this phony and dishonest salesmanship.

Deals negotiated with doctors, hospitals, health insurers and drug companies represented a good running start on the path of shared sacrifice, but the president failed to follow through with other key players.
You'll notice another funny thing (for sufficiently small values of "funny") when you compare the above with Obama's rhetoric from just last month:
Because the history is clear - every time we come close to passing health insurance reform, the special interests with a stake in the status quo use their influence and political allies to scare and mislead the American people.
But, as Pearlstein admits, Obama and congressional Democrats have no problem with the "special interests" they've already cut deals with.

Again the dishonesty and hypocrisy revealed in the conflict between Obama's rhetoric and reality might just be another factor in why we "political terrorists" are so pissed off. Just sayin'. But Pearlstein's OK with it, the only problem is that Obama wasn't dishonest and hypocritical enough:

From a business community that wants to preserve the employer-based system, he failed to get a commitment that all employers should participate.
(Comment: as if there were a unified "business community" with a leadership that could make such an agreement on behalf of its constituents. That is delusional.)
He kowtowed to organized labor by backing away from a reasonable cap on the favorable tax treatment of health benefits.
… to the great surprise of nobody. Except, perhaps, Steven Pearlstein.
And he folded like a cheap suit when right-wing attack dogs scared the elderly with talk of euthanasia and death panels rather than aggressively defending the logic of living wills and evidence-based medicine.
As near as I can tell, Pearlstein thinks that Obama shouldn't have said he wasn't gonna "pull the plug on Grandma". He should have left that option open.

Another problem with Pearlstein's argument: whenever Obama does talk about "evidence-based medicine", he invariably descends into delusional howlers about surgeons overeager to perform $50K leg amputations and tonsillectomies because they make more money that way.

Those are just more cheap quibbles though: run back though Pearlstein's list of groups Obama either did or should have cut deals with: doctors, hospitals, health insurers, drug companies, "business", and organized labor. (But not "right-wing attack dogs")

Notice anyone missing from that list?

You got it, smart reader: (probably) you and (certainly) I are missing from that list. Taxpayers, aka the "political terrorist" schmucks who are going to pay for the grand scheme, directly and indirectly.

By signaling that he was willing to stand up to some interests but not others, Obama gave up the moral and political high ground that would have made the opponents of reform look "small" by contrast.
Dang! Turns out Obama's not that smart after all. It was so simple! If only he'd listened to Pearlstein!
Bend the 'Cost Curve'

The president's approach needs to be simple and direct: The health-care system we now have is wasteful and expensive and leaves the United States with the moral stain of being the only rich country to ration medical care on the basis of income. Runaway health spending is the main reason the average American worker hasn't gotten a real pay raise in a decade. And it is the big reason the government is looking at huge budget deficits for years to come.

And, not coincidentally, government policies, tax codes, regulations, subsidies, and programs are more concentrated in this ostensibly "private sector" health care area than any other. But Pearlstein somehow thinks that—this time for sure—government will bail us out of the mess it largely put us in.
That's why the "cost" figures being tossed around are so misleading: The money needed to subsidize health insurance for low-income workers is supposed to more than offset by the savings in Medicare and Medicaid and additional taxes. If reform doesn't "bend the cost curve," as the budgeteers like to say, then it's not worth doing. And if it does, then there is no need to scale back the program and compromise on universal coverage just so the annual subsidies can be reduced from $110 billion a year to $70 billion.
Pearlstein blithely assumes massive "savings" in Medicare and Medicaid. Virginia Postrel had a good rejoinder to that a few months back:
Think about this for a moment. Medicare is a huge, single-payer, government-run program. It ought to provide the perfect environment for experimentation. If more-efficient government management can slash health-care costs by addressing all these problems, why not start with Medicare? Let's see what "better management" looks like applied to Medicare before we roll it out to the rest of the country.
Pearlstein will, I'm afraid, not embrace Ms. Postrel's proposal. Neither will Obama. Because it would demonstrate the utter vaporousness of their "savings" proposals.
An equally silly compromise comes from the Senate's "Gang of Six," which seeks to avoid riling the local chamber of commerce with a mandate that all businesses contribute something toward health insurance for their workers. Instead, the centrists would only dun employers for whatever subsidies their low-income workers need to help them meet their new obligation to buy health insurance. Aside from creating an administrative nightmare, this provision would have the perverse effect of encouraging employers to fire, or not to hire, low-wage workers with children or spouses who are unemployed. Republican Olympia Snowe is said to be particularly enamored of this idea. I'd bet a two-pound lobster and bowl of Maine's best chowder that she can't find a labor economist back home who thinks this is a good policy.
Yes, it's a stupid idea. It's heartening that Pearlstein can recognize at least one stupid idea.
Start With the Basics

While there are no silver bullets in health-care reform, there are plenty of promising ideas on the table for reforming insurance markets and bending the cost curve. It will take time to test and implement these ideas on a national scale.

Right. And if those "promising ideas" prove ephemeral—well, that's just too bad. Sorry! To quote Animal House:
… you can't spend your whole life worrying about your mistakes! You f****d up - you trusted us! Hey, make the best of it!
Pearlstein continues:
What the president needs from Congress is succinct legislation that guarantees that every American will have a basic health insurance policy and sets reasonable caps on the growth of government health-care spending. The details should be left to the regional exchanges and a new board of independent health experts to oversee Medicare and Medicaid. Their recommendations could be subject to an up-or-down vote from Congress, as advocates of entitlement reform have long suggested.
Again: We'll give you the details later. Trust us. Note that the legislators Pearlstein previously—just a few hundred words back—derided as stupid and cowardly are now going to make the "up-or-down" final call on that. I'm sure nothing could go unexpectedly wrong there.
After a summer that exposed a virulent strain of public cynicism and distrust, the president's challenge is to rededicate himself to restoring faith in government and rekindling the "yes we can" spirit that swept him into office. And at some point he needs to look straight into the eyes of those who would have him fail and promise to do whatever it takes to break the partisan stranglehold and make health-care reform a reality.
Pearlstein's own brief account tells us that it would be more accurate to say that the president's behavior (and that of Democrats in Congress) caused "public cynicism and disgust." Pearlstein's promising demand (in paragraph three) that the president should be "coming clean on some of the tradeoffs" turns into vagueness and hand-waving at the end: let the "independent health experts" figure that stuff out.

Feh.

If Obama's looking for speech advice at this late date, I'd recommend avoiding Pearlstein and instead going with John Stossel. Just read the whole thing, Mr. President. Verbatim.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:17 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-09-09

  • I was depressed when I read Foster's Daily Democrat about the Somersworth (NH) students who were cruelly denied the chance to view President Obama's speech live yesterday by Superintendent Karen Soule.
    "[Soule's refusal] sent the wrong message," [Senior Kelsie] Dodier said. "It was saying the president of the United States wasn't important enough for us to take the time out of the day to hear."

    Said [Strafford County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Caitlin] Daniuk, "Why could we not let our students be inspired by the president?"

    Whiiiinnnee! Interested people could almost certainly figure out how to watch it on their own, of course. But, gee, it's just not the same unless you're parading the impressionable masses into large rooms for their mandatory platitude viewing session.

    But fortunately, Don Boudreaux has a more concretely worded response:

    For the record, I oppose all such "Great Leader" poses, regardless of the party affiliation of the Great Leader du jour. The idea that we should be 'inspired' by winners of political elections -- the notion that successful politicians have some special wisdom to impart -- the stupid consensus that high political office renders its holders unusually trustworthy when delivering clusters of cliches -- is intolerable to men and women who value freedom and individuality.
    What he said. Unfortunately, valuing freedom and individuality is not high on the educational priority list these days.

  • Photoshop wizards weigh in on Disney's purchase of Marvel. Some obvious, nearly all amusing. (Via BBSpot.)


Last Modified 2009-09-13 11:33 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-09-08

  • The local superintendent for Somersworth and Rollinsford (NH) public schools made the call to not show President Obama's speech to students during the school day. Some folks are upset:
    Daniuk argued that [Superintendent] Soule's decision to pull the plug was "partisan." She added that the address is "not a Democratic or Republican issue."
    Who is Ms. Daniuk, you might ask? It turns out she's pretty much the last person in the area you want to make an argument about this not being a partisan issue: she is the chairwoman of the Strafford County Democratic Committee.

  • Scott Ott has an (unfortunately) imaginary draft of President Obama's speech:
    A draft copy of President Barack Obama's planned September 8 address to America's public school children, tells students that "If you want to grow up to be like me, you should beg your parents to put you in private school, right now."

    Although Obama attended public school in Indonesia early in life, he soon switched to a private Catholic school, and from fifth grade through graduation went to a private college-prep school in Hawaii. His own daughters now attend a private school in Washington D.C..

    (Via Cato@Liberty.)

  • Neal McCluskey is not mollified by the (non-imaginary) released speech transcript. He makes a good point about the brouhaha generated by the speech:
    Ultimately, no matter what happens now that the speech has been published, one thing cannot be ignored or spun: When government controls education, wrenching political and social conflict is inevitable. Americans are very diverse - ideologically, ethnically, morally, religiously - but they all have to support a single system of government schools. As a result, they are constantly forced to fight to have their values and desires respected, and the losers inevitably have their liberty infringed. In this case, reasonable people who want their children to hear the President must fight it out with  equally reasonable people who do not want their children to watch the speech in school. It's a situation completely at odds with a free society, but as we have seen not just with the current conflict, but seemingly endless battles over history textbooks, the teaching of human origins, sex education, and on and on, it is inevitable when government runs the schools. Which is why the most important lesson to be learned from this presidential-address donnybrook is that Americans need educational freedom. We need universal school choice or crippling conflicts like this will keep on coming, liberty will continue to be compromised, and our society will be ripped farther and farther apart.

  • And Byron York notes the differing standards applied the last time a president tried to pull this stunt:

    The controversy over President Obama's speech to the nation's schoolchildren will likely be over shortly after Obama speaks today at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. But when President George H.W. Bush delivered a similar speech on October 1, 1991, from Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington DC, the controversy was just beginning. Democrats, then the majority party in Congress, not only denounced Bush's speech -- they also ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate its production and later summoned top Bush administration officials to Capitol Hill for an extensive hearing on the issue.

    Fortunate that we live in less partisan times! (Also via Cato@Liberty.)

  • And then there's the creepy self-importance. (Or, as Mickey says, the "unnattractive solipsism and egotism.")


Last Modified 2009-09-13 11:35 AM EDT
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Even Money

[Amazon Link]

It's yet another outing for Dick Francis, his third with his son Felix as a co-author. The elder Francis is coming up on his 89th birthday next month, so it's anyone's guess how much actual writing he's doing. But however the collaboration works, this book has (at least for me) the feel and sound of Francis's previous stuff. As long as that keeps happening, I'm along for the ride.

The hero here is Ned Talbot, a bookmaker: one of the only horseracing professions Dick Francis hadn't yet covered. Bookmakers, Ned tells us, are disrespected by the rest of the industry; yet (as any free-marketeer will tell you) they perform a needed service for the wagering public.

In addition to the general hostility directed his way, Ned has a bunch of other problems. His wife is in the nuthouse for her recurring bipolar disorder. In the first few pages, a man shows up out of the blue claiming to be his father; Ned was previously under the impression that he was an orphan. Worse, in a few more pages, Ned's an orphan again, for good this time, as dad becomes a quick victim of foul play.

In addition, Ned's employees are chafing more and more under their employment situation. And there's some high-tech chicanery going on, as the bookie's Internet and cell phone connections keep cutting out at critical periods just before a race is to start. What's going on?

As usual for a Dick Francis book, the hero puts the pieces together, showing heretofore unexpected reserves of character, bravery, intelligence, and wit. Altough (also as usual) not without getting knocked around a bit.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:16 PM EDT
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Julie & Julia

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

Yes, this was my second Mary Lynn Rajskub movie in less than a week. Good catch.

Oh, yeah, Amy Adams is in it too. She plays the "Julie" part of the title: a 30ish New Yorker, married to a magazine editor. They live in a dinky Queens apartment, and Julie commutes in to her dreary soul-sapping cubicle job in lower Manhattan. Looking for life fulfillment after a lunch date with her irritating upwardly-mobile friends, she hits on the idea of working through all 500+ recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking over the coming year, and—and this is where things got interesting—blogging about it.

The movie has a parallel thread following Julia Child herself over (mostly) her years in France, the wife of a State Department employee; this role is played by someone with the unlikely name of "Meryl Streep." Julia is also looking for a path to self-realization, fulfillment, etc., and (as we know) decides to develop her cooking expertise.

Everybody's acting is really quite good, especially Ms. Streep, who as far as I can tell, managed to channel Julia Child's personality and mannerisms from beyond the grave. (Almost as good as Dan Aykroyd, whose classic SNL sketch is included.) Especially wonderful is Jane Lynch as Julia's sister Dorothy, even taller than, and equally enthusiastic as, Julia. She is a hoot.

Now, don't get me wrong, guys: this is a chick flick. The male characters are pretty much props. And (since it's written and directed by Nora Ephron), there are occasional paragraphs of dialog that sound like they came from When Harry Met Sally outtakes.

But it won't kill you to go see this with a female of your choice, as I did; you'll have a few laughs.

If you're interested in the blog Julie wrote, you can dig it out here; her current blog is here. She's considerably more potty-mouthed and politically tedious on her blogs than in the movie.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:16 PM EDT
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Adventureland

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

Yes, a second quirky comedy in a row. Comparisons with Sunshine Cleaning are inevitable: Adventureland is funnier, but has less sympathetic characters. It's set in the late 1980's and seemingly based on writer/directory Greg Mottola's own life.

The protagonist is James, a recent college graduate whose dreams are crashing to earth. His father's been demoted, probably due to his alcoholism. But uppermost on James' mind is: how does this affect me? His plans for a summer tour of Europe are out. And grad school at Columbia is doubtful unless he can make some serious summer-job money. Unfortunately, James' marketable job skills are minimal, so he winds up at the local cheesy amusement park. And (as he seems instinctively to realize) not in one of the good "rides" jobs; no, he's relegated to the lower-tier "games" area, taking the rubes' money and giving away trashy prizes.

James gets to rub shoulders with people his previous life path would have steered him away from. They're not stupid, at least not most of them, but they've all got issues of one kind of another. And they're seemingly all making it through the summer fueled by prodigous quantities of alcohol and marijuana. James is particularly attracted to the smart, aloof Em, who's at the park seemingly solely to irk her dad and stepmom. Em is involved with older (and married) Mike, the park mechanic.

So there's a lot of comic potential; instead, there's a lot of soap-opera angst, betrayal, and drama. I couldn't find a reason to care much about what happened to these shallow kids. Still, watchable.

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig from SNL are very funny as the Adventureland proprietors, however.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:15 PM EDT
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Sunshine Cleaning

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

This movie was billed as a comedy, but it's one of those comedies where you don't laugh very much. I laughed more during Gran Torino.

Amy Adams plays Rose Lorkowski, and her life is pretty dreadful: she's a single mom, and her son is in continual trouble at school with his oddball ways; her kid sister is a slacker; her dad (played by Alan Arkin) continually comes up with obviously doomed get-rich-quick schemes; she's trapped in a dead-end maid job herself; she's in an equally dead-end affair with her married high-school sweetheart, now a cop.

Desperate for money, Rose and her sister decide to get into the semi-lucrative field of cleaning up biohazardous sites, mostly places of violence and death, after the bodies and (most of) their associated pieces have been removed. Eventually, as her expertise grows, Rose finds the job to be fulfilling and worthwhile.

Laugh riot, right?

Many comparisons were made between this movie and Little Miss Sunshine; besides the obvious common word in their titles, there's also a quirky, struggling family threatening to pull itself apart. And Alan Arkin plays the daffy older grandpa in both movies. But (as noted) Sunshine Cleaning is a lot darker, and has many fewer chuckles.

There's good stuff too: Amy Adams is topnotch, and the supporting cast is also fine. (And this is really your go-to movie if you want to hear Giselle from Enchanted talk dirty.) Mary Lynn Rajskub, Chloe herself, has a small role as a sad phlebotomist temporarily befriended by Rose's sister. And it really is an interesting yarn; it's just not very funny.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 2:14 PM EDT
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Jim Wallis is Likely Hiding His Own Shortcomings, Claims Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis is CEO of "Sojourners", a lefty religious organization. For some reason I noticed his blog entry today:

I have never really trusted those who are intolerant and condemning of other people's shortcomings. It makes me suspect they are likely hiding their own.
Compare and contrast that attitude with one of his posts a mere three weeks ago, on Sarah Palin:
Sarah, you're the one who is acting in an "evil" way. After listening to your policy pronouncements during the campaign, many Americans decided, generously, that you weren't ready yet for high political office. Others thought you just weren't very smart. But this statement last week really does clear up the question for me. You are speaking like a demagogue in the worst tradition of those who knowingly distort and deceive, for their own political purposes. You want to stoke people's worst fears and then, hopefully, they will look to someone like you to be their leader. You're not stupid after all. You know that neither President Obama, nor anyone else in this health-care debate, would deny health care for your parents or child, and that none of the ideas being debated would suggest that. But people are confused and concerned, so you see your chance to prey upon their misunderstandings. Politics for people like you is really all about you, your fame and power, and your taste of it during the last election has revealed what kind of politician you truly are.
Etc. The difference is that in the more recent post, he's talking about Teddy Kennedy. Tolerant forgiveness goes only so far for Jim Wallis, baby, and it stops well short of Sarah Palin.

Unlike Jim Wallis, I have absolutely no problem with being intolerant and condemning of other people's shortcomings. That's why I'm forthrightly telling you that Jim Wallis is a hypocritical idiot whose dishonest moral preening should set any decent person's teeth on edge.


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URLs du Jour — 2009-09-03

  • Honest, I thought I was reading Iowahawk for a moment. But it's Amy Kane:
    Calvin Coolidge to address nation's schoolchildren on Sept. 8

    Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009 A.D.

    HEAVEN - A spokesangel for a coalition of dead presidents announced today that John Calvin Coolidge, Jr., the taciturn 30th president of the United States, has been chosen to deliver an address to schoolchildren on September 8.

    You will want to read the whole thing, and also to check out the accompanying Obamicon.

  • Didja hear the one about the 80's female hip-hop star who forced her record company, Warner Music, to shell out a contractually-obligated $200K to finance her education, including a Cornell Ph. D.?

    Well, in the Everything You Know Is Wrong Department

  • Maine resident Gary Moody is in trouble again.
    Four years ago, Gary Moody explained his presence in the bottom of a pit toilet on the Kancamagus Highway by saying he was retrieving his wife's lost wedding ring. Now Moody -- who dodged jail time in that incident -- is facing three new charges related to incidents at a campground toilet in the White Mountain National Forest.

    A 13-page affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, Maine, last week details the investigation that began Memorial Day weekend, after U.S. Forest Service investigators looked into reports that "a man was inside in the waste vault" at Hastings Campground in Gilead, Maine, a few miles from the New Hampshire border at Shelburne.

    The Smoking Gun has the supporting documentation. Key point from the crack investigator:

    27. MOODY said that his shirt then fell into the pit and he took apart the toilet stand and climbed down into the pit to get the shirt so that he wouldn't get in trouble for dropping it in there. I asked MOODY how he would get in trouble for dropping a shirt into the pit and MOODY said, "Well you know with DNA and everything."
    The "bottom" line (so to speak): if you're travelling up north this weekend, and need to use the facilities, you might want to check first to make sure Gary's not down there looking for something or other.


Last Modified 2009-09-04 10:52 AM EDT
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One Reason I Would Not Be Welcome As A Member Of Seacoast Peace Response

I read this Boeing Press Release and my first thought was: Oooh, cool!

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., Sept. 1, 2009 -- The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA] and the U.S. Air Force on Aug. 30 defeated a ground target from the air with the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) aircraft, demonstrating ATL's first air-to-ground, high-power laser engagement of a tactically representative target.
I believe I would translate this roughly as: "It blowed up real good!"

Via the Weekly Standard blog, where a Boeing spokesperson was asked to expand:

2. What does "Defeat" a ground target mean?

Answer: The ground target will temporarily/permanently be unavailable for its intended use.

"Yup! It blowed up real good!"

Last Modified 2009-09-02 10:49 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-09-01

Y'know, I'm a little politicked out today.

  • On this day in 1939, World War II began and Lily Tomlin was born. Almost certainly a coincidence. But …

  • In the Everything You Know Is Wrong Department: John Tierney has news you can use if you find yourself in a rip current.

  • If I told you that David Cassidy—yes, Keith Partridge himself—sang the National Anthem at Fenway Park on Sunday, would you believe me? I wouldn't. Yet Red at Surviving Grady seems to have the incontrovertible shaky-camera proof.

    Dylan comes out with a Christmas album and now this? End times, baby. End times.

  • Mark Steyn asks: Do you notice anything shrivelling?
    The other day CTV reported the astonishing statistic that in the whole of Canada there are just 33 sperm donors. That seems awfully low for a nation of 30 million people. Three sperm donors per province plus one per territory? Surely we can do better than that. All hands on deck!
    Key colorful phrases: "a stampede of broody lesbians stymied only by defective semen"; "very masculine reading estrogen-based organism."; and "Fallopian time-share".


Last Modified 2009-09-01 6:05 PM EDT
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