Blogiversary V

Pun Salad's first post was five years ago today. Many thanks to:

  1. All the bloggers out there who inspire, amuse, and provoke thought.

  2. Those few, those proud, who now and again send us a link. That's very gratifying

  3. All the politicians, pundits, artists, and authors who provide source material. Even the lefties: if they went away, this blog would just be a list of books I read, movies I watched, and banal observations about the weather.

  4. [Cathy
Poulin] Cathy Poulin, the official, but unaware, and (most importantly) uncompensated mascot of Pun Salad. Google searches for Cathy Poulin comprise 98.6% of Pun Salad traffic.

  5. Most importantly: you, because you're reading this.


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:24 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

The Sun Is Up, The Sky Is Blue

… it's beautiful and so are you:

  • It's a small world, but darned pretty. Hope you were smiling and looking up when they took that.

  • If you take cold comfort from evidence that it's not just American politicians who legislate first, and are surprised by the "unexpected consequences" later, here's a data point from Old Blighty:
    Last year, the British government decided to lift the top rate of income tax from 41 to 52 percent. Last month, Lord Myners, the UK Secretary of State for Financial Services, said that the policy would raise not nearly as much revenue as had been expected.
    Funny how that works.

  • A nice New York Times article about Jeff Bridges. Not all of his movies are worth watching, but he's almost always the best thing in them. He's nominated for an Oscar for his role in Crazy Heart; it's his fifth nomination with (so far) zero point zero wins.

    But if he doesn't win this year, I noticed that he's playing—whoa—Marshal Rooster Cogburn in an upcoming remake of True Grit, directed by—whoa!—the Coen brothers. That could be very cool, and wouldn't it be great if he got the Oscar playing the same role for which John Wayne got his?

    Perhaps all this Bridgesmania will grant my other Jeff-related wish: that they would issue Hearts of the West on DVD. I saw it once, thirty-five years ago, and I'd dearly like to see it once more.

  • They keep coming, and I keep laughing, especially since this relates to the Day Job:

    Any resemblance to an IT Department at a University Near Here is entirely coincidental.


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:23 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Barackrobatics: Repeating a Lie That Nobody Buys

Wowzers, kids! President Obama has this big "bipartisan meeting" coming up to… well, do something about Obamacare. Hopefully it will be as persuasive as were the last eight months or so of hectoring, back-room deals, gimmicks, and propaganda.

But in preparation for this big push, the White House rolled out a new slick website. And if you click around a bit, you'll find a page aimed at those who have employer-provided health insurance, and there you'll find

[The Persistent Lie]

Yes, they're still at it: emitting this reassuring-sounding talking point, even though it's been roundly debunked by every slightly independent observer who's bothered to investigate it.

There's fine print. Let's see if they do any better there:

  • Nothing in the health reform bill will require you to change your coverage. What the bill will do is strengthen the coverage you get at work by making it easier to understand and adding some clear rules to rein in the worst insurance company abuses.
Left unsaid is: nothing in the "health reform bill" guarantees that you won't have to change your coverage. And there's plenty of stuff in the bill that places new restrictions/mandates/regulations on employers and insurance providers; turning the existing market upside down will inevitably cause drastic changes in coverage for millions of employees; they will not be "able to keep it".
  • Language explaining what's in your plan will have to be simple and clear so that you know what your benefits are and what's covered.
That's nice. And I believe it too, because the government has a great track record of mandating simple and clear language. But it's not at all relevant to the "you can keep it" point.
  • Insurance companies will no longer be allowed to place a lifetime limit on the amount of care they pay for. And in some cases insurance companies with excessive overhead costs will be required to give you a rebate. And, if your adult children are living at home up to age 26 they can be covered under your family policy.
And your six-year-old daughter can have a pony that never poops.

But other than you getting showered with these expensive benefits, absolutely nothing will change if you don't want it to!

More honest observers note that the details of the President's recently-announced plan make it even less likely that the "you can keep it" pledge will be a reality. Phillip Klein at AmSpecBlog points out new restrictions—over and above those in the House/Senate versions—on "grandfathered" plans, and observes:

All of the new requirements proposed by Obama would increase premiums, and by definition, alter the composition of those insurance plans. The White House would argue that it is changing the policies for the better. But the entire point of having "grandfathered plans" was to protect a class of policies from changes imposed by the new legislation. Put another way, the provision to allow people to keep their "grandfathered plans" is rendered meaningless when the federal government is dictating what is in them.
Obama's "you can keep it" lie has been obvious for a long time. He even more or less admitted it last month. And yet, that doesn't stop him from repeating it. It might be worth your while to read Victor Davis Hanson on what he calls "the Obamarang":
All politicians fudge on their promises. But this president manages to transcend the normal political exaggeration and dissimulation. Whereas past executives shaded the truth, Barack Obama trumps that: on almost every key issue, what Obama says he will do, and what he says is true, is a clear guide to what he will not do, and what is not true. It is as if "truth" is a mere problem of lesser mortals.
We'll continue to call it Barackrobatics here.

Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:23 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

And It Sure 'Nuff Got Cold After The Rain Fell

… not from the sky but from my eye:

  • Amy Kane reacts to a commie-radio Travel Commentator naming Portsmouth, NH as one of eight romantic cities and towns. In North America.

    Yeah, me neither. (I assume he's never been to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.) Here's Amy pointing out one major drawback:

    Rain, which is intermittently torrential today, is one reason. And it's not nice rain. Soft rain. Paris rain. Irish countryside rain. It's cold hard New England rain. It's made of granite and ice and the tormented souls of Puritans. Sometimes it comes with a howling wind from the North Atlantic and then picks up some additional wet chill from the 100-foot-deep Piscataqua River - a cold river made of a hundred cold rivulets and mountain streams, and studded with sharp rocks, deadly whirlpools and nuclear attack submarines.
    Puritans. Heh.

  • Prof Bainbridge observes that polls, specifically polls that purport to gauge public attitudes on health care legislation, never seem to ask the right questions.

  • When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And if your only competence is campaigning, well, then…
    President Barack Obama's top advisers are quietly laying the groundwork for the 2012 reelection campaign, which is likely to be run out of Chicago and managed by White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, according to Democrats familiar with the discussions.
    Running for it is way more fun than, y'know, being it.


Bookmark and Share

The Hurt Locker

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

After it spent about a month at the top of my queue, Netflix finally got around to sending me The Hurt Locker. Worth the wait!

The movie covers a few weeks in the life of an Army squad that arguably has the most dangerous job in the world: bomb disposal in Iraq. They've recently added a new guy, Sgt. James; this is because a previous guy, Sgt. Thompson got blown up in the opening scene.

Sgt. James joins Sgt. Sanborn, a by-the-book guy, and Spc Eldridge, a youngster who's having psychological difficulties with the constant threat of sudden death. To the consternation of his teammates, James turns out to be a loose cannon, an adrenaline junkie (a point that the movie makes with no subtlety whatsoever). But he's also extremely good at his job.

If you want edge-of-your-seat suspense, this is your movie. But my fellow right-wing troglodytes will want to know whether it's yet another entry in the string of Hollywood-leftist antiwar screeds. I'd say: yes, kinda. But your mileage may vary, and I thought it was still very much worth watching. For further discussion I recommend Andrew Klavan, Big John Nolte, and Mark Hemingway.

The main roles are played by relatively unknown actors. You'll notice some familiar faces who make brief appearances. For example, Evangeline Lilly was onscreen and off practically before I got a chance to say "Hey, that's Kate from Lost!"


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:22 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

[Amazon Link]

A collection of short stories originally published in 1891-2 in the Strand Magazine. Easy to read, once you get accustomed to all the funny Victorian language. Lessons learned:

  • Be careful about accepting jobs that seem too good to be true ("The Red-Headed League", "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches", "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb");

  • It's best to be wary if you're in line for an inheritance ("The Adventure of the Speckled Band", "Copper Beeches", again);

  • Getting married is problematic ("The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor", "A Case of Identity", "A Scandal in Bohemia");

  • If Scotland Yard detectives have settled on a suspect, it's somebody else ("The Boscombe Valley Mystery", "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet");

  • Despite Victorian England having a straitlaced reputation, they were pretty much OK with now-illicit drugs. ("The Man with the Twisted Lip", although Holmes himself stays off the coke here);

  • Do not mess with Irene Adler ("A Scandal in Bohemia") or the Klan ("The Five Orange Pips").


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:22 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Notorious

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

Not to be confused with the biopic of Christopher 'Biggie' Wallace. This one has Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains. IMDB ranks it #127 on its list of the top 250 movies of all time. Directed by Hitchcock, written by Ben Hecht, and no rap music that I could discern.

Mr. Grant plays good-guy spy T. R. Devlin, who recruits Alicia Huberman (Ms. Bergman) to infiltrate a group of postwar Nazis who have holed up in Brazil, and are up to something nefarious. She's the daughter of a just-convicted Nazi sympathizer, but her real occupation is Miami party girl/floozy, and maintaining a 24x7 alcoholic fog.

But soon they're flying off to Rio, and… well, look, it's Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, you think they aren't gonna fall for each other? In Rio? But it's not happily-ever-after for them, because Alicia's assignment turns out to involve turning her feminine wiles upon Alex Sebastian (Mr. Rains), chief Nazi slimeball and momma's boy.

Understandably enough, friction is generated between Devlin's professional duties and his personal feelings. He doesn't communicate this well at all to Alicia, who stomps off and throws herself into Sebastian's arms, and, it's strongly implied, other body parts as well. She rapidly finds herself in all kinds of peril.

The DVD I got from Netflix was digitally restored, and included a number of good extras, including a charming excerpt from the 1979 American Film Institute tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, where the post-movie history of a small but vital prop was revealed.


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:21 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

That 70's Show

From today's Washington Post:

President Obama will call for new government power to regulate insurance-rate increases as part of comprehensive changes to the health-care system that the White House will unveil on its Web site Monday, senior officials said.
So the guy who promised to bring the nation (at long last) into the 21st century is revitalizing one of the worst ideas of the previous century: price controls.

Maybe there are enough idjit legislators who (a) don't remember the Nixon/Ford/Carter era's experiences; (b) who can't predict the Econ-101 consequences; or (c) don't care about either of those things, because they hope they can bamboozle the electorate into thinking they're "doing something" about health care costs.

I hope not. Obama deserves to crash and burn, but I hope he doesn't take the country down with him.


Bookmark and Share

Sunrise Doesn't Last All Morning

… a cloudburst doesn't last all day:

  • Pun Salad maintained a "Phony Campaign" watch in 2007-2008, tracking the Google hits for accusations/acts of phoniness from/by our presidential candidates. (Example here.)

    This year, according to Andrew Stuttaford, Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota is taking an early lead in the 2012 Phony Campaign, based on the Governor's speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference.

    […] when I read that the governor "appealed to the tea-party movement, calling its critics a 'brie-eating' elite from 'Ivy League schools' who don't like 'Sam's Club Republicans' who 'actually like shopping at places like Wal-Mart,'" I thought just one thing: The guy's a phony.
    With all due respect to the Governor, if he's looking to win the Phony Campaign, he'll have lots of competition. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

  • S. E. Cupp reviews the "Passover Box of Plagues" favorably. You can get it from (I am not making this up) "OyToys.com"; unlike Ms. Cupp's, it comes in a pyramid-shaped box, and is billed for ages 3 and up. (Which I am also not making up.)

  • You don't want to be too funny at Redmond Junior High School.


Bookmark and Share

All I Really Want To Do

… is, baby, be friends with you:

  • Pun Salad Manor was recently nudged by its cable provider into upgrading to a digital TV package. (It was either that or no more NESN.) There's a smattering of new stuff. Waaaay up on Channel 284 was Fox Business, which is the new home of John Stossel. The first "Stossel" show I watched had Congressman Paul Ryan invoking Hayek's Road to Serfdom in the introduction; later, Reason magazine's editor, Matt Welch showed up. Awesome. I'm hooked.

    Here's a sample from last month, where Stossel describes an instantiation of crony capitalism:

    If you prefer your blood pressure to be raised via print instead, Stossel's associated column is here; but you'll miss MSNBC's Rachel Maddow's smiling endorsement of a politically well-connected business getting fat on the taxpayer teat.

  • Speaking of Hayek, David Boaz has a good summary of what he calls the "Hayek Boom". Boaz quotes heavily from this WaPo column from Bruce Caldwell, who edits Hayek's collected works. He reports that The Road to Serfdom, had always been an OK seller, about 600 copies per month.
    But then, in November 2008, sales more than quadrupled, and they haven't slowed down since. What's more, the Kindle edition went on sale in late May 2009 and is now the best-selling book that the University of Chicago Press has offered in that format. This would be a pretty good sales record for a contemporary author, but it is nothing short of amazing for a book originally published in 1944, and by an economist, no less.
    Hm, November 2008. What happened then? Oh, right.

  • Caldwell also prepends the famous Hayek vs. Keynes rap video. A bit econ-wonky, but it's seven and a half minutes good clean fun. Crank it up, yo.


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:21 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Night and Day

[Amazon Link]

Since Robert B. Parker passed away last month, I read this with an extra twinge of poignancy: There won't be many more unread Parker books, and you're reading one of the last.

This appears to be the next-to-last novel in his Jesse Stone series. Jesse's still the police chief in Paradise, MA, and he's still tottering on the edge of alcoholic self-destruction, due to his devotion to trampy ex-wife Jenn. But (fortunately for the reader) he has other problems: a local school principal has inexplicably held a pre-dance panty inspection for the girls in her charge. (It doesn't help that the principal is married to a politically well-connected lawyer.) One of the girls, impressed with Jesse, asks him to investigate a swingers' club that her parents frequent. And (finally) there's a peeping tom afoot in town, and he's threatening to escalate his tactics.

Not too much detecting going on here: Jesse pretty much has the primary bad guy handed to him on a platter. There is a lot of shrink-talk about the nature of obsession, with an indirect parallel made between the peeper's need to look at nekkid ladies, and Jesse's attachment to Jenn. That can be tedious. Our favorite lady detective from Boston, Sunny Randall, reappears in Jesse's life, and helps him (apparently) make some progress in his personal life.


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:21 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Rotten Tomatoes: Do They Even Care Anymore?

[Screenshot]

Good reviews, but how bad can a 1 minute 12 second movie be? Does that include credits?


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:20 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Cinderella Man

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

Cinderella Man inexplicably bombed at the box office back in 2005, despite having two big stars, Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger, and a director who knows how to make crowd-pleasing commercial successes, Ron Howard. (And it even has two actors from the "That Guy" list, Bruce McGill and Ron's brother Clint.) Should have been big, but as they say in the movie biz, nobody knows anything.

It's the story of real-life boxing legend James J. Braddock, played by Mr. Crowe. As the movie opens, he's doing OK, making decent money in the fight game. But a few years later, we're in the midst of the Great Depression, and Braddock has to deal with injuries; he's widely considered to be a has-been. He struggles to find work, pay the bills, and keep his family together. But… guess why they called it Cinderella Man? By dint of his courage, honesty, and talent (and a dogged manager played by Paul Giamatti), he manages to stage an against-all-odds comeback. The climax is his championship fight against Max Baer (who's inaccurately depicted as a murderous swine).

Funny line: between rounds, a bloody Braddock is admonished by his manager: "You gotta stop some of those left hands!" Braddock replies: "You see any getting past my head?"

Accuracy aside, everybody's good here, and the movie looks great. Since it's based on a true story, if you know anything about boxing, you know how it comes out. It's a little long, clocking in at 144 minutes. It got a also-ran mention in National Review's list of the "Best Conservative Movies" of the past 25 years.


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:20 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Nobody Loves Me But My Mother

… and she could be jivin' too:

  • Another one of my favorite authors, Dick Francis, has passed away, at the ripe age of 89, in the Cayman Islands. For way too long, I avoided his books because I knew they were set in the horse racing world. Big mistake; they're about intrepid, admirable people going up against adversaries and adversity at long odds, and prevailing. That works well for me with or without horses. The NYT obit quotes John Leonard: "Not to read Dick Francis because you don't like horses is like not reading Dostoyevsky because you don't like God."

    Larry Thornberry in the American Spectator also pays tribute.

    If you've never read Francis, and you'd like a taste, with not too much horse in it, I recommend Proof, which got me started.

  • Thomas Sowell's new book, Intellectuals and Society, is out. David Henderson likes it and provides quotes, one of which I'll reproduce:

    Why the transfer of decisions from those with personal experience and a stake in the outcome to those with neither can be expected to lead to better decisions is a question seldom asked, much less answered. Given the greater cost of correcting surrogate decisions, compared to correcting individual decisions, and the greater cost of persisting in mistaken decisions by those making decisions for themselves, compared to the lower costs of those making mistaken decisions for others, the economic success of market economies is hardly surprising and neither are the counterproductive and often disastrous results of various forms of social engineering.

    Unfortunately, the folks in control of Your Federal Government don't show any signs of understanding that insight, let alone being guided by it.

  • At the Corner, Jonah Goldberg goes to town on recent reports on how the White House plans to turn around its "communications strategy". It reminded me of the old saw: when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The Administration has long been criticized for being in permanent campaign mode, primarily because the campaign was their only real success, election campaigns the only thing they really know how to do. That's their hammer. And they plan to … guess what? Read the whole thing to find out, but I'll quote Jonah's fine-tuned clash of pop-culture references:

    The gist of all of this is that the White House has concluded it needs to hone precisely the strategy it's had all along. This is a new streamlined, retooled, cowbell 2.0 strategy. Faster, more efficient and more selective bell-ringing will turn things around for the White House. Moreover, they're telling us in advance how they're going to crank this cowbell to eleven.

    I can't wait for Obama to intone "Message: I care" at a New Hampshire town hall meeting.

  • This is Pun Salad, so: "Bye, Bayh." (20,500 hits as I type, probably more by the time you read.)

    Sorry.


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:19 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Impact

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

A commenter at IMDB has a pretty good 5-word review: "Film noir meets Frank Capra." But if you like woman-falls-for-man-with-a-secret-past plots, it's got that. If you like police procedurals, it's got that. And if you like courtroom drama, it's got that too.

And, yes, this is the second Charles Coburn movie I've seen this month. Good catch. He's very good here, as a diligent cop—although he's not particularly believable as a cop. Charles Coburn deserves a spot on the "That Guy" list. But he never played that young guy; his first movie role came in 1933, at the age of 56. And he kept working in movies and TV roles right up until he passed away in 1961, at the age of 84.

Oh, right. The movie. What's it about? Well, Brian Donlevy plays well-to-do hard-charging businessmen Walter Williams. His only soft spot is for his wife; she turns him into a moony romantic. Unfortunately, she's only in it for the money, and she plans to get it by having her illicit lover kill Walter. The murder plot doesn't hatch in the way they expect, though. Walter ends up in Larkspur, Idaho, disillusioned with life and love. But then he meets a girl…

The movie is a lot of fun, and any Bay-area Lileks would have a field day with the many scenes shot in late-1940s San Francisco, Sausalito, and Larkspur. The latter is actually in California. There's a great scene where Walter, having joined the local fire department, jumps on the back of a firetruck as it bolts out of the station and races down the street. And, channelling my inner Lileks, I found the fire station is still around.

Consumer note: with my recent reading of Mark Helprin's book about copyright fresh in my mind, I noted this on the IMDB trivia page:

The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film.
There are a lot of versions available at Amazon (and, I assume, elsewhere), so caveat emptor. Still, even a lousy copy is better than none. The one I got from Netflix … well, I don't remember hearing one of the IMDB quotes ("In this world, you turn the other cheek, and you get hit with a lug wrench."), and my DVD player had some difficulty with it.

Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:18 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Barackrobatics: That Was Then…

Specifically, that was in Dover, New Hampshire, on September 12, 2008:

And I can make a firm pledge: Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.

But this is now:

President Barack Obama said he is "agnostic" about raising taxes on households making less than $250,000 as part of a broad effort to rein in the budget deficit.

So how's that hopey changey stuff working out for ya?


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:18 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Stopping Payment On the Reality Check

  • In my earlier too-long post about Nancy Thomas and UNH's "Democracy Initiative", I quoted this paragraph from her Inside Higher Ed article that claimed a need to suppress provocative and impolite tactics used by conservative university students:
    We need to be clear about what these acts [by conservative students] are: attention-seeking tactics that intimidate faculty, students, and guest speakers, distort facts, reduce public issues to simplistic sound-bites, and inhibit the thoughtful exchange of ideas and deliberation, both in and out of the classroom. The students named in the Times are not trying to offset liberal bias - they are trying to prevent learning and chill, if not stop, civil discourse.
    By odd coincidence, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education today has an account of an actual attempt to prevent discourse by a guest speaker at UC Irvine earlier in the week.
    On Monday, a few dozen people disrupted a speech by Michael Oren, Israel's Ambassador to the United States, who was speaking at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), in the UCI Student Center for a public lecture on "U.S. Israel Relations from a Political and Personal Perspective." The lecture was sponsored by 10 campus bodies including the Department of Political Science and the School of Law, as well as the Consulate General of Israel and three other off-campus bodies.
    Indications are the perpetrators of the disuption were not local right-wing knuckle-draggers, but UCI's Muslim Student Union. Ambassador Oren refused to be suppressed, calmly waiting out the hecklers. Indications are that the disruptors might face disciplinary action from UCI, as well as criminal charges. Unlike Ms. Thomas's fantasies, actual disruptions against civil discourse in academe (a) aren't typically perpetrated by conservatives and (b) can be well-handled by existing procedures.

  • When I saw the word hyrdofracking, I was pretty sure it referred to some Cylon torture technique on Battlestar Galactica. ("We'll see if Adama doesn't talk after a few sessions in the Hyrdrofracking Chamber!") But it's a real word. (Via University Diarist.)

  • This sounds like one of those improv stunts where the performers take random shouted suggestions from the audience and build a skit around. Except in this case, they built
    Bowlingual: iPhone app translates what your dog barks, posts it to Twitter
    Up next: an iPhone app that monitors your blood pressure, detects when you're irritated, and automatically composes a standard blog post ridiculing whatever's in your web browser window. (Via Granite Geek.)


Bookmark and Share

The STFU Imperative

I probably would have ignored this article at Inside Higher Ed except that it advertises the author's affiliation as:

Nancy Thomas directs the Democracy Imperative at the University of New Hampshire.

Hey, that's us! And, unfortunately, it's yet another embarrassment for the University Near Here, a reminder that it's officially hostile to the free speech rights of students. It starts:

The New York Times last month reported a story about several politically active students who crossed the line from what the Times called "high jinks" to allegedly committing a federal felony (by breaking into the office of Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana to learn whether the Senator's office was deliberately not answering phone calls). While this criminal activity is nothing short of outrageous, I assume it is an aberration. It is, however, connected to a bigger problem.

Aside: Ms. Thomas reveals her somewhat casual attitude toward accuracy when she bills the arrested desperados as "politically active students". After reading the NYT article she links, it's pretty clear that they aren't current students. Still, I suppose if you're pitching an article to Inside Higher Ed, it helps if you can make that connection, even if you have to fudge a bit.

But, for better or worse, the legal system will determine the fate of James O'Keefe and his merry men. So what's the "bigger problem" that has Ms. Thomas so hot and bothered? Turns out, it's free speech:

These students [sic] are part of an organized group of conservative students whose tactics are already well-known on many college campuses: selling cookies at reduced rates to women and students-of-color in protest of affirmative action; sneaking video cameras into classrooms and campus forums and posting out-of-context excerpts, often anonymously, as evidence of liberal indoctrination on campus; hosting a gun raffle; researching and publicizing campaign contributions of faculty members and staff. High jinks? Really? Check the campusreform.org Web site, which advises, "Why take action? Because it will shock your opposition." Is that why activism matters, to shock and discourage others? Are faculty members and other students "the opposition?"

Why, it's nothing less than the college division of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy! But, other than that, what's the problem?

We need to be clear about what these acts are: attention-seeking tactics that intimidate faculty, students, and guest speakers, distort facts, reduce public issues to simplistic sound-bites, and inhibit the thoughtful exchange of ideas and deliberation, both in and out of the classroom. The students named in the Times are not trying to offset liberal bias - they are trying to prevent learning and chill, if not stop, civil discourse.

Gee, attention-seeking tactics? So what?

But other than that, what can we pull out of this hodgepodge of unsupported assertions?

  1. Ms. Thomas imagines that there are ideal rules for the Marketplace of Ideas, University Subsection.

  2. Under those rules, participants would never be "intimidated"; no facts would ever be "distorted"; nothing would be "simplistic"; everything would be "thoughtful" and "civil"; "learning" would ensue;

  3. All we need to do is to stop those guys from violating the rules;

  4. And Ms. Thomas, and her like-minded ilk, will be the happy enforcers.

In other words, the typical academic excuses for suppressing inconvenient/impolite exercise of speech. No problem, there, right?

Recently, everyday citizens, columnists (including Tom Friedman, also in the Times), newspaper editors, and President Obama have amplified their call for the end of partisan gamesmanship and tactics that promote vitriol, conflict, and stalemates at the national level. It's time that colleges and universities demand the same of their students.

The link is to a recent Thomas J. Friedman column where he wistfully points out China's "authoritarian decision-making process that is capable of making tough choices". Just the role model we need for University free-speech referees! Who, Ms. Thomas advocates, will "demand" certain behavior from their subjects if they dare to exercise their Constitutional rights.

Ms. Johnson then confidently intones:

We know what we should do:

… and then lists three vague, jargon-laden, feelgood proposals under which her ideal acceptable college-based "public discourse" can occur. Not coincidentally, I imagine, all three involve greater job opportunities for people like Nancy Thomas: creating "structured learning opportunities"; setting up "certificate programs", "summer institutes", etc.; dragooning members of the "broader community" into "discussions about pressing issues." But (above all) ensuring that no "high jinks" break out.

Initial link is via Phi Beta Cons, where David French nicely rebuts Ms. Thomas's article.

Note: although Nancy Thomas is billed as directing "the Democracy Imperative at the University of New Hampshire", that apparently doesn't involve any kind of ongoing physical on-campus presence.

The Democracy Imperative's website, hosted on UNH servers, is here. If you would like to rot your brain in an effort to find out …

… well, they seem to talk to each other. A lot. They meet. They present. They make bunches of bulleted lists. But, above all, they write: paragraph after paragraph of self-important word-stuffed gasbaggery that will leave you less informed after reading it. Check it out!

On the site's home page, you'll read:

Our mission has changed! We dropped “deliberative” from our tag line and mission statement. To learn why, click here

Oh my! What was the reasoning behind that momentous decision? At the link, you'll read a few hundred words… and still not know exactly why. Apparently it was holding them back from doing something they decided they wanted to do? Maybe.

Periodically, we send out notices about a “teachable moment” in the news and we suggest you convene dialogues about that topic (e.g., the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance reform). We do that not only because we want to encourage dialogue. We do it because we think the ruling (in this case) is very, very bad for democracy. So we’re advocating for a position.

It's not particularly surprising that Ms. Thomas (who, as near as I can tell, is the "we" in the quoted paragraph) disapproves of the outcome of Citizens United. As evidenced by her article, she doesn't see the First Amendment as one of the cornerstones of democracy; instead it's an inconvenience to be ignored when the wrong people use it in ways of which she disapproves.


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:17 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Fame is a Fickle Food

… upon a shifting plate:

  • The Club for Growth blog notes inconsistency in NH Senator Judd Gregg's position on the so-called "individual mandate" for health care insurance. Apparently he was for it before he was against it. And now he may be for it again. Might be time to send him a letter.

  • But Judd's on his way home after his current term, which has set up a mad scramble on the GOP side to replace him. (The Democrats seem have to have settled on 2nd District Congressman Paul Hodes.) Drew Cline analyzes the recent polling by the Survey Center of the University Near Here, and finds that things are looking pretty good for the Republicans to retain the Senate seat and also to switch NH's two House seats from Blue back to Red. Unless they screw it up, an ever-possible development.

    Or maybe they're just trying to cheer me up. If you like your polling data raw, the Survey Center's 49 page PDF report is here.

  • Dana Milbank of the Washington Post draws attention to recent remarks by President Obama:
    "Bipartisan cannot mean simply that Democrats give up everything that they believe in, find the handful of things that Republicans have been advocating for and we do those things," he told reporters at an unscheduled news conference. "That's certainly not how it works in my marriage with Michelle -- although I usually do give in, most of the time."
    Believe me, Mr. President: that's not an analogy you want to make. The Mrs. won't be flattered by the comparison. And nearly every Republican will be making an off-color guess about about what you want to do to them in the name of "bipartisanship".

  • Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, thinks global warming causes earthquakes and tsunamis. She also thinks Sarah Palin is stupid.


Bookmark and Share

When Free Money Isn't

Or: When Stimulus Funds Don't.

Adam Leech reports in the Portsmouth Herald that local officials have turned down "free money" from the federal government, because building a new water treatment plant with stimulus funds will be too expensive.
Major cost-boosting items when you accept "stimulus" funds are the Davis-Bacon "prevailing wage" requirement and "Buy American" requirement. And then the extra administration cost in reporting "jobs saved or created" back to the Feds…

Heckuva job, Washington.


Bookmark and Share

Turn Up the Eagles

… the neighbors are listening:

  • I was sure I was mishearing those lyrics, and we'd all have a good laugh when I found out what they really were. But as it turns out

    I never really thought of the Eagles and Steely Dan as inhabiting the same universe.

  • Ace Associated Press reporter Emily Fredrix reports on the Super Bowl ads. Only problem is, notes John Hinderaker, Emily was kind of making stuff up.

  • Ann Althouse has a lot of funny stuff about the Super Bowl ads, but here she echoed something I've thought about quite a bit too, sparked in this instance by the Who at halftime:
    This is a music act from 40+ years ago. Imagine if in the first Super Bowl, in 1967, the half-time show featured musicians who peaked in 1927. No. It's not imaginable. The strange dominance of My Generation is unfathomable.
    "How do you think he does it?" "I don't know."

  • A word I will try to work into the next buzzword-laden management meeting I'm roped into attending: mistakeholders.

  • On a related note, scientists are verifying something I've always believed: you really can be bored to death.


Bookmark and Share

Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto

[Amazon Link]

I'm a bit ashamed to admit this is the first book I've read by Mark Helprin; his name haunts most of the "Books All Good Conservatives Should Read" lists, including this recent one at National Review. But—hey!—I'd heard of him, and I'd noted some reviews of Digital Barbarism; so when I spied it in the New Book stacks at the library of the University Near Here, I grabbed it.

The tone is set immediately, in the book's preface, page xi, sentence one:

Even were this book to begin in medias res, which, as an essay-memoir, it does not, a reader might benefit from a brief guide to the terrain it covers.
In medias res? Really? Helprin, to say the least, does not talk down to his readers. And it's not a book you can breeze through; Helprin's prose is dense, filled with literary allusions, historical references, and gratuitous snippets of non-English that (I'm pretty sure) smarter people than me will stumble over.

But (in a sense) the book really does begin in medias res. (Hey, look it up; I did.) It's at least round three in an ongoing debate between Helprin and (generally) the enemies of intellectual property and (specifically) Lawrence Lessig and the Creative Commons bunch. It was sparked back in 2007, when Helprin wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, where he argued for an extension of copyright terms beyond the current 70 years past the death of the author. This unleashed a firestorm against Helprin.

Part of the problem was the NYT's headline: "A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn’t Its Copyright?". Helprin notes that, as a Constitutionalist, he agrees with the notion of a finite copyright period; he just was advocating its extension beyond 70 years. But that wasn't all:

It would perhaps have been comforting that the Times's inaccurate choice was the face that launched three-quarters of a million protests, but it wasn't. Certainly, a large number of people read just the title and then proceeded happily to vent their rage, but, in Lewis Carollian twilight, even those "analysts" who purported to have read the text, and those who actually did read it, read into it what was not there, and based their arguments, rebuttals, and abuse on something that did not exist, as if the didn't really need a text to set them off, which they didn't, although they said they did, because that, anyway, used to be the custom.
This effect will not be unfamiliar to anyone who's written something controversial in a place where it can be read, and commented upon, by any idiot with a keyboard. And it was more than just plain misreading: one thread of commenters seized upon the fact that Helprin's novel Winter's Tale was based upon Shakespeare's play The Winter's Tale; if Helprin advocated perpetual copyright, how does he have the nerve, the sheer gall to leapfrog off another writer's work like that?

Only problem, as Helprin points out: despite the similarity in title, his novel didn't have anything to do with the play. But that didn't stop the bloggers…

So I'm inclined to side with Helprin, but the book is not really the defense of copyright, let alone intellectual property generally, that the topic deserves. You can see part of the problem from the quoted paragraph above. As accurate and well-written as it is, it's not much of an argument to point out that a lot of your opponents make stupid arguments.

Helprin bills this book as an "essay-memoir". The memoir parts are interesting, and (unsurprisingly) well-written. But they can distract from the fact that the essay bits are unfocused and incomplete. I can recommend the book as a good read (but not light reading).

Over at the Technology Liberation Front, Adam Thierer reprints his review of Digital Barbarism (which I find on-target), and also provides a feast of links for the interested.


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:15 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Zombieland

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

Mrs. Salad's six-word review of Zombieland: "Shoot, shoot, shoot. Gnaw, gnaw, gnaw." That's pretty accurate; I liked it a lot better than she did, but your mileage may vary; you probably have to have a high threshhold for gore, violence, and bad language.

The film's protagonist is "Columbus", a likeable nerd who has somehow survived the zombie apocalypse by meticulously discovering and following a long list of rules. (The role is played by Jesse Eisenberg, who I found whiny in Adventureland; he's much better here.) Columbus forms an unlikely partnership with "Tallahassee", played by Woody Harrelson. Tallahassee's goals differ slightly: he's out to kill as many zombies as possible, and also to satisfy a craving he's developed for Twinkies.

Soon Columbus and Tallahassee encounter two young unzombified ladies, "Wichita" and "Little Rock" (Emma Stone, and Little Miss Sunshine herself, Abigail Breslin.) They form an unstable partnership as well.

Everything is pretty much played for laughs here, and much of the dialog is clever and funny. (A considerable amount is not clever, but still funny.) A number of commenters/reviewers note that it's like an Americanized Shaun of the Dead, and that's about right.

There's a wonderful cameo performance midway through the movie that I will not spoil. But the actor involved cements my opinion of him as a massive good sport.


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:15 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

I Grow Old … I Grow Old …

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled:

  • Well, here's some encouraging news. Blogging is for old people, Pew report finds.
    Teenagers and young adults spent less time blogging during the past three years as social networks like Facebook became more popular, according to a Pew Research Center study released Wednesday.
    I'd love to delve into that in more detail, but I'm spending a lot of time composing an upcoming blog post comparing Lawrence Welk with Guy Lombardo. (Via Granite Geek.)

  • … which makes this article all the more poignant:
    PALO ALTO, CA—Alzheimer's researchers at Stanford University published a study this week showing that the degenerative brain disease is beginning to affect the baby boomer generation, causing many to remember the 1960s even less accurately than they normally would.

  • Dave Barry pens a helpful guide for people visiting Miami for the Super Bowl:
    Dear Super Bowl Visitor:

    Welcome to Miami! Get ready for a fun Super Bowl week, because you're going to see some serious partying ``Miami Style'' -- people eating, drinking, singing, shouting, fighting, discharging firearms, sacrificing animals, sinking motor yachts and dancing naked around burning buses. And those are our police officers.

    Go Saints! Or Colts! I don't care! I'm just hoping Pete Townshend makes it through halftime without breaking a hip.

  • But not everyone is happy to see Pete:
    Florida-based "Protect Our Children" wants the NFL to reconsider letting "The Who" perform, and even sent 1,500 "sex offender advisory" postcards to homes and schools, warning residents to watch out for Townshend.
    … and also Cousin Kevin.

  • A funny-yet-serious post from Steve Landsburg, who remembers…
    Congressman Donald Schwerbitz, who represented South Dakota back in the 1960s and 70s, was a visionary environmentalist who sponsored the first legislation designed to reduce our national carbon footprint. It was Congressman Schwerbitz who recognized that carbon emissions are caused primarily by breathing, and he proposed to cut those emissions in half by requiring every American to wear a device that plugs up one nostril.
    Steve notes that the Schwerbitz spirit is still alive and well today, and writing op-eds in the Washington Post.


Bookmark and Share

Granite State Barackrobatics

President Obama came up to Nashua, NH yesterday. You may have heard about his slam at Las Vegas.

During the president's town hall meeting in Nashua, New Hampshire, he discussed the need to curb spending during tough economic times. "When times are tough, you tighten your belts," the president said. "You don't go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don't blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you're trying to save for college."
(For all I know, when he's in Nevada, he tells people there not to go to New Hampshire.)

But this remark irked me:

Now, if you hear some of the critics, they'll say, well, the Recovery Act, I don't know if that's really worked, because we still have high unemployment. But what they fail to understand is that every economist, from the left and the right, have said because of the Recovery Act, what we've started to see is at least a couple of million jobs that have either been created or would have been lost.
Yes, he's back to the whole "jobs created or saved" bit, and upping the ante—note the clever use of gambling terms here—by claiming that this is a number every economist ("from the left and the right") has supported.

As Mark Steyn wrote a few days back: "Presumably, the president isn't stupid enough actually to believe what he said. But it's dispiriting to discover he's stupid enough to think we're stupid enough to believe it."

  • Barely over a week ago, three different White House advisers gave three different estimates of jobs "created or saved" by the Recovery Act. These were people working for Obama who couldn't even present a consistent story. Is it likely that independent economists would do a better job?

  • As I type, even Obama's own Recovery.gov website is only reporting 599,108 jobs "funded" by the Recovery Act. And (as Jake Tapper of ABC News pointed out) they are using a more generous estimate than the "created or saved" criteria.
    [I]f the project is being funded with stimulus dollars – even if the person worked at that company or organization before and will work the same place afterwards – that’s a stimulus job.
    (Tapper's piece, by the way, was meant to note the passing of the widely ridiculed "jobs created or saved" formulation, based on the recommendation of OMB Director Peter Orszag. But, as noted, Obama is still using it.)

  • It's pretty easy to find economists who haven't swilled from this particular jug of Kool-Aid:
    “Government job creation is an oxymoron,” said Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist at the National Federation of Independent Business. It is only by depriving the private sector of funds that government can hire or subsidize hiring.

    That’s why “jobs created or saved” is such pure fiction. It ignores what’s unseen, as our old friend Frederic Bastiat explained so eloquently 160 years ago in an essay.

  • Also see Jacob Sullum:
    [S]chool districts (the main source of the jobs that were formerly described as "created or saved") can simply divide their federal money by the quarterly compensation for teachers and report the result as jobs "funded" by the Recovery Act, even if no teachers would have been laid off in the abence of the money. If a public housing authority uses stimulus money to replace windows in one of its apartment complexes, and the project involves three guys from Ace Windows and Doors working full-time for a month, that counts as a job for that quarter, even if all of the guys would have been employed without this particular contract—and even if the housing authority would have replaced the windows without the federal grant. It also sounds like it is now officially OK to count raises for existing employees as jobs, as a number of recipents erroneously did last time around.

I could keep going, but it's shooting fish in a barrel. Obama's claims are nonsense. Obama knows they're nonsense. He's making them anyway. What does that say about him?

Bookmark and Share

Monkey Business

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

As you'll notice, the DVD publishers consider Marilyn Monroe the selling point here, putting her, um, profile on the box. (I guess that's two selling points. Ha!) But there are three bigger reasons that will snag classic movie lovers: it has (1) Cary Grant and (2) Ginger Rogers. And it's directed by (3) Howard Hawks. Marilyn is pretty good here, but hers is a minor role.

Cary and Ginger play Barnaby and Edwina Fulton, a staid and respectable middle-aged couple. Barnaby, a scientist, is preoccupied to the point of absent-mindedness over his current research: a drug he hopes will reverse the vicissitudes of aging. Oxley, his boss, is eager to market it as a fountain-of-youth potion. Marilyn plays Miss Laurel, Oxley's scatterbrained secretary, not hired for her typing skills. (When Barnaby remarks that she's come to work early, she replies: "Mr. Oxley's been complaining about my punctuation, so I'm careful to get here before nine.")

They're testing on chimps; in a very amusing scene, one of the monkeys gets loose and, undetected, mixes together a random collection of ingredients and dumps it in the water cooler; this actually happens to work. Soon Barnaby is acting much younger than his age, carrying on with Miss Laurel. It's a hoot. In fact, it gets to be a trifle too silly for me, which means that it will peg the meter for many.

I hear you asking: does Ginger Rogers have a dancing scene? Yes, she does, dragging Cary Grant around the floor. He's no Astaire.

Also: this may be the single best acting performance by a chimpanzee I've ever seen.


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:14 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Before You Accuse Me

… take a look at yourself:

  • Reason gives us Obama's Doublethink Doubletalk. Or as Pun Salad likes to call it, Barackrobatics:

  • I've never been a fan of "It's the X, stupid" construction. So I'll instead summarize Steve Landsburg's illuminating blog post this way: It's the spending, you attractive, intelligent, and amusing person, you.
    This is why it's so frustrating to hear talk of blue ribbon commissions assigned to the task of "debt reduction". "Debt reduction" can mean less spending, or more taxes, or some combination thereof. But to raise taxes solely for the purpose of debt reduction is to mask the problem, not to solve it. Debt is not the problem; spending is. Hysteria about the debt is misdirection.

  • Read the above link before you go to Keith Hennessey's analysis of President Obama's proposed budget. Keith has produced excellent graphs (both more revealing and prettier than mine), but the point is the same: Obama proposes a massive and permanent increase in Federal spending as a share of the total economy. No shock, unless you were actually taking his rhetoric seriously.

  • Also with great graphics is the New York Times: a historical look at how projections compared with reality when it comes to the deficit, and a sobering look at where the money goes.


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:14 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Designing Woman

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

Here's the problem: for me, Gregory Peck is Horatio Hornblower; Atticus Finch; Captain Ahab; Marlowe in The Guns of Navarone; and so on. So I have a hard time believing him in this role: New York City sportswriter Mike Hagen. He's not bad, mind you. But…

While in California, Mike meets Marilla (Lauren Bacall). They are mutually smitten and tie the knot. But the joke is that they really don't know that much about each other. Mike is a regular joe, immersed in the sports world, while Marilla is a fashion designer, with plenty of high society friends. That might be enough conflict for a plot right there, but (a) Mike, for some reason, finds it necessary to lie incessantly to Marilla about his previous girlfriend; (b) Mike's also writing about a local mobster's influence in the boxing scene, and the mobster's none too pleased. All these things work themselves out eventually, but it takes awhile.

It's not dreadful, but a lot of the jokes fall flat. Goodies: Jesse White, the lonely Maytag repairman, as a snitch! Edward Platt, the Chief himself, as the gangster irked with Mike! And Chuck Connors as one of his henchmen!


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:13 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share

Pretty Pictures of the Federal Budget (FY 2011 Version)

The Federal Budget for Fiscal Year 2011 came out today. We continue the tradition (because we've done it before, in 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2009) of producing some simple graphs from the tables provided.

Here's a graph of Federal receipts and outlays since 1977, expressed as percent of GDP; post-2009 numbers are estimates:

[In and Out]

Here's what that works out to in terms of deficit spending:

[Usually More Out]

Click on the graphs for their fullsize versions. Data is here (snipped from Table 1.2 on this page) and my Gnuplot script is here. If you'd like to see the data extended back to 1930: here's the receipt/outlays graph and here's the deficit graph.

Standard disclaimer: if you're thinking this is simple-minded, you're right. In my defense, the percent-of-GDP seems appropriate for historical comparison; it seems to be (arguably) a good measure of what we can "afford"; and, if you believe deficits "damage the economy", then it's a pretty good proxy for the level of damage.

Observations:

  • Good news: FY2010 outlays are predicted to be "only" 25.4% of GDP; last year's estimate for FY2010 outlays was 27.7% of GDP.

  • That's only good news if you're an idiot. 25.4% of GDP is still the highest outlay level since 1945. (As recently as FY2007 it was only 20.7% of GDP.)

  • FY2011 spending is projected to only shrink slightly below FY2010: 25.1%.

  • FY2009 and (predicted) FY2010 receipts are 14.8% of GDP, the lowest level since 1950;

  • The deficit is estimated to peak at 10.6% of GDP in FY2010, also the highest it's been since 1945. (As recently as FY2007 it was 1.2% of GDP.)

Some other random comments and URLs:

  • Daniel J. Mitchell at Cato:
    The bad news is that federal government outlays only consumed 18.2 percent of economic output when Bush took office. In other words, […] the size and scope of government has increased dramatically since 2001. The worse news is that the long-run spending forecasts show a cataclysmic expansion in the burden of government. The "optimistic" estimate is that the federal government will consume more than 30 percent of GDP by 2050 and 40 percent of GDP by 2080.
    And the even worse news is: anyone who has been paying attention will not find this surprising at all.

  • Also at Cato, Tad DeHaven piles on:
    Just like Bush, the president proposes minuscule savings through a small number of program terminations and reductions. But overall spending continues to rise, and in a $3.8 trillion budget the president's disingenuous attempt to "cut" anything amounts to little more than a rounding error. The president also proposes to freeze non-security discretionary spending for three years, which he falsely claims will "help put our country on fiscally sustainable path." In reality, last year's stimulus and appropriations spending binge will mean actual outlays for this tiny portion of the overall budget will still be higher than what Obama inherited.
    Quibble: Cato folks don't like Dubya's fiscal policy much, but the deficit in FY2007 really was 1.2% of GDP. I'd be pretty happy to trade that number for today's.

See you next year. I hope.

Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:13 PM EDT
Bookmark and Share