A Letter I Sent to My Local Paper

[Newspaper Fail]

To the Editor:

An article on the front page of the Sunday, July 31 edition of Foster's Daily Democrat about Maine's government-run health services was not news, but a thinly disguised advocacy piece. The subheadline: "Maine's social services praised as far better than Granite State's". And in case we didn't get the point, the closing paragraph quoted a Maine resident: "New Hampshire should follow Maine, because the services are great."

Before New Hampshire decides to "follow" Maine, we should consider a few additional facts, none of which your article even hints at:

  1. According to the most recent report from the Tax Foundation, Maine's tax burden (as a percentage of income) is 10.9%, ninth-highest in the country. In contrast, New Hampshire's tax burden, at 8.0%, puts us in 44th place.

  2. Maine's tax bite comes out of a significantly smaller pie: according to Census Bureau data, Maine's median household income is $46,581, which puts it in 36th place. New Hampshire's median household income is $63,731, good for 7th place.

  3. Also according to the Census Bureau, Maine's poverty rate is 12.3%, 26th highest in the nation (and highest in New England). New Hampshire's poverty rate is 7.6%, which is the lowest in the US.

  4. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show Maine with a 7.8% unemployment rate, compared with New Hampshire's 4.9%.

  5. Maine's health programs don't translate into significantly better health outcomes, at least compared to New Hampshire. According to the Kaiser Foundation, Maine's infant mortality rate and its adult obesity rate are higher than New Hampshire's; Maine's life expectancy is lower, as is its childhood immunization rate.

It hasn't always been like this. In a column written last year, Amity Shlaes recounted that at the end of World War II, Maine and New Hampshire had about the same per capita income; Maine's economy and population were bigger than New Hampshire's. Their paths diverged as Maine chose to embark on a high-tax, big government path.

That's their choice, and their business. But the evidence indicates that it's an expensive path to follow, hurts the state's overall prosperity, and is ineffective in moving people out of poverty, or improving their health. New Hampshire might decide to "follow" Maine, but people deserve to know the full story before they make that call; Foster's failed to tell it.

Sincerely,

Paul A. Sand
Rollinsford, NH

The Phony Campaign

2011-07-31 Update

[phony baloney]

President Obama increases his phony lead this week, while Mitt, Michele, and Sarah are in a tight battle for second place:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-07-24
"Barack Obama" phony 6,850,000 +210,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 4,910,000 0
"Michele Bachmann" phony 4,870,000 +180,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 4,480,000 +190,000
"Rick Perry" phony 2,000,000 -100,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 1,590,000 +70,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 983,000 -27,000

  • Although we concentrate on the presidential race here, David Friedman makes a point about the essential phoniness of the debt ceiling debate, too insightful and timely to avoid quoting:

    It is an entertaining example of the game of Chicken as played by politicians but of limited importance otherwise, since both sides are focused not on how to deal with the long term debt problem but on the terms on which they will agree to postpone dealing with it.

  • The phoniness of the debate is magnified by the phoniness of the participants. Rand Simberg quotes a Hot Air comment, which was in response to Senator Bernie Sanders' wish that President Obama had some effective intra-party opposition.

    Obama is a bland take-no-chances-unless-other-people-are-doing-the-hard-work type of guy. He's not a leader, but just a vessel through which the left thought they could get all their pet projects passed, by endowing Obama with Absolute Moral Authority by virtue of his historic position.

    But to get elected, Obama had to have a bland, beta-male personality, and that's what's driving the left crazy. People like Bernie knew Obama was lying to swing voters in 2008 about being a moderate; they just thought he was also lying to them about being a beta male. Now that he's got push back from House Republicans on his and the left's pet issues, he doesn't have the stomach to either take on the GOP ideologically by presenting a plan of his own, or to tell his own side to pound sand and move towards a compromise deal the way Clinton did on welfare reform.

    Shorter: "They thought he was phony, but not phony in that particular way."

  • I was hopeful about this Washington Examiner article's headline:

    GOP contenders deride 'phony' debt ceiling crisis

    But alas, although 'phony' is inside quotes, no actual candidate is quoted using the word. (Isn't there some kind of journalistic rule about not putting things inside quote marks unless somebody has actually said them?)

    But the article's author is kind of put out with the candidates' unwillingness to stake out any position that might irk us Tea Partiers:

    When pressured to take a position on the default debate, Republican contenders have opted to embrace Tea Party views or remain quiet on the issue altogether.

  • Mitt Romney, according to the Columbus Post-Dispatch, is following both a keep-quiet and embrace-tea-party strategies:

    Appearing before about 200 people at Screen Machine Industries yesterday, Romney did not mention the swirling [debt ceiling] controversy in his 20-minute speech and only fleetingly stated his position after being cornered by reporters.

    "My position is very clear, which is, I favor a 'cut, cap and balance' program for federal spending," Romney said, ignoring follow-up questions.

    His stance apparently comports with a bill favored by the tea party and passed last week by the GOP-controlled House - and killed by the Democratic-dominated Senate - that would require Congress to cut spending, cap future spending, and approve a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

    Jen Rubin found Mitt to be "the closest of the Republican presidential contenders to sounding sane." That's kind of faint praise, but I'm sure Romney appreciates it.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:28 PM EST

When is a Bass Not a Bass?

[Bass]

Why, when he's a RINO!

  • Iain Murray draws attention to a vote yesterday in the House of Representatives. It removed a proviso in an appropriations bill that would have only allowed species to be deleted from the Endangered Species list, not added. According to Murray—and I would bet he's right—the list serves as an expensive "litigation magnet", stifling worthwhile development and eroding property rights.

    This amendment passed with the help of 37 House Republicans voting with all but 2 Democrats. Among the 37, is the representative from NH District 2, Charles Bass.

  • One of our state's Senators, Jeanne Shaheen, was signer number five on this letter to Speaker Boehner, joining with all her fellow Dems in pledging to "not support" his debt-limit legislation, should it pass the House.

    I call that pretty bold talk for a bunch that hasn't seen fit to pass a Federal budget in the past 820 days.

    Or, to quote Geraghty: "Fine, Senate Democrats. Let's vote on the Obama plan. You do have copies, right?"

    But is a pledge to "not support" a bill the same thing as a pledge to vote against it? We'll see, maybe.

  • John McCain reminds us all why he would have made a lousy president.
    Sen. John McCain on Wednesday took on conservatives reluctant to raise the national debt ceiling, calling them "tea party hobbits" and saying that if they reject the House Republican plan, they will help reelect President Obama.
    As I recall, John McCain was a huge help in getting President Obama elected in the first place. I guess that makes him an expert.

  • After a too-long hiatus, Iowahawk compiles twittered consequences of hitting the debt limit. First three:
    Beltway policy experts begin living by own wits; after 45 minutes there are no survivors.

    Roving bands of outlaws stalk our streets, selling incandescent bulbs to vulnerable children.

    Unregulated mohair prices at the whim of unscrupulous mohair speculators.

    Grim. Very grim. Read the whole thing for the full despair.

  • And Politifact probably didn't mean for this to be as funny as it is:
    Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
    Changed the name?…

    The ranks of the great epistemologists: Pontius Pilate; Joe Friday; Politifact.

The Adjustment Bureau

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

This is yet another movie based on Philip K. Dick's fiction. He has 22 "Writer" credits at IMDB. And here's my usual rant: Robert A. Heinlein has only 12, and the quality is… less than good, in most cases. Hollywood, what the heck is wrong with you?

But in the meantime: The Adjustment Bureau is a decent flick, not great. If you told me that Dick wrote the underlying story while under the influence of strong pharmaceuticals, I would not be shocked.

Matt Damon plays David Norris, an up-and-coming young politician with an impulsive streak. Seemingly on track for a Senate seat from New York, a mooning incident dredged up from his past trips him up at the last moment, and he goes down to an ignominious, embarrassing defeat. But there's good news: just before he gives his concession speech, he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), who's hiding in the mens' restroom from hotel security cops. They hit it off, and she inspires him to give a more honest and more appealing speech. But she vanishes, pursued by the previously-mentioned cops, and David loses track of her.

None of this, it turns out, is an accident: it has been set up by the Adjustment Bureau, a team of deadpan agents with seemingly supernatural powers directed by the "Chairman", dedicated to keep humanity from putting itself on destructive paths. They have enough precognition to figure out what's going to happen, and the ability to teleport themselves, at least around the New York City metropolitan area. But they're not infallible, because a screwup allows David to find Elise again, and rekindle their relationship—that's not in the plan!

It's pretty silly, but fun. Damon and Blunt are good actors, and there's a good supporting cast too. The script demands that Damon wear a stupid hat for the thrilling conclusion, which would normally cause me to knock off a half-star. But it also sends him on a madcap chase, one leg of which is through the Yankee Stadium outfield; that puts that half-star right back on. (Unfortunately, not during a game. If they'd done it during a game, that would have been good for another half star.)


Last Modified 2012-09-25 12:01 PM EDT

Cuts

[Piggies]

As I type, the "Boehner Plan" for increasing the debt ceiling seems to be gaining momentum. The hope is to get enough GOP Congresscritters to hold their noses and accept it as the "best available option."

Chris Edwards points out that for all the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, Boehner's plan doesn't cut spending.

The "cuts" in the Boehner plan are only cuts from the CBO baseline, which is an imaginary path of future spending designed as a planning tool for Congress. Boehner can propose to spend any amount in any future year he wants, and in this plan he choose to have a steadily rising spending path.
See also Peter Suderman on the gimmickry in the Boehner plan. It may be the best that can be obtained. It's not good enough.

Some better schemes:

  • Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn's proposal to "reduce the deficit by $9 trillion over the next ten years and balance the federal budget." Lots of details about what to get rid of.

  • The folks behind the One Cent Solution describe their plan with intriguing simplicity:
    The One Cent Solution gradually reduces total government spending (excluding interest payments) by making cuts equal to one cent of every dollar each year for six years. It also caps overall spending at 18% of GDP beginning in 2018 and beyond. This simple solution balances the budget by 2019, reduces federal spending by $7.5 trillion over 10 years and restores America's financial future.
    It's harder than it sounds—unlike Boehner, these guys advocate real cuts from current levels. But it gets us where we need to go.

  • I also liked the 19 Percent Solution offered by Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy in Reason a few months back. This is another small-but-real-cuts every year approach.

Here's the thing, Republicans: you are going to be painted as cruel cold-hearted monsters by your adversaries in the other party and the MSM no matter what. You might as well actually try to fix the fiscal situation instead of relying on mythical targets.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

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

Despite my negative feelings after watching the Part 1 DVD, we broke down and traipsed off to the theater for this one. I was worried that some scoundrel might slip me a spoiler about the ending. (I've managed to stay in the dark since the book came out.)

I won't bother with the usual synopsis; you either watched the previous seven movies, or you didn't. The body count rises a bit more, and there's plenty of suspense and action. It's a fine and satisfying conclusion to the story. I surprised myself by being kind of moved. Daniel Radcliffe, playing Harry, really stepped up into his role here, delivering a solid serious performance. Must have been a relief for the filmmakers, considering that he was signed up for the series over 10 years ago, when he was just a kid.

I'm still kind of a heretic, though: they could have really tightened things up and done the saga in four movies instead. And they slipped in a couple "video game" scenes, whose major purpose is to eventually wind up on Wiis, Playstations, and XBoxen. I suppose that's the sort of thing that pays the bills, but I'm not a fan.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 11:58 AM EDT

Bulwer-Lytton, Presidential Lies, Nanny Takedowns, and an Ancient Malapropism

… also a very unoriginal pun: [Any Ideas?]

  • Let's put the important news on top, for once. This year's winner of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest:
    Cheryl's mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.
    More good writin' at the link.

  • President Obama's speech last night contained multiple occurrances of one of my red flags:
    Finally, let's ask the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to give up some of their tax breaks and special deductions.

    […]

    This balanced approach asks everyone to give a little without requiring anyone to sacrifice too much.

    […]

    The only reason this balanced approach isn't on its way to becoming law right now is because a significant number of Republicans in Congress are insisting on a cuts-only approach -- an approach that doesn't ask the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to contribute anything at all. And because nothing is asked of those at the top of the income scales, , such an approach would close the deficit only with more severe cuts to programs we all care about -- cuts that place a greater burden on working families.

    […]

    Most Americans, regardless of political party, don't understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask corporate jet owners and oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don't get. How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries? How can we slash funding for education and clean energy before we ask people like me to give up tax breaks we don't need and didn't ask for?

    […]

    What we're talking about under a balanced approach is asking Americans whose incomes have gone up the most over the last decade -- millionaires and billionaires -- to share in the sacrifice everyone else has to make.

    […]

    Again, they will refuse to ask the wealthiest Americans to give up their tax cuts or deductions.

    That's a lotta asking, friends. And nearly all in the context of "asking" some despised fraction of citizens to surrender more money to Your Federal Government.

    Let me recycle something I wrote a couple years back: Taxpayers aren't asked.

    In a just world, using such dishonest, weaselly rhetoric by high government officials would be grounds for old-school punishment.

    "Mr. Obama, step to the chalkboard, and write 'Taxpayers aren't asked' one hundred times. Neatly. Then you will write a 300-word essay on the meaning of that statement. And please remember: each time in the future you claim that taxpayers will be 'asked' to fund one of your schemes, you will be 'asked' (in the same sense) to come back here and redo this assignment, doubled."

    If I could do that without getting involved with the Secret Service, I would. In a heartbeat.

  • Pun Salad had a good time earlier this year making fun of the New York Times designated food nag, Mark Bittman. ( here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. ) Jacob Sullum takes up the task this week, analyzing Bittman's recent call for increased taxes on "bad" food while subsidizing "good" food. Sullum does some needed fact-checking, but also zeros in on the liberty question:
    But the weakest part of Bittman's argument, since paying the taxes he proposes won't be optional, is his justification for using force to change people's diets. The government simply would be "fulfilling its role as an agent of the public good," he says. Treating diet-related diseases costs money, he adds. "The need is indisputable," he avers, "since heart disease, diabetes and cancer are all in large part caused by the Standard American Diet." Furthermore, "look at the action government took in the case of tobacco." In short, "public health is the role of the government, and our diet is right up there with any other public responsibility you can name, from water treatment to mass transit." So many assumptions, both fiscal and moral, packed into so little space. Bittman does not pause for a moment to consider the vast expanse of human behavior that is subject to government manipulation under his theory of public health.
    If only Bittman and his ilk were content with just nagging. Iowa City's own Will Wilkinson is also on target:

    Anyway, if public health is the role of government, let's not get bogged down in this nonsense about rigging the relative prices of arugula and Ho-Hos. Let's just raise the price of being unhealthy. Because why punish a lean fellow who runs 45 miles per week just because Chocolate Black Cherry Mr Pibb happens to be his personal ambrosia? And what happens if the paleo-diet fanatics displace our current cohort of diet experts and inflict upon us $10 loaves of bread and subsidised Slim Jims? What then? Free government venison, that's what.

    Bittman simply can't be lampooned and reviled enough.

  • I'd never stopped to consider the strangeness of the word "impregnable". As in "impregnable fortress": doesn't it sound as if one could get that fortress pregnant?

    It turns out that usage is based on a 16th century mistake.

  • Warning: Actual Pun Content follows. Proceed at your own risk

    Driving down Route One in Wells, Maine, I noticed a coffee place named "Brewed Awakenings".

    Hah! Pretty clever. But then I Googled it. And it turns out to be not that original.

The Karate Kid

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

I once suggested a new Oscar category: "Best Performance for Doing That Kind of Thing That Jackie Chan Does". Unfortunately, that suggestion has not yet been implemented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, so once again this year, Mr. Chan was denied his chance.

Will Smith's son, Jaden, plays "Dre", uprooted from his Detroit home and whisked off to Beijing when his mom gets a job there. He's very much a fish out of water, and (worse) gets on the wrong side of a bunch of Chinese bullies, who seem to enjoy beating up on him in increasingly humiliating fashion.

Coming to the rescue is Mr. Han, the reclusive handyman at the apartment where Dre lives. Since he's Jackie Chan, it's not particularly surprising when he turns out to be a Kung Fu master, and reluctantly agrees to train Dre.

It's fun to note the similarities and differences between this movie and its 1984 version, which starred the late Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio. (Jackie Chan waxes his own car, but demands Dre perform a different mystifyingly repetitious, mind-numbing task.) It runs 140 minutes, because in addition to the fish-out-of-water story and the standing-up-to-bullies story, there's also an innocent-but-forbidden-love story, and a gorgeous Chinese mini-travelogue.

And seriously: Jackie Chan is very, very good here. Jaden Smith is pretty good too, cute, charismatic, and funny.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 11:55 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2011-07-24 Update

[phony baloney]

President Obama surges back into the phony lead:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-07-17
"Barack Obama" phony 6,640,000 +3,650,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 4,910,000 +2,450,000
"Michele Bachmann" phony 4,690,000 +540,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 4,290,000 +2,480,000
"Rick Perry" phony 2,100,000 +540,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 1,520,000 +290,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 1,010,000 -90,000

… and may I say, that lead is richly deserved.

  • Don't look now, but Rick Perry has become the front runner at Intrade, with (as I type) a 31.1% chance at grabbing the GOP nomination, edging out Mitt Romney (30%).

  • Buddy Roemer, ex-Louisiana governor, officially entered the presidential race, announcing at the Other Side of the State University, Dartmouth. Intrade gives him a 0.1% chance at the nomination, the same as (honest!) Dick Cheney, Judd Gregg, Charlie Crist, and Fred Thompson.

    His hope lies in appealing to the voters whose main thought on the big issues of the day are: "it would be kind of neat to have a President Buddy." His campaign slogan is "Free to Lead", which means … what, exactly?

    THE SYSTEM IS INSTITUTIONALLY CORRUPT AND THERE IS ONLY ONE CANDIDATE WHO WILL NOT SELL OUT TO THE BIG MONEY AND WILL NOT BE THE POLITICAL SERVANT OF THE FEW PEOPLE OF PRIVILEGED WEALTH. THERE IS ONLY ONE CANDIDATE WHO WILL NOT ACCEPT DONATIONS FROM THE SPECIAL INTERESTS AND WILL, WHEN ELECTED, BE FREE TO LEAD, AND WILL LEAD THIS NATION OUT OF ITS ECONOMIC DEPRESSION.

    Caps in the original, but I bolded up the slogan.

    Seriously, Idea One of the "Roemer Solution" (available at the link) is to pretty much shut down international trade, and punish people who engage in it. Overall his platform contains a few good ideas, buried in a vile mashup of xenophobia, demagoguery, and economic illiteracy. I'm surprised he isn't doing better!

  • Jon Huntsman trails in our phony poll, but a recent article in the Weekly Standard by Andrew Ferguson reveals that it's not for lack of effort. Ferguson was there for the campaign's Liberty Island kickoff last month:

    The event had the feel of an unsubtle satire dreamed up by some snotty 1970s aging-hippie movie director--Robert Altman, say--to prove that political candidates are just pretty-boy airheads engaged in a show-biz sham. In addition to the lifted lamp of Lady Liberty and the overdone backdrop, there was the handsome candidate and his excellent hair, tossed Kennedily by a gentle wind off the river. There was the lovely wife wreathed in smiles, accompanied by a raft of offspring who looked as if Madame Tussaud's "Brady Bunch" exhibit had sprung wondrously to life.

    Large speakers played a boneless soundtrack of soft New Age rock, part Kenny G, part early 1980s porno. On a video screen across from the stage, solitary words shimmered in and out of focus against a western landscape: Vitality. Comfort. Home. Tough. Calm. (You're getting sleepy, sleepy . . . ) A recorded voice familiar from a dozen car commercials read the words as they appeared. Then another voice directed everyone's attention to a point 100 yards away, across the endless lawn. The cameras turned. And there they were: a line of grinning Huntsmans, lined up and holding hands. At a cue from an inconspicuous advance man, the family began walking, slowly, slowly, hand in hand across the lawn. All that stood between them and the massed rank of cameras was a towering monument in the center of the field, dedicated to the veterans who had liberated the death camps in World War Two.

    "Kennedily". Heh.

  • In Iowa this week, Tim Pawlenty tried to separate himself from the phony pack:

    "Everybody's got advice, but you've got to be yourself," Pawlenty said. "If you try to 'phony it up,' that just comes across as being a phony.

    So true.

  • So Pun Salad is shocked, shocked by this: "Pawlenty Creates Phony Faith Website To Encourage Iowans To Volunteer For His Campaign"

    … Pawlenty is increasingly talking about Jesus Christ as he tries to edge out his competitors, particularly Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). As Pawlenty explains his faith, he directs audience members to visit a website called "PawlentyFaith.com"

    […] However, the website PawlentyFaith.com doesn't exist. When a user attempts to visit the website, it redirects to a Pawlenty campaign website called "action.iowastrawpoll2011.com."

    Geeky technical note: it's not correct to say the website "doesn't exist"; it resolves and responds to HTTP GET requests (with a "301 Moved Permanently"). And there's a video at the straw poll site in which TPaw and his lovely wife Mary proclaim their faith; it's not simply dragooning innocent Iowa Christian webfarers into giving up their time and money. "But other than that, the story is accurate."

    On the other hand, the blatant pandering… my suggestion for Tim and Mary's next Bible study is Matthew 6:5, the one that talks about the hypocrites who "love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men." Jesus is not a fan.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:28 PM EST

This Blog Would Be a Lot Peppier

… if it were twenty degrees cooler:

[Cathy]

  • A must-click: a visualization of US debt at WTFnoway.com.

  • The debt-limit debate has caused me to pay a bit of extra attention whenever I notice something Our Federal Government is doing we'd be better off without. Today's example is from Peter Suderman:
    Ready for the Food and Drug Administration to start regulating your iPad? It might not be long. This week, the agency released proposed rules governing regulation of applications designed to run on a host of handheld devices. Currently, there are about 200 million such medical apps in use, with about 600 million expected to be available over the next few years.
    The FDA's initial probe into the area is modest in scope, but will still do a great job in stifling and delaying innovative new technology. And Suderman notes the FDA clearly wants to do more in the area.

  • One of the issues on which I part company with many conservatives: I think the Pledge of Allegiance is kinda creepy. But I'd be OK with requiring this bit from a Sheldon Richman column to be recited at the beginning of every classroom day, every legislative session, every Independence Day celebration, …
    Government is not some higher super-competent entity like the man pretending to be the Wizard of Oz wanted the people to think he was. It's a coercive organization of limited, flawed, and essentially ignorant men and women who, having been anointed in an election after campaigns hawking snake oil, are presumptuous enough to think they are capable of making wise decisions on our behalf.
    I've probably mentioned this before, but the Pledge was written by an obnoxious socialist.

  • Pun Salad's official, but unaware (and uncompensated) mascot, Cathy Poulin did the glamorous charity thing in Farmington, CT recently. She was "sporting silver sequined platform spikes and a white-fringed cocktail dress almost identical to the one worn on stage by Jennifer Lopez recently with her husband Marc Anthony pre-break-up."

    The reporter describes her as "always peppy."

Of Gods and Men

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

In the midst of action thrillers and wacky comedies, I watched this low-key movie based on actual events, which is about nothing more or less than the nature of Christian devotion and martyrdom. Quite the change of pace.

It's set in 1996 Algeria, then in the throes of a civil war between Islamic fundamentalists and the military government. Caught in the middle is a Catholic monastery containing eight French monks. They offer medical services to the small town of Tibhirine, and are seemingly beloved by the inhabitants.

But the rebels in the area are a pretty nasty bunch, fond of throat-cutting and other atrocities against foreigners and the insufficiently Islamic. The monks are (correctly) convinced that it's only a matter of time before they're targeted. So the question becomes: do they scamper back to France, and safety? Or do they continue with their ministry? The debate is initially fractious, but by the end unanimity prevails as each dissenter comes to terms with his duty.

Well-acted, and probably deserved the Oscar nomination it didn't get. If you watch it at normal speed, it's slightly over two hours of subtitle reading. Admission: I lay down and slept on my first attempt. But But the next day I watched it on my laptop at 1.4x speed, and stayed awake. Go, thou, and do likewise.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 12:04 PM EDT

The Lincoln Lawyer

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

A movie based on a book by superstar crime fiction writer, Michael Connelly. By coincidence, I watched this around the same time I was reading an earlier Connelly book, The Closers. I guess that makes me a fan.

The hero here is Mickey Haller, a slick defense lawyer, operating out of his car, comfortable representing lowlifes, prefers dealing in cash up front. But out of the blue comes a rich client who claims he's been set up on an assault charge against a hooker. You can almost hear a ka-ching! sound effect as Mickey takes the case.

Although the hooker has, indeed, been beat up, Mickey's strategy seems straightforward: find another possible story to plant reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury. Since a follow-on civil suit against the rich guy could likely yield millions to the victim, an alternate explanation even seems likely.

But—plot twist!—things are not what they seem, a botched case from his past is unearthed, and soon Mickey finds both his career and his family threatened.

A very competent thriller that held my interest. Matthew McConaughey plays Mickey pretty well. (And there are a bunch of other actors that always deliver interesting performances: William H. Macy, Marisa Tomei, John Leguizamo, even Bryan Cranston in a small role) I heard a while back that McConaughey takes his shirt off in every movie he's in. That couldn't be true in even a staid legal-thriller movie, could it?

Oh, yes it could.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 12:05 PM EDT

Salt

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

You can learn things from movies. Here's what I learned from this one: if you encounter Angelina Jolie, you may be in peril. Try to avoid attracting her attention. Detour, if possible, giving her a wide berth. If she becomes aware of your presence, try to communicate via body language that you pose no threat. Avoid eye contact. Do not try to outrun her: this is futile. Pepper spray will just enrage her. If all else fails, try playing dead.

Anyway, Ms Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, CIA employee. After an unfortunate encounter years ago with North Koreans, she's just trying to settle down in blissful domestic life with her butterfly-expert husband. But a Russian defector shows up at her headquarters, and she gets assigned the initial interview. Unfortunately, he fingers her as a dangerous Russian sleeper agent who's about to be awakened for an assassination mission.

And we're off. The CIA must find out if Salt is a baddie; Salt, for her part, suspects (correctly) that her hubby is in danger, and must remain free. This pits her against (roughly) the entire counterintelligence, anti-terrorist, and law enforcement community on the eastern seaboard. (And also some bad guys.) She finds it necessary to outwit, outhit, and outshoot everyone, and looks fabulous all the way through!

One thing that gladdened my right-wing troglodyte heart: after years of politically-correct Hollywood villains, the bad guys here are, unambiguously, Russian Communists. About time.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 12:08 PM EDT

The Closers

[Amazon Link]

This 2005 novel is the eleventh in Michael Connelly's series with detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch. In this one, Harry's back with the LAPD, rehired by a new chief who seems to share Harry's vision of speaking for homicide victims, trying to solve murder cases that everyone else has given up on, and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Harry is partnered with old colleague Kizmin Rider, and their case is reopened when DNA recovered from an old murder weapon is matched to a racist lowlife. The gun was used to kill a lovely young biracial girl back in 1988; the investigation was botched by the cops who initially thought it was a suicide.

But the DNA evidence all by itself is not enough to convict. Trying to come up with a complete picture, Harry and Kizmin re-interview the girl's family, friends, teachers, some of whom were irreparably changed by the crime. To complicate things, Harry's old nemesis, Irvin S. Irving, is rooting for Harry to fail spectacularly.

Kind of slow moving, compared to other of Connelly's books, but still a fine read. (I'd set aside a week to read it, but kept finding excuses to pick it up; finished it in a couple of days.)


Last Modified 2012-09-25 12:07 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2011-07-17 Update

[phony baloney]

Nothing happening at Intrade to make us change our candidate list. And Michele Bachmann has opened up a big phony lead on President Obama over the past week:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-07-10
"Michele Bachmann" phony 4,150,000 +490,000
"Barack Obama" phony 2,990,000 -110,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 2,460,000 -180,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 1,810,000 -60,000
"Rick Perry" phony 1,560,000 +120,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 1,230,000 +30,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 1,100,000 -40,000

  • We try to keep it light and fluffy in these phony notes, but even your cynical blogger was taken aback by this:

    The White House on Wednesday declined to challenge an account in a new book that suggests that President Obama, in his campaign to overhaul American health care, mischaracterized a central anecdote about his mother's deathbed dispute with her insurance company.

    During his presidential campaign and subsequent battle over a health care law, Mr. Obama quieted crowds with the story of his mother's fight with her insurer over whether her cancer was a pre-existing condition that disqualified her from coverage.

    Phoniness and politics go together like chicken and waffles, which makes it easy for even a lazy blogger to accumulate a handful of cheap shots into a weekly post.

    But roll that story around in your brain for a bit, and let's not use the New York Times' "mischaracterized" euphemism: Obama lied about his mother's death as one of his tactics to get elected and pass legislation.

    Creepy. Despicable.

  • But OK, point made. Let's get back to the merely amusing, for example this observation made by one of James Taranto's correspondents about President Obama's press conference speech patterns (prompted by a cleaned-up transcript):

    The correct quote is: "The public is not paying close attention to the ins and outs of how a Treasury option goes. They shouldn't. They're worryin' about their family; they're worryin' about their jobs; they're worryin' about their neighborhood. They've got a lot of other things on their plate. We're paid to worry about it."

    It may seem insignificant, but it should be noted that every single time the president mentions the great unwashed masses "out there" he instantly drops his precise pronunciation of "-ing" endings, and launches into what he imagines all those "folks out there" talk like. We're jes' workin' and hopin' and waitin' for him to help us out, y'know? He does it midsentence. It is quite jarring when you listen for it. It is also very telling and very insulting.

    I almost never listen to politicians, but if you do, that's a little bit of rhetorical phoniness you might want to check for.

  • And Nick Gillespie of Reason provides three reasons why the debt-ceiling debate is full of malarkey. Which is to say, phony:


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:28 PM EST

Wry Martinis

[Amazon Link]

I picked this up years ago, and it finally worked its way to the top of the TBR pile. It's a 1997 collection of pieces by Christopher Buckley (son of the late great WFB, Jr.); most previously appeared in magazines like Esquire and the New Yorker. The book has adulatory back-blurbs from Joseph Heller, John Updike, and Tom Wolfe; that's pretty impressive.

Oddly enough, the funniest thing in here is the index, a few pages of things like:

Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice
    Ruth Bader

  secret sex life of, 56-59
Yes, that still holds up. Unfortunately a lot of current-events stuff here has outlived its shelf life, but if you can put your mind back 15-20 years, you might get into it.

There are a lot of humorous bits, but the best are straight reporting about things like what goes on aboard the Nimitz and—no foolin'—flying in an F-16 with the USAF Thunderbirds. Very cool and interesting.

Unfortunately, Buckley plays it safe when touching on politics. There's nothing here to ruffle the feathers of your average New Yorker reader. (He created a bit of a storm by endorsing Obama in 2008; Iowahawk's parody is much funnier than anything here.)

Also (page 147) there are two glaring mistakes: Rod Taylor didn't rescue Yvette Mimieux from the Eloi in The Time Machine—she was an Eloi, and was rescued from the Morlocks. And astronauts don't pull twenty-five Gs during liftoff (unless something is very very wrong); the shuttle maxed out at about 3 Gs.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 11:55 AM EDT

Saboteur

[3.5
stars] [IMDb Link] [IMDB Rating: 7.3] [Amazon Link]

A 1942 American movie from Alfred Hitchcock, starring Robert Cummings as the hero.

Cummings plays Barry Kane, a worker at a Southern California aviation plant, obviously vital to the war effort. A disastrous fire starts and Barry's buddy is killed while bravely trying to get it under control. Guess what? It's sabotage! And Barry finds himself being railroaded as the culprit, as the fire extinguisher he handed his friend had been fiendishly filled with gasoline.

It turns out the actual bad guy was Frye, the guy that handed Barry the extinguisher just before. But Barry's the only person who knows this, and he can't get the authorities to believe him. So he slips out of the noose, and goes in search of Frye. Before long, he's in over his head, uncovering a rats' nest of Nazi spies and killers. Along the way he picks up a love interest, Pat; she's initially suspicious, but eventually gets swept up in the cross-country intrigue as well.

Quibbles: the movie drags in spots, and suffers from some big "why didn't the bad guys just…" credibility problems. And I'm more used to Bob Cummings being the star of 50s/60s TV sitcoms, where he played a fast-talking smooth playboy type. Seeing him as an action hero is a little discordant.

But overall, my interest was held, and the ending is classic. (Don't watch the trailer, though, because they give it away.)


Last Modified 2012-09-25 11:56 AM EDT

Copters, Self-Important Prigs, Electrical Puns

[Self-important Pig]

  • Philip Greenspun was one of the early web heroes, but he'd dropped off my radar. He runs a very small Boston helicopter charter company, and his recent blog post (via Cato) about his encounters with the FAA is a libertarian mini-masterpiece.
    Finally, the FAA inspector looked at my random drug testing program to make sure that everything was in place. I'm subject to the same drug testing requirements as United Airlines. I am the drug testing coordinator for our company, so I am responsible for scheduling drug tests and surprising employees when it is their turn to be tested. As it happens, I'm also the only "safety-sensitive employee" subject to drug testing, so basically I'm responsible for periodically surprising myself with a random drug test. As a supervisor, I need to take training so that I can recognize when an employee is on drugs. But I'm also the only employee, so really this is training so that I can figure out if I myself am on drugs. As an employee, I need to take a second training course so that I learn about all of the ways that my employer might surprise me with a random drug test and find out about drug use. But I'm also the employer so really I'm learning about how I might trap myself.
    Read the whole thing; you'll laugh right up until you remember that you're paying for all this, at which point you'll start sobbing uncontrollably.

  • At Reason, Tim Cavanaugh discovers ex-New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston is a little too eager to manufacture stories of corporate tax malfeasance. His first column for his new employer, Reuters, claimed that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. "collected $4.8 billion in income tax refunds, all or nearly all from the U.S. government" over the past four years.

    Oops! Reuters yanked the column, when it developed that Johnston was basing this claim on a misreading of News Corp's annual reports.

    The late Cathy Siepp described her dealings with DCJ here; the phrase "self-important prig" appears.

  • Henry Payne asks a very reasonable question: Would you let a social worker handle your investment portfolio?
    Michigan senator Debbie Stabenow has a graduate degree in social work from Michigan State University. So this week, she invested $2 billion of your money in the lithium-ion-battery industry.
    Whoever comes up with even marginal improvements in battery technology will be "amp"ly rewarded (heh) by the free market. The government has no special competence to direct current funding (heh) toward such projects, and it's generally revolting (heh) to see ever-more taxpayer funds thrown down this open drain (heh).

    It's time for the citizenry to resist! Heh!

Additional Income That I Don't Need

[Earn Big Money Now]

  • John Steele Gordon brings us another episode in the long-running comedy series, "This Is How These People Think".

    The example is from President Obama's Monday news conference, discussing the debt limit negotiations:

    And I do not want, and I will not accept, a deal in which I am asked to do nothing, in fact, I'm able to keep hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional income that I don't need, while a parent out there who is struggling to figure out how to send their kid to college suddenly finds that they've got a couple thousand dollars less in grants or student loans.
    The thought processes are hard to untangle, but here's my attempt:

    1. I have a lot of money I don't need, and probably don't deserve;
    2. I can't conceive of any good use for it, given my goals, talents, and values.
    3. I should therefore have it taxed away by the Federal Government, which will spend it on good things in ways I'm utterly unable to do myself.
    4. And I think everyone else with this much money should be forced to do the same.
    5. And I'm willing to bring about all the dire circumstances of not raising the debt ceiling unless I get my way.

    Number 1: arguably true! Number 2: well maybe, who knows? Everything else only serves to illuminate the broken thought processes of the early-21st century American progressive, unfortunately in a position of power.

  • Of course, Obama's also been trying to scare Grandma. That's likely to be more effective than exposing your chaotic mental state to the world.

  • Kevin D. Williamson has what seems to be a pretty good idea for House Republicans:
    With the debt-ceiling negotiations apparently at something like a practical impasse, Congress should act now to pass a very narrowly tailored bill that would permit the issuance of new debt -- but only for the purpose of financing current debt service.
    Works for me.

Advocacy Disguised as a News Article

[Newspaper Fail]

… and some other stuff:

  • Today on page one of my local newspaper, Foster's Daily Democrat, a long article, headlined Local educators want to take back schools: Will march on Washington July 30. First paragraphs:
    DURHAM -- Kathy Collins has seen firsthand the struggles with budget cuts, standardized testing, and lack of local control schools across the country face.

    For Collins, a literacy specialist who works in the Portsmouth School District in addition to traveling the nation as a literacy consultant, it was this firsthand knowledge and experience that drew her to the Save Our Schools march on Washington planned for later this month.

    "I work in so many schools and the struggles and negativity are shared across schools, both rural and urban," she said.

    The Save Our Schools march and rally, scheduled to take place on July 30 in Washington, D.C., aims to bring attention to and fight many of these struggles.

    Your eyes are probably already rolling, and it doesn't get much better. The march is "hoping to change … the amount of federal control over teachers, schools, and how they are run." And when they say "change", they mean "decrease". And when they say "control" they are specifically not talking about money. They want to keep the Federal money flowing, "equitably," thankyouverymuch.

    The article closes with a pointer to the Save Our Schools website. This group claims to be "grassroots", but it's not hard to find a big steaming pile of teacher union clout behind it. It's an obviously well-funded, slickly professional effort. You won't, however, see any skeptical hint in the Foster's article that the backers might—just might—have some self-interest involved.

  • And (not that it matters, but) the Foster's article identifies University Near Here professor Sarah Stitzlein as the state coordinator for the march. She is quoted:
    Stitzlein said the increased amount of government control in recent years has hurt schools, not helped them.

    "When schools are run by local control, you have a vested interest from parents and community members," Stitzlein said. "Suddenly, no one's listening to local teachers anymore."

    But Prof Stitzlein is also the author of an article "Private Interests, Public Necessity: Responding to Sexism in Christian Schools", abstracted here. She detected "substantial harms" in those festering hellholes, and it led her to conclude that "the state has the obligation and legal ability to intervene in this private domain."

    So, if I could paraphrase: Prof Stitzlein would prefer that there be less "control" (that is, accountability) over such trivia such as student performance in mathematics and literacy in government schools. But if, God forbid, a student might hear anything but feminist gospel in a private Christian school, she's all in favor of the state kicking down the doors and bringing the malefactors to justice.

  • Yesterday, Pun Salad mentioned the "Marriage Vow" pledge signed by presidential candidates Santorum and Bachmann, and linked to a Reason blurb by Mike Riggs that implied that the pledge was looking to ban porn; a number of lefty sites made the porn-banning charge more explicit.

    At the Volokh Conspiracy, Jonathan H. Adler takes issue with that, convincingly. (For one thing, if one of the pledges contained in the vow was to ban all porn, the author seems plain-spoken enough to put something like "All porn should be banned.")

    Adler is remarkably fair-minded:

    As a supporter of gay marriage, among other things, I don't particularly care for the pledge and I am more likely to support a presidential candidate who refuses to sign it. But if candidates are to be criticized for signing this pledge, its contents should not be misrepresented.
    Although I didn't misrepresent the pledge myself, I linked uncritically to someone who (arguably) did. Apologies.

  • And in case you were feeling a little too cheerful today, Kevin Williamson will help you with that, pointing out that "The debt ceiling that can be lifted by Congress is not the One True Debt Ceiling."
    I have a feeling that we're going to look back on this debt-ceiling "crisis" as the good ol' days within a year or two, and maybe sooner. When the bipartisan negotiators started thinking big, they talked about cutting $4 trillion off of new deficit spending over the next ten years, or just a tad more than the national debt has increased since Pres. Barack Obama was sworn in. That $4 trillion over ten years isn't exactly chump change, but it's not a game-changer, either. If that's the best we can do, our best probably is not going to be good enough.
    I think we need the Gillespie/De Rugy plan implemented, ASAP.

  • Thirty years of innovation. Heh.


Last Modified 2013-04-01 1:30 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2011-07-10 Update

[phony baloney]

Once again, no major changes at Intrade that would cause us to change our phony candidate list:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-07-03
"Michele Bachmann" phony 3,660,000 +40,000
"Barack Obama" phony 3,100,000 -30,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 2,640,000 -190,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 1,870,000 -70,000
"Rick Perry" phony 1,440,000 0
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 1,200,000 +40,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 1,140,000 +80,000

  • Both Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum signed the "Marriage Vow" pledge from a Pleasant Hill, Iowa-based group called "The Family Leader" (or, if you prefer their unconventional capitalization: The FAMiLY LEADER"). The pledge seems designed to give libertarians the willies; at Reason, Mike Riggs explains why he's not a fan. Long-shot candidate Gary Johnson won't be signing, describing the pledge as "offensive to the principles of liberty and freedom on which this country was founded".

    Apparently some language in the pledge was too racy even for its authors, who yesterday removed some verbiage that "suggested that black children born into slavery were better off in terms of family life than African-American kids born today".

  • Matt Lewis probably found it hard to keep a straight face as he typed:
    At first blush, Republican Mitt Romney's second bid at securing his party's nomination is a far more casual effort than his previous attempt. He's foresworn the same level of self-financing, traded in the Brooks Brothers' two-piece for Gap jeans and a Red Sox-embroidered polo, and his hair even seems to have a little give these days.

    But Romney's everyman reinvention is anything but casual: Every detail -- from dropping ubiquitous references of discount retail giants Wal-Mart and Target to sporting a pickup truck at fundraisers -- has been meticulously choreographed for the ex-venture capitalist so eager to shed the perception he's too slick, too stiff and too phony.

    When your efforts to look less phony appear, … well, less than genuine, you have a problem.

  • But President Obama continues to be blatant in his phoniness. In his "Twitter Town Hall" last week, he claimed:
    By the way, people who work in the White House, they've had their pay frozen since I came in, our high-wage folks. So they haven't had a raise in two and a half years, and that's appropriate, because a lot of ordinary folks out there haven't, either. In fact, they've seen their pay cut in some cases.
    The linked Hot Air article shows how manifestly dishonest this was. For example:
    The freeze didn't make much difference, anyway. The staff got raises through a nifty little dodge: job title or description changes. In some cases, though, the dodge got a little more sophisticated. Michael Gottlieb quit his post of special assistant and associate counsel, only to take the job again -- at a 14% increase in pay, from $114,000 to $130,500. Nearly everyone remaining at the White House has had a pay increase over the last two and a half years.

  • And there's a new Dave Barry column concerning the …
    … recent concerted effort to reduce the pesky federal budget deficit, which, shockingly, continues to mount despite the fact that both major political parties have issued sternly worded position papers against it. Day after day, week after week, the top brains of Congress and the […] administration sat in a conference room, eating prune Danish supplied by the Prune Danish Division of the Bureau of Pastries of the U.S. Department of Refreshments at a cost of $2,350 per slice.

    "What should we do about this pesky budget deficit?" the leaders asked, crumbs of concern dribbling from their mouths. "How can we reduce it? If only we had an idea! If only we could think of . . . "

    "SPEND LESS MONEY, YOU CRETINS!!" shouted a group of cockroaches, who had been listening from the floor and managed to figure out the solution despite the handicap of not being top political brains. Unfortunately, however, our political leadership is not responsive to cockroaches, unless of course they operate savings-and-loan institutions.

    Oh, I'm sorry. That's not a new column. It's dated November 4, 1990. My bad.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:28 PM EST

The Declaration of Independents

[Amazon Link]

If you hang around Reason's website at all, you will have noticed the marketing for this book. (It's written by Reason editors Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie.) You might also have seen mentions at Marginal Revolution, National Review, John Stossel's Fox News show, the Cato Institute, … It's kind of a major libertarian publishing event. So I got it. It was very appropriate reading material over the past Independence Day weekend. (But you shouldn't wait until next year in order to do the same, dear reader; buy it right now, hopefully via the link over there on the right.) (No, your right.)

And all the marketing hype, for once, is behind a pretty good book.

The subtitle is "How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America". That's slightly misstated, because there's not much detail here at all about plausible libertarian futures, or any sort of credible strategy of how to set the US onto a more libertarian course.

Gillespie and Welch are relatively optimistic that it's gonna happen, though, somehow. They point to a growing share of the electorate that refuses to identify itself with either Democrats or Republicans, and the increasing popularity of (at least fuzzy) libertarian principles. They decry the major-party "duopoly", and observe that, for the mainstream pols, their major objective is to obtain and wield political power; any other values, like liberty, are secondary at best.

If the book were all inspirational libertarian cheerleading and hand-waving, it would be pretty thin. They bring up seemingly disparate examples of how seemingly stable and dreary arrangements of power were overturned in relatively quick order by peaceful revolutionaries: how Eastern European Communism was subverted by Lou Reed; how old-school airlines were shaken up by Alfred Kahn and Herbert Kelleher (founder of Southwest); how upstarts like Nate Silver and Bill James bypassed traditional career paths; how folks like Tiger Woods are undermining old-style racial politics.

(The chapter on airline deregulation is a sad reminder that, irritating and dreadful as they generally were, you could occasionally get a free-market policy change out of mainstream Democrats like Jimmy Carter and Teddy Kennedy. What's happened since?)

All this is done in a breezy, hip, witty style that Reason readers over the past few years will be familiar with. Welch and Gillespie are utterly, and cheerfully, convinced they're on the (eventual) winning side. Hope they're right.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 1:10 PM EDT

Passion Play

[1.5
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I wish I had a good excuse for wasting a Netflix pick on this. I think it was something like: "Hey, Bill Murray is in it." It was shown at a Toronto film festival last September, and opened in two (2) theaters in May, where it garnered $3,669 in box office receipts. A dismal score at IMDB and a measly 4% at Rotten Tomatoes. And they're not wrong.

Mickey Rourke plays Nate, a jazz musician who's in trouble with a gangster, Happy Shannon (Bill Murray). It seems that Nate was fooling around with Happy's wife, so before you know it Nate's being driven out to the desert for a quick execution.

Inexplicable fate intervenes, and Nate escapes. Wandering, he finds a carnival. One of the attractions is Lily (Megan Fox), who—I am not making this up—has big old angel wings. Nate and Lily break away from her carny captors, only to find themselves menaced by Happy again.

It's very ponderous and slow-going. It seems much longer than its actual 94-minute duration. Except for nudity and language, it's the kind of thing that Rod Serling or Alfred Hitchcock could have crammed into a half-hour, with commercials. (And, guess what—spoilers at the links—they did.)


Last Modified 2012-09-25 12:00 PM EDT

Preaching and A-crying

[Jobs Created]

… tell me that I'm lying 'bout a job that I never could find:

  • The headline is "US jobless rate up as economic growth stalls". One would hope that this will convince a few million more people that President Obama has no clue whatsoever about creating the conditions for a healthy economy.

    It should be noted that Will Wilkinson had it figured out over six years ago, when he deemed an Obamic utterance as a sign …

    … of the sickness at the heart of contemporary liberalism: the inability or unwillingness to recognize the cooperative market order -- our system of mutual benefit based on ownership and exchange -- as the primary source of American prosperity, security, and solidarity.

  • Wired is one of my favorite magazines, but as Peter Suderman points out, they're not necessarily skeptical enough about the benefits of government expenditure. He links to an article deeming rural broadband expansion to be "a stimulus success story." But Suderman quotes some numbers found by a couple of economists:
    Eisenach and Caves looked at three areas that received stimulus funds, in the form of loans and direct grants, to expand broadband access in Southwestern Montana, Northwestern Kansas, and Northeastern Minnesota. The median household income in these areas is between $40,100 and $50,900.  The median home prices are between $94,400 and $189,000.

    So how much did it cost per unserved household to get them broadband access?  A whopping $349,234, or many multiples of household income, and significantly more than the cost of a home itself.

  • Ack, we need to lighten up a bit. But we'll maintain our generally libertarian bent by referring to a funny article at Open Market detailing daffy state laws and regulations. At the top of the heap:
    • In New Hampshire, it is illegal to have a ferret in your possession while on your way to a hunting trip.

    • Also in New Hampshire, ventriloquism is a licensed occupation.

    Wait, what? Could this be true of our Live Free or Die state? Sometimes these wacky legal yarns get exaggerated, right?

    But RSA 207:6, seems to be definitive:

    207:6 Ferrets. - No person, while hunting or obviously on his way to or from hunting, shall have a ferret in his possession, custody or control.

    And RSA 286:1 is even better:

    286:1 Showmen. - No showman, tumbler, rope dancer, ventriloquist or other person shall, for pay, exhibit any feats of agility, horsemanship, sleight of hand, rope dancing or feats with cards, or any animals, wax figures, puppets or other show, or promote any public competition, without a license from the selectmen of the town.
    That certainly seems unfriendly toward unconventional entertainers. I can't find anything specific about what happens if you're an unlicensed rope dancer agilely performing a hunting skit with a wax ferret puppet on a horse, but I suspect it's bad, very bad.

  • Radley Balko made me laugh:
    Roger Clemens goes on trial for lying . . . to politicians. Which is a bit like putting a woman on trial for flashing her breasts at a stripper.
    Or a tumbler performing a card trick… oh, never mind.

  • One of my painfully-acquired skills is how to talk to non-technical people about technical subjects, especially when it involves something they should have "done different". It turns out Apple Store Geniuses are forging new frontiers in this area:
    Apple employees are banned from saying "unfortunately" when delivering bad news to a customer, urged instead to replace it with the more positive "as it turns out." And management apparently takes the ban seriously: One former Apple employee tells us that his coworker was put under a 90-day probationary period because he said "unfortunately" too much at the Genius Bar.
    And an ex-genius is quoted:
    There was a whole class we took about things not to say, and what to say instead. One of my favorites was to resist the urge to say "That's stupid" or "That wasn't smart" and replace it with "That's not recommended" - For example, you say "I took my iPod swimming and now it don't work" I say "Ah, that's not recommended" when I mean "That was really stupid".
    "As it turns out, Mr. President, your economic policy was not recommended."

  • A final bit of actual wisdom from Lore Sjöberg:
    There are two types of lazy people in the world -- those who don't want to do anything they don't have to and those who don't want to learn anything they don't have to.

    The former group drives progress. The latter impedes it.

    Lore is talking about game design, but… which kind of lazy is your typical politician?


Last Modified 2011-07-09 9:52 PM EDT

Whip It

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

Not a bad little movie, managing to combine the "teenage girl angst" genre with a standard "sports underdog" plot. For some reason we missed it when it first came out on DVD, but Netflix eventually worked it up to the top of my queue.

Miss Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) has a hectic life, holding down a waitressing job in small-town Texas diner, and also competing in beauty pageants, at the demand of her driven mother. So little wonder she tries to find some other way to spend her time, like getting up to the big city (Austin) and secretly joining a semi-pro Roller Derby team.

Once you have that premise down, I bet you could write most of the script yourself. Are Bliss's teammates a quirky and amusing bunch? You bet. Are her initial efforts clumsy and embarrassing? Why, yes they are. Do her efforts to keep her parents in the dark backfire spectacularly? Sure thing. Is there a crisis where she seems to have lost everything? You bet. Does she eventually triumph?

Well, no spoilers here, but please. How many of these movies have you seen?

That's not to say it isn't fun. Ellen Page is not quite as funny as she was in Junebug, but pretty close. Drew Barrymore directed it, and has a small part.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 11:58 AM EDT

She Was Standing There in Back of my Chair

[jimmy!]

… saying "Jimmy, don't I know your name":

  • Steven Hayward asks: Is There a Conservative Case for Higher Taxes? Read before you answer. Key query:
    [I]f you want to limit government spending, instead of starving the beast, serve the check.
  • On a related topic, Smitty makes the case against the current nostrum of a Balanced Budget Amendment right in his own post's headline: "GOP Swears Balanced Budget Amend. Will Make Congress Serious About The Job They've Blown Off For Decades."

    Or: amending the Constitution is very difficult, and rightly so. How about, just… y'know… balancing the budget?. The most that would take is a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate, and that only in order to override a veto. An amendment requires that plus a 38-state OK.

  • I don't watch network news shows unless they're covering an extraterrestrial invasion, but Peter Wehner does, and notes the national treasure that is George F'n Will. On Sunday's This Week, he asked his "progressive" co-panelists:
    The question is, has the congressional power to regulate interstate commerce been so loosely construed that now Congress can do anything at all, that there is nothing it cannot do. Let me ask the three of you. Obviously, obesity and its costs affect interstate commerce. Does Congress have the constitutional power to require obese people to sign up for Weight Watchers? If not, why not?
    Much babbling bafflement at the link. But a serious thought: If the Constitution is vague enough to allow such things, maybe we should start asking how to write an amendment to close the commerce clause loophole, rather than relying on the courts to "interpret" it the way we like.

  • Apparently, those very little candy cylinders one can get on one's ice cream are called "jimmies" after Jimmy "J.J." Walker. Dyn-O-Mite!

    No, just kidding. Jack Fowler debunks the (surprisingly prevalent) notion that they are named after Jim Crow, and are inherently racist, unless you call them "sprinkles".

    I grew up in the Midwest, which means I've always called them sprinkles, and always thought they were pointless.

  • And the title of this post is from a Dylan lyric that I've been (apparently) mishearing for the past 37 years or so. Check out the collection; I'm especially impressed at how many mishearings are actually improvements on the original.

Foreign Correspondent

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

A 1940 thriller (set in 1939) directed by Alfred Hitchcock; we'd never seen it before. I can't recommend it unless you're an obsessive Hitchcock fan.

Joel McRea plays "Johnny Jones", a crime reporter for a New York paper. Johnny's pretty ignorant of world affairs, but this impresses the paper's cranky boss, who's bored with the stale stories served up by his existing crack European news staff. He changes Johnny's name to "Huntley Haverstock", and sends him over there on the Queen Mary. (Is this an accurate caricature of 1930s-style American journalism? Given that the New York Times employed Walter Duranty during this time, I'd say "hey, maybe!")

His first assignment is to check out a peace organization run by Stephen Fisher; Johnny is far more interested in Fisher's daughter, Carol. Spoiling things somewhat romance-wise is the apparent assassination of a diplomat. Johnny and Carol pursue the assassin with the assistance of Scott ffolliott (sic) played by smooth George Sanders. They all wind up hip-deep in a dangerous conspiracy directed from Berlin.

Nothing in the movie is particularly believable, from start to finish. The dialog (some of it written by Robert Benchley, who also has a small role) is occasionally funny, though. Johnny gives a little speech over the radio to America at the end, urging us to get into the war. (And, you may remember, we did.)


Last Modified 2012-09-25 12:05 PM EDT

Target Hates America

[target]

No big deal, but I had a small hankering to maybe get a patriotic T-shirt for Independence Day festivities tomorrow. I'm not much of a flag-waver, but if there's a day to do it, it's July Fourth.

So I went to Target. And found tees honoring:

  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • England
  • Canada
  • Jamaica
  • Mexico
  • Costa Rica
  • Brazil
But nothing, zippo, squat, nada for the good old USA.

Sheesh, Target. What's wrong with you?

The Phony Campaign

2011-07-03 Update

[phony baloney]

Our candidate list remains stable this week, with nobody crossing our arbitrary 4% line at Intrade. But there was turmoil in GoogleLand, with Congresswoman Bachmann grabbing the lead from President Obama, and Mitt Romney catapulting himself out of the phony cellar to a solid third place:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-06-26
"Michele Bachmann" phony 3,620,000 +710,000
"Barack Obama" phony 3,130,000 +10,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 2,830,000 +1,908,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 1,940,000 -30,000
"Rick Perry" phony 1,440,000 -350,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 1,160,000 -40,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 1,060,000 +20,000

Popping up on the phony radar:

  • Congressman Thad McCotter announced his candidacy this week, fulfilling the predictions made to me last year by Chris Cameron (of the Radioactive Liberty blog) when we heard him speak at the Manchester Tax Day Tea Party event last year. Despite his announcement, Intrade considers him a very long shot at 0.4%, similar to the odds given Gary Johnson, Rick Santorum, and George Pataki.

    I was favorably impressed with McCotter's speech at the time, but nearly immediately afterwards he introduced really ill-advised Internet privacy legislation. According to Jim Harper at Cato:

    Representative McCotter's plan to regulate Internet communications this way is no "Cyber Privacy" act. It's anti-privacy, and it's anti-free-speech.

    One legislative sin does not disqualify a candidate, but I'm not signing up for Thad's army of supporters just yet.

  • As Forrest Gump didn't say: phony is as phony does. And what's more phony than unleashing a horde of phony patients on physicians?:

    Alarmed by a shortage of primary care doctors, Obama administration officials are recruiting a team of "mystery shoppers" to pose as patients, call doctors' offices and request appointments to see how difficult it is for people to get care when they need it.

    The plan was called off after publicity. But still, that's a pretty sweet government job: getting paid to fake being sick.

  • What's phonier than the media's hyperanalytic obsession with every single verbal misstep made by Michele Bachmann? Nevertheless, this is pretty funny:

    [Embedded video removed because I can't figure out how to embed it compliantly. You can watch it here.]

  • Fellow citizens, give it up for (probably not actually) Mitt Romney singing "Help Me Fake It to the Right".


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:28 PM EST

Super 8

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

A rare foray into an actual movie theatre for Mrs. Salad, her sister, and myself. Consumer note: I must admit I had missed the previous entries in this long-running series: Super, Super 2, … Fortunately, the movie stands just fine on its own.

Set in 1979 in a small Ohio town, the movie's main characters are a ragtag bunch of kids. They are under the leadership of Charles, who's single-minded about his goal of shooting a zombie movie for entry into an upcoming contest. His primary assistant is Joe, who is a wizard with makeup and model-making. Joe is still recovering from losing his mother in an industrial accident; Joe's father (the always underrated Kyle Chandler) is overwhelmed by the loss, and is barely able to go through the motions of single-fatherhood and his job as deputy.

Both Charles and Joe harbor a teenage crush on Alice, the seemingly unapproachable daughter of the town drunk. She unexpectedly agrees to be in the movie at Joe's urging; one fateful night, the kids set up to film at the town's train station. When it just so happens that a train with a super-secret cargo crashes right in front of them. And it's clear the super-secret cargo has gotten loose.

Pretty soon, inexplicable and creepy things start happening around town. People go missing. A military team arrives and clamps down with secrecy and ruthlessness, but it's clear that they aren't able to get things back under control.

This reminded me a lot of The Goonies and E.T.; kids have center stage and seem more resourceful than the hapless adults around them. The alien is much larger and uglier than E.T., though; he also has a much worse attitude toward Terrans, and he's not satisfied with subsisting on Reeses' Pieces.

The movie got a bad rap from at least one conservative at Big Hollywood because the bad guys are (slight spoiler) the US military, or at least the part of it that descends on this ill-fated small town. Two other guys at the same site (Darin Miller and John P. Hanlon) were not so bothered; I'm in the latter camp.

The special effects were spectacular, I thought all the adult actors and most of the kids were great. There are some very funny bits interspersed in the middle of all the destruction and carnage. It deserves to be seen on the big screen.

One thing though: what's the deal with J.J. Abrams and lens flares? Both here and in Star Trek. Dude, it's distracting.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 12:02 PM EDT