Introducing the NYTBEWU-3000

The Comics Curmudgeon occasionally refers to the Archie strip as being written by the "Archie Joke-Generating Laugh Unit 3000" (aka the AJGLU-3000). The point being that only a machine completely divorced from human experience could generate a comic strip so devoid of actual humorous content.

Somewhat less well known is the box invented by the same folks, the NYTBEWU-3000: the New York Times Boilerplate Editorial-Writing Unit 3000. And what better time to deploy it than on Christmas weekend, when all the hu-mans have better things to do than to try to come up with a Fresh Take on a Pressing Problem.

And so we have "The Looming Crisis in the States", which is pretty clear about rattling off the problem:

Starved for revenue and accustomed to decades of overspending, many states have been overwhelmed. They are facing shortfalls of $140 billion next year. Even before the downturn, states jeopardized their futures by accumulating trillions in debt that they swept into some far-off future.
Just as Isaac Asimov's fictional robots had their immutable Three Laws of Robotics, so does the NYTBEWU-3000 have its own overriding directives. And one is: "The NYTBEWU-3000 shall never simply advocate spending restraint by government." This rule applies even if the Unit has just described serious problems due to irresponsible overspending. This is one of the ways you can detect the artificiality of the intelligence involved. Any human would recognize the disconnect here, and at least attempt to cover it up, but the NYTBEWU-3000 just barrels along:
But if states act quickly to deal with their revenue losses and address their debt — and receive sufficient aid from Washington — there is still time to avoid a crisis.
Note how the NYTBEWU-3000 is programmed to (clumsily) turn an overspending problem into a "revenue loss" problem.

But more important is that "sufficient aid" bit. Simply calling it "money" is counterproductively honest, so the NYTBEWU-3000 is coded to euphemize it to "aid" instead. Similarly the real source of the money (that would be "federal taxpayers") is obfuscated to "Washington". Which (of course) is assumed to be sitting on magical infinite piles of it.

Again, an actual human might foresee the obvious objection ("Wait a minute. This effectively means that taxpayers residing in fiscally responsible states would bailing out taxpayers in profligate states, right?") and attempt to deal with it. But the NYTBEWU-3000 isn't that smart.

Another telltale:

The nation's richest taxpayers just got a windfall in the federal tax deal extorted from President Obama by Republican senators. States should not shy away from asking for more help from those most able to pay.
Which demonstrates another couple of directives the NYTBEWU-3000 must obey:
  • In editorials dealing with fiscal policy, the NYTBEWU-3000 shall always treat increasing taxes on 'the rich' as the solution to any fiscal problem.

  • The NYTBEWU-3000 shall always refer to forcing people to pay more taxes as "asking for more help" from them.

I look forward to the day when people go to New York Times editorials for insightful analysis about as often as they check out Archie for a hearty laugh.

Suggested supplementary reading, written by non-artificial intelligences: George Will:

Oliver Twist did not choose his fate. California, New York and Illinois - three states whose conditions are especially parlous - did. And in November, each of these deep-blue states elected Democratic governors beholden to public employee unions.
And Steven Marlenga, who details the fiscal tomfoolery by which desperate state governments have tried to avoid painful budgetary choices.

The Girl Who Played With Fire

stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This is (in case you've been cut off from civilization for a few years) the movie version of the sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Some sequels stand on their own, but you'll really want to have (at least) seen the previous movie in order to understand what's going on here.

The titular Girl, Lisbeth Salander, is basking in the sunny Caribbean when warning cyberbells go off: one of the villains from the previous movie is behaving badly. So it's back to dreary Sweden for her. Meanwhile, her co-hero from the previous book, crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist, is managing an exposé of the Swedish sex-exploitation trade in which the kinks and perversions of numerous Swedish bigwigs in business and government are to be revealed.

Almost immediately, a number of people involved are murdered, and Lisbeth is framed. Both she and Mikael work independently to find the true culprits. Along the way, revelations are made about Lisbeth's past history.

It's not for the kids. (MPAA: "brutal violence including a rape, some strong sexual content, nudity and language.") And—hope you won't consider this a spoiler—the ending is pretty much a cliffhanger for the next installment.

Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:44 AM EST

Without Fail

[Amazon Link]

This is number 6 in Lee Child's series of novels about Jack Reacher. (Number 15 was published a few months back. Will I catch up?) Here, Reacher gets pretty close to an actual job, different from the ad hoc episodes of thwarting evildoers seen in previous books.

It's set after Election Day in a year divisible by four. The Vice President-elect has been receiving credible assassination threats. The female Secret Service agent in charge of protecting him, M. E. Froelich, is at her wits end—has she missed anything? Froelich used to be the sweetie of Reacher's late brother Joe, and is vaguely aware of Reacher's talents. So she tracks him down, and asks him to attempt to penetrate the Secret Service's protections.

And, of course, Reacher does. More than once.

Naturally, the logical thing is for Reacher (and another ex-Army sidekick, Frances Neagley) to "consult" with the Secret Service in order to counter the actual would-be assassins. It's tough, because the bad guys are ruthless and clever. (They also want to strike fear into the heart of the VP-E, so there are multiple warnings delivered, variously gruesome and mysterious.) And there are complications due to Froelich's past relationship with Joe.

As in previous books, Reacher is both a man of action and a decent detective. And Child's prose goes down like water. Although he is (surprisingly) a Brit, he clearly loves describing American scenery, from Atlantic City, to D. C., to remote North Dakota.

Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:43 AM EST