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.

Last Modified 2017-12-03 6:12 AM EST

Four Lions

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 EST

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 EST