She Was a Backwoods Girl

[Slow Train Coming]

… but she sure was realistic:

  • We kvetched a couple times about Cowardly GOP Weasels being less than serious about cutting federal spending in the wangling over H. R. 1, setting the budget for the remainder of this fiscal year. If you're wondering how your CongressCritter did, the folks at Heritage Action kept score.

    Fun facts: 47 Republicans voted for every possible spending cut; 95 Democrats voted against every single one of them. Everyone else fell somewhere in between.

    For Granite Staters: my own Congressman, Frank Guinta, scored a decent 73%; Charlie Bass garnered a measly 33%, getting a mention from Heritage as one of the Republicans "most reluctant" to cut spending.

  • George Will is on target about the train fetishism of the modern American "progressive".
    To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they--unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted--are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.
    George is getting very libertarian in his old age.

  • The Granite Geek opines on backing into parking spaces. If you're interested, there's a website devoted to it: www.fancyparking.com

  • And in case you're looking for the best picture on the Internet, it's right here: www.thebestpictureontheinternet.com. You're welcome.


Last Modified 2011-03-08 9:57 AM EST
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Human Accomplishment

[Amazon Link]

I've been a Charles Murray fan since I read his In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government more than a few years back. But somehow I skipped over this one (from 2003), so I decided to fill in that particular gap.

Murray's goal here is a little audacious: a study of human progress and excellence in the arts and sciences throughout history. He travels up and down the historical timeline, and throughout the entire world. He locates the significant individuals, discoveries, and ideas in a large number of fields, and describes how they were distributed not only in time and space, but also how things broke out in terms of sex, race, and ethnicity. In short, it's a real tour de force.

Murray's results won't cheer dogmatic feminists, cultural relativists, or anti-Semites. Historically, no other area can hold a candle, achievement-wise, to Western Europe. (And not all parts of Western Europe: northern Italy, France, and southeast England dominate.) Similarly, Jews are over-represented, despite experiencing simultaneous appalling bigotry. And (sorry, ladies) the highest levels of excellence are pretty much male-dominated.

For us America lovers: Murray notes that we're not really all that special either. Sorry.

Murray spends almost as much time describing his methodology as explicating his results. He painstakingly describes his efforts to avoid any sort of chauvinism. (Which, by the way, makes the Publisher's Weekly kneejerk review on the Amazon page look deliberately obtuse: la, la, la, I can't hear you!)

Even the little side trips are interesting. Example: Early in the book, Murray spends some time discussing the "Antikythera Mechanism", a sophisticated calculation device dated sometime between 150 and 100 BC; its design demonstrates a previously unsuspected sophistication in both astronomy and mechanical engineering for that era. Murray uses this (and other examples) to point out that there are large unknown areas and mysteries in the history of accomplishment.

Soberingly, Murray finishes up with by investigating whether achievement may be in a long-term historical decline. He answers with a firm "maybe."


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:55 AM EDT
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Micmacs

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

The movie opens in the 70's, showing a member of the French Foreign Legion getting blown up while trying to defuse a landmine in the middle of the Sahara. This drives his wife to the loony bin, and effectively orphans little Bazil, our hero. Bazil escapes from an oppressive orphanage, and grows up to manage a small video store, where he's content to lipsync Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall's dialogue in The Big Sleep, as dubbed into French. But misfortune strikes again, as a gunfight breaks out outside the store, and a stray bullet whangs right into his brain.

Please note: this movie is billed a comedy.

Miraculously, Bazil survives, but loses his job and becomes homeless. Fortunately he takes up with a colorful band of misfits living in a junkyard. And he decides to wreak vengeance on the weapons manufacturers that built the mine that killed his dad and manufactured the slug that still sits in his frontal lobe.

Again, please note: comedy.

Bazil and his cohorts are not merely colorful, they're charming and funny. They bring a diverse array of oddball talent to Bazil's plot. The heads of the weapons firms are slimy and arrogant, and richly deserve the fate that Bazil is plotting. (My normal troglodytic attitudes lead me to think that weapons manufacturers are pretty much OK folks, so it's a mark of the film's quality that it sucked me into its narrative on this point.)

It's directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who previously did Amélie, another charmer. There's lots of amusing cleverness and whimsy; it's mostly visual-based, which I won't attempt to describe. But after the initial grim carnage, I chuckled pretty much all the way through.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:45 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2011-02-27 Update

[phony baloney]

So long to John Thune, who dropped out of contention for the GOP presidential nomination this past week, no doubt disappointed in his cellar-dwelling numbers in the Phony Campaign. No new GOP candidates have risen above our (arbitrary) 4% threshold at Intrade this week, although Michelle Bachmann (3.9%) and Haley Barbour (3.8%), are threatening.

It occurred that we should check the Democrat side of Intrade as well. Which turned out to be a mistake, because if we wanted to be consistent, we'd have to include Hillary Clinton (whose chances are currently at 6.5%) and Joe Biden (4%). I'm OK with being inconsistent, because I don't want to think about those scenarios any more than you do. (But, pretty clearly, some Intrade traders do think about those scenarios.)

The current numbers:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-02-20
"Barack Obama" phony 3,780,000 -30,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 2,720,000 -110,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 1,370,000 +60,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 1,320,000 +160,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 552,000 -17,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 433,000 -5,000
"Mitch Daniels" phony 325,000 +51,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 146,000 +31,000

  • The proprietor of the Looney Thune website isn't picking up his marbles and going home. Instead, he announced a "new direction" for his site, converting it into the almost-as-funny "MittforBrains.com". (He adds: "once I find someone internet savvy to do it for me.")

  • A Washington Post story questions whether Mike Huckabee "still wants to be president."

    Don't look for him in the early presidential debates, which begin just over two months from now, for instance. He doesn't have fond memories of standing on those crowded stages during the last campaign, fighting for airtime and answering question after question about Iraq.

    "We just rehashed the same stuff, over and over. I was bored with it," Huckabee said. "It was the same tripe, and I found it just incredibly disgusting, and ultimately meaningless."

    In other words, Huck just might not be phony enough to run for president. Impressive!

  • Pun Salad likes Mitch Daniels (mostly because of his stellar reading list), but just to show that even admirable politicians have their deeply phony side, Jacob Sullum discusses how Mitch, as a junior at Princeton, managed to (a) get caught with two shoeboxes full of marijuana, and (b) managed to wangle his legal penalty down to a $350 fine for "maintaining a common nuisance." Sullum concludes:

    As [another pundit, Paul] Waldman's American Prospect colleague Adam Serwer points out, Daniels' galling hypocrisy is mitigated by his more recent support for sentencing reform, including reduced penalties for nonviolent drug offenders. But if Daniels really thinks a $350 fine is an appropriate penalty for someone caught with several ounces of marijuana, he should at least support decriminalizing possession. Currently in Indiana, the amount of pot Daniels had triggers a sentence of six months to three years.

    The current President, of course, is another self-admitted ex-pothead. A close call on who's the bigger phony.

  • Mitt Romney's big phony issue, of course, is RomneyCare, the Massachusetts version of ObamaCare, which, as governor, he enthusiastically shepherded to passage, with the cooperation of state Democrats. Peter Suderman describes how Mitt is threading the needle of opposing ObamaCare while insisting his health reform was just great, except where it isn't, which is not his fault.

    Of course, Romney also wants everyone to know he thinks the federal overhaul that was modeled on the plan he signed into law is a really, really bad idea—despite the fact that the White House has been happy to highlight the similarities between the two plans. According to his spokesman, Romney believes that the federal law was a terrible mistake: “What's important now is to return to the states the power to determine their own healthcare solutions by repealing Obamacare. A one-size-fits-all plan for the entire nation just doesn't work.” ObamaCare for me, but not for thee?

    At least he's not a reformed pothead, right?


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:43 AM EDT
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The Cabaret Was Quiet

[nag nag nag]

… except for the drillin' in the wall:

  • The musings of the New York Times Official Food Nag, Mark Bittman, have a strange fascination for me. This week, his withering stare is turned upon the Unspeakable Horror that is McDonalds Fruit & Maple Oatmeal. For Bittman fans, his gripes are predictable, and couched in the melodramatic prose typical of scaremongers ("only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald's cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin" Aieeee!).

    It doesn't take a sharp eye to detect where Bittman's scorn is really aimed, however:

    Some will say that [McDonalds Oatmeal] tastes better, but that's because they're addicted to sickly sweet foods, which is what this bowlful of wholesome is.
    It's evil, I tell you! And if you disagree, it's because you've succumbed to its evil spell, you weak-willed addict!

    Bittman can barely hide his contempt for people making their own choices:

    Others will argue that the McDonald's version is more "convenient." This is nonsense; in the time it takes to go into a McDonald's, stand in line, order, wait, pay and leave, you could make oatmeal for four while taking your vitamins, brushing your teeth and half-unloading the dishwasher. (If you're too busy to eat it before you leave the house, you could throw it in a container and microwave it at work. If you prefer so-called instant, flavored oatmeal, see this link, which will describe how to make your own).
    This is the language of the Born Nagger. Not content with having made his own choices, he's more than willing to tell you how to make yours too. After all, isn't he in a much better position than you to decide what's "convenient"? Hasn't that been a major factor missing in your life, a New York Times columnist to tell you when to unload the dishwasher and brush your teeth?

  • Let me not be the only libertarian blogger to miss commenting on the ruling by federal Judge Gladys Kessler declaring Obamacare to be just fine-and-dandy Constitution-wise. Why? Well because of the infinitely-expansive Commerce Clause.
    It is pure semantics to argue that an individual who makes a choice to forgo health insurance is not "acting," especially given the serious economic and health-related consequences to every individual of that choice. Making a choice is an affirmative action, whether one decides to do something or not do something. They are two sides of the same coin. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality.
    Bottom line: any "choice" you might care to make is fair game for the Feds, as long as there's a dollar sign involved.

    Limited government is a joke when judges like Kessler are eager to blow up the Commerce Clause into a loophole through which you can drive a large ambulance down the Road to Serfdom.

  • Dear Obameter:

    With respect to President Obama's Promise 238 ("Conduct regulatory agency business in public"), I think it's finally time to rate as "Promise Broken". According to Politico:

    Caught between their boss' anti-lobbyist rhetoric and the reality of governing, President Barack Obama's aides often steer meetings with lobbyists to a complex just off the White House grounds -- and several of the lobbyists involved say they believe the choice of venue is no accident.

    It allows the Obama administration to keep these lobbyist meetings shielded from public view -- and out of Secret Service logs kept on visitors to the White House and later released to the public.

    I'll try to remember to keep an eye on this…


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Like a Strobing Light

[lousy-marx]

… please confuse my every decision:

  • Can a pun-spouting raccoon really be the next big meme? I doubt it, but since this is Pun Salad…

  • A few days ago, I referred to an amusing rant from incoherent leftist David Glenn Cox. One of his targets was AOL's purchase of the Huffington Post. Sample:
    Look at AOL's purchase of the Huffington Post, was it to expand AOL's balance sheet? Or was it because AOL thought that they could do a better job of running the place? It was about Capitalism and Capitalism's sole purpose is to make money. Why didn't AOL with their deep pockets and expertise build their own web site? Capitalism buys to either make their own or to eliminate from competition its rivals. AOL will maximize the advertising while minimizing the product until it is just another organ of the loyal opposition, the phony left, the phony center, the phony phony.
    AOL no doubt wishes that it were the ruthlessly competent "Capitalist" money-making enterprise imagined by David Glenn Cox. But as a Slashdot headline asserted last month:
    60% of AOL's Profits Come From Misinformed Customers
    I can't resist adding: "… making it a natural partner with the Huffington Post."

  • I first heard about the Turing Test back in high school, when I happened to read Mortimer J. Adler's The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes. (It was mostly about what separates us from very smart animals, but it discussed computers as well.) Turing suggested that if a computer could carry on a natural-language discussion with a human, and the human couldn't tell whether he was talking to another human or a machine, then the machine could be said to be "thinking."

    That's been disputed. Nevertheless, nowadays the Turing Test is an annual event. One of the participants from last year's contest, Brian Christian, relates his story in the Atlantic.

    In two hours, I will sit down at a computer and have a series of five-minute instant-message chats with several strangers. At the other end of these chats will be a psychologist, a linguist, a computer scientist, and the host of a popular British technology show. Together they form a judging panel, evaluating my ability to do one of the strangest things I've ever been asked to do.

    I must convince them that I'm human.

    Fortunately, I am human; unfortunately, it's not clear how much that will help.

    It's very funny. Also you can learn stuff.

Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:41 AM EDT
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After the Thin Man

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

This 1936 movie is a sequel (obviously enough) to 1934's The Thin Man. It's safe to say if you liked the first one, this one's a safe bet too.

The Thin Man closed with our heroes, Nick and Nora, on a train heading off to California. This one opens with them arriving in San Francisco. They find their home has been taken over by a welcoming surprise party. Amusingly, none of the drunken revelers recognize them. Nick just wants to relax, but Nora's rich family summons them up to (my guess) their Nob Hill mansion for a stuffy dinner party, filled with dowagers and geezers.

But of course, there's mystery to be had there. Nora's cousin Selma is married to no-goodnik Robert, and Robert's gone missing. Waiting in the wings is straight-arrow George (Jimmy Stewart!), who still has feelings for Selma. The idea is to buy off Robert into a quickie divorce so that George and Selma can get hitched.

Selma asks Nick to track down Robert, and of course Nora tags along. Robert's found easily enough in a spectacularly disreputable night club, but (as it turns out) nearly everyone despises him and has some sort of motive to wish him dead. That's like wearing a red shirt in a Star Trek episode. So pretty soon, it turns into a whodunit.

There are a lot of laughs along the way. (Poor Asta finds that Mrs. Asta has been less than faithful in his absence, and that's milked for all it's worth.)


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:41 AM EDT
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We're On a Road to Nowhere

Come on inside:

  • Comment from me is unnecessary. Here's a graphic from Keith Hennesey:

    [road to nowhere]

    Click on it for a bigger version and Hennesey's analysis.

  • Jim Harper weighs in on the so-called "Internet Kill-Switch", an attempt by Your Federal Government to grab itself some additional power over the USA bits of the Internet. Harper observes that folks like Declan McCullagh are doing a pretty good job of pointing out how broad and arbitrary the proposed new powers are.

    Which would bescary enough, but Harper goes on to point out that by framing the issue in that way, the civil libertarians have already given up way too much ground. Instead we should be getting answers to questions like these:

    1) What authority does the government have to seize, or plan to seize, private assets? Such authority would be highly debatable under any of the constitutional powers kill-switchers might claim. Indeed, the constitution protects against, or at least severely limits, takings of private property in the Fifth Amendment.

    and

    2) Would it be a good idea to have the government seize control of the Internet, or parts of it, under some emergency situation? A government attack on our private communications infrastructure would almost certainly undercut the reliability and security of our networks, computers, and data.

    Get ready for the quote: "We had to destroy the Internet in order to save it."

  • If you can stomach the story of a different government Internet power grab, read Milton Muleller's call to action. Specifically:

    a shocking and dangerous turn in U.S. policy toward the global domain name system. It is a change that would reverse more than a decade of commitment to a transnational, bottom-up, civil society-led approach to governance of Internet identifiers, in favor of a top-down policy making regime dominated by national governments.

    Mueller provides a link to an online petition. Can't hurt.

  • GOP Cowardly Weasel Watch: the House of Representatives had a chance to derail Davis-Bacon "prevailing wage" enforcement for projects funded by the huge spending bill under consideration, via an amendment offered by Iowa's Steve King. This would result in lower taxpayer costs, and more competition for unions. In short, a good idea; unsurprisingly every Democrat voted Nay. It lost, unfortunately, due to 48 Republicans joining with them.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:55 AM EDT
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Shrek Forever After

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

Historical recap: after achieving sheer brilliance with the first two Shrek movies, the filmmakers stumbled badly with Shrek the Third. The good news is that they managed to recover a bit with this (apparent) last movie in the series. I chuckled most of the way through, anyway.

Our big green buddy has settled into a life of domestic bliss with the beautiful Fiona and three bouncing little ogrelets. Still… he's an ogre, after all, and a certain part of him misses the old days of adventure and misanthropy. It's a midlife crisis!

Since Shrek can't do what most of us guys do (run down to the Ford dealer and start pricing out red Mustang convertibles), he's glum, and easy pickings for the scheming Rumpelstiltskin. Before you can say "Frank Capra", we're in It's a Wonderful Life, as Shrek enters a universe where he's never been born.

Voices are great, especially Eddie Murphy. Lots of clever dialog and sight gags. The action sequences are neat (it was a 3-D movie in theaters). If I were looking to be critical: the sloppy sentimentality level is high. But that's OK.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:42 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2011-02-20 Update

[phony baloney]

Pun Salad wandered over to Intrade to see if our list of 2012 GOP presidential candidates was reasonable. We wouldn't want to miss any phonies! But long-shot and no-shot candidates need not apply!

Intrade (as of right now) has a dizzying list of Republicans for whom people can actually trade contracts predicting their nomination. You can (if you are so inclined) relate a contract price to the probability of the candidate's eventual triumph over the field. And Pun Salad is so inclined.

There's a clear front-runner: Mitt Romney (22.8%). There are five candidates in the 8-11% range: Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, John Thune, and Mitch Daniels.

Down in the third tier (2-6%), we start getting into the deep weeds: Harley Barbour, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Chris Christie, Donald Trump, and Michele Bachmann. Huntsman (5.1%) actually outscores Gingrich (4.4%) and Ron Paul (2.2%).

The rest of the field, all below 2%, are a motley assortment of improbables; the folks buying these contracts seem to be looking for some sort of black-swan event, like an unspeakable horror at a debate: Rudy Giuliani, Jeb Bush, Eric Cantor, Tom Coburn, Bobby Jindal, Gary Johnson, Joe Lieberman, David Petraeus, Paul Ryan, Fred Thompson (yes!), Charlie Crist, Mike Pence, Rick Perry, Mark Sanford, John Kasich, Colin Powell, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint, George Pataki, Lou Dobbs, Marco Rubio, Joe Scarborough, Scott Brown, Michael Bloomberg, Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman, Lindsay Graham, Stanley McChrystal, Clarence Thomas, John Bolton, Judd Gregg, Herman Cain, Buddy Roemer, Dick Cheney, and Rand Paul.

Yes, New Hampshire's own retired Senator Judd Gregg is in the Intrade list. For President. It's hard to imagine that happening. Because whenever we try, we keep dozing off.

Anyway: we'll set an arbitrary threshold of a 4% Intrade probability to be included in the phony campaign. So Huntsman is in, Ron Paul is (once again) outta here. Haley Barbour (2.8%) remains out, as do Chris Christie (3.3%), Michelle Bachmann (2.7%), and the Donald (2%). Newt (barely, at 4.4%) stays in. But we'll keep checking. Without further ado, then:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-02-13
"Barack Obama" phony 3,810,000 -130,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 2,830,000 -130,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 1,310,000 -90,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 1,160,000 -190,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 569,000 +36,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 438,000 +25,000
"Mitch Daniels" phony 274,000 +51,000
"John Thune" phony 194,000 +22,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 115,000 ---

… an unimpressive phony showing from the new guy. But there's plenty of time!

  • Any essay entitled "The Phony Phony" deserves a link. A Mr. David Glenn Cox is extremely put out with President Obama:

    Look back over your shoulder now at how the public was manipulated in 2008. Barack Obama a liberal? Going to close Gauntonamo [sic]? Return our civil liberties? Going to help working families? Going to support card check? Remember how John McCain was going to be George W. Bush's third term? McCain was going to open the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic to deep water oil drilling (drill baby drill)and build nuclear power plants as alternative energy. McCain was going to send one hundred thousand troops to Afghanistan, Obama sent a hundred and ten thousand troops plus sixty thousand contractors. Obama opened a new war front in Pakistan and increased drone aircraft attacks above Bush administration levels.

    It's kind of like Instapundit's occasional "They told me if I voted for McCain that X… and they were right!" Except Cox is on the left, and therefore very, very serious. In fact, recent events have caused Cox's thought processes to pinball unpredictably:

    Look at AOL's purchase of the Huffington Post, was it to expand AOL's balance sheet? Or was it because AOL thought that they could do a better job of running the place? It was about Capitalism and Capitalism's sole purpose is to make money. Why didn't AOL with their deep pockets and expertise build their own web site? Capitalism buys to either make their own or to eliminate from competition its rivals. AOL will maximize the advertising while minimizing the product until it is just another organ of the loyal opposition, the phony left, the phony center, the phony phony. The Huffington Post had been moving towards the imaginary center for quite a while. A baited hook for the Capitalist fisherman, a once and former "Rolling Stone" with hard hitting exposé's [sic] on cool shoes and energy drinks. If Hunter Thompson wasn't dead all ready [sic], it would kill him.

    "And I'm not feeling too well myself."

  • But President Obama showed this week why he deserves his solid first place in the phony campaign, as he attempted to defend his FY2012 budget proposal. Factcheck notes this howler:

    [B]y the middle of this decade our annual spending will match our annual revenues. We will not be adding more to the national debt. So, to use a — sort of an analogy that families are familiar with, we’re not going to be running up the credit card any more.

    … and comments:

    That’s not close to being true, even assuming that the president’s budget is enacted exactly as proposed and all economic assumptions turn out to be accurate. The budget summary (table S-1, page 171) that the White House had released the previous day clearly projects annual deficits declining to a low of $607 billion in 2015, and then rising and remaining above that level for the remainder of the decade.

    Obama later "clarified" by saying that he wasn't counting interest payments on the accumulated debt.

    [L]et me be clear on what I’m saying, because I’m not suggesting that we don’t have to do more. We still have all this accumulated debt. … And there is a lot of interest on that debt. So, in the same way that if you’ve got a credit card and you’ve got a big balance, you may not be adding to principal — you’ve still got all that interest that you’ve got to pay.

    Which is also (at best) misleading, since his projected budget is "adding to principal" every damned year, as far as the eye can see.

    (The FactCheck folks also detail some GOP fibbishness on matters fiscal.)

  • But a certain amount of phoniness is necessary when you're dealing with a phony budget to start. Megan McArdle makes some good points examining two specific issues: (1) the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) "fix" (necessary, because Congress just won't repeal this stupid tax provision originally aimed at "the rich", but keeps threatening to hit the merely upper middle class); (2) the "doc fix" (necessary, because otherwise a 13-year-old law mandates drastic cuts in Medicare payments to doctors).

    The President proposes continuing the fixes. But:

    ;When I looked into the budget, I found that these fixes were paid for--the AMT fix is paid by a 30% cut in itemized deductions for high earners. The "doc fix" is paid for by some sketchily outlined cuts to payments for other providers, including proposals to cut the exclusivity period for biologic drugs from 12 years to 7 and restrict pharma's ability to head off patent challenges from generic manufacturers with side payments. This is what the budget looks like when big, expensive temporary fixes are paid for and the president includes a temporary spending freeze. This is the best case scenario.

    And it's not a good case. Because of course the new restrictions on drugmakers have failed Congress before, as has deduction phaseout and shorter biologic exclusivity. Once this budget hits Congress, the numbers may get even bigger and scarier. As the FT notes in its headline, "deficit reduction targets unlikely to be hit." Moreover, those "fixes" are stacked to expire just after Obama (in theory) gets re-elected. The budget does not reflect the fact that he and Congress are going to want to do them all over again then.

    Obama arranging "fixes" so the pain is minimized until post-election? Congrats, Barry. That's very phony.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:47 AM EDT
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GOP Cowardly Weasel Update

Pun Salad mentioned yesterday that there was a GOP proposal to cut an additional $22 Billion from the Federal "non-defense discretionary spending" juggernaut, co-sponsored by my own CongressCritter, Frank Guinta.

It failed. 147-281, as 92 Republicans voted Nay, as did every voting Democrat. Among the cowardly weasels is my state's other representative, Good Time Charlie Bass.

Ace is irate, but I guess he had higher expectations than I.

The GOP is dead to me. Hal Rodgers and posturing lying phony Eric Cantor need to be replaced.
I'll point out—in case they haven't done so themselves yet—that both Skip and Tim up at GraniteGrok deserve to say: told ya so! Jennifer Horn, Bass's primary opponent, still has her website up. I hope she doesn't take it down.

Last Modified 2011-02-19 6:09 PM EST
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"They Look Funny, Too."

[have some sand]

… "I can spot one a mile away."

  • The US vetoed yet another obnoxious anti-Israel UN Security Council resolution favored by the usual bunch of thugs and fools. But, as Jen Rubin and Omri Ceren point out, Ambassador Susan Rice added in a lot of nasty, gratuitous Israel-bashing along the way. Thus only pleasing those who prefer US foreign policy to be feckless, incoherent, and unreliable. A nice sum-up from Omri Ceren:

    No one’s under any illusions that Rice prefers basking in the agapic embrace of Turtle Bay to defending the only stable ally America currently has in the Middle East. But did she really need to make it so obvious? The president of the United States might be tarnishing the solemnity of his office by stirring up domestic unrest against his political opponents, but can’t we at least try not to look like a banana republic in front of actual banana republics?

    "Agapic." Heh.

    And if you have a strong stomach, you might want to check out the comments to Ms. Rubin's post at the (presumably civilized) Washington Post; you'll see references to "Jewish money", "[Wall Street] crooks", "the 'state' of Israel" (with scare quotes around 'state'), "Israel's Congress, the one in Washington". And then there's one worth quoting more fully from "Nikos Retsos, retired professor":

    Obama is a hostage of the Israeli PAC power, as well as a a [sic] mercenary of the American Jewry, and their Jewish media conglomerates.
    Professor Retsos presumably used Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a textbook back in his teaching days.

    I'm sure Sarah Palin must be to blame, somehow, for all this incivility.

  • One of Pun Salad's minions recently infiltrated an enemy stronghold. Unfortunately, Pun Salad's "make rabbit ears" suggestion was ignored. And she was in the perfect position, too.

  • Being a geezer, I'm not a fan of today's new-fangled "young people" music, but I can make an exception for:


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:48 AM EDT
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It's Sympathy Not Tears People Need

[a tweet is not a blog]

… when they're the front page sad news:

  • My new CongressCritter, Frank Guinta, made the Corner today, in a story about Rep. Marsha Blackburn's effort to reduce non-defense discretionary spending to "just below 2008, pre-stimulus levels." (When it was already too high, but what are you gonna do?)

    Additional sponsors of the amendment include Reps. Jordan, Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.), Scott Garrett (R., S.C.), Mike Pence (R., Ind.), John Campbell (R., Calif.), Jeff Duncan (R., S.C.), Frank Guinta (R., N.H.), Tim Huelskamp (R., Kan.), Steve Southerland (R., Mo.), and Joe Walsh (R., Ill.).

    So good for him. Unfortunately, the Corner poster, Andrew Stiles, notes that the amendment faces an "uphill battle". Because the GOP ranks contain a lot of cowardly weasels.

  • Reason TV looks at the Free State Project

    I'm already here. Waiting for the rest of you…

  • The New York Times Food Nag, Mark Bittman, devoted his column this week to good old classic fear-mongering about genetically-modified organisms. It's full of scary, scary aieee! we're all gonna die stuff! But I especially liked this:

    To be fair, two of the biggest fears about G.E. crops and animals -- their potential to provoke allergic reactions and the transfer to humans of antibiotic-resistant properties of G.M.O.'s -- have not come to pass. (As far as I can tell, though, they remain real dangers.)

    If I may paraphrase: there is not the slightest bit of evidence that years and years of fearful allegations about GMOs were true. But they still—somehow—could be! So Bittman would prefer to remain scared, thanks very much.

  • Matt Welch notes the unseemly involvement of President Obama in the Wisconsin budget battle, not only taking sides himself against the Republican governor and the Republican-controlled legislature, but also mobilizing his own political machine to organize mobs "protesters" in Madison, and "to plan similar demonstrations in other state capitals."

    We are witnessing the logical conclusion of the Democratic Party's philosophy, and it is this: Your tax dollars exist to make public sector unions happy. When we run out of other people's money to pay for those contracts and promises (most of which are negotiated outside of public view, often between union officials and the politicians that union officials helped elect), then we just need to raise taxes to cover a shortfall that is obviously Wall Street's fault. Anyone who doesn't agree is a bully, and might just bear an uncanny resemblance to Hitler.

    It's hard to believe that Obama thinks this is a winning issue. But I buy into Stanley Kurtz's argument that this is (indeed) the explicit path Obama has chosen.

    American politics just keeps getting more polarized. Be assured that Obama wants it that way. I argue in Radical-in-Chief that Obama's long-term hope is to divide America along class lines (roughly speaking, tax payers versus tax beneficiaries). Obama's attack on the Supreme Court at his 2010 State of the Union address, his offensive against the Chamber of Commerce, his exhortation to Hispanics to punish their enemies, and several similar moves were all efforts to jump-start a populist movement of the left. Like his socialist organizing mentors, Obama believes that a country polarized along class lines will eventually realign American politics sharply to the left. Yet the entire strategy is based on the need for an activated, populist movement of the left. So far, Obama has failed to create such a movement. His expensive economic agenda has provoked a populist counter-movement of the right instead: Obama's nightmare.

  • Cracked details 5 Amazing Things Invented by Donald Duck (Seriously). For me, the most amazing one details how Christopher Nolan's Inception was presaged by a 2002 Scrooge McDuck comic book. Check it out.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:56 AM EDT
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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

[1.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Gosh, I didn't like this much at all. This third "Girl Who" movie ties up the not-particularly-interesting loose ends from the previous two movies. Why?

It picks up where the previous movie (The Girl Who Played with Fire) left off, with überhacker Lisbeth Salander being taken off to a hospital to recover from her wounds. As is her father, Zalachenko. But it soon becomes clear that there's a Massive Conspiracy afoot to hush up the whole story, as it would involve disclosing … um … a whole bunch of corruption and unsavory behavior. Or something like that.

Anyway, the bad guys are willing to resort to murder to maintain the coverup. (Because otherwise, you see, people might get suspicious.) So they send a dying comrade to the hospital to do in both Lisbeth and Zalachenko; he only half-succeeds, then commits suicide, not being able to take a bullet in the brain quite as well as Lisbeth.

And then it gets really tedious for a couple hours—seems longer—as the shadowy forces of the Massive Conspiracy attempt to get Lisbeth incarcerated for something (I'm hazy on exactly what). But her friend, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist has resources of his own: he tries to unpeel the conspiratorial onion, and provide enough ammunition to get Lisbeth out of her legal jam.

It's boring and talky. Lisbeth isn't given much to do, save at the very end.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:51 AM EDT
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User Support Translation IV

Just a helpful note: when you're in a "support dialogue" (e-mail or verbal) with a system administrator, and he or she types or says this:

I think I didn't explain myself clearly.
what he or she really means is:
I'm pretty sure you weren't thinking very hard about what I said.
The usual disclaimer applies: if you happen to be someone to whom I've said this, you are of course an exception to this rule.

(Previous entries in the User Support Translation series here, here, and here.)


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The Big Questions

[Amazon Link]

Steven Landsburg is an economics professor at the University of Rochester. I had run across his work in Slate, a guest-blogging stint at The Volokh Conspiracy, and a number of other publications. He describes himself as a "hard-core libertarian", which is OK with me, even though I'm softer-core myself. His writings are accessible and witty, so I was a natural audience for this book. If you're interested, he set up an associated website here.

As the title implies, Landsburg isn't messing around with trivia here. The questions he outlines in (just) part 1: "What exists, and why? What are we made of, what are our minds made of, and what is the Universe made of? How should we think about God, and the ultimate causes of things?"

This might strike you as arrogant. It could appear so, in the hands of a less able writer. Landsburg points out in his introduction that he merely means to provide what he considers to be plausible answers for the Big Questions. Like all good thinkers, the "I might be wrong, but" is always hanging around. At times he might seem glib; I think he wandered down the wrong path in a couple of places. (For example, some of his refutations of alternate views involve speculation on the internal inconsistencies of the holders of such views. No fair.)

But that's a quibble; it's a very entertaining read, and if you ever wanted a layman's explanation of Gödel's Theorem, or the Uncertainty Principle, or a knock-down of protectionism, or a host of many other topics, this is a pretty good choice.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:39 AM EDT
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The Social Network

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

IMDB users, as I type, have rated this movie as #177 of the top 250 movies of all time. I don't know about that, but it's pretty good. Its got eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay.

I was able to suspend my distaste for the jerk screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin.

It's the story of Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg), and how he, with a little help from his friends, founded Facebook. He went from being just another genius Harvard undergrad in 2003 to (according to Forbes) just another genius Harvard dropout worth $4 Billion. Along the way, there's plenty of drama, as Zuckerberg shafts (first) a couple of jock entrepreneurs who hired him to work on their (arguably similar) idea for a Harvard website, and (then) his partner Eduardo Saverin, who found himself edged out of the company when his vision differed from Mark's.

Many critics have claimed that Zuckerberg is portrayed as an asshole, and that's not without merit. But the larger truth is that he had a capital-V Vision about where he wanted Facebook to go, and (like most Visionaries) he was single-minded and relentless about pursuing that Vision. (He forms an instant bond with investor Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake), who recognizes and buys into the Vision himself. I buy that narrative.

I enjoyed the movie's more-or-less accurate flinging around of Linux-geek terminology: Apache, emacs, wget, Perl, Python, etc. They must have had a consultant to get that right. Otherwise, there's a lot of controversy about the movie's relationship to actual reality; here is an example.

Local angle: Zuckerberg graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, just down the road.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:40 AM EDT
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Pretty Pictures of the Federal Budget (FY 2012 Version)

The Federal Budget for Fiscal Year 2012 came out today. We continue the tradition (because we've done it before, in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010) of producing some simple graphs from the tables provided.

Here's a graph of Federal receipts and outlays since 1977, expressed as percent of GDP; post-2010 numbers are estimates:

[In and Out]

Here's what that works out to in terms of deficit spending:

[Usually More Out]

Click on the graphs for their fullsize versions. Data is here (snipped from Table 1.2 on this page) and my Gnuplot script is here. If you'd like to see the data extended back to 1930: here's the receipt/outlays graph and here's the deficit graph.

Standard disclaimer: if you're thinking this is simple-minded, you're right. In my defense, the percent-of-GDP seems appropriate for historical comparison; it seems to be (arguably) a good measure of what we can "afford"; and, if you believe deficits "damage the economy", then it's a pretty good proxy for the level of damage.

Those innocent little red and green squiggles do not adequately portray the fiscal difficulty we're in. If it were a feature in Gnuplot, I'd animate the graphs and set them to music, something that would convey impending doom.

Some other reactions:

  • Peter Suderman at Reason observes the irony of President Obama righteously griping in his most recent State of the Union address:
    We have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable.
    … followed, a few weeks later, by a budget that fails to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That's not only unsustainable, it's dishonest and cowardly.

  • While you're at the Reason site, read their article on "The 19 Percent Solution", from the March issue of the magazine. It's the long version of the plan we discussed here back in December. Their goal is to get to a level of federal spending in line with historical revenue figures--about 19% of GDP--within the next 10 years.

    There would be shrieks and howls if the Reason plan were implemented, of course. But, as the authors point out, and you can check for yourself on the graphs above, Federal outlays were roughly at the 19% level between 1997 and 2002. Even in FY2007, expenditures were "only" at 19.6% of GDP. These years were not previously known as implementations of a skeletal libertarian state.

  • Also recommended: click on over to Daniel J. Mitchell's blog and just start reading anywhere. For all the blather about "cuts", Mitchell points out the FY2012 increases over the current year:

    o     17 percent more money for International Assistance Programs;

    o     24 percent more money for the Executive Office of the President;

    o     13 percent for the Department of Transportation; and

    o     12 percent more for the Department of State.

    Even worse are the longer trends. Since 2001, a period when inflation has been low, Mitchell calculates:

    o     112 percent more spending for the Department of Agriculture;

    o     100 percent more spending for the Department of Education;

    o     154 percent more spending for the Department of Energy;

    o     110 percent more spending for the Department of Health and Human Services;

    o     175 percent more spending for the Department of Labor; and

    o     82 percent for the Department of Transportation.

    And this is all the "discretionary" stuff; Mitchell points out that the entitlement side is projected to be even worse.

See you next year. I hope.

Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:46 AM EDT
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The Big Combo

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

We're still trolling through those good old film noirs. This 1955 movie is—well, not great. But there are some fun bits.

Cornel Wilde plays a policeman obsessed with taking down the "Big Combo"; I guess they called it that because "Mafia" was too controversial. The Combo's kingpin is "Mr. Brown", and he's played by a much younger Don Barzini, Richard Conte. Mr. Brown is every kind of nasty, mostly relying on his thugs Fante and Mingo (Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman!) to visit violence and intimidation upon his opponents. His weak spots are (a) girlfriend Susan, who despises him, and (b) ex-wife Alicia, who may or may not be sleeping with the fishes. Also showing up in a surprisingly small role is Brian Donlevy, as an ex-kingpin who Brown routinely humiliates.

Here's a neat bit of trivia: Although Cornel Wilde's cop character is (inexplicably) in love with Brown's girlfriend Susan, he dallies with convenient burlesque queen Rita (to Rita's eventual regret). Rita is played by bombshell Helene Stanton, who is the real life mother of "Dr. Drew" Pinksy. What a world.

Acting is sub-par, dialogue is wooden, so you have to look for other ways to enjoy the movie. I thought Fante and Mingo were pretty obviously gay, which would be scandalous for a 50's movie; IMDB confirms.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:47 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2011-02-13 Update

[phony baloney]

Mitt Romney comes crashing back to earth this week after his brief stay in third. And since Ron Paul won the Conservative Political Action Alliance (CPAC) straw poll, we're reluctantly including him. (Even though our gut tells us that, lacking the Iraq issue he had in 2008, he's going to be pretty minor this year.)

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-02-06
"Barack Obama" phony 3,940,000 +30,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 2,960,000 +80,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 1,400,000 +30,000
"Ron Paul" phony 1,390,000 ---
"Newt Gingrich" phony 1,350,000 +30,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 533,000 -977,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 413,000 +34,000
"Mitch Daniels" phony 223,000 +33,000
"John Thune" phony 172,000 +34,000

  • A lot of phony news happened at CPAC. Lefty Alex Pareene, writing at Salon was unimpressed by Mitt's speech there:

    Desperate phony Mitt Romney delivered what amounted to a presidential campaign speech -- though not a very good one. The entire thing was devoted to Palinesque sarcasm delivered without her elan.

    But that's not all:

    A highlight: Shortly after unlovable Mitt finished speaking, he was upstaged by Sarah Palin, who isn't even attending the conference. A Palin look-alike (a pretty good one, actually) entered the ballroom and immediately attracted a massive crowd. For a moment, everyone thought it was a surprise appearance by the one candidate all the (non-Ron Paul supporting) attendees are actually excited by.

    A phony Sarah upstaging actual (but still phony) Mitt? That's the kind of thing phony connoisseurs live for.

    By the way: Pareene's observation that Palin was "one candidate all the (non-Ron Paul supporting) attendees are actually excited by" turned out to be remarkably non-astute. She garnered merely 3% in the poll, compared to Romney's 23%.)

  • In other CPAC news, Scott Magill of the group Veterans In Defense of Liberty took to the virtual pages of the Washington Times to write a column headlined: "Defend CPAC from phony conservatives". CPAC, he bemoans, "has become a showcase for the enemies of the American tradition." Oddly, given the name of his group, Magill doesn't much care for libertarians; to be fair, he does a decent job in zinging some of the more zany ideas of American Conservative Union board member Grover Norquist.

    Mr. Norquist serves on the GOProud advisory board and also has advocated legalization of drugs, open borders and amnesty for illegals; supported closing the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay; opposed aspects of the USA Patriot Act; and supports the construction of the Ground Zero Mosque. He is actively promoting the Obama administration's “engagement plan” with Islam, which has the Muslim Brotherhood's seal of approval. He certainly has a right to hold those views, but it is false advertising to call them conservative.

    But if you read that, you might also want to check the rebuttal from Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason.

    … it's fascinating to me that the conservative movement can't recognize some elemental facts. First and foremost that the world they're trying to create, especially when it comes to intolerance of alternative lifestyles, is never going to happen. And that by insisting, as Sen. James DeMint and Rep. Jim Jordan have, that you can't be a fiscal conservative without being a social conservative, you're alienating all those independents who just might give the GOP a second chance at running the federal budget. And you're in open denial of reality: A person's choice of sexual partner in no way means he or she can't be in favor of less spending on farm subsidies. There's a stunning knot of bull-dinkey at the heart of the argument that tolerance equals uncritical embrace. Do conservatives, of all people, think that the state allowing all religions to practice means official endorsement?

    Pun Salad is very much in the can't-we-all-just-get-along camp.

  • Last week it was Rachel Maddow, this week it's Time, promoting a phony story about a made-up Sarah Palin quote. It's becoming a whole journalistic genre.

    (Time now claims their story "was intended as satire". At least Maddow had the grace to admit she'd been suckered.)

  • Finally: couldn't help but checking out the story under this eye-catching headline:

    Freshman Congresswoman Praises Hooters

    As it turns out:

    Congresswoman Julia Hurley (R-32) spent time working at Hooters, where, according to the Associated Press, she was able to hone her business talents and networking skills. During the election campaign, this information was brought to the forefront, but instead of shying away from the news, or giving a typical phony politician apology, Hurley took it all in stride.

    Darn. That's not what I thought it would be about.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:52 AM EDT
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The Narrows

[Amazon Link]

Michael Connelly is a current master of the crime/mystery/thriller genre; he deserves his automatic position on the best-seller lists for each of his books. I was a relative latecomer, and I finally made it up to this 2004 book. Interestingly, it sequelizes a number of Connelly's previous works: The Poet, which involved FBI agent Rachel Walling's trackdown of a brilliant serial killer; Blood Work, which involved ex-FBI agent Terry McCaleb's investigation into the murder of a young woman who—don't ask— was the donor of Terry's transplanted heart; and A Darkness More Than Night, which teamed up McCaleb with Connelly's primary crimefighter, Harry Bosch. Just so you know: you might want to read those books before you crack this one.

So: in this one, Terry McCaleb has kicked the bucket; seemingly his transplanted heart failed him. But his widow, Graciela, suspects foul play; she calls upon Bosch to investigate.

Meanwhile, disgraced Rachel Walling from The Poet is summoned out of FBI exile status in South Dakota. Apparently the serial killer from that book has re-emerged, and she's off to the desert between LA and Vegas to investigate the grisly evidence thereof.

Eventually, surprising everyone but the attentive reader, Bosch's investigation leads him smack dab into the FBI's.

As always, Connelly keeps me turning the pages. One bit I particularly enjoyed: here in the real world, they made a movie based on Blood Work starring Clint Eastwood as Terry McCaleb. In the fictional universe of the book, that movie has also been made, also starring Clint Eastwood. In a nice touch, Mr. Eastwood attends McCaleb's funeral. "I think he took his own helicopter out," comments one character. It's kind of reminiscent of how Sherlock Holmes used to tweak Dr. Watson for his popularizations of their investigations.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:56 AM EDT
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Let Me In

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

I watched and blogged about the Swedish horror movie Let the Right One In a couple years ago. I liked it well enough to check out this new American version. It is a faithful remake; the main difference is that you don't need to navigate subtitles. Instead of dreary early-80's Sweden, it is set in dreary early-80's Los Alamos, New Mexico. (President Reagan is heard offscreen in a couple of scenes; I don't know what point the filmmakers were going for.)

Owen, a young boy, lives with his mom in a beehive apartment complex; he is relentlessly bullied by his schoolmates. Dad is elsewhere, and sorely needed; Owen is capital-T Troubled, occasionally indulging in violent revenge fantasies. One night Abby moves into the apartment next door; she appears to be a young girl accompanied by her father (the great Richard Jenkins). But appearances can be, and in this case are, deceiving. Pretty soon some grisly murders occur. This does not prevent Abby and Owen from developing a relationship. But not a healthy one.

Even though the movie has kids in it, it's not for the kids: rated R for (as the MPAA puts it) "strong bloody horror violence, language and a brief sexual situation." The actress playing Abby, Chloë Grace Moretz, previously played the role of "Hit-Girl" in R-rated Kick-Ass; she just turned 14, and she might be trying to set a record for appearances in movies that she can't see herself, unless accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:51 AM EDT
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Free Markets Under Siege

[Amazon Link]

I've been kind of a Richard Epstein fanboy since I read his work on eminent domain, Takings, years back. (Then-Senator Joe Biden theatrically held up a copy of Takings during Clarence Thomas's confirmation hearings in 1991, warning him that anyone who took the book's libertarian arguments seriously couldn't be qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.)

So anyway: I won one of the trivia contests that Drew Cline used to have at his blog, and picked up this book as a result. It's short, around a hundred pages including index, and the pages are tiny too (roughly 7 x 4 inches). But (truth be told) it's a surprisingly tough read.

It's based on a lecture Epstein gave in England in 2003. Since Communism is more or less defunct these days, and doctrinaire socialism isn't looking too hot either, Epstein considers the prime ideological conflict to be the forces of competition vs. those of protectionism. He outlines the ways that—obviously, to me, and probably you too—competition is a far superior road to travel for any modern economy. Unfortunately, protectionism in all its guises is a pretty hefty opponent.

The relevance of this conflict has become even greater since the lecture. Irony alert: in President Obama's State of the Union address, "compete" appears five times, "competition" thrice, "competitive" once. Obviously he knows the appeal of the concept, even if he's operating out of the protectionist playbook himself.

Epstein looks at how the competition/protectionism conflict has been waged in the fields of labor and agriculture. To put it politely, it's not the most page-turning reading.

Bottom line: it's not bad, but there are not a lot of surprises or insights. I would recommend that Epstein fans, and those who want an introduction to his thought, look elsewhere. For example, here's a recent interview from Reason magazine.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:49 AM EDT
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Take It Easy On the Young Man

[turns out]

… They ain't got nothin' in the world these days:

  • It's been almost 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a day when his kids would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. It was probably the single most inspirational and aspirational thing he ever said. The New York Times demonstrates that we ain't there yet, and have no particular plans or desire to do so:
    The federal Department of Education would categorize Michelle López-Mullins — a university student who is of Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee and Cherokee descent — as “Hispanic.” But the National Center for Health Statistics, the government agency that tracks data on births and deaths, would pronounce her “Asian.” And what does Ms. López-Mullins’s birth certificate from the State of Maryland say? It doesn’t mention her race.
    Jim Crow used to rely on racial classification for its purposes; the article recounts how today's bureaucrats, politicians, and race hustlers rely on it for theirs.

    Ms. López-Mullins, as a college student, has filled out countless nosy forms demanding that she disclose not the content of her character, but the color of her skin. And she knows it's not for her benefit.

    “It’s always, ‘How can these multiracial individuals best benefit us? What category can we put them in to fulfill something?’ ” she said. “I figure there’s such a large margin of error with that kind of ridiculous accounting anyway, I’m totally against it.”

    For years, when asked her race, she checked everything that applied: Hispanic, Asian, white and Native American. And if she is now confronted with a blank space for her race, she might challenge the form with a question of her own: “What does this tell you?”

    Good for her.

  • Also obsessed with skin color is Oscar winning Halle Berry, who's engaged in a custody battle with a somewhat paler person that she never got around to marrying, Gabriel Aubry. Concerning their two-year-old daughter Nahla, Ms. Berry is quoted as saying:
    "I feel she's black. I'm black and I'm her mother, and I believe in the one-drop theory," Berry said in an interview with Ebony magazine.
    The folks at ABC News helpfully add the source of this "theory":
    The "one-drop" rule refers to Jim Crow laws passed in the South during the 20th century to further disenfranchise African Americans.
    Pun Salad judges the content of Ms. Berry's character to be sub-par, but hopes Nahla will turn out OK.

  • There's P.J. O'Rourke content at the Weekly Standard, where he muses the liberals' likely next steps after gun control:
    People must be held accountable for their actions, whether with guns, knives, fists, or votes for enormous expansion of government power. As to guns, at least, this accountability is a matter of law. The law is—in a country that probably has more guns than liberals—difficult to enforce. But most laws are. Otherwise we wouldn’t have to make them laws. So why are liberals obsessed with guns in particular? And why do liberals feel compelled to vociferously argue empty truisms about guns?

    Because liberals are opposed to violence, which is very high-minded of them. Guns are a source of violence in America. Guns are not, however, the principal source. Young men are the principal source of violence in America. This is why it’s only a matter of time before liberals—being opposed to violence—propose young man control.

    Pun Salad dimly remembers being a young man, and it was not a pleasant experience for either Pun Salad or anyone in Pun Salad's immediate vicinity. Searching for "young man" on Google News brings up the following (as I type):
    • "Young man rushed to hospital after shooting in Scarborough…"
    • "A suspect is in custody for a double stabbing on an MBTA bus last year that left one young man dead and another injured…"
    • "Young man, 19, killed in Bunbury motorbike crash…"
    • "Young man gunned down outside apartment…"
    • "A young man who held hostages in a bank for 3 hours Thursday in Cary, NC, was shot dead by police snipers…"
    Sage advice to young men: when you hit 18, just keep your finger on the fast forward button until you're 30.


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Mother

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

A Korean noir! We don't see too many of those. Netflix said I would like it. I'd previously seen The Host by the same director, didn't like it that much. But this one was more my speed.

Mother and her son, Yoon Do-joon, live in a small Korean village. She runs a small herb shop, and does unlicensed acupuncture on the side. She's very protective of her son, since Yoon Do-joon is operating with some pretty serious mental problems, a six-year-old brain in a young man's body. In addition to being stupid, he's impulsive, randy, occasionally violent, and has an extremely faulty memory.

But he seems to be muddling through OK, until a young girl turns up dead and Yoon Do-joon gets arrested for the crime. Mother denies his guilt and starts an investigation to find the real killuer and exonerate her son. She is extremely relentless, and also extremely inept. Nevertheless, she peels back the onion, layer by layer. Secrets are uncovered, not all to Mother's liking.

A little more arty than I thought it would be. A number of critics detected black humor; it must have been so black that I missed it totally. But I liked it OK, although it might not be your cup of kimchee.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:53 AM EDT
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Not Zucchini, Fettucini or Bulgur Wheat

[Battle of the Bulgur]

… but a big warm bun and a huge hunk of meat:

  • Food Nag Mark Bittman returns to the New York Times' "Opinionator" feature. The libertarian bait-and-switch that irked me previously appears to be his shtick. Here's the bait:
    In recent weeks we've seen a big, powerful government agency, a big, powerful person and a big, powerful corporation telling us what to eat.
    Specifically: the USDA, Oprah, and Wal-Mart. Yeah, they shouldn't do that.

    The switch is… the entire rest of the column. Because, in fact, Bittman doesn't mind the idea of "us" getting told what to eat. That's what he does. And he doesn't mind doing so using the resources of a "big, powerful" newspaper.

    He just wants everyone to be singing off the same page of the food-nag hymnal. His page.

  • For a change of pace, see the new group Keep Food Legal. Their "Mission" page aims at three big targets:
    • KFL will advocate in favor of abolishing all food-related subsidies. Government subsidies distort prices and demand, cause environmental problems, and have played a large role in creating America's obesity problem.

    • KFL will work to defeat food regulations and bans which limit our freedom to produce, cook, buy, and sell the foods we want. The government has no right to tell people what we can and can't eat.

    • KFL will advocate at the federal, state, and local levels in favor of more food choices. It is not enough to oppose bad new laws. We will work--in legislatures and in the courts--to roll back bad ones already on the books.

    Good for them. (Via The Agitator.)

  • All this talk about food is making me hungry. So let's talk Barackrobatics; I'll get so depressed, I'll lose my appetite. After a couple of months avoiding the phrase, President Obama fell off the wagon over the weekend:
    This week, we received a report on jobs and unemployment that told us we're continuing to move in the right direction.
    Dian Chu is less Pollyanish. She quotes the Brookings Institute:
    ....If the economy adds about 208,000 jobs per month, the average monthly rate for the best year of job creation in the 2000s, then it will take until July 2023 to close the job gap. At a more optimistic rate of 321,000 jobs per month, the average monthly rate for the best year of the 1990s, the economy will reach pre-recession employment levels by May 2016.
    Only problem is:
    However, over the past three months, job gains have averaged only about 83,000 a month, no where near the levels indicated by the Brookings Institute.
    (Previous "in the right direction" sighting here.)


Last Modified 2011-02-11 8:40 AM EST
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And When I Say "We", I Mean…

[Big Brother]

I had so far managed to avoid reading anything by Mark Bittman, who authored a food column called "The Minimalist" for more than 13 years at the New York Times. But he recently broke out of the foodie ghetto and penned an "Opinionator" column entitled "A Food Manifesto for the Future", and—aaagh, my eyes! Rarely will you see such happy-face arrogant totalitarianism encapsulated in a brief column.

The first danger sign: overuse of the first person plural.

For decades, Americans believed that we had the world's healthiest and safest diet. We worried little about this diet's effect on the environment or on the lives of the animals (or even the workers) it relies upon. Nor did we worry about its ability to endure -- that is, its sustainability.
Note that when Bittman says "we" here, it's a euphemism. He's not including himself. He really means "you idiots." But Bittman's primary purpose isn't to berate his fellow citizens for their blissful ignorance. He's here to advocate.
That didn't mean all was well. And we've come to recognize that our diet is unhealthful and unsafe. Many food production workers labor in difficult, even deplorable, conditions, and animals are produced as if they were widgets. It would be hard to devise a more wasteful, damaging, unsustainable system.
Actually, I can pretty easily discover plenty more "wasteful, damaging, unsustainable" systems by simply consulting some history—no imagination necessary. Bittman's prose isn't meant to be thought about rationally.

Bittman obviously claims a lot of gripes motivate his crusade. I'll concentrate on the food-nannying here just to keep things manageable. That shouldn't be interpreted as saying that I buy into his environmental hysteria, accept his animal-rights extremism, or think he has anything meaningful to relieve the drudgery of agricultural workers. All these things are really just excuses for his advocacy of government control over what you and I eat.

So let's think a bit about what it means to deem "our" diet to be "unhealthful and unsafe." It's false not only in its sweeping generalization over the entire populace, but also in its implied binary: that there's a bright easy-to-draw line between evil "unhealthful and unsafe" diets and the healthy/safe ones.

In fact, it's more like a continuum: there are less-risky and more-risky diets. There are major disagreements about some important risk factors. Worse, what makes a diet risky varies widely between individuals, and also varies at different stages of life.

Putting things in terms of risk clarifies the issue. For one thing, people trade off risky behavior for other benefits all the time. (For many examples, check out the fascinating Wikipedia article on micromorts.) Is "risky" food special, somehow different from all those other risks? Why?

And finally: even if people eat the safest diet possible (assuming they can figure out how to do that): they still are gonna die of something—possibly boredom. It's not really "diets" that are unsafe and unhealthful: it's life itself. The mortality rate is, as far as we know, 100%.

Bittman's apocalyptic rhetoric isn't particularly accurate or useful. It is, however, just a setup for his "manifesto":

Here are some ideas -- frequently discussed, but sadly not yet implemented -- that would make the growing, preparation and consumption of food healthier, saner, more productive, less damaging and more enduring.

Here's what you need to know about Bittman's "ideas": every last one involves the coercive powers of Your Federal Government: subsidies, taxes, laws, regulations, mandates, spending. And in addition to the outright coercion, there will be even more food-nanny nagging, paid for by tax dollars.

In other words, although Bittman thinks he knows how to make the food system "healthier, saner, more productive, less damaging and more enduring," simply pointing that out won't be enough to make people actually do anything different voluntarily.

It's very easy to get suckered by Bittman's very first recommendation:

End government subsidies to processed food.
The only possible quibble I have is: that sentence is three words too long.

But Bittman makes it clear that he's very much in favor of subsidies. He's just against money going to things he doesn't like:

… which would pay for a great many of the ideas that follow.
Oops. Fortunately, Our Federal Government has plenty of cash that can just be diverted from the present batch of evildoers to the right people:
Begin subsidies to those who produce and sell actual food for direct consumption. Small farmers and their employees need to make living wages. Markets -- from super- to farmers' -- should be supported when they open in so-called food deserts and when they focus on real food rather than junk food. And, of course, we should immediately increase subsidies for school lunches so we can feed our youth more real food.
You know, pretty much everyone needs to eat. It's a testament to Bittman's statist mindset that he can't imagine people being able to satisfy that need voluntarily, with their own money; instead let's create vast new swaths of government welfare recipients!

Bittman's next recommendation is another libertarian sucker trap. He giveth:

Break up the U.S. Department of Agriculture […]
And then he taketh away:
[…] and empower the Food and Drug Administration.
So it's another shell game where the taxpayer never gets the pea.
Meanwhile, the F.D.A. must be given expanded powers to ensure the safety of our food supply. (Food-related deaths are far more common than those resulting from terrorism, yet the F.D.A.'s budget is about one-fifteenth that of Homeland Security.)
Bittman talks about food safety as if it were a looming crisis. In fact, as near as the Center for Disease Control can tell most food-borne illnesses are decreasing. (The only exception is Vibrio, a relatively small component of the spectrum of food-borne illnesses. I suspect this is due to the increased popularity of sushi.)

Another recommendation that will make sensible folk roll their eyes:

Encourage and subsidize home cooking. (Someday soon, I'll write about my idea for a new Civilian Cooking Corps.) When people cook their own food, they make better choices. When families eat together, they're more stable. We should provide food education for children (a new form of home ec, anyone?), cooking classes for anyone who wants them and even cooking assistance for those unable to cook for themselves.
I suppose I could imagine more intrusive proposals than this one. Needless to say, your level of home cooking will have to be rigorously monitored in order to make sure you aren't getting more than your due share of subsidization. There will be forms to fill out, and itemized receipts to save and submit. You'll have to take that evil salt shaker off the table. And someone will have to make sure that your family is eating together: perhaps a small camera to make sure surly teenagers aren't simply skulking off into their bedrooms with a plateful of Bittman-approved quinoa and black beans.
Tax the marketing and sale of unhealthful foods. Another budget booster. This isn't nanny-state paternalism […]
Comment: of course it is.
[…]but an accepted role of government: public health. If you support seat-belt, tobacco and alcohol laws, sewer systems and traffic lights, you should support legislation curbing the relentless marketing of soda and other foods that are hazardous to our health -- including the sacred cheeseburger and fries.
Obviously, Bittman is not really into making fine distinctions; otherwise, he might wonder whether slapping a massive tax on your Chipotle BBQ Bacon Angus Third Pounder is really justified by the same argument as that for "sewer systems and traffic lights."

But otherwise: you know all those crazy libertarians who predicted that "nanny-state paternalism" was a slippery slope? That "for your own good" intrusions into personal decisions would inevitably be used as an excuse for even more?

Yeah. They were right.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:47 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2011-02-06 Update

[phony baloney]

The Google has mysteriously discovered that "Mitt Romney" and "phony" appear in a lot more web pages than they thought a mere seven days ago. And so, Mitt has easily jumped ahead of Huck and Newt this week:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-01-30
"Barack Obama" phony 3,910,000 -30,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 2,880,000 +10,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,510,000 +1,022,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 1,370,000 +10,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 1,320,000 -30,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 379,000 +5,000
"Mitch Daniels" phony 190,000 +2,000
"John Thune" phony 138,000 +9,000

The phony stories catching Pun Salad's eye this week:

  • Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, in her show's "Let's Make Fun of Right-Wingers" segment, dripped Rhodes-scholar sarcasm all over a phony item from Christwire, a parody site whose basic theme is "Let's Make Fun of Right-Wingers". That made her job pretty easy, and almost certainly the site's importuning of Sarah Palin caused the MSNBC satire detectors to shut down for the night:
    Governor Palin needs to speak out publicly and forcibly for an American-led invasion to protect our interests in North Africa. As the largest recipient of foreign aid next to Israel, the United States has a tremendous investment in keeping Egypt stable and relatively terrorist-free. There are many sympathizers on the ground who have not been able to express their allegiance to democracy and freedom for fear of repression by the rioters. The Governor could become the center of their rallying cries. Upon her direction, other Western nations are sure to join us. This is the pressure Obama needs to act. With the recent ascent of the Tea Party in the House and Senate, this decision would certainly gain Congressional support. Do we truly need another 84 million enemies of Christianity? Sarah Palin can head off this possibility in Egypt if she moves swiftly.
    Yeah, that sounds real.

    You and I might have asked ourselves: If I could have been this easily duped by an obviously satirical news story, what else have I been fooled about? But (probably) you and (definitely) I are not Rhodes Scholars, and Ms. Maddow, at last report, showed no signs of self-reflection whatsoever.

  • The Fox News headline reads "Obama Botches Bible Verse at Prayer Breakfast".
    "Those who wait on the Lord will soar on wings like eagles, and they will run and not be weary, and they will walk and not faint," the president said during a speech to several thousand people at the breakfast.

    But the actual passage, from Isaiah 40:31, states: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."

    The always amusing Media Matters played the sarcasm angle:
    Somewhat ironically, while Fox Nation appears to be positioning themselves as the arbiters of authentic Christianity, they seem unfamiliar with the fact that there is more than one version of the Bible.

    Obama was quoting from the New International Version, while Fox Nation was pointing to the King James Version to "debunk" him.

    Actually—trivia time, my fellow bible-thumpers!—the NIV version starts out "those who hope on the Lord", not "those who wait on the Lord". And all Bible versions include the strength-renewal stuff, which Obama dropped, and (almost certainly) is what Fox was referring to in the first place.

    Bottom line: in a Biblical dispute between Fox and Media Matters, bet on Fox.

    Even worse is "pastordan", blogging at "Religion Dispatches"; although claiming to be an actual minister, he based an entire entry on the Gospel According to Media Matters. Much easier than looking in his own Bible, apparently. Later, somewhat bitchingly, he added:

    This post has been corrected and comments have been closed as numerous commenters violated the terms they agreed to abide by.
    Heretical comments have been consigned to the memory hole, and "pastordan" admits:
    This is somewhat embarrassing.
    Indeed. And almost certainly the whole kerfuffle was caused by a White House speechwriter who thought the Bible verse could be improved by excising that "renew their strength" phrase. Flows better, or something. Stupid Isaiah.

    How long will it be before another President "edits" a Bible verse in a speech? I'm thinking decades, probably.

  • David Boaz calls "phony" on social conservatives like fourth-place Mike Huckabee, who point to (undeniable) social ills caused by family breakdown, but offer "solutions" by talking (vaguely) about abortion and gay marriage.
    Reducing the incidence of unwed motherhood, divorce, fatherlessness, welfare and crime would be a good thing. So why the focus on issues that would do nothing to solve the "breakdown of the basic family structure" and the resulting "high cost of a dysfunctional society"? Well, solving the problems of divorce and unwed motherhood is hard. And lots of Republican and conservative voters have been divorced. A constitutional amendment to ban divorce wouldn't go over very well, even with the social conservatives. Far better to pick on a small group, a group not perceived to be part of the Republican constituency, and blame it for social breakdown and its associated costs.

    That's why social conservatives point to a real problem and then offer phony solutions.

    But you won't find your keys on the thoroughfare if you dropped them in the alley, and you won't reduce the costs of social breakdown by keeping gays unmarried and preventing them from adopting orphans.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 12:03 PM EDT
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Blue-Eyed Devil

[Amazon Link]

The latest and (alas) probably the last entry in Robert B. Parker's series of westerns featuring Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. Paperback's due out in May; I got the hardcover when Amazon inexplicably put new copies on sale last year for $9.99. (Consumer note: it pays to check your Amazon wishlist every so often.)

It helps to have read the previous books in the series. After trials and tribulations, Virgil and Everett have returned to the scene of their first outing, Appaloosa. Things have changed: the town is booming, and there is (literally) a new sheriff in town, Amos Callico. Callico is ambitious and corrupt, having his beady eyes on becoming Governor, and eventually President. Virgil and Everett go the freelance route instead, signing up a number of saloons to provide protection services. It's an unstable situation, made worse by pissed-off Indians, an ex-Confederate general who's disappointed that Virgil shot his kid, and the appearance of a hired gunman who is both menacing and affable.

Virgil and Everett muddle through, as always, and this book is a fitting end to the series.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:39 AM EDT
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RED

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

I believe the proper way to display the title is all-caps. RED is an acronym. It stands for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous." Do not accept alternate capitalizations!

Bruce Willis is Frank, living a lonely life of dull suburban routine. He's Retired, but certainly doesn't look all that Extremely Dangerous, other than the fact that he's Bruce Willis. His only joy is in talking to a low-level government functionary on the phone: the lovely and equally bored Sarah, stuck in a Kansas City cube farm. Frank even tears up his pension checks so he can claim that they weren't received, just so he can talk to Sarah.

But one night, as it happens, Frank is targeted by a stealthy team of ninja-like assassins. Realizing that it would be a very short movie otherwwise, Frank dispatches them quickly. Also realizing that their conversations have also put Sarah in danger, he scampers off to KC and abducts her. Then they're off to find out why all the sudden hostility from His Federal Government. Along the way, he enlists the aid of some of his former allies and antagonists: his former mentor Joe (Morgan Freeman); an LSD-addled weapons specialist (John Malkovich); a Russian spy (Brian Cox); and a Martha Stewart-like British assassin (Helen Mirren! The Queen!). Needless to say, they soon uncover a vast and deadly conspiracy that is run from the highest levels of government.

(Aside: it's always run from the highest levels of government. Just once, I'd like to see one of these vast conspiracies run from the lowest levels of government: the puppeteer behind all the carnage is revealed to be… the assistant Water Commissioner in Sioux Falls, South Dakota!)

It's all very tongue-in-cheek and chock full of (PG-13) action violence. The cast is heavy with acting talent; I count 3 Oscar wins and 9 Oscar nominations. And personally, I think they should institute an award for Bruce Willis. ("And the winner for 'Best Bruce Willis Performance is… Bruce Willis!")


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:38 AM EDT
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A Renegade History of the United States

[Amazon Link]

I was enticed into reading A Renegade History of the United States by a few mentions in Reason, including Nick Gillespie's pick of the book as one of the best of last year. I've just about always wanted to be as cool as Nick Gillespie, and (as it turned out) the library at the University Near Here had just procured a copy, so…

Russell's thesis is that many of the social liberties we take for granted today were originally demanded and fought for by "renegades." Or as Russell puts it: "drunkards, prostitutes, 'shiftless' slaves and white slackards, criminals, juvenile delinquents, brazen homosexuals, and others who operated beneath American society." And (obviously) they were opposed by just about all decent folks.

If you suspend all your moral judgment, the book is immensely entertaining, and completely politically incorrect. Sorry to use that cliché, but it's pretty much on target. Russell shows no concern or respect for liberal sensibilities, middle-class values, or bourgeois morality. There's something to offend everyone.

Some of Russell's story I'd heard before (although I'm not much of a history buff.) His take on how various ethnic groups (Irish, Italians, and Jews) climbed out from under prejudice to gain general respectability echoed a lot of Thomas Sowell's work, for example, Ethnic America. (The difference being that Sowell sees "respectability" as a pretty good thing, and Russell views it as a sad sellout.) And there's a chapter on Fascism and the New Deal that reads pretty close to Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. (And I would guess it would make your typical liberal's head explode.)

Russell's book invites a healthy amount of skepticism. I'm kind of a fan of bourgeois values myself, and I'm dubious that the renegades' struggle against them was as simple as Russell portrays. The Bellesiles story tells us to be skeptical of history written to support a thesis, so caveat lector, friends.

Russell blogs at the Huffington Post, where you can find an overview of the book's take on history, and his (self-promotional) story of how his unconventional style and substance got him denied tenure at Barnard College. (He's nowadays an adjunct at Occidental College.)


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:55 AM EDT
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The Thin Man

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

As promised, I've put a few William Powell/Myrna Loy movies into the Netflix queue. This is one of their classics. I had to pretend it wasn't based on a book written by an unrepentant Commie, Dashiell Hammett.

Powell and Loy play the legendary Nick and Nora Charles; he's an ex-cop, she's an heiress, and they're pretty happy to live in luxurious drunkenness on her fortune.

The "Thin Man" of the title is not Nick; it's the eccentric inventor Clyde Wynant, who's gone missing. Unfortunately, when Wynant's ex-"secretary" is murdered, he becomes the most likely suspect. Wynant's daughter (Maureen O'Sullivan!) implores Nick to investigate to find out what happened to her dad and who really did in the secretary.

Powell and Loy have a rare chemistry, and it's easy to see how this pairing turned into five more "Thin Man" sequels and many other collaborations.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 11:46 AM EDT
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