"It's an Entirely Different Kind of Flying Altogether"

[Together:] "It's an entirely different kind of flying."

  • [Amazon Link] Leslie Nielsen passed away, and you can't go anywhere on the web without running into YouTube clips. Everyone (including me) loved him in Airplane! and the Police Squad TV series and movies. If you read only one thing about Mr. Nielsen, make it David Zucker (Airplane!'s producer/director/writer).

    Mr. Nielsen was also in Forbidden Planet, the first movie I ever saw, back in Oakland, Iowa, 1956. Monsters from the Id! I don't think I had the slightest idea what was going on, but I still remember getting scared out of my 5-year-old wits.

  • Loudon County, Virginia, is wealthy by any measure. In 2007, it had the highest median household income of any US county.

    That did not, unfortunately, prevent $9.4 million of your tax dollars from being showered on Loudon Co., part of the Obama Administration's "Bold Action to Save Teachers' Jobs."

    The cash saved zero point zero teacher jobs in Loudon. But it did save Loudon teachers from a two-day unpaid furlough before Thanksgiving; it allowed Loudon to convert it into a two-day paid vacation.

  • Mark Krikorian notes the ever-expanding smear campaign of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

    Last week they formally designated -- I am not making this up -- the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage as "hate groups," the same as the "United Society of Aryan Skinheads" and the like.

    Jesse Walker put it this way: "As far as the SPLC is concerned, […] skinheads and Birchers and Glenn Beck fans are all tied together in one big ball of scary."

    As noted a couple days back, SPLC founder Morris Dees has been invited to present the Martin Luther King Celebration Commemorative Address at the University Near Here. Unfortunately, his speech is not titled "One Big Ball of Scary".

  • The Concord Monitor reminds fiscal conservatives why we won't be too sorry to see Judd Gregg leave the Senate.

    You won't likely see Sen. Judd Gregg's name on an election ballot again. But you can still drive over the Judd Gregg Bridge, study the weather at the Judd Gregg Meteorology Institute, or take a college class in Gregg Hall.

    Senator Gregg (as the article notes) wasn't the worst earmarker in the Senate. But he perpetuated the myth of "free" Federal money, available for projects states and localities weren't willing to pay for themselves.

    In the "too little, too late" department: Senator Gregg voted for an earmark moratorium in FYs 2011-2013 today. Our state's other Senator, Jeanne Shaheen, was one of five Senators who could not be bothered to vote.

Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:23 AM EDT

Barackrobatics: In the Right Direction (November Update)

[A recycled post, updated with new links.]

Earlier this month, it was announced the unemployment rate was stuck at 9.6%, where it's been since August. This marks the 15th straight month that the official unemployment rate has been over 9.5%, a stretch not seen since the 1930s.

I was pessimistic on whether President Obama would use his (and our) favorite phrase ever this month, especially in the wake of the midterm elections. I was thinking that—somehow—the electoral results might have either shocked him back to reality or relieved him of his campaign-mode need to be chipper about the economy.

I shouldn't have worried. He and his faithful companion, Joe Biden, traipsed out to Kokomo, Indiana and spoke at a Chrysler plant last week.

No, we're not out of the woods yet. It took a lot of years to get us into this mess. It will take longer than anybody would like to get us out. But I want everybody to be absolutely clear, we are moving in the right direction.
He only used the phrase once, though. Probably because the Veep preceded him, saying:
Look, nobody knows better than this man that our work certainly isn't done yet. We're just starting. But it's important we recognize success stories like Kokomo as signs that we are definitely moving in the right direction.
We know it's a long road back. But we know we're on the road. And the one most important thing we've got to communicate to the nation and to everyone listening is we can't stop now. We can't turn around. We're heading in the right direction.
Again, I encourage the Administration's speechwriters to look up the word verbigeration and use it in a sentence.

If you're keeping score, this makes November 2010 the ninth consecutive month in which President Obama has insisted at some point that the economy is headed in the right direction. (And 19 out of the past 20 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.

Last Modified 2010-11-30 11:13 AM EDT

MLK Day 2011: UNH Combats Hate

The University Near Here has announced its activities for Martin Luther King Day 2011. Every year I wonder: will the celebration be horribly offensive (as in 2009), a dreadful joke (2010), or just undisguised and undistinguished leftist propaganda, reflective of the University's depressing ideological monoculture (2006 and 2007)? I'm going with the latter this time, but see what you think.

This year's theme is "Combating Hate" Now, being against "hate" is to snuggle in one of the most cozy blankets of moral superiority. Who in their right mind will say no to that? Not me, friend. I'm against hate! (Ahhhhh...feels good.) And I bet you are too! (Say it with me: "I'm against hate!" Ahhhh...)

But let's look at UNH's official explanation anyway:

It has been more than four and a half decades since Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 March on Washington. King presented a vision of an America that lives up to its ideals of liberty and justice for all. However, the startilng [sic] rise of hate crimes and the extremism in recent years makes it clear that victory over prejudices and racial hostility remains elusive.

According to FBI statistics gathered for its Uniform Crime Reporting Program, hate crimes [missing preposition sic] LGBTQ, Latinos, Latinas, African American, Asian American, Arab Americans, Muslim and Jewish people have risen steadily for the last four years.

Pointing to grammar and spelling errors, even on a University website, is a cheap shot, sorry. [Update: the errors, present when this entry was originally posted, have been corrected.] But there's other sloppiness too: Note the "startilng" rise in hate crimes in the first paragraph. Compare with the assertion that hate crimes "have risen steadily" in the second paragraph.

So what kind of a rise is it, startling or steady?

Or maybe neither. The FBI just issued its latest report on hate crimes:

The number of hate crime incidents and victims declined in 2009 compared with the previous year, the FBI reported Monday. […] There were 6,604 hate crime incidents reported last year, down from 7,783 in 2008. There were 8,336 reported victims, down from 9,691 in 2008.

"But," you object, "maybe that's just a one year dip in an otherwise 'startling' or 'steady' rise." Well, there's nothing like checking for oneself. Let's look back, a few more years than four:

YearHate Crime Incidents
1999 7876
2000 8063
2001 9730
2002 7462
2003 7489
2004 7649
2005 7163
2006 7722
2007 7624
2008 7783
2009 6604

I could draw you a pretty graph, but the numbers are pretty easy to eyeball: If anything, the trend over the past 10 or so years is down.

UNH is not alone in pointing to a non-existent increase in hate crimes. Candidate B. Obama asserted in 2008: "We have seen hate crimes skyrocket in the wake of the immigration debate, as it's been conducted in Washington, and that is unacceptable." Not only was this untrue (as we've seen), this untruth was used to imply that the other side—by daring to debate immigration—was inciting violence. (Amusingly, although FactCheck deemed Obama's claim to be bogus at the time, Politifact rated it "Mostly True", maintaining their usual spot in Obama's back pocket. Unfortunately, neither was troubled by Obama's implication that his political opponents were fomenting criminal activity.)

Reasonable people will also differ on whether "hate" is an accurate or meaningful characterization of the underlying motivation for "hate crimes". Liberals and progressives love to decry their opponents as being "simplistic." But surely throwing a diverse array of unpleasant and antisocial behavior into a big pot labeled "HATE" is simplisticism on its face.

My guess, not that it matters, is that the underlying cause of "hate crimes" tends to be various forms of mental dysfunction—primarily plain old stupidity—coupled with one or more personality defects: fondness for aggression, a short temper, oversensitivity, … what have you. Also, mix in a high probability of substance abuse. (See Jacob Sullum for more on "hate crimes".)

Quibbling about statistics, hazy definitions, and sloppy language is fine, but that's not all that's going on. Blaming "hate" for crimes may not be accurate or meaningful, but it can be politically useful. As with Obama's statement in 2008, there's a political angle here too. You noticed UNH's finger-pointing at "extremism" in the blurb quoted above. That theme is continued and expanded in their description of the Commemorative Address, to be given by Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC):

Activists [sic] and Civil Rights speaker Morris Dees discusses how our commitment to justice for all will chart our nation's future as America becomes more diverse, and economic disparity widens. Mr Dees will address the historical and current social, cultural, political and economic circumstances that have given rise to increases in the participation in hate groups, increases in hate crimes and the current political climate that fosters and empowers intolerance and hate in plain view in today's political discourse.

Hm: "the current political climate that fosters and empowers intolerance and hate in plain view in today's political discourse." Gosh, they're pretty cute about avoiding specifics, but I think we all know what and who they're talking about.

Check Dees' SPLC website. There's one tiny blink-and-you'll-miss suggestion that "hate" is not entirely on the right: a section on black separatists. But SPLC's "Hatewatch" blog is subtitled "Keeping an Eye on the Radical Right", and their blogroll is an uniform array of lefties: Kos, Firedoglake, Crooks and Liars, etc.

The SPLC tars with a very broad brush. Their "Intelligence Report" this year deemed the Tea Party movement to be "shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism." Most people with any familiarity with Tea Partiers realized this to be bullshit; unfortunately, the assertion was widely echoed in the lefty true-believer community. And no doubt the attendees at UNH's MLK shindig will hear some version of it as well.

SPLC is also in the business of designating "hate groups". And one way to be sure that you can point with alarm to "increases in the participation in hate groups" is to be ever-increasingly, um, liberal in your demonization. Jesse Walker at Reason observed that the SPLC "would paint a box of Wheaties as an extremist threat if it thought that would help it raise funds." (Walker's blog post is short, but it's well worth reading for its well-targeted criticism of the SPLC's methodology and its links to further information.)

One of the "hate groups" named by the SPLC is the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Unfortunately for the SPLC, FAIR didn't take this lying down, composing a detailed rebuttal and counteroffensive. (Summary here, full PDF here.)

In the eyes of the law, there is no such thing as a "hate group." It does not exist in federal statutes. It is a term entirely concocted by the SPLC. Moreover, the SPLC itself has no concrete definition. While lacking any useful specificity, the SPLC nonetheless deliberately uses this highly charged term to achieve political ends and to create an illusion that there is a surge of dangerous groups operating in America in order to increase the SPLC fundraising. In the process, the truth gets lost, reputations are damaged, and meaningful discourse on immigration policy is muted.

FAIR notes (as Jesse Walker did, above) that the SPLC has a pretty cynical (and widely recognized) motive for all its fearmongering and tarbrushing: it allows them to raise impressive amounts of cash from their easily-spooked donor base. Well, this is America. They have a perfect right to do that.

I recommend another Jesse Walker article appearing Reason last year: "The Paranoid Center." What's going on is an attempt to generate moral panic. Walker relates the early-60s "wave of alarm" about the "radical right", egged on, then as now, by a progressive/liberal coalition.

Philip Jenkins, a scholar at Pennsylvania State University who specializes in both the history of moral panics and the history of the American right, has described this period as the second of three "brown scares" ("brown" as in the brown shirts of fascism). The first came in the late 1930s and early '40s, when aides and allies of Franklin Roosevelt conflated genuine domestic fascists with critics who were far from Nazis. The third came in the mid-1990s, when Timothy McVeigh's mass murder in Oklahoma City set off a barrage of fear-mongering stories about the alleged militia menace in the heartland, helping Bill Clinton push through the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The anxieties of the latter period have the most in common with the cocktail of fears emerging in 2009.

It's unfortunate that UNH has cast its lot with the SPLC; Dees's undoubtedly well-paid appearance will almost certainly go unchallenged, and I'll wager not a contrary word will oppose his scarifying nonsense.

While UNH is (probably) less cynical about the issue than is Dees, that probably makes things worse: it puts the University firmly on the side of the "brown scare" effort to marginalize, demonize, and chill legitimate dissent from "progressive" positions on important issues.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:20 PM EDT

Also, Too Delusional

The WSJ has an article about "No Labels", billed as a new "alliance of centrist Republicans and Democrats." Quoted at a recent Portsmouth, NH meeting of the group:

"Hi, I'm Maggie Hassan, and was defeated because I was too moderate," said the New Hampshire state senator.

Running Blind

[Amazon Link]

This is entry number four in Lee Child's series about action hero ex-MP Jack Reacher. When we left Jack at the end of number three, he had acquired a nice house overlooking the Hudson, and a nice girlfriend. In short, a cliffhanger: was he about to give up his footloose ways and settle down? After only three books?

Not to worry. That gets resolved in this book, although not in the way you might expect.

But there's also an outright mystery to solve. Someone is bumping off ex-Army women; they're found naked in their bathtubs, which are filled with green camo paint. The cause of death is unknown. The killer is leaving behind no clues whatsoever. The only common link between the victims seems to be that they had filed sexual harrassment cases while in service. And—oh oh—Reacher was involved in investigating some of them.

So Reacher gets roped into the FBI's investigation, first as a prime suspect, then (eventually) as a consultant. He brings his usual ultra-resourcefulness to the battle.

A very competently written page-turner, as I've come to expect from Lee Child. Reacher reveals a wicked sense of humor that I hadn't noticed before, which is welcome. I figured out most of the mystery before all was revealed, but that's OK.

Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:30 AM EDT

The Woman in the Window

stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This movie was a critical favorite, said to be an early film noir from 1944. That's fine, but my takeaway was: it takes a real long time to tell a story that could have easily fit into a 30-minute episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, with plenty of time for Hitch's droll comments on the proceedings.

Edward G. Robinson plays Professor Wanley, an amiable schlub. He's just sent the rest of his family off on vacation, and heads for a boy's night out with his friends (most notably Raymond Massey, playing a DA). On the way, he stops to peruse a portrait of a stunning young lady in—guess where?—a storefront window.

But things take a left turn at the end of the evening, as Wanley admires the portrait one more time on his way home. The WitW herself (Joan Bennett) shows up, notices Wanley's interest, and invites him up to her digs to see other artistic pieces. The Prof unwisely accepts, a jealous boyfriend shows up, a scuffle ensues, someone runs with scissors, someone else becomes very dead. Suspense piles on happenstance, Dan Duryea shows up as a blackmailer, and Wanley attempts to dig himself out of a hopelessly deep hole.

Directed by Fritz Lang, with a funny little twist ending. And, if—sigh—you're of a Certain Age, you might want to see it solely for a short, very funny, appearance by Spanky McFarland.

Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:26 AM EDT

His Mama Named Him Tommy

… the folks just called him yellow:

  • The race for one of the seats in the New Hampshire Legislature in my very own district (Strafford 2) resulted in a recount which, in turn, resulted in a tie! But there are still disputed ballots. Grant Bosse has the story, with a picture of one of the disputed ballots from Pun Salad World Headquarters' town of Rollinsford.

    (As there's an X next to Carol Shea-Porter's name, you can rest assured the ballot isn't mine. I wasn't that drunk when I voted.)

  • Is the newly-empowered Republican Party bravely attacking government spending? Find out in Michael Tanner's article, entitled "The GOP's Budget Cowardice".

    Well, I guess the title spoils the surprise somewhat. One problem is that GOP bigwigs are furiously backtracking on even the milquetoast promise to cut federal spending to (already profligate) 2008 levels. They're "clarifying" that to mean only domestic, discretionary spending. Tanner correctly deems that a drop in the bucket:

    In fact, it's less than 12 percent of the $853 billion that total federal spending has increased since President Obama took office. It would reduce government spending from 24.3 percent of GDP to 23.6 percent.
    Personally, I'm not too impressed with the choice between a huge-spending party and a slightly-less-huge-spending party.

  • Mark Hemingway joins the crowd noticing that Politifact "is often more politics than facts." It's the same gripe Pun Salad made here. Hemingway concludes:
    I sincerely hope Politifact ups the facts to politics quotient in the future.
    I sincerely hope Hemingway is not holding his breath waiting for that to happen.

I'll Trade You My Potential Mental Illness

… for your bad teeth:

  • Sarah Palin's "refudiate" has been named Word of the Year by the staff of the New Oxford American Dictionary. (Once again, my "Barackrobatics" was ignored.)

    But presumably this means the field is open for 2011. My submission:


    Definition: emission of a thick rhetorical fog to avoid using the term "death panels." Especially if that's what you're advocating. Exhibit A is Paul Krugman, who did, bless him, use the phrase on the TV show This Week:

    Some years down the pike, we're going to get the real solution, which is going to be a combination of death panels and sales taxes.
    … but he quickly took to his blog to "clarify":
    … not really death panels, of course, but consideration of medical effectiveness and, at some point, how much we're willing to spend for extreme care
    I. e., a bunch more words that amount to the same thing. Now that's euphemasia.

  • P. J. O'Rourke observes:
    I think we lost the election on November 2. Every race was won by a politician. True, we elected some angry nuts. These are preferable to common politicians. Their anger provokes honesty, and their mental illness prevents honesty from being obscured by charm. (What a loss -Barney Frank would have been as an exemplar of the furious, insane left!) We also elected some amateur politicians. However, politics is like vivisection--disturbing as a career, alarming as a hobby. And we may have elected a few reluctant politicians. But not reluctant enough.
    I have P. J.'s new book on my Christmas list, but if someone out there wants to buy it for me right now, I won't gripe.

  • And I don't want to turn into a full-time Reason shill, but I thought their dead-trees interview with C-SPAN's Brian Lamb was surprisingly good, and it's now online.
    reason: If you could put on a different mask right now, what would it be? If you could live your life over again?

    Lamb: I'm not anxious to live it over again, but if I had to live it over again I'd be a drummer. Full time, on the road. Yeah.

    reason: What kind of music would you play?

    Lamb: I would be in the backup band for Merle Haggard or Willie Nelson. Either one. And if I couldn't do that, I'd be a roadie with Brenda Lee.

    Brian Lamb is interesting. I did not know that.

Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:30 AM EDT

Winter's Bone

stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

So I get to demonstrate my Philistinism again: this movie was a critical favorite, and I just found it (barely) OK.

It's set in the Ozarks, and just about everyone is dirt poor. They shoot squirrels, and it's not because the squirrels are bothering the chickadees at the feeder. The protagonist, Ree Dolly, is just 17, but she's already taking primary care of her younger brother and sister. Momma's still around, but her mind has taken a permanent vacation. Ree is coping admirably, but then real trouble comes: her estranged father, renowned cooker of methamphetamine, has gone missing. Worse, he skipped bail. And (still) worse, the Dolly land was put up for collateral, so Ree, Momma, and the kids are threatened with homelessness.

So Ree sets out to discover what happened to Dad. It soon becomes apparent, however, that this is something nobody wants her to find out. She goes up against her clan patriarch/kingpin, and things don't work out well.

It's a hard look at a small slice of America mired in bleak soul-rotting self-destructive squalor. No spoilers, but (unlike the critics) I didn't care for the ending.

Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:31 AM EDT

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

[Amazon Link]

Hidden in this 590-page novel is a pretty decent 300-page mystery.

I watched the movie before reading the book. Unsurprisingly, the plots are similar: the titular Girl is Lisbeth, a disturbed but brilliant computer geek. She teams up (eventually) with investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist to find out the truth behind the disappearance of 16-year-old Harriet Vanger, a scion of the wealthy Vanger family. Only problem is: the disappearance (and assumed murder) of Harriet took place decades ago.

Watching the movie first helped to highlight the problems with the book: there's a lot of bloat. Wrapped around the gripping mystery is a non-gripping subplot about Blomkvist's magazine Millennium, his co-workers, his conviction for libel, and his eventual vindication. The movie wisely pruned this stuff to the minimum necessary for plot coherence.

There's also non-plot bloat as well: we're treated to many, many low-color descriptions of meals, shopping trips, etc., all contributing zip to the plot, atmosphere, or character development. Zzzz.

The late author, Stieg Larsson, was an actual big-C Communist, Trotskyite-flavored. Knowing this, I kind of expected the book to be more tediously strident. Fortunately, this is minimized. Yes, there's a subplot about historical Swedish Nazis (I hate Swedish Nazis), but there's no ideological lesson. Instead, there's an overriding theme about violence against women, and the men who perpetrate it. Larsson is firmly opposed to violence against women, a brave stand.

I think I'll pass on the remaining books. Most seem to agree that there's a significant dropoff in quality in the sequels.

Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:30 AM EDT

Who Will We Discredit?

… A pathetic aesthetic in a world less poetic:

  • A whole bunch of smart folks tell Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that he's dumb. That's gotta sting.

  • Mickey Kaus agrees with me about the validity of Senator-elect Rand Paul's assertion that the "average federal employee makes $120,000 a year." And he notes why this talking point is getting decent resonance with the Joes and Janes in the private sector:
    When people are outraged at the $120,000 figure, I think, they aren't making an implicit apples-to-oranges comparison. They're making an apples-to-themselves comparison. They know what they do and what they're making. They have a pretty good, rough idea of what federal employees do (some are highly skilled doctors, some are equal opportunity compliance facilitators). They know that they themselves have had to take pay freezes and cuts and endure waves of corporate downsizing while the federal government hasn't been through anything like that. In fact, pay for individual federal workers has kept growing each year thanks to both cost-of-living raises and "step" increases. The federal pay escalator kept on running right through the recesssion. Meanwhile, federal workers enjoy job security they can only dream of.
    Mickey also notes the eerie convergence between "refutations" issued by the allegedly-objective Politifact and the hyperpartisan Media Matters. Politifact is a joke; they should change their name to Media Matters Echo Chamber.

  • I kind of like typing "Senator-elect Rand Paul".

  • A number of economists had fun with the New York Times budget balancing game I noted yesterday: Steven Landsburg, Arnold Kling, James Pethokoukis and David Henderson. I especially like this from Henderson:
    Here's a prediction: if the New York Times keeps this game up on its site, a whole lot of people are going to be more sympathetic to cutting government and more optimistic that it can be done. One of my objections to Tea Partiers is how uninformed some of them are about the numbers. Now, thanks to the New York Times, they don't have to be.
    Here's hoping. Greg Mankiw's comment on the game is—ouch!—on target:
    It takes about a minute. Persuading your fellow citizens may take a bit longer.

  • If you've been tempted to use the "cyber-" prefix, but have concerns that it will make you look like an idiot, wallow not in uncertainty: simply cyber-go to willusingtheprefixcybermakemelooklikeanidiot.com.

Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:25 AM EDT

The Oxford Murders

stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I was a little surprised when a major character in this movie was "Professor Arthur Seldon". They're actually doing a movie about the legendary free-market English economist? Unfortunately, I misheard: the character's name is Arthur Seldom. Great name! They should have had roles for "Sibyl Rarely" and "Kenneth Knott-Offen" too! But that's why I'm not a professional screenwriter, I guess.

Here's the story: Martin (Elijah Wood), an idealistic grad student in mathematics, comes to Oxford with high hopes of studying under the legendary Seldom. He gets lodging with a curmudgeonley crone (who worked with Alan Turing on codebreaking back in the day), and her cello-playing daughter. Martin discovers that it's tough for an ex-Hobbit at Oxford: at their first encounter, Seldom (played by John Hurt) humiliates him in front of a large crowd. Worse, the crone turns up dead in her sitting room. This is very bad, because she was by far the most interesting character. Seldom and Martin pick up clues that this is the first in a series of murders, and they team up to investigate.

Seldom and Martin discuss philosophy, mathematics, and physics while they're sleuthing; it's as if the screenwriter hired a bright nine-year-old to take sketchy notes while eavesdropping on dorm room bull sessions at MIT, had someone translate those notes into Spanish, then someone else translate them back into English, and wrote the screenplay from the result. Pretentious, incoherent, and stupid.

Things would have been somewhat improved if they had a hideous creature burst out of Hurt's chest at some point; that's been known to work in at least one other flick. No such luck.

But on the good side, there is a decent little mystery going on here. And Leonor Watling is very easy to look at, playing a sexy nurse/suspect. In addition, if you're one of those sickos who wanted to see some Hobbit-on-Human action in the Lord of the Rings movies, this is probably as close as you're gonna get.

Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:26 AM EDT

I Had Some Dreams

… they were clouds in my coffee:

  • President Obama is so vain, he probably thinks this article is about him. Oh, wait. It is.
    Why has Barack Obama failed so spectacularly? Is he too dogmatically liberal or too pragmatic? Is he a socialist, or an anticolonialist, or a philosopher-president? Or is it possible that Obama's failures stem from something simpler: vanity. Politicians as a class are particularly susceptible to mirror-gazing. But Obama's vanity is overwhelming. It defines him, his politics, and his presidency.
    You'll find it hard to disagree. Although to be fair to Obama, vanity is a pretty common trait in the political class. Obama may just be doing a poorer-than-average job of hiding his.

  • The New York Times has a neat interactive game: you check your desired options for Federal spending cuts/tax increases and they will show you how that impacts the deficit. If your choices "balance the budget" in 2015 and 2030, you get a nice pat on the cyber-back: "You solved the deficit!"

    Most readers will guess that I "solved the deficit" well before I even made it to the tax increase proposals, with a few spending items to spare.

  • Out-of-power Democrats decried corporate welfare when it was convenient, but Henry Payne details the "green" coziness between GE and GM, funded with billions of tax dollars from you, me, and that guy behind the tree:
    The Detroit News reports this week that "General Electric will convert half its 30,000 worldwide fleet of vehicles to electrics, including purchasing 12,000 cars from GM beginning with the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. In all, the Fairfield, Conn.-based company, which makes charging stations, will purchase 25,000 plug-in electric cars by 2015."

    Yes, those charging stations -- GE makes the GE Wattstation -- are also subsidized by up to $2,000 of your tax money.

    To quote Iowahawk: Pay up, sucka.

  • If that didn't spike your blood pressure to stroke-inducing levels, see if George Will's column on the Volt will do the trick. Final para:
    Meretricious accounting and deceptive marketing are inevitable when government and its misnamed "private sector" accomplices foist state capitalism on an appalled country. But those who thought the ethanol debacle defined outer limits of government foolishness pertaining to automobiles were, alas, mistaken.
    Lotta big words there, George.

Chicks and Ducks and Geese

better scurry:

  • David Friedman's university, much like the University Near Here, is "very big" on sustainability. And it's a very bad joke:
    To see why, imagine what it would have meant c. 1900. The university existed, it had a lot of students and faculty. None of them had automobiles. Many, presumably, had horses. Sustainability would have included assuring a sufficient supply of pasture land for all those horses into the indefinite future. It might have included assuring a sufficient supply of firewood. It would, in other words, have meant making preparations for a future that was not going to happen.
    This doesn't matter to people who are wrapping themselves in the comfy blanket of feelgood rhetoric. David observes: "This is not how universities are supposed to function." But it is, nevertheless, increasingly how they do function.

  • But David's comment about "making preparations for a future that was not going to happen" seems relevant in other contexts. For example, the ARC Tunnel project between New Jersey and Manhattan, recently shut down by NJ Governor Chris Christie.

    In the future—even the near future—is that region's economy going to depend on spending vast sums of money to shuttle ever-increasing numbers of people back and forth daily across the Hudson River? Really? Or is this another preparation for a future that's not gonna happen?

  • But some are unhappy about the cancellation:
    U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) Friday announced that he has launched an investigation into the shutdown of construction of the Hudson commuter rail tunnel by Gov. Chris Christie.
    The 86-year-old senator is understandably upset that some young whippersnapper put the kibosh on his pet project. It's not important that the western tunnel terminus was planned to be the Frank R. Lautenberg Secaucus Junction Station. No ego involved there, I'm sure.

  • Greg Pollowitz has the correction of the day from the New York Times:
    An article on Nov. 4 about the San Francisco Giants' victory parade referred incorrectly to the type of underwear shown to the crowd by first baseman Aubrey Huff. His "rally thong," which he said he wore for luck during the Giants' run to the World Series title, was designed for men, not for women. (Go to Article)
    Lay on, Aubrey Huff,
    And damn'd be him that first cries, "A thong's guy stuff!"

Last Modified 2010-11-16 7:57 AM EDT

Politifact Hopelessly Biased. Also, Water Still Wet.

Senator-elect Rand Paul was on ABC's This Week on Sunday and, when pressed for spending cut proposals by Ms. Amanpour, said:

The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year. Let's get them more in line, and let's find savings. Let's hire no new federal workers.
Politifact jumped all over this with a "Truth-O-Meter" rating of "FALSE".

Only problem is, when you read Politifact's explanation, you'll see this:

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, a federal statistics-gathering agency, federal worker compensation in 2009 averaged $123,049, which was double the private-sector average of $61,051. That's a gap of almost $62,000 -- and is pretty close to what Paul said on This Week.
So how can Politifact rate Paul's statement—which they admit is "pretty close" to reality—"false"? Primarily by this trick:
However, that figure includes both salary and benefits. This is a legitimate number to raise, but using it requires more explanation than Paul gave it. Since most people usually think about how much they, their spouses and their colleagues get paid in salary alone -- not salary plus benefits -- we think most people hearing this statement would assume that Paul means that the average federal employee gets paid a salary of $120,000. That's simply not true.
In short: let's ignore the amazingly lavish benefits provided to Federal employees. Because that's what "most people" do. If we do that, then Rand Paul is wrong. And "true" becomes "false", just like that.

Which is nonsense, an argument pulled out of somewhere dark and smelly. Note the context: Paul was asked specifically about cutting government spending. For that argument, what really matters is not the take-home number on an employee paycheck; it's what the government is—duh—spending per employee.

It's not just right-wing wackos that make this point. Here's a recent USA Today headline:

Federal workers earning double their private counterparts
Politifact purports to be about the "facts". But when they claim some conservative/libertarian has said something "false", it can mean: "OK, what he said was true, but…"

Give Blood

parade your pallor in iniquity:

  • Gosh, this is intriguing:

    A tiny electric current applied to the back of the head can significantly improve a person's mathematical skills for up to six months, a study has found.

    That's allegedly a real news story, but stuff later in the article makes me think it might be a joke:

    "I am certainly not advising people to go around giving themselves electric shocks, but we are extremely excited by the potential of our findings," Dr Cohen Kadosh said.

    Hmm. And:

    The study, published in the journal Current Biology, involved numeracy tests […]

    Right. I'd be shocked if this were actually true.

  • [Cathy
Poulin] Pun Salad's official, unaware (and, as always, uncompensated) mascot, Cathy Poulin, will be in Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA, tomorrow (November 13) for a "mega" blood drive. And frankly, it sounds like the best blood drive ever: in addition to Cathy: Roland James, Steve Nelson, Pats cheerleaders, scads of prizes.

    Cathy's sidekick, Bob, will also be there. But you can probably avoid him.

    I'm unfortunately ineligible, having given only a couple weeks back. No celebrities, but I got a nice t-shirt and a coupon for a free Pizza Hut personal pan cheese pizza.

Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:32 AM EDT

I Don't Care Too Much For Money

money can't buy me love:

  • I've been a subscriber to Reason magazine since the mid-1970s, and (imho) their December issue had one of their best articles ever, by Jacob Sullum, about political free speech and its opponents. Check it out.

  • While you're over there, Jacob's latest column looks at campaign spending in the recent cycle. Interesting trivia:
    The squandered money included $46 million that Linda McMahon, the Republican Senate candidate in Connecticut, spent out of her personal funds, which amounted to nearly $100 for each vote she received. She lost by 12 points. Less dramatically, John Raese, the Republican running for a Senate seat in West Virginia, spent $4.6 million of his own money ($20 per vote) and lost by 10 points.

    But this year's poster child for the lesson that money can't buy you love is former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who blew $140 million of her own money ($45 per vote) in her race for California governor against Democrat Jerry Brown, who won by 12 points. Also in California, a marijuana legalization initiative got more votes than Whitman but still lost by eight points, even though its supporters outspent its opponents by 10 to 1.

  • Since I am a long-time Reason subscriber, I tend to assume that government regulation at federal, state, and local levels is corrupt, incompetent, and anti-consumer. So Timothy Noah at Slate is unintentionally amusing when he is simply shocked to discover that same old story playing out with the Alabama's State Board of Medical Examiners, which is proposing to restrict performance of "interventional pain management" tasks to medical doctors, a rule heavily advocated by, and benefiting… well, doctors, and nobody else. Noah treats this as if he'd just discovered a new continent:
    But as the Alabama example demonstrates, some government agencies put interest-group needs ahead of consumers', and will throw up regulatory barriers to protect them.
    You can almost hear Tim thinking: but this isn't how they told us it would work back there in Liberal School!

Veterans Day 2010

Its a day for honor and gratitude.

day 2010

Click for the big version, or go here for a really big version (and other good stuff).

And good for the Google:


Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:32 AM EDT

The Good News

… is she doesn't own a shotgun so I guess I got off cheap.

  • Many people noted President Obama's cluck-clucking about silly anti-science attitudes last month:
    "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."
    So yesterday's news was more than a little amusing:
    The White House rewrote crucial sections of an Interior Department report to suggest an independent group of scientists and engineers supported a six-month ban on offshore oil drilling, the Interior inspector general says in a new report.
    Obviously, the White House doesn't think clearly when it's scared.

  • Liz Mair will make you despair that the GOP is clueless about what to do with its week-old electoral gains: Senate Still-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is defending earmarks, while Representative Jerry Lewis (who is no fiscal conservative) is making noises about reclaiming his previous chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee. Because he did such a stellar job last time.

    (Via Shawn Macomber at AmSpecBlog.)

  • Here's another bad idea: Rep. Fred Upton for chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

  • So take your good news where you can find it: New Hampshire's Senator-elect Kelly Ayotte has called for eliminating earmarks, in opposition to Senator Mitch. Her co-conspirators read like a MSNBC anchor's nightmare: DeMint, Cornyn, Coburn, Rubio, Ensign, Enzi, Toomey, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson, and Rand Paul. So good for Senator-elect Ayotte.

  • I can't get too excited about Juan Williams or Keith Olbermann—two guys I don't pay attention to—getting in trouble at NPR or MSNBC—two media outlets I don't patronize. But when Iowahawk gets suspended from the Iowahawk website, then it's time to take action, preferably accompanied by hot-headed and incoherent rage. But who's the real bad guy here? Iowahawk, or the bigwig who suspended him (also Iowahawk)? Hm.

If I Should Take a Notion to Jump Into the Ocean

… it ain't nobody's business if I do:

  • Tom Smith pens a perceptive essay on why economic inequality doesn't bother him—or any other reasonably sane person—that much.
    I am finding the spate of recent articles about the huge and growing inequality of wealth in the US pretty tedious.  I suspect they are making some basic mistakes.  They usually take the form of saying the wealthiest X percent of the US population owns Y percent of the wealth, where Y is a much bigger number than X.  What I don't get is, why should I care about the relationship of X and Y?
    Why indeed? Very deserving of the coveted Pun Salad "Read The Whole Thing (If You Haven't Already) Award" for today.

    [N. B.: though I say "coveted", I am not actually recommending covetousness. It's a sin.]

  • Radley Balko asks a question that, after the heat of campaigning dies down, might be answered more rationally: is relatively unencumbered campaign spending an existential "threat to democracy", or might a bigger problem be… incumbent advantage?
    The real threat to democracy is incumbency and the permanent political class. In the month before the election, public approval for Congress was somewhere between 15 and 25 percent. Yet even in an election year rife with "throw the bums out" sentiment, 87 percent of House incumbents who ran for reelection won last week. If Lisa Murkowski wins in Alaska, the figure for the Senate will be 84 percent. Those figures are slightly lower than the historical average,
    Of course, it goes without saying that the folks most anxious to supress "dangerous" campaign finances are… incumbent politicians.

  • Jon Miller and Joe Morgan will be gone next season from ESPN's Sunday night baseball broadcasts.

    I can't say I'll miss them, exactly. I'm sure whoever shows up in the booth next season will be fine. But I really enjoyed Miller's announcing style; he seemed surprised by every single thing that happened in the game. He would say something like: "Wakefield's knuckler picks up the outside corner, and it's two-and-two!" And you would swear that he'd never seen anything like that happen before, ever.

  • Scott Adams has a cautionary tale after he, despite advice, cuts jalapeño peppers without gloves:
    Imagine turning a broom upside down, so the pointy bristles are facing up. You take your hand, palm facing down, and bounce it on the pointy bristles. Can you imagine how uncomfortable that feels on your hand? Okay, good.

    Now imagine that a giant troll sees you playing with the broom. He snatches it out of your hand, chews the handle into a point and shoves it so far up your ass that you can taste it. Then he uses you like a huge flyswatter to kill a nest of porcupines that are living in his salt mine. My hand hurt like that.

    If any of you real men out there want to see if you can avoid Scott's fate, let me know how that worked out for you.

Last Modified 2011-01-18 1:32 PM EDT

Dear Congressman-Elect Guinta

Congratulations on winning your new job representing the citizens of New Hampshire Congressional District One. As a blogger, I have mixed feelings about Carol Shea-Porter's defeat: sure, she was irritating, dangerous to the Constitution, and prosperity-killing. On the other hand, she did inspire a lot of irate blog posts here.

Never mind that, though. Water under the bridge.

Here's something that's been getting a little bit of press lately: the notion that Congressional pay needs to be cut.

Soon-to-be Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) is being pressed by taxpayer groups to slash the salaries of House lawmakers.
I am not a taxpayer group; just a taxpayer. And I'm not impressed. As far as I'm concerned, you can keep your salary where it is, provided you earn it.

First, this table has been making the rounds; it purports to show how a typical taxpayer's bill might be itemized:

[What You Pay For]

See that bottom line? Cutting Congressional pay and benefits to zippo would save this poor schmuck $0.19 on his $5400 tax bill. Any mere "cut" would be a few pennies saved at most. Why bother?

[Disclaimer: this table was from a group called "Third Way", which bills itself as "the leading moderate think-tank of the progressive movement." As far as I know, the numbers are accurate, though.]

Jim Harper at Cato notes the language in the pay-cut article referenced above:

[…] some themes recur: "gesture", "symbols", "symbolic gestures", "symbolic moves", "symbolic things", "the right message", "signals and symbols", "symbol to the public".
Ironically, I also came across this (copied) Union Leader article from when you announced your candidacy back in 2009. Headline:
Guinta says Congress avoids tough decisions
I hope you still think that's a problem. If the first item on Congress's plate this January is really a Congressional pay cut, I hope you'll note loudly that nothing's changed.

Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:29 AM EDT

Ask the Parrot

[Amazon Link]

This is number 23 in the "Parker" series written by the late Donald Westlake (writing as Richard Stark). For some reason it never came out in paperback, so I got a cheapo used hardcover from Amazon.

For those who don't know: Parker is kind of a bad guy, making a living of taking things that don't belong to him. He operates under his own sociopathic moral code. He is much like a massive neutron star ripping through a solar system. While he's an implacable and unstoppable force of nature, his mere passage through a community can cause violent havoc and consternation in the lives of people he interacts with. And this penultimate episode in the Parker saga is no exception.

The ending of book 22 (Nobody Runs Forever) was a cliffhanger: after a botched armored car robbery, Parker was on the lam in upstate New York, being pursued up a hill by cops and dogs.

As this book opens, he's "rescued" by Tom Lindahl, a loner and loser. (How much of a loser? He owns a parrot that doesn't talk. Until…) Lindahl was fired from the local racetrack years ago after a futile attempt at whistleblowing the corrupt practices there. He sees Parker as a possible accomplice in his revenge, as he's been nurturing a scheme to liberate piles of cash from the track. With the law so close, Parker doesn't have a lot of options. So he gets drawn into Lindahl's scheme.

Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:28 AM EDT

Touch of Evil

stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This movie is enjoyable if you approach it in a film-student mode: looking for techniques, interesting performances, behind-the-scenes trivia, etc. There's the famous uncut opening scene. A hey-isn't-that cameo by Joseph Cotten. Zsa Zsa Gabor! Marlene Dietrich! A really weird performance by Dennis Weaver! Charleton Heston plays a Mexican detective! Orson Welles is fat and sweaty! Overlapping dialogue!

Considered as a plain old movie, it's just OK.

It's set in a town straddling the US-Mexico border; one fateful night, a time bomb is placed in a car carrying a rich old American and his girlfriend-for-the-night. It crosses from Mexico into the US, passes nearby Mike Vargas (Mr. Heston) and his new bride Susie (Janet Leigh), and blows up.

Whodunit? Even though we eventually find out, that's not the main plot. Orson Welles plays Hank Quinlan, a cop who has become accustomed to doing his job using all kinds of foul play: coerced confessions, planted evidence, perjury, etc. Vargas becomes more interested in pursuing Quinlan than in nailing the mad bomber.

One funny thing I noticed: Dennis Weaver's character has a number of lines of the form: "If they think X, they got another think coming." The subtitler diligently records every one as "…got another thing coming." A common blunder.

Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:29 AM EDT

I Got the Right Street

… but the wrong direction:

  • My own Congressional race (NH1) gets the national spotlight, as the Onion compares and contrasts candidates Carol Shea-Porter and Frank Guinta:
    Campaign promise:

    • Shea-Porter: Will double the maple syrup subsidy and impose a tariff on foreign foliage
    • Guinta: Vows to eliminate wasteful government bodies like the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, and the Coast Guard
    Don't get your hopes up, libertarians. It's a joke.

  • In the allegedly more serious Campaign Spot, Jim Geraghty highlights today's UNH Survey Center polling from NH Congressional District 2, which puts Democrat Ann McLane Kuster up by three percent over the former dreadful Republican Charlie Bass. Commenter "Hoover" alleges that the poll oversampled Democrats, and Bass is copacetic.

    On our side of the state, the poll has Republican Frank Guinta up by 7% over current Congressperson/Toothache Carol Shea-Porter.

    So: we'll see. Whenever quoting the Survey Center's polling, I feel it's necessary to point out that they had Barack Obama beating Hillary Clinton by 9% in their final poll released the day before 2008's New Hampshire Presidential Primary. Hillary wound up winning by 2.6%.

  • Pun Salad doffs its cap to The Economist's blogger who notes the magazine's headlines on stories dealing with Chinese currency:
    A yuan-sided argument
    Yuan small step
    Yuan up, yuan down
    Tell me what you yuan, what you really, really yuan
    More moan-inducing examples at the link. Because if you're punning on the Chinese monetary unit, it's difficult to stop at yuan.

  • George F. Will deserves thanks for (in his pre-election column) noting the campaign slogan of Mark Grannis, the Libertarian candidate for Congress in Maryland district 8: "Less we can".

  • Making the rounds is this quote from Bjarne Stroustrup (perpetrator of C++):
    I have always wished for my computer to be as easy to use as my telephone; my wish has come true because I can no longer figure out how to use my telephone.

Last Modified 2017-12-04 7:36 AM EDT

Spoiled Rotten America

[Amazon Link]

Larry Miller is a stand-up comedian, and has a decent acting career in TV and movies. I think his performance in 10 Things I Hate About You should be required watching for all fathers, past, present, and future.

But I bought this book because of his columns in the Weekly Standard, which were always full of wit and sharp observation. He's no longer writing there, apparently, but here are three samples.

So I was expecting, especially with a title like Spoiled Rotten America, that the book might be a P. J. O'Rourke-style broadside against liberal weenies, maybe veering a little more to the conservative side than does Peej. Wrong. Larry (I call him Larry) is nearly politics-free here. The essays are (still) funny and full of sharp observation, they're simply about less controversial topics: family, friends, activities, shopping, career. You know, stuff like you and I could write about.

However, you and I might write about Little League; Larry writes about what it's like to have Annette Bening selling hot dogs at the games. You and I might have one or two funny stories about buying clothes; Larry will be able to tell you what he overheard Jimmy Stewart saying at Brooks Brothers. (OK, I'll tell you: "Gray flannels. Long as you've got 'em.")

As I type, Amazon has this book for a pretty good price.

Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:28 AM EDT

Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?)

stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

For a few years in the 1970s, I was a fan of Harry Nilsson. And then my interest faded. This movie explains why.

Nilsson, it turns out, was almost a parody of pop star biography clichés: humble beginnings in a dysfunctional family; inexplicable talent and creative genius eventually bringing him wide attention; a breakthrough performance provides him awards and vast riches; concurrent substance abuse wrecks his career and shortens his life. (He died in 1994 at age 52.) Oh, I almost forgot: dishonest business manager absconds with piles of his money.

However, this documentary deftly fleshes out those bare-bones facts with sensitivity and skill, and illuminates the human being behind the parody. Everyone agrees: Harry was a pretty good guy. Although his career hit the self-destructive skids in the mid-1970s, he went on to have a successful (albeit third-try) marriage, fathered six kids, and seemingly never lost the ability to smile. Although he also apparently never lost his prodigous appetites for tobacco, alcohol, and less legal substances.

The documentary is filled with interviews from his colleagues, family, and friends, some famous, others not so. As the movie cruises along, listening to their tales of chemical-fueled havoc, it's difficult not to think of them as "survivors". A sampling: Yoko Ono, Eric Idle, Jimmy Webb, Micky Dolenz, Randy Newman, the Smothers Brothers, Robin Williams, Brian Wilson. Most of whom no doubt look at Harry's life and think: There but for the grace of God…

But somehow the documentarians left out a fascinating bit of ghoulish trivia: Nilsson's London flat was where both Cass Elliot and Keith Moon breathed their last. The heartbroken (and probably spooked) Nilsson sold it to Pete Townshend, who is still alive, as far as anyone knows.

Last Modified 2012-09-30 9:28 AM EDT