The Phony Campaign

2012 Kickoff

[phony baloney]

Despite rousing lack of demand, we're resurrecting our occasional feature from the 2008 presidential season, the Phony Campaign.

What, too soon? Nay, friend: the New Hampshire Primary is roughly a mere year away, and things are starting to heat up, at least politically. Why, Pun Salad is pretty sure that was Haley Barbour helping us unload recyclables at the Rollinsford Transfer Station yesterday. Especially since, on our way home, we noticed our wallet was missing.

For newcomers: every so often, Pun Salad tabulates how many Google hits are associated with each presidential candidate's name when the additional search term "phony" is added. This reveals how the Web views the relative phoniness of the candidates, and how those perceptions change over the course of the campaign.

In our fantasy world, that is. In reality, these hit counts almost certainly mean less than nothing. They're just an excuse for Pun Salad to bitch about politics and politicians. Which amuses Pun Salad, if nobody else.

So here we go, with President Obama pitted against an initial, somewhat arbitrary, selection of GOP candidates:

Query String Hit Count
"Barack Obama" phony 3,940,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 2,870,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 1,360,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 1,350,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 488,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 374,000
"Mitch Daniels" phony 188,000
"John Thune" phony 129,000

  • Pun Salad is officially shocked by Mitt Romney's poor showing here, as he was expected to easily beat other Republicans. We fondly remember (and agree with) Jonah Goldberg's 2007 observation that if you hit the "mute" button while Romney's on the tube, he seems to be saying: What do I have to do to put you in this BMW today?

  • On the other hand, Pun Salad is not shocked at all about President Obama's commanding lead over the GOP field. Obama's phoniness is the easiest target since they first put fish in a barrel.

    For example: a number of folks have dug out this quote from 2006 when then-Freshman Senator Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling:

    The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government's reckless fiscal policies. ... Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better

    A quick five years later, and Obama has gone from criticizing leadership failure to exemplifying it. Steven Chapman discusses Obama's "fake solution" proposed in the State of the Union address for fixing the fiscal crisis:

    Freezing non-security discretionary spending is like rounding up everyone on The Biggest Loser and putting the trainers on a diet. The payoff is likely to be small and certain to be irrelevant.

    Chapman notes that Obama is getting plenty of implicit cooperation in this nonsense from Republicans.

  • Newt Gingrich apparently decided that his affinity for corn-state votes outweighed his free market beliefs:

    While President Obama is pitching new “clean energy” mandates, potential presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich was defending costly and environmentally destructive ethanol mandates in Iowa. Rejecting the charges of “big city” ethanol critics and invoking concerns about energy security, Gingrich argued that if only the federal government were to mandate that all cars sold in the U.S. be “flex-fuel’ vehicles capable of running on ethanol or methanol, the ethanol industry would be able to “stand on its own.” As much as Gingrich likes to criticize the President’s agenda (often with good reason), he apparently shares the President’s disdain for leaving energy choices to the market.

    In Newt's (slight) defense, he apparently supported this mandate at the same time he advocated ending ethanol subsidies.

  • And although John Thune is trailing the phony field, he's inspired the best anti-candidate website name so far: ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Looney Thune." Heh.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:19 PM EST

You Know It Balances On Your Head

[Audrey]

… just like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine:

  • You should really read the entire Cato Institute blog. But if you can't do that, you absolutely, really should read Daniel Mitchell's debunking of the notion that a balanced budget can't be achieved without tax increases.

    … [R]evenues are expected to grow (because of factors such as inflation, more population, and economic expansion) by more than 7 percent each year. Balancing the budget is simple so long as politicians increase spending at a slower rate. If they freeze the budget, we almost balance the budget by 2017. If federal spending is capped so it grows 1 percent each year, the budget is balanced in 2019. And if the crowd in Washington can limit spending growth to about 2 percent each year, red ink almost disappears in just 10 years.

    Note that this isn't exactly pain-free: freezes or caps must be on total spending, not just "discretionary" spending. Tough choices await. Still, if you hear people claim that tax increases are necessary to move toward fiscal sanity, they're either lying or misinformed.

  • Palin on SOTU:

    The President's State of the Union address boiled down to this message: "The era of big government is here as long as I am, so help me pay for it." He dubbed it a "Winning The Future" speech, but the title's acronym seemed more accurate than much of the content.

    That's not a very Presidential comment, but it's pretty funny.

  • Was Obama's State of the Union tantamount to plagiarism? Find out the exciting answer in an article entitled "Obama's State of the Union Was Tantamount to Plagiarism," from Alvin Felzenberg at US News.

  • In higher education news:

    A California university professor has been charged with peeing on a colleague's campus office door.

    For those of you who said: "Math professor, I bet.": good guess.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:33 AM EDT

The Sentry

[Amazon Link]

Robert Crais is on my very short buy-in-hardcover list, and this is his latest. (Update: but the Amazon link has been updated to point to the paperback.) It's billed as a "Joe Pike novel", but Pike's partner, Elvis Cole, is also around to assist.

While gassing up his Jeep, Joe's attention is diverted by a ruckus at a local sandwich shop: a couple of minor thugs are attempting a shakedown of the proprietor and his lovely niece. Joe, of course, makes short work of the bad guys. But something about the niece catches his eye, and they seem to have at least the beginnings of a Meaningful Relationship.

But (fortunately for the reader) things aren't that simple. Uncle and niece have been on the run from a psychotic hired killer for years. They almost immediately go missing, with no explanation. Joe enlists Elvis in the hunt—will they find the fleeing couple before the bad guy does?

When I first started reading Crais, Elvis was a relatively cheerful private eye, always quick with a clever wisecrack. I miss that; now he's somber and haunted. (Conversely, in the earlier novels Joe Pike was a stoic and opaque force of nature, seemingly without emotion. I miss that too: Crais has made him more normal.)

Without spoiling things too much: in this book, I'm a little bothered that the prodigal efforts of Joe and Elvis do not really manage to resolve things satisfactorily. There's an impressive body count of both good guys and bad, but it's not clear that things would have been much worse if Joe had simply walked away in Chapter One.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:07 AM EDT

Sweet Smell of Success

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

I put this 1957 movie on my Netflix queue when Tony Curtis died a while back and John Nolte deemed it to be Curtis's best film. Yes, it's got acting out the wazoo. But it's another critical favorite that I just didn't enjoy. As always, your mileage may vary.

Burt Lancaster plays J.J. Hunsecker, an extremely powerful newspaper columnist. (It's said that he's based on Walter Winchell.) He uses the power of his mighty typewriter to both make and destroy careers. Following him like a remora is Tony Curtis's character, Sidney Falco, a press agent who lives and dies by getting (or not getting) his clients mentioned in Hunsecker's column.

As the movie opens, the main plot is already in progress: Hunsacker is upset about his sister's romance with a jazz guitarist (Martin Millner!) He's tasked Sidney with breaking up the happy couple in a way that can't be traced back. Much of the movie details Sidney's increasingly desperate efforts to plant rumors that Millner is a dope-smokin' Commie. (Never mind that at least the dope-smokin' bit was probably a prerequisite for 50's professional jazz musicians.)

Neither Falco nor Hunsacker are remotely sympathetic characters, and just about everyone else views them with varying mixtures of fear and loathing. They move mostly at night through a variety of Manhattan clubs, restaurants, bars, and theatres. The overall atmosphere, even in the superficially glamorous nightspots, is one of unremitting seediness and corruption.

But that's just not my cup of tea, sorry. In addition, the dialogue (which, mind you, some critics just love) was phony and contrived to my ear, the screenwriter dazzling himself with his own cleverly-turned phrases.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:11 AM EDT

Lots of Monkey Doodles

[Nuts]

… bring 'em back alive:

  • Jesse Walker examines the strained attempt of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to link the murdering Tucson lunatic to "right-wing" and "antigovernment" wackos. Such efforts continue to be driven by lefty wishful thinking. My guess is we'll get another dose of it when the SPLC's Morris Dees speaks at the University Near Here a couple weeks from now. My further guess is that nobody like Jesse Walker will be provided a comparable forum at UNH to debunk.

  • Corporate Welfare Present: Kevin Williamson looks at the recent appointment of GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to head of the "President’s Council on Jobs and Competitivenes."

    GE, you will not be surprised to know, spent $32 million on lobbying in the last year and is a big political donor.  Like its colleagues in most Big Business sectors, it heavily favors Democrats: It was a large contributor to Barack Obama’s senatorial and presidential campaigns, and the single largest recipient of GE money in 2009–10 was, you will not be surprised to learn, one Barack Obama.

    Kevin notes that some are disappointed. But:

    In truth, I can’t think of a more appropriate adviser for an overreaching, arrogant, big-government administration than the head of GE, an overreaching, arrogant, big-government corporation. If we can have a tax cheat overseeing the IRS, why can’t we have a corporate-welfare case telling us how to get productive?

    "Indeed."

  • Corporate Welfare Future: the New York Times relates how large banks are angling for a position at the trough previously hogged by Fannie and Freddie:

    As the Obama administration prepares a report on the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, some of the nation’s largest banks are offering a few suggestions.

    Wells Fargo and some other large banks would like private companies, perhaps even themselves, to become the new housing finance giants helping to bundle individual mortgages into securities — that would be stamped with a government guarantee.

    "Government guarantee" is a euphemism. It means that the private companies will reap any profits while taxpayers assume the risk of bets gone bad. What could go wrong?

  • In other nut news, someone is swiping pecans in Roswell, NM. Some blame economics:

    John Wilson, owner of The Nut House, said pecan thefts have been increasing for the past few years. He said current prices for farmed nuts are running between $3.75 and $4 per pound this year. For street or yard pecans, prices are $1 to $1.75 per pound.

    … but cm'on. It's Roswell. Clearly, it's an alien plot.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:34 AM EDT

The Town

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

Ben Affleck co-wrote, directed, and stars. And it's very good. I'm impressed.

Affleck plays Doug MacRay, leader of a talented foursome of armed robbers based in Charlestown, MA. He's in the midst of what, for a longtime thug, might be deemed a midlife crisis. He's dropped drugs and booze, as well as his slutty girlfriend. He's growing concerned that one of his partners (played by Jeremy Renner) seems ever more willing to inflict actual violence on their victims and witnesses.

All this is brought to a head when a bank heist threatens to go bad, and the gang takes Claire, a beautiful bank employee, hostage. She's released unharmed, but Doug is assigned to go check up on her, in order to ensure she won't disclose anything important to law enforcement. And (of course) Doug and Claire fall for each other.

Things I liked:

  • John Hamm, from Mad Men, plays Frawley, a very good FBI agent tracking down Doug's gang. And where have I seen that other guy… oh, yeah, the "Man in Black" from Lost.

  • Relatively small but important parts for Chris Cooper (playing Doug's incarcerated dad) and the late Pete Postlethwaite (playing a truly villainous criminal mastermind).

  • It's filmed in and around the Boston area, including some great scenes in the lyric little bandbox itself, Fenway Park. There's at least one Red Sox in-joke. (Which, I'm ashamed to admit, I had to look up to get.)

  • Right at the end there's a little three-word homage to one of my favorite bits from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Bottom line: one of the best movies I've seen recently.

Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:24 AM EDT

Despicable Me

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

At Pun Salad Manor, we consume kiddy movies without excuse, shame, or apology. Some say this is due to second childhood, but … OK, that could be exactly what's going on. This one is very amusing; it's not Pixar, but it's nonetheless a worthy effort. There are a lot of clever asides, visual jokes, and inventive sequences, enough to keep adults interested.

The movie's hero is Gru, voiced by Steve Carell. Gru is an evil criminal mastermind, but not so evil that he actually hurts anyone; he just enjoys taking things that aren't his. Gru is aided by a co-villain, mad inventor Dr. Nefario, and an army of yellow "Minions", an oblate species seemingly made out of yellow Nerf. You'd think that he'd be the nemesis of one or two superheros, but no: his nemesis is the annoying Vector, another evil criminal mastermind. They find themselves in competition to steal the Moon.

Gru launches a scheme that involves the adoption of three cute little girls. Will they melt Gru's villainous heart and cause him to see the error of his naughty ways? <voice imitation="that_guy_in_the_geico_commercial">Is it a bad idea to use a live grenade as a bookend?</voice>


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:21 AM EDT

Ask Not

[Milton Friedman]

It's the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, and my guess is the most famous line will be unavoidable. Milton Friedman wrote a short rebuttal near the beginning of his 1962 work, Capitalism and Freedom:

In a much quoted passage in his inaugural address, President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." It is a striking sign of the temper of our times that the controversy about this passage centered on its origin and not on its content. Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. The paternalistic "what your country can do for you" implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man's belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, "what you can do for your country" implies that government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary. To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them. He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common traditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped and served. He recognizes no national goal except as it is the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve. He recognizes no national purpose except as it is the consensus of the purposes for which the citizens severally strive.

The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country. He will ask rather "What can I and my compatriots do through government" to help us discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom? And he will accompany this question with another: How can we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect? Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom. Even though the men who wield this power initially be of good will and even though they be not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp.

As I've said before: To a mushy-headed kid in the early sixties, it was more than a little jarring to see someone with the utter gall to talk back to one of the Holy Quotations of Saint JFK. And some would say I've never recovered from the shock.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:22 AM EDT

Pun Salad Accepts Full Responsibility!

[not a bullet]

Although Pun Salad has pooh-poohed the left wing efforts to link conservative/libertarian rhetoric with mass murder, recent events have caused me to take a hard look in the mirror.

CNN's John King: "Before we go to break, I want to make a quick point. We were having a discussion about the Chicago mayoral race. My friend Andy Shaw used the term 'in the crosshairs' in talking about the candidates. We're trying, we're trying to get away from that language. Andy is a good friend, he's covered politics for a long time, but we're trying to get away from that kind of language."

OK, you might laugh. Obviously, the chances of a lunatic being set off by an inadvertent metaphorical mention of "crosshairs" is low. But if it saves even one life, then isn't it incumbent on us all to watch what we say, tone down the rhetoric, and just basically STFU? Of course.

Which made me look with shame upon Pun Salad's use—some might say overuse—of the HTML <ul> tag, the unordered list.

  • Or, as it's informally known: the bullet list. Uh oh.

  • What was I thinking? If pop psychology, as explicated by numerous New York Times and Washington Post columnists, has taught us anything, it's that the juxtaposition of (a) conservative opinion and (b) anything at all suggestive of firearms is likely to send your random psychopath off on a spree of indiscriminate shooting of politicians, children, and other innocent bystanders.

  • And who am I to say that the plethora of those • symbols in so many Pun Salad posts hasn't pushed some nutball into a violent reaction: "Ohmigod! Bullets! Bullets everywhere! Telling me… Must killkillkilll…"

  • So what to do?

  • Maybe change it to an arrow? But I'd hate to take responsibility for any crazed archers out there. Better avoid anything pointy.
  • A heart perhaps? It's a symbol of love, baby. But to a person in a certain frame of mind, it can also be a big fat target. Avoid this too.
  • Hello kitty! Nah, that one almost makes me homicidal.
  • Ditto for snowflakes. I'd be OK with not seeing another one as long as I live, and I take no responsibility for what I might do if the frickin' town plow buries my mailbox again…

    Deep breaths… Pure thoughts… I'm OK now.

  • Ah, a nice flower. Who could be tipped over the edge by that?

    Anyone who's allergic, that's who! Die, you insensitive clod!

Can't win, I guess.

IMAO has a brief list (bullet-free, but excessive pointiness) of other problematic behavior, and his commenters have many, many more examples. We're doomed.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:33 AM EDT

Evelyn Prentice

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

An oldie (from 1934) but it's pretty good. It's easy to see why William Powell and Myrna Loy made so many movies together: chemistry, glamor, charisma, intelligence, you name it. ("Not bad for a guy with a weak chin!")

Ms. Loy plays Evelyn, and Mr. Powell is John, her high-powered, rich and famous lawyer husband. Only problem is that he doesn't spend a lot of time at home; he's always spending evenings in the office, or out of town. This makes Evelyn ripe pickings for local gigolo and all-around weasel Larry Kennard. And John is also targeted by his latest client, the beautiful widow Nancy Harrison (Rosalind Russell—woof!—in her first movie role).

As near as I can tell, nothing happens in terms of actual infidelity. But on the other hand, appearances can be very important, seeds of mistrust are sown, etc. And (worse) Kennard turns up dead somewhere around the middle of the flick, so whodunit? It all leads up to a dramatic courtroom finish, and John solves the mystery (literally) on his feet.

It's an interesting old-fashioned melodrama, with a few dashes of screwball comedy mixed in. Enough to make me check out those other Powell/Loy movies…


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:24 AM EDT

A Fortuitous Juxtaposition

[choose civility]

Sometimes my web-reading habits work out. No sooner did I read David French:

How wonderful it must be to feel the self-righteousness glow that one gets by calling for civility while -- at the same time -- implicitly accusing your fellow citizens of inciting murder. Leave it to the Left to create an entirely new form of political discourse: vicious civility.

… when almost immediately I read an example of the that very thing, from Washington Post editorial columnist Eugene Robinson:

In the spirit of civil discourse, I'd like to humbly suggest that Sarah Palin please consider being quiet for a while. Perhaps a great while.

It's very reminiscent of President Obama's urging Americans to "more civility in our public discourse", which came barely a month after he referred to Republicans as "hostage takers" and deemed John Boehner a "bomb thrower."

Maybe instead of quoting Psalm 46:4-5, the President might have spent a few minutes meditating on Matthew 7:5.

My own inclinations are similar to those of Don Surber:

Bite me.

(But read the whole thing.)


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:34 AM EDT

City Island

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

A fun movie about major family dysfunction. Nothing earth-shattering, but a decent excuse to avoid broadcast TV for an evening.

All members of the Rizzo family are hiding major secrets from each other. Andy Garcia plays the father: he is a prison guard who sneaks off to acting classes. He's also father to one more son that nobody else in the family knows about. And said son winds up—guess where?—in the very slammer at which Dad works. There are two other kids: one is a secret ecdysiast, earning money so that she can return to the college from which she was bounced. The other is hiding a (relatively innocent) fetish, involving food and high-BMI women. And everyone has a nasty cigarette habit, which they (of course) hide from each other.

In addition to Andy Garcia, there are a number of other name actors, and they all turn in solid performances: Julianna Margulies as the mom, Emily Mortimer as another wannabe actor (with secrets of her own), and Alan Arkin as the acting teacher. But everyone else does a fine job too. It may not be very realistic, because 99 times out of a hundred, the upshot of this level of mutual familial dishonesty wouldn't be funny at all. The movie dances right up to that, and then (probably wisely) dances right back again.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:25 AM EDT

Persuader

[Amazon Link] Number 7 in Lee Child's series involving ex-military policeman Jack Reacher. This one is set nearly in my backyard, with most of the action set on the rocky coast of Maine, south of Portland.

Reacher finds himself in trouble (as usual) from Chapter One on. He (seemingly) happens upon a kidnapping attempt against a kid headed home from college. The rescue involves him with the kid's father, a rug merchant with a remote mansion on the previously-mentioned rocky coast. But all is not as it seems: the rug merchant seems to have a different, more lucrative, and much less legal, sideline. There is an impressive array of evil henchmen hanging around, but it's unclear who their actual boss is. And (as it turns out) Reacher himself is there under false pretenses, looking to settle a grim score with a criminal mastermind he thought he had dealt with a decade previous.

As always: edge-of-your-seat suspense, gritty action, well-drawn characters, masterful detective work, and pretty good writing.

Just a quibble, with this and a lot of other books. A lot of stuff happens that depends on the reader understanding both the geography of the area and the physical layout of various scenes. Since the publisher is raking in millions, would it kill them to include some maps and floor plans?


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:13 AM EDT

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death

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

This is number 6 in the series of fourteen Sherlock Holmes movies starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes, and Nigel Bruce as his faithful sidekick, Dr. Watson. I wanted and expected to like it a bunch more than I did.

It's (very) loosely based on "The Musgrave Ritual." Watson is working at a spooky old manor, which has been thrown open as a convalescent center for the military. The owners are the Musgraves, and they are a contentious and resentful bunch. The mansion is filled with secret passages and chambers. The floor in one of the big rooms is meant to have been a giant chessboard. A sneaky butler seems to be up to no good, and the housekeeper is hostile. A tower clock strikes thirteen for unexplained reasons! And a raven down at the local pub enjoys human blood!

Suddenly, one of the other doctors gets stabbed (non-fatally) in the neck. That's quite enough for Watson; he travels down to London to enlist Holmes' aid. And, of course, he gets it.

It all seemed more than a little contrived. Holmes makes a weird little political speech at the end. I know this is sort of heretical, but I had a lot more fun watching the recent BBC miniseries Sherlock.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:14 AM EDT

We Can Try To Understand

… the New York Times' effect on man:

  • P. J. O'Rourke looks at the New York Times' coverage of the Arizona mass murder.

    In the matter of self-serving, bitter, calculated cynicism, there wouldn’t seem to be much left to prove against the Times. Judging by what I’ve heard from my fellow conservatives, the issue is decided. The New York Times is a worthless, truthless, vicious institution. But I disagree. I think things are worse than that.

    Not a pretty picture, but it's hard to disagree.

  • [Huck Corrected] Tom the Dancing Bug brings you the Classix ComixTM version of Huck Finn (corrected to reflect modern sensibilities). Don't miss the study questions at the bottom.

  • Both Granite Geek and Bad Astronomy are somewhat less than amused about the Zodiac sign-changing story that's making the rounds. Yes, folks, the changed signs are old news, and even if your sign is "changed", it doesn't make astrology any less full of beans.

  • I'm a never-miss fan of Jeopardy!, and I was looking forward to next month's episodes where a computer (IBM's "Watson") is going to go head-to-CPU against former champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

    They have video of a short practice round here, and … whoa! That bucket of bits is pretty sharp. Ken and Brad are going to have to bring their A game, which might not be enough.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:33 AM EDT

The Things That Pass For Knowledge

I can't understand:

  • I commented negatively a few days back about UNH Professor Bruce Mallory's "thoughts" on the Tucson massacre, as reported in my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat. I'd like to revisit this snippet:

    [Mallory] stressed that it's a possibility that words are being used less and less as a means to tackle an issue because of how heavily armed the United States has become.

    I scoffed at this. But I let the implication that the US has become more "heavily armed" go unchallenged.

    Because I thought that was true. I mean, it's something everyone knows, right?

    Well, apparently not. Shortly afterward, I hit this post at the NYT's Five Thirty Eight blog, which contains this historical graph of US household gun ownership:

    [gun ownership trend]

    I.e., the long-term trend is down, and roughly flat over the last decade. I'm surprised! This data is from the as-far-as-I-know-authoritative General Social Survey carried out by the U of Chicago. Anyone out there have contradictory data?

    Yes, this makes Mallory's thesis even sillier.

  • I have a subscription to the dead-tree National Review, and was mightily impressed with a recent article by Kevin D. Williamson, which they've now had the good sense to put online. It's an open letter to a newly-hired regulator, informing him (among other things) of the difficulty of acting in the "public interest":

    But you have no real idea what the public interest is. Nobody really does. How could you? How would you find out? (No, not rhetorical.) You could take a poll and see what the public says it wants, but what the public says it wants at any particular moment is not identical with the public interest. The public is made up of individuals, most of whom have no better idea what is in the best interest of people they have never met and know nothing about than you do -- and practically all of whom will lie when asked what it is they really want: They'll say they want opera broadcasts and educational programming and organic chard and more foreign news in the newspaper, but in real life their revealed preferences are pretty much classic rock, fantasy-football stats, and those heinous seven-layer burritos from Taco Bell.

    Kevin D. Williamson is perceptive and funny. He has a book coming out: The Politically Incorrect GuideTM to Socialism. And he has his own NRO blog, The Exchequer, which we all should be reading.

  • Your Zodiac sign may have changed. Mine did: after decades of being a Taurus, I now have to think of myself as an Aries. How ever will I cope?


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:18 AM EDT

Don't Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards

[Amazon Link]

A new book by New Hampshire's own P. J. O'Rourke means that I have one more thing to stick on my Christmas list. And it worked. It is, of course, quite good. P. J. looks at the current American political scene, and is discouraged. It would be an excellent introductory Political Science text for high schoolers, were it not for the filthy language and advocacy of drinking and cigar smoking. Politics is a broad field, and the book is wide ranging. Some might say rambling and unfocused, but I prefer "wide ranging."

It's tempting to just type in a few quotes from the book. And I will succumb to the temptation. Here's P. J. on health care reform:

What part of the cost of medical treatment is supposed to get reformed? The cost, or our cost? Somehow, in the mouths of politicians, it's always both. The quality of health care will increase, the quantity of health care will increase, the number of people receiving health care will increase, and therefore health care will cost less. […]

Something doesn't add up. Politicians are telling me that I can smoke, drink, gain two hundred pounds, then win an iron man triathalon at age ninety-five.

On Citizen's United, the Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance:

President Obama called the Supreme Court ruling "a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies…" At which point he seemed to run out of kinds of corporations that Americans are ticked at. "…and other powerful interests," he said. Surely, if the president had thought for a moment, he would have added, "…those people who call in the middle of dinner and want you to switch cell phone services."

Climate change? It's the shortest chapter in the book, one page, and here it is in its entirety:

There's not a goddamn thing you can do about it. Maybe climate change is a threat, and maybe climate change has been tarted up by climatologists trolling for research grant cash. It doesn't matter. There are 1.3 billion people in China, and they all want a Buick. Actually, if you go more than a mile or two outside China's big cities, the wants are more basic. People want a hot plate and a piece of methane-emitting cow to cook on it. They want a carbon-belching moped, and some CO2-disgorging heat in their houses in the winter. And air-conditioning wouldn't be considered an imposition, if you've ever been to China in the summer.

Now, I want you to dress yourself in sturdy clothing and arm yourself however you like—a stiff shot of gin would be my recommendation—and I want you to go tell 1.3 billion Chinese they can never have a Buick.

Then, assuming the Sierra Club helicopter has rescued you in time, I want you to go tell a billion people in India the same thing.

A few pages in the penultimate chapter involve an interview with then-Senator John E. Sununu; I predict a lot of my fellow Granite Staters will read this with intense pangs of sadness. Why did John E. first run for Congress?

When then New Hampshire House seat came open," he said, "I looked at the other people who had announced. I came to the conclusion that if I didn't run, New Hampshire would be represented by another trial lawyer."

Well, at least we had him in there for awhile. P. J. notes what came next:

The Democrat who defeated John Sununu in 2008, former New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen, is not a trial lawyer—her husband is. Shaheen is a product of the only institution capable of making our lives more miserable than the law courts. She is a schoolteacher.

You probably won't agree with everything P. J. has to say—I didn't—but you'll have a good time figuring out why not.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:34 AM EDT

Parasitic Commentary in Foster's

[not an actual picture of Bruce
Mallory]

This morning's edition of my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, serves up the deep thoughts of Bruce Mallory, a professor in the Education Department at the University Near Here:

Following Saturday's shootings in Tucson, University of New Hampshire professor Bruce Mallory has deemed the incident yet another example of how society claims to be civil, yet goes about solving problems through acts of violence rather than through informed discussion.

Oh dear.

  • It is false that "society claims to be civil." Society is not an entity that can "claim" anything.

  • It is false that the shootings in Tucson were an "example" (let alone "yet another example") of society "solving problems through acts of violence." Murder by a deranged individual is not an act of "society." And only strained logic can "deem" this mass murder as "solving problems."

I'm not sure how much of this massive stupidity can be attributed to Professor Mallory, and how much is due to paraphrasing by the Foster's reporter. Unfortunately, things don't get much better in the remainder of the article, so I'm tending toward absolving the reporter.

Mallory, noted for his experience in how societies operate, said society has become increasingly more divided in terms of politics and ideologies throughout the past few years.

That explains why lunatics never shot at prominent public figures in America before January 8, 2011.

As a result, he said society has seemed to have lost its concern with resolving issues and differences through constructive dialogue. Though it most certainly doesn't stand as an excuse, this, the professor noted, is key to understanding the actions of the individual who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, killed six and injured another 13 others.

Professor Mallory (dubiously) claims to have discovered the "key to understanding" the killer's actions. In a similar vein, I'm guessing I've found the "key to understanding" Mallory's obsession with "constructive dialogue" and "informed discussion". As this three-year-old article from Inside Higher Ed shows, it's a hobbyhorse he's been riding for quite some time:

Mallory and others believe that divisive, adversarial politics are also being played out on the national stage, at an unprecedented level of intensity. He is a proponent of what is being called "deliberative democracy," a process of informed and civil political discourse that ideally leads to a greater consensus and more rational collective decisions.

When you're that invested in a belief, everything gets viewed through that prism. And you wind up speaking blithering claptrap, shilling the magic elixir you just know would have prevented the violent acts of this dangerous nutball. Back to the Foster's article:

He [suggested the] suspect in the shootings, a 22-year-old male, may have lost touch with reality and was threatened by those who he considered different or to have different beliefs. Noting that acts of violence like the incident in Arizona are seemingly becoming more and more frequent, which Mallory said gives him a reason to believe that such acts are becoming the norm.

"The more this happens, the more our country feels like those undemocratic, uncivil societies where assassinations, tribal conflict, and oppression by the powerful few are the norm," said Mallory.

A stunning insight: Jared Lee Loughner might have had psychological problems. Gee, ya think?

Also note the weasel-wordings: "seemingly", "reason to believe", "feels like": kids, if you want to be a respected academic, this is how you try to sneak in assertions for which you have no real evidence whatsoever.

It gets worse:

He stressed that it's a possibility that words are being used less and less as a means to tackle an issue because of how heavily armed the United States has become. Mallory said society "has chosen to allow virtually anyone to obtain a deadly weapon, but not require that he or she demonstrate the ability to use such weapons responsibly." He said such access to tools that foster using violence as opposed to language is one reason why society hasn't reached its goal of being an ideal civil society.

"Children! Use your words!"

"I don't have to, I have a Glock!"

Sigh.

Gun grabbers have long tried, and failed miserably, to establish even a correlation between gun ownership and violent crime. Needless to say, Mallory has zero evidence for increased gun ownership causing a decrease in civility. But it fits his worldview, so who needs evidence?

"It will be words, not walls or weapons, that will help us restore a sense of civility and a belief in our capacity to solve our problems in this troubled world," said Mallory. "The horror of the shootings in Arizona should strengthen our resolve to come together, face to face and heart to heart, to listen to each other."

Horror is not likely to encourage thoughtfulness. Sappy foolishness, forced alliteration, and evidence-free assertions will not help either.

The article finishes up with one more attempt to hawk Mallory's miraculous panacea of …

The key to solving society's current violence problem? According to Mallory, that is something that can only come from a nationwide recommitment to resolving differences via dialogue. In order to do so, the professor said that citizens across the country must be equipped with conflict resolution tools as well as a knowledge of how to mediate during confrontation.

Mallory, a professor of education at the university, has taught courses that address leadership and being the change one wishes to see in the world. He has also performed research in deliberative dialogue and civic engagement. It is Mallory's lengthy list of experience with how a society operates that serves as a basis for his comments regarding the shooting.

There you go: just run your society like we do faculty meetings here at UNH. Problem solved.

Or, as Orwell noted: "One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool."

Simply by coincidence, I came a relevant blog post at Reason from Brian Doherty: "Big News Events Make Blatherers of Us All." It reads as if he had Mallory in mind, although he's responding to commentary from George Packer at the New Yorker:

You can call this parasitic commentary. It doesn't say anything about the event or anything legitimately connected to the event. Rather, it illegitimately hijacks our interest and passion in the event to command our attention, and aim our emotions and anger about it where he wants to aim--while maintaining intellectual respectability of a minimal level by admitting up front there's no connection at all.

The main difference between Packer and Mallory is that Mallory doesn't maintain "intellectual respectability of a minimal level"; instead he's more than eager to assert connections where none exists.

[I've responded to the Foster's article since that was what I encountered first. If you'd prefer, Professor Mallory's own words may be found here.]


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:34 AM EDT

Which Is It?

Glenn Harlan Reynolds gets the coveted Pun Salad Read The Whole Thing (If You Haven't Already) Award for today. Key paragraph:

To be clear, if you're using [the shootings in Arizona] to criticize the "rhetoric" of Mrs. Palin or others with whom you disagree, then you're either: (a) asserting a connection between the "rhetoric" and the shooting, which based on evidence to date would be what we call a vicious lie; or (b) you're not, in which case you're just seizing on a tragedy to try to score unrelated political points, which is contemptible. Which is it?

I watched the Saturday 11pm news on Boston's channel 7; after relating the dreadful facts, they immediately went to the stupid sermonizing from Tucson Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, and pointing with dismay to Sarah Palin. Disgusting.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:33 AM EDT

"Let Me Show You Something"

"… that will make you feel young as when the world was new:"

  • Note to House Republicans: since you have a 55.6% majority, every Democrat in the country will be looking for you to say or do stupid things. They will draw attention to them, loudly, and there are plenty of media outlets eager to act as their megaphones.

    Specifically, you should avoid things like this:

    [NBC News Guy Brian] WILLIAMS: Name a program right now that we could do without.

    [House Speaker John] BOEHNER: I don’t think I have one off the top of my head.

    And also:

    Republican Reps. Pete Sessions of Texas and Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania sent an apology letter to all fellow House members late Friday afternoon for skipping out on the chamber’s swearing-in ceremony Wednesday and then voting on legislation while technically not members of Congress.

    So: (1) be able to come up with answers to obvious questions; (2) show up on time to important events. This isn't rocket science.

  • [KHAAAN!] If you watch a lot of movies, you may have the impression that movie sequels tend to be worse than the originals. Here's a great visualization bearing out that impression—with science! The trend is obvious, and the outliers are interesting too.

    Specifically, there's one far-outlier where the sequel is way better than the original—can you guess? A hint should be around here somewhere…

  • Clayton Cramer posts a profound thought.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:33 AM EDT

"I Call That Bold Talk For a One-eyed Fat Man."

… "Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!" [Mr. Duvall]

  • Happy birthday to Robert Duvall, 80 years young today. Here's his IMDB page; not all the movies are good, but he's just about always one of the best things in them.

  • Also we'll jump the gun a bit and wish a happy would-have-been-120th birthday to Zora Neale Hurston, born in Notasulga, Alabama on January 7, 1891. John McWhorter notes her essential conservatism:

    Hurston would have understood that sense that black people are, in the end, individuals rather than the sum of an abstract "blackness," as she indicates here: "Suppose a Negro does something really magnificent, and I glory, not in the benefit to mankind, but in the fact that the doer was a Negro. Must I not also go hang my head in shame when a member of my race does something execrable? The white race did not go into a laboratory and invent incandescent light. That was Edison. If you are under the impression that every white man is an Edison, just look around a bit."

    I don't even have to look around a bit to know that every white man is not an Edison.

  • The headline says "INSANELY awesome solar eclipse picture" and that's not a lie. Check it out. (Via Granite Geek.)

  • USS Enterprise Captain Relieved Of Command. Ah, yes. I remember that episode.

    (Sorry. Variants of that minor joke are all over the web, but I couldn't resist.)


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:33 AM EDT

Wings in the Dark

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

The second part of our Cary Grant double feature, supplied by Netflix. It's from 1935.

Cary Grant plays inventor/aviator Ken Gordon; he's working on a thread of support from an aviation company to develop an automatic system to allow pilots to land in zero-visibility situations. His co-star is Myrna Loy, playing Sheila Mason, a risk-taking pilot, taking on all kinds of odd flying jobs: skywriting, aerial stunts at fairs, etc. Sheila and Ken are brought together by Sheila's manager, and things are going swimmingly. But then disaster strikes: an explosion blinds Ken.

You can almost write the rest yourself: Ken becomes bitter and withdrawn; Sheila vows to help Ken get back on his feet, regain his confidence, and complete his invention. And there's a thrilling conclusion involving… well, I don't want to give it away.

They don't get away with making movies this corny any more. But that doesn't mean you can't have a good time watching it. Mr. Grant and Ms. Loy are an extremely potent combination of screen glamor, charisma, and talent that still works (at least for me). The flying scenes—from 1935, remember—are impressively done.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:23 AM EDT

You Are Now Entering Enchantment

… Gateway to Disenchantment [Disenchantment!]

  • John McWhorter offers a powerful argument for ending drug prohibition:

    It tears poor black communities to pieces. Not only by flooding them with police--but by encouraging bright young black people to work the black market and lending it an air of heroism.

    That's just one reason. In addition, it would save Your Federal Government a huge pile of money.

  • Should we expect the new Congress to cut spending? Find out the shocking answer in reason.tv's "Countdown to Disappointment: Don't expect the new Congress to cut spending"

    Back [in 1994] the GOP revolutionaries targeted more than 200 programs for complete and utter elimination. They scored some minor victories (adios helium fund!), but a decade into their "revolution" (and after they gained a Republican president) inflation-adjusted spending on the combined budgets of the 101 largest programs slated for elimination actually increased by 27 percent.  And since then total federal spending has continued to soar, so why should we take Republicans seriously this time?

    I'm not betting the farm on fiscal sanity. Or wouldn't, if I had a farm.

  • In additional depressing news, Katrina Trinko finds that four possible GOP presidential candidates (Thune, Pawlenty, Daniels, and Pence) have unclean hands when it comes to ethanol policy. And she reminds us just how the Feds are shovelling funds to this particular favored group:

    Currently, imported ethanol is slapped with a 54-cent-per-gallon tariff, while oil companies receive a 45-cent tax credit per gallon of ethanol blended into their gasoline. Both the tariff and the tax credit have just been extended for another year, thanks to a bipartisan push from Cornbelt politicians. In case these provisions aren't enough to help the industry hobble its way to satisfying profits, lawmakers also decided to mandate that U.S. consumption of renewable fuels (which will certainly be almost entirely corn-based and cellulosic ethanol) reach 36 billion gallons by 2022.

    I'm sad about Daniels' record (because I was so enraptured by his reading choices revealed last summer) although I suppose I shouldn't have been expecting otherwise. He (now) at least sounds somewhat repentant.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:13 AM EDT

TRON: Legacy

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

I saw the original TRON back in 1982, and loved it. This one is a worthy sequel, made with a lot of respect for the original.

In the original, Jeff Bridges played Kevin Flynn, nemesis of evildoers at ENCOM, a computer company. The bad guys arranged for Flynn's abduction into the Grid, a cyberworld where program fought program, gladiator-style, all under the dictatorial thumb of the Master Control Program, or MCP. After many close calls and exciting conflicts, Flynn's real-world self was reconstituted, and the bad guys (and programs) were defeated.

In this movie's prologue it's revealed what happened next: Flynn and his buddy Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) took over ENCOM. Flynn got married and had a son, Sam, but still commuted back and forth from the Grid, engaged in world-changing research. But one day Flynn doesn't make it back.

So Sam grows up and 20 years later or so, he has become a bit of a rebel; like father, like son. One fateful night, he's lured back to his dad's old video arcade, and before you can say "I saw that coming", he's plopped into the Grid too. Soon he learns that the show's being run by CLU, an evil program that looks just like Dad—from twenty years back. And CLU lacks any kind of father feeling whatsoever. So Sam finds himself doing the gladiator thing with the deadly flying disks and the cool light-cycles, and—

In short, I was in nerd heaven for a couple hours. Everything I liked about the original, upgraded with nearly thirty years progress in computer graphics.

Consumer note: I wasn't too impressed with the 3-D. (The real-world scenes are in normal 2-D, with the Grid scenes in 3-D.) You might want to save a few bucks there.

What really impressed me was the whole process where they "youngified" Jeff Bridges a couple decades. It was stunningly realistic. If they can do that, it won't be long before they can do anything with cybernetic actors.

I found myself fantasizing about Casablanca 2, with CGI-resurrected Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, and Paul Henreid. Something like: Victor gets captured by the Nazis; Ilsa tracks down Rick and Louis and pleas for them to stage a rescue. After an initial "I stick my neck out for nobody, remember?" rebuff, Rick undertakes the mission…

OK, so that would be sacreligiously dreadful. But still.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:17 AM EDT

The Problem With the Future

… is that it keeps turning into the present: [the future!]

  • 2010 isn't really over until you've read Dave Barry’s 2010 Year in Review.

    Let’s put things into perspective: 2010 was not the worst year ever. There have been MUCH worse years. For example, toward the end of the Cretaceous Period, the Earth was struck by an asteroid that wiped out 75 percent of all the species on the planet. Can we honestly say that we had a worse year than those species did? Yes we can, because they were not exposed to Jersey Shore.

    Contains much actual not-made-up content.

  • Bad news for fans of Barackrobatics: as near as Pun Salad's crack research staff can determine, the President did not assert that the US economy was moving "in the right direction" in December of 2010. I thought for a moment he'd done it when he signed the tax deal on December 17:

    All while keeping our economic recovery moving in the right direction, providing immediate -- an immediate economic jolt, and giving more than 150 million Americans help where they need it most, in their paychecks, in their wallets. I believe it was the right thing to do.

    Unfortunately, this was spoken by Vice President Biden, who was also in the room at the time (for some reason). So it doesn't count. This ends a streak of nine consecutive months where the President made the "right direction" claim.

  • The voters in New York Congressional District 19 voted to fire their Democrat Congressman, John Hall, in the past election. The New York Observer obtained his exit interview, an interesting mix of sour grapes and historical illiteracy:

    Speaking about the Citizen's United decision, which allowed unregulated flow of cash into campaign coffers, Hall said, "I learned when I was in social studies class in school that corporate ownership or corporate control of government is called Fascism. So that's really the question— is that the destination if this court decision goes unchecked?"

    Let's leave aside Hall's hysterical mythologizing about Citizen's United, and instead look at his use of the Other F-word. Who knows whether that was what was actually taught in Hall's "social studies" class, or if Hall just wasn't paying close attention. Classic fascism viewed business as one more cog in the totalitarian system, as Oswald Moseley put it, "performing its individual function but working in harmony with the whole." They certainly weren't envisioned as running the show.

    Timothy P. Carney was similarly unimpressed with Hall's scholarship.

    I suspect John Hall would argue that corporate control of Congress yields deregulation and tax cuts. I think he's wrong. I think the Wall Street bailout, the Chamber of Commerce-backed stimulus, and the PhRMA-backed health-care bill are fruits of corporate-controlled Congress -- and Hall backed all of them, of course.

    Stimulus, bailouts, mandatory health insurance, lengthy prescription-drug monopolies -- these all represent "corporate control of government" in a more precise sense of the word. They involve corporations using government to get things they couldn't get without government.

    In other words, if Hall is looking for creeping fascism, he could start with his own voting record.

    Hall whines "The country was bought," in reference to the election outcome. Interestingly, his campaign outspent that of his opponent; independent expenditures on the race also went his way. He lost anyway. And good riddance.

    The Observer notes that Hall is "a former front man for the rock bank Orleans". I think they mean "band." Nevertheless, now I'm especially embarrassed to own this album on vinyl.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:15 AM EDT

Tampa Burn

[Amazon Link]

This is number 11 in Randy Wayne White's series of novels about Marion "Doc" Ford, a marine biologist living in southwestern Florida, with a darker, violent, past doing shady things for Your Federal Government. Nowadays, though, he's content to run his biological supply business, do a little research on spawning tarpon in captivity, and hang out with his colorful friends.

But that wouldn't make much of a book. Doc has—or so he thinks—a bastard son, Laken, living in the fictional Central American country of Masagua. Doc is still somewhat captivated by the boy's mother, Pilar, who was once married to an now-exiled Masaguan general. The boy becomes a pawn when he's kidnapped by Praxcedes Lourdes as part of a plot to bring the general back into power. But Lourdes is a terribly disfigured psychotic freak, whose highest joy is in setting people on fire. And he has his own plan in mind, almost immediately double-crossing the general.

The kidnapping brings Pilar back into Doc's life, much complicating his relationships with ex-lesbian Dewey Nye and his drug-soaked buddy Tomlinson. The general and his thugs are also in the picture, trying to recover their shattered plans. But Doc's overriding purpose, of course, is to discover the whereabouts of his son, and to thwart Lourdes' gruesome scheme. As it turns out, Laken is not content to be a passive victim, and he manages to drop ingenious clues to Ford. It all leads up to an exciting climax at sea.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:14 AM EDT

Big Brown Eyes

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

The first movie in a Cary Grant DVD double feature. It's pretty easy to fit two movies on a DVD when one of them is only 77 minutes. But the director, Raoul Walsh, knew how to fit a lot of plot into 77 minutes.

Here, Grant is Danny Barr, NYC police detective, looking for a gang of jewel thieves. His insanely jealous girlfriend Eve (played by Joan Bennett) is a manicurist at a high-end barber shop. Through a fortuitous coincidence, it's a hangout for both Danny and the thieves; this makes solving the case much easier.

The movie is a disquieting mix of crime and screwball comedy. Ms. Bennett's character is very similar to Rosalind Russell's in His Girl Friday: she's cynical, sassy, and always has a snappy comeback. (Danny: "Oh, how I wish you were a man!" Eve: "Same to you.") There's a considerable amount of physical comedy as well.

All that screwiness would have worked better if the thieves were more genteel. Instead, somewhat shockingly, they commit a truly heinous murder. The jokes seem forced after that.

Still, it's Cary Grant. They don't make 'em like that any more.


Last Modified 2012-09-29 6:16 AM EDT