"The Vice-President's gone mad!"

[Veep]

… "Where?" "Downtown." "When?" "Last night":

  • In University Near Here news:

    The University of New Hampshire is pleased to welcome Vice President Biden to campus Monday, April 4, 2011, at 11:30 a.m. in the Memorial Union Building's Granite State Room. This is a small ticketed event for university students and other guests; it is not open to the public and invitations will go out via e-mail Thursday, March 31, 2011.

    My invitation was sent at 1pm, and invited an RSVP at a website. By the time I clicked over at 1:07, the event was full. A waiting list was offered and (why not) I entered my name thereupon.

    Vice President Biden will be appearing with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, speaking on the topic of violence against women on campus. Fearless predictions: (a) they'll both be against it, and (b) they'll assert that Your Federal Government has some sort of shiny new role to play in decreasing it.

    While I'm at it, the announcement page has some amusement:

    UNH also has a nationally and internationally recognized Bringing in the Bystander™ program, which has two components: A Prevention Workshop for Establishing a Community of Responsibility™ in-person program and the Know-Your-Power™ social marketing campaign.

    Yes, that's three trademark symbols in a single sentence. Woe betide the foolish feminist tempted to filch these phrases for her own use!

  • NH Senator Jeanne Shaheen has been keeping a pretty low profile, but occasionally sticks her head up a bit so that Drew Cline can play Whac-A-Mole:

    Gasoline and crude oil prices are up, which means Jeanne Shaheen is back to bashing speculators again.

    Blaming speculators for high prices is much like blaming wet streets for rain. As always, it's difficult to pick which is worse: whether Senator Shaheen actually believes the nonsense she's spouting, or whether she doesn't.

  • 'Twas brilliant when it was mere text. But if you're one of those tl;dr folks, Bill Whittle put Iowahawk to video:

    We're headed for fiscal disaster, but that's no reason not to grab chuckles where and when you can.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:25 AM EDT
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My Name is Khan

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

This is really two movies: a funny, clever one about an unlikely romantic relationship and tolerance. But about halfway through it turns into a dreadfully sentimental and manipulative melodrama. I can't remember the last time a movie whipsawed me like this. Maybe never.

Khan is a Muslim from India, immigrating to the US after the death of his beloved, protecting mother. He has Asperger's syndrome, but (nevertheless) manages to function reasonably well in a job set up by his brother: selling women's beauty products to salons in the San Francisco area. One day he meets the lovely Mandira, a Hindu single mom, and is smitten. Romance develops, and then…

Well, 9/11 happens. Khan and Mandira, and Mandira's son, are soon subjected to the true face of American bigotry and xenophobia, culminating in a shocking act of violence that drives Khan and Mandira apart. Which sets Khan on a quest—I am not making this up—to confront President George W. Bush and tell him that he (Khan) is not a terrorist.

This could have worked. But the red flags start going up when a skinny black kid starts singing, uninvited, "We Shall Overcome" when Khan speaks in the church of a poor African American community in the deep south. From then on, every time you think the movie can't possibly contrive to get any more sentimental, you get hit in the face with yet another setup of artificial mawkishness.

Maybe a William Shatner cameo would have helped.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:26 AM EDT
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Unintentional Amusement

… from my Netflix queue:

[waiting]


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But He Stayed in the City

[Stupendous Man]

… and kept on changing clothes in dirty old phonebooths:

  • There's P.J. O'Rourke content at the Weekly Standard. He reviews Amy Chua's recent book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. He's not a fan:

    I gather Ms. Chua is a total bitch with her children, making them finish homework before it's assigned, practice violin and piano 25 hours a day, maintain a grade point average higher than Obama budget numbers, and forbidding them from doing anything they might enjoy, such as exhale.

    But being a male parent with a typical dad-like involvement in my children's lives--I know all of their names--I thought Battle Hymn was great. That is, I thought it made me look great. Not that I read the dreadful book, but I did buy each of my children a copy and inscribed it, "So you think you've got it bad?" What with three editions lying around because my kids would rather fool with the Wii than read, I admit I gave in to the temptation to skim.

    … you'll want to Read The Whole Thing.

  • In preparation for writing this year's Damn Big Check to My Federal Government, it's always cheering to read something like this:

    Congress has again failed to rid a temporary spending bill of language forcing NASA to waste $1.4 million a day on its defunct Constellation moon program.

    The original culprit is a Republican, Senator Shelby of Alabama. But he has way too many co-conspirators.

  • In related news, the great Kevin Williamson opines on the tax code that has me writing that DBC mentioned above, while (as a recent New York Times story revealed) the General Electric corporation managed to pay zippo. Nada. Squat.

    I'm the farthest thing imaginable from an eat-the-rich populist, but c'mon. Williamson's conclusion:

    The upside of the fiscal crisis that our country insists on marching toward is that it will give us the opportunity to enact radical reform of some of our most important institutions, and the tax code should be high on the list. A federal/state/local system that produces a $3.2 billion tax benefit for G.E. but taxes the pants off of poor people to fund useless schools that do their children very little good (and a great measure of harm, in many cases) is an unbearable burden. It has to go.

    That should be cut out and stuck to your refrigerator door. And also to the foreheads of every Senator and CongressCritter.

  • If you never heard about the GE tax thing, by the way, it's probably because your TV is stuck on stupid NBC News. You should get that fixed.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:10 AM EDT
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The Spirit Level Delusion

[Amazon Link]

A bit of explanation first:

I saw this book by Christopher Snowdon favorably mentioned out there in one of the right-wing fever swamps that I routinely visit. Since I knew that the library of the University Near Here owned The Spirit Level (TSL from here on), I suggested via their online form that they pick this up as well. In order, primarily, to give our local scholars a shot at seeing both sides of the inequality debate.

Somewhat surprisingly, the library purchased it at my suggestion. So I felt obligated to also read TSL (which I would not ordinarily have bothered to do); if you missed them, my TSL comments are here. Summary: I wasn't impressed. Although I read Snowdon's book in parallel with TSL, I tried to restrict myself to criticisms I came up with independently.

Snowdon's book deals primarily with fact-checking (and mostly refuting) many of TSL's arguments, although other works in the same genre with similar theses are mentioned. Snowdon accuses TSL authors, Wilkinson and Pickett, of assuming their conclusion (inequality causes all sorts of bad stuff), then cherry-picking data that seem to bear that out.

For example: when doing comparisons and correlations between "rich" nations, Wilkinson and Pickett include Portugal (which isn't particularly rich), but exclude Slovenia, Hong Kong, and Singapore (which are). Their justification seems weak, and it just so happens that different selections of countries can weaken or eliminate a number of TSL's strong correlations between inequality and various dysfunctions.

Similarly, in some cases, so-called "outliers" cause TSL to conclude cause-and-effect. They graph homicide rate vs. inequality and (no surprise), they spy a strong correlation. But this conclusion relies heavily on the inclusion of Portugal and (unfortunately) the USA. If you remove these two countries from the mix, the correlation goes away, as does TSL's conclusion. It's not robust.

Some of the refutations don't require any heavy statistical lifting whatsoever. For example, TSL correlated inequality against the percentage of waste recycled; they use the resulting regression line to "demonstrate" that more-equal societies are more civic-minded.

But Snowdon argues (convincingly) that this just shows there are two kinds of countries: those whose governments have set up mandatory recycling laws, and those who haven't. People aren't recycling more because they look around and don't see a lot of income disparities; they recycle more because they get fined if they get caught doing otherwise.

So I had a higher opinion of Snowdon's book than TSL, not surprising given my general ideological slant. Readers should feel free to make up their own minds, not that readers need me to tell them to do that. If you don't want to shell out the bucks for one or both books, you can get the flavor of the (ongoing) argument from duelling websites: The Equality Trust from Wilkinson/Pickett, and The Spirit Level Delusion from Snowdown. Particularly interesting is Snowdon's "Chapter 10", a freely-available PDF addon to this book, a discussion of Wilkinson and Pickett's response to criticisms of TSL.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:10 AM EDT
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Murder, My Sweet

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

Although I've been a Raymond Chandler fan since I was a kid, I've been hit-or-miss on seeing movies based on his works. This 1944 effort stars Dick Powell as Chandler's classic private eye character, Philip Marlowe.

The action starts when Moose Malloy, a dumb hulk just out of the slammer, engages Marlowe to look for his pre-imprisonment sweetie, Velma. An initial foray into the bar where Velma used to work ends badly, but Marlowe tracks down the widow of the bar's previous owner, who clearly has something to hide.

Seemingly (but of course, totally un-) coincidentally, a fop named Mariott hires Marlowe to accompany him on a payoff, attempting to buy back some stolen jewelry for a lady friend. This also goes poorly, with Marlowe getting knocked out and Mariott winding up dead. Marlowe needs to solve this murder in order to avoid taking the fall himself.

The plot is twisty, straying quite a bit from what I remember of the book. Dick Powell is pretty good with Chandlerian narrative. Example: "It was a nice little front yard. Cozy, okay for the average family. Only you'd need a compass to go to the mailbox. The house was all right, too, but it wasn't as big as Buckingham Palace." Ah, I love that stuff.

But Marlowe always struck me as an unflappable sort; Powell is too often flapped.

I caught something amusing at Amazon: Murder, My Sweet is currently #31 on their bestselling list of "Child Safety & First Aid" DVDs. (It's got a way to go before beating On The Town with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, which is #5 as I type.) Gee, I think some self-amused Amazonian might be gaming that list…


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:36 AM EDT
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The Spirit Level

[Amazon Link]

Once in a blue moon, I try to read something out of my ideological comfort zone. Gosh, hope I don't get converted! There was no danger of that here, though.

The Spirit Level purports to show that high levels of inequality make societies, and the individuals in them, worse off. The authors (Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett) allege that there is virtually no social problem that inequality can't make worse. Inequality decreases life expectancy, increases infant mortality, and (for those still alive) causes all sorts of physical and mental maladies. It also causes various types of social dysfunction: crime, teen pregnancy, bullying, etc. People living in unequal societies tend to trust their fellow citizens less, are less happy, and are less likely to improve their lot. And on, and on.

These assertions are supported with many graphs showing the tight correlation of social ills with an increasing Gini coefficient. Country-by-country comparisons bear out the authors' thesis; within the US, state-by-state statistics do the same.

If you click over to the Amazon page, you can read blurb after glowing blurb about the wonderousness of this book. Customer reviews are also very good.

And yet, The Spirit Level was entirely unconvincing for me. It's hard to see how it would be convincing to anyone who brings any healthy skepticism to the table.

The major stumbling block was the book's handling of what I considered to be an obvious question: is it inequality causing these social woes, or is it (instead) poverty? This is not a subtle issue. It shouldn't be any surprise that being poor sucks in a major way, and poverty is also (of course) well-associated with a raft of other dysfunctionalities.

The book at least pretends to deal with this objection early: Chapter 2 is titled "Poverty or inequality?" The authors present a scatter plot of an "Index of health and Social Problems" versus income inequality. As expected, it shows a decent positive correlation.

So then they plot their "index" against some measure of the poverty rate, correct?

No they do not. They plot their "index" against "average income". And (surprise, surprise) no evident correlation there. But waaaaiit a minute….

It's not that the authors were unable to look at how social ills and poverty are correlated. Those statistics are pretty easy to find. There's even a site (www.cdnic.org) where you can do some of these correlations between US states yourself. And you'll find that (for example) there is:

  • a strong negative correlation between poverty rate and life expectancy;
  • a moderate positive correlation between poverty rate and diabetes rate;
  • a moderate positive correlation between poverty rate and adult obesity;
  • a moderate positive correlation between poverty rate and infant mortality;
  • a moderate positive correlation between poverty rate and births to unmarried mothers;
  • a strong positive correlation between poverty rate and teen-mother birthrates;
  • a moderate positive correlation between poverty rate and murder/manslaughter rate.

In other words, at least for US states, a lot of the ills described in The Spirit Level are moderately-to-strongly correlated with poverty.

(Aside: I should point out that "CDNIC" in the link above stands for "Correlation Does Not Imply Causation", a good saying for everyone to take to heart. Wikipedia has a page devoted to this concept.)

So: does income inequality explain social ills better than poverty? Or worse? I don't know. But Wilkinson and Pickett don't dispose of that issue in their Chapter 2, despite its title. That obvious failure haunts the rest of the book.

There are a number of other problems, but I don't want to yammer on forever. I'll just mention a few that stuck out:

There are a couple chapters devoted to crime and punishment. Unsurprisingly, inequality is fingered as a culprit. But—again, waitaminnit—US violent crime rates have been on a long-term downward trend since 1993, during which period (we're told) income inequality increased significantly. That would appear to indicate that the actual effect of inequality on crime, if any, is dwarfed by other factors.

After building their case, the authors are noticeably flaky on any actual reforms. They argue that any lasting changes must be something that incoming legislatures can't undo. (After all, you can make it legal to loot the rich, but it's just as easy to make it illegal again.) They devote many pages to employee stock-ownership schemes, trying to argue that it's a superior form of business operation. And they would never let the CEO be paid a zillion times more than the custodians, would they? So problem solved!

Anyone who even skims the business news will recognize the weakness of the employee-ownership argument. Do employee-owned firms outcompete their peers? Evidence is (to put it mildly) weak; if they did, wouldn't there be a lot more of them?

And their examples of employee-owned firms aren't persuasive. The biggest US example is probably Hy-Vee, a Midwest supermarket chain with about 55,000 employees. A couple of their other examples are less successful: United Airlines, which terminated its employee-ownership plan years ago, just before falling into bankruptcy, leaving the "employee-owners" with a lot of near-worthless stock. And Polaroid, whose employee ownership did not prevent its woes either.

Finally: The authors combine their argument with some standard environmental doomcrying to argue for a "steady-state" economy. They ignore the massive statism that would be required to pull something like that off, and handwave away any possible negative effects.

But, notably, they do find one country that "manages to combine acceptable living standards with a sustainable economy." This country "proves it can be done."

Friends, I am not making this up: that country held up by Wilkinson and Pickett as a shining example is Cuba.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:29 AM EDT
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The Fighter

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

The Fighter got seven Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) and won the two Best Supporting Actor awards. And, yes, it's very good.

It's the based-on-actual-events story of boxer Micky Ward, and how he duked his way into success out of the mean streets of scenic Lowell, MA. Along the way he has to escape the well-meaning but suffocating clutches of his manager/mother and his trainer/half-brother, Dicky.

If you think you've seen this movie about eleventy times before, you're probably right. Plot originality is not its strong point; the actors make it seem fresh, though.

Christian Bale is pretty amazing as Dicky, a crack-addicted screwup. I kept pointing out (to Mrs. Salad's chagrin): this is the same guy who played Batman. You can't think of two characters more opposite.

Also good, just not quite as amazing as Bale, is Amy Adams, playing Micky's (eventual) girlfriend Charlene, who has a pivotal role in getting Micky to turn his life around. Just like I kept recalling Bale as Batman, Ms. Adams' foulmouthed little-spitfire role here made me remember she was also Giselle in Enchanted.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:28 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2011-03-27 Update

[phony baloney]

Intrade shows no candidates either dropping below or rising above our arbitrary 4% threshold this week. All candidates showed healthy increases in their phony hit counts, and Tim Pawlenty got a big enough bounce to move him up two spots, ahead of Mitt Romney and Haley Barbour. Congratulations!

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-03-20
"Barack Obama" phony 4,560,000 +750,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 3,240,000 +560,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 2,120,000 +440,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 1,840,000 +370,000
"Michele Bachmann" phony 1,170,000 +267,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 629,000 +224,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 614,000 +113,000
"Haley Barbour" phony 527,000 +103,000
"Mitch Daniels" phony 445,000 +68,000

  • The candidate under the phony microscope this week is Newt Gingrich, spurred by what nearly everyone agrees was a total 180° flip-flop on Libya policy, with a double phony twist. His recommended action on March 7:

    Exercise a no-fly zone this evening, communicate to the Libyan military that Gadhafi was gone and that the sooner they switch sides, the more like they were to survive, provided help to the rebels to replace him.

    But on March 23:

    I would not have intervened. I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Qaddafi. I think there are a lot of other allies in the region we could have worked with. I would not have used American and European forces.

    Longer quotes and video at the link. The only unifying theme was: oppose whatever President Obama happens to be doing at the time.

    You can read Newt's attempt at reconciliation over on Facebook. To his credit, he doesn't say:

    You see, on March 7, Greta van Susteren was asking me about Gadhafi. While on March 23, Matt Lauer was pestering me about Qaddafi. Honestly, I always thought those were two different guys.

    But see if you're convinced by what he does say.

  • Not that it matters, but Pun Salad has decided to adopt "Qdaffy" as its Official Spelling of That Guy There, following the Worthing/Iowahawk stylebook.

  • I don't have a lot of use for dedicated lefty Jim Hightower, but he's spotted some phoniness over at Newt's website.

    A measure of The Newt's genuineness can be seen on [the newtexplore2012.com] website. It features Newt and his lovely third wife, Callista, smiling at the camera while a large crowd of very happy, flag-waving Americans stands in the background, beaming at the couple. The crowd is a picture-perfect mix of white, black, Latino, and Asian-American citizens - as though they're right out of central casting.

    They are. It's a stock photo dubbed "Large Crowd of People Holding Stars and Stripes Flags." Newt simply bought the right to use this shot of "supporters," as have several other politicians, groups, and businesses. That's Newt for you - a fake picture in support of a fake campaign by a fake candidate.

    Hightower is correct. Here is the Getty Images link.

  • Jon Huntsman is currently at 3.9% at Intrade, so doesn't make our list. But (nevertheless), at her Washingtion Post blog, Jen Rubin asks: Why is Jon Huntsman running for president? The word "delusional" is used. A John Sununu interview at Real Clear Politics is quoted:

    "Huntsman won't play well here. Huntsman won't play well anywhere, because Huntsman's only barely a Republican," Sununu said in a lengthy interview Wednesday afternoon.

    "Huntsman's too liberal, comes with the tarnish of having accepted the appointment from Obama. He's never said anything really conservative in his life. How's he going to win in a conservative primary? He can't. Huntsman is, in my opinion, a non-player," he said.

    In the same RCP article, however, another NH GOP old-timer (and Huntsman supporter), Peter Spaulding, is also quoted: "It sounds like the warm and cuddly John Sununu we know."

  • But the biggest fish in the phony barrel is, as always, Barack Obama. Captain Ed Morrissey of the SS Hot Air notes the words of October 2007 candidate Obama:

    Conventional thinking in Washington says that Social Security is the third rail of American politics. It says you should hedge, dodge, and spin, but at all costs don’t answer. I reject that notion. I think that on issues as fundamental as how to protect Social Security a candidate for president owes it to the American people to tell us where they stand. Because you’re not ready to lead if you can’t tell us where you’re going.

    Compare and contrast with President Obama, version 2011.03, as reported at the lefty site, Talking Points Memo:

    The White House will not prominently inject itself into congressional negotiations on Social Security reform until after key legislators in both the House and Senate unveil their plans to reduce projected long-term deficits, according to administration officials. […]

    The White House's reticence has been characterized by some as a symptom of a rift between Obama's economic and political advisers. Some, like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, do in fact believe that a bipartisan deal on Social Security would result in real economic benefits, while others argue that Obama shouldn't embrace any plan that substantially cuts benefits at all.

    It's phoniness you can believe in.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:22 AM EDT
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Crossfire

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

Gosh, another critical favorite I thought was just barely OK. But this 1947 movie has Robert Young, way before he was the Father who Knew Best. Also Robert Mitchum. And Robert Ryan. And someone not named Robert, the endlessly watchable Gloria Grahame. Directed by Edward Dmytryk. So the pieces were in place, enough of them for it to be nominated for five Oscars. But…

Young plays a jaded police detective investigating a brutal homicide of a Jewish civilian; Suspicion falls on a group of soldiers, eventually settling on a hapless youngster who can't account for his activities. But Mitchum is skeptical, and eventually so is Young. Helping them along is the occasional anti-semitic outburst from Ryan. This causes Young to become less jaded, and he switches from smoking a ubiquitous pipe to ubiquitous cigarettes.

It eventually drops into a preachy and unsubtle melodrama about anti-semitism. (Not that anti-semitism's a bad thing to be preachy about, probably even more so in 1947.) Interestingly, according to Wikipedia:

In the novel [on which the movie was based], the victim was homosexual. As told in the film The Celluloid Closet and in the documentary included on the DVD edition of the Crossfire film, the Hollywood Hays Code prohibited any mention of homosexuality because it was seen as a sexual perversion. Hence, the book's theme of homophobia was changed to one about racism and antisemitism.
It would be a few more years before Hollywood considered it to be safe to produce a movie taking a brave stand against murdering homosexuals.

Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:36 AM EDT
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Split Image

[Amazon Link]

The ninth, and probably the last, novel written by the late, great, Robert B. Parker in his Jesse Stone series. (But not the last in the series, apparently. See below.)

A thug's body is found in the trunk of his Cadillac Escalade on the scenic causeway in Paradise, Massachusetts (a thinly disgusied Marblehead). Jesse's task here is to discover the perpetrator; he's immediately drawn to the thug's employer, organized crime boss Reggie Galen, who lives in a nice house out on the neck. Coincidentally, Galen lives right next door to another crime boss, Knocko Moynihan. Even more coincidentally (and what might be deemed far-fetched), Knocko and Reggie are married to identical beautiful twin sisters. If you already smell something sordid going on, you're right.

In a parallel case, Boston female PI Sunny Randall has been hired by concerned parents to locate their wayward daughter; she's taken up with a bunch of cultists in Paradise. This naturally involves Jesse as well, and gives them a chance to rekindle their romantic relations from previous books. Cool!

So is this the end for Jesse? Apparently not: Amazon has a page up for Robert B. Parker's Killing the Blues, authored by Michael Brandman, to be released in September of this year. A little poking around reveals that Brandman is a TV writer/producer, most recently for the Jesse Stone series of made-for-TV movies starring Tom Selleck as Jesse.

I'm not sure how I feel about that! Generally, I frown on cynical attempts to squeeze more money from book-buying rubes based on their auto-purchasing affection for a suddenly (um) nonprolific author.

On the other hand, I'd kind of like to know what happens next to Jesse, Sunny, and the various supporting characters.

On the third hand, is it really "what happens next", if it's not Parker telling the story? Hm…


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:35 AM EDT
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Master With Cracked Fingers

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

My rating guidelines say one star means "bad with few redeeming features." There's just one redeeming feature here: a seventeen-year-old Jackie Chan, with occasional glimpses of the genius-to-be. (In fact, IMDB claims this is Jackie's first starring role.) But otherwise, this is only for people who have a lifetime mission to watch every Jackie Chan movie ever made.

And it was slightly better than the other movie in this Wal-Mart remainder-bin two-pack, Fantasy Mission Force.

The general idea, I think: Jackie undergoes surreptitious Kung Fu training from a wizened wizard. A number of fights happen. His father gets killed at some point, and Jackie eventually gets vengeance for that. The end.

Oh, I'm sorry: spoiler alert.

It's kind of a mess. I'll quote the amusing Wikipedia "Background" section:

The film was concocted using footage from other films, primarily from a little-seen independent 1973 film entitled Little Tiger of Canton (aka The Cub Tiger From Kwang Tung) which featured a teenage Chan in one of his earliest roles. After Chan had become famous through films like Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master in the late 1970s, the footage was re-edited. Additional material from the Drunken Master era and new footage of Dean Shek and Yuen Siu Tien (in another appearance of his beggar character), was tacked on. A rather obvious Jackie Chan double was also hired and fought blind-folded in an attempt to hide the doubling from the viewers. In 1981, the poorly edited and assembled footage was acquired by Dick Randall, who named it Master with Cracked Fingers and dubbed it into English. This version has also been released under the title Snake Fist Fighter.
"They just don't make 'em like that anymore."

Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:27 AM EDT
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How They Are Paid In Gold

[scam]

… just to babble in the back room:

  • Consumer note: I got paper mail from the "Domain Registry of America" urging me to send them money for domain renewal services. Looks very much like a bill. (Amusingly, it was addressed to "NONE PAUL SAND", based a bit too literally on punsalad.com's whois data.)

    The Wikipedia page for "Domain Registry of America" shows the company is hovering on the edge of illegality, and has been doing so for many years, so if you get a similar notice… well, as one guy put it: that's why they make shredders.

  • Our periodic look at presidential candidate phoniness is restricted to the current campaign, but Ed Morrissey has retrospective phoniness from four years back, as then-candidate Joe Biden threw some red meat to Iowa progressives:
    And I want to make it clear, and I'll make it clear to the President: that if he takes this nation to war in Iran, without Congressional approval, I will make it my business to impeach him.
    But (as we've said before): that was then, this is now. Ed points out not only the phoniness, but also more than a bit of stupidity: Biden, being a Senator at the time, had no input into even a theoretical impeachment, that being the responsibility of the House.

  • At Language Log, Mark Liberman puzzles over the utterances of Diane Sawyer on ABC World News last night:
    And it is hard to imagine
    or to underestimate or overestimate
    what it took in those heart-pounding moments when the pilots had to eject
    the incredible velocity of that
    But that Sarah Palin sure is stupid, isn't she?

    (Free verse formatting supplied by Liberman.)


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Unstoppable

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

Why yes, this is my second Kevin Corrigan movie in a row. Good catch. He's a railroad safety expert here, while in The Next Three Days he had a brief but critical role as a sleazeball drug dealer. He's utterly believable in both roles. Somebody give him an Oscar, OK?

The story: up in northern Pennsylvania, an idiot railroad employee (Ethan Suplee) cuts one too many corners in his effort to get a freight train on the correct track, and sends it hurtling southward, unchaperoned, with a load of toxic molten phenol. Meanwhile, down south, a newbie conductor (Chris Pine, the new Captain Kirk) gets teamed up with a grizzled train veteran (Denzel Washington) as his engineer. As luck would have it, Chris and Denzel are the only people who can stop the train from visiting death and destruction when it—literally—hits the small city of Stanton, PA.

This sounds clichéd, and it is. Are the young guy and the old dude initially at odds, but then develop a grudging respect for each other? You betcha. Are pictures of children shown? Yup. Are the efforts to save the day hampered by a bunch of clueless, arrogant railroad company executives, full of bad ideas and too concerned with the company's bottom line? Yes indeed. (And is the CEO shown on a sunny golf course, making his imperious poor judgment in a hasty cell phone call? Sure.)

Is there a plucky and competent young woman of color helping our heroes out at the risk of her job? Affirmative: played by Rosario Dawson.

And yet, it all works wonderfully well. Most of it due to Denzel-magic, I think; he's a lot of fun to watch. It was nominated for a Best Sound Editing Oscar, but I enjoyed it even though my crappy-sounding TV.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:27 AM EDT
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The Next Three Days

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

Mediocre reviews, but I thought this was very good.

Things are going just swimmingly for John Brennan (played by Mr. Russell Crowe): he has a beautiful, if somewhat short-tempered, wife (played by Elizabeth Banks), and a sweet kid. Unfortunately, that's all tossed into the air when the Mrs. gets arrested for murder. The evidence against her is damning. Over the course of a few years, she's tried, convicted, and loses appeal after appeal.

Desperate, John concludes his only course is to break his wife out of the slammer. (I assured Mrs. Salad I'd do the same for her.)

But how? Except for being Russell Crowe, he's otherwise the very stereotype of ineffectiveness: his day job, for example, is teaching literature at the local community college. So part of the charm of the movie shows him gradually educating himself in the methods of the covert outlaw. To enhance credibility, his initial attempts are badly bungled, but they're learning experiences. And as he gets more desperate, he's forced to the dark side…

Eventually, the escape attempt is set in motion, and the movie becomes an edge-of-seat cat-and-mouse game between John and the cops. And just behind all the action is a big question mark about Mrs. Brennan: is she guilty or not?

Written and directed by Paul Haggis, who also wrote Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, which makes him very OK in my book.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:20 AM EDT
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The Naked Sun

[Amazon Link]

Originally published in 1957, this is the second of Isaac Asimov's robot-mystery novels. It marked the beginning of a hiatus in his output of adult science fiction novels, as he turned his primary writing efforts into non-fiction for awhile.

It's an odd future. Although interstellar travel has been invented, it's restricted to the Spacers, who have control of 50 planets. They maintain a semi-hostile relationship with Earth. But a murder of a "fetologist" on the planet Solaria causes the humanoid robot detective, R. Daneel Olivaw, to arrange for his old Earthman partner, Elijah Baley, to join the investigation.

Asimov does a fine job of world-building. Earthmen have adapted to a completely enclosed urban existence, most never even seeing the outdoors, let alone venturing there; the very notion gives them the creepy crawlies.

Solaria has developed a different set of phobias. Humans are vastly outnumbered by robots, who do nearly all the work. The human population is strictly capped at 20,000; nobody can be born unless someone dies. And the Solarians lead a totally isolated existence, to the point that physical proximity to another human makes them uncomfortable, even frantic. Baley's efforts to track down the perpetrator are hampered by his total unfamiliarity with Solarian society. But eventually, he determines the culprit, and rough justice is delivered.

Daneel is unfortunately absent through much of the book; when he shows up, he's relatively passive. I would have enjoyed more Daneel, but it's tough to argue with a book that's sold bajillions of copies.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:22 AM EDT
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Another Thin Man

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

From the title, Another Thin Man, you might think that the filmmakers were getting a little tired of their creation. Would anyone today do that? Another Indiana Jones? Another Transformers?

But it's only the third entry in the series, and they went on to make three more. And this one is pretty good. To keep things interesting, Nick and Nora have had a (human) baby, Nickie Junior, and he's peripherally involved in the plot.

Nick and Nora are called out to the Long Island estate of wealthy Colonel Burr MacFay, played by professional Pompous Old Fart, C. Aubrey Smith. He announces that someone's out to kill him, but it's masked by other paranoid ravings and general obnoxiousness, irritating everyone. He might as well be wearing a nametag: "Hi! I'm this movie's victim!"

As usual, there's a dizzying array of suspects, hoods, socialites, and servants. This was one of the first movies with the immortal Sheldon Leonard, and (unsurprisingly) he's one of the hoods. Also as usual, Nick navigates half-sloshed through the detecting process and unerringly comes up with the correct culprit.

Shemp Howard has a bit part! "Hey, is that Shemp? I think that's Shemp!"


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:21 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2011-03-20 Update

[phony baloney]

Intrade shows that Haley Barbour has snuck back above our arbitrary 4% threshold for inclusion in the phony poll; his appearance comes at the expense of Jon Huntsman, to whom we bid adieu (for now). And despite not knowing exactly where that rude bridge that arched the flood was, Michele Bachmann remains alive:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-03-13
"Barack Obama" phony 3,810,000 -60,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 2,680,000 -50,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 1,680,000 -100,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 1,470,000 -60,000
"Michele Bachmann" phony 903,000 +1,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 501,000 -21,000
"Haley Barbour" phony 424,000 ---
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 405,000 -56,000
"Mitch Daniels" phony 377,000 +4,000

  • Speaking of Congresswoman Bachmann, she Facebooked about her Granite State flub:

    So I misplaced the battles Concord and Lexington by saying they were in New Hampshire. It was my mistake, Massachusetts is where they happened. New Hampshire is where they are still proud of it!

    Not bad, if you're trying to suck up to New Hampshire voters. If you seriously want to be President of all fifty states, maybe not so good.

  • Congresswoman Bachmann has a way to go, however, before she reaches major league phoniness. For example, try to guess which Presidential candidate said this:

    The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

    As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

    Obviously, some racist blowhard Republican trying to undermine President Obama's efforts in Libya, right?

    Well, no. That was then-candidate Barack Obama, December 20, 2007 in a written response to a Boston Globe questionnaire.

    Original link via non-phony left-winger Glenn Greenwald in Salon. But it's not just left-wing kooks that are disturbed; here's a read-the-whole-thing column from Andrew McCarthy at National Review. His conclusion:

    If the president and proponents of intervention cannot win congressional approval, that is a reason to refrain from going to war, not a reason to refrain from asking for approval. I used to think we all agreed about that. I hope we still do.

    Candidate Obama seemed to agree back in 2007:

    Any President takes an oath to, “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." The American people need to know where we stand on these issues before they entrust us with this responsibility – particularly at a time when our laws, our traditions, and our Constitution have been repeatedly challenged by this [George W. Bush] Administration.

    That was then, this is now. And it's worth pointing out that Dubya did ask for, and received, Congressional approval pre-Afghanistan and pre-Iraq.

  • The mysterious semi-Southern accent developed by Tim Pawlenty for a speech before social conservatives in Iowa continues to draw comment. The Minnesota subcell of Commie Radio did a story on it, including audio samples so you can judge for yourself. A professor at the University Near Here is quoted:

    But University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala said candidates need to be careful to avoid presenting too many different faces as they travel the nation looking for support.

    "You have to be who you are," Scala said. "You never want to become a laughing stock, of course, but you don't want to be seen as inauthentic."

    You and I usually don't face that choice every day. "Gee, should I be a laughingstock or a phony?" But if Professor Scala asserts that's the sort of coin-flip politicians continually need to make, who am I to disagree with an expert?

    [Language Log has more on this issue, with science.]


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:23 AM EDT
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You Just Kinda Wasted My Precious Time. Also Money.

My local newspaper, Foster's Daily Democrat offered a tasty headline yesterday, concerning goings-on up in Rochester, New Hampshire:

Rochester forges ahead with 'tremendous waste' of money: Uses federal funds to rehab houses, sell for far less
The lead paragraph:
Despite a general consensus the city would be taking advantage of "a tremendous waste of federal government money," the City Council agreed Tuesday night to move forward with an application for the next round of Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding.
The idea of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program is to buy and renovate foreclosed and abandoned homes in troubled neighborhoods. Overall, it's authorized to shell out a cool $3.9 billion. But according to City Councilor David Walker:
"You're spending $500,000 [per house], and then you turn around and sell it for $120,000 or $140,000. That's unbelievably wasteful," he said.
No fooling. But I encourage you to read the whole article; it's a nice little example of the dysfunctional incentives involved with such programs.
  • A Portsmouth "nonprofit" company will handle the application process for Rochester. All they're asking is for 15% off the top of any incoming Federal money.

  • The deputy mayor views it as a "very inefficient way to invest in the city."

  • Another councilor notes that their previous involvement with NSP had "no results".

  • Still another councilor observes, well, what the hell: "If this is one of the ways the federal government is sending back money, I don't think it's beneficial for Rochester to turn it down and let it go someplace else."

  • Another points out that there is nothing to stop them from abetting the Federal Government's foolish wastefulness: "I'm against pork and I'm against earmarks. But if there's a program and it's going to be earmarks, I want us to get our share of it."

    Or: Pigs have no incentive to decline more slop at their trough.

  • Another councilor, after the vote: "I wouldn't want my family to live in that neighborhood. Look what you have for neighbors up there after you've rehabbed those homes. Who wants a beer bottle behind your head every time you get out of your car?"

But, once more: they're "forging ahead."

At least the Rochester folks are being for-a-politician "honest". If not admirable. Multiply this waste by hundreds and thousands of other localities throughout our fair land.


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Tales From Earthsea

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

If I was forced to play a science fiction version of David Lodge's "Humiliation" game, I think my entry would be this: Even though I own decades-old paperbacks of Ursula K. Le Guin's acknowledged classics The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, they're unread.

Nevertheless, I had high hopes about seeing this: I loved other movies from the Japanese animation wizards Studio Ghibli, and Netflix predicted I'd like this too. But … eh. IMDB claims that Ms. Le Guin was also disappointed, so I'm in good company.

Briefly, things are falling apart in the fantasy land of Earthsea. Crops are failing, dragons sighted near land, fighting with each other. And the young peoples' music—it's just noise! What's going on?

Enter Prince Arren, who immediately fails to grab our sympathies: he stabs his dad. (If they explained why he did that, I missed it.) On the lam, he meets up with Sparrowhawk, a wise old wizard who's trying to diagnose the ills besetting Earthsea. They run into all sorts of problems, but eventually figure out that it's a plot set in motion by evil and creepy wizard Cob.

Good news: this movie is beautiful to watch. Bad news: I was unable to make a lot of sense of it. In fact, I kept nodding off, and eventually gave up backing up the DVD to figure out what I missed. There was a climactic battle, and it was sort of cool.

True: I kept trying to figure out who was doing the voice for Sparrowhawk. Could it be… Sean Connery? Sounds like him! Irony of ironies, when I looked it up, it turned out to be … Timothy Dalton.

"The name is Hawk. Sparrow Hawk."

Other voices include Willem Dafoe as the evil wizard, and—honest—Cheech Marin as a thug.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:29 AM EDT
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All Those Dayglow Freaks Who Used To Paint the Face

[Amazon Link]

… they've joined the human race:

  • Iowahawk just gets more awesome as time goes by. His recent article is in the E.J. Dionne/Michael Moore vein, describing how Your Federal Government is nuh-uh, not either broke. Why, by squeezing a mere $10 billion per day from the rich, we can cut that deficit down to size, starting on…

    12:01 AM, January 1
    Let's start the year out right by going after some evil corporations and their obscene profits. And who is more evil than those twin spawns of Lucifer himself, Exxon Mobil and Walmart? Together these two largest American industrial behemoths raked in, between them, $34 billion in 2010 global profits. Let's teach 'em both a lesson and confiscate it for the public good. This will get us through...

    9:52 AM January 4
    Okay, maybe I underestimated our take. […]

    A masterpiece.

  • But if you want a lot fewer laughs with your fiscal reality check, there's Kevin Williamson:

    When it comes to the Scrooge McDuck set, the problem isn't that they're not rich enough, it's that there aren't enough rich -- not enough to do what liberals want to do, anyway, which is to balance the budget by increasing taxes on them.

    Or Reason's Matt Welch:

    The headline on Dionne's fantasy is "What if we're not broke?" Which is a lot like saying, "What if there was a million-dollar bill in my pants?" Only it's much worse-the consequences of this dream not coming true are truly terrible […] And the defiant can-kicking by Democratic dead-enders is only tacking a premium onto our future pain.

    Whatever happened to the reality-based community anyway?

  • Owsley Stanley died a few days back, as a result of a car crash in Australia. His Wikipedia page notes that he "was a former underground LSD cook, the first private individual to manufacture mass quantities of LSD." As might be expected, he was also involved with the Grateful Dead.

    What might not be expected: he lived to be 76. Not all of his buddies managed that feat.

    The Steely Dan song "Kid Charlemagne" was loosely based on Stanley. I like this story from the song's Wikipedia entry:

    According to an infamous story recounted by [Steely Dan's] Walter Becker on VH1's Storytellers, Becker once informed a taxi cab driver in New York City that he was with the band Steely Dan. The cab driver remarked "Steely Dan - they had the stupidest lyric I ever heard in any song that ever has been written." Becker replied "You're kidding - what was that?" The cab driver responded with "Is there gas in the car? Yes, there's gas in the car".

    Although I've never taken LSD, I always sing those lyrics when they come up on the car's iPod, to the consternation of Mrs. Salad.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:12 AM EDT
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Alice in Wonderland

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

Usually when I go against the Critical Consensus, it's when I'm not impressed by a movie that everyone else loved. This is the opposite: it had mediocre rankings from critics and IMDBers, but I liked it quite a bit.

It is (more or less) a sequel to Lewis Carroll's works. Alice is a young lady, and is surprised by a marriage proposal from an upper-class twit. Bewildered about what to do, she falls back down the rabbit hole, and …

It's live action, with plenty of CGI to illustrate the denizens of Wonderland. Carroll was content to let Alice wander around and experience all the bizarreness and off-kilter wordplay. It's quite different here: the filmmakers decided to make Alice an action hero. This worked for me, but I can understand how purists might object.

Mia Wasikowska is wonderful as Alice, who gradually finds her proper role in the goings-on. Also on hand is Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the evil "Red Queen", Anne Hathaway as the good "White Queen", and a host of others. There are plenty of jokes and sight gags, but (on the other hand) the good guys are in actual peril, and Alice is the only person who can save the day.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:18 AM EDT
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Happy π Day 2011

It's the Annual Celebration. This post should show up on 3/14 at 1:59:27pm EST. And we still like this animated GIF from the Pi article at Wikipedia:

[Pi Unrolled]

(Click for the big version and a whole bunch of WikiLegalese.)

Remember: π is a constant. And yet there's always new stuff to post about it:

  • There's an official site. (Which is dubious. Who on earth would is in a position to grant "official" status, I wonder?)

  • I kind of like this:
    Even as we speak, hundreds of apple pies are being readied for delivery to math and science teachers at public middle and high schools located within a 3.14-mile radius of Raytheon Co. headquarters in Waltham.
    The geek in me points out: that circle is π3 square miles in area.

  • The New Scientist has a pretty obvious suggestion: celebrate by eating… oh, I can't bring myself to type it.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:23 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2011-03-13 Update

[phony baloney]

After last week's inclusion in our phony poll, Haley Barbour dipped below our arbitrary 4% threshold at Intrade, and so we'll bid him farewell for now.

But he's replaced by Michele Bachmann, who popped up to 4.2% at Intrade this week. And the Google hits say she's already ahead of Mitt Romney!

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-03-06
"Barack Obama" phony 3,870,000 +20,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 2,730,000 +20,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 1,780,000 +240,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 1,530,000 +70,000
"Michele Bachmann" phony 902,000 ---
"Mitt Romney" phony 522,000 -11,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 461,000 +2,000
"Mitch Daniels" phony 373,000 -23,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 144,000 -3,000

  • Does Congresswoman Bachmann deserve her high debut in our table? Well, she visited our fair state yesterday, and…

    Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's visit to the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire got off to a rocky start on Saturday morning when she misstated a key fact about the American Revolution in a speech to a group of local conservative activists and students.

    "What I love about New Hampshire and what we have in common is our extreme love for liberty," the potential GOP presidential candidate said. "You're the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord. And you put a marker in the ground and paid with the blood of your ancestors the very first price that had to be paid to make this the most magnificent nation that has ever arisen in the annals of man in 5,000 years of recorded history."

    … if anything, her ranking is too low.

  • Despite his low hit-count standing, Mitt Romney manages to make the phony news. Latest is from Michael Kinsley in the LA Times:

    We're all for transparency these days, and if anything is transparently clear about American politics, it is that Mitt Romney will do or say anything to become president. The best guess is that at heart he is an old-fashioned moderate, business-oriented Republican (just about the last one standing). But there's no knowing for sure. He may have no sincere beliefs at all.

    There was a piece about Romney on the front page of the New York Times on Sunday, and what amazes me is the deadpan frankness with which the article exposed him as a phony, and then went on to discuss what Romney might do to solve this problem.

    Kinsley feels that Romney's phoniness makes him "ethically unqualified to be entrusted with the presidency." Really. I continue to be unconvinced that Romney is uniquely phony.

  • Brendan Nyhan is a liberal, but he occasionally drops the partisan blinders to make a good point, or at least one worth considering. He catches a whiff of campaigns past in today's coverage of Romney:

    The media's coverage of Mitt Romney is showing signs of the pathologies that afflicted its coverage of Al Gore in the early stages of the 2000 presidential campaign.

    In 1999 and 2000, the press pummeled Gore, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, with absurdly trivial and hostile reporting and commentary on the number of buttons on his suits, his cowboy boots, and the color of his attire, which were framed as evidence that Gore was a phony who was reinventing himself to get elected. These factually dubious claims were used to manufacture a narrative of Gore as a calculating liar that may have contributed to his puzzling underperformance in the 2000 election. While any politician changes and evolves over the course of their career, Gore's trajectory was framed as a series of phony personas (a sample from Howard Fineman: "By my count we're on about the fifth or sixth Al Gore now").

    Nyhan goes on to describe today's eerily similar narrative about Romney, and why such things happen. Worth reading, but I think he discounts the most obvious similarity between Romney and Gore: they're pretty good-looking smooth talkers. Decades of pop culture have taught us, however unfairly, to especially suspect people like that.

  • We haven't mentioned Tim Pawlenty much, but Dana Milbank of the Washington Post detects phoniness there:

    On paper, Tim Pawlenty may be the most formidable Republican challenger to President Obama in 2012. Too bad he's running as somebody else.

    Oh oh. What's the problem?

    But now Pawlenty is campaigning as if he's some sort of Southern preacher. At the Faith & Freedom event, he was dropping g's all over the place, using "ain't" instead of "isn't," and adding a syrup to his vowels not indigenous to Minnesota. He didn't utter the word "jobs," made only passing reference to economic woes, and instead gave the assembled religious conservatives a fiery speech about God, gays and gynecology.

    Milbank gets a lot of column-mileage from speculatin' on whether Pawlenty adopted a phony cornpone accent for the event. One problem with this narrative: the event was "down South" in Iowa. I might buy that a southern accent could sway a few votes in Georgia, but Iowa?

    Milbank could have (but didn't) point out that this sort of thing is not unheard of on the campaign trail. From 2007:

    Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday she sees her sometimes Southern accent as a virtue.

    "I think America is ready for a multilingual president," Clinton said during a campaign stop at a charter school in Greenville, S.C.

    And from Commie Radio in 2008:

    What do Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, and John Edwards have in common? They've all been criticized for the way they speak — charged with affecting or suppressing or exaggering [sic] an accent so voters will identify with them.

    Gee, if you can't trust the way a candidate talks, what can you trust?


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:30 AM EDT
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You Say You Lost Your Faith

[On
Faith]

… but that's not where it's at:

  • The White House needs a Stupidity Czar to follow President Obama around and … somehow … stop him from saying this stuff.

  • … ditto Nancy Pelosi.
    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the House Republicans' proposed cut to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget would hurt biomedical research's "biblical power to cure."
    Statism is a religion, and Nancy is a high priestess.

  • Compare and contrast the latest column of the New York Times Official Food Nag, Mark Bittman:
    The oldest and most common dig against organic agriculture is that it cannot feed the world's citizens; this, however, is a supposition, not a fact.
    … with the headline off a recent Slate article from James E. McWilliams:
    Organic Crops Alone Can't Feed the World
    Bittman hangs his article on a recent report entitled "Agro-ecology and the Right to Food" developed under the auspices of the United Nations; it advocates agricultural practices that are "more environmentally sustainable and socially just."

    McWilliams, on the other hand, bases his discussion on USDA research on the actual yields from organic farms.

    You can read both and decide for yourself who's reality-based. But I'd tend to bet against the folks who slant their food production recommendations toward what's "environmentally sustainable and socially just". That sounds like a real good way to starve more people.

  • Fans of minimum wage laws will recoil in horror from this calculation:
    So, in percentage terms of the change in total employment level from 2006 to 2010, jobs affected by the federal minimum wage hikes of 2007, 2008 and 2009 account for 41.8% of the total reduction in jobs seen since 2006.
    Hey, liberals? If you want to show true compassion for the less well-off, make it legal for them to take any job they're willing to take, even if it pays less than the wage you think should be "minimum."

  • For a treat, I urge you to check out Gene Weingarten's proposed new national anthem. It summarizes the Bill of Rights, and is sung to the tune of the William Tell Overture. If you find that hard to imagine, Christine Lavin performs:

    [HTML5-unfriendly embed of the WaPo's original video replaced with Ms. Lavin's live YouTubed performance.]


Last Modified 2012-09-27 10:07 AM EDT
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Mirth of A Nation

[Amazon Link]

A bit of a departure for me, I picked up this book of short humor pieces awhile back, and finally got around to reading it. I guess I needed some cheering up?

And… well, I was slightly disappointed. It's not that there's not some funny stuff here. Dave Barry has a couple of articles. P. J. O'Rourke has one. And a few other authors made me chuckle as well. The editor, Michael J. Rosen, seems to be a pleasant enough guy; he wrote this in association with the Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Which actually has a unicorn in its garden. Although if you acknowledge its existence, they take you to the booby hatch.

But way too many of the articles were clever without being funny. Or inventively bizarre, while being too sophisticated to actually be caught telling a joke. Perhaps there were some ingenious parodies. But if so, they were unfortunately of works I'd never heard of.

But, hey, you might like it. The low price at Amazon, as I type, is $0.01, plus shipping. I think I get a cut of that if you order from the link!


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:33 AM EDT
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You've Got To Change Your Evil Ways

[Birdseed
Sculpture]

… baby, before I stop loving you:

  • Everybody's heard by now about Nevada Senator Harry Reid's plea to maintain Federal subsidies for his state's cowboy poetry festivities in January.

    Yes, that's very easy to make fun of. If you can't cut subsidies to cowboy poets in Nevada, it will be impossible to cut them for quiltmakers in Alabama or birdseed sculptors in California (pictured at right) (no, your right).

    But very few critics can claim an actual cowboy poet as a relative, as I can. Although I'm unaware of any federal subsidies received by my distant cousin, being a free-market guy, I can only urge you to get over there to his website and buy some stuff.

  • Folks who still maintain a childlike faith in the ability of the Federal legislative process to "reform" the health care system should take a gander at this WSJ article that describes how ObamaCare came to include a provision to outlaw paying for over-the-counter medication with a Flexible Spending Account, in the absence of a doctor's prescription. This misfeature came into being via a chance remark by William Pewen, senior health-policy adviser to Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe. And of course:
    Only after the president's signature was dry did the American Medical Association realize what had happened and send a letter to the government warning of unintended consequences, including more office visits and extra paperwork.

    Sure enough, when the change took effect Jan. 1, patients began bringing lists of over-the-counter drugs to office visits and also requesting over-the-counter prescriptions by phone, doctors says [sic].

    Prof Bainbridge has further irate comments.

  • Here's a sentence that kind of leapt out at me:
    A Treasury official later explained that the accusation had been dismissed because the [Secret Service] agent in question was Hispanic, not white.
    Read the whole thing for why on earth that matters.

    And (not that it matters but) according to Your Federal Government, Hispanics can be any race, and (in fact), about half of Hispanics self-report as being white.

    What does matter, of course, is that accusations shouldn't be dismissed (or, on the flip side, pursued) based on the race/ethnicity of the accused.

    (Via Sean Higgins at jeremylott.net. Pun Salad's previous unhinged rant about Official Definitions of race and ethnicity was exactly one year ago today; things haven't improved.)


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Get Low

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

A nice little movie set in 1930s Tennessee. It got some Oscar buzz—because this is just the kind of quirky, semi-sentimental movie that Oscar loves—but was skunked in the nominations.

It revolves around the hermit Felix Bush, played impeccably by Robert Duvall. He lives outside of a small town where nasty rumors fly about him. The only person who's remotely sympathetic toward him is Mattie, played by Sissy Spacek, who knew him back in his pre-hermit days.

One day Bush takes it into his head to have a funeral party for himself, but while he's still alive to enjoy it. He's rebuffed by the local preacher, but the avaricious funeral home director, (Bill Murray), is only too happy to take his money. As it turns out, Bush has ulterior motives related to relationships and events hidden in his deep dark past. His redemption lies in the revelation of these secrets.

So: it's pretty good. Robert Duvall is great, as always, so are Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray. The supporting cast is good too. Quibbles: Sissy Spacek is too young to play Robert Duvall's ex-girlfriend.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:24 AM EDT
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Eliminate Subsidies? Inconceivable!

[Statist Tree]

The New York Times Official Food Nag, Mark Bittman, continues to entertain. His latest column looks at federal agricultural subsidies, and finds them dreadful.

Agreed!

Unfortunately the title of Bittman's column is "Don't End Agricultural Subsidies, Fix Them". Sounding like a very bad fourth verse of that dreadful John Lennon song:

Imagine support designed to encourage a resurgence of small- and medium-size farms producing not corn syrup and animal-feed but food we can touch, see, buy and eat -- like apples and carrots -- while diminishing handouts to agribusiness and its political cronies.
You may say he's a dreamer, but he's not the only one.

To his credit, Bittman does a half-decent job describing some of the problems with the current subsidy program. But you can get a completely-decent description of those problems and more from Cato's Downsizing Government site. Summary:

  1. Subsidies do a reverse-Robin Hood wealth redistribution from Joe and Jane Average Taxpayer to relatively wealthy farmowners.

  2. Subsidies damage the economy by eliminating or decreasing the price signals present in a free-market system.

  3. Subsidies are corruption-prone.

  4. Subsidies damage the effort to liberalize trade, hurting both consumers and producers in the US and other countries.

  5. Subsidies encourage environmental damage.

  6. Subsidies are an unnecessary relic hanging on from the Great Depression; there's no evidence they're necessary to maintain a thriving agricultural sector.

"Other than that, though, they're fine."

It sounds unforgivably condescending, but it's tough to characterize Bittman's attitude as anything less that a childlike faith in statist theology, a True Believer. Even though he admits multiple malfunctions and dysfunctions in the current subsidy system, he can't bring himself to the obvious response: just stop it..

As I've noted before: when confronted with three tons of government money going down a rathole to ill effect, the statist response is: let's make it four tons, and toss it down this rathole, of slightly different shape, instead.

Sallie James, also at Downsizing Government says it pretty well:

If Americans decide to eat more fruit and vegetables, you can be sure that farmers here or abroad (and it does not matter which) will be happy to provide them. The solution lies not in tinkering with the program in the hope that finally, this time, bureaucrats in Washington will get it right, but in freeing the farmers from government interference totally, and letting the market decide which foods are grown.
That's heresy to folks like Bittman who (for whatever reason) find it difficult to "imagine".

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The Letter

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

A lot of famous movie-making names in this 1940 movie: William "Ben Hur" Wyler directed, the screenplay was by Howard "Casablanca" Koch, and the music was by Max "Also Casablanca" Steiner. And it had the incomparable Bette Davis. And it was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture.

And yet, I didn't care for it at all. Not sure what's going on there.

Ms Davis plays Mrs. Crosbie, the wife of the manager of a British rubber plantation in the Malay peninsula. The movie opens with her emptying a revolver into the back of one Geoffrey Hammond, who has (for some reason) worn out his welcome at the Crosbie's bungalow, while Mr. Crosbie is out of town.

The remainder of the movie involves Mrs. Crosbie's efforts to not hang for this offense, despite the fact that what happened is bleedingly obvious to everyone save Mr. Crosbie. Unfortunately her exoneration is cast into doubt by (guess what) "The Letter" she sent to Hammond, which is now in the hands of Hammond's Eurasian "wife", the very pissed-off Gale Sondergaard.

It's 95 minutes, but seems to be much, much longer. We keep seeing shots of the moon getting obscured by clouds, and more shots of the moon getting revealed again. I think this may be Symbolism.

Mrs. Salad did not appreciate me pointing out "She's got Bette Davis eyes." Maybe because I did it about 20 times.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:31 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2011-03-06 Update

[phony baloney]

Haley Barbour cracked our (arbitrary) 4% barrier at at Intrade this week, so he debuts in our Phony list today, already ahead of Huntsman and My Man Mitch Daniels:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-02-27
"Barack Obama" phony 3,850,000 +70,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 2,710,000 -10,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 1,540,000 +170,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 1,460,000 +140,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 533,000 -19,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 459,000 +26,000
"Haley Barbour" phony 425,000 ---
"Mitch Daniels" phony 396,000 +71,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 147,000 +1,000

  • The two leading phony GOP males got their hats handed to them by George F'n Will for buying into silly (albeit non-birther) fantasies about Barack Obama's Kenyan ideological roots. Read the whole thing, but here's the summary.

    Let us not mince words. There are at most five plausible Republican presidents on the horizon - Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Utah governor and departing ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former Massachusetts governor Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

    So the Republican winnowing process is far advanced. But the nominee may emerge much diminished by involvement in a process cluttered with careless, delusional, egomaniacal, spotlight-chasing candidates to whom the sensible American majority would never entrust a lemonade stand, much less nuclear weapons.

    If you noticed that Sarah Palin is also missing from Will's plausible list, good eye. Pun Salad shares the Instapundit reaction, which I will quote in full:

    I would vote for a syphilitic camel over Barack Obama in 2012, so therefore I would even vote for Huckabee or Gingrich. But I might try to talk the camel into running one more time.

    Or, alternatively, Ron Paul.

  • Mitt Romney visited beautiful Bartlett NH yesterday. The AP describes Romney's Problem Number One:

    Among Romney's biggest challenges: explaining to GOP primary voters why he signed a law that became the foundation for Obama's national overhaul. Passed by Congress last year, Obama's health care law has enraged conservatives who view it as a costly government expansion and intrusion into their lives because it mandates insurance for most Americans.

    The AP also notes the delicious phoniness of Democrats praising RomneyCare. This is similar to Democrats praising McCain for his maverickness four years ago—right up until he became the GOP nominee, and he instantly became a Dubya clone.

    In the National Journal, Beth Reinhard is upfront about Romney's Other Big Problem:

    In 2008, it wasn’t until onetime front-runner John McCain was down and nearly out that he sealed the deal with the GOP faithful. In contrast, the well-heeled Romney never broke through. A moderate Republican who thrived in the true-blue state of Massachusetts, Romney tried to remake himself as a conservative crusader and came off as a phony.

    And I had to look twice to make sure that this was not the exact same article, but it's from Paul West of the LA Times:

    One of his biggest problems is "a suspicion that [Romney] is not as authentic as voters would like and he doesn't connect as well with voters as they would like," said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster not aligned with any candidate. "Politicians who are viewed as authentic have a much easier time connecting with the voters they are wooing. People like Ronald Reagan and [New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie seem to have no trouble connecting, in part because they seem so comfortable in their skin."

    The problem has been fed by the fact that, in each of his runs for public office, Romney has remade himself. Last time out, he shed his moderate social views on abortion and gay rights, then struggled to convince primary voters of his conservative bona fides. A perception grew that the handsome candidate, with his almost-too-perfect hair and teeth and seemingly scripted answers to every question, would say anything to get elected.

    It's dreadfully unfair: Romney's actual phoniness is probably not significantly different than his peers, but his good looks and smooth manner tend to magnify it. Or, to repeat once more Jonah Goldberg's wonderful quip: if you hit the "mute" button while Romney is speaking, he seems to be saying "what do I have to do to put you in this BMW today?"

  • Although it's dog-bites-man territory by now, fairness demands that we slag President Obama. Providing ammo on that front is Richard M. Salsman at Forbes:

    Since his party’s failure in the mid-term elections, President Barack Obama has been posing as “pro-business” and a “centrist.” There’s not a single reason to believe it. Obama is a phony — on this and many other issues — just as he was during his 2008 campaign. If Obama is “pro-business” in any way, like most politicians today he claims to be so only to extract tax revenues and campaign funding. That’s the sole extent of it. Business is a mere host to his political parasitism.

    Ooops, I cut that off one sentence too soon. For Mr. Salsman continues:

    Yet his hostile attitude isn’t much different from that seen in the GOP.

    Ouch.


Last Modified 2012-09-27 9:20 AM EDT
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