Win Win

[4.0 stars] Win Win (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

Another box office dud, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Mike, played by Paul Giamatti, is head of the Flaherty household: lovely wife Jackie (Amy Ryan), cute daughters Abby and Stella. Mike is a lawyer, and moonlights as the coach of the local high school's dreadful wrestling team. Unfortunately, he's having problems making ends meet, with seemingly everything at home and office requiring expensive repairs.

So when an opportunity comes for a slight breach of legal ethics, Mike takes it. He relegates Leo, a client with arly-stage Alzheimer's, to the local managed care facility. And Mike pockets the guardianship fees. That's pretty bad, but it's a mark of the filmmakers' talents that Mike remains a sympathetic character.

Soon enough, complications ensue. Leo's grandson Kyle appears (literally) on Leo's doorstep. Good news: Kyle's a decent kid, and a phenomenal wrestling talent. (Dickensian coincidence again.) Bad news: Kyle's mom, Leo's daughter, also shows up, and she's threatening to both Kyle and Mike.

It's rated R for language, but is otherwise a charming and heartwarming comedy/drama. (That probably explains the poor box office results.)


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:23 AM EDT

Why, No. We Don't Have Anything Better To Do

The University Near Here, despite being in (we're continually told) dire financial straits, continues to spend time and resources on areas that don't have much to do with… y'know… actually educating its student population. Because, that's hard. What's easy is moral posturing, symbolic gestures, and indoctrination. Boy, we got that down pat.

Correction: we don't have that down pat. For example: A Monday press release gave the shocking news: "UNH Will Take All Energy Drinks Off The Shelves Beginning In January 2012".

DURHAM, N.H. – In an effort to further its mission to be the healthiest campus community in the country by 2020 and keep its students safe, the University of New Hampshire will no longer sell energy drinks in its retail and vending locations beginning in January 2012.

I'm not sure how long that press release will stay out of the memory hole. Later that same day, UNH issued a "never mind" statement.

DURHAM, N.H. -- University of New Hampshire President Mark W. Huddleston will delay implementation of a decision announced earlier today to stop selling energy drinks in its retail and vending locations beginning in January 2012.

That's right: we can't even implement our meaningless symbolic gestures without blundering. (For a bit of a chuckle, note the URL on that press release.)

You've no doubt heard of politician's logic, from the Yes, Minister clip above:

  1. Something must be done!
  2. This is something.
  3. Therefore, we must do it!

It's kind of like that. Except in this case, the University was even kind of weak on point one.

The "something must be done" decision was claimed to be in support of the nebulous goal of being "the healthiest campus community in the country by 2020".

Normal folks would ask: is UNH planning to accumulate health statistics on every member of the "communiity" by 2020?

No, of course not. That would be a massive invasion of privacy. Safe bet: There's no measure of how healthy our community is now, there won't be one in 2020, and there will be no comparison with other campuses.

Well, there would be obvious health benefits by stopping the sale of "energy drinks", right?

Probably not. The big concern, it seems, is kiddos mixing them with booze. How many energy drinks used that way were purchased from UNH "retail and vending locations"?

My bet: nobody knows, or even worried too much about finding out.

What percentage of energy drinks sold at UNH are "abused" as opposed to people just looking for a boost?

Again, the safe wager is: nobody knows, or even worried too much about finding out.

Would this have produced a measurable impact on the "health" of the community?

Don't ask silly questions.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:39 AM EDT

To Reamde, or Not To Reamde

[Amazon Link]

On Tuesday, I noticed that the Kindle version of Neal Stephenson's new novel, Reamde, had gone unavailable on the Amazon website. (The symptom was a missing image over there under the "Media I'm Consuming" heading on the right.) (No, your right.) Wha happen?

On Wednesday, it had (also inexplicably) returned to the store.

And this morning, I got a note from Amazon. In part:

We're writing about your past Kindle purchase of Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson. The version you received had Missing Content that have been corrected.

[sic]

An updated version of Reamde: A Novel (ASIN:B004XVN0WW) is now available. It's important to note that when we send you the updated version, you will no longer be able to view any highlights, bookmarks, and notes made in your current version and your furthest reading location will be lost.

If you wish to receive the updated version, please reply to this email with the word "Yes" in the first line of your response. Within 2 hours of receiving the e-mail any device that has the title currently downloaded will be updated automatically if the wireless is on.

Fortunately, I hadn't made much progress into the book, although I've so far enjoyed it. The opening chapter is set during a Thanksgiving family reunion in Iowa, with the narrator avoiding stepping in cowpies. (Frozen and unfrozen each have their unique hazards.) Ah, fond memories.

Anyway, I'll start over. Who knows if I missed some of the "Missing Content" already? I should have the fixed version, if Amazon is to be believed, although I can't figure out how to tell for sure.

Some folks are less equanimous than I about the issue. Cynthia Ewer posted a "review" on the Amazon site:

An avid Neal Stephenson fan, I preordered the Kindle version of this book in mid-July. As of this morning, I'm about 40% through the book--and I just received a notice that my Kindle edition was "missing content", and would be replaced.

I'd like to tell both distributor Amazon and publisher William Morrow/HarperCollins that this problem is totally unacceptable--and I expect some adjustment to compensate for this issue.

First, it seriously damages the reading experience. I've invested many hours in the book, overlooking various format errors along the way. Now--without more--I'm told that what I've read is incomplete. Do I begin again at the beginning? Do I plow on? Either way, the reading experience is fatally tainted.

Second, this situation oozes contempt for the ebook buyer. As a published author, I'm aware of the word-by-word scrutiny that my print manuscripts receive. Why should ebooks be any different? Tossing a carelessly-formatted file out at random reflects badly on all links of the publishing chain, from author to publisher to distributor Amazon.

Third, this level of carelessness is inexcusable on economic grounds. I'd expect to find format errors and mangled content in a pirated ebook, not in a $17 Kindle edition. When I purchase an ebook at a price point so close to the print version, the publisher rakes in far more profit than from a print title. To then turn around and offer shoddy, incomplete text in that pricey Kindle title shows an arrogant disregard for economics, the reader, and the distribution channel.

My suggestion? Give each purchaser of the buggy version a 75% credit on this title. That, to me, is a fair reassessment of the injury I've received as a reader of this title. Compared to the cost of, say, reprinting and replacing defective print editions, it's still a financial bonanza to publisher William Morrow--and would go a long way to restore the credibility of this author, publisher and distributor.

Impressive dudgeon. I can't say I blame her.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:51 AM EDT

Why I'm a Red Sox Fan

It builds character. Also:

Yeah, it hurts. It always hurts. But it’s like making out with a chick with German measles. I’ve had my shots, baby. And I’m immune to it all.

Born to Kill

[3.5 stars] Born to Kill (1947) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

True fact: this nasty little 1947 noir was directed by Robert Wise, the same guy who directed The Sound of Music and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He got around.

Susan Brent (played by Claire Trevor) is in Reno finishing up her quickie divorce. (That was how you worked things back in 1947, kids.) She's staying at Mrs. Kraft's boarding house; she's acquainted with a neighbor, Laury Palmer, who's self-admittedly promiscuous. Laury's going out with Sam Wild, but in order to make him jealous she decides to date someone else.

Bad idea! Unfortunately for Laury, Sam is not only jealous, he's psychotic. Soon there are a couple of corpses, which Susan discovers. Instead of doing the right thing, reporting the find to the police, Susan hops the next train home to San Francisco. But, in one of those Dickensian coincidences, on-the-lam Sam is taking the same train. They strike up a relationship, and…

Well, I've probably already said too much. As film noir goes, this is the real deal, exploring the seedy underbelly of society, where outwardly respectable characters are revealed to have a cold, dark interior. Acting is pretty good. Lawrence Tierney pretty much coasts through the movie with menacing glares and petulant scowls. The story is told with marvelous economy, and the climax is—whoa, didn't see that coming.


Last Modified 2014-11-30 1:57 PM EST

Altered Carbon

[Amazon Link]

Another book I picked up due to its appearance on this io9 list of the "Top 10 Greatest Science Fiction Detective Novels Of All Time". It won the Philip K. Dick Award in 2003. It got glowing reviews, including one in the New York Times ("If you've ever wondered what kind of science fiction Raymond Chandler might have written for a futuristic Philip Marlowe, check out …")

All that, and it wasn't my cup of tea. Might be yours. I compulsively finish books I've started reading, but I was sorely tempted to give up on this one. 526 pages, and from about page 50 forward, I was pleading: please shut up now.

It's set in the 25th century. Bodies die, but people don't have to: most have "stacks" implanted in their spines that encapsulate their personality and memories, and they can be transplanted into another body, or "sleeve", when that's necessary. IT types will appreciate that there is also a remote backup option available for some, as well as cloning technology, so your new body can even look like your old one.

The hero, Takeshi Kovacs, is been killed on a remote planet as the book begins. But he's reincarnated on Earth, in order to solve a puzzle: a rich guy was murdered, his stack destroyed, but he was regenerated from backup into a clone, so all that was missing was a few hours memory. Why did this happen, and whodunit?

Intriguing premise, but it's dragged out. (To repeat: 526 painful pages.) Overwritten, with scenes described to a level of detail that don't advance the plot, illuminate character, or even add much atmosphere; it's as if the author really wanted to write a shoot-'em-up video game instead of a novel, and tediously describes each screen he's designed in his head.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:27 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2011-09-25 Update

[phony baloney]

In shocking news, a lot of Intraders gave up on Jon Huntsman this week, dropping his odds of getting the GOP nomination under our arbitrary threshold of 4%. Taking his place in the phony ranks is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Whose Intrade odds, as I type, stand at 8.8% probability.

So:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-09-18
"Rick Perry" phony 14,300,000 -15,200,000
"Barack Obama" phony 7,400,000 -500,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 4,720,000 -150,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 3,610,000 +50,000
"Chris Christie" phony 1,730,000 ---

  • Rick Perry had a universally-acknowledged bad debate performance. (Commented Korax of the Klingon Empire: "Hab SoSlI' Quch Ptak Gahg!" Or, loosely translated: "Honor demanded that he should have disemboweled the smooth talker where he stood! Also, that short human female strangely set my blood afire!")

    But Perry fans should take heart: Karl at Patterico notes a news article slamming a Texas governor for a "less-than-commanding performance" in debates—twelve years ago. And the NYT's Nick Silver thinks the Intraders may be misunderestimating Perry as well.

  • Betsy Newmark summarizes the phoniness of President Obama's budget plan. Remember when Candidate Obama promised that his budgets would reflect a "net spending cut"? Memory hole, baby.

    As Philip Klein points out, Obama has decided to throw out any hope of compromising with the Republicans and instead produce a campaign document that will solidify his liberal support. Instead he introduced a plan that included more of the same sorts of stimulus ideas that have failed already along with tax hikes and some modest spending cuts. He ignores entitlement reform. On top of it he includes phony claims of budget reduction.

    Beyond the phoniness: is a campaign explicitly based on promises of increased taxes and increased spending really going to cut it in the 21st century USA? If it turns out to be a winning formula, don't blame Obama: blame the American voting public.

  • Keith Hennessey zeros in on Obama's claim that his proposals are "balanced" between spending cuts and tax increases. He makes many solid observations, but this is my favorite:

    The President is not, as he claims "proposing real, serious cuts in spending." His proposals would result in a tiny net reduction in spending: -$86 B over 10 years. Almost all of the spending cuts for which he wants to claim credit have already been enacted or accounted for. Almost all the new spending cuts he proposes would be used to offset higher spending in his Jobs bill proposal and for more Medicare spending on doctors.

    $86 billion sounds like a lot, but it's a rounding error compared to the totality of Federal spending. And remember: even these are "promised someday" spending cuts, to be "balanced" by actual, right now tax increases.

  • ttys Herman Cain won the Florida Straw Poll yesterday. In honor of that, and especially because of those last two items, let me (once again) plug his book: They Think You're Stupid. Whoever gets the GOP nomination should steal that and use it as his or her campaign theme.

  • Much of President Obama's phoniness is disgusting, infuriating, and depressing. But let's look on the bright side: sometimes it's downright amusing too. Ed Morrissey's "Obamateurism" for Friday noted this tidbit from the President's UN speech:

    The Qaddafi regime is over. Gbagbo, Ben Ali, Mubarak are no longer in power. Osama bin Laden is gone, and the idea that change could only come through violence has been buried with him.

    Ed notes that, in QDaffy's case, "change" came via the non-violence of (among other things) a few months of NATO bombing raids. And in bin Laden's case, among the things that were "buried with him" were non-violent 5.56-mm bullets fired non-violently from a US Navy Seal's non-violent M4 carbine.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:45 PM EST

Thor

[3.0 stars] Thor (2011) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

True confession: although I was once a pretty serious comic book fan, I never much got into Thor. Didn't like his stilted speech, didn't like his stupid hammer, didn't care for his long flowing blond locks. And how can I empathize with the problems of a god of a religion even my ancestors stopped believing centuries ago?

Also, from the little I read, he had no sense of humor.

Which reminds me of this classic bit:

Dr. Doom: They don't call me the most dangerous man alive for nothing.

Daredevil: You mean they pay you?

This, of course, was in the midst of battle.

Where was I?… Oh, yeah: Thor. It's an origin story, which seems to be SOP for first movies. How the God of Thunder got tossed out of Asgard as punishment for his arrogance. How Loki got to be his primary adversary. How he met his mortal sweetie, Jane Foster. Etc. It's not without fun, but… eh.

Thor is played by Captain Kirk's dad, Chris Hemsworth. He's OK. He's backed up by some very respectable actors: Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Rene Russo (in way too small a role for Rene Russo), and the phenomenal Clark Gregg.

Idris Elba plays Heimdall—I didn't know that until I watched the credits, because his face is nearly completely covered by his helmet for the entire movie. (Watching Luther made me a huge Idris Elba fan.)

An actress named Kat Dennings has a decent-size role as comic relief. I've seen her in a lot of stuff, including the premiere of her sitcom, 2 Broke Girls, the previous evening. And I didn't make the connection at all. Does this perhaps imply we're suffering from a glut of interchangeable young actresses? Maybe!

One last bit of trivia: an uncredited Jeremy Renner shows up with a bow and arrow in one scene. Aha, that's Hawkeye! Yay! I always liked Hawkeye.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:37 AM EDT

Primer

[3.5 stars] Primer (2004) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

The first thing you should know about this movie: it's totally incomprehensible. Many admirable movies ask you to "fill in the blanks", and provide hints for you to do so. In Primer, the blanks you are expected to fill in might be bigger than the movie itself.

But here's the general idea: four friends are (literally) trying to build a business in a garage, doing research, casting around for something they might wangle into a marketable product. So far, they've failed, and it's beginning to strain their professional relationship. Two of the guys, Abe and Aaron, start work on a box gizmo that's supposed to block out external fields. But (surprisingly) a Weeble they insert in the box comes out covered in goo; it turns out to be organic buildup that would ordinarily take much longer to happen. Gradually, Abe and Aaron come to realize that they've constructed a sort of time machine.

So they stick the whole thing in a Delorean, and…

No, they don't do that. Because the box works in a very specific way: at 5:55am, you set the machine to turn on (say) at 6am, and depart. Later, you return, enter the (running) box and wait. Eventually, you get out, and voila, it's 6am! Which allows you to (say) buy stocks that you know are going to skyrocket that day, or engage in other paradoxical behavior.

Speaking of paradoxes, Abe and Aaron aren't actually sure how to avoid them. And can they really trust each other to use the box only in ways they've agreed upon? (Hint: no.) Soon it becomes apparent that something's wrong in the timeline: who did what and how?

The movie was made for $7000, so there are zero special effects, certainly no big names. The characters talk (pretty much) like technogeeks, in a shorthand that means much to them, but leaves the rest of us guessing. Still, I liked it. There are websites dedicated to explaining exactly what happened, the events that stitch together the parts of the plot that actually appear onscreen. If you decide to explore, Wikipedia is probably a good place to start, but I'd suggest waiting until you watch it (at least) once.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:26 AM EDT

Land of the Not Quite as Free as Before

  • Matt Mitchell of the Mercatus Center notes the bad news from the Fraser Institute and their most recent report on the Economic Freedom of the World. Based on 2009 data, your United States slipped badly, now in tenth place. The video at right (no, your right) shows how the measure has risen and fallen over the past few decades.

    Earlier this year, Mercatus measured economic, social, and personal freedoms in the 50 states. New Hampshire was number one—woohoo!—but with the overall trend for the country, that could be like bragging about being the tallest building in Wichita, Kansas.

  • Your humble blogger contributed to the WSJ's Best of the Web Today yesterday. This headline to a Boston Globe article:
    Harvard Connection Could Aid, Hinder Warren
    made its occasional "Out on a Limb" category.

  • Steve Martin provides Oscar-hosting advice to Eddie Murphy. Sample:
    People always say it's a disgrace that neither you nor I have ever won an Oscar, but they're just being correct.

  • Might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I thought this was pretty funny, a bad-lipreading of Rick Perry's campaign ad.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:54 AM EDT

The Naked Spur

[3.5
stars] The Naked Spur (1953) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

Why yes, I did watch two 1953 movies in a row. Good catch. This one's a Jimmy Stewart western. It was Oscar-nominated for "Best Writing, Story and Screenplay". I see at IMDB that one of the writers, Sam Rolfe, went on to write a couple Star Trek episodes (one TNG, one DS9).

Jimmy Stewart plays the hero, Howard Kemp. Howard's very flawed. (It's a modern western.) For initially obscure reasons, he's obsessed with capturing bad guy Ben Vandergroat, played by Robert Ryan. Circumstances force him to take on a couple partners, a grizzled and unlucky prospector, and a brash semi-psychotic ex-soldier. And when they finally catch up to Vandergroat, it turns out he has a lovely travelling companion, Lina, played by Janet Leigh. That makes five people, an unwieldy bunch. They encounter the usual obstacles, mainly Indians. (It turns out the ex-soldier behaved badly with a young tribal woman.)

But in addition, Vandergroat turns out to be adept at finding the weak spots in everyone's character, and leveraging them into dysfunctional behavior. (Everyone's pretty good, but Robert Ryan is very good. He really seems to be having a good time with Vandergroat's character.)


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:27 AM EDT

Is This a Great Metaverse, Or What?

they think you're stupid

  • Appearing via cybermarketing magic on my Kindle this morning: Reamde, a new novel by one of my literary heroes, Neal Stephenson. Amazon says the paper version is 1056 pages, so it may take awhile to report back.

    I suppose someday I'll take the Kindle for granted, but I'm still in my starry-eyed stage. Magic, I say! But I'm impressed by more mundane things, too: unlike Stephenson's previous book, Anathem (937 pages), I don't have to worry about dropping Reamde on my foot.

    At Forbes, David Ewalt has a short interview with Stephenson.

  • The proprietor of IMAO, Frank J. Fleming, has a "big boy" gig, writing op-eds for the New York Post. If you read IMAO, you will not be surprised: they're very funny. For example, his current column where he thinks maybe it's time to let politicians know that the notion that they're competent to "create jobs" is simply a "cruel prank" the rest of us have been playing on them:
    OK, I get why this is funny. Of everyone in America, the politicians in Washington, with their pointless squabbling and inept bumbling, are pretty much the last people we should ever put in charge of something as important as the economy, so everyone thought it would be hilarious to act like creating jobs would be up to them.

    I can see the pitch now: “Think of ‘Jersey Shore,’ but we’ll put them in suits and task them with solving complex economic problems. We’ll call it C-SPAN.”

    It's funny because it's true enough.

  • In our continuing Barackrobatics series: Stacy McCain counts the number of times President Obama used the phrase "pay their fair share" in his Rose Garden speechifying yesterday.
    1. . . . for us to solve this problem, everybody, including the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations, have to pay their fair share.
    2. If we’re going to make spending cuts — many of which we wouldn’t make if we weren’t facing such large budget deficits — then it’s only right that we ask everyone to pay their fair share.
    3. . . . a larger plan that’s balanced –- a plan that asks the most fortunate among us to pay their fair share, just like everybody else.
    4. Either we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in taxes, or we’re going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare.
    5. And I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share.
    Stacy refutes the "fair share" implication on its face, but two further observations:

    1. Obama's speechwriters should be fired. Using a tired catchphrase once is bad. Repeating it five times?

    2. To repeat a comment I made at Stacy's website: The other thing that gets my goat in the quoted examples: in four out of five, Obama says that he only wants to "ask" taxpayers for more. That's an intelligence-insulting euphemism that demonstrates the speaker's underlying contempt for his audience. To quote Herman Cain: they think you're stupid.

    A previous Pun Salad rant on "asking the rich to pay their fair share" is here.

  • And this video is the saddest, and funniest, thing I've seen in awhile.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:56 AM EDT

Niagara

[3.0
stars] Niagara (1953) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

This 1953 movie is kind of fun. I remember watching it back in the olden days on NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies. (And, thanks to Time, I can even nail down exactly how olden that day was: August 10, 1963.)

A married couple, Polly and Ray Cutler (Jean Peters and Max Showalter, respectively) are on a belated honeymoon trip to Niagara Falls. At their cheap motel, they encounter George and Rose Loomis (Joseph Cotten and—whoa—Marilyn Monroe). Marriage is not blissful between the Loomises; Rose is kind of slutty, and considers George to be old and boring. George, on his part, is moody and belligerent. But how much of that is due to Rose's behavior?

As it turns out, Rose is really an old-style femme fatale. Her scheme involves using her womanly talents to extricate herself from her stultifying life. Will she succeed? No spoilers here!

For a 1953 movie, it's remarkably frank about Rose's infidelity, and her (um) methods of manipulation. There's a pretty racy shot (for the 50s) of Marilyn in the shower.

Although the movie is really about George and Rose, Polly and Ray act as observers of, and occasional participants in, the whole plot. The thrilling climax involves Polly in peril. (As Chekov said: you shouldn't put a gun onstage unless someone's going to fire it. Similarly, if you place a movie at Niagara Falls, it's pretty darn likely someone's gonna go over.)

Marilyn's certainly the big draw here, and she does some serious acting. But the other actors are fine too. Jack Benny's old pal, Don Wilson, has a small role. Max Showalter was in a lot of different TV shows and movies over the years. For me, his best role was his last one: Molly Ringwald's grandpa in Sixteen Candles.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:31 AM EDT

R

[pirate keyboard]

  • It's Talk Like a Pirate Day. Have at it, me hearties. Folks with a scientific bent will want to check out this convincing evidence that the decrease in pirate population over the years is causing global warming!

    Also Wired provides a handy chart of phrases in Somali. ("Where are the weapons?" is "hoobkaagee meyay?")

  • Damon Root notes the apology of Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Richard N. Palmer to Susette Kelo. As Root notes, one would only hope that Ms. Kelo will eventually get apologies from John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, David Souter, and Anthony Kennedy too.

  • Pun Salad has been shamefully ignoring "Barackrobatics", the word it made up to describe President Obama's rhetorical tics and evasions. Two examples today. First up is from Mr. Jonathan Last notes: "the time for X is over."
    For instance, in Detroit earlier this week, Obama said, "The time for Washington games is over." Washington games being pernicious, QED.

    This is a terribly lazy locution. Because it presupposes that, up until a short while ago, it was time for Washington games.

    Last month? Good for gaming in Washington. Last Friday night? Play away! But now? Oh no. The window has closed. Time to put those terrible, callow games away.

    Good point. A couple years ago, Obama announced that the "time for bickering is over." But not just bickering. Because also, "the time for talk is over." Earlier this year: "the time for putting party first is over."

    What else is over? Well, "the time for moping around is over." Also, (same speech) "time for hand-wringing is over." And "the time for delay is over." In addition, "The time for denial is over."

    When Barack says the time for something is over, it's a slightly obfuscated version of "Shut up and do it my way."

  • But the Indispensable One has spotted another tired phrasing that's popped up: "balancing the budget on the backs of X".
    Judging from President Obama's rhetoric in recent weeks, he seems deeply concerned about back pain among key voter demographics.

    Speaking before the American Legion's national convention in Minneapolis, Obama thundered: "We cannot, we will not, and we must not balance our budget on the back of military veterans."

    While visiting Johnson Controls in Holland, Mich., on Aug. 11, he said: "We're not going to balance our budgets on the back of middle-class and working people in this country."

    Other backs on which Obama would prefer not to balance the budget: the most vulnerable Americans; the very people who have borne the biggest brunt of this recession; the poor and [again] the middle class; seniors; students.

    A nice alliteration, but it's a bit too obvious that he just wants to keep spending. And that would be "on the backs" of taxpayers, current and future.

  • Steve Landsburg has thoughts on the use of "compassion" as a political debating weapon. Check it out.

It's Not You. It's Me.

[Qwikster]

So, I love Netflix. But people are beginning to speculate that Netflix doesn't love me. Not one little bit. This makes me sad.

Or maybe they do love me, they're just not in love with me. Maybe they just want to be friends. And not friends with benefits.

Awhile back, I got a note that said they were upping the monthly fee for the combination video-streaming/DVDs-by-mail service. (Everyone did. It made the news.)

My decision was easy: dump the streaming, keep the DVD service. No hard feelings. I never got around to buying Yet Another Box to allow me to watch streamed content on my TV, and the selection Netflix offered was merely OK, not great. So I actually wound up saving $4 per month.

But today (like a lot of people), I got mail from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, a combination apology/announcement. First line: "I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation." (You can read the rest here.) The apology was for folks who were a lot more upset about the change than I was. The announcement was that the DVD-by-mail service would now be called "Quikster". Wha…?

But so what?

Instant analyses came thick and fast. Megan McArdle points out that I should probably be worried:

It's not that Netflix doesn't have a problem. They have a huge problem. The company never wanted to be in the mail-order DVD service long-term; it's not a good business. Redbox was threatening to carve off the casual users, leaving them with the high-traffic movie buffs who don't make them money; meanwhile, the warehouses necessary to maintain the business at high traffic levels are costly to build and operate. Plus any idiot can see that the future is likely to be in painlessly streaming movies over the internet, not putting physical discs in little envelopes and mailing them. The fact that the Postal Service is near bankruptcy tells you a lot about the viability of business models based on mailing things.
Megan made me look in the mirror. (Uh, metaphorically. Although I'm a Netflix-lover, I'm also one of those "high-traffic movie buffs who don't make them money." So we may be in a dysfunctional relationship. (If it were a movie, it would be… gosh, maybe Fatal Attraction with me in the Glenn Close role. (Well, what am I supposed to do? You won't answer my calls, you change your number. I mean, I'm not gonna be ignored, Netflix!)

And Megan was being relatively diplomatic. Dan Frommer (via this Wired article) implies I should probably be watching out for Netflix goons looking to break my kneecaps:

Why is this happening? Because the future of Netflix is streaming videos. Period. Not mailing them to your house via the U.S. Postal Service, but delivering them to your TV and devices over the Internet.

But to get there, Netflix first has to convince Hollywood to stream its best movies, and it needs to train consumers to stream movies as a default behavior. That means making sure that the streaming business can stand on its own. And that means separating DVDs from the equation, and doing as much as possible to get everyone to stop using them, short of blatant sabotage. (What, you think the bad name, "Qwikster," is an accident?)

Oh, well. As I type, I have three DVDs at home, 143 in my main queue, and 21 in the "Saved" queue, waiting for availability. And I'm willing to send them $15.99 per month in perpetuity. They can't make money off me? We can't make this commercial relationship work? That's kind of sad.

13 Assassins

[3.5
stars] 13 Assassins (2010) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

Sometimes you're just in the mood for a good old fashioned samurai movie. And this, my friends, is the real deal, straight from the Land of the Rising Sun. It's a wonderful big-budget epic.

The need for good guys is dire: an evil lord, Naritsugu, has made his way into a position of power. And he uses that power in the most despicable ways imaginable: torture, rape, and murder of the innocent and helpless. (And the movie's pretty explicit about this stuff, so it's not for the kids.)

Taking up the task is the elder samurai Shinzaemon. He assembles a small squad of—well, I guess you know how many—heroes, including his nephew Shinrokuro. It is widely (and correctly) assumed to be a suicide mission; the team approaches it with a strong sense of fatalistic duty. They lay out a plan that will deliver Naritsugu into a spot where he can be attacked, but there are no guarantees.

It sounds pretty serious, and it mostly is. But Shinzaemon has a sly sense of humor. The group runs across a guy named Koyata on their trek through a forest—and he's hilarious.

Not everyone goes for this stuff, but as Lincoln allegedly said: People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:36 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2011-09-18 Update

[phony baloney]

The Rick Perry Surge (which would be an excellent name for a rock band, should Governor Perry decide to pursue that career path) continues:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-09-12
"Rick Perry" phony 29,500,000 +15,800,000
"Barack Obama" phony 7,900,000 +460,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 4,870,000 +50,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 3,560,000 -340,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 1,390,000 -30,000

  • Whatever Perry's problem with phoniness is, Michael Scherer of Time can't see it. After a YouTubed compilation of Perry's Texas TV campaign ads:

    … Scherer comments:

    Perhaps the only thing that beats a politician in chaps is that same politician walking through a sausage factory, all the while looking good and not at all phony. Meet Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose long political career, is filled with high quality and effective television spots.
    These things are notoriously subjective, though. You might find that the "high quality and effective" spots remind you of nothing other than those 2am ads for personal injury lawyers.

  • Like a few million other people, I got mail from Jim Messina, President Obama's 2012 campaign manager, this week, announcing AttackWatch.com:
    We all remember the birth certificate smear, the GOP's barrage of lies about the Affordable Care Act, and the string of other phony attacks on President Obama that we've seen over the past few years.
    My favorite lie about the Affordable Care Act was "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it" Who was saying that again?

    Oh, right:

  • By the way, extensive Pun Salad research reveals that Obama campaign manager Jim Messina may not actually be that Jim Messina. For one thing, his mama does dance and his daddy does (indeed) rock and roll.

  • Speaking of AttackWatch.com, you've probably already seen this but:

    Drat that Emmanuel Goldstein.

  • Apparently this isn't made up at all:
    This weekend, former Obama Spokesman and current Senior Strategist for Priorities USA Action Bill Burton attacked Mitt Romney as a "phony" for tweeting about his love of flying commercial, and of eating Subway sandwiches, in what Burton sees as an attempt to change his image with regular folk. In an email to reporters, Burton said the tweets show that Romney "is willing to do or say anything to become President, even if it means changing his positions, his appearance and his sandwich."
    You may now consider the bottom of the barrel scraped, phony-wise.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:45 PM EST

Dinner with Barack

[Dinner]

Political consumer note: President Obama is soliciting donations by offering "Dinner with Barack". The mail I received says:

Today, I want to ask if you'll join me and three other supporters for a meal and conversation sometime soon.

Please donate $5 or more to be automatically entered for a chance to join me for dinner:

And you are pointed here, a web form where (indeed) you can enter your personal and credit-card information, and donate $5 or more.

But as the very small print at the bottom reveals, you don't have to contribute to get a very, very small chance at chowing down with O. If you're like me, you might not prefer to chip in one thin dime to the President's re-election campaign. But (on the other hand) you wouldn't mind at all being in a situation where you could (um) share your thoughts on his job performance, in a respectful, but nonetheless candid, manner. In that case, you can click here instead, enter your personal info, contribute zero-point-zero dollars, and you (allegedly) have as good a shot at winning as a $2500 contributor.

Downside: you have to provide your e-mail address. And they will spam you, almost daily. (But there are plus sides to that too. I found out about the AttackWatch.com website via campaign mail, and that was pretty funny.)


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:59 AM EDT

A Simple Twist of Fate

[5.0 stars] A Simple Twist of Fate (1994) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

This 1994 movie probably knocked Steve Martin's career as a screenwriter/movie star offtrack for a while. It followed Roxanne and L.A. Story, but (according to IMDB) was a dreadful bomb, only doing $3.4 million in box office receipts. Like Roxanne, it's based on a literary classic (Silas Marner). But it's considerably less comic than either of its predecessors, and there's no romance.

Still, I liked it. And I now own it, having picked it out of the $5 bin at Wal-Mart. (You can probably do as well over there at the Amazon link, hint, hint.)

Mr. Martin plays Michael McCann. As the movie opens, he's dealt a kick in the nards by his beloved wife: the child she's carrying was fathered by Michael's best friend. ("Welcome to Cuckoldville. Population: you.") This (a) ends the marriage, and causes Michael to (b) quit his job, (c) close himself off from the world, become (d) a miser, a (e) recluse, and (f) the object of fun-poking by the local townsfolk. He manages by making beautiful custom furniture, selling to the upper classes.

After a few years, life deals him another blow: his miserly ways have brought him a small fortune in gold, but he foolishly stores it in a secret compartment that it takes a thief about 15 seconds to break into.

But then: a drug-abusing mother and her golden-haired toddler daughter happen upon Michael's house one snowy evening. The mother expires, probably from some combination of overdose and exposure; the daughter makes herself at home inside. This is a sign: Michael adopts the child, names her Mathilda, putting himself on the road to his own redemption.

But Mathilda's actual backstory remains unknown to Michael, and years later it causes major soap opera-style complications.

This doesn't sound like very promising comedic material. But while the movie's less of a laff riot than (say) The Jerk, it still has some very funny bits. And here's what I know about Steve Martin: he's exactly as funny as he wants to be.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:25 AM EDT

Eric Thames is Classy

[Thames is classy]

I don't blog much about baseball; compared to other fans, I'm probably down around the 20th percentile in sports knowledge depth. I cant remember exactly what makes a squeeze suicidal, and I'm weak on the cutoff man, and exactly when it might be time to hit him.

Nevertheless, watching last night's game was fun, with the Red Sox snapping a streak of mediocre-to-bad games, mercilessly whaling on the Toronto Blue Jays (final score 18-6). Tim Wakefield, who's like 75 years old, finally won his 200th game, and there was a nice postgame stadium interview with Heidi Watney. Papelbon sprayed him with champagne.

But what I really liked was the approximately 15 seconds ending the fifth inning. Josh Reddick hits a nasty fly to the left field corner, in a spot that American League outfielders probably have bad dreams about at night.

Toronto fielder Eric Thames catches it though, making a spectacular sliding catch right up against the foul line wall.

Third out, Thames starts trotting in with the baseball, past the Boston fans. And gives the ball to a US Army guy, attending the game in camo uniform.

Who then, in turn, passes it off to a kid sitting in the second row behind him.

Sweet behavior all around. MLB liked it too, and you can watch the video here.


Last Modified 2011-09-18 7:00 PM EDT

I Got Hurt Feelings

  • A construction sign on my way to work seems oxymoronic to me:

    USE
    EXTREME
    CAUTION!!

    I always wonder: "Is my caution extreme enough this morning? Maybe I should slow down to 10 MPH?"

  • Awhile back, I posted President Obama's Two-Point Plan for the economy:

    1. Say and do anything to get re-elected.
    2. There is no point two.

    Megan McArdle notes that Obama's "jobs plan" fits that model precisely:

    You can say that Obama has no choice, because the GOP is just so damn obstructive that they won't pass anything anyway. As it happens, I disagree--I don't think that he could have gotten the whole thing through, but the GOP would probably have given him a few pieces to avoid looking like total jerks, and while that might not have done too much for Obama's re-election chances, it probably would have meant a lot to the schmoes trying to make their mortgage payments in a tough economy.

    But say it's true. If it is, I really wish that Obama hadn't wasted my Thursday evening, and that of 31 million other Americans, listening to a jobs plan that was only designed to produce one job--a second term for Barack Obama. I mean, I don't blame him, exactly. But I get a little pang when I realize that I could just as well have spent that time bleaching the grout in the master bath.

  • Language Log has irrefutable proof that the Chinese, as a people, are more likely than any other to have their feelings hurt, even more than the Kiwis.

    Spokespersons for the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) often complain that the words or actions of individuals or groups from other nations "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people".  This is true even when those individuals or groups are speaking or acting on behalf of some segment of the Chinese population (e.g., political prisoners, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong adherents, people whose houses have been forcibly demolished, farmers, and so forth).  A typical cause for invoking the "hurt(s) the feelings of the Chinese people" circumlocution would be for the head of state of a country to meet with the Dalai Lama or Rebiya Kadeer.  A good example is Mexican President Calderon's recent meeting with the Dalai Lama, which the PRC government denounced in extremely harsh terms.  The vitriolic rebuke led one commentator to refer to the PRC denunciation of the Mexican President as a kind of "bullying".

    I suggest the Kramer response: "What about my feelings? Don't my feelings count for anything? Oh, only the poor monkey's important. Everything has to be done for the monkey!"

    If nothing else, it might confuse 'em for a bit.

  • At Cato, Daniel J. Mitchell is more than a little irritated with Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann for their demagoguery on Social Security.

    Here’s what’s so frustrating. Romney and Bachmann almost certainly understand that Social Security is actuarially bankrupt. And they probably realize that personal retirement accounts are the only long-run answer.

    But they’re letting political ambition lure them into saying things that they know are not true. Why? Because they think Perry will lose votes and they can improve their respective chances of getting the GOP nomination.

    Politics aside: as a practical matter, Mitt and Michele should realize that you can't out-demagogue the Democrats on Social Security.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:42 AM EDT

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

[Amazon Link]

For no reason I can put my finger on, I've resolved to get through all seven Harry Potter books. (It might be because my daughter technically owns them, and she keeps threatening to take them away.)

I've assigned myself about 20 pages per day. If my calculations are correct, I should finish book 7 around March 18 of next year. (I'd only managed to read the first two, but I'm re-reading them in this project to refresh my memory.)

This first installment in the series, of course, introduces the main characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Snape, Malfoy, etc. Since (from the movies), I already kind of know what's happening, it's funny to note Rowling's foreshadowing. There's a lot of whimsy in this first book that (at least in the movies) gets cut way back later, as things get more and more deadly. The comic caricatures of the Dudleys, the every-flavor jellybeans, quidditch, the sorting hat, …

A very amusing and effortless read. It's easy to see why so many readers got sucked into the Potterverse.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:42 AM EDT

Super

[3.5
stars] Super (2010) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

There are dark comedies, and then there are really dark comedies. This one is as black as Lutheran church-basement coffee. Dark enough so that every chuckle was accompanied by a little pang of guilt: Am I a bad person for finding this amusing? So consumer beware: it's not for the kiddos, or those easily offended, or maybe even the mentally healthy. But I liked it.

Rainn Wilson plays Frank, the very definition of a schlub, working away as a cook in a greasy spoon. Against all odds, he's married to to the lovely Sarah (Liv Tyler)—OK, you have to really strain credulity to buy that, work with me here. But their relationship is going south: she's taken up with a bad element, and dropping back into old habits of drinking and drugs.

Specifically: the Bad Element is "Jacques" (Kevin Bacon): a total sleaze, apparently a drug kingpin of some sort. Frank's initial efforts to break Sarah away from Jacques fail miserably.

Frank decides (after what seems to be divine intervention) to become a costumed superhero. Also, by most people's standards, he goes nuts. Since he lacks in the superpower department, he carries a pipe wrench. (Which he not only uses on muggers and perverts, but also people cutting in line at the theatre.) With mixed feelings, he acquires a sidekick (Ellen Page) who turns out to be even crazier. Things build up to an epic finale.

This marks a reunion for Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page, because he had a small but memorable role in Juno a few years back. The movie is written and directed by James Gunn, who previously did the kinda-funny horror film Slither, also pretty good.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:40 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2011-09-12 Update

[phony baloney]

It's starting to look like a runaway for Rick Perry:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-09-04
"Rick Perry" phony 13,700,000 +2,300,000
"Barack Obama" phony 7,440,000 +190,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 4,820,000 -140,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 3,900,000 +1,260,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 1,420,000 +50,000

  • I should point out that a lot of Rick Perry's phony standing is due to that one line from his book (Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington) where he called Al Gore's global warming alarmism "all one contrived phony mess that's falling apart under its own weight." People love to repeat that line over, and over, and over. And here I've done it myself.

  • Jacob Sullum's article from the latest dead-trees issue of Reason has made it online. His topic is just one instantiation of President Obama's phoniness: his relentless waging of the War on Drugs after making campaign promises to (at least) moderate it. It's worth reading in full. At the end Sullum allows himself to fantasize: what if dope-smokin' Barry had been arrested when he attended Columbia U in the 1980s?

    A misdemeanor marijuana conviction could have been a life-changing event for Obama, interrupting his education, impairing his job prospects, and derailing his political career before it began. It would not have been fair, but it would have spared us the sorry spectacle of a president who champions a policy he once called “an utter failure” and who literally laughs at supporters whose objections to that doomed, disastrous crusade he once claimed to share.

    On the other hand,… President Hillary? Who knows?

  • Mitt Romney issued a slick PDF entitled Believe in America: Mitt Romney's Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth. You can even download it to your Kindle for free right here.

    But don't bother. At Reason, Peter Suderman read it, and was merciless. Conclusion:

    It’s as if Romney and his team took notice of the polls showing Obama losing to a generic Republican—and then made it his mission to become exactly that candidate. If not for the spectre of RomneyCare, Romney might have succeeded in personifying the distilled essence of vaguely Reaganesque vanilla Republicanism.

    Of course, as part of the act, Romney is required to insist otherwise. The report’s third section, “Mitt Romney’s Plan,” begins by declaring that “Mitt Romney is a leader of a very different kind.” Not just different. Very different. The important thing, though, is that he has to tell you. Because otherwise you wouldn’t know.

  • I personally love the Sweetheart of National Review Online, Kathryn Jean Lopez. But she goes into a swoon way too easily…

    There was something remarkably attractive at the Republican debate at the Reagan Library on September 7.

    No, it wasn’t Jon Huntsman’s tan, Mitt Romney’s hair, Michele Bachmann’s shoes, or Rick Perry’s swagger.

    Although I suppose the swagger isn’t entirely unrelated. But what was special was something far less superficial, the kind of thing you know when you see, but that we might all be a bit too jaded about politics to acknowledge: It was authenticity.

    Yes, even politicians can have it.

    Really? I would encourage Kathryn to embrace her inner jadedness. If that actually exists.

  • Michael Barone, on the other hand, did not swoon for …

    What is there to say about Barack Obama’s speech to Congress Thursday night, and the so-called American Jobs Act he said Congress must pass? Several thoughts occur, all starting with P.

    Unfortunately, the P's are: "Projection", "Pragmatism" (the lack thereof), "Paid for" (as in: assigning responsibility for that elsewhere), "Pathetic promises", "Political payoffs", and "Pettifoggery".

    That's a good list, but what about "Phony"? Must have been too obvious:

    “Everything in this bill,” Obama said in his eighth paragraph, “will be paid for. Everything.”

    By whom? Well, in the 24th paragraph he tells us that he is asking the 12-member super-committee Congress set up under the debt-ceiling bill to add another $450,000,000,000 or so to the $1,500,000,000,000 in savings it is charged to come up with. The roving camera showed the ordinarily hardy super-committee member Sen. Jon Kyl looking queasy.

    Obama is like the guy in the bar who says, “I’ll stand drinks for everyone in the house,” and then adds, “Those guys over there are going to pay for them.”

    What’s fascinating here is that once again the supposedly pragmatic and sometimes professorial president is not making use of the first-class professionals in the Office of Management and Budget to come up with specifics, but is leaving that to members of Congress, maybe in a midnight marathon session with deadlines pending. Same as on the stimulus package and Obamacare.

    Same old tricks. I can't imagine why some people are still impressed.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:45 PM EST

Ten Years

[Robert LeBlanc Memorial]

Nothing profound. I shared my personal recollections back in 2008.

The cliché is: "Everything changed." But one specific thing changed: in a matter of hours, we went from a world where such an atrocity was unthinkable, to one where it was not only thinkable, it had actually happened.

If you haven't already seen it, check out the Washington Post story of Lt. Heather "Lucky" Penney. In 2001, she was a rookie F-16 pilot with the D.C. Air National Guard. And she found herself assigned to play kamikaze with Flight 93.

"Lucky, you're coming with me," barked Col. Marc Sasseville.

They were gearing up in the pre-flight life-support area when Sasseville, struggling into his flight suit, met her eye.

"I'm going to go for the cockpit," Sasseville said.

She replied without hesitating.

"I'll take the tail."

Also: Dave Barry on his visit to Shanksville, PA. Originally published September 8, 2002.

Sorry, Wrong Number

[3.5
stars] Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

A 1948 monochrime oldie (and pretty goodie) from 1948.

Barbara Stanwyck plays Leona, a rich and spoiled heiress. She's also very ill: any attempt to get out of bed exhausts her, and leaving her stately mansion is out of the question. Which would be fine, except that (due to some glitch in the late-40's New York telephone system), she gets patched into a conversation between two lowlifes plotting a murder.

Left alone at home, her only link to the outside world is that phone; we're invited along as she uses it to figure out the target of the plot and tries to convince anyone to assist in thwarting the scheme.

The movie is mostly a melodrama. Told in many flashbacks is Leona's domineering romance with and marriage to Henry—Burt Lancaster!—a small-town poor boy who finds himself, with increasing frustration, firmly under the thumb of his wife and her even more oppressive father.

It's a lot of fun, and it's a real good argument for having a Glock in your nightstand.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:29 AM EDT

The Perfect Host

[3.0
stars] The Perfect Host (2010) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

This starts out as a neat psycho-thriller, but managed to stretch my credibility beyond the breaking point. No spoilers, but…

A criminal, John Taylor, is on the lam from a bank job; his task is complicated by the fact that the cops are everywhere, and he's been shot in the foot. Looking for refuge, he glibly talks his way into a nice home inhabited by—hey, it's Niles Crane! No, actually, it's Warwick Wilson, played by David Hyde-Pierce.

Warwick is a gracious host, and seemingly duped by John's impersonation of a friend of a friend. He invites John to stay for a dinner party later that night. But it gradually becomes apparent that Warwick was not fooled, and he has other, more sinister, plans for John.

Helen Reddy is in this, by the way. Yes, that Helen Reddy: "Delta Dawn", "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar". According to IMDB, this is her first movie since 1987. I didn't recognize her.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:31 AM EDT

Driving Force

[Amazon Link]

Another reader of this book: Elizabeth Hurley. (Last picture on the page.)

The Dick Francis hero this time around is Freddie Croft. Some of Francis's protagonists have interesting, even glamorous professions. Freddie is not one of them; he used to be a jockey, but now he runs a horse transport firm. His vehicles move racehorses from trainers' stables to racetracks, then back again. Boooring!

Meticulous and professional, Freddie might prefer his life that way. But things get a little more interesting: first, against strict orders, his drivers pick up a mysterious hitchhiker, who up and dies on them. The circumstances are just strange enough to prompt Freddie to investigate further, and his mechanic discovers hidden compartments underneath some of the trucks; someone's using them to transport something! But what? And why?

This being a Dick Francis book, things rapidly get more sinister. Another body turns up, perhaps the victim of foul play. Freddie finds himself the target of (a) a police investigation, (b) a nasty bit of vandalism, and (c) attempted murder.

A decent Francis outing, if not among his best. ("Decent" Francis is still pretty darn good, though.)


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:32 AM EDT

Please, Mr. Postman: Go Away

Please Mr. Postman

One old rap on libertarians: unrealistic dreamers who want to sell the Post Office. Doesn't seem so crazy now, does it? Here's a news story picked at random.

The U.S. Postal Service may lose $10 billion in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, more than it had predicted, as mail volume continues to drop, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in testimony for a Senate hearing.

The loss will leave the Washington-based service unable to make required payments to the federal government and puts it at risk of default as it reaches its $15 billion borrowing limit, Donahoe said in testimony prepared for the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing today.

Ah, another sinking ship, another bailout. What to do?

  • Kevin Williamson has some good advice: kill the USPS.

    We ought to close down the USPS. It was a government agency created to solve a problem, and today that problem is solved, and we no longer need a centralized federal monopoly to facilitate intercity communication, the delivering of parcels, etc. News stories reporting the travails of the USPS invariably note that the agency has been ravaged by e-mail, but this gets things precisely wrong: E-mail has relieved us, nationally, of the burden of maintaining a postal service for delivering letters. The emergence of private couriers, FedEx, UPS, et al., have likewise rendered USPS’s delivery services obsolete. Letters and other “household to household” mail accounts for less than 10 percent of USPS’s volume, most of which is junk mail.

    But how will I get my copies of National Review? Oh, well, they're smart. They'll figure out something.

  • Kevin manages to be more radical than Cato; they "merely" recommend privatization:

    To avoid a large and growing burden from being foisted on taxpayers in coming years, the USPS should be privatized and postal markets open for competition from FedEx, UPS, and upstart entrepreneurs.

    With privatization, Congress should end its micromanagement of the nation’s postal services. It should rescind the complex laws and regulations on delivery schedules, price caps, restrictions of facility shut-downs, and other business decisions. Such congressional meddling ultimately hurts the consumers that any postal business is supposed to serve by pushing up costs.

    Either works for me.

  • But (alas) the proposals actually floating around Congress are even more moderate. Rep. Darrell Issa has a slick website up with a countdown clock to the September 30 USPS default date, a slick video, and a "play the Congressman" game. But he just wants to get rid of some of the existing Congressional mandates on the USPS: Saturday delivery, keeping teentsy post offices open, etc. We can do better.

  • But in Issa's favor, the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) launched a broadside against him. His legislation, they claim, "would destroy the Postal Service as we know it." So that's a plus.

  • The APWU's interests are served by H.R. 1351, legislation introduced by Rep. Steve Lynch (D-MA).

    Special note for Granite Staters: guess who's a co-sponsor of H.R. 1351? Our very own RINO, Charlie Bass.

  • There are other worse proposals than Issa's. Here's an op-ed by Senator Susan Collins (RINO-Maine) whose maine concern (heh) is keeping the Post Office on tiny Matinicus Island, 20 miles offshore from Rockland, open. Unsurprisingly, hers is a business-as-usual approach.

    Josh Barro has a good response:

    For some reason, politicians talk about living in rural America as though it were an involuntary disease whose sufferers deserve offsetting federal subsidies. But nobody is forcing anybody to live in a remote town in northern Maine. If you want to live there, you should pay a market price to have things delivered to you. If you don’t like paying for that, you can move. It’s not my responsibility to subsidize your postal service so you can live the rural lifestyle you enjoy at a below-market cost.

    Tough love for those hicks living out in the sticks.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 6:04 AM EDT

Detour

[2.5
stars] Detour (1945) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

A postwar classic film noir from director Edgar G. Ulmer. If you like film noir, you should probably see it. I just didn't like it very much. We spent a Netflix pick on it, but it's also available for free viewing here, if you're so inclined.

Tom Neal plays Al, a piano player in a New York nightspot. He's in love with Sue, the singer. But she heads off to find success in L.A. After a bit, he decides he should follow her. Unfortunately, his funds are low, so he uses his thumb. He gets picked up by Haskell, a slimy blowhard in a big convertible; unfortunately, Haskell winds up accidentally dead.

Al, fearing that the authorities will pin Haskell's death on him, skedaddles with Haskell's car and cash. Mistake! But then he makes an even bigger one: he picks up a nasty dame named Vera, who quickly digs her claws into Al's situation. It doesn't work out well for either of them.

The very implausibility of the plot has led many to speculate that Al, as the narrator, is an unreliable reporter of what actually happened. I think it's just a symptom of a dashed-off script and whatever chemicals were influencing this particular segment of the filmmaker community at the time.

The film is uniformly bleak, and none of the characters is remotely sympathetic. If you (like me) come into a flick with a "why should I care" attitude, I don't think you'll find a very good answer here. On the other hand, if you're a fan of loopy hard-boiled dialog, there's plenty.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:33 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2011-09-04 Update

[phony baloney]

We lose another candidate from our phony poll this week, as Michele Bachmann has dipped below our arbitrary inclusion requirement of 4% at Intrade. (Just by a bit: 3.9%. But rules are rules.)

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-08-29
"Rick Perry" phony 11,400,000 +4,760,000
"Barack Obama" phony 7,250,000 +4,550,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 4,960,000 +320,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 2,640,000 -10,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 1,370,000 +290,000

  • Yet another dark secret was revealed about Rick Perry this week: back in 1993, when he was Texas Agricultural Commissioner, he wrote a letter to (then) First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, deeming her nascent efforts for a government healthcare takeover to be "commendable" and a "worthy effort."

    So surely we can find… ah, yes, here's Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic:

    Yes, this was almost two decades ago, and I don't think it reveals much, if anything, about the way Perry would behave on health care if elected now. But it is another demonstration that he's a phony -- that is to say, his rhetoric on federalism and narrow view of what the Constitution permits are exactly what the tea party wants to hear, but his record and penchant for contradicting himself when doing so is politically convenient cast doubt on the depth of his conviction.

    Disclaimer: Friedersdorf is kind of a weasel.

  • Sarah Palin spoke in rainy Indianola, Iowa yesterday, and used the p-word herself:

    "America's economic revival starts with America's energy revival," she declared. "Drill now, let the pipelines and the refineries be built. No phony green jobs."

    I think she's a long shot (at best) for the presidency, but I wish more of the GOP candidates sounded like her.

  • Jonathan Last blogged amusingly and perceptively about Mitt Romney's unimpressive political career. Like Last, I'm willing to bet that Romney's a very decent guy, but he's not that great a campaigner. Relevant to our theme, however, is:

    It's funny that Romney's line of attack on Perry seems to be that Perry is a "career politician" because he's been in elective office since 1984. Well, Mitt Romney would have been a career politician too, if only voters would have let him. He's been running since 1994. His real gripe about Perry is actually, "Hey, that guy wins all the time! No fair!"

  • Jonah Goldberg reminded us about the phoniness of the "anti-science" charge against Republicans (in response to a column by Rich Lowry):

    During the Gulf oil spill, the Obama administration dishonestly claimed that its independent experts supported a drilling moratorium. They emphatically did not. The president who campaigned on basing his policies on "sound science" ignored his own hand picked experts. According to the GAO, he did something very similar when he shut down Yucca Mountain. His support for wind and solar energy, as you suggest, isn't based on science but on faith. And that faith has failed him dramatically.

    Gosh, it's almost as if the Democrats' claim to be guided by the impartial hand of Science is… phony.

  • Phony-wise, President Obama is the gift that keeps on giving. Why it seems like only a few weeks ago

    Moving forward, my basic attitude is we know what to do. I'll be putting forward, when [Congresscritters] come back in September, a very specific plan to boost the economy, to create jobs, and to control our deficit. And my attitude is, get it done. (Applause.) And if they don't get it done, then we'll be running against a Congress that's not doing anything for the American people, and the choice will be very stark and will be very clear.

    Oh, that's right. It was only a few weeks ago. But now:

    In what could be a way of lowering expectations for next Thursday's big economic speech, aides to President Obama are privately spreading word that he will not present his entire jobs plan in his address to a Joint Session of Congress.

    Pun Salad has obtained this leaked White House document revealing President Obama's two-point plan for the economy:

    1. Say and do anything to get re-elected.
    2. There is no point two.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:45 PM EST

"Harvard Nice?" I Don't Think So.

Thought Police

  • The smart folks at Harvard are doing something stupid this year, as reported by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education:

    Administrators at Harvard College are pressuring the Class of 2015 to do something no other student class has ever been asked to do in 375 years: Sign a civility pledge.

    The pledge is full of feelgood vagueness, Computer Science professor (and ex-Dean) Harry Lewis posted a finely-worded dissent on his blog, worth reading in full. I liked this:

    On the face of it the pledge is so benign that one might reasonably accuse me of making a mountain out of a molehill. But the right to be annoying is precious, as is the right to think unkind thoughts. Harvard should not condone the sacrifice of rights to speech and thought simply because they can be inconvenient in a residential college. In the words of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case involving compulsory flag salutes, "Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good as well as by evil men. … As first and moderate methods to attain unity have failed, those bent on its accomplishment must resort to an ever-increasing severity. … Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard."

    Good advice.

  • If you want to read only one living Nobel economics laureate about current events, might I suggest Gary Becker? For example, on the "Great Recession":

    This recession might well have been a deep one even with good government policies, but "government failure" added greatly to its length and severity, including its continuation to the present. In the U.S., these government actions include an almost $1 trillion in federal spending that was supposed to stimulate the economy. Leading government economists, backed up by essentially no evidence, argued that this spending would stimulate the economy by enough to reduce unemployment rates to under 8%.

    Such predictions have been so far off the mark as to be embarrassing. Although definitive studies are not yet available about the stimulus package's overall effects on the American economy, most everyone agrees that it was badly designed and executed. What the stimulus did produce is a sizable expansion of the federal deficit and debt.

    Let's keep that in mind while the folks who brought you the previous Grand Government Scheme bring you the next one.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 6:04 AM EDT

Christmas is Always Coming

Hot Sox

  • The Supreme Court declined to restrain the eminent domain powers of an arrogant local government in Kelo v. New London back in 2005. The idea was to replace a not-particularly-rich residential neighborhood in New London, Connecticut with a commercial development. The promise was "3,169 new jobs and $1.2 million a year in tax revenues."

    The neighborhood was successfully destroyed, but commercialization never happened. Gideon's Trumpet reports the latest:

    Now, we learn from the local newspaper, The Day, that following the hurricane Irene, the city has designated the Fort Trumbull redevelopment site as a place to dump vegetation debris. For a video of locals dumping that stuff on the site, click here.

    Connecticut taxpayers have thus been soaked tens of millions of dollars, not just for nothing, but for making things worse — for transforming a nice local neighborhood into a dump.

    Anyone see David Souter recently?

  • But Connecticut's immolation of taxpayer money and private property is small potatoes compared to that of Your Federal Government. Let us join the crowd noting the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of Solyndra, recipient of a $535-million federal loan guarantee back in 2009, proudly hailed (then) as the first of its kind. But let's not look at the recent stories, but back at the fawning coverage at the New York Times in 2010 when President Pollyanna Obama visited a Solyndra plant under construction:

    “It really gives you a sense of what the future of manufacturing looks like,” Mr. Obama told them, adding, “We’re going to keep on building stuff here in America.”

    With its well-lighted modern spaces and high-tech computerized equipment, the sprawling plant against the hills outside Fremont was in sharp contrast to a pipe-manufacturing factory adapted from a shuttered steel mill, that Mr. Obama visited in Youngstown, Ohio, last week. But both are expanding, in part with federal money from last year’s $787 billion economic recovery act.

    Mr. Obama also said that the new jobs created at Solyndra, both temporary ones in construction and permanent manufacturing slots, were a sign that the economy is improving.

    “What you are proving here, all of you, collectively, is that as difficult as it’s going to be, as long as it takes, we will recover,” he told the employees.

    “The promise of clean energy isn’t an article of faith, not anymore,” he added. “The future is here.”

    On the contrary, Mr. President: the future is here.

    A company that served as a showcase for the Obama administration’s effort to create jobs in clean technology shut down Wednesday, leaving 1,100 people out of work and taxpayers obligated for $535 million in federal loans.

    And let's not forget:

    The Obama administration bypassed steps meant to protect taxpayers as it hurried to approve an energy loan guarantee to a politically-connected California solar power startup , iWatch News and ABC News have learned. […]

    The loan guarantee, the administration's first for a clean energy project, benefited a company whose prime financial backers include Oklahoma oil billionaire George Kaiser, a “bundler” of campaign donations. Kaiser raised at least $50,000 for the president’s 2008 election effort.

    Crony capitalism at its finest!

  • At the Washington Post, Dana Milbank feels it's worth his typing time to inform us: Rick Perry is no libertarian. In fact (he claims), "Rick Perry is a theocrat." Oh noes! Hide the Cthulhu plush!

    Jacob Sullum is both more qualified and better able to make fine distinctions than Milbank. Libertarian-minded voters willing to vote for a Republican should read the whole thing, and maybe follow the links. Sullum's conclusion:

    As far as I can tell, by the way, no one is calling Perry a libertarian. The statement to which Milbank objected was Post reporter Perry Bacon's claim that a Perry victory "would cement the Republican Party's shift away from Bush's approach to a more libertarian, anti-government GOP." That much seems possible. After all, you can be more libertarian than George W. Bush without being very libertarian at all. So far it seems that Perry is about as good as Bush on the few issues (immigration, for example) where Bush was pretty good, no worse than Bush in any major way (unless I've missed it; let me know), and substantially better rhetorically, eschewing "compassionate" conservatism and championingfederalism, even in the area of drug policy. If there is any substance at all to Perry's Tea Party–pleasing emphasis on fiscal conservatism, Bacon's prediction could turn out to be accurate.

  • When I was a kid, my mom used to freak when she saw Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. Too soon!

    Times have changed. The mail brought our first Christmas catalog yesterday, August 31. The perpetrators of this outrage: the Lakeside Collection. It's a very slick book with an upscale look, and (frankly) I'm a little tempted by the Hot Sox Therapeutic Slippers (only $6.95 per pair, pictured above).


Last Modified 2012-09-25 6:05 AM EDT

Porco Rosso

[4.0
stars] Porco Rosso (1992) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

This is an older animated movie (1992), written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki before he made things like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. If you liked those, you'll probably like this, although it's lighter (and funnier) fare.

It's set in an imaginary 1920's. The title character is a mercenary pilot, tasked with thwarting the evil schemes of air pirates prowling the Adriatic. Oh, and he's a pig. Or, more precisely, a human being who (for some reason) has been cursed with porcine features.

Fortunately, the pirates aren't very evil, and not very competent. (The primary pirate will remind you of Bluto in the old Popeye cartoons.) When they abduct a bunch of little girls from a cruise ship, the girls treat it as a grand adventure, crawling all over the pirate airship. Porco rescues them without a lot of trouble.

Realizing they're outmatched, the pirates then hire a dashing, but amoral, American named Curtis to contend with Porco. Curtis also puts moves on the local nightclub sweetheart, Gina; but (as it turns out) she and Porco know each other from the old days…

I was caught up in this ridiculous, but utterly charming yarn. It was dubbed into English by the best talent Disney can hire; I was sure George Clooney was doing Porco, but it turned out to be Michael Keaton doing a very, very good George Clooney impression.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:30 AM EDT