Gonna Strike All the Big Red Words

… from my little black book:

  • Lore Sjöberg discusses what the Library of Congress did and did not say in their recent intellectual property ruling. The article leads off with:

    [FBI Warning]

    … which, appropriately enough, I filched off the Wired site. Hey, I'm a subscriber, so it's like totally fair use, man…

  • The Survey Center of the University Near Here released its recent polling for the New Hampshire Congressional and Senate races. Summary:

    • Democrat Congresswoman/Toothache Carol Shea-Porter outpolled Republicans Frank Guinta by 5%, Sean Mahoney by 9%, Rick Ashooh by 8%, and Bob Bestani by 11%.

    • In the Other District, sorta-Republican Charlie Bass leads Democrats Ann McLane Kuster by 18%, and Katrina Swett by 17%. Jennifer Horn leads Kuster by 2% and Swett by 4%.

    • In the Senate race, Republican Kelly Ayotte leads Democrat Paul Hodes by 8%; Bill Binnie leads Hodes by 3%. Hodes (on the other hand) leads Ovide Lamontagne by 6%.

    Follow the links for details. For Shea-Porterphobes like me, head pollster Andy Smith provides a reason to not slit our wrists just yet:
    It is important to point out that Shea-Porter does not break 50% against any of her challengers, a critical indicator of weakness for a Congressional incumbent.
    And if you're looking for a grain of salt, here it is: the UNH pollsters had Barack Obama beating Hillary Clinton by 9% in their final poll released the day before 2008's New Hampshire Presidential Primary. Hillary wound up winning by 2.6%.

  • Genius law professor Eugene Volokh notes a sentence from President Obama's recent remarks to the National Urban League:
    We should all make more of an effort to discuss with one another, in a truthful and mature and responsible way, the divides that still exist -- the discrimination that's still out there, the prejudices that still hold us back -- a discussion that needs to take place not on cable TV, not just through a bunch of academic symposia or fancy commissions or panels, not through political posturing, but around kitchen tables, and water coolers, and church basements, and in our schools, and with our kids all across the country.
    … and notes that you would have to be either an idiot or a lunatic to attempt an honest discussion of race around your workplace water cooler. If you don't know why, click on over there for some free legal advice.

  • Chewbacca fights Nazis while riding mutant squirrel. That is all.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:58 AM EDT

A Town Called Panic

[2.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Maybe it's me. Netflix again predicts I'll adore a movie. In this case, "based on your interest in Annie Hall, Being John Malkovich and The Big Lebowski". I liked those movies a lot, still do, but this one not so much.

It is stop-motion animation, with plastic figurine characters acting in imaginative surroundings. (Also: they speak French, albeit with English subtitles.) The primary characters are "Cowboy", "Indian", and "Horse". Cowboy and Indian want to build a barbecue pit for Horse's birthday; unfortunately, a stuck zero on their computer's keyboard causes them to buy 50 million bricks instead of the desired 50. This sets off a chain of bizarre adventures.

Normally, I don't mind "bizarre". But in this case, it seems that the script was co-written by a four-year-old who may have gotten into the family Chardonnay. Imagination is great, but you have to make me care, at least a little; that didn't happen here.

I could be wrong: this guy at the Kansas City Star says that the movie "at first smacks of childlike chaos" Agreed. But also claims it eventually "segues into subversive sophistication." If so, I missed it. I'm more like this guy at the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "I watched "A Town Called Panic" without the assistance of any controlled substances, and that might be why I hated it."

One neat thing: little homages to other animated features, like Wall·E and Finding Nemo. But they made me wish I was watching those instead.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:58 AM EDT

Scott Adams: Smart, Then Stupid

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, starts a recent blog post very smartly:

One of the biggest problems with the world is that we're bound by so many legacy systems. For example, it's hard to deal with global warming because there are so many entrenched interests. It's problematic to get power from where it can best be generated to where people live. The tax system is a mess. Banking is a hodgepodge of regulations and products glued together. I could go on. The point is that anything that has been around for awhile is a complicated and inconvenient mess compared to what its ideal form could be.

Very true! Very perceptive! I'm in the middle of reading Mancur Olson's 1982 book The Rise and Decline of Nations (since it was recommended by Mitch Daniels), and it makes a similar point.

Even better, Adams continues with what might be an excellent idea:

My idea for today is that established nations could launch startup countries within their own borders, free of all the legacy restrictions in the parent country.

But unfortunately, in the very next sentence he goes and ruins things:

The startup country, let's say the size of modern day Israel, would be designed from the ground up for efficiency. …

Rats. Right off the rails. As we continue, it's apparent that he's not really talking about "from the ground up" design at all. Instead it's top-down—based on Adams' notions, whims, and overweening hubris—and relatively totalitarian. Sample:

The Fire Department would be tiny. You can design modern homes to be virtually fireproof. And let's say cigarettes are banned, because we can, to further reduce the fire risk.

In my book The Dilbert Future I imagined a world with cameras in every room, and on every street corner, recording all the time, but encrypted so that literally no one could view the video without a court order. You wouldn't need much of a police force in that scenario because every crime would be on video, along with the entire escape route, all the way to the criminal's bedroom. Maybe that's too Big Brother for you, but if you reflect on how much privacy you've already given up to technology, it's not that much of a stretch.

That's just a blurb; Adams' post contains many more constraints and stipulations that sacrifice liberty and privacy to the goal of imagined "efficiency." Unsurprisingly, a few of his commenters refer to The Prisoner. And not in a complimentary way.

Coincidentally, Thomas Sowell touched on this mentality in a recent column:

Many of the wonderful-sounding ideas that have been tried as government policies have failed disastrously. Because so few people bother to study history, often the same ideas and policies have been tried again, either in another country or in the same country at a later time -- and with the same disastrous results.

One of the ideas that has proved to be almost impervious to evidence is the idea that wise and far-sighted people need to take control, and plan economic and social policies so that there will be a rational and just order, rather than chaos resulting from things being allowed to take their own course. It sounds so logical and plausible that demanding hard evidence would seem almost like nit-picking.

Adams imagines himself to be one of those "wise and far-sighted" people to which Sowell refers, of course. Although Adams proposes that his "startup countries" would "test a lot of concepts for building, banking, economy, energy, and lifestyle", he doesn't seem to notice that his grand "design" would preclude much, if not all, of the "testing" by pre-deciding most of the concepts. Adams is oblivious to the dynamism that results when free people are "allowed to take their own course."

So, Scott: good idea, but the implementation is straight from the brain of a pointy-haired boss.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:58 AM EDT

I'm Shocked, Shocked

… to find that gambling is going on in here:

  • GM announced their electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt, will cost $41K. It will compete with the Nissan Leaf, which starts at a bit under $33K. The Washington Post story has this bit of euphemism:

    GM and Nissan are relying on a $7,500 federal tax credit for buyers of electric vehicles to offset some of the added cost [over similarly-sized conventional autos] …

    Translation: I, and probably you, will be involuntarily shouldering a significant fraction of the buyer's cost for these vehicles. And I bet that not one of the proud new owners will give us even a single ride to the airport in return. Jerks.

  • If you were depressed by the report we mentioned yesterday showing Kelly Ayotte's lead against Paul Hodes shrinking in the last few months, blaming Sarah Palin for the erosion, check out Indispensible Jim Geraghty for some cheering up.

  • Jen Rubin is cheered but chastened by the defeat-for-now of the "nefarious" free-speech-quelching DISCLOSE act. Chastened, because it was far closer than it should have been:

    This, I think, should alarm and not reassure us. The name of the game for far too many elected liberals is to game the system, tip the scales, and trample on the rights of their opponents. It is the same mentality we see when a Senate candidate tries to take down perfectly reasonable ads that raise unpleasant facts about his record. Rather than debate and employ more speech, it has become too common among liberals wary of the wrath of voters to tell everyone else to shut up. It is the same mentality that causes Democratic congressional leadership to vilify and sneer at fellow citizens and label them un-American for exercising basic rights of assembly and speech on the most hotly debated legislation (ObamaCare) of the moment. It is the same mentality that motivates the White House to ostracize a news organization critical of its performance.

  • Politico notes that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is succumbing to the obvious, adding both New Hampshire seats to the list it plans on spending to protect. Key quote to brighten my day:

    The committee is also adding several endangered Democratic incumbents to its list of ad reservations, including […] New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.

    It's good news and bad news, of course: it means the race is probably not a slam-dunk for either side.

    Local broadcast TV is already near-unwatchable for all the stupid political ads, my wastebaskets are overflowing with daily political junkmail, I'm starting to get robo-phone calls, and (fearless prediction) it's going to get much, much worse over the next 97 days.

    Still, that's the First Amendment for ya. And I'm still a fan.

  • The "geez, I'm old" observation du jour: I went to the 1964 World's Fair in New York. Did you know that there's a World's Fair going on right now in Shanghai? Neither did I, but Virginia Postrel did, and she has more at her blog.

  • And I don't know how many readers are both (a) Isaac Asimov fans and (b) web server geeks, but if you're in the intersection of that particular Venn diagram, I can almost guarantee you'll get a chuckle from http://www.last.fm/robots.txt. (Via BBspot.)


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:57 AM EDT

I Came To Casablanca For the Waters

… I was misinformed:

  • As I type, it's looking like the "DISCLOSE" campaign finance bill will be successfully filibustered in the Senate. Bradley Smith reminds us why that's good news.

    President Obama [claimed] that the bill is simply about disclosure.

    "Nobody is saying you can't run the ads--just make sure that people know who in fact is behind financing these ads," he said.

    Actually, Democrats are saying you can't run the ads: if you're a company with a government contract of over $10 million (like more than half of the top 50 U.S. companies) or if you're a company with more than 20 percent foreign shareholders, you can't even mention a candidate in an ad for up to a full year before the election. What's remarkable is that these provisions would prohibit speech that was legal even before the Supreme Court decision. There are no similar prohibitions for unions representing government contractors or unions with foreign membership.

    Emphasis in original. Roger Pilon is also on target:
    But perhaps the greatest irony of all concerns the conflict of interest that pervades such legislation. Here we have a party that will assiduously sniff out any conceivable conflict of interest that a business might have calling for more regulations, the effect of which will make it harder for opponents to challenge their incumbency. Talk about a conflict of interest -- incumbents writing the rules under which challengers and their supporters may speak in upcoming elections. The First Amendment -- "Congress shall make no law ..." -- was written to prohibit that kind of self-dealing.
    Although the official DISCLOSE acronym is something else, Pun Salad continues to believe it really stands for "Democrat Incumbents S**t on Constitutional Liberties, Offer Sanctimonious Excuses".

  • The sharp-eared Geraghty chronicles another grating example of Barckrobatics, the defining moment.

  • Since I'm not a Twit, I missed Sarah Palin's "refudiate" scandal. But professional linguist Ben Zimmer does an admirable job of word exploration. Obviously, it's a word that needed to be invented.

    Should Sarah make a habit of freelance word-coinage, I'll need an equivalent of "Barackrobatics" for her. I'm leaning toward "Palintrope". What do you think?

  • The headline at the HuffPo (as I type) screams:
    Sarah Palin's Endorsement BACKFIRES
    It refers to a recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling in New Hampshire on the US Senate race, pitting Republican Kelly Ayotte against Democrat Paul Hodes. The linked article, however, is a little less definite:
    Sarah Palin's Endorsement Of Kelly Ayotte May Have Hurt Senate Candidate's Campaign (POLL)
    The pollster's press release has the actual numbers: Ayotte led Hodes in April 47-40%. This month's poll has her up 45-42%.

    The other two polls reported at Real Clear Politics show Ayotte with a 12-15% lead over Hodes. And PPP is a Democrat-affiliated outfit. So, grain of salt.

  • Every so often I feel the need to live up to my blog's title. So check out this "Surprising Excursion Through the Astonishing World of Math." (Via the Agitator.)

Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:56 AM EDT

R is for Ricochet

[Amazon Link]

My script for picking a book from my virtual to-be-read pile assigned me this Sue Grafton novel less than two weeks after I'd read the previous one; such are the whims of the underlying random number generator. That's OK, they're fun reads, especially for the summer.

Here, Ms. Grafton's hard-working female private eye, Kinsey Millhone, is hired by a rich old dude. His daughter Reba (slightly younger than Kinsey herself) is getting out of the state pen, where she's been serving time for embezzlement. Kinsey's job is to return her home, and perhaps look for signs of Reba's backsliding into bad old habits of drink, drugs, sluttishness, gambling, and even less legal activities.

Surprising herself somewhat, Kinsey develops an attachment to Reba, perhaps seeing a but-for-the-grace-of-God version of herself. And it develops that Reba may have been the fall gal for a nefarious scheme, duped by a smooth talking guy. Both Reba and Kinsey get roped into an ongoing investigation of shady dealings; but, amusingly, Reba has many fewer compunctions in hatching freelance schemes, and Kinsey finds herself along for the ride.

The soap-opera content is pretty high here: Kinsey's ancient landlord, Henry, is trying to begin a relationship with a younger woman he met on a cruise. Complication: his brothers horn in, threatening disaster. And, after a long dry spell, Kinsey gets some major romantic action on her own.

Quibble: if there actually was a "ricochet" in this book, I missed it. More appropiate titles would be R is for Revenge, or maybe R is for Recidivism.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:56 AM EDT

The Man in the White Suit

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

Yet another movie that I didn't like quite as much as I probably should have. But it's interesting as a picture of early-1950's England, and what they thought was funny back then.

Sir Alec Guiness plays amateur inventor Sidney Stratton; he is enraptured by his vision of using long-chain molecules to create indestructible and stainproof fabric. Unfortunately, he finances his research by surreptitiously diverting funds from his textile-mill employers. Unsurprisingly, he keeps getting sacked. Eventually, he acquires a champion in the headstrong daughter (Joan Greenwood) of a local mill-owner (Cecil Parker). Despite enough lab safety violations to keep a team of OSHA inspectors fully employed for years, Sid finally comes up with the miracle cloth.

Just in time for both the capitalistic mill-owners and their devoutly unionized employees to realize that their future prosperity depends on keeping Sid's invention suppressed. Hijinx ensue, but they're very British old-school hijinx, by which I mean they're not very funny.

Lileks likes to find Star Trek connections in the old movies he watches. I'm no Lileks, but I'll note the guy on the left in this picture (no, your left), puzzling over Sid's apparatus:

[Young Colin Gordon]

… turned into a prissy, but ultimately befuddled, Number 2 in The Prisoner a few years later:

[Older Colin Gordon]

That's Colin Gordon, veteran British scene-stealing actor.

Bottom line: a number of funny bits, Sir Alec is (of course) an extremely talented actor, but it didn't quite pull together for me.


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

Brimstone

[Amazon Link]

This was entry number three in Robert B. Parker's western series featuring hero partners Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. Sometimes you can come into the middle of a series and not miss much; that's not the case here. You really should have read Appaloosa and Resolution first.

As the book opens, Virgil and Everett are in search of Virgil's ex-sweetie, Allie French, who has skedaddled to parts of Texas unknown. No big deal, and I don't think it will spoil much to tell you that she's found by page 17, and rescued from her desperate situation by page 20. After that, it's off to the next adventure.

Which is a gig as lawmen in the town of Brimstone, an up-and-coming little place with plenty of saloons/whorehouses. The nicest one is run by Pike, an ex-desperado looking to go straight. There's also Brother Percival, a holy roller looking to shut down such places of iniquity. And, just to make things a little more complicated for our guys, a rogue Indian is on the rampage, killing man and beast, kidnapping and defiling women.

And Allie is still far from the ideal lifemate.

Robert B. Parker is sorely missed, and every book I read is a bittersweet reminder that there are only a few more in the pipeline.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 9:02 AM EDT

It's a Day In the Life

… In my mind I've seen it all:

  • Should we trust Senators Cornyn or McConnell on spending cuts? Find out in Kevin Williamson's NRO article, "Do Not Trust Cornyn or McConnell on Spending Cuts".

  • Anne Applebaum raises a good point:
    If you don't live in this country all of the time, and I don't, here is what you notice when you come home: Americans -- with their lawsuit culture, their safety obsession and, above all, their addiction to government spending programs -- demand more from their government than just about anybody else in the world. They don't simply want the government to keep the peace and create a level playing field. They want the government to ensure that every accident and every piece of bad luck is prevented, or that they are fully compensated in the event something goes wrong. And if the price of their house drops, they will hold the government responsible for that, too.
    I'd say that attitude is far from uniform among Americans. But unfortunately it only varies between "prevalent" and "way too prevalent".

  • On a related note, here's an exercise for the New Hampshire GOP-leaning voter. The major GOP candidates for the US Senate seat are Kelly Ayotte, Ovide Lamontagne, Bill Binnie, and Jim Bender. They are all outpolling the likely Democratic candidate Paul Hodes. Visit each website and try to find anything about entitlement spending.

    I can't. Can you? Let me know.

  • Similarly, the major GOP candidates aching for a chance at Carol Shea-Porter in NH Congressional District 1 are Frank Guinta, Sean Mahoney, Bob Bestani, and Rich Ashooh. Repeating the exercise, I'm coming up with a goose egg. How about you?

  • OK, I don't vote there, but how about NH Congressional District 2? It's pretty much Charlie Bass and Jennifer Horn, I think. I find nothing from Charlie, but…

    Whoa! Jennifer Horn has a Social Security item on her site. What does it say?

    Let me tell you about reform: I will oppose anything that cuts benefits. I will oppose anything that increases the retirement age. I am opposed to anything that will increase payroll taxes. We have to put something on the table that meets those three criteria.
    Um. I am not an economist, but everything I've seen on this issue tells me those three criteria are mathematically incompatible.

  • So in summary: 10 Republican candidates on an important issue: nine are silent, one glibly demands the impossible.

    I don't find that very encouraging.

  • Folks interested in history, math, and politics might want to check out E Pluribus Confusion, an article that looks at algorithms past and present for assigning Congressional seats "fairly" to each state. It's a surprisingly thorny problem, mostly because politicians are involved. (Via GeekPress, which isn't surprising at all.)


Last Modified 2011-01-04 12:04 PM EST

Zift

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

"Gosh," I said. "I really haven't seen any Bulgarian movies lately. Or, come to think of it, ever." And this came up with a decent predicted rating at Netflix, so…

The protagonist, "Moth", has been in the slammer since 1944; a murder was committed during a bungled jewel heist, and Moth, refusing to rat on the actual killer, took the fall. While he's imprisoned, the Commies take over the country. When he's released into Communist Bulgaria, circa 1965 or so, he is immediately plunged into a nightmarish world of torture, corruption, totalitarianism, and nudity. As it turns out, Moth's ungrateful partner in crime thinks Moth knows more than he's telling about the fate of a valuable jewel.

It's shot in glorious black and white, with different film resolutions signifying different eras. (IMDB says: "The scenes set in the 1960s were shot in 35mm, the scenes set in the 1940s were shot in 16mm, and the scenes set earlier than that were shot in 8mm.") Scenes set both in and out of jail are filled with bizarre, unsavory, and (mostly) unattractive characters; in fact, this movie makes the "People of Walmart" site look like the Miss America Pageant.

It's not for everyone, there's lots of violence, untitillating sex and nudity. And it's kind of a downer. But it's unique and held my interest. If your DVD player allows it, you might want to play it at 1.5x forward or so; you won't miss much.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:54 AM EDT

Intellectuals and Society

[Amazon Link]

Here's what became painfully obvious to me while reading this book. This blogger, and just about any blogger, could significantly increase blog quality by buying a whole bunch of Thomas Sowell books. Then, daily:

  1. Pick a book at random;
  2. Pick a page from that book at random;
  3. Type in a couple paragraphs into your blog, verbatim;
  4. There is no step four.

Here, Professor Sowell simmers "intellectuals" over a low flame for 317 pages. By "intellectuals", he means mainly lefties. (In paragraph 2 he dismisses "atypical" intellectuals like Milton Friedman and and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from the discussion.) The book is very much a continuation of the analysis he started in 1987's A Conflict of Visions, and continued in The Vision of the Anointed and The Quest for Cosmic Justice. This book stands on its own, though.

"An intellectual's work begins and ends with ideas," Sowell says. Although intellectuals are "smart", they don't use that intelligence to build bridges, run businesses, design spacecraft, or write computer programs. Disconnected from the concrete, enraptured by the inner beauty of their abstractions, they tend to believe that the sheer power of intellect can be brought to bear on "problems", and produce needed "solutions." And if problems go "unsolved", it only means that stupid or evil people were in charge. Arrogance and close-mindedness are nearly inevitable. They don't argue against contrary views; they ignore or deride them, with well-designed dismissive quips. They disparage the tacit practical knowledge of the experienced, and underestimate the coordinative power inherent in unplanned activities of self-interested individuals.

In other words: President Obama, this is your life.

Sowell shows how all this has played out through history in various arenas: war and foreign policy, economics, the justice system, academia, and the media. Let me take my own advice. Here's Sowell on the "verifiability" of the deconstructionist intellectuals' trade:

The standards by which engineers and financiers are judged are external standards, beyond the realm of ideas and beyond the control of their peers. An engineer whose bridges or buildings collapse is ruined, as is a financier who goes broke. However plausible or admirable their ideas might have seemed initially to their fellow engineers or fellow financiers, the proof of the pudding is ultimately in the eating. Their failure may well be registered in the declining esteem in their respective professions, but that is an effect, not a cause. Conversely, ides which might have seemed unpromising to their fellow engineers or fellow financiers can come to be accepted among those peers if the empirical success of the ideas becomes manifest. The same is true of scientists and athletic coaches. But the ultimate test of a deconstructionist's ideas is whether other deconstructionists find those ideas interesting, original, persuasive, elegant or ingenious. There is no external test.
Or on multiculturalism:
Like so many other nice-sounding notions, the multicultural ideology does not distinguish between an arbitrary definition and a verifiable proposition. That is, it does not distinguish between how one chooses to use words within one's own mind and the empirical validity of those words outside in the real world. Yet consequences, for both individuals and society, follow from mundane facts in the real world, not from definitions inside people's heads. Empirically, the question whether or not cultures are equal becomes: Equal in what demonstrable way? That question is seldom, if ever, asked, much less answered, by most of the intelligentsia.
Good stuff. Recommended.

Last Modified 2012-10-03 9:02 AM EDT

Tonight We Ride, Right Or Wrong

… tonight we sail, on a radio song:

  • Whoa. Sarah likes Kelly. It probably goes without saying that this gives Kelly Ayotte some conservative street cred that she was kind of weak on.

  • Many have noted the 180:

    1. President Obama vociferously denying in September 2009 that ObamaCare was a tax increase, in order to get it passed.
    2. The Obama Administration in July 2010 vociferously relying on the fact that ObamaCare is a tax increase, in order to defend its dubious constitutionality.

    See the definitive takedown from Matt Welch, who deems it "brazen bullshittery". Here at Pun Salad, it's just another episode of Barackrobatics.

  • Also at Reason, a wonderful interview with Mickey Kaus by Nick Gillespie. Mostly about immigration, but also about unions, the media, and how Mickey got the Velvet Underground to play his high school.

    I think California Democrats chose poorly in their primary.

  • The genius that is xkcd makes a devastating point about TI graphic calculators:

    [xkcd]

    Probably coincidentally: check out Slashdot on how TI is attempting to (um) discourage its calculators' owners from doing their own coding. Sounds suicidal to me.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:53 AM EDT

The Narrow Margin

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

A pretty good oldie, especially if you can enjoy hard-boiled dialog: "Oh, wake up, Brown. This train's headed straight for the cemetery. But there's another one coming along, a gravy train. Let's get on it." (Sounds like it could be a math problem: "The gravy train leaves Albuquerque at 8am at 80mph…")

That line is uttered by Marie Windsor, playing a mob widow. The train to which she refers is on its way from Chicago to L. A., where she's ostensibly due to testify in front of a grand jury. The mob wants to rub her out, and has sent a team onboard to accomplish that. Opposing them is the guy to which the line is offered, Detective Brown, played by Charles McGraw. Making things difficult for the mobsters: they don't know what the dame looks like.

The suspense level is high throughout, with unexpected humorous flashes. There's a big old plot twist, but it also opens up some big old plot holes. But you're not supposed to think too much about it. It was remade in 1990 with Gene Hackman.

I loved this bit from the IMDB trivia page:

Filmed in 1950, not released until 1952. According to director Richard Fleischer, when the film was finished RKO Pictures owner Howard Hughes heard good things about it and ordered that a copy of it be delivered to him so he could screen it in his private projection room. The film stayed in the projection room for more than a year, apparently because the eccentric Hughes forgot about it.
They don't make 'em like that any more. Either movies, or billionaires.

Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:53 AM EDT

Barackrobatics: Shovel-Ready

Back when President Obama was pushing for his stimulus package, he was all about the shovel-ready.

Meet the Press, December 7, 2008:

Well, I think we can get a lot of work done fast. When I met with the governors, all of them have projects that are shovel ready, that are going to require us to get the money out the door, but they've already lined up the projects and they can make them work.
Press Conference, December 16, 2008:
And my economic team, which I'm going to be meeting with today, is helping to shape what is going to be a bold agenda to create 2.5 million new jobs, to start helping states and local governments with shovel-ready projects, rebuilding our roads, our bridges, making sure that schools…
Quoted on CNN, December 18, 2008:
We've got shovel-ready projects all across the country. And governors and mayors are pleading to fund it. The minute we can get those investments to the state level, jobs are going to be created.
In Grand Junction, Colorado, August 15, 2009:
There are almost 100 shovel-ready transportation projects already approved in Colorado which are beginning to create jobs.
Relevant observation: those of us who've spent some quality time in barns or stables know that there's always "shovel ready" material there. Thanks to Mickey Kaus, who read The Promise by Jonathan Alter, we know what Obama was saying behind the scenes:
Obama said later that he learned that "one of the biggest lies in government is the idea of 'shovel-ready' projects." It turned out that only about $20 billion to $40 billion in construction contracts were truly ready to go. The rest were tied up in the endless contracting delays and bureaucratic hassles associated with building anything in America.
I suppose we need to know precise timing of when the President "learned" this to determine whether he was lying or just speaking out of inexperienced naïveté. Neither would surprise me. And as Mickey points out, the "shovel-ready" bullshit was used to misdirect billions that might have been more effectively used elsewhere, instead of shovelled into the stimulus-that-didn't.

Of course, everything the President's saying now is fine, just fine.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:51 AM EDT

Gonna Do Just What I Please

… gonna wear no socks and shoes:

  • The coveted Pun Salad "Read The Whole Thing" award for today goes to a particularly brilliant piece of satire: "The New York Times Algorithm & Why It Needs Government Regulation". (Via the Tech Lib Front, which all liberty-loving geeks should be reading too.)

  • Nobel Laureate Gary Becker is not a fan of the Dodd-Frank financial "reform" bill.
    A 2300 page bill is usually an indication of many political compromises. The Dodd-Frank financial reform bill is no exception, for it is a complex, disorderly, politically motivated, and not well thought out reaction to the financial crisis that erupted beginning with the panic of the fall of 2008. Not everything about the bill is bad-e.g., the requirement that various derivatives trade through exchanges may be a good suggestion- but the disturbing parts of the bill are far more important.
    Among Becker's gripes: the bill does nothing about Freddie and Fannie; it contains heavy new regulations on activities that had nothing to do with the crisis; it contains many provisions that "will have highly uncertain impacts on the economy."

    Could Dodd-Frank be the Smoot-Hawley of our day? Hope not. But maybe.

  • Our local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, page-ones a story about the little Carrie Nations inhabiting our region:
    A go-cart featuring Budweiser decals has been removed from the race course at Hilltop Fun Center after members of Youth to Youth waived the caution flag about its presence on the track.
    "Youth to Youth" is an organization with admirable goals:
    Youth to Youth's message is a clear cut "NO" to tobacco, alcohol, or any other drug at any time. Maturing teens need definitive guidelines.
    … but every time I read about them, they're not talking "to youth", but instead hectoring local businesses about something that's offended their callow sensibilities. Here's hoping they don't go to Fenway Park; they'll have a cow.

  • The good folks at New Hampshire Liberty Alliance have put together their report cards for Granite State legislators. My own legislators improved from "awful" to "mediocre", garnering a B-minus, a C-minus, two D-pluses, and an incomplete. (Last year: D-plus, a D, two D-minuses, and an F.)

    My state Senator, Amanda Merrill, improved from a D-minus last year to a gentlewoman's C.

  • It's a program, so you can believe it:

    feather
    I write like
    Dan Brown

    I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

    Submitting other paragraphs from Pun Salad gave significantly higher-brow answers: Nabokov, Joyce, and Margaret Atwood. But I went with the guy who makes the most moola, because that's the way I roll.


Last Modified 2010-07-17 7:05 AM EDT

There's Someone In My Head

… but it's not me:

  • Pun Salad tries hard to be skeptical of ominous warnings of scary government encroachments on liberty but at the Technology Liberation Front, Adam Thierer is… well, darn convincingly ominous:
    In the battle over media and communications freedom, no group poses a more serious threat to a free and independent press than the insultingly misnamed regulatory activist group Free Press. Along with their founders, the prolific neo-Marxist media theorist Robert W. McChesney and Nation correspondent John Nichols, Free Press has engaged in relentless agitation for a truly radical media and communications policy agenda, and their influence is now spreading throughout the Obama Administration.
    Long but scary. What Thierer and others call the "media reformistas" have serious plans to use government regulations and subsidies aggresively to transform the press into dependent and reliable allies in promoting their "progressive" vision.

  • Iowahawk unearths the ribald tale of "The Two Randy Vicars"
    It happened that in Washingtown-on-Beltway there once ministered to the shire folk two vicars of remarkable and resolute piety. Polite history shall record their names and peerages as the Reverend John St. Edwards, Lord Plaintiff of Durham, and the Reverend Albert des Gores II, Earl Carbonet of Greenhouse. It shall likewise note well that each man, in his fashion, was a virtuoso upon his respective pulpit. What it shan't record, however, is each man's slavish indenture to the base desires of the flesh. As every schoolboy knows, as well he does his Latin infinitives, few are those men whose breeches are immune to the Devil's disturbances. In the case of our two ill-fortuned subjects, Lucifer himself seemed to take particular delight in presenting ribald temptations and the debasing consequences that follow. Herein lies their tale.
    How does he do it?

  • Longer, but also hilarious, is Matt Labash's article/review concerning the new book 538 Ways to Live, Work, and Play Like a Liberal by Justin Krebs.
    Who is Justin Krebs, you ask? Only my sensei. My guru. The man who made plain that I had politics all wrong. I used to think along the lines of the British writer and publisher Ernest Benn that politics was "the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy." Thus, I had put my politics in my political box, and my life in my living box. When I should've placed all the contents in the same box--a much bigger, biodegradable one. (You can get them at Treecycle.com.)
    At Amazon, Krebs' work has garnered one review, five stars:
    Liberals complain about the 10 Commandments.

    And here are 538 new rules.

    I'm impressed!

  • Massachusetts has a semi-deserved reputation as the "People's Republic", so you might not expect that (in one respect) it's an exception to the usual practice of sports teams nuzzling aggressively for their spot on the government teat. Mark Yost in Monday's WSJ:
    Baseball fans will be tuning in for Tuesday's All Star Game, but as taxpayers they should be fuming. Nearly every one of the teams represented has gone to its local government and asked for hundreds of millions of dollars to build a gleaming new stadium.

    One of the few exceptions: the Boston Red Sox, who have taken Fenway Park, which turns 100 in 2012, and transformed it into one of the most fan-friendly ballparks in the country. Moreover, they've mostly done it within the historic confines of the original ballpark, kept ticket prices affordable and haven't taken a dime of taxpayer money. The net result is that the Red Sox still play in the smallest ballpark in baseball, have capped season-ticket sales at 20,000 seats out of about 40,000, and yet, according to Forbes magazine, remain the team with the third-highest revenue in all of baseball.

    Unfortunately, as I type, they're also in third place, five games back in the AL East.

    It should also be noted that other area teams aren't shy about asking for government money.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:51 AM EDT

North Face

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

In German, with English subtitles. No spoilers, but it ain't the feelgood movie of the year. It's based on historical events, and if you know your Alpine mountaineering history, you already know how it comes out.

In the mid-1930s, mountaineering teams are eager to climb the Eiger via the extremely difficult "north face". Don't ask me why: the Eiger isn't even close to being the tallest mountain in Europe, or even in Switzerland. And the summit had been reached decades before, from the west. Nevertheless, …

Two two-man teams set out on the attempt: one German (Toni and Andreas), one Austrian (Edi and Willy). Watching from the luxurious hotel in the valley below is Luise, a photographer who happens to be Toni's ex-girlfriend, and her boss Henry, a journalist hoping for either glorious triumph or heart-rending tragedy, not really caring which.

To call the attempt ill-fated would be an understatement. But the movie does a fine job of showing (and, in some cases, guessing) what happened; a few things are dinked for dramatic effect. The weirdest thing (for me) was absolutely true, however: a train tunnel went up inside the Eiger (and still does); you could ride in relative comfort up to a spot where, only a few meters away, the climbers faced deadly peril.

Consumer note: you'll note the swastika on the DVD box over there on the right (no, your right). The Nazi stuff is pretty minimal, other than some indication that having a German team be first up the north face would further pump up that old Deutschland Über Alles spirit we all loved back in the 1930s.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:51 AM EDT

Q is for Quarry

[Amazon Link]

Over the past few years, I've found myself fantasizing a macabre math problem when reading Sue Grafton books. Something like: "Paul is 59 years old and has finished reading Q is for Quarry. Sue is 70 years old and has written (so far) up to U is for Undertow. A is for Alibi was written in 1982. Paul started reading the series in 1984. What are the chances they both make it to Z?"

Here's hoping.

Here, Ms. Grafton's heroine private eye, Kinsey Millhone, takes on a seemingly hopeless case. Nearly twenty years back, the badly decomposed body of a girl was found in a Lompoc quarry; she was never identified, and eventually the investigation petered out. Kinsey teams up with two older policemen, at their request, to see if they can make any progress in this very cold case. (Of course, it wouldn't be much of a story if they didn't.)

Along the way, Kinsey deals with a number of frustrating dead ends. But eventually the trail leads to tiny Quorum, California. And things immediately got way too confusing for me, as about a dozen characters/suspects are introduced all at once. Fortunately, Kinsey can keep them straight, and leads things to a successful and satisfying solution. She also gets to show off her marksmanship.

As revealed in the author's afterword, the book is based on an real-life case. You can read about that on Ms. Grafton's website.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:50 AM EDT

If That Don't Suit Ya

… that's a drag:

  • Our local paper reports on thousands of "anti-school" bookmarks found in books at the Dover and Portsmouth Public Libraries, and also the library of the University Near Here. (SeacoastOnline had the story a few weeks ago.) The bookmarks advertised the School Sucks Project and Freedomain Radio, both hardcore libertarian organizations. One bookmark features an apocryphal Mark Twain quote: "Never let your schooling interfere with your education." To her credit, Dover librarian Cathy Beaudoin claims she would have also removed bookmarks that said "Stop the oil spill in the Gulf".

    My observations are pretty much commonplace: (1) The articles underplay the irony of piggybacking on government-supported institutions to get free advertising for one's libertarian cause. (2) It's amazing that the perpetrators of this bit of guerilla promotion managed to slip thousands of bookmarks into shelved items without any librarians noticing it was happening. (3) For the record: it wasn't me.

  • In semi-related news, our Sunday paper contained the first glossy notices of retailers' back-to-school sales. This brought forth an audible moan from the educator who lives with me. Too soon!

  • Now that the World Cup is over, have you stopped beating your wife?

  • Calvin and Jobs rates an offical Pun Salad "Heh!"

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

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

English translation of the title: The Big-Hearted Will Win the Bride. Or also: Don't Always Believe Netflix's Best Guess. More on that below.

Chaudhry Baldev Singh runs a convenience store in London, but he pines for his native land. One night he's particularly irritated at a young fellow Hindi, fun-loving Raj, who dupes him into selling a case of beer after he's closed up for the night.

But things take a turn for the better when he returns home: the arranged marriage of his lovely older daughter Simran has been in the works for years, and the groom's father has finally set a date; the whole family will return to India soon for the festivities. But Simran begs for one last favor from Daddy: can she take a train tour of Europe with her girlfriends? But of course.

And (also of course) Simran coincidentally meets Daddy-irritant Raj on the trip. He's immediately smitten with her, and after a series of comic misadventures, she returns his feelings. But what will happen to the arranged marriage? Hey, did you notice the title translation?

This movie won 8 Filmfare awards (India's Oscar-equivalent). IMDB claims that (as of 2007) it held the world record for theatrical release duration. So a lot of people like it.

However: Indian cinema is an acquired taste; Indian musicals even more so. And, sorry, I have not acquired it. I don't mean to be chauvinistic: it's just not my cup of Darjeeling.

It's over three hours long. By American standards, everybody overacts. And there are huge production numbers where the lead actors sing and dance; the lyrics may make perfect sense in Hindi, but the English translations, not so much. The womens' singing voices are uniformly screechy. The dance moves will not remind you of Fred Astaire, or even Busby Berkeley.

Netflix guessed that I would really like this, predicting a full four stars. Why? Because I liked It Happened One Night, Bend It Like Beckham, and … Where Eagles Dare. Yes, Where Eagles Dare, the tender romantic story of how Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton blow into a Bavarian castle during WW2, killing about three thousand Nazis. At a number of points while watching the movie I said to Mrs. Salad: "Yeah, this is just like Where Eagles Dare."

Finally: you've almost certainly seen the actor who plays Chaudhry Baldev Singh: he played the nasty thuggee priest, Mola Ram, in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Things work out slightly better for him here.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:50 AM EDT

Jive Talkin'

… you're telling me lies:

  • I am a huge Charles Krauthammer fan, and am totally in agreement with the spirit of his recent column about President Obama's narcissism. But in the following paragraphs:
    It began with the almost comical self-inflation of his presidential campaign, from the still inexplicable mass rally in Berlin in front of a Prussian victory column to the Greek columns framing him at the Democratic convention. And it carried into his presidency, from his posture of philosopher-king adjudicating between America's sins and the world's to his speeches marked by a spectacularly promiscuous use of the word "I."

    Notice, too, how Obama habitually refers to Cabinet members and other high government officials as "my" -- "my secretary of homeland security," "my national security team," "my ambassador." The more normal -- and respectful -- usage is to say "the," as in "the secretary of state." These are, after all, public officials sworn to serve the nation and the Constitution -- not just the man who appointed them.

    … just about every checkable claim about the President's language is easily debunked. Dr. K and others should stick to making claims they can actually back up; goodness knows, in Obama's case, there should be enough of them.

  • The only soccer-related URLs you're likely to see from Pun Salad: (a) Dave Barry reporting on the Holland-Uruguay match from South Africa:
    Holland won the game, after which tens of thousands of ecstatic vuvuzela-blaring Dutch fans spilled into the streets and resumed partying, while the Uruguayan fans climbed into their VW microbus for the long sad drive home.
    And P. J. O'Rourke in the WSJ on how to make soccer more interesting:
    I have one suggestion: Use your hands, dummies. Is this something that you simply forget to do? I recall from being beaten up in the schoolyard that sometimes the bully gets so involved in kicking that he fails to remember to punch too. Or is using your hands something that hasn't occurred to you? In the sport of "kick-the-can," for instance, there's no particular reason for the winning player not to run in and toss the can instead of giving it the boot. True, kicking something generally makes a more satisfying sound than throwing it (the shot put excepted). But is it worth ruining a whole athletic contest for the sake of a sound effect?
    Also: "play it on an extremely steep slope. This did wonders for the luge."

  • Sign of the Apocalypse: Lindsay Lohan quoted a Cato Institute article in a number of Tweets moaning about her mandated 90-day vacation in one of L. A. County's fine facilties, where she follows a long line of celebrities. And Lindsay should have paid more attention to what one of them used to say: "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."


Last Modified 2012-10-03 9:11 AM EDT

Mary and Max

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

Claymation for adults. No, I'm not kidding. And it's very good. It lacks an MPAA rating, but it would be pretty rough for kids, I think.

Mary Daisy Dinkle is 8 years old, living in a bleak Australian suburb with two barely-functioning parents, and a pet rooster. She has "eyes the color of muddy puddles and a birthmark the color of poo." There's a neighbor confined to a wheelchair (because he's legless) and his house (because he's agoraphobic, which Mary pronounces "homophobic".) Mary's shunned at school, and profoundly lonely.

Max Jerry Horowitz, on the other hand, is an obese Jewish New Yorker with severe Asperger syndrome. He has no friends other than the imaginary Mr. Ravioli who sits in the corner, reading self-help books. His neighbor, Mrs. Bevan, is near-totally blind, bald, and a terror—literally—in the kitchen. Max has a fish, or rather a succession of fish, named "Henry" whose life expectancy is short.

One desperate day, Mary picks Max's name at random from a New York phonebook, and sends him a letter. This starts a rocky relationship that persists for years.

The movie is unique, carried by striking visuals, an immensely creative script, and great voice talent. (I especially enjoyed Philip Seymour Hoffman as the voice of Max.) It's very darkly humorous, and racks up an impressive body count by the end. (For example.)

I don't usually point to promotional websites, but this one is very well done.

The genius behind it all is writer/director Adam Elliot. The DVD contains his short movie Harvie Krumpet which won the Oscar in 2004 for Best Animated Short; it covers similar territory.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:50 AM EDT

Finding Out, But Slowly

"But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it," said Nancy Pelosi back in March, summing up neatly her carefree attitude toward passing Obamacare. Today, USA Today "finds out" yet another feature of the legislation, as recently revealed (or, more accurately, "admitted") by an IRS ombudsman:

A little-known provision in the health care reform law could significantly increase tax recordkeeping requirements and costs for nearly 40 million self-employed workers, small businesses and charities, the IRS' national taxpayer advocate said Wednesday.
This "little-known provision" is the same one knuckle-dragging right wingers noted months ago. But it's nice to see that even the IRS can eventually figure it out and that USA Today will report the revelation.

In comparison, the Washington Post has equal sympathy for the poor beleagured… IRS:

The new federal health-care law may pose compliance challenges for taxpayers and the Internal Revenue Service, an IRS ombudsman reported Wednesday.

The agency, which will be responsible for administering major aspects of health insurance finance, is neither structured nor funded to effectively oversee social programs, the National Taxpayer Advocate Service said in a news release.

In the push to pass Obamacare, Pelosi also claimed the legislation would "create 4 million jobs, 400,000 jobs almost immediately." She didn't mention that they'd all be IRS agents.

(By the way: even the left-leaning PolitiFact could only rate Pelosi's job-creation claim "Half True". By normal measure, this means it was totally bogus.)

The WSJ was also on the ball. But as near as I can tell, there's nothing at all in the New York Times about the IRS's report. Nor in the Los Angeles Times. Their readers will have to wait a while to "find out."

Also see: Dan Foster.

In Defense of Hypocrisy

[Amazon Link]

If it weren't for hypocrisy, this blog would be a lot sparser. It's easy to detect in others, and the accompanying ire it fuels tends to trigger my creative juices. And, while many other sins can be waved off or minimized in today's climate of moral relativism, hypocrisy can still be relied upon: nobody likes it, and you can condemn it roundly from a very high horse without others painting you as a blue-nosed Puritan. Fun!

(And today offers a great example of the genre: Victor Davis Hanson on Senator Obama vs. President Obama.)

Conversely, hypocrisy is nearly impossible to detect in oneself. I'm relatively sure that the Pun Salad archives are shot through with it; I was even more sure after reading this book. It's pretty much invisible to me, though.

Jeremy Lott takes a contrarian position on hypocrisy: it may be a sin, but it's also a social lubricant. And a necessary social lubricant. His argument is short and well-written. Although it delves into philosophy, with that field's customary precision and care in drawing fine distinctions, the tone remains light. In fact, there's funny stuff throughout. He draws his lessons not only from philosophy and religion, but also current events, politics, and movies.

Lott blogs at jeremylott.net (although his co-blogger Sean Higgins seems to be doing more of the writing recently), and he's a very smart guy. It's a good book.

Consumer note: it has not yet come out in paperback, but the new hardcover is currently "bargain priced" at Amazon for $8.97, a pretty good deal. I hope the author gets his royalties for 'em.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:49 AM EDT

Not Too Skinny And Not Too Fat

… she's a real humdinger and I like it like that:

  • You ought to subscribe to Jim Geraghty's Morning Jolt e-mail newsletter, because—for whatever reason—there's often good stuff in there that doesn't make it into his indispensable blog.

    Today, for example: Geraghty summarizes Fareed Zakaria's recent WaPo column which explores a stunning number that just might explain why the US economy remains in the doldrums:

    The Federal Reserve recently reported that America's 500 largest nonfinancial companies have accumulated an astonishing $1.8 trillion of cash on their balance sheets. By any calculation (for example, as a percentage of assets), this is higher than it has been in almost half a century.
    Zakaria asks "business leaders" (who demanded anonymity in fear of getting scapegoated) why this cash isn't being used more productively. Answer number one:
    Economic uncertainty was the primary cause of their caution. "We've just been through a tsunami and that produces caution," one told me. But in addition to economics, they kept talking about politics, about the uncertainty surrounding regulations and taxes. Some have even begun to speak out publicly. Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive of General Electric, complained Friday that government was not in sync with entrepreneurs. The Business Roundtable, which had supported the Obama administration, has begun to complain about the myriad laws and regulations being cooked up in Washington.
    Geraghty points to reactions from Captain Ed McQ, and King Banian, well worth the reading. All three (unlike Zakaria and the anonymous folks he quotes) pretty much saw this coming 18 months ago.

  • In the meantime, New Hampshire's slightly-less-irritating CongressCritter, Paul Hodes, is running for Senate, and (according to FactCheck.org) he's starting out on the low road:
    It didn't take long for New Hampshire's Senate race to turn dirty. In his first TV ad, Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes falsely accuses his likely Republican opponent of erasing e-mails to cover-up her department's botched investigation of an alleged $20 million Ponzi scheme. But former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte's e-mails were preserved in accordance with state law (thousands have been released publicly). There's no evidence that she engaged in any cover-up, and her agency was not the only one at fault.
    I'm sure Hodes will apologize and his campaign will move on to more relevant issues. I'm also sure that Lindsay Lohan will come up with a workable scheme to plug the Deepwater Horizon gusher, clean up the Gulf of Mexico, and save the pelicans.

  • Jonathan Rauch interviews Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels on five books of Daniels' choice: Hayek's The Road to Serfdom; Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman; What It Means to Be a Libertarian by Charles Murray; The Rise and Decline of Nations by Mancur Olson; and The Future and Its Enemies by Virginia Postrel.

    I haven't read the Olson book, but the other four are insanely great, so I think I'll give it a try. Moreover, I think this makes Mitch Daniels the prohibitive favorite for the coveted Pun Salad endorsement in the 2012 New Hampshire Presidential Primary, should he choose to run.

    [To give you an idea of how coveted the Pun Salad endorsement is: in 2008, it went to Mr. Fred Dalton Thompson, who finished sixth.]


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:49 AM EDT

The Caves of Steel

[Amazon Link]

As mentioned before, I've been working through The Good Doctor's (Isaac Asimov's) science-fiction novels, in chronological publication order. I'd forgotten how good this one was. It's his first "robot mystery" novel, and it worked well for me.

It's set on Earth, in a future where mankind has locked itself into huge domed megalopolises, living a beehive existence. Going outside is simply unheard of. And nearly nobody sees anything wrong with this. A small branch of humanity, the "Spacers", have colonized a handful of worlds, and they have a city of their own on Earth, "Spacetown", near New York.

Terrans view Spacers with hostile suspicion. Spacers live in fear of (literal) contamination, by Terran bugs. While both heavily use robot technology, the Terrans view robots with Luddite suspicion. Spacers (on the other hand) use robots for nearly all functions. The sustainability of all this is very much in doubt.

Things kick off when Detective Elijah Baley is summoned to work on the grisly homicide of a Spacer roboticist. Delicate Terran/Spacer relations are at stake, and he's forced to accept a partner that only looks human, but is a dead ringer for the murdered roboticist: R. Daneel Olivaw, where the "R" stands for "Robot".

I liked this significantly better than Asimov's classic Foundation trilogy: the characters here are believably flawed, and have recognizably human relationships. The action/talk ratio is higher. While the imagined future isn't that (technically) believable, it's painstakingly constructed, and the book's events flow believably from it.

I noticed something I missed in previous readings (decades ago): Gene Roddenberry owed a lot to Isaac Asimov. Spacers are uncannily similar to Vulcans, and the Next Generation cyborg, Data, is pretty close to R. Daneel.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:48 AM EDT

Born Yesterday

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

Directed by George Cukor, adapted from a play by Garson Kanin, starring William Holden, Broderick Crawford, and (above all) Judy Holliday, who won an Oscar for her performance. And nominated for four other Oscars. So, objectively speaking, you'd say this is a pretty good movie. And you'd probably be right. But I was more like eh, and it's my blog, so: two and a half stars.

Mr. Crawford plays Harry Brock, a scrap metal dealer, junkyard magnate, thug, and lout. Ms. Holliday is his arm candy, Billie Dawn. They've blown into Washington D. C.: Harry's trying to get a teensy bit of corrupt legislation passed that will further feather his nest, and has purchased himself a cheap Congressman. Intrepid investigative reporter Paul Verrall (Bill Holden) is on his trail; Harry's not too worried.

Harry's a little put out by Billie's obvious inability to make the smallest of small talk with Washington's elite. So, in a not-too-believable plot twist, Harry hires Paul to educate her in history and literature. But—whoa, didn't see this coming—Paul and Billie fall for each other.

Judy Holliday is great, Holden is OK, and people tend to forget that Broderick Crawford was pretty good in his day too. And I don't usually mind that much when a movie is utterly predictable. But (unfortunately) it's more than a tad boring. Worse, it's stupid. When Paul is trying to woo Billie away from Harry, here's one of his arguments (spotted by one of Jonah Goldberg's correspondents):

“The whole history of the world is the story of the struggle between the selfish and the unselfish. All that’s bad around us is bred by selfishness. Sometimes selfishness is a cause, an organized force, even a government, and then it’s called fascism.”
The movie's sixty years old, but it's hard to believe this wasn't derided as unacceptably brain-dead even back then.

Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:48 AM EDT

Happy Independence Day

  • Suggested by Jonah Goldberg, our first reading assignment for the day is from Calvin Coolidge: "Speech on the Occasion of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence", given on July 5, 1926 in Philadelphia. Closing paragraphs:
    Under a system of popular government there will always be those who will seek for political preferment by clamoring for reform. While there is very little of this which is not sincere, there is a large portion that is not well informed. In my opinion very little of just criticism can attach to the theories and principles of our institutions. There is far more danger of harm than there is hope of good in any radical changes. We do need a better understanding and comprehension of them and a better knowledge of the foundations of government in general. Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.

    No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.

    But read the whole thing. Who knew that Cal could be so poetic?

  • At the WSJ, Peggy Noonan looks at what the Continental Congress cut out of Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration, with special attention to the removal that "wounded" Jefferson.

  • It also turns out that Jefferson made his own changes:
    Just in time for the Fourth of July, the Library of Congress has this news: Hyperspectral imaging of Thomas Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration of Independence has confirmed that he originally wrote the phrase "our fellow subjects," but then scrawled over it the word "citizens."
    An interesting peek over TJ's shoulder, 234 years later.

  • At the American Spectator, Drew Cline wonders if the country has what it takes to see another 234 birthdays.

  • And while we're on the discovering-lost-versions of-historical-documents kick, my fellow patriots (who don't mind a little sacrilege) will not want to miss: "Restoration Of 'Star Spangled Banner' Uncovers Horrifying New Verses"

    The actors the Onion get for their videos are pretty good, don't you think?

  • If you liked that, or even if you didn't, check out Mark Steyn's true story about "America, the Beautiful". Observation: they don't make Wellesley College professors like Katharine Lee Bates any more.

Try to get out to see something bright and loud tonight. If you wind up at Cowell Stadium in Durham, New Hampshire, please try to find me and say hello.


Last Modified 2010-07-05 11:08 AM EDT

Update: Emperor Still "Unacceptably" Naked

(Updating an old post with new data and some new links.)

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

[Projections]

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

But "they won", the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan was passed and signed. Over the past year, some bright person ("Geoff" at Innocent Bystanders) has periodically overlaid actual unemployment data points on the original graph. Geoff's latest article is here, but the graph speaks for itself (click for big version):

[vs. Actual]

Geoff also posts a graph of the absolute employment numbers, and it's even more disheartening.

Since we last looked, Geoff has added in a rough picture ("New Projection") of the Administration's most recent prognostication, based on a statement to Congress from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, White House budget director Peter Orszag and Christina Romer, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers back in March.

Quote from the statement:

Most obviously, the current unemployment rate of 9.7 percent is unacceptable by any metric, and employment is 8.4 million below its level before the recession.
That's an interesting use of "unacceptable". Since they apparently are accepting it. To quote Mr. Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means."

Another telling choice of words appears in the Washington Post article discussing the latest employment numbers:

Overall, employers shed 125,000 jobs in June; however, that figure was distorted by the Census Bureau cutting 225,000 temporary jobs.
Emphasis added. You tell me: was the distortion really in the removal of the temporary jobs? Or was the distortion their addition to previous months' figures?

But never fear, saith Nancy Pelosi:

Rough transcript:

Now let me say that unemployment insurance, [handwaving] we talk about it as a safety net, and the rest. [the finger of didacticism gets raised] This is one of the biggest stimuluses [sic] to our economy. Economists will tell you: this money is spent quickly, it injects demand into the economy, and is job-creating. It creates jobs faster than most any other initiative you can name. Because again it is money that is needed for families to survive and it is spent. So it has a double benefit. It helps those who have lost their jobs, but it is also a job creator.
Or: if only we sent out more unemployment checks, we wouldn't have so many unemployed people. It's so simple!

If you need further takedown, Captain Ed is good, and so's Stacy.

The people running the economy operate on an unshakeable faith in the tenets of their secular religion: (a) spending huge amounts of taxpayer money will solve any problem; (b) if it doesn't, it only means we didn't spend enough.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:47 AM EDT

Toy Story 3

[5.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

As I type, Toy Story 3 is #6 on IMDB's top 250 movies of all time. Usually I scoff. For this, I say: "Yeah, maybe so." Dare I say masterpiece? Sure. It's as good as Pixar gets, which means it's up around 98th percentile or higher. Go see it. We sprung for the 3-D version; neat, fun, but I don't think you'd miss that much if you wanted to save some dough and go 2-D. You Neanderthal skinflint.

The plot: the toys' owner, Andy, is about to go off to college, and hasn't played much with his old mates for a number of years. What is to be their fate? The attic? eBay? Donated? Or headed to certain oblivion in a curbside trash bag? No spoilers here, but mixups place our favorite animated inanimate objects in peril of one sort or another throughout the entire movie. They handle themselves with impressive displays of courage, teamwork, and resourcefulness, while musing on the virtue of loyalty vs. their craving for a purposeful existence. Really. Even these guys play a pivotal role:

[Aliens]

Ah, I smile every time they're onscreen. Love those little green dudes.

I was a little wrung out at the end. For its G rating, it's intense and slightly dark. But it's also very funny and moving. Those Pixar guys continue to be utter geniuses at spinning stories you can't help but be caught up in.

They also have plenty of old-fashioned smarts. My favorite bit of IMDB trivia:

At one point in the film, Mr. Potato Head scurries across a toy piano. The notes the piano plays are the "Petrushka chord," a recurring motif from a ballet composed by Stravinsky about a puppet who comes to life.
And there's also this.

Did I say 98th percentile? Make it 99.5.

Consumer note: we went last night, a Wednesday, to avoid the crowds. We didn't realize that it was the opening night for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. We walked past a line that—I swear—contained a couple hundred young girls and (as near as I could tell) just one guy. That's demographics for ya.


Last Modified 2012-10-03 9:02 AM EDT