Yes, I'm a Sack of Broken Eggs

… I always have an unmade bed, don't you?:

  • The Gallup headline is:
    GOP Takes Unprecedented 10-Point Lead on Generic Ballot
    But I think Tom Smith has a better one:
    GOP surges to 10 point lead in less hated party

  • If you pay dim attention to TV commercials, you might have noticed that Dodge recently dinked their "tent event" ad from this:

    to this:

    I.e., from using a visible chimp to an invisible chimp to detonate a confetti explosion. The explanation is here; in short, Dodge was cowed by accusations of animal cruelty from PETA and other organizations.

    No decent person advocates being mean to chimps, but (somehow) I doubt that turning one invisible will help. Meanwhile I have heard zero animal rights outrage over this:

    Forcing those poor doggies to play poker! Compelling that tiny giraffe to smooch the Commie! You can't tell me that isn't cruel.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 4:06 PM EDT

Barackrobatics: In the Right Direction

Jeff Dobbs inspired me to unleash the search engines on yet another Barackrobatic obsession:

March 24, 2009:
"We have to persevere, and that's what I'm going to emphasize," Obama said. "But what I'm confident about is that we're moving in the right direction."

April 29, 2009:
"I do think that our administration has taken some steps that have restored confidence in the American people that we're moving in the right direction and that simply opposing our approach on every front is probably not a good political strategy," he said.

May 14, 2009:
So I believe we're moving in the right direction. Step by step, we're making progress. Now, we've got a long way to go before we can put this recession behind us.

June 9, 2009:
This was the fewest number of jobs that we have lost in about eight months. So it was about half of the number lost of just a few months ago. And it's a sign that we're moving in the right direction.
July 11, 2009:
We are not there yet, and I continue to believe that even one American out of work is one too many. But we are moving in the right direction.
August 7, 2009:
Today we're pointed in the right direction. We're losing jobs at less than half the rate we were when I took office.
September 7, 2009:
But for the second straight month, we lost fewer jobs than the month before, and it was the fewest jobs that we had lost in a year. (Applause.) So, make no mistake, we're moving in the right direction. We're on the road to recovery, Ohio. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise. (Applause.)
October 31, 2009:
But today, I am pleased to offer some better news that - while not cause for celebration - is certainly reason to believe that we are moving in the right direction.
November 6, 2009:
So although it will take time and it will take patience, I am confident that our economy will recover. I'm confident that we're moving in the right direction. And I promise that I won't rest until America prospers once again.
December 7. 2009:
We have had a very tough year, and we've lost millions of jobs. But at least now we are moving in the right direction.
January 8, 2010:
Last month, however, we slipped back, losing more jobs than we gained, though the overall trend of job loss is still pointing in the right direction.
March 18, 2010:
That's how economists measure a recovery -- and by those measures, we are beginning to move in the right direction.
April 15, 2010:
So I've been a little amused over the last couple of days where people have been having these rallies about taxes. (Laughter.) You would think they would be saying thank you. (Laughter.) That's what you'd think. (Applause.) So we're headed in the right direction on our road to recovery.
May 13, 2010:
But I want to just say to Buffalo -- I want to say to all of you and I want to say to America, we can say beyond a shadow of a doubt, today we are headed in the right direction. We are headed in the right direction. (Applause.)
June 4, 2010:
This economy hasn't returned to prosperity yet, but we're heading in the right direction. There are going to be some ups and downs.
July 30, 2010:
We're still going to have to do a lot of work to put folks back to work. But we are moving in the right direction. The trend lines are good.
August 18, 2010:
But here's what I can tell you: After 18 months, I have never been more confident that we are headed in the right direction. We are doing what's needed to move forward.

[Yes, that's close to one quote per month since March 2009. For some reason, the President took "in the right direction" off his teleprompter for February 2010.]

GOP operatives will want to save this quote from February 10, 2009, when the Obama presidency was a mere three weeks old:

But Obama said he was under no illusions that his popularity could withstand a prolonged downturn. "If stuff hasn't worked and people don't feel like I've led the country in the right direction, then you'll have a new president," he said.
We'll be seeing that quote a lot over the next couple years, I think. The campaign ads pretty much write themselves.

(Original link via the indispensable Geraghty.)

The Ghost Writer

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

It's a movie co-written and directed by a truly despicable human being, Roman Polanski. It has a plot that sounds like the wet dream fantasy of your prototypical leftist paranoid conspiracy freak, relentlessly anti-American.

And yet, I kind of liked it. (Explanation/excuse below.)

Pierce Brosnan plays ex-British Prime Minister Adam Lang, hunkered down in a remote corner of Martha's Vineyard, trying to get his memoirs completed. Complication: the mysterious death of his ghostwriter, drowned after falling off the Vineyard's ferry. (Or was he pushed?) Worse, the International Criminal Court is making noises about indicting Lang for "war crimes", because he OKd grabbing some terrorists out of Pakistan and obligingly handed them over to the CIA.

Not to worry: Ewan McGregor quickly steps up to the ghostwriting plate, lured by a promised quarter-million dollar fee. But he quickly finds he's plunged into intrigue, as little bits of Lang's story don't add up, Lang's wife is continually sniping with Lang's pretty assistant (played by Kim Cattrall, so we're pretty sure what's going on there). Then the new ghost finds some mysterious pictures and notes hidden away by the old ghost, and things get really creepy.

The movie invites you to see Lang and his wife as thinly disguised versions of Tony and Cherie Blair. Lang gets charter-jetted around on a plane marked "Hatherton" (i.e. Haliburton) He's shown meeting with a Condoleezza Rice lookalike. And the shadowy neocon conspiracy running everything is …

Oh, never mind. I would guess even a lot of the aforementioned leftist paranoid conspiracy freaks would find it embarrassingly farfetched, a little too pandering to their fantasies. Since I switched off that part of my brain about three minutes in, I was able to enjoy the movie on that basis.

Pierce Brosnan really does a good job playing the charismatic, albeit disgraced, ex-PM. (The only false note is when he goes a tad too obviously Nixonian in one scene.)

And it was nice to say: "Hey, you know who that is? That's Eli Wallach!"


Last Modified 2012-10-02 4:06 PM EDT

GOP Candidates: What's Your Position on the Ryan Roadmap?

On Meet the Press last weekend, Dick Armey challenged Republicans to show some courage and get behind the "Ryan Roadmap". He even had a catchy line, expressing Tea Partiers' rightful disgust with "American public policy dominated by Democrats that don't care and Republicans that don't dare."

The "Roadmap" is Congressman Paul Ryan's proposal to restore fiscal sanity to Your Federal Government. You can read about it here. Although I suggest you Read The Whole Thing, here are some high points:

  • Big changes to the tax code, with the goal of keeping the tax burden to 19% of GDP, roughly the post-WW2 average. Most of the changes involve simplification. Two income tax rates, 10% and 25%. Zero taxes on interest, capital gains, and dividends. The AMT would be junked. Individuals (however) could opt to pay taxes under the old system, or (equally likely) to have their eyeballs gouged out with a rusty fork.

    (Just kidding about that last bit.)

  • Junk the corporate income tax; businesses pay an 8.5% "consumption tax".

  • Preserves Social Security for folks over 55, but allows those younger to sock away a third of their current taxes into private accounts. Makes retirement age increases and COLA fixes.

  • Preserves Medicare for over-55s, establishes an (approximate) $11K "payment" per year for others as they become eligible, indexed for inflation, allows greater use of tax-free Medical Savings Accounts.

  • Similar big changes for Medicaid.

  • Even with all these changes, the Roadmap doesn't forecast a balanced budget until 2063.

Think about that last point a bit. The Roadmap might be deemed "radical", but even with its radicalism, we don't get spending back into line with revenue for over 50 years. And the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be.

What that implies to me is: anything less radical will be unable to get spending under control at all. And closing one's eyes real tight and hoping the problem will magically vanish shouldn't be an option.

And what that further implies is that candidates for Federal office have an obligation to either say: "yeah, that Ryan Roadmap is a pretty good idea" or describe (to a similar level of detail) what they propose to do instead.

I can understand why candidates might be scared to embrace the Ryan Roadmap. It's easily demagogued (you can watch Governor J. Granholm do that at the link above). As long as you stay with comfortably vague proposals about "waste"—who's for waste?—you're not going to scare anyone. And if your top priority is simply to get your hands on political power, then you'd probably want to play it safe and avoid talking about the Roadmap.

But (on the other hand) you're not going to impress, let alone inspire, me. We in New Hampshire have a primary coming up on September 14 and, as a registered Republican in New Hampshire Congressional District 1, I'd prefer to vote for candidates for the Senate and House brave enough to support the Roadmap.

The state GOP has a candidate list with links to each candidate's website. Each website has either a contact web form or an e-mail address. I used each to ask all but one candidate:

I would like to know where [Candidate] stands on the "Ryan Roadmap". (http://www.roadmap.republicans.budget.house.gov/)
As I type, I've received two responses:
  • Congressional candidate Peter Bearse wrote:
    I like the roadmap and salute Rep. Ryan for his initiative and leadership.
    Good enough for me! In addition, Dr. Bearse suggested I check out his "Pledge to Constituents" and kindly provided two Microsoft Word docs (which I've posted here and here).

    Dr. Bearse is—how can I put this gently?—not a front runner. He's not getting invited to debates. He has some positions (primarily on campaign finance) that I find sketchy. But so far, because of this single issue, he's got my vote.

  • Jill Neunaber, political director for Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne responded:
    Ovide is an enthusiastic supporter of Congressman Ryan's roadmap. Ovide met with the congressman during his last visit to New Hampshire and sites [sic] it frequently on the campaign trail.
    Again: good enough for me. Ms. Neunaber also suggests reading Ovide's—we are suppsed to call him Ovide, I guess— oath, a 15-point pledge to voters on what he will and won't do. I don't agree with everything there, but (again) because of this issue, he's so far got me.

If I get any more candidate responses, I'll post them.

Footnote: I didn't bother with Senate candidate Gerard Beloin, even though he's listed on the GOP site, because he seems to be, um, way out of my comfort zone. There are a few other candidates on the ballot that the GOP doesn't list at all. One of them is quoted here: "I am not a nut." See if you agree.


Last Modified 2010-08-30 1:10 PM EDT

It's An Oyster

… with two tickets to that thing you love:

  • Edmunds reports that used car prices are up by an average of 10.3% from last year, in some cases up 30%. They point their shaky fingers at Your Federal Government and its Cash For Clunkers program. I can't sum up better than Radley Balko:
    So we have a government program whose stated aim was to shore up huge, failed corporations by giving public money to mostly upper-income people that in the end will penalize low and middle-income people. But remember folks, it's the libertarians--who opposed C4C--who are greedy corporatists who hate the poor.

  • Here's something I didn't realize about the term "weasel word". It is:
    … a qualifier that sucks the meaning out of a phrase in the way that weasels supposedly suck the contents out of an egg.
    I thought it was less specific than that. Pun Salad will try to use the term correctly from here on out.

    Oh yeah: the link goes to analysis of a pro-ObamaCare propagandish TV spot. In which Andy Griffith—yes, Andy Griffith—uses weasel words to try to reassure his fellow geezers about the legislation. And it's all paid for by Your Federal Government.

    But by now, that's kind of a dog-bites-man story. Nothing new, ho-hum. I do appreciate knowing about the proper usage of "weasel word" though.

  • In other language news, Prof "City Mouse" Althouse will tell you everything you need to know about the correct pronunciation of teat.

    Oh yeah, the context. Alan Simpson making the (apt but misspelled) analogy about Social Security: "We've reached a point now where it's like a milk cow with 310 million tits!" The suckers are trying to get him in trouble…

  • Your faithful blogger got a credit at the WSJ's Best of the Web Today for submitting the Puffington Host headline:
    Glenn Beck Is Not Martin Luther King Jr.
    I thought it might make a good "Bottom Story of the Day", but the crack WSJ team realized it was a closer fit to their "News You Can Use" category.

    And for a third language note, BOTWT also uses the word "apophasis", for all I know correctly.

The Square

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

I've occasionally griped about movies that bill themselves as noir that don't really fit my (apparently too-strict) ideas of the genre. But The Square is the real deal, even if it's set in modern-day Australia, and is in color.

See if you don't agree. Raymond is a construction foreman, and he's got problems with both money and sex. Specifically, he's fooling around with Carla while they are both married to other people. He and Carla would like to run off (presumably to a different part of Australia) but they lack finances. So Raymond is arranging for kickbacks from subcontractors, but that's a slow process; what to do?

Well, Carla's hubby is kind of a shady sort; one day she notices him hiding a bag full of cash, no doubt illegally obtained. And even though it's Australian cash, it's still worth something. All they have to do, she tells Raymond, is grab the money and torch its hiding place. Problem solved!

Well, you know how these things turn out: nobody lives happily ever after, and some don't live ever after at all.

The movie has a devilishly twisty plot, and it doesn't help that these blokes are allegedly speaking English: you need subtitles. ("Guhnya" turns out to be "good on you".) I wound up watching it twice to figure out what was going on. I think I got most of it.

There is a very dark-humored microplot involving Raymond and Carla's doggies. It could inspire a new genre: canine noir.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 4:05 PM EDT

Man, That Really Slices My Bagel

Here's a story that's been making the rounds about New York State's grasping, avaricious tax collectors.

In New York, the sale of whole bagels isn't subject to sales tax. But the tax does apply to "sliced or prepared bagels (with cream cheese or other toppings)," according to the state Department of Taxation and Finance. And if the bagel is eaten in the store, even if it's never been touched by a knife, it's also taxed.
The story describes the ire of a Bruegger's Bagel franchisee who was brought into compliance and now charges 8 cents more for a sliced bagel than an unsliced one. He reports "boiling rage" on the part of his customers.

Ha! Ha! Silly New Yorkers! They're so cute when they're mad! Thank goodness our state doesn't… oh, wait a minute.

How are bakery products taxed? All bakery products sold in quantities of less than six from a restaurant are taxable. A bakery is classified as a restaurant when it offers other taxable items for sale such as, but not limited to, coffee, soda, sandwiches, salad bars and/or prepared foods. The taxability of bakery products is not affected by whether the bakery product is served to be eaten on the premise or on a "to go" basis.
Is NH's "less than six" rule a more or less arbitrary rule than NY's "sliced or prepared"? I can't tell. But here's your free tax advice du jour: if you're in the Granite State, and planning on buying five bagels, you might want to bump that up to six.

(To be honest, I've never noticed whether our local supermarket nicks me for our 9% Rooms and Meals tax when I buy a single bagel for the next day's breakfast.)

Your Everlasting Summer

… you can see it fading fast:

  • P. J. O'Rourke spends 72 hours in Afghanistan. Sample (with a local angle):

    As all good reporters do, I prepared for my assignment with extensive research. I went to an Afghan restaurant in Prague. Getting a foretaste--as it were--of my subject, I asked the restaurant's owner (an actual Afghan), "So what's up with Afghanistan?"

    He said, "Americans must understand that Afghanistan is a country of honor. The honor of an Afghan is in his gun, his land, and his women. You take a man's honor if you take his gun, his land or his women."

    And the same goes for where I live in New Hampshire. I inquired whether exceptions could be made, on the third point of honor, for ex-wives.

    "Oh yes," he said.

    Afghanistan--so foreign and yet so familiar and, like home, with such wonderful lamb chops. I asked the restaurateur about other similarities between New Hampshire and Afghanistan. "I don't know," he said. "Most of my family lives in L.A."

    Long and insightful. P. J. is a national (and state) treasure.

  • Amity Shlaes' headline is a grabber: "Obama Misreads Message of `Live Free or Die'". Did our President explicitly disrespect our state motto? I wouldn't be too surprised if he did, but no.

    Instead, Shlaes notes that we've run the experiment Obama wants to impose on the nation before, specifically between Maine and New Hampshire.

    It's wrong for the president to ask for patience. The results of the government experiment are in, courtesy of the states. Double dips are more likely with policies like his. And most Americans would prefer a future that looks like New Hampshire to one that looks like Maine.
    Pun Salad Manor is a mere few minutes' walk from Maine. It's a lovely state, but a bad example to follow.

  • National Review maintains its 53-year tradition of not being that into Ayn Rand.

  • One of the features of working at the University Near Here is exposure to, um, interesting ideas that one might not otherwise encounter. One is locavorism, a preference for "locally" produced food. Adherents are evangelical.

    True overheard conversation from last April: "What are you doing for Earth Day?" "I'm resolving to think more about what 'local' means to me."

    I personally have resolved to only eat food produced within 25 miles of the Earth's surface. That's what local means to me.

    Should you be buttonholed by a locavore, you could do worse than pointing him or her (and not to be sexist but my guess is it would probably be "her") to Steven Landsburg's thoughts on the issue.

Hot Tub Time Machine

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

I don't want to sound like a prudish old geezer here, but: it could have been just as funny, and probably better, without all the filth. According to the IMDB: 233 fwords, 66 occurences of the common term for excrement, and "Almost 400 obscenities overall." And that's just the language.

The movie's protagonists are Adam, Nick, and Lou (John Cusack, Craig Robinson, and Rob Corddry, respectively). Once fast friends, they've drifted apart. None is satisfied with their their middle-aged lives, and Lou is positively suicidal. Together with Adam's nephew Jacob they take a weekend trip to a fondly-remembered ski resort. Unfortunately, the resort is also long past its prime, decrepit and full of stray cats. But when the hot tub outside their room comes magically alive… well, you noticed the movie's title, right?

So it's pretty much a dirty version of Back to the Future. (Comparison: Marty McFly went back 30 years from 1985 to 1955; the boys here go back 24 years from 2010 to 1986. And Crispin Glover is hilarious in both movies.)

It's not without laughs, and Rob Corddry is especially amusing in his over-the-top freneticism. It does a good job of re-creating the 1986 world, without beating us over the head with tedious social commentary. And the "return" back to the present day world is very funny.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 4:05 PM EDT

I Said Your Mouth's Moving Fast

… and your brain's moving slow:

  • President Obama devoted his weekly address to bemoaning the First Amendment, specifically that it lets organizations he doesn't like (corporations) say things he'd prefer that ordinary people not hear (political ads). Specifically, he whined about the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case and Congress's failure to pass the "DISCLOSE Act".

    The Campaign Freedom blog rebuts here. Among their points:

    • The President evaded any mention of unions, although they were also freed up by the Citizens United decision.

    • The President was explicitly fear-pandering and xenophobic, referring to "shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names" and "foreign-controlled corporations".

    • The President focused on the (onerous) disclosure requirements in the legislation, ignoring the actual restrictions it made on previously-protected speech.

    There was also blatant misrepresentation, as Obama claimed that DISCLOSE was "supported by Democrats and Republicans". In fact, only two Republicans voted for DISCLOSE in the House. The opposition was actually more bipartisan, as 36 Democrats voted against. (In the Senate, it failed to get a single Republican vote.)

    The blogger also notes the Presidential glibness: "The only people who don't want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide." It's one of those which-would-be-worse situations: whether Obama doesn't realize how ominous those words are, coming as they do from the nation's chief executive, or whether he does.

    If Dubya had said such a thing, four or five New York Times columnists would have imminent-fascism aneurysms in print within 24 hours. But it's Obama, so…

  • I've criticized Scott Adams (Dilbert) in the recent past, but let me be fair: his weekend article in the Wall Street Journal about his efforts to build a "green" house had me laughing at a number of points. He's got a knack for cheerful cynicism and self-deprecation.
    As a rule, the greener the home, the uglier it will be. I went into the process thinking that green homes were ugly because hippies have bad taste. That turns out to be nothing but a coincidence. The problem is deeper.

  • Things I couldn't make up if I tried: AwesomenessReminders.
    With AwesomenessReminders, a real person will call you every day to tell you how much you rock. If you're not around, we will leave you a voicemail.
    Only $10/month!. Or, if you send me $5, I (also a real person) will call you (once) and tell you that you really should not be responsible for handling money. (Via Marginal Revolution.)

The Big Steal

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

The second part of a double-feature DVD from Netflix. This 1949 flick has Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, and it's directed by Don Siegel of Dirty Harry fame. And it's a lot of fun, despite (consumer note) the lack of actual Big Steal content in the movie itself.

Set entirely in Mexico, it opens as a steamer docks in Vera Cruz. Onboard are Duke Halliday (Mitchum) and Joan Graham (Greer), but also Vincent Blake (William Bendix!), who, for initially murky reasons, is out to get Mitchum. And both Duke and Joan are after Jim Fiske (Patric Knowles); he's Joan's ex-boyfriend, who's scammed her out of $2000, and Duke has his own reasons (which I won't spoil). Soon everyone's off on a merry chase across dusty, but colorful, Mexican roads.

The commentators call this a mixing of film noir and romantic comedy; I think that stretches the noir category a bit more than I'm comfortable with, but that's OK. Romantic comedy fits, though: Mitchum and Greer keep up an amusing banter, they "meet cute", initially dislike each other, and wind up mutually smitten. The running time is a brisk 71 minutes, so don't blink or you'll miss something. It would make a pretty good double feature with Out of the Past.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 4:02 PM EDT

Blue Heaven

[Amazon Link]

This novel won the 2009 Edgar Award for best mystery novel, and (for all I know) they were exactly right. It's an excellent read.

It's set in North Idaho, an area undergoing unsettling changes as long-time ranchers find themselves struggling to stay afloat, while hundreds of affluent retirees migrate in from other states, setting up a distressing number of McMansions and espresso bars. A goodly fraction of those retirees are ex-cops. (Hence the title.)

The action starts when two kids, Annie and William, from a semi-broken family take off on an impromptu fishing expedition. They're deep in the woods when they encounter a grisly crime: three men cold-bloodedly executing one of their comrades. The kids take off, but the killers see them. And the chase is on.

I'm wondering: how can this guy make this simple chase plot go 350 pages? But he does. In a tightly-plotted choreography, the kids have some good guys on their side: an aging rancher, and a retired cop investigating a long-ago heist in his little California town outside L. A. But the bad guys are also resourceful, and have their fingers into the community.

Every character is sharply drawn, from the major heroes and villains to the bit players: a snoopy lady mail carrier, a hapless local sheriff, a bank officer wracked with guilt (about more than one thing, it turns out).

I'd never read anything by C. J. Box before, but he's very good. Next shopping trip through the Amazon…


Last Modified 2012-10-02 3:49 PM EDT

Illegal

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

Part one of a double-feature DVD from Netflix.

We sometimes gripe about movie remakes; can't Hollywood come up with some new ideas? It's not a new phenomenon: This 1956 movie was actually a second remake. Previous incarnations were The Mouthpiece in 1932 and The Man Who Talked Too Much in 1940. (Arguably better titles than the hopelessly generic Illegal.) And all based on a stage play by Frank J. Collins.

So quit your bitching about The Karate Kid and Ghostbusters, OK? Recycling is a venerable Hollywood tradition.

Here, Edward G. Robinson plays Victor Scott, hotshot District Attorney, who specializes in hustling defendants off to the chair. All is well, until one day he prosecutes DeForest Kelley (yes, Bones McCoy himself). Unfortunately, Bones has a very small part, as Victor learns just a wee bit too late that he's innocent. Bzzzzt!

This causes a professional life crisis for Victor, who had fancied himself running for Governor. He quits, turns to drink, and his life bottoms out. A chance encounter in a drunk tank allows him to straighten out, as he latches onto a fellow inmate accused of murder, represents him in court, and gets him acquitted via a hilarious stunt (which in real life would probably get him disbarred or jailed, but…)

And all that's just in the first 15 minutes or so. Were this a French film, we'd be two hours in. The main plot revolves around Victor's involvement with his protégé, Ellen (played by Nina Foch), and a mob kingpin (Albert Dekker).

Fun stuff: Jayne Mansfield's first movie. Ellen Corby, Grandma Walton herself, plays Victor's loyal, tough, and cynical secretary. And Edward Platt plays the replacement D. A.! I found it amusing that his staff called him "Chief". (Nobody, however, said "Sorry about that, Chief.")


Last Modified 2012-10-02 3:48 PM EDT

Barackrobatics: Dimewatch XI

One of Pun Salad's earliest touchstones for analyzing Barackrobatics (our term for our President's rhetorical stylings) was: Obama's use of the word "dime" is a reliable signal of dishonesty, deception, delusion, or general incoherence.

So, yesterday in the South Driveway of the White House, the President was shilling for (yet another) "Jobs Bill", this one allegedly targeting "small business". And, sure enough, there it is:

I'd also like to point out this legislation is fully paid for and will not add one single dime to our deficit.
You can read a summary of the bill's provisions at the NYT's "You're the Boss" small business blog here. The NYT blogger is straight-faced, but as one reads, it becomes apparent that the bill is yet another desperate agglomeration of gimmickry, tweaks, and I'm-from-the-government-and-I'm-here-to-help-you feelgood fantasy. The main effect is to expand (already ineffective) bureaucratized largess and pile on more twists and turns onto the already labyrinthine tax code. Sample:
The bill would limit the penalty for failing to report on a tax return a transaction that the Internal Revenue Service has formally identified as an abusive tax shelter. The penalty would be set at 75 percent of the tax benefit and capped at $200,000 for corporations and $100,000 for individuals.
Yeah, that'll get those entrepreneurs off their lazy duffs! "Break out the checkbook, Matilda! Our IRS penalties done been capped!"

At Business Week, Gene Marks factchecks the alleged benefits of the legislation via anecdote: how they would apply to his business and that of a local roofing contractor. You can wade through it, but you might get the gist from the headline: "The Small Business Jobs Bill: To Us, It's Meaningless". His final paragraphs are key:

We need more demand. Not government demand--people demand. Customers aren't spending money on roofs or new software if they can avoid it. They don't want to draw on their already depleted savings while they watch other countries go bankrupt and read reports from legitimate economists that if we don't stop our runaway deficits, the same thing will happen to us. They're warily eyeing upcoming tax increases from federal, state, and local governments and wondering how they're going to cover expenses. And if they do sell investments to draw on their savings, they definitely don't want to pay higher capital gains taxes, which take effect in 2011.

Until taxes and deficits go down, no "jobs" bill is going to solve the problems business owners like us have.

So: the bill is pointless, stupid, and probably counterproductive, but allows campaigning Democrats to claim they've "done something." Par for the course. But how about the "dime" thing? Is the bill "fully paid for"? At least in the (weak) sense that actual spending is being cut somewhere else? You can get a hint from a previous discussion at the NYT blog. As it turns out, the bill is "paid for" by a different set of gimmickry, tweaks, and feelgood fantasies. For example:
Senate Democrats said that while the programs in the bill would cost $10.8 billion, the legislation raises $12.7 billion separately, largely by giving people enrolled in tax-deferred employer-sponsored retirement more access to after-tax Roth accounts.

The bill also proposes additional tax reporting requirements and penalties, and new powers to collect back taxes, while closing an ethanol tax-credit loophole and raising money through interest payments from banks participating in the small-business lending program.

So the bill is "paid for" in what sense? Well:
[The proposed Roth change] is attractive politically, said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, because "people pay more taxes today only if they choose to do so; ergo no one can complain about the tax increase. We simply pass the problem on to our children and grandchildren, who will pay the cost when we use our retirement savings in our old age."
So when Obama claims that this "will not add one single dime to our deficit," he really means our deficit. Those kids and grandkids, though… their deficit is going to be massive. They're going to have to cough up a lot of dimes, all because we can't shut off the government's spending firehose.

(Previous episodes of Dimewatch: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. )

Kick Off Your High Heel Sneakers

… it's party time:

  • Lore Sjöberg, humor columnist for Wired, comments on the recent proposal by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Association of Broadcasters to require the inclusion of FM radio receivers in new cell phones, PDAs, music players, etc.…

    Oh wait, you think that's one of Lore's typical made-up absurdities? Ha, ha, funny joke from the humor guy? No, that's not the joke. That's an actual proposal being readied for submission to Your Federal Government.

    What Lore does is to springboard off this proposal to come up with his own:

    Let's start with newspapers. They've been having a lot of trouble adapting to the internet, and there's no guarantee that iPads and Kindles and the like are going to help. Solution: Require companies to bundle a parakeet with every new tablet or e-reader device.

    This will create a groundswell of demand for newsprint with which to line the cages of the federally mandated house pets. I strongly suggest that all the major news consortium start talking to their representatives about making this a reality. This could have saved Cathy, dammit!

    More equally inspired ideas at the link.

  • At Michelle's, Doug Powers notes that the Thought Police Associated Press is forbidding its writers from using "Ground Zero Mosque" to describe … um … well, to describe the proposed Ground Zero Mosque.

    At the Puffington Host, Matt Sledge points out that it's actually a whole one-tenth mile away, and takes about two minutes to walk. And taking a jet is a lot faster.

  • Vince Vaughn is money, baby:
    On August 14, 2010, actor Vince Vaughn jumped from an airplane at an altitude of 12,500 feet above Chicago for that city's 52nd annual Air and Water Show. And while a jump for such a famous event would be memorable in and of itself, it was made even better by the fact that Vaughn did it with one of the U.S. Army's elite parachute teams.
    (Quote intro shamelessly stolen from article comments. I think I'll bump Four Christmases up to the top of the Netflix queue when the season rolls around.)

  • Pun Salad every so often contains Actual Punning Content, and your blogger is kind of a Star Wars fan, so when a Slashdot article is headlined "Star Wars Fans Look For Love In Alderaan Places", he groans first, then starts typing.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 3:47 PM EDT

Dark City

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

Yes, that's good old Chuck Heston mooning over Lizabeth Scott on the DVD box. This movie is from 1950, and the credit is (honest) "Introducing Charlton Heston." We're talking pre-Ben Hur, pre-Ten Commandments, pre-Greatest Show on Earth, pre even Planet of the Apes.

Darn, I miss Charlton Heston.

Mr. Heston plays Danny Haley, a guy trying to make a go of things in the postwar Big City. Unfortunately, he's running on the edge of the law, associating with a bunch of shady gambling figures and nightclub floozies. (Did I mention Lizabeth Scott?) One fateful evening, he spies a big check in the wallet of a rube (Don DeFore. For those of a Certain Age: Mr. B of "Hazel"); he and his confederates decide to lure him into a rigged poker game.

That works out not as well as expected. The rube is wracked with guilt over losing the check and hangs himself. Worse, the rube's brother turns out to be a psycho, and targets Danny and the rest of the gang in a grisly scheme of eye-for-an-eye retribution. The action proceeds to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. (It's eye candy for folks who like to spy on what cities were like back then.)

Part of the fun in watching these old movies is spotting fondly-remembered actors and actresses. In addition to the previously-mentioned Heston, Scott, and DeFore, there's Dean Jagger, Jack Webb, Harry Morgan, and Ed Begley (Senior, of course).

It's just a plain good yarn though, well-told and well-acted, with great tough-guy dialog.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 3:47 PM EDT

Watch What You Say, Watch What You Do

Presidential Spokesdroid Ari Fleischer was vilified for advising (about two weeks post-9/11) that Americans "need to watch what they say, watch what they do." This was pounced upon by Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and other Usual Suspects to proclaim the thesis that we were in for jackbooted thuggery from the Bush Administration. (If you'd like a refresher, Pun Salad briefly discussed the controversy here and here.)

Recently, however…

  • On a radio show, Nancy Pelosi looked with dismay upon the opponents to the Ground Zero Mosque, but said they had a perfect right to express their opinions without fear of reprisal.

    Whoa, just kidding! What she actually said was:

    "There is no question there is a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some. And I join those who have called for looking into how is this opposition to the mosque is being funded, she said. "How is this being ginned up that […] two of the first three questions are about a zoning issue in New York City."

  • Governor Jennifer Granholm was also recently unappreciative of remarks made by Rush Limbaugh about the Chevy Volt. Of course, she realized that Rush was working within a long American tradition of free expression, and …

    Hah, gotcha again! What Jen actually said was:

    "It's just un-American. I can't believe that somebody would say this about this American product," said the Guv. "You know, why wouldn't you be supportive of American manufacturers building American vehicles with American workers, who now have jobs as a result of this. Why wouldn't you be supportive of that? It is mind-blowing to me."
    Shut up and buy American, she explained.

  • And just last week, President Barack Obama expressed his deep devotion to principles of equal rights for all Americans to engage in Constitutionally-protected activity.

    Oh, wait. That was when he talking about the 9/11 mosque. In a different speech last week, he got positively huffy about a group called "Americans for Prosperity", which had made the mistake of trying to engage in activity protected by a different part of the First Amendment.

    Right now all around this country there are groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity, who are running millions of dollars of ads against Democratic candidates all across the country. And they don't have to say who exactly the Americans for Prosperity are. You don't know if it's a foreign-controlled corporation. You don't know if it's a big oil company, or a big bank. You don't know if it's a insurance company that wants to see some of the provisions in health reform repealed because it's good for their bottom line, even if it's not good for the American people.
    Note the utter sleaziness of the tactic here: the President isn't saying that AFP is actually foreign-controlled; but—eek!—they might be. Or it could be some corporations. Whatever the scapegoat-du jour is.

    I would guess that AFP works under the exact same laws and disclosure requirements as does (say) MoveOn.org or Americans United for Change. The difference: Obama would prefer that AFP just shut up, and he's not above using cowardly innuendo to try to make that happen.

It used to be that Democrats were fans of "speaking truth to power". Now that they're in power: well, not so much.

A Prophet

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

Or, if you like, the French title: Un prophète. As you note from the ratings above, it was a critical success, and relatively popular with the IMDB folks who've seen it. My take: OK, but too long.

It's the story of a 19-year-old Arab kid, Malik. He's unemployed, illiterate, with neither family, nor friends, nor a good lawyer. As the movie opens, he's just been sent to the French slammer: six years for (allegedly) attacking a cop. His cinematic French prison is pretty much like the worst of cinematic American prisons: full of violence, coercion, perversion, and corruption. Also, there's a lot of simmering ethnic hostility between the Corsicans and Muslims.

Things are pretty much run by César, kingpin in the Corsican mafia. César needs to silence a stoolie who's been incarcerated before he testifies in an upcoming trial. Due to logistic difficulties, his usual thugs can't do the job, so he settles on Malik. Malik is understandably reluctant, but César is relentless and ruthless. Eventually, Malik comes into César's inner circle, although he's distrusted and despised for his un-Corsicanity. Nevertheless, he takes part in many escapades filled with violence and, since it is a French flick, time-consuming moodiness.

Among the plot keywords from IMDB: "Stabbed In The Chest", "Punched In The Stomach", "Punched In The Face", "Shot In The Head", "Shot In The Back", "Kicked In The Head", "Stabbed In The Stomach", "Shot In The Chest", "Stabbed In The Head", and the always popular "Testicular Cancer". It's not for the kiddies.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 3:46 PM EDT

Times Are Hard

… you're afraid to pay the fee:

  • It seems like only yesterday (um, because it was only yesterday) that we proposed a Barackrobatic rule: when the President explicitly says that he's about to "be clear", what follows immediately thereafter will not be clear.

    The President obligingly provided another bit of confirmation of that thesis:

    "What's clear," Obama continued, "is that we are heading in the right direction. Just a year and a half ago, the economy was shrinking rapidly. Now the economy is growing. We were bleeding 750,000 jobs each month. Now the economy has added private-sector jobs for seven months in a row."
    Gosh, then this article from just a few days ago (in that notoriously right-wing outlet, the New York Times) must be lies, all lies:
    The number of workers filing new claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week to the highest level in close to six months, the latest evidence the economy's recovery was faltering. […]

    Economic data for the United States has been decidedly weak over the last couple of months, with private sector job growth lagging expectations and the unemployment rate stuck at 9.5 percent. That has fed concerns that the economy could be at risk of a renewed recession or could face a debilitating bout of deflation as the bleak job market pressures incomes and prices.

  • For another data point in support, this 2008 post at American Thinker explores quotes about Jerusalem, most notably:
    Let me be clear. […] Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.
    The article describes how that "clear" position has been obfuscated and fudged since then.

    Probably most worrisome to Israel: another thing then-candidate Obama prefaced with "Let me be clear" was: "Israel's security is sacrosanct." Oh oh.

  • Lou Gehrig may not have had Lou Gehrig's disease. Next they'll tell us that Tommy John didn't have Tommy John surgery.

Barackrobatics: "But let me be clear."

President Obama, August 13:

But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right…
President Obama August 14:
I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.
And Later that same afternoon:
"Just to be clear, the President is not backing off in any way from the comments he made last night," White House spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement Saturday afternoon.
Proposed rule of Barackrobatics: when the President explicitly says that he's about to "be clear", what follows immediately thereafter will not be clear.

Bonus observation from the second link above:

And I think its very important that as difficult as some of these issues are, that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.
What does it mean to "stay focused on" topics that are inherently huge and fuzzy? Nothing; he'd just prefer that "we" not focus on this specific issue.

I Thought I Could Find a Clear Road Ahead

… but I found stoplights instead:

  • Best opening paragraph I've read recently:
    "I still can't believe they took our yogurt. There's a medical marijuana shop a couple miles away, and they're raiding us because we're selling raw dairy products?" When the Rawesome organic food coop in Venice, California, was raided by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff, the Ventura County Sheriff, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture, plus the federal Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture in late June, one of the store's volunteers was widely quoted expressing incredulity that dairy products would attract more attention from law enforcement than weed.
    Here in the LFOD state, we're OK with raw milk. In fact, there's a straight-from-the-cow vendor within walking distance of Pun Salad manor.

    To my uneducated palate, however, raw milk tastes… exactly like milk.

  • In our Barackrobatic category: How many "top priorities" does President Obama have? Try to guess before you click over for the list.

  • xkcd today:

    xkcd

    Compare with Pun Salad, almost five and a half years ago. Great minds think alike, but there's sometimes a time delay.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 3:45 PM EDT

The End of Eternity

[Amazon Link]

The Good Doctor's 1955 novel about time travel does things a little differently. He postulates a reality outside normal Time, called Eternity. In Eternity, bouncing back and forth between centuries (in vehicles called Kettles) is easier than traveling Interstate 95 between Florida and Maine in your Camry. Eternity is (naturally enough) populated by Eternals, a priesthood of technicians, calculators, and observers who watch over Time. Their self-appointed task is to monitor Time, and make slight butterfly-effect Changes at critical points to alter subsequent events for the "better."

(Did you ever see that Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, Timecop? It's kinda like that, except much more talking, much less violence, and much more imagination. Come to think of it, it's not much like Timecop.)

All is well and good with Eternity, until one minor Eternal, Andrew Harlan, falls in love with a young lady from Time named Noÿs. (Yes, a y-umlaut). Harlan discovers that one little planned Change will have the effect of deleting Noÿs from reality. He decides that he can't let that happen, even if he has to bring about—drumroll, please—the End of Eternity!

A pretty good yarn from Asimov. As often happens, the Asimovian protagonist must wade through a lot of circumstances that aren't as they initially seem, and deal with a number of people whose motives are mysterious. Downside: the workings of Eternity require piles of tedious explication, usually accomplished by wooden dialogue. "As you know, Harlan, …"


Last Modified 2012-10-02 4:09 PM EDT

Inception

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

As I type, IMDB rates Inception as #3 in its top 250 movies of all time, outranked only by The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather. That will probably come down a bit: Christopher Nolan's previous movie, The Dark Knight, was in the number one spot when it was in theaters, but since has dropped to #11. Still, it's pretty good.

It's quite a yarn: the main protagonist, Cobb, is an expert in infiltrating the dreams of others. He's made this into a profession, hired by corporations to ferret out the secrets of the competition.

[I'm not sure how this would work in reality. I plumbed Steve Jobs' dreams to find out Apple's secret: Make glitzy, dead-easy-to-use tech stuff that you can build a mystique around, and fills a need that people didn't know they had. I shopped this around, but nobody wanted to pay me for it.]

But one employer wants Cobb to do a little more than the standard secret-extraction: instead, he wants to plant an idea into the dream-mind of a competitor in order to alter his business strategy. Apparently, in the world of Inception, that's a lot easier than market competition.

Also, Cobb is a wanted man in his home country, and separated from his kids. And he has a complex relationship with his wife, who keeps popping up in his dreams as a hostile force. It's pretty dysfunctional.

Nolan does a fantastic job of setting up the detailed rules for these dream escapades, and how they play out (typically spectacularly) in the dreams themselves. As at least one reviewer pointed out, the dream-construction business is quite similar to the moviemaking process, and that's probably not an accidental coincidence. But it's a tremendous amount of fun, and will almost certainly engage parts of your brain that aren't touched by watching (say) Hot Tub Time Machine. I'll probably get the DVD just to catch the details I missed, and I think that will take a few viewings..


Last Modified 2012-10-02 3:44 PM EDT

So Honey Don't You Fret

… cause you ain't seen nothing yet:

  • We noticed last week that desperate Democrats were planning on reviving one of their perennial campaign themes, vowing to raise taxes on corporations that "ship jobs overseas".

    (Just how kicking businesses in the teeth—again—is supposed to improve the economy is not explained. Also unexplained: if it's such a hot idea, why haven't they done it already?)

    Don Boudreaux noticed the same article I did, and debunks:

    Instead focus on the plan to tax business actions that "ship jobs overseas" - that is, the plan to tax actions that economize on labor costs. Will Democrats seek also to tax, say, shipping containers?  Over the past half-century, these humble boxes have put millions of high-paid longshoremen out of work. Perhaps the Democrats will tax also high-grade rubber tires: by enabling cars and trucks to travel farther on single sets of tires, the number of jobs in tire-manufacturing plants is reduced. Or maybe TeamObama will slap a punitive tax on electrical generators, for ready access to inexpensive electricity continues to encourage businesses to lower their costs by replacing human labor with machines.
    All I can say is: Don, aren't you worried that Democrats will read this and say "Hey, great idea!"

  • In related news, Puffington Host contributor Sam Stein describes a meeting between White House and Congressional lawmakers discussing the Democrats' "August Strategy", and how they plan to coordinate with the usual lefty noisemakers: MoveOn, unions, etc. But most amusing was the pocket card (PDF) that was passed out at the meeting, which Stein got hold of and posted. It's small, has big print, and uses the "ship American jobs overseas" phrase five times. They really think it's going to work for them.

    And maybe it will. Who knows? But for me it just says: "We're out of ideas, but maybe we can use this BS to fool the rubes one more time."

  • The latest Rasmussen poll for the open US Senate seat from New Hampshire is pretty good news for (Republican) Kelly Ayotte. It shows her easily beating the likely Democrat nominee, Paul Hodes.

    Readers might remember that a couple weeks ago the Huppington Fost screamed that Sarah Palin's endorsement of Ayotte "BACKFIRES", pointing to a subsequent decrease in Ayotte's lead, according to a Democratic-affiliated polling organization. But, according to Rasumussen, the effect was to change Ayotte's lead over Hodes from 12% to… 13%. [Rasmussen notes that Palin's "very unfavorable" ratings are pretty high in NH, though.]

    Bill Binnie might be a little depressed by the poll. Although he also leads Hodes, his July lead was 11%, and now it's dropped to 6%. This is after spending (roughly) a boatload of his own money on TV ads and slick mailers.

    Sorry, Ovide fans. Rasmussen didn't ask about him.

  • Co-worker Marcus asks:
    The commercials on Pandora seem to be getting more frequent... is it me?
    I don't know. But while I was idly searching for an answer, I came across an intriguing suggestion:
    After switching my gender to Female, Pandora showed me nothing but birth control ads, which, while not exactly applicable to me, were a whole lot less annoying than the over-animated, window-usurping Bud Light ads I was getting before.
    I might be doing something wrong, but Pandora doesn't allow me to either set or change my profile's gender. But (generally speaking) lying about yourself to improve the mix of ads you see strikes me as fun, and (if widely adopted) likely to cause any number of Internet marketers to commit seppuku. Win-win!

  • Today's Red Hat Linux update is to the tzdata package, which contains rules for time zones around the world. It's described as an "enhancement", and here's the description:
    * during Ramadan, that is, during the period between 2010-08-11 and 2010-09-08, Egypt will suspend DST. The DST period will be officially restored on 2010-09-09.
    The tzdata package expands primarily into /usr/share/zoneinfo/ on Linux systems, amassing (typically) a bit under 6 Megabytes. Not very big by today's storage standards, but (on the other hand), it's bigger than the King James Bible. This is just the timezone data; it doesn't count the labyrinthine code that goes into Linux (and other OS's) to handle time zones, DST and other tweaks.

    Here's Pun Salad's Totally Impractical Proposal: abolish time zones. Everybody who really cares what time it is should use UTC. (Or, as we used to say, Greenwich Mean Time.) No more fall back, spring forward. No more dinking with your watch when you cross imaginary lines. No more 9-to-5; your boss might expect you to be onsite (say) between 1400 and 2200.

    Downside: this great song wouldn't work so well any more.

    I'm not alone. This smart guy has the arguments.

    Or this Wikipedia article on "Time in Indiana" might convince you all by itself.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 3:44 PM EDT

He Walked By Night

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

From 1948, a police procedural set in Los Angeles, with film noir touches.

An unlucky policeman on his way home stops to question a guy who we've seen just try to break into a TV store. The guy unexpectedly pulls a gun and fills the poor cop full of lead. As you might expect, the full force of LA's finest is put behind the case. But it's frustrating, because the killer is pretty sharp; he's got a police radio, knows a lot about police procedures, and is careful not to leave any tracks. Fortunately, the cops are relentless.

This movie will remind you (if you're of a certain age) of good old Dragnet. (The IMDB explains why.) There's a know-it-all narrator, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, and Jack Webb has a part. (As a nerdy crime lab technician, though, not Sergeant Joe Friday.) And I'm not sure if Dragnet's claim that the "story you are about to see is true" was actually true, but this movie was based on an actual case.

Richard Basehart, Admiral Nelson himself, plays the bad guy. As noted above the movie tries to do the noir thing, but (at least to me) this was entirely a matter of lighting, or lack thereof; there's no moral ambiguity or cynicism, and no femme fatales. Hey, you might as well put the lights on, guys.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 3:43 PM EDT

Consider the Lobster

[Amazon Link]

David Foster Wallace hanged himself on September 12, 2008; a very good author removed himself from the scene at far too young an age. At the time, Shawn Macomber pronounced himself irritated at the "self-serving and shallow" words offered up in response by the literate mass media. He suggested instead that we "read something by Wallace rather than about him. It'll be a much more gratifying experience."

Well, it only took me a couple of years to get around to it. And—Shawn was correct, of course—reading this collection of essays, articles, and book reviews was gratifying, but also with a strong undercurrent of regret at what we lost.

The components are as diverse as you're likely to encounter between the covers of one book: a visit to a video-porn awards ceremony and the accompanying, uh, festivities; reviews of works by John Updike, Joseph Frank, and (!) Tracy Austin; a discussion of Kafka's sense of humor; a visit (for Gourmet magazine) to the Maine Lobster Festival; coverage (for Rolling Stone) of John McCain's campaign for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000; a review of a usage dictionary that kind of turns into a 64-page version of Orwell's "Politics and the English Language"; a profile of John Ziegler, at the time a talk-radio titan in Southern California; DFW relates how September 11, 2001 appeared to him from his then-home in Bloomington, Indiana.

I doubt whether a single person might find all those topics inherently interesting. But they're all worth reading, thanks to DFW's keen sense of observation, his willingness to dig for telling details, tying it all together with prose that snaps and sparkles. Was there ever a less lazy writer?

I would imagine he drove his editors slightly insane, though. His footnotes… some of them even have their own footnotes. I don't often need reading glasses, but I dug out a pair here. The article on John Ziegler, "Host", goes beyond footnoting into more of a hyperlink-on-dead-trees format. I was going to try to describe it, but fortunately this guy has pictures of what the article looked like in (a) its original magazine publication, (b) in the book, and (c) on the magazine's website.

Although DFW's politics lean liberal, a number of little signs indicate that he might have outgrown that, had he chosen to live. His articles on McCain and Ziegler are pretty fair, and he's clearly impressed by McCain's Vietnam heroism.

Some passages stick out in the wake of DFW's demise. In the John Updike review, he notes that Updike, Norman Mailer, and Philip Roth—who he deems the "Great Male Narcissists"—must be contemplating "the prospect of their own deaths." Oops: Mailer's dead, but Updike outlived DFW by a solid four months; Roth is still around. Ironic.

Similarly, DFW observes that Joseph Frank appears "not exactly hale" and Dostoyevsky scholars "are waiting bated to see whether Frank can hang on long enough" to finish off the last volume of his massive biography. Yeah, hang on he did, and (furthermore) Frank's a "Professor Emeritus on Active Duty" at Stanford. Meanwhile, we're waiting for the publisher to scrabble together the pieces of DFW's last novel, The Pale King.

Ouch. Damn. Damn. Damn.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 4:08 PM EDT

Kick-Ass

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

As I type, Kick-Ass is #176 on IMDB's top 250 movies of all time. I don't know about that, but I enjoyed it.

Kick-Ass is the alter ego of nerdy high-schooler Dave Lizewski. He wonders why, given all the onscreen glorification of superheros, nobody ever decides to become one. Why not me? He soon enough finds out: you can get yourself seriously killed real easily. Especially if you possess no unusual skills, powers, or high-tech weaponry whatsoever. By sheerest luck, however, Dave's first forays into comic-bookland only almost get him killed. But it also brings the attention of both the local mob boss and a couple of extremely competent dress-up vigilantes: "Big Daddy" and his young daughter "Hit Girl". The plot develops in unexpected and violent directions, but it's all very tongue-in-cheek. (At one point, it's gun-in-cheek, but…)

As the MPAA puts it, the movie garners an R rating "for strong brutal violence throughout, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity and some drug use - some involving children." The preteen "Hit Girl" is also very potty-mouthed and violent, albeit in the context of comic-book fantasy. You'll have to think about whether that might bother you; you might also think about whether you even want to think about whether that might bother you.

Weigh that against this: there's a bazooka. In this blog's opinion, there aren't nearly enough movies with bazookas in them. I think Julie & Julia could have been improved with at least one bazooka scene.

Elizabeth McGovern, a one-time Oscar nominee, has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it role. Perusing her IMDB filmography, I'm pretty sure this is the first thing I've seen her in since 1988.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 3:42 PM EDT

The Rise and Decline of Nations

[Amazon Link]

Last month I noted an interview with Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, in which he discussed his "best five" books. This was the one I hadn't read. For the record, the other four were Hayek's The Road to Serfdom; Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman; What It Means to Be a Libertarian by Charles Murray; and The Future and Its Enemies by Virginia Postrel.

This one is different from those others; in fact, it sticks out like a sore thumb. It's aimed very much at Olson's fellow scholars and researchers, delving occasionally into technical statistical and economic arguments. And the late Olson's prose style makes Hayek look like Danielle Steele. So when I say I "read" this book, I pretty much mean: I looked at least once at every darn page. I can't claim to have grokked his thesis in all its caveats and subtleties. Bear that in mind as you read on.

The book is a sequel of sorts to one based on Olson's Ph. D. thesis research, The Logic of Collective Action, describing a theory of how common-interest organizations evolve in society, and conspire to further their well-being, possibly at the expense of those outside the group. You don't have to have read Logic, though, Olson summarizes its thesis before covering the new ground.

Simply stated: Olson demonstrates that, other things being equal, those "special interest" groups will (a) work to grab more than their share of the economic pie, and furthermore (b) as special interests become vested interests, they act to protect that disproportionate share against erosion. In stable, long-lived polities, special interests have had plenty of time to develop and cement their effectiveness. The economic effects are straightforward: everyone outside the special interest group is worse off than they would otherwise be, and overall prosperity is damaged. The economy also loses dynamism, since the special interests have every motive to resist true innovation; it can upset their tidy little apple carts.

Olson supports this thesis via investigation of such groups around the world and through the ages. He discusses the features of the Indian caste system, South African apartheid, medieval guilds, etc. This is only sporadically interesting. (YMMV.)

Although Olson's book was written decades ago, you don't have to look any further than the daily paper to find examples of what he was talking about: corporate welfare, unions, regulations and laws that benefit old and entrenched firms over young upstarts, … From Daniels' interview:

It was some of the books on this list that helped me to see that the real reactionary movements in a country like ours are what we call the left. These really are the forces of status quo: they may travel under different banners or masquerade as something else but these are the folks who are more often than not trying to freeze in place arrangements that worked well for the 'ins'. So Olson shows you how that happens, Postrel shows you how this happens, Hayek shows you how this happens.
But, as noted, Hayek and (especially) Postrel are more accessible.

Last Modified 2012-10-02 4:08 PM EDT

Desperately Seeking Something To Campaign On

The Washington Post leaks the latest and lamest scheme: "New Democratic strategy for creating jobs focuses on a boost in manufacturing." Opening paragraph:

President Obama and congressional Democrats -- out of options for another quick shot of stimulus spending to revive the sluggish economy -- are shifting toward a longer-term strategy that promises to tackle persistently high unemployment by engineering a renaissance in American manufacturing.
You can almost see the palms slapped against foreheads at that meeting, can't you? Why didn't we think of this before? It's so simple!

Why, we'll just engineer our way to prosperity!

What's the "new strategy"? Well… sorry, but they've been real busy doing other things for the past year and a half, and they're almost done figuring it out, and—hey!—we know one thing that will be there for sure (emphasis added):

That approach, heralded by Obama last week in Detroit and sketched out in a memo to House Democrats as they headed home for the August break, is still evolving and so far focuses primarily on raising taxes on multinational corporations that Democrats accuse of shipping jobs overseas.
Ah, raising taxes! Is there anything it can't do? Especially when you can raise taxes on easily-demonized scapegoats.

Now the WaPo headline trumpets this as a "new" strategy, but that's only because it's buying the Democrats' spin, and it has no long-term memory. In fact, it's a perennial theme. For example:

When I am President, I will end the tax giveaways to companies that ship our jobs overseas, and I will put the money in the pockets of working Americans, and seniors, and homeowners who deserve a break.
That's then-Senator Barack Obama, November 3, 2007.

Or:

I've proposed a new economic plan for America. It begins by putting an end to tax incentives that are encouraging American companies to ship jobs overseas.
That's John Kerry, back in 2004.

Or, a campaign brochure full of promises like:

Eliminate deductions for companies that ship American jobs overseas and reward outrageous executive pay.
That's Bill Clinton, 1992.

Yeah, but this time I'm sure the Democrats really mean it.

Alternative explanation: it's a stupidly counterproductive idea, but an effective campaign soundbite when used on the rubes. The Democrats dust it off every election season, and put it right back on the shelf afterward.

But that's not all, continues the WaPo:

The strategy also repackages policies long pursued by the White House -- such as investing in clean energy, roads, bridges and broadband service -- with more than two dozen legislative proposals aimed at developing a plan for promoting domestic manufacturing.
I.e., the "New" strategy is really just a bunch of old stuff, spending labelled as "investing", plus more corporate welfare aimed at politically well-connected firms.

And it will work this time, because…?

Really, someone needs to lead these guys away quietly from the levers of government before they do more damage.

Nothing Surprises Me Any More

One of the students at the University Near Here got her Gmail account compromised, and the bad guys sent this out under her name (emphasis added):

How are you doing today? I know this might be a surprise to you but am sorry I didn't inform you about my travel for a Seminar in Scotland.
… and it goes on to hit up the recipients for "1500 British pounds" because she's lost her wallet, credit cards, etc. (Very common by the way.)

But that "surprise" thing… what's up with that? Here's a sample from the last few weeks of my incoming spam (emphasis still added):

"Good day, I know that this email will come to you as a surprise because you don,t know me and i don,t know you too.…"

"Do not be surprised by this offers as it sound very surprising because I undertake this action so that the Lord God Almighty will forgive me…"

"I know that this mail will come to you as a surprise as we never met before.…"

"It will be a surprise for you to receive this mail, welcome this letter.…"

"This mail might come to you as a surprise and the temptation to ignore it as unserious could come into your mind but please consider it a divine…"

"This message might meet you in (utmost surprise),however,it's just my urgent need for foreign partner that made me to contact you for this transaction.…"

"I know that this letter may be a very big surprise to you, I came across your profile from my personal search and I instructed the doctor here in this hospital to help me write you and I believe that you will be honest to fulfill my final wish before I will die.…"

"It is obvious that this notification will come to you as a surprise but please find time to read it carefully as we congratulate you over your success in the following official publication of results of the E-mail electronic online Sweepstakes organized by Microsoft…"

"I am quite aware that my message will come to you as a surprise because it is indeed very strange for some one you have not met before to contact you in this regard.…"

"I know this will come as a surprise to you but i want to assure you with honest to god almighty that my email comes with good intentions,…"

"I crave your indulgence as I contact you in such a surprising manner and I want you to bear in mind that this is not a hoax but I respectfully insist you read this mail carefully as I am optimistic it will open door for unimaginable financial reward for both of us and believe that you will not let me down and we will work together to develop trust and confidence in this business.…"

A little Googling shows that this surprising behavior been going on for awhile. Here are examples from 2007, 2006, and 2005. And here's one from 1988. ("I knew that this letter may be a very big surprise to you, I came across your email contact from my personal search…" Yes, exactly the same as the one I got on July 14. Wow.)

The phraseology is well enough known to be in parodies (from 2003):

DEAR SIR / MADAM,

I AM GEORGE WALKER BUSH, SON OF THE FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, AND CURRENTLY SERVING AS PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. THIS LETTER MIGHT SURPRISE YOU BECAUSE WE HAVE NOT MET NEITHER IN PERSON NOR BY CORRESPONDENCE. I CAME TO KNOW OF YOU IN MY SEARCH FOR A RELIABLE AND REPUTABLE PERSON TO HANDLE A VERY CONFIDENTIAL BUSINESS TRANSACTION, WHICH INVOLVES THE TRANSFER OF A HUGE SUM OF MONEY TO AN ACCOUNT REQUIRING MAXIMUM CONFIDENCE. …

No big deal, but does anyone know why this "surprising" language is so prevalent and consistent in the fraudulent spam game? Examples abound, obviously, but I've been unable to track down an explanation. Does it spring from some feature of Nigerian custom or culture?

All the Time You Know She's Smilin'

… you'll be on your knees tomorrow:

  • Good video from the Golden State Minutemen, where a California constituent confronts her Congresscritter, Pete Stark:

    My only complaint is that the civilian doesn't shut up and let Stark just babble on incoherently in a manner that might even disquiet his most mindless supporters. Let me transcribe her key question about ObamaCare:

    "If this legislation is Constitutional, what limitations are there on the Federal Government's ability to tell us how to run our private lives?"
    Stark has no answer other than (paraphrasing): there aren't any limitations. None he can think of anyway. One would think that might even bother some Democrats.

    Were I a GOP strategist, I would make sure that simple question is asked of every Democrat candidate for high or low office, and YouTubing the response.

  • The NYT, in one of its rare displays of good sense, put Edward Niedermeyer from The Truth About Cars on the op-ed page, and he gives the Chevy Volt a sound thrashing.
    For starters, G.M.'s vision turned into a car that costs $41,000 before relevant tax breaks ... but after billions of dollars of government loans and grants for the Volt's development and production. And instead of the sleek coupe of 2007, it looks suspiciously similar to a Toyota Prius. It also requires premium gasoline, seats only four people (the battery runs down the center of the car, preventing a rear bench) and has less head and leg room than the $17,000 Chevrolet Cruze, which is more or less the non-electric version of the Volt.
    Bottom line: if you're a rich Democrat who's eager to waste some money in attempting to demonstrate your support for the corporate welfare promulgated by your party, by all means, buy a Volt. Don't bother to thank the rest of us taxpaying schmucks who are subsidizing your symbolism.

    I love the accompanying graphic (which I filched, click for full size):

    [Volt!]

    The Truth About Cars is here. For more, see (usually semi-liberal) Slashdot's linkfest "Electric Car Subsidies As Handouts For the Rich." And good old Iowahawk comments as well, contrasting the great old car songs of the past with the two minutes and twenty-three seconds of pain that is the "Chevy Volt Dance."

  • Good entry at the Freakonomics blog interviewing the Street-Fighting Mathematician. I chuckled at this little (oldie but goodie) joke on numerical accuracy:
    In a natural-history museum, a guide was showing the visitors an ancient insect preserved in amber. "How old is that insect?" asked a visitor. "1,000,007 years," said the guide. How can the age be known so precisely, the visitors wondered. "Because it was 1 million years old when I started here 7 years ago."


Last Modified 2012-10-02 3:41 PM EDT

Terribly Happy

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

Another Netflix-predicted-I'd-love movie. And it's not bad.

A little town on the vast, flat prairie is getting a new Marshal, Robert. Robert looks like a young James Franciscus gone prematurely to seed. He's on leave from the big city due to (initially) unspecified misbehavior, and has been reassigned to this (putatively) little burg where nothing ever happens. But Robert soon meets a Damsel in Distress, abused by her husband. Said husband is the Town Desperado, from whom the Upstanding Residents cower in fear.

Ah, sounds like a western! But no, it's set in a remote corner of present-day Denmark, it's very dark and moody, and many Ø's in the subtitles have slashes thrøugh them. I'm nøt kidding abøut the vast, flatness; everything seems tø be apprøximately three tø five inches abøve sea level and mud is an ømnipresent metaphør.

All is not as it seems: the Upstanding Residents are not all that upstanding, and in fact are kind of creepy. The Damsel has some psychological issues, as does Robert. The Desperado is a complex character; he and Robert develop their own off-kilter relationship. Central to everything is the bog just outside town, into which inconvenient people disappear now and then.

Without spoiling too much, the movie twists and turns in unexpected and unpleasant ways; it's not everyone's cup of Tuborg.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 3:40 PM EDT