Unintentional Amusement

… from my Netflix queue:


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 EST

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 EST

Murder, My Sweet

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 EST