URLs du Jour

2009-10-31

  • "Strange New Respect" is a phrase invented long ago by Tom Bethell of The American Spectator to describe the phenomenon of liberal media suddenly fawning over a conservative who's unexpectedly tilted leftward on one or more issues.

    Now, also in the Spectator, Shawn Macomber finds one of the stranger instantiations of Strange New Respect: the latest entry in the Saw movie franchise. "Jigsaw", the prime splatterer of the series' gore, turns out to have been driven to his elaborate killing schemes "by a bad experience with an insurance company lackey who denied him cancer coverage on the basis of a—wait for it—preexisting condition." Observes Shawn:

    Jigsaw slaughters a few of the establishment left's hackneyed bogeymen, makes a couple scathing speeches about the "f–cking insurance companies," damns the naïveté of the Tea Partier, government-out-of-healthcare set, and—voila!—the series has gone from gutter phenomenon to clever satire, Michael Moore unbound

  • The NYT story on the uptick in GDP yesterday contained this:
    Before the third quarter, the gross domestic product — the broadest measure of the government’s total goods and services produced — had been shrinking for a year. It bottomed out with a 6.4 percent rate of decline in the first three months of this year, the steepest fall since 1982.
    Um, see anything wrong there? Mark Skousen does. In addition to more technical quibbles:
    … the New York Times may well want “the government” to produce the entire GDP, but it doesn’t yet. Currently government spending represents approximately 20% of GDP. The remaining 80% is privately produced.
    Skousen is quoted at Steve Landsburg's new blog, already a regular stop for me.

  • Yesterday, following sheeplike in the opinions of other right-wing lunatics, I was all depressed about Honduras. The WSJ is telling us buckaroos today that we can cheer up, alleging the agreement was mainly designed as a face-saving out for Hillary Clinton and the Obama Administration. Hope that's right.

  • Jamie Lee Curtis opines on Halloween at the Huffington Post. You'd think that might be interesting, but … nope.
    After seeing The Exorcist for my 15th birthday I received the nickname "Dimmy" from the ghost of the priest, Damien's mother calling out to him "Dimmy, (short for Damien) why you do this to me Dimmy?" I was so freaked out that my 1972 Mercury Capri had the vanity plate "Dimmy."
    Sure, Jamie Lee. That's why they called you Dimmy.

URLs du Jour

2009-10-30

  • Jonah Goldberg devotes a column to the remarkable sycophancy of Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for da Arts. My favorite sentence:
    In short, Landesman doesn't know what he's talking about. But he does know what he's doing.
    Jonah has a good brief history of the arts community's recent willingness to politicize itself.

  • Michael Goldfarb notes foreign policy progress:

    The Obama administration's diplomatic efforts on North Korea have stalled, the peace process is going nowhere fast, and now the negotiations with Iran have collapsed entirely.

    But don't worry. We can still push around small Latin American countries.

  • Given the House version of Obamacare rolled out yesterday, it's a good day to remember the "firm pledge" made, nearly literally, in Pun Salad's own backyard:
    "I can make a firm pledge," [candidate Obama] said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12. "Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes."

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

    That's an AP story from earlier this year noting the quick breakage of that campaign promise. Today, as Jacob Sullum notes, that Obama's current attitude toward his pledge seems to be "Already Broken, Might As Well Stomp on It":
    Americans for Tax Reform lists the tax hikes in the House health care bill that would violate President Obama's campaign pledge to avoid "any form" of higher taxes on families making less than $250,000 a year. They include an income surtax of 2.5 percent for people who refuse to buy health insurance, a payroll tax on businesses that fail to buy insurance for their employees, and several restrictions on health savings accounts.
    Could all you people who voted for Obama because you thought he was trustworthy please raise your hands.

    Ah, good.

    Now use them to slap yourselves silly.

URLs du Jour

2009-10-29

  • Rocco Landesman, current chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, gushed about the literary skills of President Obama:
    This is the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln. If you accept the premise, and I do, that the United States is the most powerful country in the world, then Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar.
    At Commentary, John Steele Gordon tears apart the first sentence. Among other things, Gordon points out: "Lincoln never wrote a book."
    What is it about Barack Obama that causes such cringe-inducing butt-kissing?
    My guess is that an aptitude for sycophancy is must-have job requirement in this Administration.

  • Don Boudreaux recalls that the Obama Administration assured us, without much giggling, that no way no how would they allow political interference in the business decisions made by the bailed out General Motors. Then points, with suitable sarcasm, to this WSJ story of political interference in the business decisions of bailed out General Motors. His conclusion:
    The wonder is not that politicians are meddling. The wonder is that America is populated with a sufficient number of persons so gullible as to encourage Mr. Obama to issue his 'no politics' assurance with a straight face.

  • Dartblogger Joseph Asch gets stopped on I-93: "Sir, the Limit is 65; Keep It Under 80."

  • A neat visualization of how small small stuff is. Some genius should do the same thing for big things. Maybe someone has. Anyone seen one?

URLs du Jour

2009-10-28

  • Can you stand yet another link on Obamacare? Jacob Sullum notes that none of the major players are being particularly honest about the effect of mandatory "universal coverage" on health care costs.
    Defining one minimum medical package for the entire country, thereby inviting every health care interest to descend upon Capitol Hill and lobby for inclusion, will compound the inflation caused by state requirements. [The Cato Institute's Michael] Cannon warns that such a federal standard could force 100 million Americans into more expensive plans while effectively banning the money-saving combination of high-deductible insurance and health savings accounts.

    The upshot is a phenomenon we have seen many times before: Instead of protecting us from big business, big government buys it off with our money.

    Or, to quote (once more) Amarillo Slim: "Look around the table. If you don't see a sucker, get up, because you're the sucker."

  • At the Technology Liberation Front, Berin Szoka is clearly frustrated with how statists use the language of liberty to push … well, less liberty. The specific case is the "Net Neutrality" debate, as articulated by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC:
    What makes Maddow's comments so stunning is not her view that corporate America, rather than government, is the real enemy of freedom. That view is simply part of the long-regnant political orthodoxy. No, what's stunning is that she actually thinks that her side is losing the "war of words" just because Sen. McCain had the gall to use the term "Internet Freedom" as a rallying-cry for the outdated, bourgeois notion that "freedom" means the absence of coercion by the one entity that can enforce its commands at the point of a gun and call it "justice": that coldest of all cold monsters, the State. That's precisely what "liberalism" used to be about until people like Rachel appropriated that word and words like "liberty" and "freedom" as slogans for control.

  • Have you seen the Levi's TV ad where a scratchy recording of a Whitman poem accompanies a quick-cut black-and-white semi-depressing video? At Slate, Seth Stevenson fills in the details: for example, that it's thought to be Whitman himself reading that poem. Whoa.

    Stevenson thinks the ad is "a small artistic gem", except for the Levi's logo at the end. I think it's semi-irritating, except for the historical interest. But there's YouTube of the ad at the link, so you can make your own call.

  • Over 7200 years ago, a nearby star went supernova. Well, fortunately, not that nearby; it took until 1054 AD for light from the explosion to reach us. And, however unpleasant it might have been for anyone in the immediate vicinity, it's quite beautiful today.

Chasing the Dime

[Amazon Link]

A non-Harry Bosch novel from Michael Connelly. Without Bosch, some of Connelly's stylistic seams show a little bit: dialog is a little stilted, characters aren't quite three-dimensional. (I'd say somewhere around 2.7, though.) And the prose isn't magnificent, just significantly above average. But Connelly does know how to tell a story and grab your interest, so all in all, this is a pretty good read.

The protagonist is Henry Pierce, a chemist with a company on the verge of making an enormous killing in the biotech/nanotech field. They're about to file patents on a revolutionary method for powering nanites, and they're in the process of wooing a venture capitalist who'll put them on the path to capitalistic success.

There are just a couple of minor problems: Henry's dedication to his work has caused a nasty breakup with his girlfriend. And his new phone in his new apartment is getting calls meant for "Lilly", typically from lonely busnessmen in hotels. A little digging discovers that Lilly is a standout on one of those websites offering temporary intimate services.

But now Lilly has disappeared, and Henry (for personal reasons disclosed later) becomes a little obsessed with tracking her down. His amateur detective work, aided by the social engineering skills he developed on a college whim, leads him to various underbellies of L. A., and (unsurprisingly) into danger, deception, and very justified paranoia.

Although Bosch isn't present, there's a gratifying indirect reference to him late in the book. Also, Henry's a big fan of Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears A Who!, very appropriate for someone working in nanotech.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:09 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-10-27

  • David Brooks rips off Hayek without attribution for his op-ed column title today: "The Fatal Conceit".
    Humans are overconfident creatures. Ninety-four percent of college professors believe they are above average teachers, and 90 percent of drivers believe they are above average behind the wheel. Researchers Paul J.H. Schoemaker and J. Edward Russo gave computer executives quizzes on their industry. Afterward, the executives estimated that they had gotten 5 percent of the answers wrong. In fact, they had gotten 80 percent of the answers wrong.
    The applicability, of course, is to the hubris of the current crew in charge of the Executive and Legislative branches, who seem to harbor not the slightest doubt about their abilities to "design" (actually: impose) changes to health care, finance, energy, all in ways that will make us better off. Brooks's specific example: bureaucrats dictating compensation to financial executives.

  • Arnold Kling isn't amused by that buffoonery, nor should you be. The czars aren't so much hubristic as they are engaging in deliberate populistic diversion:
    The further into this crisis we go, the greater the share of subprime loans and mortgage losses are turning out to be located at Freddie and Fannie. Even one year ago, if you had asked me, I would have told you to expect at least 2/3 of the losses to be at companies like Citi and Bear, with less than 1/3 at Freddie and Fannie. It now looks quite different. Conservatively, 3/4 of taxpayers losses will be at Freddie and Fannie. Perhaps as much as 90 percent of taxpayer losses will be there.

    Given the large role of Freddie and Fannie, it makes sense for politicians to create as large a diversion as possible. Hence, the brouhaha over bonuses at bailed-out banks.

    Don't be diverted.

  • Perfect Boiled Eggs is an appealing mixture of science and puns. Spoiler: the secret to hard-boiled perfection is to start with the right volume of water in your pot. I would not have guessed that! (Via BBSpot.)

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

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

Every so often I have the idle thought at the mall: as far as I know, just about any of these older middle-aged guys could have been the drummer for Steppenwolf. This documentary comes pretty close to instantiating that fantasy: the guy schlepping food to Toronto school lunchrooms really was the lead singer and guitarist from the seminal heavy metal band Anvil, Steve Kudlow, aka "Lips".

Unlike just about all bands from the eighties, Anvil still clings to life, and this movie recounts Lips' efforts, with longtime friend and drummer Robb "No Relation" Reiner, to resuscitate the band, have a successful tour, and bring out a new album. It's a very rocky road, filled with disappointment.

But also plenty of laughs, because there's quite a bit of Spinal Tappishness in this enterprise, as expectations are confounded and gigs are botched, to the surprise of nobody except the band. (And there's a quick shot of an amp with a dial that really does go to eleven.) Lips comes across as an essentially sweet motormouthed goofball, full of delusion, but without pretense. A small cadre of fans love Anvil, but can that translate into anything approaching commercial success? Robb, on the other hand, is much more level-headed and grounded, balancing Lips' lunacy.

The movie is full of little surprises: both Lips and Rob are Jewish. Lips' mom is sweetly supportive of her aging rocker son. We also meet Lips' siblings: an accountant, an endocrinologist, and a businesswoman, all who love their semi-loser brother. Robb's family is also interesting: his father was an Auschwitz survivor. Robb turns out to be an amateur painter, and a fan of Edward Hopper.

I won't spoil the end of the movie, but it's great. You don't need to be a metal fan (I'm not) to enjoy this little picture of borderline fame.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:09 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-10-26

  • At Cato, Michael F. Cannon is unimpressed with the honesty of the New! Improved! Public Option in the latest version of Obamacare. The idea is to allow states to "opt out" of the public option. This will (in theory) make the pill go down a little easier for some legislators. But:
    … the state opt-out proposal is a ruse within a ruse.

    Taxpayers in every state will have to subsidize Fannie Med, either implicitly or explicitly. What state official will say, “I don’t care if my constituents are subsidizing Fannie Med, I’m not going to let my constituents get their money back”? State officials are obsessed with maximizing their share of federal dollars. Voters will crucify officials who opt out. Fannie Med supporters know that. They’re counting on it.

    "Fannie Med" was, as near as I can tell, coined by the WSJ editorialists a few months back to describe another stealth public option, the "co-op" gimmick. But it's the same story: a trojan horse to get the US to a single player plan.

  • Remember the "Troubled Assets Relief Program", aka TARP? It's been making the news lately:

    • For example, you might remember that in last year's hysteria to pass TARP, noises were made about repayment—don't worry, we'll get all that money back for you, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer!. Well
      Inspector General Neil Barofsky said in an interview with CBS’s “The Early Show” that it was “unrealistic” to believe that the entire $700 billion supplied by the government during the height of the banking crisis will be repaid.

    • But that was an honest mistake, right? They weren't lying, were they? Well
      The inspector general who oversees the government’s bailout of the banking system is criticizing the Treasury Department for some misleading public statements last fall and raising the possibility that it had unfairly disbursed money to the biggest banks.

    • But we can't just let it die:
      The Obama administration appears to want to keep an inherited $700 billion financial rescue fund going past its scheduled expiry at year-end, but is retooling the program to focus on more than just banks.

    • More than just banks? Why yes, for example
      The U.S. Treasury Department is considering ways to provide support through its bailout program to community development loan funds, a senior Treasury official said on Friday.

      Gene Sperling, counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, said loan fund support could be developed as an extension to efforts unveiled this week to provide more capital to small banks and other community lenders through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

      Yes, Your Federal Government is tired of pesky private lenders risking their own capital on enterprises they deem worthy; they plan on directing hundreds of billions of Other People's Money (specifically: yours) to "community development" and "community lenders", no doubt chosen through the auspices of various "community organizers". Yay, good idea!

    Summary: A bad idea, badly executed, and about to be re-mutated into a continuing suckage out of your wallet. We're all just travellers on the Road to Serfdom.

A Yotta is a Lotta

You can discount the big-brother paranoia and tendentious politics if you want, but James Bamford's review of a new history of the National Security Agency contains some pretty interesting stuff. Here's what caught my eye in the description of NSA's data repository needs:

Just how much information will be stored in these windowless cybertemples? A clue comes from a recent report prepared by the MITRE Corporation, a Pentagon think tank. "As the sensors associated with the various surveillance missions improve," says the report, referring to a variety of technical collection methods, "the data volumes are increasing with a projection that sensor data volume could potentially increase to the level of Yottabytes (1024 Bytes) by 2015."
Yottabytes! Yow! (The official name for 1024 is a septillion, a bit of mind-rotting trivia that we'll henceforth ignore.)

To imagine how big 1024 is: think of a gold cube 1 millimeter on a side. (That's pretty small.) It would weigh about 19 milligrams, and at today's prices (say $34/gram), would be worth about 66 cents.

If you (carefully) arranged a million of those tiny cubes into a neat 100x100x100 stack, the result would be a cube 10 centimeters on a side, about 4 inches. In gold, that's a little over 19 kilograms (42 and a half pounds), and worth about $660,000.

You can see where this is going: If you stacked up a billion little cubes (1000x1000x1000), the result would be a cube 1 meter on a side, about 40 inches. It would weigh a smidgen over 21 tons, and it would be worth … of course … $660 million.

But jump to 1024 of the little cubes: they make up a yottacube 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) on a side. And—well it's pointless to imagine that in gold; there just isn't that much gold on earth, nor enough money to buy it.

OK, so we're talking about data, not gold. But even so: you can run down to Best Buy and a one-terabyte (1012) hard drive for somewhere in the ballpark of $100: a huge drive for not that much money.

Storing a Yottabyte would require you to get one trillion of those drives. And you'd be putting $100 trillion on your Mastercard for them.

So apparently NSA has something even cheaper in mind.

The Brothers Bloom

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

Note: the Amazon link to the right—no, your right—takes you to their "Video On Demand" item; The Brothers Bloom DVD has only so far been released to the rental market. Odd move.

It's written and directed by Rian Johnson, whose previous movie was Brick, which I really liked. This one is slightly less accessible, but still refreshingly original and quirky.

Mark Ruffalo plays Stephen, while Adrien Brody plays his brother, "Bloom"; we never get a reliable first name for him. They are the world's greatest con artists, but Bloom is growing tired of a life that's essentially a series of fictions. Stephen lures him back into the game when the target is the lovely and extremely oddball heiress Penelope. Along for the ride is a chain-smoking Japanese lady, "Bang Bang" who never speaks, but enjoys shooting and blowing things up.

There are layers upon layers of subtrefuge, betrayal, flim-flam, and dishonesty. There are some very funny parts, and some very dark parts. The IMDB reveals that the brothers' names are from James Joyce: Stephen being from Stephen Daedalus, and Bloom being from Leopold Bloom. And Penelope has the same name as Odysseus' wife, an indirect reference via Joyce's Ulysses. These kind of literary references are too hifalutin' for me. But I still had fun.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:08 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-10-18

  • I'm a Jeopardy! fan. (And true Jeopardy! fans always include the exclamation point at the end of the title.) This year, they're doing celebrity shows the third Thursday of every month. Last Thursday featured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael McKean, and CNN's Soledad O’Brien.

    O’Brien did a little better than CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who was soundly beaten/self-destructed last month against Dana Delany and Awesome Andy Richter. Lesson learned: news readers don't necessarily have to understand the stuff they're reading off the teleprompter.

    Kareem— look, I don't expect a lot from sports legends on Jeopardy!, having learned from Curt Schilling's experience. But Kareem did surprisingly well—he's a smart guy—but he managed to hurt himself badly with a bad Daily Double wager. And (worse) he botched a question… well, let Betsy Newmark tell you about it.

    So David St. Hubbins himself, Michael McKean, walked away the winner. ObQuote:

    It's such a fine line between stupid, and clever.
    One of the many Pun Salad Official Mottos.

  • P. J. content at the Weekly Standard. His topic is the Nobel Peace Prize, and—gosh—he makes it seem that the country of my ancestors is doing a less-than-stellar job in picking the awardees.
    …, where in the list of Nobel Peace Prize winners are the men and women of Lincoln's mettle, who brought just and lasting peace to whole continents? Where is Winston Churchill? Franklin Roosevelt? Harry Truman? Margaret Thatcher? Ronald Reagan? Instead what we get is Mikhail Gorbachev (1990) and Barack Obama.
    He doesn't mention Arafat, which makes me realize that P. J. O'Rourke knows when he doesn't need to overmake his case.

  • It's so hard to love her well:

    Via the University Diarist who has given me a wee bit of encourangement to this Jimmy Webb fan.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:07 AM EDT

Away We Go

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

One of my perpetual complaints: movies billed as "comedies" that aren't actually funny and whose characters aren't sympathetic or interesting. (E.g., The Darjeeling Limited.) Away We Go threatens to be like that, but managed to win me over. Or maybe I was just in the right mood.

One reason is John Krasinski, who plays Jim on The Office; he is the very definition of affability. He and Maya Rudolph (from Saturday Night Live) play Burt and Verona, a couple in a long-term relationship who are about to have a baby. Well, Verona is. But their plans to rely on Burt's parents for help get knocked askew, and they find themselves suddenly rootless. They undertake an odyssey throughout America (with a side trip to Montreal), looking for a place to settle down to raise their about-to-be daughter. They visit a series of relatives and friends, each with their own quirks, demons, secrets, and problems.

Now there's nothing inherently interesting there, but it worked for me. Burt and Verona might be a tad self-absorbed and whiny, but, hey, who isn't? They keep up a witty dialog with each other in between stops, then sit back and react to the various situations and characters they encounter in their visits.

The supporting cast is also pretty good: Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels play Burt's parents; Allison Janney, comedian Jim Gaffigan, and Maggie Gyllenhaal are all pretty funny. But Maya Rudolph is (I thought) extraordinary in her role, showing acting talent that was effectively masked by her hilarious roles on Saturday Night Live. (I surely can't be the only one who wishes for one more episode of "Wake Up, Wakefield")


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:07 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-10-16

  • Hey, kids! You too can go to Recovery.gov to find the jobs the stimulus created in your home state. Let's see…

    Recovery!

    W00t! Twenty-two whole jobs for the Granite State. Heckuva job, stimulators! (Inspired by Jim Geraghty's comments on New Jersey and Virginia.)

  • Speaking of jobs: if you can do visualizations like this, you shouldn't be unemployed.

  • Ray Cardello got the same taxpayer-funded mailing I did from our common Congresswoman, Carol Shea-Porter. It has a nice little "feedback" card you can (a) rip out, (b) fill out, and then—for all the good it will do to influence her voting behavior—(c) throw out. Comments Ray from Raymond:
    Ms. Porter, it is clear from your actions and your voting record, along with your lack of response to hear from your constituents this summer, that you really do not care what we think and you will vote whatever way Speaker Pelosi wants you to, for that is how to secure your seat in the House.
    Well, maybe. I would think that the Congresswoman's complete lack of independence from the Democratic House leadership would be a killer campaign issue for her opponent. Didn't work for Jeb Bradley in 2008, but it might work for someone who didn't have his or her own independence issues.

  • Can you see the cap on my head over there on the right? (No, your right.) I need no additional reasons to despise the New York Yankees, but Matt Welch provides one more big one: they're corporate welfare queens.

  • Merry old Finland has declared broadband Internet access to be a "right" of its citizenry. Adam Thierer is mercilessly scornful, and judging by the adulation at other sites, some of my fellow geeks should check Adam out.

  • Winding up on a more serious note for a change: Charles Krauthammer is absolutely devastating in his column on President Obama's foreign policy. Conclusion:
    The Russian leadership, hardly believing its luck, needs no interpreter to understand that when the Obama team clownishly rushes in bearing gifts and "reset" buttons, there is nothing ulterior, diabolical, clever, or even serious behind it. It is amateurishness, wrapped in naïveté, inside credulity. In short, the very stuff of Nobels.
    Or beauty paegants.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:07 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-10-14

  • I don't have much new to say about ObamaCare and the "Baucus bill" (or, as I prefer, "dog turd") moving through the great bowel of the Senate. But I liked this title: "The Baucus Death Spiral". And it's a good post, so check it out if you can stand more clear description of why this is such a stinker.

  • I'm a fan of David Mamet and (moan) the Boston Red Sox, so I laughed quite a bit reading "Glengarry Glen Sox" from the good folks at Surviving Grady.

  • Via GeekPress: 25 Awesome Homeless Guy Signs. Note: although the linked article is probably "safe for work", the right-hand column content… maybe not so much, depending on where you work.

Horrible Idea… No, Wait, It's Good

ABC News reports:

A bill making the rounds on Capitol Hill marries two feel-good propositions -- tax cuts and pet ownership -- to generate a novel idea: A tax break of up to $3,500 per person for pet care expenses.

This has to be one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard.

"What a pro-active way to be able to help the economy and change the culture in this country around animals," Robert Davi, a veteran actor ("The Goonies," "Die Hard," "License to Kill") who was a main force behind the bill's introduction, told ABCNews.com in a telephone interview.

Davi? Uh oh.

Beware the Davi

Yeah, on second thought, it's a great idea. And you think so too. Write your congressperson.

Not that it matters, but one of my all-time favorite movie quotes is:

This is agent Johnson. … No, the other one.

Must have seen it fifty times. I still chuckle.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:06 AM EDT

Naked Emperor Makes Brendan Nyhan's "Best Dressed" List

Brendan Nyhan's blog is one of the "liberal" ones I read, because he occasionally notes the lunacy of lefty rhetoric. Good for him.

Last month, President Obama decided to scrap Dubya's proposed deployment of anti-ballistic-missile weaponry in Poland and the Czech Republic. I quoted Jennifer Rubin's judgment at the time:

Obama is in the business of kowtowing to the world's bullies. Russia didn't like the missile shield, so no more missile shield. Do we think we "got something" for this? I'd be shocked if we did, given the obvious willingness of the U.S. to prostrate itself before rivals.
Jennifer didn't use the word "appeasement", and neither did I, but other folks did.

Brendan Nyhan was appalled at the "appeasement" rhetoric at the time, but didn't really have much of an argument to refute it. Basically, he was just averse to historical references that involve Nazis.

A week later, however, Brendan finally announced: "Obama didn't 'appease' Russia":

Today, however, the picture has started to come into focus. The New York Times reports that Obama's decision was part of a quid pro quo in which Russia agreed to support tougher sanctions against Iran …

Ah, a quid pro quo. Brilliant! Who could be against that?

Well it turned out to be illusory, for one thing. Today's NYT says, basically, never mind:

Threatening Iran with more sanctions would be counterproductive, Russia's foreign minister declared Tuesday, resisting efforts by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to win agreement for tougher measures if Iran fails to prove its nuclear program is peaceful.
I'll be watching to see if Brendan changes his mind, or even updates his argument, on the whole appeasement thing. But his point about the inappropriateness of comparisons to 1938/Neville Chamberlin/"Peace in Our Time" is probably apt: after all, Chamberlin managed a quid pro quo with Hitler that lasted almost a year. Obama let folks like Brendan and the New York Times imagine that there might have been a quid pro quo for almost a whole month. That's a big difference. That's the sort of thing they award prizes for these days.

URLs du Jour

2009-10-12

  • The Nobel Prize in Economics also went to Barack Obama went to "Ten-Four" Elinor Ostrom of Indiana and Oliver Williamson of UC Berkeley. Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek explains why this was a good call from the Swedes. Alex Tabarrok agrees.

    [Update: Also see Virginia Postrel, also cheerful.]

    [Another update: Tom Smith has a pretty funny joke told by Professor Williamson, used to illustrate agency costs.]

  • At MarketWatch, however, Tom Bemis reacts to the Obama snub.
    The president has worked tirelessly since even before his inauguration to wrest control of the U.S. economy from failed free markets, and the evil CEOs who profit from them, and to turn it over to wise, fair and benevolent bureaucrats.
    Hm, maybe some sarcasm there.

  • I've noted before 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.

    The latest example, taxing financial transactions, is analyzed by Kenneth Anderson at the Volokh Conspiracy. It's pretty much ideal, if by "ideal" you mean "a way to pick people's pockets without them realizing it." Anderson's conclusion:

    Does a complex welfare state need taxes? Sure. Transparent, widely shared, everybody pays something and everyone can see what they pay, so that everyone has a stake in the extent of taxing and spending, as visible and little distortionary as possible. Thus almost the opposite direction to where the US tax code has drifted since the 1986 reform and even more so to where current proposals aim to go. They tend to increase the rent-seeking possibilities of the political class and its ability to ‘get the juice’ from economic actors who must navigate the artificial shoals of regulations that aim to benefit particular constituencies and particular politicians. VAT taxes flunk the transparency requirement, as do turnover taxes of this kind. That is, of course, one reason why politicians love them.
  • For the thirty-third year in a row, I missed Durham's Leif Ericson Day parade.
    The parade started in 1977 as a three-man tribute to the famous Viking explorer. Noble K. Peterson, a former University of New Hampshire professor, and two friends of Scandinavian descent were washing clothes at the Durham Laundercenter one morning when they decided to march next door to Young's Restaurant to celebrate the famous explorer.

    Since then, many have gathered at the laundromat, located on Main Street, at 6 a.m. on the Sunday before Columbus Day to take the 25-foot march to Young's Restaurant while chanting "For noble deeds and daring done, we all salute Leif Erickson. Hoorah! Hoorah! Hoorah!"

    My excuse this year was to protest the silliness of this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Yeah, that's why I didn't go. Also, I can't find my Viking helmet.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:06 AM EDT

The Professional

[Amazon Link]

A new Spenser book from Robert B. Parker causes withdrawal from lesser forms of entertainment; I go into incommunicado mode while turning pages. Fortunately, it's easy going.

Our hero is hired by a foursome of trophy wives with rich older husbands; each has been seduced by full-time lothario Gary Eisenhower, and each is now threatened with blackmail about their affairs.

Spenser makes relatively short work of the case, but the outcome leaves some aggravating loose ends. In an unusual twist, he finds himself kind of liking Gary, who's supposed to be the villain. So he remains semi-attached to the participants, even after his detective obligations have lapsed; he continues to investigate as a freelance snoop.

Parker's writing style doesn't leave much room for long introspective monologues. (You want Travis McGee, friend, you know where you can find him: according to Google Maps, about 1474 miles south on I-95.) But Spenser's clearly confused by his own motivations here, and irritated about it; he's a know-thyself kind of guy, and that's not working for him here.

In a nice touch, it's ambiguous whether the book's title, The Professional, refers to Gary or Spenser. Probably a little of both.

And, as has become usual for the Spenser series, at least one of his original clients turns out to deeply regret hiring him. His office should probably have a warning on the door: "Come in if you want, but you might be sorry."


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:05 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-10-09

  • Harvard Econ Prof Greg Mankiw is not above a little parody:
    From the Associated Press (with some light editing):

    Pfuffnick's Nobel Economics Prize triumph hailed by many

    LONDON -- The surprise choice of first-year grad student Quintus Pfuffnick for the Nobel Prize in Economics drew praise from much of the world Friday even as many pointed out the youthful economist has not yet published anything in scholarly journals.

    The new PhD candidate was hailed for his willingness to tackle difficult problems, his commitment to improving the economic system, and his goal of bringing efficiency and equality into harmony.

    Instapundit collects more links and quotes. It's a funny old world.

  • Speaking of which, Iowahawk has obtained President Obama's official notice from the Nobel Peace Player's Club Selection Committee.

  • P. J. O'Rourke content at the Weekly Standard, reviewing a Pete Seeger biography. It even has relevance to the above items, containing, as it does, the phrase:
    … the sharing, caring, lame-o lefty mind omelet that spreads mood-poisoning to the masses.
    As they said in Airplane II: "Yes, we're familiar with it."

URLs du Jour

2009-10-08

  • The National Journal reports that eight "moderate Democratic senators" are demanding that the legislative text of the "health care" bill be posted on the Internet, as well as CBO's cost estimates of the same, 72 hours before the Senate votes.

    That's not an unreasonable request. You'd expect a lot more than eight senators to demand it. Missing from the list of "moderate Democratic senators" is New Hampshire's own Jeanne Shaheen; she's apparently itching to vote for any dog turd legislation before anyone gets a chance to find out what's really in it and how much it really costs. (Via AmSpecBlog.)

  • Apologies for the terminology above: as William Jacobsen ably points out: despite what you might read out there about the "Baucus bill", THERE IS NO BAUCUS BILL.
    The actual legislation will be drafted in secret by Harry Reid and a few other people, including staffers whose names and political connections you never will know, and the resulting legislation will be rammed through the Senate and House before anyone gets to read and analyze it.

    Months of debate mean nothing. It's all smoke and mirrors by people who think you are too stupid to realize what is going on.

    So "dog turd legislation" seems apt. Maybe it will catch on.

  • The Tax Foundation has issued its latest State Business Tax Climate Index. Granite Staters can relax: we're number 7 overall. (Which may simply reflect on the poor climates in other states; it's all relative.)

    It's interesting to compare the business climate with the latest state unemployment rates. You'd expect a favorable business tax climate to correlate well with low unemployment. But there are plenty of exceptions to that expectation, like Vermont: horrible tax climate, relatively low unemployment.

  • If you read the David Brooks Bentham/Hume column, recommended here yesterday, you might also be interested in Mario Rizzo's reaction to (what he considers to be) Brooks' mischaracterization of Hume. (Via Cafe Hayek.)

  • The great Virginia Postrel posts her FTC notice/warning/disclaimer. Her websites (DeepGlamour and Dynamist) are Amazon affiliates (as is this one), so:
    The Federal Trade Commission demands that we tell you this--they think you're idiots and are violating the First Amendment with their regulation of what bloggers publish--but it's also a friendly reminder to Support DeepGlamour by starting all your Amazon shopping here.
    Good point. (Note: Deep Glamour's Amazon link in the quoted material.)

  • Dan Tuohy notes a local outbreak of bucolic plague.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:05 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-10-07

  • This David Brooks column got a big thumbs up from Prof Mankiw, which is high praise indeed.
    I'd like to introduce you to two friends of mine, Mr. Bentham and Mr. Hume.

    Mr. Bentham knows everything. He went to Stanford, then to the Kennedy school before getting a business degree. He's got multivariate regressions coming out of his ears, and he sprinkles C.B.O. reports on his corn flakes for added fiber.

    Mr. Hume is very smart, too, but he doesn't seem to make much use of his intelligence. He worked on Wall Street for a little while, but he never could accurately predict how the market was going to move tomorrow or the day after that.

  • … which prompted (however) David Harsanyi to write a response, and I think it's pretty good too:
    This week, New York Times columnist David Brooks introduced readers to his imaginary friends, Mr. Bentham and Mr. Hume, as a way of highlighting the nation's philosophical divide.

    If only our ideological split were that complicated.

    As it happens, I also have two imaginary friends (and boy, do I need them) named Mr. Hoover and Jim.

    Mr. Hoover knows everything. He attended a high-brow graduate school and worked as a Senate aide before becoming a policy expert. (He even pretends to understand Jeremy Bentham.) He is a man who craves acceptance from the other smart people who surround him.

    Jim is pretty smart, too, but hasn't squandered his talent working in Washington. Rather than theorizing about economics, Jim takes an authentic risk by starting a business. He ends up employing 20 people and creating the capital that helps pay for their health insurance -- as well as fund many of the social safety net programs that Mr. Hoover dreams up.

    Readers, make sure you read Harsanyi's depressing conclusion, and make your own call.

  • On a possibly related note: Instapundit offers a definition of the shortest possible time period: the kleptosecond. It's already making the rounds.

URLs du Jour

2009-10-05

  • We've noted in the past that, on the topic of Obamacare, Consumer Reports (CR) was acting less like the tough, independent, skeptical, pro-consumer organization it claims to be, and more like a mindless shill, even to the point of adopting talking-point lingo widely realized to be less than honest.

    Now, it's worse; the blogprof notes that CR is running pro-Obamacare TV ads. (And, via that post, also check out this detailed takedown of CR's specious propaganda from William Jacobsen.) A very good argument for letting my subscription lapse.

    (Original link via Instapundit.)

  • I admit I laughed at the Saturday Night Live opening monologue, the theme being President Obama's lack of concrete results on major fronts:

    Funny, but as you might expect, it's basically a leftwing critique: Obama's failure to execute a progressive laundry list. Betsy Newmark points out, depressingly, that Obama has done plenty enough.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:04 AM EDT

Lonely Are the Brave

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

Of all the movies Kirk Douglas has made, this is his favorite. It's also his son's, Michael's, favorite. Myself, I gotta go with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Kirk plays John W. "Jack" Burns, cowboy. In a neat trick, the movie opens with a vast open wild horizon, Jack at a campsite with his horse, Whiskey. It's a Western! But then you hear roaring, and Jack looks up to spy three jet contrails overhead; it turns out that it's set sometime in the mid-twentieth century. And Jack's very much a man out of time, as the forces of civilization are closing in on the last remnants of the wild west.

The plot relates Jack's final struggle with The System, as his old buddy Paul has been jailed for helping wetbacks. (Yes, I know that's not PC, but that's what they say in the movie.) By judicious picking of fights, Jack manages to break into the jail where Paul's being held. He proposes a breakout, but Paul's decided that the outlaw life is no longer for him. So Jack escapes alone, and becomes a wanted fugitive.

There's much to like about the movie: there are a lot of familiar faces with a lot of acting talent: Gena Rowlands plays Paul's wife, Walter Matthau, William Schallert, and George Kennedy as pursuing cops. Carrol O'Connor as a truck driver. And even Bill Bixby has a small role as a chopper pilot.

Also Bill Raisch, the original one-armed murderer from The Fugitive, plays… well, a violent one-armed man here too. Man, did that guy ever get typecast or what? (He was in Spartacus too, credited as "Soldier Whose Arm is Hacked Off". Ouch!)

The movie has a Dalton Trumbo screenplay, based on a novel by noted civilization-hater Edward Abbey. Don't want to spoil things, but it's kind of a downer, and more than a little heavy-handed.

The DVD has a little documentary at the end, with Kirk Douglas himself reminiscing in a couple places. His speech is heavily stroke-impaired, but he still has a pretty good sense of humor, wise-cracking about his scene-stealing horse, Whiskey. And even now, he's blogging away at MySpace at 92 years of age. God bless him.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:04 AM EDT

Longshot

[Amazon Link]

A Dick Francis protagonist is known for resourcefulness, bravery, and the ability to handle a good deal of physical punishment. In Longshot the hero is even more of a rock-solid character than usual. John Kendall is a (temporarily) impoverished writer, waiting for the royalties for his first novel to come in. The cold London winter is tough when you don't have enough money for heat; even if you are, as John is, somewhat of a survival expert, having written a number of popular guides for people in dire straits. (Kind of like the recent "Worst-Case Scenario" series.) Against the better judgment of everyone, he wangles a gig to write a biography of a larger-than-life horse trainer, Tremayne Vickers.

Pretty soon John is enmeshed in the details, some sordid, of Vickers' extended family and his employees. He's asked to step up to the hero plate almost immediately, as the car transporting him to the Vickers estate crashes into a water-filled ditch; John, of course, saves everyone.

As John arrives, it's in the midst of a manslaughter trial: one of Vickers' jockeys is accused of the wrongful strangulation death of a young girl at a party. Shortly afterward, another young girl is found in a remote stretch of woods, also strangled. Almost against his will, John is caught up in the investigation, and it turns out that the murderer is willing to keep killing to cover up his tracks.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:03 AM EDT

Emperor, No Clothes

(Recycling an old post with new data and a new link.)

Back in January, shortly before the inauguration, the incoming Obama economic team issued a (PDF) report "The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan" advocating passage of the legislation before Congress. Central to the argument was Figure 1, showing their prediction of the unemployment rate with and without the plan (click for original size):

[Projections]

There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical then (see Greg Mankiw in the January 10 NYT, David Harsanyi in the January 30 Denver Post, or this handy collection of links from the Cato Institute.)

But "they won", the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan was passed and signed, and … now, about five nine months later, some bright person ("Geoff" at Innocent Bystanders) has overlaid the actual unemployment data points on the original graph. The result (click for big version):

[vs. Actual]

So: Does stimulus spending work? Find out by reading a column by Robert J. Barro and Charles J. Redlick in yesterday's WSJ, helpfully headlined "Stimulus Spending Doesn't Work". The assumption behind the "stimulus" was that government spending "multiplies" through the economy, expanding GDP by more than the amount of spending. But, Barro and Redlick conclude:

The bottom line is this: The available empirical evidence does not support the idea that spending multipliers typically exceed one, and thus spending stimulus programs will likely raise GDP by less than the increase in government spending. Defense-spending multipliers exceeding one likely apply only at very high unemployment rates, and nondefense multipliers are probably smaller. However, there is empirical support for the proposition that tax rate reductions will increase real GDP.

The problem, of course, is that tax rate reductions allow normal people to make their own private decisions on how/where to spend their own money. That's completely contrary to the underlying ideology of the current folks in charge. For one thing, it doesn't involve putting up lots of signs with politicians' names on them next to "stimulus" projects.

So you wind up with… well, with what we have now. Enjoy, Obama voters.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:10 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-10-02

URLs du Jour

2009-10-01

  • A press release from the University Near Here begins:
    Got health? UNH wants to, and …
    Waaaait a minute. UNH wants to what? UNH wants to "got health"?

    Sigh.

    Anyway, it turns out that UNH is setting an Official Goal of—and I am not making this up—becoming the "healthiest campus community in the country by 2020." (I can't find anything about how they hope to measure that. Hey, maybe we're already the healthiest campus community in the country! Mission Accomplished!)

    As near as I can tell from the article, they plan on accomplishing this goal primarily through massive nagging about diet and exercise. Friends, if you liked the Nanny State, you'll love the Nanny University.

    Of course, it might also occur to them to improve the health of the "campus community" by firing/expelling anyone who gets unhealthy. Or looks like they might become unhealthy soon. Or just reaches a certain age…

    Ssssh, please don't tell them I said that.

  • This is why the phrase "disgusting display" was invented.
    New York is seeing red over the decision to turn the city's highest beacon -- and one of America's symbols for free enterprise -- into a shining monument honoring China's communist revolution Wednesday night.
    It's a good day to review Bryan Caplan's "Museum of Communism" FAQ, which totals up the body count of the regime which the Empire State Building managers are celebrating.

  • Instapundit seems to have taken a dislike of my own Congresswoman, Carol Shea-Porter. Here he links to a report from NowHampshire noting her selective memory and hypocrisy about proper decorum at public events.

  • Rotten Tomatoes hasWorst of the Worst, the 100 worst-reviewed movies of the last ten years. I've seen somewhere around five of them, which is five too many.