Great Minds at Work

I seldom blog about the Day Job, but I hope you'll be tickled by some recent whiteboard brainstorming performed by my coworkers and myself. A departmental reorganization required us to come up with a new group name:

[brainstorming new group name]

Click for a big version, if you dare. It's pretty easy to detect some of our algorithms. (Photo credit: Manny MacMillan.)


Last Modified 2012-09-26 1:05 PM EDT

The King's Speech

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

<voice imitation="emily_litella"> What is all this fuss I hear about the King's peach? How did they make a movie about that? Was it a really good peach? Why couldn't the King share his peach with commoners? That's outrageous! Did the King have any other fruit to himself? Wait, what? … Oh, that's quite different! </voice>

As I type, The King's Speech is #109 on IMDB's top 250 movies of all time. I don't know about that, but it did win four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, and was nominated for eight others. So you probably don't need me piling on, but: yeah, it's pretty good.

I usually do a brief plot synopsis in these movie posts, but I don't think I need to bother in this case. Instead, I'd just like to point out that it's pretty darned odd for the perennial popularity of movies revolving around the British royal family. Especially in America; do we really have a hankering to know about the travails of an insanely wealthy and probably too-powerful family, only in that position due to accidents of heredity and sordid politics?

I can't explain it. Yet, I watched too, and enjoyed myself. Now I'm persuading myself into feeling guilty about it. To make up, I'll steadfastly ignore the upcoming wedding, OK?


Last Modified 2012-09-26 1:20 PM EDT

'Twas in Another Lifetime

[authoritarian]

… one of toil and blood:

  • David Friedman is employed by an institution of higher education that's currently riding the "sustainability" bandwagon. (As is the University Near Here.) But:

    I responded to an email urging faculty members to introduce sustainability into one of their classes by asking if it was all right if I argued against it in mine, and suggesting that a program which consisted entirely of presentations on one side of an issue looked more like propaganda than education.

    The result was a talk titled: "Sustainability: Empty Rhetoric or a Bad Idea?" (available as an MP3). Haven't listened to it yet, but I'm dying to find out the answer to the question.

  • Michael F. Cannon notes another example of Hayek's timeless perception: inside every leftist is a little authoritarian dying to get out.

    (By the way, thanks to whoever it was used a Pun Salad link to order Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty. It's not exactly a page-turner, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.)

  • Don't mouseover if you're sensitive to bad words, but otherwise: here's a useful book for new parents. For the next time you're invited to a baby shower!

  • Some gorgeous animated GIFs. You won't be sorry you clicked.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 12:54 PM EDT

10 Items or Less

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

The title makes my inner pedant grumble: "Shouldn't that be '10 Items or Fewer'?" There is a Wikipedia page devoted to the controversy; it comes down pretty firmly on the anti-prescriptivist side. For what it's worth, my local supermarket uses "fewer", probably because they don't mind catering to grammar nannies like me.

Anyway…

10 Items or Less was released back in 2006 to negligible box-office business. (This despite the fact that its star, Mr. Morgan Freeman, had just won an Oscar for his supporting role in Million Dollar Baby.) It had been in my Netflix queue a long time, and finally wiggled its way up to the top, the Netflix algorithm (correctly) predicting that I'd find it to be pretty darn good.

Mr. Freeman plays an unnamed actor, teetering on the edge of has-beenosity, preparing for a possible role in a shoestring movie as a supermarket night manager. This involves him showing up at a seedy supermarket in downscale Carson, California. He roams the aisles, soaking up the atmosphere, but pretty quickly zeroes in on Scarlet, the cashier working the guess-what aisle. (Scarlet is played by the extremely easy-on-the-eyes Spanish actress Paz Vega.) Scarlet has car problems, boyfriend problems, and job problems. The actor needs to find his way back to Brentwood. The movie soon becomes an odyssey as they team up to solve their mutual problems.

Both Mr. Freeman and Señorita Vega are fine actors, and they're given a lot of clever lines. The movie's not really about much except their characters, so a lot is on their shoulders, and they carry it off. Mr. Freeman especially seems to be having a lot of fun.

It's a short 82 minutes, and (to quibble) it kind of dragged at a couple points. Nevertheless, a worthwhile rental.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 12:55 PM EDT

Star Island

[Amazon Link]

Carl Hiaasen's first adult novel since 2006's Nature Girl. It's his usual funny mishmash of Florida lowlifes, perverts, nutjobs, and criminals, seasoned with one or two essentially decent folk. Some might say he's settled into a formula, and—well, yes he has. But it's a formula he executes pretty flawlessly. Nevertheless, I decided to save a few bucks on a gently-used hardcover at Amazon instead of buying new.

The book revolves around celebrity culture, focusing on Ms. Cherry Pye (previously Cheryl Bunterman) a huge star with minimal talent, but a prodigious appetite for indiscriminate sexual encounters and ubiquitous ingestion of non-nutritive substances. She is pursued by paparazzi, most notably Bang Abbott, whose previous claim to fame was getting a Pulitzer for photographing a shark attack against a hapless tourist. (The scurrilous rumor that Abbott had been scattering chum in the waters just before? Absolutely true.)

Cherry Pye's parents are concerned about their daughter, but almost all of their concern centers around the decline in the revenue stream if the truth about either (a) her sordid activities or (b) her total lack of talent becomes known. To this end, they hire a double, Ann DeLusia, to show up when Cherry's too wasted. (She's pretty much the only sane, decent major character.)

They also engage a bodyguard, known as Chemo, to protect Cherry from the public. And vice-versa. (Chemo is a returning villain from a previous book, where his arm was bitten off by a barracuda and replaced with a commercial-quality weed-whacker. Nice to see him back again; his luck is better here.)

Anyway: Ann is abducted, first by Skink, an ex-governor of Florida turned reclusive environmental guerilla. Then by Bang Abbot, who holds her hostage in order to arrange for an exclusive photo session with Cherry. And then things get really weird.

Hiaasen gets in his usual bashing of everything he sees as wrecking his beloved Florida: tourists, real-estate speculators, conservatives, etc. At some points it feels like he might have been padding to get up to a contractually-agreed page count. But that's OK.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 12:54 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2011-04-24 Update

[phony baloney]

There wasn't enough action at Intrade over the past week to move any candidate above or below our arbitrary 4% criterion for inclusion in the phony poll. But an upswell of phoniness for T-Paw bumped him ahead of Mitt Romney:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-04-17
"Barack Obama" phony 4,520,000 +150,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 2,980,000 +30,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 2,130,000 +90,000
"Michele Bachmann" phony 1,390,000 +90,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 745,000 +74,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 688,000 -3,000
"Donald Trump" phony 575,000 +106,000
"Mitch Daniels" phony 502,000 +37,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 215,000 +41,000

  • Donald Trump's poll strength continues to fascinate leftists: dare they hope that the GOP is stupid enough to nominate him? Peter Wehner, at Commentary asserts/hopes otherwise:

    Donald Trump […] is, when it comes to politics, shallow, inconsistent, egotistical, and buffoonish. By comparison he makes Ross Perot seem substantial, well-informed, and stable. Right now Trump’s support is based on a combination of name recognition, his skill at self-promotion, and his perceived tough talk. But once Republican and conservative voters begin to peek behind the curtain, this silly game will be over. Trump’s support will evaporate like the morning mist.

    Hope he's right.

  • Among the naysayers to a Trump candidacy is the Club for Growth:

    "Donald Trump for President? You've got to be joking," said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. "Donald Trump has advocated for massive tax increases that display a stunning lack of knowledge of how to create jobs. His love for a socialist-style universal health care system and his alarming obsession with protectionist policies are automatic disqualifiers among free-market conservatives. This publicity stunt will sputter and disappear just as quickly as the 'The Apprentice' is losing viewers."

  • This caused Mike Huckabee, a past target of the Club's ire, to devote some of his radio show to Club-bashing.

    According to that group, I'm also a tax-loving socialist. During the 2008 election they cherry-picked some factoids out of context from the deals I had to make from a ninety percent Democratic Arkansas legislature.

  • As he implied, Huckabee has a long anti-Club record. Check this 2007 column from the late Robert Novak:

    Who would respond to criticism from the Club for Growth by calling the conservative, free-market campaign organization the "Club for Greed"? That sounds like Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich or John Edwards, all Democrats preaching the class struggle. In fact, the rejoinder comes from Mike Huckabee, […]

    Novak was not impressed:

    Huckabee is campaigning as a conservative, but serious Republicans know that he is a high-tax, protectionist, big-government advocate of a strong hand in the Oval Office directing the lives of Americans. Until now, they did not bother to expose the former governor of Arkansas as a false conservative because he seemed an underfunded, unknown nuisance candidate. Now that he has pulled even with Mitt Romney for the Iowa caucuses with the possibility of more progress, the beleaguered Republican Party has a frightening problem on its hands.

    Now, four years later, things aren't much different. Alex Knepper of the Minority Report wrote a post headlined "Mike Huckabee Is Still a Phony and the Club for Growth Is Still Right". Bottom line:

    Huckabee is not only dishonest, but illogical. That phony Trump has no record. All that we have are his public statements, made in his books and interviews. If we can’t judge him by his public statements, then what exactly can we judge him by? Huckabee can’t even be bothered to be coherent. He’s just mad at the Club for Growth for exposing his phoniness. Now they’re letting Trump know that the game is up for him, too, and Huckabee, like the pro-life liberal he is, can’t help but rush to the defense of a man who supports socialized medicine. Let’s hope that they both stay out of the race.

  • But President Obama remains the guy to beat, phonywise. Ed Morrissey noted a gem from the President's big budget deficit speech:

    Now, we believe the reforms we’ve proposed to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid will enable us to keep these commitments to our citizens while saving us $500 billion by 2023, and an additional $1 trillion in the decade after that. But if we’re wrong, and Medicare costs rise faster than we expect, then this approach will give the Independent Physicians Advisory Board (IPAB) the authority to make additional savings by further improving Medicare.

    Ed's emphasized an especially phony bit: if "improvements" to Medicare save money, why not make them right here, right now? We don't need no stinkin' death panel "Independent Physicians Advisory Board".

    Ah, to ask the question makes the answer obvious.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:31 PM EST

My Pockets Are Loaded

… and I’m spending every dime:

  • Today's pretty picture… well, it ain't that pretty at all:

    [spending binge]

    … simply showing a graph of spending by Your Federal Government as a percentage of GDP in the near past and projected future.

    It's from this WSJ article. You should read the whole thing, of course, but it demonstrates neatly what the fiscal debate is really about: it's between (a) Obama and the Democrats, who want to mostly keep in place the "emergency" spending levels from FY2008-2009, and (b) the GOP, who mostly want to return spending to the (already exorbitant) levels seen in 2003-2007.

    I wish the debate weren't merely between an obese government and a morbidly obese government. But…

  • The above neatly illustrates one of the oldest tricks in the power-hungry pol's playbook. You might want to pick up a copy of Robert Higgs' classic Crisis and Leviathan. The thesis: governments exploit perceived crises to ratchet up command and control—almost always marketed as regrettable "temporary measures". Once the crisis fades, the temporariness vanishes into the memory hole.

  • Amy Kane has more on the what-to-call-yourself problem, with a nice plug back to Pun Salad. She quotes from a great essay by Lew Rockwell, and I'll do the same:
    Every four years, as the November presidential election draws near, I have the same daydream: that I don't know or care who the president of the United States is. More importantly, I don't need to know or care. I don't have to vote or even pay attention to debates. I can ignore all campaign commercials. There are no high stakes for my family or my country. My liberty and property are so secure that, frankly, it doesn't matter who wins. I don't even need to know his name.

    In my daydream, the president is mostly a figurehead and a symbol, almost invisible to myself and my community. He has no public wealth at his disposal. He administers no regulatory departments. He cannot tax us, send our children into foreign wars, pass out welfare to the rich or the poor, appoint judges to take away our rights of self government, control a central bank that inflates the money supply and brings on the business cycle, or change the laws willy-nilly according to the special interests he likes or seeks to punish.

    We may not win; we may have to be satisfied with being right.

  • At Inside Higher Ed, Richard Whitmire explores yet another dirty little secret in college admissions: a lot of places effectively discriminate against woman applicants, admitting less-qualified males instead.

    Why? Because a sex-blind process would cause an even bigger disproportion of women on campus than already exists.

    But the funny part is yet to come. An investigation into this practice was recently quashed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. It had been proposed by commission member Gail Heriot.

    Interestingly, Heriot gets no support from national women’s advocacy groups such as the National Organization for Women or the American Association of University Women, the very groups you’d expect to see rising up in protest over discrimination against young women. In fact, they opposed the probe. The women’s groups, says Heriot, see themselves as progressives favoring racial preferences. They fear any curtailment of the authority to favor men could lead to a twin curtailment placed on favoring minorities.
    Example number 10296 of womens' organizations more devoted to their leftist ideology than they are to—y'know—helping women.

  • If you're a TV watcher of a Certain Age, you might have noticed a Jet Blue commercial and asked, "Hey, isn't that… you know, that guy…"

    Why yes it is.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 1:21 PM EDT

Comanche Station

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

This 1960 movie was Randolph Scott's next-to-last, and the final one he made for director Budd Boetticher. I enjoyed it, although (truth be told) it's not that much different from the other Scott/Boetticher collaborations.

Mr. Scott plays Cody, whose mission in life (for reasons not immediately explained) is to retrieve white women abducted by Indians and return them to civilization. (That's not a very PC way to put it, I realize, but that's an accurate statement of the movie's point of view.) On this particular trip, he's traded a rifle and some trinkets for Nancy, whose husband has offered a handsome reward for her return.

Complications ensue, because the natives are very restless; there's no guarantee they won't try to snatch Nancy back. In addition, circumstances have attracted a trio of desperadoes (played by Claude Akins, Richard Rust, and Skip Homeier). They're welcome help in battling the Indians, but it's pretty clear to everyone that they'll eventually try to wrest Nancy from Cody's protection.

Gorgeous scenery, and Randolph Scott is just a plain old natural fit to hero-of-few-words western roles.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 12:52 PM EDT

Stage Door

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

Another pick from the "free movie" section of Comcast's On Demand service. This one is from 1937, and (just like the previous one we watched) it whipsawed from a (sorta) musical comedy into a maudlin melodrama. Nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture. It has a lot of "Hey, I think that's…" actresses.

Katherine Hepburn plays Terry, a rich headstrong wannabe actress who moves into a boarding house specializing in wannabe actresses. (Among the inhabitants are Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, and Eve Arden.) Many, many wisecracks fly between the young ladies, and they're pretty funny. (One of the screenwriters, Morrie Ryskind, is also credited on some Marx Brothers movies.)

Terry's father doesn't approve of her dabbling in the acting game, so he conspires behind the scenes to land her a part way beyond her skills. Could be funny, right? And for a while it is, then it becomes very very not funny at all.

Ms. Hepburn does kind of a neat trick here, first convincingly playing a bad actress, then playing a very good one.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 12:53 PM EDT

Way Down Here

[Enter the Mexicans]

… you need a reason to move:

  • Jeff at Protein Wisdom likes this definition offered by Carlo Cardasco, European director of Students for Liberty, and I guess I do too:
    Being a classical liberal means being a conservative when you need to preserve liberties you already have, a radical when you have to gain liberties you don't have yet, a reactionary when you need to regain liberties you've lost, and a revolutionary when you can't be free any other way. And always progressive, because without liberty, there can be no progress.
    The only downside of calling yourself a "classical liberal" is people not knowing what you're talking about. But if you have the above printed out on a small laminated card, you can hand it out.

  • Plan B is is from Hayek:
    Whiggism is historically the correct name for the ideas in which I believe. The more I learn about the evolution of ideas, the more I have become aware that I am simply an unrepentant Old Whig - with the stress on the "old."
    Downside: "old whig" is even less recognizable than "classical liberal". (Or maybe that's an upside, come to think about it.) And instead of a small laminated card, I think you'd have to pass out copies of The Constitution of Liberty.

  • In our occasional Aieeee, We're All Gonna Die Department, check out Pauli Poisuo at Cracked, who describes "7 Horrible Ways The Universe Can Destroy Us Without Warning". As always, kids, Cracked articles are full of bad words, so ask your parents if it's OK first. But you can learn stuff about, for example, the vacuum metastability event:
    … which is what happens when the energy levels of our particular universe's vacuum go sour. Should this happen, the ensuing collapse would level Earth with a light-speed blast before any of us even had time to blink. It's probably a good thing that we don't survive long, because after that, things get really bad. All the laws of physics will go psychedelic on your poor, obliterated ass, until they eventually mutate into a completely new, improved set. There will still be a universe, just not the universe. In time, there may even be life -- just not the sort we'd be able to comprehend, even if our brains hadn't been smashed into inverted color parties riding the crest of an infinite mathwave.
    On the plus side, however, we wouldn't need to worry about whether to call ourselves classical liberals or old whigs.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 1:11 PM EDT

Reckless

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

Hard to believe, but we ran out of Netflix DVDs to watch one night. So we ventured over to Comcast's "On Demand" service, found the "Free Movies!" button, checked out what Turner Classic Movies (TCM) had available, and here you go: a 1935 offering starring Jean Harlow and William Powell. Apparently not on DVD, hence not Netflixable, so a pretty good choice.

[A brief gripy aside: "Free" isn't exactly what I'd call Comcast's cable service. Instead of "Free Movies!" maybe they should label that button "Movies That, If You Watch Them, Won't Increase Your Already Exorbitant Cable Bill!"]

[Another gripy aside: Comcast doesn't see fit to include TCM in my tier of cable service. It is for some stupid reason in the "Sports Entertainment Pack". What? Jerks.]

Anyway: Ms. Harlow plays Mona, a struggling singer; William Powell plays her agent, Ned. Ned loves Mona, but can't seem to seal the deal, romancewise. But Bob, a wealthy playboy, (Franchot Tone) becomes infatuated with Mona, too. To Ned's disappointment, Mona marries him. This turns out to be a bad idea, since Bob's family looks down on Mona's roots, and it turns out that Bob still has feelings for his previous sweetie, Jo. (Who is played by a very pretty Rosalind Russell.) Somewhat to my surprise, the movie turns from being a light sorta-musical comedy (with ludicrous dance numbers) into a pretty dark melodrama.

Other trivia: it's got Mickey Rooney (about 15 years old) and Margaret Dumont, on loan from the Marx Brothers.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 1:11 PM EDT

Tax Day 2011

[Tril Bill]

It's that time of year. In honor of the day, our URLs du jour will contain the word "trillion" somewhere.

  • First, click on the bill for Jarka Vachuska's classic visualization of what one trillion dollars looks like.

  • I forgot to make fun of last week's column from Mark Bittman, the Official Food Nag of the New York Times: "How to Save a Trillion Dollars".
    In the scheme of things, saving the 38 billion bucks that Congress seems poised to agree upon is not a big deal. A big deal is saving a trillion bucks. And we could do that by preventing disease instead of treating it.
    Bittman is targeting so-called "lifestyle diseases": diabetes, heart disease, (some) cancer. The trillion dollar figure comes from the cost of treating those diseases and the productivity lost due to people calling in sick (or dead). So we can "save" that money simply by changing everyone's bad habits. Easy peasy!

    Presumably, once that happens, people will never get sick, at least not in ways that cost any money. (They'll still have to die, though, somehow; otherwise that trillion dollars will get eaten up quickly by Social Security.)

    And how does that happen? Well, Bittman is half-honest:

    But the trillion-dollar question is, "How do we get people to eat that way?"

    I don't have an easy answer; no one does.

    Raise your hands, good readers, if you can spot what's coming next:
    But it for sure will take an investment: it's a situation in which you must spend money to make or save money. (Yes, taxes will go up, but whose taxes?) Some number of billions of dollars -- something in the rounding error area -- should be spent on research to figure out exactly how to turn this ship around.
    Bittman adheres to the True Faith, the Gospel According to the New York Times: throwing more tax dollars can solve any problem, even if we have no specific idea how.

  • You may have heard that Standard & Poor's downgraded US Government debt. As in: good luck getting your money back suckers. Kevin Williamson asks: do they know something we don't?
    Actually, they know something we do: Nothing about this is a secret. In the phrase adopted by Rep. Paul Ryan, what is coming is the most predictable economic crisis in our history: a nominal national debt of more than $14 trillion, a real national debt ten times that, and Barack Obama standing between the reformers and the needed reforms with a veto pen and excellent chances of being reelected in 2012. This isn't sophisticated macroeconomic analysis; this is that anvil falling out of the sky onto the head of Wyle E. Coyote, and you don't have to be a super-genius to figure out that it's going to hurt like hell when it hits him. Even S&P gets that.
    Speaking of which…

  • You should read Keith Hennessey's (longish) analysis of President Obama's latest budget proposals. Hennessey's much more diplomatic than I would be, his language is moderate in tone, but the bottom line is pretty clear.

    But if you want to see a short explanation of one of the shenanigans the President is using to sell his scheme, this post is also a must. Considering Obama's claim that his plan "matches" the GOP plan of $4 trillion in deficit reduction, Hennessey notes the changing goalpost: Obama's claiming to reach that goal in 12 years as opposed to the GOP's 10 years.

    $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 12 years does not "match" $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. It's not even close.

    The twelve year timeframe is a red flag. Federal budgets are measured over 1, 5, and 10 year timeframes. Any other length "budget window" is nonstandard and suggests someone is playing games.

    The game is that the deficit reduction is heavily weighted towards those final two years—when Obama will be safely out of office. The likely net result is:
    The President's new budget plan provides insufficient detail to support his claim of $4 trillion of deficit reduction over 12 years. But if we stipulate that amount, it is likely that the President's new budget proposal would result in $1 trillion more debt over the next ten years compared to the House-passed Ryan plan, and maybe more.
    I'm sure that's an honest mistake, and the President will own up to it during his promotional tour.

  • OK, I lied: this Fox News article doesn't have the word "trillion" in it. But it does report that President Obama's ballyhooed $5 billion bump to (ostensibly) help lower-income families retrofit their dwellings to make them more efficient …
    It's a complete cesspool of waste," Leslie Paige, vice president of Citizens Against Government Waste, told FoxNews.com. "When it's over, we will never know how much went down the tube. They cannot track the money. By the time they get to it, a lot of the money will be gone."
    But cheer up: as I type, there's a full-sidal-nudity picture of Bridget Moynahan on the same page. Way to go, Fox!


Last Modified 2011-04-21 1:51 PM EDT

Waiting for "Superman"

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

My bright idea: make a documentary about people waiting for scarce documentary DVDs to arrive from Netflix; call it Waiting for "Waiting for 'Superman'".

And then make a documentary about people waiting for that DVD to show up. And call that one Waiting for 'Waiting for "Waiting for 'Superman'"'.

And then…

But anyway: it finally showed up for us. Waiting for "Superman" is a look at the dire state of American government schools at the elementary and secondary level. For anyone who's paid a bit of attention to the education debate over the past few years, the themes will be depressingly familiar: the systems are largely dysfunctional. They are not run for the benefit of students; instead, they're designed to funnel ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer money into the pockets of administrators, teachers, and bureaucrats. Teacher unions are fundamental obstacles to any sort of reform that just might favor effective teachers over poor ones; their political clout means that any politician or administrator that poses a threat to the status quo does so at risk to his or her career.

Just ask Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty. (Ms. Rhee is one of the primary heroes featured in Waiting for "Superman", made before she was canned.)

Parents and kids caught up in the system without enough money to buy their way into a private or parochial education are well aware of the problems. The documentary follows a number of victims; especially hard to watch is their long-shot entries into lotteries to get kids into a small number of charter schools.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 1:17 PM EDT

Crusader's Cross

[Amazon Link]

This is the 14th entry in James Lee Burke's series featuring Cajun crimefighter Dave Robicheaux. It is, as usual, excellent. I can't think of any writer that does a better job of painting a scene, convincingly portraying stunning beauty or ominous dread, as desired.

This one excavates an incident from Dave's long-ago past, when he and his half-brother Jimmie were rescued from pesky sharks by a lovely but mysterious woman, Ida. Jimmie especially becomes smitten, and even after it's revealed that Ida's day job (by which I mean: her night job) is sordid he resolves to Take Her Away From All That. Things unfold badly, and Ida vanishes.

But, as sometimes happens, Dave hears a deathbed revelation that opens up that can of worms again.

It is a staple of Burke's series to have Dave undergo various kinds of psychic hell. If anything, this book ups the ante a bit; he's still reeling from the death of his longtime wife, Bootsie. His daughter, Alafair, is off to college. His old house has been destroyed. And his antagonists here threaten both his reputation and his loved ones. It's no wonder that the temptation of an alcoholic solution beckons strongly.

Also as usual, Burke has Dave mouth the usual lefty clichés of race, power, and class. I've long since learned to punch the fast-forward button over these. His characters and plots are skillfully drawn and cliché-free.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 1:16 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2011-04-17 Update

[phony baloney]

We say so long to Haley Barbour this week; he's dropped below our arbitrary 4%-seriously-phony-candidate threshold at Intrade, due primarily to the inexplicable rise of Donald Trump in the eyes of the traders. Somewhat more explicably, Trump also moved above Mitch Daniels in our phony standings:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-04-10
"Barack Obama" phony 4,370,000 -110,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 2,950,000 -80,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 2,040,000 +20,000
"Michele Bachmann" phony 1,300,000 -20,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 691,000 +44,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 671,000 +45,000
"Donald Trump" phony 469,000 +52,000
"Mitch Daniels" phony 465,000 -11,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 174,000 0

The news behind the phony numbers this week:

  • The commanding leader is our President Obama, and he continues to demonstrate how he's going to be a tough guy to beat, phonywise. It seems 'twas earlier this month he was decrying petty partisan bickering. Oh, wait, it was.

    But on Wednesday—gee—he gave a budget speech that even usually-tame news crew at the Washington Post noted as, well, partisan bickering. At Commentary, Peter Wehner has a theory:

    Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House budget committee, has (rightly) criticized the president for “punting” when it comes to entitlement reform and dealing with the deficit and debt. My guess is that the notoriously thin-skinned Obama was enraged by this. To be accused of being timid, passive, a mere bystander cuts very deep; for Ryan to get credit for political courage and intellectual seriousness (even from his critics) made things even worse. Obama viewed the speech as payback.

    The problem for Obama is that he revealed himself to be an unusually petty and partisan figure, particularly in comparison to Ryan. And the narrative of Obama’s being a weak leader is taking hold. What the president doesn’t seem to comprehend is that petulance is not the same thing as leadership. I can’t imagine that many people were impressed by Obama’s churlish attacks.

    I'd like to propose an alternate theory: the President's an unusually large phony.

  • You can't get much phonier than this:

    EARNEST QUESTIONER: When Congress offers you a bill do you promise not to use Presidential signings to get your way?

    THEN-CANDIDATE OBAMA:Yes.

    But that was then (nearly two whole years ago!) and this is now:

    In a statement issued Friday night, President Obama took issue with some provisions in the budget bill – and in one case simply says he will not abide by it.

    Amusingly, the lapdog Obameter can't bring itself to rate this promise as "broken". Instead they deem Obama's position a "compromise."

    Really? Obama's "compromising" with … who, exactly? His past self? An extra phony shout-out to the Obameter this week.

  • And we would be remiss if we omitted embedding this Cato video, demonstrating the "real spending cuts" touted by both President Obama and allegedly-GOP Speaker Boehner are, well guess what?

    Some (otherwise) reasonable people claim that this is unfair. For example, Quin Hillyer at the American Spectator blog. But it's tough to argue with reality: Your Federal Government is on track to spend $3.658 trillion in FY2011, as opposed to $3.566 trillion in FY2010. "It could have been worse" doesn't cut it with me.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:32 PM EST

127 Hours

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

Mrs. Salad, knowing some plot details, refused to watch this with me. "But everyone says it's a great movie," I pleaded. "You'll be sorry you missed it."

I was wrong. Almost certainly she would have spent a goodly fraction of the movie with a blanket over her head and fingers in her ears. It's pretty intense. But it's also pretty awesome. Six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor; although it didn't win any, I think James Franco should have gotten something.

The plot is simplicity itself: Franco plays Aron Ralston, a resourceful outdoorsman. Hiking alone in the remote Canyonlands, his arm is pinned by a rock. For… well, you see the title of the movie up there, right?

Along the way there are plenty of flashbacks, monologues, and hallucinations. There are even some laughs as Aron interviews himself on his video camera. The whole thing is absolutely riveting. If you can stand some do-it-yourself surgery lessons, check it out.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 1:07 PM EDT

Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

[Amazon Link]

A second collection of eleven Sherlock Holmes short stories, originally published in the Strand Magazine in 1892 and 1893. I haven't read these since I was a kiddo, decades back.

Among the high points: there's the one and only time Holmes describes one of his deductions to Watson as "elementary"; we meet Holmes' brother Mycroft for the first time; And there's the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. (He did nothing in the night-time; that was the curious incident.)

And the sad final story here is the author's temporary attempt to get out of the Sherlock business, killing off the detective at the evil hands of criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. As we know, it didn't take.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 1:08 PM EDT

So We Beat On

[Iz What It Iz]

… boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past:

  • As Jonah Goldberg notes, the President's big "Gee, I Guess I Should Say Something About the Deficit" speech was "a breathtaking tour de force of dishonesty and tendentiousness."

    For example, from the transcript here, discussing his "approach":

    It calls for tax reform to cut about $1 trillion in spending from the tax code.
    Translating the Obamese into plain English:
    It calls for raising taxes by about $1 trillion.

  • Don Boudreaux wonders about the folks who both (a) advocate taxes on "unhealthy" foods, because that will significantly decrease their consumption; (b) deny that raising taxes on income-earning activities will discourage income-earning activities.

  • Perhaps such people are believers in the famous F. Scott Fitzgeraldism:
    The true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time.
    Two problems there: (1) despite thousands of web pages claiming otherwise, I think Libby Koponen is pretty convincing that Fitzgerald never actually said that; and (2) even if he did, why would you want to get your epistemological advice from a drunk?

  • IMAO observes:
    If you rearrange the letters in Mitt Romney, you get 'mormon robot'.
    This is, unfortunately, less than literally true. Here are some actual candidate anagrams (which I didn't figure out myself, thank goodness):

    • Maraca Kabob

    • Memory Tint

    • Wimpy Talent

    • Dismal Ethnic

    • Damn Turd Pol

    • Anal Parish

    • Meek Hick Beau

    • Machine Man Belch

    Any of these would be a darn fine name for a blog.

    (Or, as Dave Barry might say: "I saw Machine Man Belch open for Moby Grape back in '67.")

  • And I embed Memory Tint's Exploratory Committee announcement video here, because—hey!—that's a blurry Mooradian Field ("in Cowell Stadium") (not to mention the "Reggie F. Atkins Track & Field Facility") at the University Near Here in the background:

    He didn't stop by to say hello, however.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 1:23 PM EDT

Song of the Thin Man

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

This winds up, at least for now, our Thin Man marathon. William Powell and Myrna Loy made six Thin Man movies, but for some (probably economic) reason, Netflix only currently provides four. This one was the last made, 13 years after the first.

So: Nick and Nora are in attendance at a charity function staged on a gambling boat when—darnit, Nicky, something like this always happens—the leader of the ship's jazz band gets shot in the back while attempting to burgle the ship owner's office safe.

Suspicion naturally falls on the ship's owner, but he can't be the culprit, because he's engaged to Jayne Meadows. The band's songbird (Gloria Grahame, woo!) looks suspicious, but—again, darnit—she soon turns up with a knife sticking out of her lovely back.

There are a whole bunch of other suspects and colorful characters. Nick and Nora wind their way from clue to clue, and eventually (no surprise) determine the culprit, thanks to Nora's timely observations and Nick's quick deductive wits.

Trivia: an 11-year-old Dean Stockwell plays Nick Charles Jr. There's significantly less boozing in this movie than in the early ones.


Last Modified 2014-11-30 1:54 PM EST

The Light Was Ebbing

[Who Is He]

… and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum's face:

  • So you seriously mean to tell me that Atlas Shrugged is playing in eight Massachusetts theatres, while in the Live Free or Die State, it's playing in zero point zero?

    Dude. That's an outrage. Click here, Granite Staters.

  • Since attending Vice President Biden's speech last week announcing Your Federal Government's Bold New Steps aimed at University-based sexual violence, harassment, and discrimination, I've been paying a bit more attention than I would otherwise to naysayers. I've already noted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's misgivings about the Bold New Steps likely trampling student's First Amendment rights.

    At the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Open Market blog, Hans Bader has a couple outraged posts describing how the new policy is meant to alter the status quo in handling sexual harassment cases: doing away with the presumption of innocence and changing the burden of proof

    Gosh, it's not as if Universities didn't already have a problem in this area.

  • Bruce Schneier has a fascinating post describing some recent research in how the brain works.

    1. People are notoriously bad about applying the rules of formal logic in "word problem" type situations.

    2. Unless—and this is the interesting bit—the "word problem" involves cheating in a social context. People do much better then.

    The conclusion: our brains are hard-wired to "detect cheaters in in a social exchange."

This Gun For Hire

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

Another Netflix oldie, a 1942 noir. In addition to the usual Amazon Link, I will screw up the article formatting by showing you the original movie poster:

[movie
poster]

Cool, huh? Even with Veronica Lake's giant floating head sneaking up behind Alan Ladd? It made a list of the Best Movie Posters Ever, so there you go.

Alan Ladd plays "Raven"; in the first few scenes of the movie we learn that (a) Raven likes kitties; (b) Raven can be brutish to people who don't like kitties; (c) Raven's a ruthless hit man, even taking out (d) defenseless terrified witnesses, but not (e) crippled young girls.

Raven gets paid off by Willard Gates, played by the very entertaining Laird Cregar. It's a double cross: Gates has already reported the serial numbers on the payoff currency as stolen, hoping that the cops will take Raven off the table. But Raven escapes, setting out on a mission of revenge against Gates. Along the way, he meets up with songbird/magician Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake!) who, in a truly Dickensian coincidence, has just been hired by Gates for his nightclub. And she's also the girlfriend of the detective (Robert Preston!) assigned to the stolen-cash case.

So don't think about how unlikely that is. Just enjoy.


Last Modified 2014-11-30 1:51 PM EST

The Phony Campaign

2011-04-10 Update

[phony baloney]

As I type, Intrade has moved The Donald Trump over our arbitrary 4% probability requirement to be taken seriously as a Phony Candidate. This comes—literally—at the expense of Newt Gingrich, who dropped below 4%, and we bid Newt farewell from our table for now.

(Geeky aside: The Intrade probabilities for all candidates add up to 100%, at least roughly; otherwise Intrade gurus could arbitrage themselves some risk-free money. So one candidate's rise is necessarily matched by a fall by one or more others.)

And Mitt Romney staged a mini-surge this week to capture fifth place from Tim Pawlenty:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-04-03
"Barack Obama" phony 4,480,000 0
"Sarah Palin" phony 3,030,000 -90,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 2,020,000 -20,000
"Michele Bachmann" phony 1,320,000 +70,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 647,000 +32,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 626,000 -36,000
"Haley Barbour" phony 495,000 -36,000
"Mitch Daniels" phony 476,000 +22,000
"Donald Trump" phony 417,000 ---
"Jon Huntsman" phony 174,000 +7,000

  • Trump's breakout into at-least-semi-serious candidate territory was undoubtedly caused by a couple polls showing him nipping at front-runner Mitt Romney's heels among GOP primary voters.

    Prof Bainbridge is unimpressed with Trump's 17% showing: "At least 17% of Republicans are idiots."

    Given that the recent winners of the NH GOP-side primary include John McCain and Pat Buchanan, who am I to disagree? But Allahpundit is kinder and gentler, and sees a silver lining:

    I assume that a big chunk of Trump’s support is coming from the “Not Mitt” (or “Not Anyone”) contingent, which, if true, is probably good news for Pawlenty when voters finally get to know him. He’s the cipher in the race; once Trump decides he’s not running or the base decides that they’re not going to nominate, um, Donald Trump, the “pox on all their houses” vote should logically gravitate to T-Paw.

  • Immigration issues have dropped off the radar lately, but some people are keeping their eyes on it, specifically Ruben Navarrette; he's a syndicated columnist specializing in issues Latino. He recently decried President Obama's "phony immigration two-step." What's that?

    That's where he panders to Latino voters by criticizing the GOP for being too tough on immigration enforcement while also pandering to non-Latinos by being even tougher. It's where Obama tells Latino audiences that he's a champion of comprehensive reform while doing everything he can to keep it off the Democrats' agenda in Congress. It's where Obama portrays his immigration policy as a kind and gentle version that doesn't divide families while the Department of Homeland Security does just that by deporting undocumented parents and leaving their U.S.-born children in this country.

    And the scales fall from more eyes…

  • Jonathan Chait takes Michelle Bachmann seriously:

    The best parallel I think consider is Howard Dean. No, Dean is not anywhere near as crazy as Bachmann. [Editor's note: Oh yeah? I demand Chait's evidence.] That's not the point. Both tap deeply into a well of activist anger against a sitting president that is not being fully satisfied by other candidates. Both inspire passionate activist volunteers, and make their rivals look phony by comparison. And both inspire terror among the party leadership -- Democrats in 2003 considered Dean just as unelectable as Republicans now consider Bachmann.

    Chait is known primarily for letting his petty hatreds drive his politics, so take it with a big grain of salt.

  • Although Newt Gingrich may be on the way out, I enjoyed this bold stand from his website:

    [2
plus 2]

    Newt's not afraid to take sides on controversial issues. ("A is A" would have probably grabbed him some Objectivist support, though.)


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:31 PM EST

The Big Clock

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

Back to Netflix-supplied oldies for us. I've watched this 1948 tongue-in-cheek thriller a couple times before, but it was new for Mrs. Salad.

George (Ray Milland) works for a magazine publishing conglomerate ruled tyrannically by Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton). George is responsible for "Crimeways" magazine, which punches up its circulation by finding missing people through intrepid detective work pursued by George and his crack staff.

But after years of this, George wants to head off on a long-delayed honeymoon with wife Georgette (Maureen O'Sullivan). Janoth demands he keep his nose to the grindstone, which leads to an unfortunate alliance between George and Janoth's mistress, Pauline. They go on an ill-advised alcohol-fueled odyssey through Manhattan; although George remains technically faithful, it doesn't look good. Things look even worse when Pauline gets murdered slightly after George departs. Soon, George finds himself running an intensive "Crimeways" manhunt, looking for himself.

It's tightly plotted; even little things, like a handkerchief gone astray, deserve your attention. Acting is great. As I said, it's tongue-in-cheek, with a lot of plot twists played for laughs. Elsa Lanchester has a small-but-pivotal role as an eccentric artist, and she hilariously steals every scene she's in.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 1:04 PM EDT

I Bought My Girl a Herd of Moose

[moose]

… one she could call her own:

  • If you want to read just one discussion of Congressman Paul Ryan's budget plan, make it this one from Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy at Reason. Their glum conclusion:
    [T]here's no question that Ryan's plan is far preferable to Obama's. And there's no question that Ryan's plan can and must be the starting point of a discussion about how to get serious about reforming the way the government spends money. But in an America where taxpayers and politicians have been reluctant to fully grok that "We Are Out of Money" at every level of government, Ryan's spending plan should at best represent the ceiling of what is considered worthy of discussion.

    If, as is much more likely, it ends up being the floor from which budget negotiations spiral upwards, then our future just got a whole lot shorter.

    Summary: it's the best we can politically hope for, and it's not good enough.

  • Activities in a nearby town draw the attention of Mr. Dave Barry.

  • Mark Steyn discovers his inner libertarian, in response to Senator Lindsey Graham's deplorable "Free speech is a great idea, but…" comments on Face the Nation.
    I'll take my chances with blowhard pastors, drearily "transgressive" artists, and flag-burning provocateurs. I'm far more worried about a blundering clod like Graham presuming to protect us from them.
    Pun Salad pile-on: Senator Graham took an oath to "support and defend" the Constitution, which includes Amendment I. If he's changed his mind, he should quit.

And the National Bank at a Profit

[censorship]

… sells road maps for the soul to the old folks home and the college:

  • When I wrote about Vice President Biden's visit to the University Near Here yesterday, I didn't talk too much about the actual substance behind the visit: issuance of new regulations from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) dealing not only with sexual violence, but also sexual "discrimination" and "harassment".

    All of that's problematic for anyone who prefers limited government. But the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) issued a statement on the latter bits. Realizing that universities have a long history of using "harassment" as an excuse to shut down constitutionally-protected expression, FIRE notes:

    In discussing the legal obligations borne by colleges and universities under Title IX to respond to both sexual harassment and sexual violence committed against students, OCR fails to sufficiently recognize the fact that public universities may not violate the First Amendment rights of their students and that private universities must honor their promises of freedom of expression to their students. Nowhere in Assistant Secretary Russlyn Ali's letter are free expression concerns mentioned, nor is OCR's 2003 "Dear Colleague" letter regarding the intersection of freedom of expression and harassment policies referenced or cited for further guidance. In that 2003 letter, former Assistant Secretary Gerald A. Reynolds made clear that "OCR's regulations and policies do not require or prescribe speech, conduct or harassment codes that impair the exercise of rights protected under the First Amendment."
    It's a safe bet that we'll see an increase in unconstitutional foolishness from our institutions of higher ed in the near future as a result of this effort by Our Federal Government. Most of which, and hopefully all of which, will be eventually swatted down under long-standing precedent in the court system.

    Which would be amusing, except for the utter waste in time and resources and the disciplinary havoc wreaked on students.

  • Pun Salad has occasionally aimed its ire at Official New York Times Food Nag Mark Bittman over the past couple months. (Specifically, here, here, here, here, here, and here, not that I'm obsessed or anything. Once a lazy blogger finds an easy target…)

    Anyway, Rick Berman gets in on the fun at the Daily Caller. Sample:

    This much is inescapable if you spend any time reading Mark Bittman's meanderings: If you want to recover from your acute case of not being Mark Bittman, you need to spend hours upon hours cooking at home every day. And what you cook has to satisfy his finely tuned sense of high-minded food snobbery.
    I hope we'll be able to peek at Bittman now and again through the NYT paywall. (So far, it hasn't hindered my browsing. You?)

  • A few days back I moaned and groaned about the "fact", as reported in the New York Times that the General Electric Corporation was paying no 2010 taxes. My bad: I believed the New York Times.

    And they want me to buy a digital subscription… why, again?

    Ed Morrissey has the story, as does Megan McArdle.

  • Radley Balko does the universe a service by juxtaposing quotes from celebrity airheads: ex-Mouseketeer Britney Spears and Mother Jones lefty blogger Kevin Drum. Balko's site appears broken as I type, so, pulled from the Google cache:

    "Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision he makes and should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens."

    -Britney Spears, in 2003, commenting on the war in Iraq.

    "But the reason I voted for Obama in 2008 is because I trust his judgment. And not in any merely abstract way, either: I mean that if he and I were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I'd literally trust his judgment over my own. I think he's smarter than me, better informed, better able to understand the consequences of his actions, and more farsighted. I voted for him because I trust him, and I still do."

    - Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum, in 2011, on Obama's war in Libya.

    Great minds think alike. So do mediocre ones.

  • If anyone tries to tell you that Adam Smith advocated progressive taxation, you'll wish you had bookmarked this David Friedman post.

Rango

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

As regular Pun Salad readers know, Mrs. Salad and I have absolutely no problem in watching movies ostensibly for the kiddos. And when Johnny Depp is involved, Mrs. Salad will subtly suggest that it's time to make one of our rare visits to an actual movie theatre. She looooves Johnny Depp.

Local consumer note: BarnZ's Barrington Cinema tickets are $6 on Wednesdays. Nevertheless, we were the only two people in the theatre.

But here's the story: our hero is a so-ugly-he's-cute chameleon, pampered by his habitation of the only world he knows: a family terrarium. But a mishap strands him in the middle of the Mojave desert, where a mystical armadillo guides him to the dusty town of Dirt, where he adopts the name "Rango". A series of misunderstandings and accidents wins him the sheriff's badge, and (of course) he is soon hopelessly over his head, as the town fights for its survival in a severe water shortage. But (also of course) his wits and courage allow him to unravel the mystery and eventually thwart the villains.

The animation is stunning, the script is clever, and the voice talent is top-notch. (Is that Shelley Duvall I heard? No, it was Isla Fisher. But it could have been Shelley Duvall, which makes Isla Fisher OK in my book.)

Movie buffs will want to pay attention, because there are a lot of homages to great old movies. Chinatown is a biggie, so is Clint Eastwood's early oeuvre, and a lot of people will catch references to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Star Wars. There are probably more.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 1:09 PM EDT

Vice President Biden @ UNH

[my ticket]

As previously mentioned, I was on the waiting list for tickets to see Vice President Biden's appearance at the University Near Here. To my surprise, this actually worked. Yesterday, I got an e-missive providing me a link to a page whence I could download my PDF ticket (reproduced here for your amusement, click to embiggen).

And so I went. Lots of security, of course: many unfamiliar cop cars and other vehicles, and traffic was forced into unfamiliar patterns. The screening on the way in was slightly less rigorous than that encountered for an airplane journey; nobody offered to touch my junk.

No bags. No backpacks. Signs, banners, liquids, umbrellas, and laptops not permitted. But "personal cameras" are allowed, unfortunate that I don't actually own one. Attendees were urged to show up early, which (as it turned out) gave me a lot of time to look around aimlessly inside the venue (the Granite State Room of the Memorial Union Building).

Most attendees were, of course, college kids, dressed in the usual casual-to-sloppy attire. A smattering were well-dressed; I speculate these were the wannabe-someday pols. A few rows of seating down front were reserved, and those people seemed to be local bigwigs in the Democratic Party and the University, not that there's no overlap there. About ten video cameras filled the back of the room, and I noticed some on-air personalities from Manchester's TV station, WMUR.

The curtains on the outside windows were drawn, and some were taped shut, I assume a safeguard against snipers. I reflected that if I were to do anything odd, I'd probably find myself surrounded by a bunch of polite well-dressed guys with electronics in their ears. Is there a problem here, sir? So I just sat still.

And of course, things ran signficantly late. But eventually UNH President Mark Huddleston took the stage, introducing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a student speaker whose name I didn't catch, and the Vice President.

The rationale for the visit was to introduce the Obama Administration's new "Title IX" regulations concerning sexual assault on college campuses. (White House press release is here.) Duncan's speech was brief and dry; the student's speech was brief and strident; neither was under any illusion that anyone was there to listen to them.

Violence against women is an issue Biden clearly cares a lot about. (I mean really cares, rather than just paying politician-style lip service.) He gave more of a sermon than a speech. There were no applause lines, no laugh lines, and the audience mostly sat in silence. (The only chuckle came when Biden discussed meeting UNH President Huddleston back in Delaware, decades back.)

You would be excused for thinking that this whole exercise was aimed specifically at actual violence against women, a relatively black and white issue. (And one more suited to straightforward local law enforcement than college bureaucracy.) But if you click some of the links off that White House link above, you'll discover that the new regulations target "sexual harassment" and "discrimination" as well. In short, colleges will have to be even more careful in this area now, and aggrieved parties will have significantly more avenues to pursue their gripes. Given the Administration's general progressive proclivities, this isn't surprising, but it's interesting that they scrupulously avoided talking about anything but violence.

Even given the relatively non-controversial focus, there were a couple of howlers in Biden's presentation. He trotted out the story about the "rule of thumb" phrase: that it originally referred to a legal principle allowing a man to beat his wife with a stick, as long as its diameter didn't exceed the width of his thumb. This has long since been debunked, but the Veep apparently lives in a bubble of epistemic closure.

Biden also (I'm pretty sure, sorry, I didn't record the talk) echoed the claim found on the White House page linked above rationalizing this whole effort: that "1 in 5" young college women "will be a victim of sexual assault during college." This is widely repeated in feminist circles as a fact, but anyone who has a mind to be skeptical should read this City Journal article by Heather Mac Donald. She thinks it's a myth; I'm inclined to agree. Does the Administration really need to justify their regulatory actions via dubious and scarifying propaganda?

Perhaps the most unintentionally incongruous comment came from Biden's informal shout-outs as he started his talk; one went to attendee Timothy Horrigan. This might have struck some as odd, because Timothy gained more than a bit of notoriety last year for fantasizing about the assassination of Sarah Palin. A bit of too-late advice to the Vice President: maybe Tim's not the right guy to rhetorically embrace at a violence-against-women event.

Four Lions

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

A comedy about a not-very-funny subject: domestic Muslim terrorism. OK, so it's a dark comedy, fueled by the idiocy of the wannabe terrorists. And if you're amused by stupidity, these guys are the real deal. Think Dumb & Dumber or The Big Lebowski, except that the protagonists are bent on mass murder. Or the Three Stooges, playing with actual explosives.

The movie concentrates on Omar, a seemingly well-assimilated guy with a wife and kid, and a decent job as a security guy at a mall. The movie follows him and his cohorts struggling to make a video announcing their jihadic activities, travelling to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan, planning and training for their big event: suicide bombers at the London Marathon.

The protagonists are up against an equally stupid anti-terror machinery. Most of their preparations are invisible to law enforcement. In fact, instead of taking down the terrorists, the cops manage to bust Omar's perfectly pacifist brother instead. (And don't even get me started on the sad fate of the marathon-running Wookiee.)

It's difficult to take the movie seriously, and I mean that in more ways than one. Specifically: if the movie weren't aiming at laughs, if Omar and his crew weren't utter dimwits, then it would be roundly denounced as the worst kind of anti-Muslim propaganda. For example, Omar's wife and kid seem to be aware of, and perfectly OK with, Omar's goal of killing himself and a bunch of innocents. That would be absolutely bone-chilling if true, but it's a comedy, so ha-ha.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 12:51 PM EDT

The Automatic Detective

[Amazon Link]

I picked this up due to its appearance on this io9 list of the "Top 10 Greatest Science Fiction Detective Novels Of All Time". And it's not bad.

The title refers to Mack Megaton; he is seven feet tall, around 700 pounds, and a nearly-indestructible robot. Originally designed by a mad scientist to lead a robotic horde for purposes of world domination, he went straight; as the book opens, he's a cab driver in Empire City, a megalopolis of scientific innovation (mostly dangerous) and random mutation (thanks to all sorts of scientific innovations gone awry). Mack is also the recipient of the "glitch", a poorly understood software bug that's provided him with free will.

By sheerest coincidence, Mack lives next door to a family with two mutant kids. Things kick off when they are inexplicably abducted, and Mack is targeted by the perpetrators for deactivation. He's plunged into the middle of a vast conspiracy, where nobody, robot or biological, can be trusted. Along the way he meets up with all sorts of (mostly literally) colorful characters, is in constant peril, and engages in major and minor episodes of explosive mayhem. And as the book develops, he masters the most important tool in the hard-boiled private dick's arsenal: the well-timed wisecrack.

It's a lot of fun, although I'm not sure I'd put it on a ten-best list. As the plot develops, Mack relies a lot less on his wits, and more on his bulk and weaponry. That can get old after a couple dozen pages. But if you're a fan of old-timey private eyes and gadgety science fiction, there's a pretty good chance you'll enjoy it.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 12:50 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2011-04-03 Update

[phony baloney]

After dropping below our arbitrary 4% level of seriousness at Intrade last week, Jon Huntsman is back, baby! All the way up to 4.4%!

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-03-27
"Barack Obama" phony 4,480,000 -80,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 3,120,000 -120,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 2,040,000 -80,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 1,880,000 +40,000
"Michele Bachmann" phony 1,250,000 +80,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 662,000 +33,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 615,000 +1,000
"Haley Barbour" phony 531,000 +4,000
"Mitch Daniels" phony 454,000 +9,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 167,000 ---

  • The Donald Trump is showing surprising strength at Intrade: 3.5%. Not enough to make the Phony table, but enough for us to mention, this post from Alana Goodman at Commentary: "Let’s Pretend Donald Trump is Serious for a minute".

    Over the years Trump has flip-flopped so many times on so many issues, while hopping from party to party, that he knows he has a credibility problem with the Republican base. The point is, Trump doesn’t really grasp the intellectual basis behind conservative principles, and apparently has no interest in learning. So instead of attempting to explain his contradictory stances and focusing on actual policy issues, he seems simply to be mimicking the way he believes a conservative base favorite acts. The result looks like Newt Gingrich’s recent routine, but without what Gingrich passes off as subtlety.

    Not bad: a direct hit on Trump with collateral damage to Newt.

  • Speaking of Newt, he came really close to dropping off the charts, down to 4% on Intrade. On Friday, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post awarded him "worst week" honors.

    Ask Newt Gingrich a question, and you’ll get an answer. Usually a long one with references to international economics, ancient history and sometimes even flex-fuel vehicles.

    Gingrich is, without question, a big brain who can bowl you over with the depth and breadth of his knowledge.

    But he can also trap himself with his rhetoric — offering contradictory answers to the same question, leaving himself trying to explain the unexplainable.

    We discussed his 180 on Libya last week. This week, Cillizza asserts, he sent mixed suggestions to GOP Congresscritters on the budget: (a) don't compromise with Senate Democrats; but (b) avoid a government shutdown.

    Read for yourself; it may be that Newt was more subtle than that. But, given history, why would anyone take Newt's advice about budgetary negotiations?

  • At the Daily Caller, Matt Lewis counterpoints Cillizza's point, with plenty of links to local-paper interviews Newt has granted.

  • But number one in our poll, and in our phony hearts, is President Barack Obama. Our designated fish-in-the-barrel-shooter, dog-bites-man-reporter, emperor-has-no-clothes-pointer-outer is the great Mark Steyn, noting news reports that NATO is threatening to bomb Libyan rebels, should they "endanger civilians".

    So, having agreed to be the Libyan Liberation Movement Air Force, we’re also happy to serve as the Qaddafi Last-Stand Air Force. Say what you like about Barack Obama, but it’s rare to find a leader so impeccably multilateralist he’s willing to participate in both sides of a war. It doesn’t exactly do much for holding it under budget, but it does ensure that for once we’ve got a sporting chance of coming out on the winning side. If a coalition plane bombing Qaddafi’s forces runs into a coalition plane bombing the rebel forces, are they allowed to open fire on each other? Or would that exceed the U.N. resolution?

    Pun Salad encourages you to read the whole thing.

  • Late Addition: Politico reports:

    President Obama finally and quietly accepted his “transparency” award from the open government community this week — in a closed, undisclosed meeting at the White House on Monday.

    The secret presentation happened almost two weeks after the White House inexplicably postponed the ceremony, which was expected to be open to the press pool.

    Via the Tech Liberation Front which notes the quoting of Steve Aspergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. He says the award is "aspirational", like Obama's Nobel Peace Prize.

    Given Libya, I'd tell Steve: be careful what you wish for.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:31 PM EST