I Heard the Heavens Sing

… predicting Marty Robbins:

  • Jeff Jacoby was not enough for me to maintain my Boston Globe subscription, but he has a useful summary of Democrat smugness over the past few years, using President Obama's recent gripe that voters are failing to "think clearly" because they're in the icy grip of fear. I noticed:
    Obama is far from alone in looking down his nose at the great unwashed.
    Jacoby must have some sort of psychic connection with Katie Couric of (so I'm told) CBS News, who's getting out of her Manhattan studio:
    That's why Couric has spent recent weeks in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is touring what she calls "this great unwashed middle of the country" in an effort to divine the mood of the midterms.
    Dr. Katie also diagnoses that "voters are slightly schizophrenic". And that thing on the voters' neck? They really should get that looked at.

    Literate Lileks notes that the "great unwashed" comes to us from the pen of the immortal Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

  • Everyone else in the dextrosphere has linked to this P. J. O'Rourke article, but just in case you haven't clicked over yet…
    Democrats aren't just dateless dweebs clambering upon the Statue of Liberty carrying a wilted bouquet and trying to cop a feel. Theirs is a different kind of love story. Power, not politics, is what the Democrats love. Politics is merely a way to power's heart. When politics is the technique of seduction, good looks are unnecessary, good morals are unneeded, and good sense is a positive liability. Thus Democrats are the perfect Lotharios. And politics comes with that reliable boost for pathetic egos, a weapon: legal monopoly on force. If persuasion fails to win the day, coercion is always an option.
    Six days to go…

  • I don't watch PBS (aka "Commie TV") much, but I really, really, liked the first episode ("A Study in Pink") of Sherlock, a new TV series placing Holmes and Dr. Watson in present-day London. I'm not an obsessive Holmesian, but I remembered enough to enjoy the little parallels between the Victorian original and the update.

    For example, at the very beginning of A Study in Scarlet, Watson mentions that he's just out of rehab after getting shot in Afghanistan. The present-day Watson: pretty much the same. Both Studies have the important clue of "RACHE" scrawled at the crime scene; but the clue's meaning is neatly reversed between "Scarlet" and "Pink".

    And at one point, Watson is confronted by a dapper know-it-all who identifies himself only as Holmes' "arch-enemy". You say, ah, I know who that is! And… no, you don't.

    But best of all: no campaign commercials. They're really getting tedious. I love free speech, but I also value any option that allows me to avoid it.

    So: check your listings, and if you're so inclined, "A Study in Pink" is available online for free viewing here.


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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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

The book is in my TBR pile, but I'm not sorry about seeing the movie first. An actual whodunit movie is very rare, and a good one is rarer still.

The Girl is Lisbeth, a Swedish "professional hacker". She's got all kinds of troubles: she's on some sort of probation due to (initially unspecified) legal trouble; her new probation officer thinks she's easy prey for sexual predation; gangs attack her in the subway.

And they're not kidding about that tattoo, either.

Lisbeth is ostensibly finishing up an assignment investigating Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who's also in trouble: he published a story on a misbehaving industrialist, only to find the evidence on which he relied was elaborately falsified. Found guilty of libel, he's looking forward to some jail time. But before that begins, he's summoned off to work for the wealthy Vanger family, as one of their scions has become concerned with the 40-year-old disappearance and (presumed) death of young Harriet Vanger. Mikael's painstaking long-odds investigation comes to Lisbeth's attention via her ongoing compromise of Mikael's laptop. They join forces to solve the crime, but find themselves contending with Swedish Nazis—I hate Swedish Nazis—even more sexual perversion, general Swedish gloomy darkness, and Lisbeth's chain-smoking.

Be warned, it's not for the kids.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:08 PM EDT
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The Lady from Shanghai

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

This movie, made in 1946, raised one big question in my mind: exactly what drugs were these people on? Was it too early for LSD? Could prodigous amounts of reefer have caused them to think that they were making a coherent movie? Were Hollywood folks doing peyote back then? Magic mushrooms?

The basic plot doesn't sound that peculiar for what is claimed to be a film noir: Orson Welles plays Mike, a drifter who finds himself strolling in Central Park. On an impulse, he pitches woo to a passing lady in a hansom cab: it's Rita Hayworth, so what red-blooded male wouldn't? Shortly afterward, he rescues her from ruffians, and she offers him a job as a worker on her husband's luxury yacht, which they're planning on sailing down the coast, through the Panama Canal, and up to San Francisco. Against his better judgment, Mike accepts, and meets up with Rita's husband (a rich crippled lawyer, played by Everett Sloane) and her husband's partner, Bannister. Soon a murder plot is afoot, but who's exactly pulling the strings?

Just about everything else in the movie is bizarre, though. (Especially Bannister. Geez, what a weirdo!) But fundamental questions kept popping into my head (besides the first one mentioned above): Why did he say that? How did he know that? Why did he do that? What just happened there? Even in retrospect, I'm not coming up with any answers.

On the other hand, there's a lot of interesting stuff going on in interesting places. The filmmakers might not have had a firm idea of where their plot was going, or their characters' motivations, but they managed to shoot the whole mess inventively.

Fascinating trivia: that's Errol Flynn's actual yacht, and also his actual dog.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:06 PM EDT
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Lies My Newspaper Told Me

This morning's Foster's Sunday Citizen brings sad news indeed. The page A5 headline:

N.H. lags in energy efficiency, report says
Oh noes! What's the problem? First paragraph:
Not only is New Hampshire the least energy-efficient state in New England, its energy efficiency dropped the most nationally from last year, according to a recently released report that […]
waitaminit…
[…] ranks states' energy efficiency policies.
Oh. Never mind.

(The article doesn't show at Foster's website but it's a copy of this article from the New Hampshire Business Review.)

If you're beginning to suspect that you've been suckered, the next paragraph will change that suspicion into certainty:

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., released the 2010 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, which ranks states based on factors such as state government initiatives, appliance efficiency standards, utility and public benefits programs and policies and building energy codes and transportation policies.
So: when they claim to be ranking "energy efficiency", they're not actually doing anything old-fashioned like… you know… measuring energy efficiency. No, they're much more post-modern about it: they're nose-counting "initiatives", "standards", "programs", "codes", and "policies" cooked up by various levels of state and local bureaucracies. (Each and every one well-funded by taxpayers.) If you have those, it doesn't really matter whether you're gratuitously wasting energy or not.

As stated, the original report is from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The introductory sentence demonstrates their policy druthers: "Even as Congress failed to take major action on climate and energy legislation in 2010, …" I. e., they're very, very disappointed about that cap-and-trade thing going down in CO2-producing flames.

If you want to really know where New Hampshire (or your state) ranks in terms of energy consumption, I suggest this page from the DOE. Answer for NH, in 2008: 235.5 Million BTU per capita. That's 7th from the bottom, which (frankly) is not too shabby considering how consarn cold it gets up here sometimes. (Try warming yourself with something other than a British Thermal Unit, friend.)

Could it be that—gasp!—some people can actually manage to economize energy usage on their own, without relying on various nudges, nags, subsidies, and penalties from federal, state, and local energy nannies?

Sure. But that sort of measure simply doesn't matter to those of a certain statist social-engineering bent, like those running "American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy". It just ain't on their radar, which only picks up "efficiency" when some politician or bureaucrat can take responsibility for it. I only wish that the NHBR and Foster's were even slightly skeptical about it.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:17 PM EDT
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They Say You Got To Stay Hungry

… hey baby, I'm just about starving tonight:

  • Bastiat nailed it:
    The present-day delusion is an attempt to enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else; to make plunder universal under the pretense of organizing it.
    But as this quote from Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine demonstrates, Bastiat's "present-day" is ours too:
    the message to young voters is pretty simple… we've done the largest expansion of the student loan program in American history… we've done a health care reform that allows youngsters to stay on their family insurance policy until age 26, and we've done important credit card reform that has helped young voters. So we have their attention…
    Democrats are the party of plunder. And they want you to know it.

  • I'm not a fan of Mike Huckabee, but he's right:
    In the wake of NPR's firing of contributor Juan Williams over comments about Muslims, Mike Huckabee is calling on the next Congress to cut the radio network's funding when it convenes next year.
    My only gripe is that he's using Williams' firing as an excuse. Government has no business funding radio stations unless they're broadcasting into Commie dictatorships. When the stations act like Commie dictatorships, it's a different thing entirely.

  • Obfuscating politicians would do well to study the remarks of English soccer coach Arsene Wenger, who was asked about the readiness of one of his players:
    "Is he ready to start for England against France next month? If you asked me the reverse question, is he not ready to start for England, then it would be difficult to not say no."
    I believe that several Star Trek computers short circuited themselves trying to figure out whether this was a "yes" or "no".

  • I have listened to Bruce Springsteen's 1984 hit song "Dancing in the Dark" hundreds of times. And seen the video (with an impossibly young Courtney Cox) dozens of times.

    But I had no idea what the song was about until I heard Mary Chapin Carpenter sing it. Once, on my car radio, pre-iPod. Ever since, Springsteen's version has sounded jarringly stupid to me. (Sorry, Boss.)

    MCC's version was kind of tough to find, though. Some good person has made an MP3 available right here. Check it out.


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Comeback

[Amazon Link]

I continue to work through Dick Francis's great older novels. This one, from 1991, has a far-fetched beginning, but quickly settles down to a nice tale of sleuthing and peril.

The protagonist is Peter Darwin ("no relation," he keeps saying), a British Foreign Service officer. He's on his way back to assignment in England after being overseas for years. A stop in Miami leads to a chance encounter with a older married pair of English nightclub singers, who wind up getting mugged. They're slightly traumatized and Peter agrees to accompany them back home to Gloucestershire, where they're due to attend their daughter's upcoming wedding.

Which in turn leads Peter to meet the soon-to-be-wed Belinda and Ken, who are veterinarians at a local hospital. But Ken's in a spot of trouble, as a number of horses that came under his care have been dying for no apparent reason. And, before Peter can go on with his life, there comes word that the veterinary hospital is on fire. There's clearly something nasty going on.

All that is coincidental enough (and takes about fifty pages to happen), but (also coincidental) Peter's roots are also in the area, and he remembers some of the local characters from his youth. He resolves to stick around a bit and see if he can't figure out what's going on and try to save Ken's reputation.

And, this being a Francis novel, of course he does. But not without experiencing some mortal danger.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:09 PM EDT
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2012

[1.5
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Not just a stupid movie, it's a movie that assumes that you're stupid.

The culprit is solar neutrinos. No, really. The sun pumps those out all the time, and usually nearly all of them pass through you, me, and the entire planet without raising any more fuss than a John Updike poem.

Unfortunately, in 2012, something has turned the solar neutrinos badass. And they party down in our planetary nether regions, causing increased seismic activity, vulcanism, and massive tsunamis as the crust becomes uncoupled from the molten core. Or something. And the Mayans predicted that.

We are shown how this impacts a broken L. A. family: John Cusack as the ex-husband of Amanda Peet, who's currently being wooed by Thomas McCarthy. There are also irritating kids. On a separate plot track there are Good Scientists (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton), Evil Politicians (Oliver Platt), and a noble President (Danny Glover). And Woody Harrelson plays a loon with a radio show.

But the real point of the movie is destruction porn, showing the ever more violent death throes of Mother Earth. Cusack's family narrowly escapes death about every five minutes or so, which is an excuse to show (without gory detail, which would detract from the "fun") the demise of nearly everyone else.

Way too long, and stupid all the way through. The filmmakers apparently think you're watching it solely for the PG-13 carnage, to which they only have to add flimsy characters and clichéd plotting. Extra half star for Woody Harrelson and the special effects.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:09 PM EDT
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It's So Hard To Find a Personality

… with charms like yours for me:

  • The VFW has dissolved its political action committee, which had, among other things, endorsed my own Congressperson/Toothache, Carol Shea-Porter.

    I doubt her signs advertising the endorsement will go away, though. They're pretty funny, proclaiming that she's "Endorsed by…"

    VFW

    Political Action Committee

    The fine print is pretty easy to miss when you're driving by.

  • Weekend Barackrobatics:
    President Barack Obama said Americans' "fear and frustration" is to blame for an intense midterm election cycle that threatens to derail the Democratic agenda.

    "Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we're hardwired not to always think clearly when we're scared," Obama said Saturday evening in remarks at a small Democratic fundraiser Saturday evening. "And the country's scared."

    I can't do better than this comment from Paul Mirengoff at Power Line, but I'll summarize: tone-deaf, arrogant, condescending, self-serving psycho-babble. I would imagine that not one person at the "small" ($900K fundraising) shindig asked him why people should be more "scared" in 2010 than when they elected him in 2008.

    Also see Taranto for his observations.

  • At Reason, Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie make a good point on anonymous political speech (currently subject to frantic demonization by Democrats), one you've also read here:
    As with many political firestorms, the current one about "dangerous" anonymous speech generates more heat than insight. Anonymous speech is fully in the American grain but it also comes at a price. When the source of political speech is not known or disclosed, voters tend to discount it, or at least look for corroboration elsewhere. Which is exactly how it should be. And if you don't in the end trust voters to make informed decisions, then all the mandatory disclosure in the world can't help them.
    Video at the link.

  • Iowahawk envisions the Obama Administration as an old-school text adventure. Simply brilliant.

  • I laughed at this until tears came down my cheeks, but Mrs. Salad thought it was just stupid. What do you think?


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:14 PM EDT
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How to Train Your Dragon

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

As I type, it's #181 on IMDB's Top 250 Movies of all time. That's a little strong for me, but to be fair, I merely watched the 2-D version at home; the 3-D theatrical version might have been really awesome.

It's pretty good, though. The story revolves around a Viking village sorely beset by a variety of dragons that steal sheep and kill the occasional villager; not onscreen, though. An oddball lad, Hiccup, has few physical skills for dragonfighting, but is blessed with an ingenious and creative soul, and attempts to demonstrate this by constructing a weapon to bring down the deadliest of all dragons: a Night Fury.

He winds up merely wounding it. And when he tracks it down, he can't bring himself to finish off the beast. Instead, he … well, see the title. This sets up an obvious conflict with the exterminatory feelings of the folks back in the village. But it's aimed mostly at the kiddos, so you can pretty much guess how it comes out.

Plot, voice talent, animation quality are all great. Dreamworks continues to do a very good job of being not-quite-Pixar. As a mild conservative, I should point out Jonah Goldberg's column on the movie too.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:14 PM EDT
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Radicals for Capitalism

[Amazon Link]

It's big: 619 pages of text, followed by 94 pages of notes, a four-page "Selected Bibliography", four pages of acknowledgements, and a 19-page index.

The subtitle is "A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement." The "Freewheeling" bit is important: Brian Doherty is the opposite of stodgy, and the 619 pages—I didn't go to the notes much—go by easily.

Doherty concentrates on five people forming the "spine" of the story he wants to tell: Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and Milton Friedman. But along the way, he discusses many, many others.

As might be expected from adherents to an individualist ideology that views authority with a high degree of skepticism, libertarians tend to be a fractious and colorful (occasionally downright wacky) bunch. There's a lot of infighting over matters which to an outsider might seem utterly trivial. (One noteworthy example: Milton Friedman wrote an early essay on rent control for the Foundation for Economic Education with colleague George Stigler; Ayn Rand disliked it enough to refer to the authors as "two reds".) And Doherty has all the lurid details of the Rand cult and her hanky-panky with Nathaniel Branden, which turned a lovers' quarrel into an ideological schism.

But there's also a lot of solid and serious discussion of libertarianism's philosophic and economic roots and evolution, and how that played out against the dominant political issues of the 20th century. There have been some victories: conscription is gone, and it's not coming back; believers in central economic planning have been pretty much defeated in theory (although unfortunately not always in practice.) But mostly, libertarianism remains politically marginal.

There are some things I could quibble with. Doherty makes more of the friction between conservatism and libertarianism than might be warranted. National Review's Frank Meyer gets a few cursory mentions, but as an advocate of "fusion" between conservatives and libertarians, I think he deserved a bit more attention. But, as I said: quibbles. Anyone interested in where libertarianism came from will want to read this book.

Doherty concludes with a quote:

"Quintessentially and metaphysically," Murray Rothbard once wrote, the libertarian "should remain of good cheer. The eventual victory of liberty is inevitable, because only liberty is functional for modern man. There is no need, therefore, for libertarians to thirst maniacally for Instant Action and Instant Victory, and then to fall into bleak despair when that Instant Victory is not forthcoming. Reality, and therefore history, is on our side."
I'm too much a conservative to take that with less than a couple grains of salt, but I like it none the less for that.

Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:13 PM EDT
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They Saying That Love Is Going To Change Me

… but don't be fooled by everything you see:

  • [Aguilera and Doofus] Sad news on the celebrity front, as Christina Aguilera is splitting up with her husband of five years. When they wed, Pun Salad predicted the young man pictured at right (who has a name, but I've always thought of him as "Hapless Bastard") was in for an estimated six months "all-expense-paid tour of Hell." So I was off by a factor of ten or so.

  • Let me say something nice about Paul Hodes, Democrat candidate for the US Senate, current Congressman from NH.

    No, I'm not kidding.

    Hodes is one of only nine co-sponsors of H. R. 682, the "STOCK Act"; it would ban stock trading by House members and their aides on the basis of "insider" information unavailable to the public.

    Prof Bainbridge has a couple of articles on the STOCK Act. He outlines why the legislation is a good idea, and blames its failure to get anywhere on Speaker Pelosi.

    So: good for you, Paul Hodes. I still hope you lose, though. Sorry. (Update: he did.)

  • Your quote du jour is from David Brooks:
    As I was saying, my general rule is that if the president and his advisers are going to accuse somebody of committing a crime, they should have some scintilla of evidence behind the charge. Yet Obama seems to have precisely none behind his accusation that the Chamber of Commerce is using foreign money to influence the elections.
    This is in an exchange with Gail Collins, editor of the New York Times editorial page, who doesn't seem bothered by Obama's behavior at all.


Last Modified 2011-10-14 3:49 PM EDT
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Tension

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

Part deux of a film noir double feature from Netflix.

Richard Basehart plays meek pharmacist Warren Quimby; his only goal in life is to put himself and his wife Claire in a nice Southern California tract house and start makin' babies. Unfortunately (and inexplicably) he's unaware that Claire is all kinds of bad news: selfish, promiscuous, vulgar, you name it. She runs off with a rich salesman with a Malibu beach house. Warren tries to get her back, but is utterly humiliated.

Warren resolves to solve the problem by committing what he thinks is the perfect crime: he sets up an alternate identity under which he plans to murder his rival. Problems: (a) his alter ego meets and falls in love with Cyd Charisse; (b) although the salesman winds up dead, the cops (Barry Sullivan and William Conrad) see through the "perfect crime" in about seventeen seconds. (It doesn't help that Walter's alternate identity mainly involves him calling himself "Paul Southern", and wearing contacts instead of glasses. Criminal mastermind!)

Not too bad, although the plot is more ludicrous than lurid. Audrey Totter plays Claire, and you'll rarely see anyone play a hard-boiled sociopath quite so convincingly.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:12 PM EDT
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Or Is This Part Of Man's Evolution

… to be torn between truth and illusion?

  • The Pope must have been listening to that great old song from the Band:
    ROME - Pope Benedict XVI said on Thursday that the media's increasing reliance on images, fuelled by the endless development of new technologies, risked confusing real life with virtual reality.

    "New technologies and the progress they bring can make it impossible to distinguish truth from illusion and can lead to confusion between reality and virtual reality," the pope said.

    "Just watch out for the sign of the snake."

  • I remarked a couple days back on the perceived cognitive dissonance in NH Congressperson Carol Shea-Porter's endorsement by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

    Except—and I should have remembered this from a couple years back—the endorsement was not from the VFW, but by the independent VFW Political Action Committee. And (as it turns out) the VFW is kind of pissed about its PAC's endorsements.

    The national line officers of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) are at odds with the VFW Political Action Committee (PAC), calling the methodology process used by the PAC "seriously flawed at best this year and in immediate need of extensive review," in the wake of the recent congressional endorsements made by the committee.
    Via Captain Ed at Hot Air.

  • The kids at FactCheck.org take apart an ad I've been seeing a lot: accusing Charlie Baker, GOP candidate for Massachusetts Governor, of wanting to "ship jobs overseas". The thing is: (1) it's a bogus claim; and (2) totally irrelevant to the Massachusetts Governor's race.

  • Wired has 10 Things You Didn't Know About The Empire Strikes Back. And sure enough, I didn't. I loved this one though:
    Miss Piggy had a cameo in one of Yoda's first scenes in rehearsal. When Mark Hamill first met Frank Oz, he asked him to do a brief Miss Piggy cameo during rehearsals on set, as a practical joke -- but when the time came much later, it caught even Hamill off-guard. During one scene, Yoda tells Luke to follow his feelings. Luke protests that he has followed his feelings -- and suddenly, Frank Oz whips out a Miss Piggy puppet, saying, "Feelings? You want feelings? Get behind the couch and I'll show you feelings, punk. What is this hole? I've been booked into dumps before, but never like this. Get me my agent on the phone!"
    Attention, George Lucas: include this as an extra on some future DVD release, and I'll buy it.


Last Modified 2010-10-14 3:41 PM EDT
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Date Night

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

It's funny. What more could one ask for?

Tina Fey and Steve Carell play Claire and Phil Foster, a staid married couple from Teaneck, NJ. They're shocked when their married friends announce an impending divorce; they resolve separately to inject some romance into their own relationship. Claire dresses up for their traditional weekly "date night"; Phil resolves to take her to a trendy Manhattan restaurant instead of their usual family-friendly joint. But things go very wrong when they poach a reservation from the "Tripplehorns", which (in turn) causes two thugs to shake them down. And things escalate from there.

This could have been lifeless and drearily formulaic, but Mr. Carell and Ms. Fey really do a good job of making their characters (if not the plot) believable and sympathetic. And Ms. Fey is, as always, a dynamite combination of smart, funny, and pretty. ("Why, if I were twenty years younger… and unmarried… and better looking… and more interesting… and richer…")


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:15 PM EDT
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Oh Carol, Don't Let Him Steal Your Heart Away

… I'm gonna learn to dance if it takes me all night and day:

  • It's 42 Day. Go nuts.

  • It's no news to those of us in New Hampshire Congressional District 1, but: The VFW Ignores Its Members to Suck Up to Anti-Military Washington Incumbents. One of them is my own Congresswoman/Toothache, Carol Shea-Porter.

    For a bit of good news: the NYT's election prognosticator rates Carol's re-electoral chances as slim.

  • We've previously noted that Citizen of the World President Obama has no problem with xenophobic arguments, as long as he can make them in support of his continuing efforts to supress political speech. So he's been making a lot of noise about "foreign money" being used to "influence American elections", pointing his quivering accusatory finger specifically at the US Chamber of Commerce.

    That right-wing rag, the New York Times, checks out the claims and finds:

    But a closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the chamber does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents.
    I can see (however) why Obama and the Democrats he's trying to protect would rather talks about that than—you know—issues. (Via Insty, who recalls Obama's own history with foreign campaign money.)


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Painted Ladies

[Amazon Link]

Posthumous Spenser novel. How depressing those words are. Writing machine Robert B. Parker left a few books in the publishing pipeline when he passed away earlier this year, and hanging over every Spenserian wisecrack here is the thought: you won't be reading too many more of these.

And this one is pretty good. Spenser has been on a streak in recent books: things don't work out well for clients who engage his private eye services. It's even worse than average here—dust-jacket spoiler coming up—his client only makes it to page 13.

Spenser had been hired to oversee a ransom demand for a stolen painting, the (fictitious) "Lady with a Finch" by the (equally fictitious) 17th century Dutch painter Franz Hermenszoon. His client is the supercilious Ashton Prince.

"May I count on your discretion?" he said.

"Sure," I said.

"I'm serious," he said.

"I can tell," I said.

He frowned slightly. Less in disapproval than in uncertainty.

"Well," he said, "may I?"

"Count on my discretion?"

"Yes!"

"At the moment, I don't have anything to be discreet about," I said. "But I would be if I did."

He stared at me for a moment, then smiled.

"I see," he said. "You're attempting to be funny."

"'Attempting'?" I said.

It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I've been chuckling at dialog like that for around thirty-five years, and, for me, it never gets old.

The payoff doesn't go well, especially for Ashton. Spenser, being Spenser, feels it necessary to crack the case anyway, even lacking a paying client. He is, as always, relentless and indefatigable. Soon, he rattles enough cages to put himself in danger.

My impression is that Spenser devotes a higher-than-average amount of time doing detecting here, which is good, and there might be fewer pages than normal containing tedious banter with his sweetie Susan—also good.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:13 PM EDT
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Where Danger Lives

[3.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link] Part one of a film noir double feature from Netflix.

Robert Mitchum plays young Dr. Jeff Cameron, about to finish up his rounds at the hospital one night, when in comes an attempted suicide victim, who identifies herself only as "Margo". Dr. Jeff pulls Margo back from the brink. (It's not clear what she did to herself, and Dr. Jeff's procedure seems to be confined to hovering over her and staring into her eyes.) The next day Margo checks herself out of the hospital, but later sends Dr. Jeff a wire bidding him to her stately manor. To "explain." But it turns out her house is… Where Danger Lives!

That's the most likely explanation for the title, anyway.

Soon enough, Dr. Jeff is neglecting his nurse girlfriend (Maureen O'Sullivan, who should have stayed in the jungle with Tarzan). Instead, he's hanging out with Margo. But soon, Claude Rains shows up at the mansion (where danger lives, remember) and big trouble ensues. Margo and Dr. Jeff find it necessary to go on the lam, where they encounter suspense and sleaze.

Partway through, Mitchum suffers a head injury, which he deems a "concussion". Since he's playing a doctor, you might give some weight to his diagnosis, but inexpert medical consensus at Pun Salad Manor deemed his symptoms more consistent with subdural hematoma. Complicating things: Mitchum exhibits slurred speech both before and after his injury.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:12 PM EDT
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Barackrobatics: In the Right Direction (October Update)

[A recycled post, updated with new links.]

It's another month of lousy unemployment news:

A wave of government layoffs in September outpaced weak hiring in the private sector, pushing down the nation's payrolls by a net total of 95,000 jobs. The unemployment rate held at 9.6 percent last month, the Labor Department said Friday. The jobless rate has now topped 9.5 percent for 14 straight months, the longest stretch since the 1930s.
So let's see what President Obama has to say. From a DNC Dinner in Cresskill, NJ the other evening ($30,000 a plate), held in the no-doubt-lovely home of one Michael Kempner:
And so, as Michael said, we're moving in the right direction.
And:
To change a system that large takes time, but we are now moving in the right direction.
And:
So we've had to make a lot of tough decisions. But I am extraordinarily confident that we're moving in the right direction.
And:
… many of you are a testament to the continuing strength and vitality of American democracy and the American economy. But in order for us to continue going in the right direction, we've got to sustain it.
Whoa. Four times with the "in the right direction." (Today's exercise: look up the word verbigeration and use it in a sentence.)

If you're keeping score, this makes October the eighth consecutive month in which President Obama has insisted at some point that the economy is headed in the right direction. (And 18 out of the last 19 months.)

And we continue to be reminded of one more quote:

President Hoover stated today that the trend of employment had changed in the right direction. He announced after the Cabinet meeting that the Department of Labor had informed him ...
… from the New York Times, January 22, 1930.

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It's Poetry in Motion

… she turned her tender eyes to me:

  • I've been reading Brian Doherty's history of modern American libertarianism, Radicals for Capitalism. This 2007 book has a lot of stuff about the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, who have funded a lot of libertarian activity since the 1970s.

    But recently the Koch brothers have come to the attention of the lefties, who are desperately looking for Alinskian targets to demonize and scapegoat. So, after decades of being ignored by everyone except libertarians, suddenly Charles and David are "newsworthy".

    Andrew Ferguson has a short and funny article at Commentary about the phoniness of it all.

    ThinkProgress's reports on the Kochs were repeated on the more heavily trafficked and slightly more mainstream Huffington Post, drawing the notice of the MSNBC talk-show host Rachel Maddow, who pointed out to her viewers that while Americans for Prosperity had a "really innocuous sounding name," it was a sock puppet of the Kochs. When Maddow speaks, the White House listens, and by August, the president himself was at a Texas fundraiser warning an audience that had paid at least $5,000 a person about the dangers that rich people posed to politics. Obama didn't mention the Kochs, just their organization. Despite an "innocent-sounding name," he said, "they don't want you to know who theAmericans for Prosperity are." It's not clear from the president's remarks who "they" are, but they can't be good.

    Obama's quote, along with reporting plucked from ThinkProgress and other websites, made it into the New Yorker magazine at the end of August as part of a long expos? of the Kochs and their organizations by a staff writer named Jane Mayer. (According to Mayer, the names of Koch political organizations are not only "innocent sounding" and "really innocuous sounding," as Obama and Maddow said; they are also "neutral sounding" and "generic sounding." You can't fool the New Yorker.) Within a few days of its publication, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee filed a complaint against Americans for Prosperity with the IRS. Terry Gross feted Mayer and her article on NPR's Fresh Air, and Frank Rich wrote a Sunday column in the New York Times that was mostly a paraphrase of Mayer's piece.

    Truly a herd of independent minds…

  • New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, running for re-election, recently touted the state's $70 million surplus for FY2010, and claimed that this demonstrates NH "is on sound fiscal footing."

    Exercise: read Charlie Arlinghaus and see if you agree with the Governor. I think we'll be on "sound fiscal footing" until November 3 or so, then we'll suddenly find ourselves in a world of fiscal hurt.

  • Apparently all the real scientists have enough money for everything they want to do
    The Civilians, the New York-based theatre company known for projects investigating real-life topics - including the upcoming IN THE FOOTPRINT about the controversy surrounding the development of the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn - has been awarded a three-year grant in the amount of $700,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for THE GREAT IMMENSITY, a new production about climate change, it has been announced by Steve Cosson, founding Artistic Director of The Civilians.
    It sounds like something Leonard Pinth-Garnell might feature:
    The play weaves actual interviews with top scientists and locals from the regions into the sisters' fictional tale as they struggle to survive polar bears, tundra buggies, snakes, and a Chinese pimp -- all while grappling with the harsh and seemingly hopeless realities of climate change.
    For the movie, I suggest Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen for the sisters, and Mickey Rooney as the Chinese pimp. (Via Hugh.)

  • The Oatmeal: If you do this in an email, I hate you. I'm sure no Pun Salad reader commits those crimes.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:15 PM EDT
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Owl and the Sparrow

[4.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link] It sounds like it's straight from Dickens: a young orphan girl working in a countryside factory is cruelly treated by her boss, who is also her uncle. She runs away to the big city, where she becomes a street urchin. She acquires two friends: a young man who works as a menial city employee, and a beautiful young woman with a solid professional career. The young girl decides to play matchmaker, and tries to avoid being tossed into the local orphanage…

Except this isn't Victorian England, it's roughly present-day Vietnam; the cruel uncle's factory makes bamboo blinds, not boot blacking; and the little girl, Thuy, escapes to Saigon, not London. The young man works in the Saigon Zoo, which is under financial pressure to sell his favorite animal, a young elephant, off to some Indian zoo. The young woman, a flight attendant on the Hanoi-to-Saigon run, has her own problems: she's in an affair with a married pilot.

OK, so maybe you wouldn't have seen that last bit in Dickens.

It's a very sweet story, told with humor. The kid playing Thuy is heartbreakingly cute and a decent actor.

The IMDB says the movie was filmed in "Ho Chi Minh City", but everybody in the movie calls it "Saigon", at least in the subtitles. For a commie hellhole dictatorship, there's a lot of capitalistic activity going on. Are you sure we lost that war?


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:07 PM EDT
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President Obama Should Stick His Corporate Welfare Where the Sun Don't Shine

President Obama's recent Saturday address touted yet another one of his faith-based initiatives.

No, not that sort of faith-based initiative—yuk! Instead, the President's true faith is in the State, specifically the notion that He and his Chosen Ones can do a far better job of steering the energy sector of the economy than can the efforts of private investors and companies, responding through prices and that old-fashioned supply and demand to supply what customers want, reaping the rewards if they get it right, bearing the losses if they choose incorrectly.

Faith-based, because there's no objective evidence that governments generally, or this one specifically, have a reliable record of taxing/subsidizing/mandating/regulating/bailing out the economy into prosperity. In fact, the evidence goes pretty much entirely the other way.

True Believers are never dissuaded by evidence, however. They don't think the Broken Window Fallacy is a fallacy at all; it's one of the pillars of their theology. So instead of private decision-making, we get political decision-making. Or: instead of what we want, expressed though our voluntary buying decisions, we're going to get what the government thinks we should have, expressed though its coercive power.

Specifically, in this case, solar power. Saith Obama:

For example, I want share with you one new development, made possible by the clean energy incentives we have launched. This month, in the Mojave Desert, a company called BrightSource plans to break ground on a revolutionary new type of solar power plant. It's going to put about a thousand people to work building a state-of-the-art facility. And when it's complete, it will turn sunlight into the energy that will power up to 140,000 homes — the largest such plant in the world. Not in China. Not in India. But in California.
The "incentive" Obama touts is described on BrightSource's project page:
The Ivanpah project has received a conditional commitment for a more than $1.3 billion loan guarantee by the US Department of Energy (DOE) to help fund this project. The loan is part of the DOE's Title XVII loan guarantee program, which was started in 2005 under the Energy Policy Act, to support commercially viable technology in addition to innovative renewable energy technology.
Translation: the US taxpayer is on the hook for over $1.3 billion if things go south for the project. And almost certainly, we'll be "helping out" at the other end too, as power companies are legislatively mandated to purchase BrightSource's undoubtedly expensive power.

This was the sort of deal that Enron dreamed about doing. They were just before their time.

Note that Obama is fudging a bit in claiming this boondoggle as his own: the enabling legislation was passed in 2005, signed by Dubya. Then-Senator Obama voted for it, however. The lopsided 74-26 Senate vote is recorded here. The Nays were an interesting coalition of liberals (Teddy Kennedy, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, …) and conservatives (John McCain, Judd Gregg, the sorely-missed John E. Sununu…). Also interesting: Obama's vote became a small (and ultimately futile) issue in the 2008 campaign, when Hillary noted Obama's support for what she deemed (heh) the "Dick Cheney lobbyist energy bill."

(Another bit of history: New Hampshire's CongressCritters at the time were Charlie Bass and Jeb Bradley; they were two of the small group that managed to remove support for oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve from the 2005 bill. Which reminded me why, despite their replacements, I wasn't too sorry they lost in 2006.)

Unsurprisingly, Obama tries to paint this as a partisan issue, claiming that the recent GOP "Pledge" promises to "scrap all the incentives for clean energy projects." That would be nice, but I can't find such a promise, can you? A principled Republican opposition to corporate welfare would be good news, and also entirely at odds with recent history. I'll believe it when I see it.

So, as usual with corporate welfare, we have taxpayers taking all the risks, and bearing a lot of the costs, while the profits wind up in the pockets of the ostensibly private businessmen.

Exercise for the naïve: gosh, do you think the movers and shakers at BrightSource might—just might—be pretty well politically connected?

Why, yes they are. Don't take my word for it: thanks to OpenSecrets, you can search for donations from BrightSource (and also Bright Source) employees. In the resulting "Recipient" columns, you'll see "Obama, Barack (D)", "Boxer, Barbara (D)", "Democratic Congressional Campaign Cmte (D)", "Reid, Harry (D)", …

(The lone (R) I could find on BrightSource's recipient list is next to "Murkowski, Lisa". Why? Oh, yeah.)


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Molière

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

Theory: some French guy saw Shakespeare in Love, and said "Hey, we can do that too." Or whatever that is in French.

It's the story, told almost entirely in flashback, of young Molière; the struggling actor/playwright is rescued from debtor's prison by a Monsieur Jourdain, a social climber who wants his help in seducing a young witty beauty. Jourdain is rich, but he's also married; this requires Molière to assume a false identity in the household in order to disguise his true mission. But soon enough he's involved with Jourdain's wife… It's all very French, and if it reminds you of some play you dimly remember from a past literature class, that's intentional.

It's quite funny in spots, not above slapstick and sight gags. And there's a neat plot twist, as Monsieur Jourdain transforms himself from a cuckolded buffoon.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:10 PM EDT
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Strange Love

… a star woman teaches:

  • The above link goes to Snopes, where you will learn: (a) the theme from Star Trek (original series) had lyrics; (b) they were awful; (c) Gene Roddenberry was kind of a slimeball.

  • Don Boudreaux has a good response to a recent USA Today editorial entitled "Who's buying this election? Who knows?" USA Today advocates "disclosure" by "special interests" on campaign ads.

    I was happy to see Don make the same point I made previously:

    The headline of your Sept. 28 editorial reads "Who's buying this election? Who knows?"

    I know. Incumbent politicians.

    Not all of them will succeed in their shopping sprees, thankfully. But farm subsidies, tariffs, export assistance, funding for science, funding for the arts, funding for education, bloated military procurements, bailouts of Detroit and Wall Street, and politically directed "stimulus" spending are just some of the expenditures -- all of money taken from both present and future taxpayers -- made by sitting politicians to buy the election. Reducing the amounts that private citizens spend of their own money to influence elections will only worsen the consequences of this detestable reality.

    Don appends a small correction: it's not just incumbents.

  • At Cato, Michael F. Cannon asks: what's the matter with the ex-Governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius?
    • Her department is forcing millions of Americans to finance speech that they oppose, by using taxpayer dollars to broadcast (misleading) television ads that promote ObamaCare.

    • She is using the powers granted her under ObamaCare to threaten insurers with bankruptcy if they publicly disagree with her about the law's cost.

    • Now, she is decrying the growth of anonymous political speech in congressional campaigns.

    When the boss lacks respect for the First Amendment, it's predictable that his underlings will enthusiastically follow his lead.

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Cool It

[Amazon Link]

A few weeks back I took Granite Geek to task for misrepresenting recent remarks by Bjorn Lomborg, famous thorn in the side for climate-change fearmongers, noting that GG paid a lot more attention to what Lomborg's adversaries allege about him than what Lomborg is actually saying.

It then occurred to me that I was kind of guilty of the same thing, never having read any of Lomborg's books. So I got on over the the University Near Here's library and checked this one out. It's good!

Lomborg, it should be noted, is not a global warming skeptic. He accepts the notion that increasing greenhouse gas levels is fueling an increase in overall global temperature. But he notes that the "solution" pushed by the mainstream warmists, drastic worldwide mandated reductions in CO2 emissions, is unwarranted. Such a policy is fantastically expensive, and not particularly effective in warding off the worst effects of warming.

Instead, Lomborg argues, we should concentrate on remedies with a better bang-per-buck (not just in the climate change area): fighting third-world malaria, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, and a lack of clean drinking water. Some of these will have a positive effect on mitigating warming effects; they're all a lot cheaper, and will save more lives, than draconian CO2 restrictions.

I'm a little more skeptical than Lomborg on the anthropogenic warming story; certainly the recent Climategate revelations didn't help. I'm a lot more skeptical in Lomborg's blithe notion that shoving $N billion into one end of the R&D pipe will reliably produce innovations coming out the other.

That said, however, Lomborg is a welcome voice of sanity in the whole climate debate field. He's a calm critic of sensationalism and hysterical overstatements from Planet Gore; he's convincing that it's a perfect storm of bad science, bad politics, and bad economics.

Oh, and not to mention some very sick puppies. Lomborg's title Cool It is meant to apply both to temperature and intemperate rhetoric. Obviously some didn't get that message.


Last Modified 2012-10-02 2:11 PM EDT
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