District 9

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

As I type, District 9 is #98 on IMDB's list of the top 250 movies of all time. I don't know about that, but it's pretty good, if you can stand the (according to the MPAA) "bloody violence and pervasive language." Also not a little bit of thinly-disguised social commentary in the old Star Trek tradition. It's filmed in semi-documentary style, with interviews, bouncy camerawork, etc.

The story: decades ago, a huge alien vessel appeared in the skies over Johannesburg, South Africa, and just hung there. Eventually, the doors were pried open to reveal scads of starving ugly aliens. What to do?

Well, if you're a South African, what you do is move the aliens (dubbed "prawns" due to their appearance) into a segregated area called "District 9". Over the years, District 9 has become a hellhole slum, the prawns a constant irritant to the humans, preyed on by criminals, who exploit the alien addiction to cat food. (Apparently, the prawns are a lot less fussy than actual cats; they'll eat anything labelled "cat food.")

A plan is launched to move the prawns to an even worse location ("District 10"), and a petty bureaucrat, Wikus Van De Merwe, is sent into D-9 to commence the ostensible legal formalities. The mission doesn't go well, Wikus is infected with prawn juice, and starts transmogrifying. Suddenly, he's no longer viewed as human; he's simply an interesting specimen. Unsurprisingly, Wikus objects…

The IMDB is a source of hilarity. On their parental guide page, under the "Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking", the writer deadpans: "Some social drinking of liquor. If you'd call addiction to cat food drug abuse, this film contains plenty of it."

And one reviewer: "Worst RomCom ever!" (This is true: Mrs. Salad buried her head in her laptop for most of the movie, and was shooting me dirty looks during the rest.)

Without spoiling things much, the ending screams "sequel". Most speculation says it will be called District 10, although nothing's even in pre-production yet.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:39 AM EDT
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The Dead Man's Brother

[Amazon Link]

As I've noted numerous times, back when I was a young'un, I was a science fiction fan, devoted to Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke, all of whom got their start in the 1930s and 1940s. But I also liked Roger Zelazny, a "newer" author who became famous in the 1960s. He won a passel of Hugo and Nebula awards, but died far too young in 1995. (Specifically, he was—gulp—the same age I am now. Which, dear reader, is the very definition of "far too young.")

This book's manuscript was discovered recently by Zelazny's agent; it was apparently written in the early 1970s. It's not remotely science fiction, and it's published by "Hard Case Crime", a publisher devoted to retro paperback fare with wonderfully lurid cover art reminiscent of the pulp on bus station book racks 40-50 years back. (This book's cover, as you'll note over there, has the hero armed with a machete, sheilding a scantily-clad dame, hiding in the jungle from bad guys bearing automatic weaponry. Something we all can relate to.)

Despite the low-rent treatment, I had a great time reading it, revisiting Zelazny's prose style out of its usual SF/fantasy setting.

The protagonist is Ovid Wylie, an international art thief and smuggler gone legit, running a New York City gallery. But his past catches up with him pretty quickly: his ex-partner has become a murder victim, and dumped on his premises. The CIA uses the crime as leverage to wangle Ovid into investigating a renegade priest who has apparently absconded with Vatican funds; his detective work takes him to Rome and Brazil, and (of course) Ovid's either in peril, escaping from peril, or about to do something that will place him in peril.

It reads as if this might have been an effort by Zelazny to develop a series hero, something in the Travis McGee line. That didn't happen, unfortunately.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:39 AM EDT
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URLs du Post-Christmas

I'm in catchup mode:

  • In case you missed it—likely, since it was announced Christmas Eve—the Obama Administration has put Mr. and Mrs. American Taxpayer (as well as their children, grandchildren, …) on the hook for unlimited subsidies for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as much as necessary to keep them from going broke.

    Captain Ed speculates:

    It looks as though Obama wants to use Fannie and Freddie as proxies for more social engineering and wants to prepare for them to take more losses as a result. That would be the only reason to completely uncap the commitment to cover its losses.
    Sounds paranoid, but unfortunately also sounds completely realistic. The WSJ article linked above notes some of the jobs "created or saved" by the move:
    Under the new packages, Fannie will pay as much as about $3.6 million annually to David M. Johnson, chief financial officer; $2.4 million to Kenneth Bacon, who heads a unit that finances apartment buildings; $2.8 million to David Benson, capital markets chief; $2.2 million to David Hisey, deputy chief financial officer; $3 million to Timothy Mayopoulos, general counsel; and $2.8 million to Kenneth Phelan, chief risk officer.

    At Freddie, annual compensation will total as much as $4.5 million for Bruce Witherell, chief operating officer; $3.5 million for Ross Kari, chief financial officer; $2.8 million for Robert Bostrom, general counsel; and $2.7 million for Paul George, head of human resources.

    I really doubt whether any of these guys could hit the cutoff man.

  • Bruce Schneier has the best comment on new air travel "security" measures that will impose (further) massive inconveniences on the innocent while doing nothing for actual security:
    I wish that, just once, some terrorist would try something that you can only foil by upgrading the passengers to first class and giving them free drinks.
    Prof Bainbridge has more extensive criticism, speculating that TSA really stands for "The Stupid Agency".

  • You will not want to miss "Dave Barry's Year in Review: 2009." For example, Dave notes the new administration getting off the ground in January:
    The No. 1 item on the agenda is fixing the economy, so the new administration immediately sets about the daunting task of trying to nominate somebody -- anybody -- to a high-level government post who actually remembered to pay his or her taxes. Among those who forgot this pesky chore is Obama's nominee for Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, who sheepishly admits that he failed to pay $35,000 in federal self-employment taxes. He says that the error was a result of his using TurboTax, which he also blames for his involvement in an eight-state spree of bank robberies. He is confirmed after the Obama administration explains that it inherited the U.S. Tax Code from the Bush administration.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:43 AM EDT
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An Updated Movie Quote

Dr. Evil: You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads! Ah, would you remind me what I pay you people for, honestly? Throw me a bone here! What do we have?

Number Two: Snowplows.

Dr. Evil: [pause] Right.

Number Two: They're mutated snowplows.

Dr. Evil: Are they driven by ill tempered and careless public employees?

Number Two: Absolutely.

Dr. Evil: Oh well, that's a start.

(Via Weekend Pundit.)


Last Modified 2009-12-29 11:19 PM EST
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What's Eating Gilbert Grape

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

A long-ago present to another member of the Salad family, the DVD wound up in my collection, and I finally got around to watching it. Not bad, although I guess it's mainly aimed at the Y-chromosomeless demographic.

Johnny Depp plays the title character, and yes, Gilbert Grape is his real name. He's more or less trapped by his family obligations: his brother Arnie Grape (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is seriously mentally handicapped; his mother is morbidly obese and probably not all that mentally healthy either. Dad Grape is out of the picture (for reasons explained as the movie goes along). They live in a rotting farmhouse outside of the (fictional) small town of Endora, Iowa.

Gilbert's two sisters help out, but the situation is clearly one that breeds resentment and further dysfunction. Gilbert is carrying on an affair with Mrs. Betty Carver (Mary Steenburgen), and his life gets even more complicated when Becky arrives in town, stranded by the breakdown of her grandmother's vehicle. Becky is full of hippie wisdom, which she imparts, tediously, throughout the movie.

So: a bunch of stuff happens. It's not that interesting. There's symbolism out the wazoo, though. I can tell, because I nearly never notice symbolism; someone usually needs to point it out to me afterward. So if I notice it, it means the movie is really beating me over the head with it.

However: anyone who doubts that Leonardo DiCaprio is the Real Deal, actorwise, should check this movie out; he got a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his performance. (He didn't win, though; he could have been another data point in the "full retard" discussion between Ben Stiller and Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder.)


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:39 AM EDT
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Merry Christmas!

Every year I think: this time I'm going into total Scrooge mode. And I never do.

As always, Pun Salad encourages its readers to avoid behavior that might make baby Jesus cry, and (otherwise) have a great Christmas.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:45 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-12-23

  • For your pre-Christmas reading: Iowahawk's production script of It's a Wonderful Bill. Too late now, of course, but I wish Lorne Michaels had taken my suggestion to hire the Hawk; this would have made a classic Saturday Night Live skit.

  • The hopelessly left-tilted Politifact deemed Sarah Palin's comment about "death panels" to be "Lie of the Year". Today, Governor Palin points out what's coming with the "Independent Payment Advisory Board". Although she doesn't actually say "I told you so"…

    At Cato, Alan Reynolds is in agreement:

    As Sarah Palin predicted, "Government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course."
    Your best strategy for surviving under Obamacare: don't get sick, or old.

  • In contrast, the real lie of the year (President Obama's "If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.") is rated Half True by the worthless Politifact. We've discussed this ad nauseam, but Jeffrey H. Anderson compares that claim against the actual legislation: it's less true than ever.
    Obamacare would require Americans to buy government-approved health insurance. It would make it illegal to offer choices in insurance plans beyond the handful of very similar ones that the government would allow. It would become illegal to offer new and innovative plans. Under any of the government-approved plans, it would become illegal to pay your doctor directly for more than a certain percentage of your care. Higher deductible, consumer-driven plans would be severely altered or eliminated. By law, a greater percentage of money would have to be paid in insurance premiums, rather than directly for care. Competition and choice would diminish tremendously. One-size-fits-all conformity would rule the day.

  • Did my (short but ill-tempered) post implying that the Copenhagen climate summit was all about bringing down capitalism seem overstated to you? If so, you'll want to read Jonah, who's been listening to the rhetoric:
    Bolivian president Evo Morales was interviewed by Al Jazeera television while in Copenhagen. "The principal obstacle to combating climate change is capitalism," he explained. "Until we put an end to capitalism, it will continue to be a big obstacle for life and humanity."

    Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe proclaimed in a speech: "When these capitalist gods of carbon burp and belch their dangerous emissions, it's we, the lesser mortals of the developing sphere, who gasp and sink and eventually die."

    … and more.

  • But it's science, right? Thomas Sowell has a useful rejoinder in a column looking at global warming hysteria and its historical precedents.
    Like anything valuable, science has been seized upon by politicians and ideologues, and used to forward their own agendas. This started long ago, as far back as the 18th century, when the Marquis de Condorcet coined the term "social science" to describe various theories he favored. In the 19th century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels distinguished their own brand of socialism as "scientific socialism." By the 20th century, all sorts of notions wrapped themselves in the mantle of science.
    Science is agenda-free, objective, and open. Unfortunately, "scientists" can fail on any or all of those counts.

  • It's getting to be that time of year when get-togethers with family and friends might result in unsolicited technical support calls to your personal Help Desk. Free advice: Why It's Better To Pretend You Don't Know Anything About Computers


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Role Models

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

Role Models got decent reviews, but I was not so taken with it. It's a combination of (a) a heart-warming plot you could find in any PG live-action Disney movie with (b) liberal doses of (as the MPAA puts it) "crude and sexual content, strong language and nudity." (Some of the strongest language comes out of the mouth of a 10-year-old black kid, which is funny for about three minutes.)

Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd play Wheeler and Danny (respectively), working for the energy-drink company "Minotaur"; they ride around in their Minotaur-mobile to school assemblies, Wheeler dresses up as a minotaur, and they present an anti-drug message leavened with a strong commercial pitch for their product.

Wheeler is the typical Seann William Scott character: a not-too-bright sex-obsessed goofball. While Wheeler loves the job, Danny is getting older, sees that he's going nowhere, and is increasingly bitter and nasty. As his girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) points out, he's a dick.

Danny finally snaps; as a result both he and Wheeler are fired, and they wind up looking at a likely jail term. To avoid that, they go for "volunteer" work at "Sturdy Wings", an organization that pairs up adults with maladjusted kids.

Now, see if you can guess whether (a) Danny and Wheeler, after some false starts, gradually earn the affection of their wards and (b) the kids, in turn, bring Danny and Wheeler around to feeling better about their own lives.

There's some nice stuff: one of the kids is a Live Action Role-Playing geek, and you don't usually get a look at that culture in a major motion picture. The great Jane Lynch plays the head of Sturdy Wings, and she could be funny reading the phone book. But even with that, it's not really worth going out of your way to see.

Consumer note: The original movie was R-rated; the DVD gives you the option to play the "Unrated" version which … I'm pretty sure would still be R-rated.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:39 AM EDT
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A Christmas Present from Jeanne Shaheen

Over the weekend—you may have heard—Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska got won over to supporting the ObamaCare bill by dubious restrictions on abortion coverage and (probably more importantly) the promise that Medicaid expansions in his state would be paid for at the Federal level, rather than by his state. (Does this mean that ObamaCare will be renamed OmahaCare?)

I've never been prouder to be an ex-Nebraskan (1961-1973).

As the Weekly Standard points out, Senator Nelson was a "cheap date," being bought off with $100 million; this is peanuts compared to what Vermont got ($600 million) and Massachusetts got ($500 million).

But of course, the ultimate cheap dates were the 54-or-so Democrat senators from other states who got $0 million each for their votes. This includes New Hampshire's own Jeanne Shaheen. Her vote could have stopped this monstrosity; but despite all her promises, she meekly went along with the rest of her party.

To appreciate just how big the lump of coal Jeanne and her 59 pals delivered into our collective Christmas stocking this year, read this Wall Street Journal editorial in its entirety. Sample:

The rushed, secretive way that a bill this destructive and unpopular is being forced on the country shows that "reform" has devolved into the raw exercise of political power for the single purpose of permanently expanding the American entitlement state. An increasing roll of leaders in health care and business are looking on aghast at a bill that is so large and convoluted that no one can truly understand it, as Finance Chairman Max Baucus admitted on the floor last week. The only goal is to ram it into law while the political window is still open, and clean up the mess later.
The editorial provides plenty of examples that demonstrate how poorly thought out the bill is, and how utterly corrupt the process that brought us to this state.

Amy Kane has a masterful collection of links on the topic, including the WSJ editorial. If you're not there already, they will move you into mad-as-Hell territory.


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The Naked City

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

This DVD from Netflix was out of the Criterion Collection, which means it's of major cinematic interest. (It also means topnotch audio and video quality, something you don't always get from Netflix.) And here's the deal: it's one of the earliest movies (and may be the earliest movie) filmed on location in New York City.

At the beginning of the movie, we see the crimes: in the wee hours, a shadowy pair knock out a woman in an apartment, then prepare to drown her in the bathtub. Later that morning, one of the perpetrators drowns the other in the East River. The homicide detectives of Manhattan's 10th are soon on the case. Chief among them is Dan Muldoon, played by Barry Fitzgerald with an Irish accent as thick as you'd hear in Dublin. (Imagine a leprechaun crossed with Dirty Harry.) He commands the investigation, paying special attention to newly-minted detective Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor). They are relentless. Netted early is Frank Niles, played by the great Howard Duff, a shameless but inept liar.

Anyone interested in what NYC looked like shortly after the war will want to check this out. Well over a hundred different locations were used; many street scenes were filmed without the knowledge of the crowds.

The movie is irritatingly narrated throughout by the movie's producer, Mark Hellinger. (Including the opening credits, which aren't seen onscreen.) The novelty wears off quickly.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:38 AM EDT
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Is This Irony? I Can Never Tell.

The Country Formerly Known As Red China might derail efforts to bring down capitalism.

I did not see that coming.


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URLs du Jour — 2009-12-17

  • Jacob Sullum analyzes frequent phrases used in President Obama's rhetoric, using his recent speech at the Jobs Summit as a starting point.
    For connoisseurs of Obama-speak, the address featured a trifecta, combining three of his favorite rhetorical tropes. There was the vague reference to "those who" question his agenda, the "false choice" they use to deceive the public, and the determination to "be clear" and forthright, in contrast with those dishonest naysayers. These devices are useful as signals that the president is about to mislead us.
    As Jacob notes, Obama also said:
    And I made clear from day one that I would not sign a health insurance reform bill if it raised the deficit by one dime -- and neither the House, nor the Senate bill does. We've begun not only changing policies in Washington, we've also begun to change the culture in Washington.
    Emphasis added; previous Pun Salad posts on Obama's use of "dime" are here, here, and here.

    So, Jacob: I think they call this a superfecta.

  • Skip at GraniteGrok eloquently criticizes the latest effort to transform the Granite State into a Nanny State: the recent report issued by the "New Hampshire Commission on Prevention of Childhood Obesity".

    I can't be too critical myself. To find out why, you can download the Commission's glossy report (PDF), skip to page two, and check out the last name on the list of commission members.

    What can I say? She listens to NPR, too.

  • By the way, if the Granite State were transforming into a Nanny State, would the intermediate state be a Granny State, or a Nanite State? Just asking.

  • Mark your calendars. May 7, 2010: Iron Man 2. This is one major reason I can't afford to annoy influential members of the New Hampshire Commission on Prevention of Childhood Obesity: I need a date.


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Powerspan: Corporate Welfare Queen

Now! Hampshire notes a recent story in my local newspaper, Foster's Daily Democrat. It detailed the reaction of one Frank Alix, an attendee at President Obama's recent "Jobs Summit". Alix was wowed! Among his other fawning quotes:

"We all can be skeptical of government at times ... but I came away quite impressed. There seems to be really strong engagement in areas that will help our country," said Alix.
Now! Hampshire points out that Alix is hardly predisposed to be skeptical of government: he kicked in $1500 to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen's successful bid to replace John E. Sununu in the US Senate. That tidbit didn't appear in the Foster's article.

But Foster's—good for them—did go out of their way to make a related point: Alix's company, Powerspan, makes "carbon capture and sequestration" technology for coal plants. And:

Alix said his own comments during the green jobs session focused on urging support for a comprehensive climate bill.

Its passage could mean the start of more projects by utility companies that will need Powerspan technology installed in coal-fired power plants.

Ah, bingo. Why bother yourself making products that customers might voluntarily want to purchase with their own money? Politicians are cheap to buy, and they are only too happy to return the favor by passing legislation that will compel customers to buy your product.

(Note that this is not a partisan issue: here's a post from a few months back discussing the corporate welfare recently dispensed to a local GOP stalwart.)


Last Modified 2014-12-01 1:53 PM EST
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URLs du Jour — 2009-12-16

  • Haven't done a YouTube lately. Here's one, short and sweet, on the "public option":

  • At Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux has some fun responding to this quote from a New York Times article:
    The low sign-up rate [for 'green energy' programs] raises a question: If large majorities of Americans favor increased government support for clean energy, as polls suggest, why are so many people reluctant to back such programs when it comes to paying extra themselves?
    Here is a list of people who find the answer to that question blindingly obvious:

    1. Don Boudreaux;
    2. Me;
    3. Almost certainly, you.

    But if you're (instead) a New York Times reporter, or someone with comparable economic illiteracy, click on over for the answer.

    (Actually, click on over anyway: Professor Boudreaux is eloquent and always worth reading.)

  • Are you—like me—a Hannaford customer who had their credit card replaced last year because of the security breach on their store systems? Wired has been following the case closely. Their latest article reveals recent news on the prosecution of Albert Gonzalez, one of the principals of the cyberthief ring.

    Hannaford was only one of the businesses affected; all told, about 130 million card accounts were compromised. The article also contains links to Wired's previous articles on the story.

    Ironically, some of the reported details were extracted from a sentencing memo where sensitive information was incompletely redacted. Nothing like using a security breach to report on another security breach.

  • Sales-boosting tip for authors: somehow arrange things so your book is photographed in the background of a tawdry scandal gripping the attention of the world.

  • For Star Wars geeks only: It's a frap!

    (Note: If you say "I don't get it", then you're not a big enough Star Wars geek, which you may view as either good or bad news.)


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:38 AM EDT
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Open Range

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

This is a movie to make you think. And what I was thinking was: being a movie actor is kind of a cool job. You get to (in this case) pretend you're a cowboy, making your living under grand and glorious vistas. You get to demonstrate the cowboy virtues of humility, courage, honesty, loyalty, and (of course) rough justice. And you get to ride horses.

Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner play Boss Spearman and Charley Waite, longtime associates in the free-range cattle business. They employ the giant, good-hearted Mose and teenaged hothead Button. And there's a dog. Apart from the usual minor frictions between guys, all goes well until they get too close to a town dominated by a cattle rancher with a deep hatred of free-rangers; soon enough, their livelihood and lives are under threat. Along the way, they meet sweet Sue, a town lady played by Annette Bening, and this adds a bit of romance to the mix.

Costner and Duvall have great chemistry together, and they fit in their roles perfectly. The villains are appropriately nasty, the heroes turn out to be unexpectedly resourceful in return. There's plenty of action. All in all, a very good western.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:37 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-12-14

  • More reckless demagoguery from President Obama.
    During a taped interview broadcast Sunday night on CBS' 60 Minutes, Obama blasted banking executives for opposing tighter regulations on Wall Street and for awarding themselves multimillion-dollar bonuses after they had repaid federal bailout money.

    "I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of, you know, fat-cat bankers on Wall Street," Obama said.

    Well, thank goodness he voted against it! Oh, wait, he didn't.

    The original link is from USA Today, and they are not shy about quoting someone who points out the blindingly obvious:

    High unemployment is creating a political problem for Obama's team and "they're trying to make political points whenever they can," [banking consultant Bert] Ely said.
    During the campaign, Obama decried the "same old Washington games", but he's playing one of the oldest: when you're out of ideas, find a scapegoat to divert attention.

  • Charles Lane makes a lot of sense:
    With unemployment stuck around 10 percent, President Obama has pledged "to take every responsible step to accelerate the pace of job growth." Here's a thought: Instead of trying to "create" jobs by tweaking this tax break or increasing that spending program, why not stop doing things that destroy jobs?
    His three specific recommendations are right out of the loony-libertarian (i. e. Pun Salad's) playbook:

    1. End federal protectionism and price supports for sugar.
    2. Repeal the Davis-Bacon Act.
    3. Reduce the federal minimum wage.

    You wouldn't be surprised to get those recommendations from (say) the Cato Institute or Reason, but (amazingly) Charles Lane is a member of the Washington Post editorial page staff, and that's where his article appears. What's next? Will the WaPo start competing with the Wall Street Journal for right-wing/libertarian readers? Cool!

  • Writing at the Volokh Conspiracy, Harvey Silvergate is promoting his new book, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. Today's topic is so-called "honest services" fraud, a little gotcha in federal law that (during a recent Supreme Court session), Justice Breyer observed could make lawbreakers out of an estimated 140 million Americans every single working day.

    Silvergate is a relatively rare figure: an ACLU-liberal guy who consistently champions civil libertarianism. Good for him.

  • If you get warm-n-fuzzies when you spend a little extra for picking up "Fair Trade" coffee at your local store, you may not want to ruin them by clicking here.

  • Also at Marginal Revolution, Professor Tabarrok has a Paul Samuelson Memorial Blog Post: Asteroid Deflection as a Public Good. Professor Samuelson wrote Pun Salad's college econ textbook; fortunately, the damage was short-lived.

  • At the Freakonomics blog, Stephen Dubner posted a brain-teaser last week: name goods and services that are legal when done for free, but quickly become illegal when money changes hands.

    There's an obvious one—at least for those of us with minds in the gutter—but there's a big one that not a single one of the very smart commenters to the original post mentioned. See if you can get it before Eric Morris tells you what it is.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:44 AM EDT
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Anatomy of a Murder

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

As I type, Anatomy of a Murder clings to a spot on IMDB's best 250 movies of all time, at #244. It had its fiftieth anniversary this year.

It's Jimmy Stewart's movie, and (to a lesser extent) Lee Remick's. Jimmy plays small-town lawyer Paul Biegler, recently voted out of the prosecutor's office, content with fishing in the waters of Michigan's scenic Upper Peninsula. Biegler's semi-retirement is shattered when he's roped into playing defense attorney for an Army lieutenant Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara). Manion shot (five times) a bar owner who had allegedly raped and beaten Mrs. Manion (the aforementioned Lee Remick). But what really happened? And (more importantly) can Jimmy Stewart play enough legal angles to generate reasonable doubt about the sanity of the perpetrator?

Jimmy and his co-workers are the only remotely likeable characters in this movie, and I found myself rooting for him. Lee Remick does a remarkable transformation, as she's introduced as an obvious drunken slut, de-floozied for the trial, popping back again into her normal promiscuous mode at the end. (She was outrageously overlooked by the Oscars, but got a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.) There are a lot of other great actors here, including George C. Scott, Eve Arden, Arthur O'Connell, and Orson Bean.

Random notes:

  • Even though Lee Remick was snubbed, the movie still got 7 Oscar nominations.

  • Jimmy Stewart's character smokes those repulsive Italian cigars later made even more famous by Clint Eastwood in his spaghetti westerns.

  • According to the IMDB, the movie was actually filmed in and around scenic Ishpeming and Marquette, apparently during the approximately three-week window of decent weather they get each year. My guess is that the cigars were necessary to dissuade the mosquitoes.

  • The DVD has the movie's original trailer, which is pretty good, with director Otto Preminger hamming it up with "Robert Traver" (the pseudonym of Michigan State Supreme Court judge John D. Voelker), who wrote the source novel.

  • The movie was pretty racy for 1959; it even was banned in Chicago. There's nothing that, nowadays, couldn't appear in your average gritty prime-time TV crime drama. This ages the movie: some things are meant to "shock" the audience, but go right over the heads of modern viewers.

  • Whoa, Duke Ellington has a cameo, playing the piano with Jimmy Stewart. He did the (Grammy-winning) soundtrack.

  • A non-cameo role, that of the trial judge, is played by Joseph N. Welch, famous in real life for the "Have you no sense of decency" shootdown of Senator McCarthy in 1954. He's good, also getting a Golden Globe nomination.

  • I was persuaded to put the movie in my Netflix queue by Kurt Schlichter's recent appreciation at Big Hollywood. If you're not convinced by me, he might do the trick.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:37 AM EDT
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Just So You Know

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?

That seems high to me, dammit.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:46 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2009-12-10

  • For your amusement, you can compare reviews of President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: the reliably sycophantic Joel Achenbach thought it was "classic Obama", and he's also appreciative that it avoided the usual implicit-to-explicit Bush-bashing.

    The Minuteman was less adoring:

    If platitudes were warheads Obama would have violated a treaty. Oh, well, it probably sounded better in the college dorm where it was written.
    In addition, he pissed off some Norwegians. As a Weegie-American myself, I observe: (1) that's hard to do; (2) on the other hand, who cares? There's a reason my ancestors emigrated: to get away from those guys.

  • Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek notes that Congress isn't content merely to screw up the big issues, like health care and energy policy. They're also eager to intrude on college football.
    Words fail me when trying to describe the disgust I feel for the obnoxious, officious, opportunistic, unprincipled, lying (Do they really mean their oaths to uphold the U.S. Constitution?), arrogant, imperious, and duplicitous creeps who are in Congress.

    They are utterly and without question worthy only of ridicule and disrespect.

    Note: this is what Professor Boudreaux says when words fail him. One can only imagine what happens when they don't.

  • [Amazon Link] Christmas is a mere couple of weeks away, and you may be stressing out over what to get that special someone. And that someone would have to be some kind of special if you even consider getting him or her anything from Dave Barry's Gift Guide 2009.

    Through the magic of Amazon, an example item is shown over there on the right. (No, your right.) Pun Salad takes no responsibility for any repercussions if you decide to buy this for anyone.

  • Literally minutes of fun can be had at Autocomplete Me, a website devoted to the compilation of wacky guesses made by the Google as a search phrase is typed.

    Unfortunately, this did not work for me: when I typed "dinosaurs we" at Google, none of the autocomplete-guesses were "dinosaurs were made up by the cia to discourage time travel."

    But I did notice that as I was typing "Norwegian ethnic" for the first item up there, Google was quick to (correctly) intuit that I might be looking for "Norwegian ethnic slur." (Whoa: Rjeindeer-Fjucker? Really?)


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:36 AM EDT
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What's Up, Doc

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

Sometimes I get a hankering to see an old fondly-remembered flick, and that's the case here. If you're a screwball comedy fan, this is a great effort, a conscious homage to the classics of the 30's and 40's.

Here's a sobering thought (for me, anyhow): this movie came out in 1972, about 34 years after one of its major inspirations, Bringing Up Baby. And it's now (as I type) 37 years since What's Up, Doc was released.

Anyway: Ryan O'Neal plays the Cary Grant role of Dr. Howard Bannister, a musicologist from Ames, Iowa, in the big city of San Francisco with his shrewish fiancee, Eunice (the wonderful Madeline Kahn). He's in the running for a prestigious grant from the Larrabee Foundation, which involves him carrying around a large plaid travelling bag full of rocks.

Complications: three other identical bags, each with its own valuable content, rendezvous at the hotel where Howard and Eunice are staying. Worse, one of those bags belongs to Judy Maxwell (Barbra Streisand's finest role), and she falls hard for Howard. (That's inexplicable, but in screwball comedies, that sort of thing happens all the time.) Coincidence piles on happenstance, which are mixed together with puns, slapstick, and sight gags.

Seen today, some flaws appear: the pacing is uneven, some jokes fall flat, and the big chase scene at the end is dated. But I defy you to not laugh at "What are you doing? This is a one way street!" "We're only going one way."


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:34 AM EDT
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Meet the New Senator, Same As the Old Senator

NH Insider has a great post responding to a SeacoastOnline letter bemoaning the "pitifully few health insurance companies to choose from". Which, the letter-writer deduced, indicated the sore need of a government run "public option".

The Insider noted:

New Hampshire used to have a thriving and diverse insurance industry until then State Senator Jeanne Shaheen introduced SB 711 and got it passed and signed into law.
SB 711 was passed in 1994 and went into effect in 1995. More information on the whole sad story is available from this article from the Heartland Institute, a free market think tank. A key conclusion:
While health insurance coverage was little affected by Shaheen's reforms, consumer choice was badly damaged. By 1997, the number of commercial health insurers serving New Hampshire dwindled to five from a previous high of 12. Those remaining in the market reduced their insurance offerings to cover only high-deductible, catastrophic-type health insurance plans.
Now, to be fair: back in 1994, the New Hampshire legislature was controlled by the Republicans, and the legislation would have had to been signed by Governor Steve Merrill, also a Republican. So while Jeanne bears some responsibility for the current poor state of the health care insurance market in the Granite State, it's not her sole responsibility.

And, as the Insider notes, she's now in the US Senate, and eager to "reform" the health insurance industry nationwide. Some politicians learn from their mistakes; Jeanne sees the opportunity to make them again, and bigger.

(Via GraniteGrok's recent collection of NH rabid right-wing ideologue links, Pun Salad included there, thanks, Skip!)


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URLs du Jour — 2009-12-09

Some quick hits that have piled up over the past couple weeks:

  • The Climategate scandal has ratcheted up my skepticism of anthropogenic global warming up a couple notches, and it was already pretty high. Claudia Rosett notes that, whatever your opinion of the science propounded by the True Believers, their economics is much, much worse: the UN Climatistas have boundless (and totally unwarranted) hubris as to their ability to predict and control the entire world's economy for decades. Who does that remind you of? Me too, and Claudia agrees:

    For UN planners to presume that they can reliably calculate the economic future around the planet and across decades is absurd. To pretend to calculate the economic future in neat correlation with potential variations in climate is ridiculous. For UN planners, and politicians jetting into Copenhagen to further pretend they can better organize our lives based on this confetti of calculations is beyond inane. This is the global version of the old Soviet planners sitting down to command the economy of the USSR -- and enforcing it would similarly require repression and coercion. Welcome to a world where you wait in line for toilet paper. Unless, of course, you are one of the climate-klatura, entitled to your caviar, limo and private jet, high above the queuing proles.

    Just as "health care reform" isn't really about health care, the "climate change" hoopla isn't really about the climate: both are about massive new government control over its subjects.

  • Senator Coburn (R-Oklahoma) has issued a new report (press release here) on various projects funded by the "stimulus" are doing, wastewise. New Hampshire doesn't make the top 10, but the full report contains the story of the four new buses (costing $2 million) purchased for our local (ostensibly private) bus companies. Pun Salad discussed this back in July.

    Anyway, if you need your blood pressure raised a few mm Hg, Coburn's report could well do the trick.

  • Back when I was a young 'un, George Gamow introduced me to the mind-bending concept of infinity, using (among other things) the notion that (given an infinite amount of time) a monkey randomly pecking at a keyboard will produce any given text, for example the complete works of Shakespeare.

    Leave it to the British to put the concept to the test.

    What was learnt: The theory is flawed. After one month - admittedly not an "infinite" amount of time - the monkeys had partially destroyed the machine, used it as a lavatory, and mostly typed the letter "s".

    Darn!

    Wikipedia has that and more: don't miss PixelMonkeys.org, which applies the concept to computer graphics; this Reuben Bolling comic; and, for geeks, there's RFC 2795, the Infinite Monkey Protocol Suite (IMPS).

  • Dan Tuohy debunks the myth that the University Near Here doesn't prepare you for fame and fortune. Well, fame anyway. (Usually, our Alumni Association loves to publicize our famous alumni; I think they'll forego that in this case.)

  • I really liked this (out of context) quote from one of the reviews of "Samuel Adams Pub and Café" at Manchester Boston Regional Airport.

    I live a life of mystery and intrigue, where every second I have to be alert to pending disaster, but I still manage to spell basic English words correctly.

    Hey, me too!


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:33 AM EDT
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Salad vs. Shaheen

I received a reply to the mail I sent last month to my state's US senator, Jeanne Shaheen. It's clearly a canned reply, as it doesn't respond to the actual point I made. And it's stupid to respond to a form letter.

I'll do so anyway:

December 3, 2009

Dear Paul,

Ah, we're on a first-name basis.
Thank you for contacting me about health care reform. This is one of the most important issues facing our nation and I appreciate hearing your thoughts and suggestions for how we might address it.
Jeanne, I'd take that a lot more seriously if there were any indication whatsoever that you had actually paid attention to anything I said.
In New Hampshire and across the country, rising health care costs are threatening the stability of our families and the competitiveness of our small businesses. In the past 10 years, health care costs have increased 131 percent, far outpacing wages, which increased by 38 percent over the same period. Medical bills are now the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States, with three-fourths of those bankruptcies befalling people who have insurance.
Jeanne, that's fine, but I wish you'd think for a bit about what has brought us to this pretty pass. We're here as a result of decades of government restrictions, mandates, regulations, taxes, subsidies, and penalties, all aimed at the health care sector. Your claim is that this time, your new set of restrictions, mandates, regulations, taxes, subsidies, and penalties will (somehow) bring us to health care nirvana. Even if I didn't know anything else about your proposed legislation, I'd say the past history of government behavior in this area allows us to be very skeptical about that.

Unfortunately, we do know the details of your proposed legislation, and the evidence is mostly the other way. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released an analysis a few days ago that revealed some ugly math: estimated premiums for some people would go up by 10%-13% more than what's projected under current law. And some argue that the CBO report is overly optimistic.

The dean of Harvard Medical School recently noted: "In discussions with dozens of health-care leaders and economists, I find near unanimity of opinion that, whatever its shape, the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care's dysfunctional delivery system."

The actual winners and losers, costwise, will be unknown until well after the legislation is enacted.

I'm afraid there's no evidence for your glib implication of significant savings for most people. During the campaign, President Obama promised that "reform" would save "the typical family $2500 a year in lower health care premiums." He's not mentioning that now.

The "bankruptcy" claim, by the way is a myth; it's unlikely that "reform" will make any significant dent in bankruptcy filings.

For our small businesses, rising health care costs are hurting their ability to compete and killing jobs. From 2002 to 2006 in New Hampshire, there was a more than 40 percent increase in the premiums businesses paid for an individual plan for their workers. And for our smallest businesses, those with fewer than 10 employees, the increase was almost double that - a more than 70 percent increase. We are on an unsustainable path.
Jeanne, I'm well aware that you can count on the support of business, large or small, if you can credibly claim that you can use the tools of the coercive state to shift costs that they currently bear onto others. Generally (and regrettably), businesses are not reliable supporters of free market principles.

That said, many businesses are not convinced that you're here to help them out. The National Federation of Independent Business doesn't support the current version of your legislation; neither does the US Chamber of Commerce. If you're really concerned about business health, shouldn't you be listening to them?

It's time to hold health insurance companies accountable. In America, it should be against the law to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, cancer, or heart disease. It should be against the law to cap insurance coverage so that patients lose their coverage right when they need it most. And, nobody should have to lose their health insurance when they lose their job.
Please note that you just got done bemoaning skyrocketing health costs. Now you are proposing measures that will inevitably increase the cost of health insurance further. Do you see a problem there?
While we look to stabilize costs for those Americans with insurance, we also need to create some affordable options for the 30 million Americans with no health care at all. I support a public option that would encourage competition in the insurance market and provide an affordable option for the uninsured. I believe the public option is the best solution but I am willing to consider other proposals that lower costs and increase access to health care.
I wish you were serious about that, Jeanne. You might start with Charles Krauthammer's recent column that presented three good ideas:
  1. Tort reform.

  2. Abolish the prohibition against buying health insurance across state lines.

  3. Tax employer-provided health insurance.

These ideas got nowhere in the legislation under consideration. Krauthammer suggests you junk those bills and start over. Are you willing to consider that? If three proposals are too few, see John Mackey's blog for additional ideas.
While there are many things wrong with America's health care system, the quality of services and choices for consumers are working and must be protected. We have the best hospitals, the best doctors, the best nurses and the best medical technology in the world. Americans can choose their own doctors, choose their own insurance, and make decisions about their treatment. That's what's right about our health care system. We must keep what's right and fix what's wrong.
Jeanne, I realize that this sort of empty feelgood rhetoric is common practice in form letters, but it's still kind of soul-deadening to read it. Needless to say, I have little confidence that the proposed legislation will do anything approaching what you claim.

One thing you don't specifically mention is medical innovation. Many feel that under your legislation, American dominance in this area will be doomed. Are you comfortable with that?

The time to reform our health care system is now. We cannot wait any longer. Middle class families and small businesses are depending on us. We need health care reform that stabilizes costs, holds health insurance companies accountable and protects quality and choice.
Just as an aside, one of the widely noted gimmicks used to hide the true costs of the bill you seem determined to vote for is to delay significant outlays until 2014. So your insistence about hurrying up rings a bit hollow here.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I will keep them in mind during the coming weeks as we debate health care reform in the U.S. Senate. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any future questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Jeanne Shaheen United States Senator

Jeanne, I find your form-letter reply to my specific concern disappointing, and I don't for a moment believe that you will keep my thoughts in mind. Sorry.

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The Currents of Space

[Amazon Link]

I dumped nearly all of Isaac Asimov's science fiction novels upon my to-be-read pile awhile back. This very early effort of his from the early 50's is pretty good. It's set well before the events of the Foundation series: the planet Trantor has not yet expanded its domain over the entire galaxy, but humanity has long since forgotten its origin on Earth.

As the book opens, two anonymous people are in conflict: one, a "spatio-analyst", is desperate to warn the planets Sark and and Florina of their imminent doom; the other would prefer to keep it quiet. The latter immobilizes the spatio-analyst, uses a "psychic probe" to scrub his brain until he's nearly mindless, then dumps him into a farming community on Florina. There, he's adopted by the good-hearted Valona, who names him "Rik". But months later, Rik gradually regains some of his memory. And he and Valona go off on an adventure to try to figure out what's going on.

Asimov couples a standard mystery (Who wiped Rik's memories, and why? What was Rik so worried about?) with a rather complete imagining of the social/economic/political system of Florina and Sark: Florina is the only known planet on which "kyrt" can be grown, the source of a coveted beautiful fabric. The Florinians don't benefit from that bounty, however, because they are dominated and exploited by the Sarkites, whose power is imposed via "Townmen" ruling over the farmers and "Patrolmen" looking to quash the slightest threat.

Sark itself has its own ruling system; they not only worry about revolt by the Florinian peasants, but also encroachment upon their sweet deal by the growing power of Trantor.

There are lots of characters, representing each major class in this imaginary society, and lots of explication of all the social dynamics involved. It can get a little tedious. But there's plenty going on, and Asimov offers some action, double and triple crosses, red herrings, false accusations, and (finally) a solution.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:33 AM EDT
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Drag Me to Hell

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

Note: not a sequel to Meet Me in St. Louis, although that would make a pretty good double feature.

"We're showing Meet Me in St. Louis and Drag Me to Hell. … No, that's two movies."

Alison Lohman plays Christine Brown, a loan officer at a small bank. She's in a fierce competition with co-worker Stu for an open managerial position; the bank's manager has made it clear he likes his underlings to be hard-nosed, with their eyes firmly on the bottom line.

Unfortunately, Christine decides to be hard-nosed with the wrong customer: Mrs. Ganush, an old Eastern-European lady who's behind on her mortgage payments. When Christine refuses to budge, Mrs. Ganush drops a big old curse on her; it involves three days of scarifying torment followed by the action described in the title. That is, unless Christine can find out some way to cancel out the curse.

I'm not normally a fan of the horror genre, but I found Drag Me to Hell to be lots of fun. (It's probably not for the squeamish, though.) Sam Raimi, a long time horror director (now better known for doing the Spider-Man movies) has a sly sense of humor about the whole thing. It's bad enough to be cursed, but (even worse) the curse keeps putting Christine in various embarrassing positions. You think your first meeting with your prospective in-laws didn't go well? Rest assured, it went better than Christine's.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:32 AM EDT
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