MLK Day 2010: UNH Goes With Academic Poet-Thug

Around this time every year, Pun Salad looks at the plans hatched by the University Near Here for its upcoming Martin Luther King Day Celebration. This year's theme is "Art as Struggle and Exultation".

Now, some things never change: The scheduled events for the "day" run over a whole week, and they occur a couple weeks after the actual holiday. The University will once again sponsor a "Spiritual Celebration" at the local community church ("a wonderful afternoon of music, singing, poetry, movement, prayer and reflection"), something it would never do for an actual religious holiday. But attendees get to engage in a few hours' worth of moral preening, with probably not much of that pesky God stuff, so it's win-win.

And the program offers up the usual leftist word salad to describe the week's events. For example, there will be an art exhibit titled "I Am Here, Hear Me"; here are a couple paragraphs:

Using art to define, represent, and assert their identity, a group of 30 young men from various racial and ethnic backgrounds will examine what it means to navigate a U.S. culture where pervasive negative images and cultural stereotyping challenge their ability to be seen as an individuals [sic].

The aim of the exhibit is [sic] to address the complexities of personal identity, give visibility and voice to a group of men too long defined by others, and to explore the potential of the shared story as a tool of empowerment and act of cultural resistance to imposed invisibility.

The style is in-your-face gasbaggery, inflated with the catchphrases of racial politics. All the writer's effort has gone toward stuffing words into the prose, none toward catching simple errors.

The primary rule of gasbaggery is: never say just one thing, if you can possibly think of two or three. Consider that very first phrase: the kids won't just be using art to define their identity; and they won't be confined to using art to represent their identity; and of course, they wouldn't just use art simply to assert their identity. Nay, they will use art to define and represent and assert their identity. Wouldn't want to leave anything out.

I always check out the Keynote Speaker; I nurture a dim hope that UNH might actually invite someone, anyone, outside a narrow band on the left side of the ideological spectrum. (Thomas Sowell? Walter Williams? John McWhorter? Shelby Steele? Anyone?)

No, not this year. This year's invited (and undoubtedly well-paid) speaker is Nikki Giovanni, described at Wikipedia as a "Grammy-nominated American poet, activist and author." She bears an arm tattoo that reads "Thug Life". She teaches at Virginia Tech, and a couple of years ago, she got touched with the 15-minutes-of-fame brush in relation to the mass murderer Cho Seung-Hui. Professor Giovanni had him removed from her class back in 2005, because he was just too disturbing for her. And she wrote and performed a poem at the Virginia Tech convocation, a day after the April 16, 2007 massacre.

You can hear the poem at the link, but here it is in its entirety (from the official transcript here).

We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech.

I am resisting the impulse to put the word poem in ironic quotation marks. And I'm trying (very hard) to avoid criticizing the poetry itself; even though I think it's horrid, I'm just not qualified.

Aside from that, it's still odious. Giovanni calls the massacre a "tragedy", and equates that term, essentially, with "very bad thing." (Which is kind of odd, coming as it does from an alleged English professor.) Check out the list of other "tragedies" in that long middle paragraph of the poem; does it make any moral sense to equate them with the VT massacre? Does it make any moral sense to rattle them off as if they equated with each other? Are they at all relevant to anything that happened at Virginia Tech?

And is it really true that "No one deserves a tragedy"? Hah. Tell that to Macbeth.

That entire paragraph is stupid and perverse. Not that the rest of the poem is much better, but that's what sticks out. When Virginia Tech might have benefited from true compassion and insight, Giovanni deliberately sowed confusion and feel-good irrationality.

Also off-putting, if you watch the video, is how Giovanni basks in the creepy adulation of the crowd after her performance. Remember, this is the day after the shootings, with the 32 victims (plus Cho, who killed himself) barely cold; she's grinning and posturing like the Hokies just took the ACC football title, with her at quarterback.

Irrelevancy and moral confusion is a continuing theme of Giovanni's schtick, though. Earlier this year, President Obama invited her to recite a poem at the National Wreath-Laying Ceremony in honor of Lincoln's 200th birthday. From her website:

The American Vision of Abraham Lincoln
AT THIS MOMENT

At this moment

Resting in the comfort of the statue
Of the 16th president of the United States
Missing
An equally impressive representation
Of his friend and advisor
Frederick Douglass
Again, I'm unqualified to criticize Giovanni's seemingly random insertion of line and paragraph breaks. (But I speculate that it's not just seemingly random.) The content is bad enough: Yes, she's griping about the lack of an "equally impressive" Frederick Douglass memorial. Just the thing for Lincoln's Birthday.

Further down:

At this moment

In which we are embarrassed
By the Governor of our fifth largest state
     Who appoints a man to the United States Senate
     To which both he and his minion agree:
The Letter of the Law
Is more important than
The Spirit of the Law
At this moment, you may be asking what is she talking about? The fifth-largest state … in area, it's … ah, it's New Mexico. But did the New Mexico Governor appoint anyone to the Senate? Hm… oh, wait, maybe she means fifth largest in population. That's, um… Illinois. Hey, she's talking about Blagojevich appointing Roland Burris!

OK, so why is that relevant to Lincoln's bicentennial? It's not. Just something that stuck in Giovanni's craw.

(Also note: random line indentation.)

But wait, there's more:

Now

When we are dismayed that the accidental
Governor of the Empire State can find
Just one more reason to rain pain
And rejection on a family that has offered only
Grace and graciousness
Another Senate appointment, or lack thereof, this one from New York, ripped from then-recent headlines, irritated Giovanni. Apparently, she's a big Kennedy fan. Never mind Caroline's total airheaded lack of qualifications, she had the right genes, and that was OK with Nikki.

Calling David Paterson an "accidental" governor only makes sense if you think that his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, "accidentally" patronized prostitutes. ("Oops!") And did Governor Paterson really go out of his way to intentionally "rain pain and rejection" on the Kennedy clan? Not according to any news reports I recall.

But quibbling about mere reality aside: is any of that appropriate to a Lincoln testimonial?

(Oh, yes: also random boldface.)

But this may give the impression of Giovanni as a mere talentless kook. She's more than that. For example, UNH makes available a PDF selection of her poetry that they thought was especially relevant to her MLK invite. Here are the opening paragraphs of "Reflections on April 4, 1968", the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated:

What can I, a poor Black woman, do to destroy america? This
is a question, with appropriate variations, being asked in every
Black heart. There is one answer--I can kill. There is one
compromise--I can protect those who kill. There is one cop-
out--I can encourage others to kill. There are no other ways.

The assassination of Martin Luther King is an act of war.
President johnson, your friendly uncandidate, has declared
war on Black people. He is not making any distinction
between us and negroes. The question--does it have rhythm?
The answer--yes. The response--kill it. They have been
known to shoot at the wind and violate the earth's gravity for
these very reasons.

Obviously the first step toward peace is the removal of at least
two fingers, and most probably three, from both hands of all
white people. Fingers that are not controlled must be
removed. This is the first step toward a true and lasting peace.
We would also suggest blinding or the removal of at least two
eyes from one of the heads of all albino freaks.

Um… Well, is that an exception? Here's the first part of one of her other efforts:
The True Import Of Present Dialogue, Black vs. Negro (For Peppe, Who Will Ultimately Judge Our Efforts)
by Nikki Giovanni

N----r
Can you kill
Can you kill
Can a n----r kill
Can a n----r kill a honkie
Can a n----r kill the Man
Can you kill n----r
Huh? n----r can you
kill
Do you know how to draw blood
Can you poison
Can you stab-a-Jew
Can you kill huh? n----r
Can you kill
Can you run a protestant down with your
'68 El Dorado
(that's all they're good for anyway)

It goes on for quite awhile in that, um, vein. I've done some censorship: those four dashes between the 'N' and 'R' are not in the original.

But she can also get right sycophantic, given the right topic. NPR commissioned a poem from her on the occasion of President Obama's inauguration:

Roll Call: A Song of Celebration

I'm Barack Obama
And I'm here to say:
I'm President
Of the USA

I'll walk the streets
And knock on doors
Share with the folks:
Not my dreams but yours

I'll talk with the people
I'll listen and learn
I'll make the butter
Then clean the churn

My wife is pretty
My children are sweet
We need one puppy
To be complete

I Represented in Springfield
Senated in DC
Articulating all the while
What change means to me

Some folk said "wait"
Some said "not now"
But here I am quite ready
To take that President vow

The time is now
For us to stand
Because we all know
Yes We Can
Yes We Can
Yes We Can

… your NPR pledge dollars at work.

This post has already gone on too long. If you're interested in more information about Professor Giovanni, Steve Sailer has it, and he's somewhat less patient with her than I.

I should point out, however, that Nikki Giovanni—bad as she is—is an improvement over last year's keynote speaker. Nikki has, to the best of my research, never actually appeared on the FBI's Most Wanted list.


Last Modified 2009-12-01 7:46 AM EST
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Where the Sidewalk Ends

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

As Mrs. Salad pointed out a couple times: not based on the book by Shel Silverstein. And the title has, as far as I could tell, nothing to do with the actual movie content. Nothing of import happened at ended sidewalks. For that matter, I'm pretty sure no sidewalks were shown to be ending. Refund!

The movie stars Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney, just like Laura. And it was produced and directed by Otto Preminger, just like Laura. And it's… well, just OK, not as good as Laura. But still a fine example of the way they used to make 'em.

Andrews plays police detective Matt Dixon, who's gotten a bad reputation in the department as a loose cannon, the kind of a guy who punches first, and asks questions later, and also punches while asking the questions, and punches afterwards too. One sad evening, while investigating the killing of a Texas gambler knifed in a floating mobster-run crap game, he punches the wrong guy in the wrong way, and the guy ends up dead.

The plot is appealingly twisty: Dixon tries to cover up the death, hopefully framing the mobster responsible for the original murder. But—drat—some "clever" police work soon settles on a different suspect: the colorful Jiggs Taylor, father-in-law of the victim. But by this time, Dixon has fallen hard for the victim's ex-wife (Gene Tierney, of course); he'd prefer not to be responsible for framing her innocent dad. What a predicament!

Karl Malden has a supporting role as Dixon's by-the-book superior. I kept waiting for him to call Dixon "buddy boy", but he never did.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:56 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-11-27

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and, like your blogger, had plenty for which to be thankful.

I am thankful, today, for some of great links that I'm happy to bring to your attention:

  • Charles Krauthammer owns the coveted Pun Salad Read The Whole Thing Award for today, pointing out more reasons for … well, you know what:

    The [Senate's health care] bill is irredeemable. It should not only be defeated. It should be immolated, its ashes scattered over the Senate swimming pool.

    The good Dr. K. destroys the proposed legislation, and offers up some good ideas for actual reform.

  • David Harsanyi is more than a little tired of politicians congratulating themselves on their "courage".

    In an atmosphere of habitual self-aggrandizing, a place where faux historical importance is attached to every spending bill, courage is easy to find. It certainly makes you miss the days when politicians had the common decency to offer false modesty with their arrogance.

  • Happy 50th birthday to <voice accent="russian">moose and squirrel</voice>.

    "Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!"

    "Again?"

    (Via Granite Geek.)


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:56 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-11-25

  • I'll try to slip this one in before Thanksgiving, because it's definitely not something to be Thankful for: John Stossel's "We Pay Them to Lie to Us".
    When you knowingly pay someone to lie to you, we call the deceiver an illusionist or a magician. When you unwittingly pay someone to do the same thing, I call him a politician.
    Read the whole sad thing.

  • One of Mrs. Salad's seasonal duties is teaching carols to little kids at church so they can perform them at Christmas Mass. Every year (she says), some child asks whether they can sing songs they do in school, like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". (Needless to say, unless they're at Catholic school, "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World" are not sung.)

    No, Mrs. Salad replies, we're going to stick with the Baby Jesus songs. Good for her.

    But it got me thinking: surely out there in Holy Roller Land, someone's come up with religious replacement lyrics to Gene Autry's classic?

    Why yes they have. Behold the lyrics to "Jesus the Blond-Haired Savior":

    Then one dreadful Passover
    The Romans came to say
    Jesus you'd best come with us
    Up on the cross, don't make a fuss.
    This was a number of years ago, and it doesn't seem to have caught on. Mainly because (a) it's dreadful; (b) really, doesn't that sound more like an Easter thing. I bet I could do better:
    Then all the Wise Men praised him
    Showered him with gold and myrrh
    Oh, little Baby Jesus
    You're the savior we prefer!

    I think that's much more faithful to the original, and the season.

  • But (on the flip side) even Rudolph's original lyrics will offend some diligent secular crusaders:
    "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" caused a stir at a New Hanover County school. A parent complained about the song's religious reference and got it pulled from her child's kindergarten Christmas show at Murrayville Elementary School.

    The song was pulled "because it had the word Christmas in it," said Rick Holliday, assistant school superintendent.

    Don't panic: the decision was quickly rescinded once (I would imagine) every other parent in Murrayville called the superintendent and said Are you kidding me???

  • Iowahawk dons his National Geographic TV nature special hat for a look at The Secret Life of Climate Researchers. How will Dave penetrate their inner sanctum?
    In this exclusive footage, Burge warily approaches the hive's security drone, disguising himself as smelly graduate student. Burge has theorized that as a member of the lowest stratum in the hive's social system, the drone likely enjoys partying. He reaches into his backpack and offers the drone a pint of Guinness and a small bag of weed in exchange for the hive's internal security tapes and email files. Success.

  • Mary Katherine Ham discusses the thorny topic of sexually-connotated criticism of female politicians. Or something. Probably NSFW, depending on where you W.


Last Modified 2009-11-25 6:08 PM EST
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Dear Senator Shaheen:

[An HTMLized version of a letter to my state's Democratic Senator.]

I was perusing your website and found this page, where you answer a telephone town hall question from "Emil from Salem" about maintaining one's current health insurance coverage under health care "reform".

Emil from Salem: My question is the same concern I believe others have reiterated. I'm retried [sic] on Medicare and I also have my private health insurance. If we maintain our own health insurance, will we be able to keep that? Or are we going to be forced in a matter of years into the government plan? If we're able to keep it, will we at some point be penalized by paying taxes on it?

Shaheen: No, no. My understanding, Emil, is that — and I know this is true of the bill that has come out of the committee in the Senate — if you have health coverage that you like you can keep it. As I said, you may have missed my remarks at the beginning of the call, but one of the things I that I said as a requirement that I have for supporting a bill is that if you have health coverage that you like you should be able to keep that. Now, if you're someone who has lost your coverage or you're underinsured or you've lost your job and as a result have lost your coverage then I think that public option, which would hopefully be more affordable than the other choices that you have, then that would be a plan that would be open to you. But under ever scenario that I've seen, if you have health coverage that you like, you get to keep it.

I've emphasized the key phrase above: something you consider a "requirement" for supporting the bill. The "you can keep it" formulation has been quite common: President Obama, and a host of other Democratic politicians have used it. So have outside groups: I've seen it at the AARP website and in Consumer Reports. (I can only assume that you're all reading off the same set of talking points.)

But it's not true. And if you're serious about it being a "requirement", you can't support the bill now under consideration in the Senate.

  • The bill imposes a new massive and complex set of rules at the federal level on health insurance providers. If the "coverage that you like" happens to fall on the wrong side of these new regulations, you will not be allowed to keep it.

  • Many Americans choose to self-insure: this is the "coverage they like". Under the proposed legislation, this is no longer an option; if they insist on keeping the "coverage they like", they will be subject to tax penalties and (possibly) jail time.

  • The bill also includes many new expensive mandates on employers that will cause dramatic shifts in their benefit structure; it is simply not credible to assert this will not have drastic (but largely predictable) effects on their existing employees and the "coverage they like." The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimates that under the House's version of the legislation, about 12 million employees would lose their employer-sponsored coverage.

  • Most relevant to "Emil from Salem" is his aside that he's on Medicare and also "private health insurance". If this "private insurance" is Medicare Advantage, you're probably already aware that it's very likely that he will not be able to maintain that "coverage he likes". The CMS study also estimates that enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans would decrease by about 64 percent nationwide.

  • Emil from Salem was also concerned about taxes on his coverage. You don't answer that concern directly, but the bill currently under Senate consideration imposes a hodgepodge of revenue-raising measures: limits on deductions, taxes on cosmetic surgery and drug manufacturers, fees on insurance providers and medical devices, etc. While Emil may not see a direct tax bill, the indirect effects will be passed along to him.

I dislike the proposed legislation for a number of reasons: it's hugely expensive (and relies on a number of tricks and dubious assumptions to hide its true cost); it's massively intrusive; it disempowers individuals, making millions dependent on government largesse; it will stifle medical innovation; it will kill American prosperity; it's really a government stealth takeover of the entire health care sector. But I realize that, since you're a Democrat, you might not think those things are a problem.

But I'm writing to you on the chance that your answer to Emil from Salem was not a cynical and dishonest talking-point ploy to deflect his concerns, and that you were not kidding about your "requirement". Again, if that really is your requirement, you must vote against this bill.

Thanks for your consideration,
Paul Sand
Rollinsford, NH


Last Modified 2009-11-26 12:43 PM EST
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URLs du Jour — 2009-11-23

  • In our occasional "This Is How These People Actually Think" Department we have an actual quote from Senator Harry J. Reid from Nevada:
    "Today we vote whether to even discuss one of the greatest issues of our generation - indeed, one of the greatest issues this body has ever face: whether this nation will finally guarantee its people the right to live free from the fear of illness and death, which can be prevented by decent health care for all."
    This is not just hard-socialist (as Skip at Granite Grok notes), but delusional. A person who believes that government action can remove the fear of illness and death from the citizenry is a person who has decided to invent his own reality. And he's in charge. Good luck with that. (Via Darleen at Protein Wisdom).

  • Cato's Downsizing Government blog reports on the $3.8 Billion lost by the United States Postal Service in the last fiscal year, and the likelihood that it will lose $7.8 billion in the current fiscal year.

    I've often wondered about the strangeness of the "lost" euphemism when it comes to business matters. Businesses don't "lose" money the way we "lose" our car keys. Generally speaking, businesses know exactly where the "lost" money is: in the pockets of competitors or customers who decided to forego their products and services.

    But in the case of the USPS, the notion that they could really lose billions of dollars doesn't seem that farfetched. "I swear I mailed that pile of cash to myself."


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URLs du Jour — 2009-11-22

  • The burning question du jour is: how did Paul's Fedora 12 (F12) upgrade on his home machine go? Answer: just fine, although there was a gotcha that just goes to show that maybe Fedora's not ready for civilians yet.

    • I don't need a lot of hard drive space, so I thought it might be a good idea to install F12 in half the drive, while keeping an intact copy of F11 in the other half. When done, I can just copy over any customizations and configurations from the old partition to the new.

      Only problem was that (due to a previous lazy decision) the F11 installation created a single large root partition, gobbling pretty much the entire drive (even though it wound up using only maybe 7% of that). So what I needed to do was to shrink F11's existing root partition without destroying the data in it.

      Fortunately, there's a solution out there for just about any wacky thing you might want to do in Linux, and the one I used was from a guy IDd as "zcat", here. Tedious but effective.

    • The gotcha: It's an older machine, with only a CD reader, so multiple CDs were required for the install. Problem: after CD #1 was done, it asked for CD #2, but didn't eject the tray. The manual CD-eject button was unresponsive.

      That's a pickle, and a reported bug, unfortunately with no reported workaround. A reboot was the only option, which left the machine in an unbootable state. Woe!

      But starting over again, things just worked. Go figure.

    • And my wireless card came up without a hitch.

    On balance, one of the smoother upgrades I've had. Great job by the Fedora folks.

  • I liked Ilya Somin's take on the Sarah Palin wars, because it closely matches mine.
    … I was initially positive about Sarah Palin because her record was much more libertarian than that of most other major national politicians. Later, I had to reassess my view of Palin, as her ignorance of many important policy issues became apparent. But I also emphasized that ignorance is not the same thing as stupidity, and that in my view Palin suffers from the former, not the latter — a conclusion also reached by liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. I do a lot of research on political ignorance, and the distinction between ignorance and stupidity is one that I have often urged people to keep in mind. For reasons that I discuss here and here, even professional politicians often find it rational to devote their time to activities other than learning about major national issues.
    I think Somin is missing something, though: it's awfully easy to look (both) stupid and ignorant when confronted with a hostile interviewer on national TV. Alaska's media may not have been cutthroat enough to allow Governor Palin to develop appropriate skills.

    And of course, conservatives have to be much, much better than lefties on this score, since the national media (a) is inherently more hostile to them, and (b) will be happy to magnify and immortalize any right-wing flub, while minimizing and forgetful about those on their own side.

  • I've also been following the controversy over the leaked/hacked "CRU" collection of e-mail correspondence between global warming scientists. John Hinderaker has a couple excerpt-laden articles here and here. His comment:
    … the conclusion an observer is likely to draw from the CRU archive is that the climate alarmists are making up the science as they go along and are fitting facts to reach a predetermined conclusion rather than objectively seeking after truth. What they are doing is politics, not science. When I was in law school, this story was told about accountants: A CEO is going to hire a new accountant and summons a series of candidates. He asks each applicant, "What is two plus two?" The first two candidates answer, "Four." They don't get the job. The third responds, "What do you want it to be?" He gets hired. The climate alarmists' attitude toward data appears to me much the same as that fictional accountant's attitude toward arithmetic.
    RealClimate has probably the most effective defense of the leaked e-mail, and you should check it out if you're interested in both sides. But this seems lame:
    More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though.
    If a major part of your argument is insulting blather about what's not in the e-mail, you are inviting the rather obvious rejoinder that you'd rather concentrate on that than what's in the mail.

    And it's pretty bad. The scientists are revealed to be far short of their desired image: paragons of objective analysis, fans of openly gathered, unbiased evidence, champions of transparent methodology. Instead, they're scheming, cliquish, backbiting, and secretive.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:55 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-11-20

  • Blogging's been light recently due to a presentation I gave to fellow geeks on recently-discovered flaws in Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocols and their implementations. These are the protocols on which a lot of network security depends, so flaws tend to be a pretty big deal.

    If you'd like to get the gist, a bunch of links I used in preparation are here. I especially liked this illustration of how much easier things were, security-wise, back in the olden days:

    Trojan Horse

    Click for the full-size version. Very funny.

  • In addition, the latest version of my Linux distribution-of-choice, Fedora 12, was released earlier this week. It's now running on my work desktop machine; very little pain involved, other than that I voluntarily inflicted upon myself:

    • A fresh install, rather than an upgrade. My idea was that I could re-customize the system with only the features I wanted, possibly shedding some of the cruft that builds up on a system after months of experimentation and use.

      That's fine, but re-installing the "wanted" features on top of the clean install took a little time.

    • Fedora 12 installs "Security-Enhanced Linux" (SELinux) by default. It sounds like such a swell idea! Who could be against security?

      The problem being that SELinux "enhances" security by preventing a lot of things I was used to doing (quite securely, thank you). There are workarounds, but each new SELinux error requires its own special workaround, involving interpretation of obscure messages. I was up to around 50 before I gave up.

      I'm in concurrence with Jamie Zawinski:

      This is the biggest, most uselessly time-wasting piece of shit since the last time they rewrote the firewall code from scratch.
      That's one of the milder things he says.

    • While I was whacking on stuff, I dismayed about all the terminal windows cluttering my screen. (Yes, I'm kind of old-school: I do most of my work in terminal windows, hopelessly devoted to the Linux command line.) Most of these windows get created en masse by a startup script; I want them around, but not in my face. Is there any way to get them to be created in a minimized state (i.e., down in the task bar)?

      Yes, as it turns out. I installed the Devil's Pie utility, a very flexible beastie that will watch the windows created during your session and automatically do any number of things based on one or more of their characteristics. Very nice!

    The home machine gets upgraded this weekend. The plan is to attempt a repartitioning of its hard drive with no data loss. And my wireless card was a huge pain to get working on an existing Fedora 11 base; hopefully a fresh install will go cleaner.

    But if you hear howls and curses from the general direction of Rollinsford, New Hampshire over the next few days, you'll know it didn't go exactly as planned.

  • Which brings us to: Cracked's article on Linux. For example, you might have heard of Ubuntu:
    Ubuntu, and all of its incarnations, is touted as being Linux for everyday people. Of course, that's like saying that heroin is for people who aren't comfortable taking aspirin, but you know. Whatever.
    That's the longest quote I could find in the article that wasn't filthy, so be prepared if you click over.

  • Good article on Sarah Palin from Jonah Goldberg. I thought this was particularly apt:
    I'm fairly certain that if you read many of her public-policy positions but concealed her byline, many of her worst enemies would say "that sounds about right," and some of her biggest fans would say "that sounds crazy." But most people would say that her views are perfectly within the mainstream of American politics. She may be more religious than coastal elites in the lower 48, but that is something some bigots need to get over, anyway.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:02 AM EDT
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My Man Godfrey

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

A wonderful screwball comedy from the mid-1930s, nominated for six Oscars. Somehow I'd missed seeing it until now.

Godfrey (played by William Powell) is down on his luck, living (literally) in a dump down by the East River. One fine evening, his life is interrupted by the Bullock sisters, in search of a "forgotten man" for their socialite scavenger hut. (And for the background of that phrase, see this interview with Amity Shlaes.)

One sister, Cornelia, is supercilious and condescending, and gets a quick brush-off from Godfrey. But the second, Irene (played by Carole Lombard) is sweet and daffy, and Godfrey gets intrigued. He agrees to be her "forgotten man", wins the scavenger hunt for her, and wangles a job as the Bullock family butler.

Soon he's deeply involved with the colorful Bullock family. In addition to sour Cornelia and sweet Irene, there's the father, teetering on the edge of financial ruin, the scatterbrained mother, the mother's freeloading "protégé" Carlos, and cynical housekeeper Molly. And it turns out that Godfrey is no ordinary bum, but has secrets of his own.

Really, has there ever been a cooler actor than William Powell? Maybe Cary Grant, but it's close.

Consumer note: My Man Godfrey is in the public domain, and (hence) there are a lot of different DVDs out there. The one I got from Netflix was manufactured by "Westlake Entertainment", and was pretty low quality: a dull picture with scratches and pops, and very muddy sound. (It was not the same version as that pictured on Netflix's website.) If you browse over to Amazon with a thought to purchase, you'll find a variety of DVDs, read the reviews carefully, buyer beware.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:54 AM EDT
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The Proposal

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

This is a completely prefabricated, entirely predictable, money-making vehicle. Never mind that, it's still funny.

Sandra Bullock plays Margaret, a hard-as-nails slave-driving boss in a publishing company. And Ryan Reynolds plays Andrew, her competent, but suffering, personal assistant. Unfortunately, Margaret's Canadian, and has, via her arrogance and procrastination, run out her welcome in the Land of the Free. So it's back to Canada with her, unless she comes up with a wacky scheme to marry Patrick. Before you know it, Margaret and Patrick are off to Sitka, Alaska, to visit Patrick's family.

And, yes, things all develop pretty much as you would expect them to, if you've seen more than three recent romantic comedies.

And the Alaskan scenery is gorgeous. Despite it being, er, not actually Alaskan. According to the IMDB, it's Newport RI, and various locations in the North Shore of Massachusetts. Mountains added digitally. A time-lapse movie of the midnight sun skimming the horizon was also mere trickery.

Patrick's Grandma Annie is played by the wonderful Sue Ann Nivens herself, Betty White. In a just world, she would get at least a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role. The only slightly unpredictable plot point is whether she's going to make it to the end of the movie; no spoilers here.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:12 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-11-12

  • John Stossel suggests a name change: The U.S. House of Presumptuous Meddlers.
    As an American, I am embarrassed that the U.S. House of Representatives has 220 members who actually believe the government can successfully centrally plan the medical and insurance industries.

    I'm embarrassed that my representatives think that government can subsidize the consumption of medical care without increasing the budget deficit or interfering with free choice.

    It's a triumph of mindless wishful thinking over logic and experience.

    I'd go further: It's a religious fervor, except that most traditional religions have more evidence for their efficacy.

  • At the executive level, Gene Healy explicates the sad fact that today's presidency attracts the wrong sort of people. He misses, as should we all, Silent Cal:
    Calvin Coolidge, a genuinely humble man and a fine president, wrote in his autobiography that it was "a major source of safety to the country" for the president "to know that he is not a great man." Few of our recent presidents display Coolidge's self-awareness.
    Few? Were there any?

    But who to blame? Well…

    It's easy enough to blame the overconfident, self-aggrandizing characters who seek the office. But at the end of the day, we're the ones who reward them. Unless and until we seek out candidates who share Coolidge's modesty, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves.
    So true.

  • Amusing but true fact from an interesting article on our unsanitary currency:
    For decades, the percentage of the population having a bank account grew, but that growth stopped a couple of decades ago as the government started its war on money laundering - which, ironically, resulted in the unintended consequence of requiring more people to handle dirty paper money.

  • Scott Meyer's Basic Instructions webcomic is a periodic stop. His latest episode describes "How to Get Amazing Kicks from Something 'Normal' People Will Never Understand", using The Prisoner as an example.

    Looking forward to the new series, by the way. Already set the TiVo.


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URLs du Jour — 2009-11-11

  • Thank goodness those nasty Republicans are no longer in a position to divert taxpayer money to corporate welfare projects benefiting well-connected fat cats. Oh, wait
    The [Massachusetts Governor Deval] Patrick administration is pushing through a plan to spend $9 million in federal stimulus money to build a walking bridge connecting parking lots on either side of Route 1 near Gillette Stadium. The lots belong to Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, who is tied for number 468 on Forbes Magazine’s list of the world’s billionaires.

    State officials decided to bypass a host of projects across the state - including road rebuilding projects in Canton, Danvers, Braintree, and Bellingham - to build the footbridge.

  • OK, so that's crazy old Massachusetts. Up here in New Hampshire, our Democrats would never do anything like that. Oh, wait
    CLAREMONT, N.H. -- The state of New Hampshire is guaranteeing part of a loan to the new owner of the Claremont Eagle Times newspaper.

    Last Wednesday, New Hampshire's Executive Council approved without debate the "working capital loan guarantee," which will be administered by the state's Business Finance Authority.

    The Valley News of Lebanon said the authority and the state would be liable for $187,500 of a $250,000 loan from the Connecticut River Bank to the paper's owner, Eagle Printing.

  • Scott Johnson of Power Line notes what was said and what was unsaid in President Obama's televised speech commemorating the tear-down of the Berlin Wall. Obama remarked on the remarkable remarkableness of the fact that Germany's "American ally would be led by a man of African descent." What was not remarkable at all:
    Obama's brief remarks are an exercise in bowdlerization, circumlocution, evasion. Omitted from the remarks, among other things, is any mention of the Soviet Union or Communism, Harry Truman or Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher or Pope John Paul. Obama neither decries the villains nor salutes the heroes of the story. Rather, Obama celebrates himself. He is an agent of destiny. He is the fulfillment of history.
    Also, for the first time in his adult life, he's proud of his country.

  • I've been watching V, because, as Kyle Smith points out, it's "an hour of devastating, witty and keenly on-point Obama satire every week in a series fuelled [sic] by the audacity of nope."

    That's nice, of course, but for Geeks of a Certain Age, the key question is: when is the alien babe going to eat a rat? Your intrepid blogger found the answer: soon, baby, soon.

  • Lileks discovers a musical genre at Perkins: Christian Trance. Really? Yes, apparently so.

    Pun Salad mini-review: You might zone out and drive your car off a bridge while listening to it, but at least you'll go to Heaven.


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Veterans Day 2009

veterans
day 2009

Click for the big version, or go here for a really big version (and other good stuff).

And the Google has done the right thing as well, so good on them:

Google Logo


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:53 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-11-09

  • Mark Steyn quotes himself on why the hurry for Obamacare:
    Obama believes in "the fierce urgency of now", and fierce it is. That's where all the poor befuddled sober centrists who can't understand why the Democrats keep passing incoherent 1,200-page bills every week are missing the point. If "health care" were about health care, the devil would be in the details. But it's not about health or costs or coverage; it's about getting over the river and burning the bridge. It doesn't matter what form of governmentalized health care gets passed as long as it passes. Once it's in place, it will be "reformed", endlessly, but it will never be undone.
    That deserves to be read and re-read. The point of the exercise is to get a larger fraction of the population dependent on the state. They'll say and do anything to get there.

    This (by the way) explains the vituperation aimed at Whole Foods CEO John Mackey for his August WSJ op-ed, which dared to discuss "trying to achieve reforms by moving in the opposite direction--toward less government control and more individual empowerment."

    That kind of talk is dangerous to statism; it's unfortunate that the GOP can't speak it well.

  • If you need to bring yourself up to date on the detailed dreadfulness of the current legislation, Amy Kane is your go-to. Amy's really developed a dislike for Speaker Pelosi.

  • Twenty years ago the world got a lot freer and less dangerous when the Berlin Wall came down. In the WSJ, Anthony R. Dolan recalls how President Reagan and his speechwriters prevailed against opposition from National Security Council staff and the State Department to get the famous powerful line into Reagan's speech at the Brandenburg Gate: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

  • Bald bears: they look even more creepy than you might guess.

  • To make up for the bald bears: here's a picture of Princess Leia and her stunt double sunbathing in their slave bikinis on the deck of Jabba's sail barge on Tatooine. Really. It is even more awesomely geeky than you might guess, and I bet a certain large fraction of my readers didn't get further than the word 'bikinis' before clicking over.


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Lost Light

[Amazon Link]

I have slightly under 150 books in my To Be Read pile, and a small Perl script to pick the next one to be read. It's been giving me a lot of Michael Connelly lately; this is the fourth one since July. I'm not superstitious, but maybe it's trying to tell me something.

Lost Light is in Connelly's Harry Bosch series. In this one, Harry has resigned from the LAPD, and his pension gives him more than enough money to do what he wants. But Harry doesn't want to go normal retiree things; he's driven to seek justice for homicide victims whose cases have languished.

He takes up the very cold case of Angella Benton, a movie studio underling brutally murdered years ago. The murder was apparently related to the theft of $2 million from a movie set a few days later, at which point the case was taken from Harry and assigned to a different division, something that's grated on him. Surprisingly, although there's been no action on the case, Harry is nearly immediately warned off by an ex-partner. And he discovers a possible link to female FBI agent who went missing months later.

Soon enough, Harry's back in the familiar world of lowlifes, both inside and outside law enforcement agencies. And (also as usual), he's obsessed, dogged, and extremely competent even when mired in a hopelessly complex plot.

In an unusual move, Connelly switched from his usual third-person narrative to first-person in this book. Also, in a nice touch, the World's Greatest Detective has a small cameo: he and Harry wave to each other on page 237. (If Harry and the WGD ever joined forces, criminal activity in southern California would be wiped out. But what would they do with the rest of their week?)


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:53 AM EDT
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The Thing

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

This currently ranks as #165 in IMDB's top 250 movies of all time, but … sorry, I can't say much more than "OK". There's not much that distinguishes it from dozens of others.

The opening is unusual, though: a Norwegian helicopter is chasing a dog across an Antarctic wasteland, one of the passengers trying to shoot it with a rifle. You don't see that every day. The dog makes it to an American camp, the crazed Norwegians manage to get themselves killed before revealing the reasons for their behavior. That's good news for the doggie, but not so good for everyone else. As it turns out, the dog is really a disgusting alien in disguise.

And apparently, just staying a cute dog isn't really an option when you're a disgusting alien.

Pretty soon, the Americans, who are kind of irritable and fractious even when they're not being threatened by a deadly alien menace, realize they're in a bit of a pickle. The alien could have easily transmogrified itself into one of them. (And, duh, it did.) Paranoia and distrust abound, which—this is one of those irony-laden messages adored by critics—makes it tougher to vanquish the alien. There's probably metaphors going on too, but I always miss those.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:53 AM EDT
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Emperor Still Garment-Free

(Re-Recycling an old post with new data.)

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 ten 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]

Your associated URL this month is a pointer to today's WSJ editorial on stimulus spending:

A familiar definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. So in the wake of yesterday's report that the national jobless rate climbed to 10.2% in October, we suppose we can expect the political class to demand another "stimulus." Maybe if Congress spends another $787 billion in the name of job creation, it can get the jobless rate up to 12% or 13%.
Heck, if Obamacare passes, I'm sure they can make it go much higher than that.

Last Modified 2012-10-05 9:01 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-11-05

  • Many people have linked to this AP story of how jobs "saved or created" by stimulus legislation are calculated:
    President Barack Obama's economic recovery program saved 935 jobs at the Southwest Georgia Community Action Council, an impressive success story for the stimulus plan. Trouble is, only 508 people work there.
    But what's really funny is the justification:
    At Southwest Georgia Community Action Council in Moultrie, Ga., director Myrtis Mulkey-Ndawula said she followed the guidelines the Obama administration provided. She said she multiplied the 508 employees by 1.84 -- the percentage pay raise they received -- and came up with 935 jobs saved.
    Myrtis claimed to have "followed the instructions we were given" for the calculation. Yeah, maybe.

  • Dafyyd calls it SqueakerCare (because it's being pushed by Nancy Pelosi, Squeaker of the House). And the plan is to vote on it Saturday. You might want to contact your Congresscritter to make your opinions known.

  • Raw Story notes that the Senate side Obamacare bill includes a provision…
    … that would allow the Christian Science church to receive remuneration from the federal government for prayer treatments as medical expenses.
    In my neck of the woods, people pray for other people for free, but if there's going to be money in it, you can be sure that will change right quick.

  • My day job sometimes involves sending out "something's wrong with the technology" mail, so I appreciated Geoffrey K. Pullum's devastating linguistic analysis of one such message.

  • Megan laughed at this picture, so did I, and I bet you will too.


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URLs du Jour — 2009-11-03

  • Our University System of New Hampshire co-institution, Keene State College, has been awarded "Speech Code of the Month", bestowed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Unfortunately, that's not a compliment:
    Keene State's "Statement on Sexist Language," found in the college's Student Handbook, states that "Keene State College will not tolerate language that is sexist and promotes negative stereotypes and demeans members of our community." Keene State is a public university, legally bound to uphold the guarantees of the First Amendment, yet this policy blatantly prohibits constitutionally protected speech. Not only does it prohibit protected speech, but it also leaves a great deal of what we would call core protected expression--that is, the kind of political and social commentary at the heart of the First Amendment--vulnerable to punishment.
    Not that the University Near Here has anything to brag about, but at least it has (so far) avoided this award. KSC's politically-correct posturing will only lead to more embarrassing publicity. And should push come to shove, they'll find themselves on the losing end of expensive litigation.

  • At Critical Condition, Hanns Kuttner notes the final nail in the coffin of the ObamaCare talking point, "If you like the health coverage you have, you can keep it." The actual House bill:
    An employer plan can remain as it is for a five-year grace period, but after that, the employer plan "must meet the same requirements as apply to a qualified health benefits plan." And those requirements include all the rules about mandated benefits and how co-payments and deductibles are structured.
    Pun Salad's previous posts on the "you can keep it" lie here, here, here, here, and here. It's always been reassuring bullshit meant to soothe the rubes.

  • If you're on a diet, tormented by constant cravings, you might want to bookmark: The 6 Most Terrifying Foods in the World. It's Cracked, with its usual R-rated language, and it's probably a good way to put you off your feed for a bit. For example, consider escamoles, the larvae of the Liometopum ant. Reports Cracked:
    The eggs have the consistency of cottage cheese. The most popular way to eat them is in a taco with guacamole, while being f---ing insane.
    Being of Norwegian descent, I've eaten #4, lutefisk. I think I'd try escamoles before eating lutefisk again.


Last Modified 2009-11-04 10:23 AM EST
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X-Men Origins: Wolverine

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

This got pretty bad reviews, and has a mediocre IMDB rating, but I thought it was OK.

Hugh Jackman is back playing Wolverine, his fourth appearance in the role. In case you didn't notice the movie's title: this is his origin story, picking up from his sickly childhood in nineteenth-century Canada. A violent episode reveals his powers, but also sends him on the run, teamed with his psychopathic brother, Victor. Victor only gets crazier and meaner throughout the decades. A bit of overreaction in Vietnam bring the pair to the attention of Stryker, another evil lunatic with a nefarious plan involving the roundup of mutants, by mutants. This X-Men precursor, unsurprisingly, isn't that nice a bunch.

Wolverine eventually notices that Stryker is even more dangerous than Victor, seeing as how their missions all seem to involve a lot of needless violence involving innocents. So he quits, going off to lumberjack in Canada, settling down with the lovely Kayla. But this sort of thing never lasts, and quite frankly, it wouldn't be a very interesting movie if it did.

The single DVD from Netflix had no extras, but since Wolverine is seen cigar-chompin' in a few scenes, it includes an anti-smoking public service announcement.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:52 AM EDT
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Shall We Dance?

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

Not to be confused with the American remake of a few years back, starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez. This is the 1996 original Japanese version, starring almost certainly nobody you've ever heard of, and it's really quite good, and very funny.

Mr. Sugiyama has had his nose to the grindstone for years now, pursuing the Great Japanese Dream: a beautiful loving wife, a smart daughter, and a cozy little house out in the burbs, washing the teeny car in the driveway on weekends. (Yes, the Great Japanese Dream is pretty close to the Great American Dream, put that in your cultural relativist pipe and smoke it.)

But something's missing, and he sees it night after night on the train home from work: a lovely young lady staring forlornly out the window of a dance instruction studio. And so, one night he gets off the train, and near-immediately gets enmeshed in a new world: specifically, the world of ballroom dancing. Mr. Sugiyama signs up for lessons; the lovely Mai remains elusive and mysterious.

A great supporting cast helps this movie quite a bit. Mr. Sugiyama's fellow students are a diverse bunch, so are their instructors; even the characters seemingly introduced solely as comic relief become three-dimensional and sympathetic.

This movie won fourteen Japanese Academy Awards when it came out, including all the biggies. (It got bupkis at the American Oscars.) This DVD release was apparently brought out in conjunction with the release of the Gere/Lopez remake; it contains previews and a making-of-the-remake documentary. We'll probably check out the remake, even though critics didn't seem to like it much.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:52 AM EDT
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