The Phony Campaign

2011-10-31 Update

[phony baloney]

Apologies: Power problems at Pun Salad World Headquarters delayed this week's phony update. Is there any reason that PSNH's three largest power outages of all time have all been in the last three years?

But grousing about lousy electrical utilities is not why we're here. There were a couple of phony surprises this week:

  1. Newt Gingrich is back, baby! At Intrade, he's rocking a 4.3% chance as the eventual GOP nominee. So our (arbitrary) rules say he's back in our tote board.

  2. Mitt Romney has (again) dropped to last place in our phony polling. This is why they invented the word "inexplicable".

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Rick Perry" phony 22,900,000 +10,000,000
"Barack Obama" phony 17,300,000 +9,350,000
"Herman Cain" phony 9,740,000 +5,460,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 7,920,000 ---
"Mitt Romney" phony 4,080,000 -510,000

  • We'll mark Newt's re-entry into our poll with this CBS News story:

    Former House Speaker and White House hopeful Newt Gingrich said Wednesday he is not sure if the public feuding between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry is real or staged by their campaign consultants.

    Holy phony acrimony, Batman! But that got me thinking…

  • Topic for discussion: what lessons could political campaigns learn from professional wrestling? We've seen a couple of migrations from one world to the other: Jesse Ventura and Linda McMahon; who would be a good candidate for going the other way? Most importantly, are we ever going to see the political equivalent of the WWE Divas?

    There's an op-ed column just begging to be written. Over to you, George F. Will!

  • At the National Journal, Ron Fournier belabored the obvious:

    Herman Cain is Mitt Romney's worst nightmare, but not for the reasons you might think.

    Sure, the former pizza company CEO shares top-tier status with Romney in most national polls of GOP voters, and his fortunes are on the rise in early voting states. But nobody outside his small circle of advisers believes that Cain has a significant chance of winning the nomination.

    The most serious threat Cain poses to Romney is that his candidacy, however fragile and fleeting, underscores the power of a virtue that Romney seems to lack: Authenticity.

    That was the bugaboo for Romney four years ago when his policy shifts on abortion, guns, health care and several other issues both failed to endear him to conservatives and undercut inroads he could have made with moderates. Worse, Romney limped out of the 2008 race looking like a phony.

    If you're a phony aficionado, Fournier's article is worth reading in its entirety.

  • There are different paths to phoniness, however. Steve Chapman found that Herman Cain, Mr. Authentic himself, is pretty hard to pin down.

    For a while during last Tuesday's Republican debate, it wasn't clear if Herman Cain was running for president of the United States or the Fruit Vendors Association. Responding to a criticism of his "9-9-9" tax plan, Cain said, "This is an example of mixing apples and oranges. The state tax is an apple. We are replacing the current tax code with oranges."

    When more criticisms came, he again took refuge in the produce aisle. Cain was not taking a position on apples, but he was stoutly in favor of oranges, and he was adamant that they should never be placed in the same bag.

    What the exchanges revealed is that Cain lacks a flair for metaphor as well as a working grasp of his own platform. He emphatically denied the charge that his 9 percent business levy would function as a value-added tax. But the analysis commissioned by his own campaign, which he urged everyone to read, takes a somewhat different view.

    Chapman found similar confusion when looking at Cain's stands on a host of other issues. His observation:

    The danger of anyone becoming president without any political experience is not just that he doesn't know many things, but that he doesn't know what he doesn't know. Cain has an additional problem: He doesn't know what he thinks.

    Yeah, well, me neither, sometimes. On the other hand, I'm not running for high political office.

  • Out in Vegas, President Obama demonstrated that he's no math whiz:

    But last week, we had a separate vote on a part of the jobs bill that would put 400,000 teachers, firefighters and police officers back on the job, paid for by asking people who make more than $1 million to pay one-half of 1 percent in additional taxes. For somebody making $1.1 million a year, that's an extra $500. Five hundred bucks. And with that, we could have saved $400,000 [sic] jobs.

    We (again) have the rhetoric that he's merely advocating "asking people" to pay more taxes. That's dishonest, and insults the intelligence of his audience. (Of course, his audience were folks who had given money to the Obama campaign, so we're not talking about the sharpest knives in the drawer here.)

    But the math is almost as bad. One half of one percent of 1 million dollars is $5000. The "$500" comes from just the incremental tax on the amount over $1 million in the President's example of a "$1.1 million" income.

    At the NR Corner, Peter Kirsanow tried to make sense out of the numbers in a couple of posts (here and here). Sample: The IRS reported only 235,413 taxpayers making over $1 million last year. "Asking" for $500 from each of them gives just under $118 million. That's about one-fifth of a Solyndra loan guarantee. And it's less than $300 for each of those 400,000 jobs Obama claims "we could have saved."

    You can play with the numbers all you want, but what you can't get is any indication that Obama is doing anything other than thowing red class-warfare meat to the mob Democrat base. Does that work at the Bellagio? Will it work in the general election?

  • And finally, the Washington Times reported:

    The State Department has bought more than $70,000 worth of books authored by President Obama, sending out copies as Christmas gratuities and stocking "key libraries" around the world with "Dreams From My Father" more than a decade after its release.

    It was only a couple of weeks ago that Elspeth Reeve observed that Herman Cain's campaign purchasing his own books added to the "perception he isn't a for-real candidate." Obviously, Cain should wait until he's President, then have the State Department do that instead.

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

Bend of the River

[3.5 stars] Bend of the River (1952) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

Directed by Anthony Mann, starring Jimmy Stewart. That's a pretty good combination. They made eight movies together between 1950 and 1955, five of them Westerns. This one is from 1952.

Jimmy plays Glyn McLyntock, guiding a wagon train of pilgrims out to their new home in Oregon. As the movie begins, he rescues one Emerson Cole from a lynching; Cole is a scoundrel, but doesn't deserve that. A short time later, Cole returns the favor by saving McLyntock's life in a battle with some pesky Indians. An uneasy and, it turns out, temporary alliance is formed.

The wagons make it to Portland, eventually, but the settlers' problems aren't over. Their new home is out in the wilderness, they're short on supplies, and they get shafted by the merchant with whom they made arrangements. McLyntock must deal with the crook, and also faces a double cross by his putative ally, Cole.

It's action-packed, full of beautiful scenery, and a decent amount of fun. (For a 1950s movie, the body count is pretty high.) Rock Hudson has a medium-sized role, and I was surprised to learn that Jimmy Stewart resented the disproportionate amount of attention paid to Hudson when the movie came out, so much so that he refused to work with him again. (Or so IMDB claims.) I thought Jimmy liked everybody.

Last Modified 2012-09-25 4:50 AM EDT

Happy Food Day, Everyone!

[Food Day]

The University Near Here, we're told, is in dire financial straits. Nevertheless it's devoted a significant chunk of resources to celebrate Food Day today. It's the culmination of over a month's worth of activity, titled "UNH Passport to Food Citizenship."

Maybe "celebrate" is the wrong word. I haven't noticed anyone having any fun. Mainly, people are just very, very earnest. Also very, very, self-righteous. And it's low on education, very high on indoctrination.

The UNH site proudly informs you that Food Day was created by the reliably left-wing Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). It's overtly political. Their front page demands: "Ask Congress to Support Food Day's Goals". In case there's any doubt who's in charge of translating "support" into legislation: the Food Day co-chairs are Tom Harkin, Democratic Senator from Iowa, and Rosa DeLauro, Democratic Congresswoman from Connecticut. The Food Day "Advisory Board" contains seven more Congresscritters, another Senator, and a mayor. No surprises: all Democrats.

There's an easy fill-in form where you can importune your own Members of Congress to "fix America's broken food system." The "fix" is the usual panoply of blunt tools government uses to "fix" the other "broken systems" in the US: heavy regulation, mandates, rules, programs, subsidies, and the like. The ones that have worked so well to "fix" the health, education, financial, and energy sectors.

The whole notion of food being a "system" that can be "fixed" is another instance of what Thomas Sowell called the "unconstrained vision": the unexamined, unshakeable belief that it's all one big well-understood machine, and to get the outcomes we prefer, all we have to do is "fix" it. And there's the obvious corollary: anyone who disagrees is either evil or foolish, and can be safely ignored, or made ineffective "by any means necessary".

So the University has (again) officially hitched its wagon to a highly partisan, lefty cause. Noble-sounding goals are used to sugarcoat statist solutions, making them appear to be what any decent human must support. You will look in vain for any indication on the web page that any of this might even be controversial, let alone any presentation of principled alternative points of view. Disappointing, not surprising.

For a palate cleanser, I suggest the great Katherine Mangu-Ward, writing in the Washington Post on "Five myths about healthy eating." Also: Jacob Sullum noting a rare instance of a food-policy maven (Mark Bittman) succumbing to at least one fact.

And have a good Food Day. I suggest you celebrate it by eating as much as you want, of whatever you want.

Last Modified 2017-12-02 6:09 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2011-10-23 Update

[phony baloney]

Our lineup is unchanged from last week: only Mitt, Rick, and Herman are getting enough respect from the Intraders to push them over our arbitrary 4% threshold. And, as phar as phoniness goes: Rick Perry maintained a big lead, while Herman Cain lost about half his hit counts.

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Rick Perry" phony 12,900,000 0
"Barack Obama" phony 7,950,000 +940,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 4,590,000 +670,000
"Herman Cain" phony 4,280,000 -4,100,000

In phony news this week:

  • Although Mr. Cain is at the bottom of our standings, he's still making phony news. Elspeth Reeve at the Atlantic comments on the fact that his presidential campaign reported spending $36K on Herman Cain-authored books, buying them from Herman Cain's motivational speaking company. This, speculates Elspeth, "adds a data point to the speculation that his campaign's more about selling books than winning the White House."

    Cain's isn't the first campaign to buy his own books, but it adds to the perception he isn't a for-real candidate.

    Let's see: Cain's campaign is doing what other campaigns are doing, but that somehow only makes Cain a phony candidate?

    I may be biased. One of Cain's books has, as far as I'm concerned, the best title on a political book ever: They Think You're Stupid.

  • Mitt Romney got the Bad Lip Reading treatment:

    "Oh, hey, this is for the cow." That cracks me up.

  • The Washington Post's conservative blogger, Jennifer Rubin might be projecting in a post headlined: "Perry's biggest problem: Voters don't like him." But there's some reason Perry hasn't caught fire as the non-Mitt candidate.

    In a sense, Perry is the anti- Herman. Cain is funny, witty and optimistic. Perry's demeanor in these debates varies from sleepy to hostile. Perry can't and shouldn't change who he is. Voters can spot a phony a mile away. But it wouldn't hurt for him to be sunnier, more magnanimous and a whole lot less angry. Right now, voters plain don't like him.

  • On the D side, the big phoniness this week was…

    The White House on Thursday defended Vice President Joseph R. Biden's rhetoric that more Americans will be raped and killed if Republican lawmakers reject part of President Obama's jobs bill that would pay for more police officers on the street.

    Cheer up, Republicans: at this point in the campaign, Biden could claim that failure to enact Obama's proposals would bring on a Borg assimilation, and the Administration would feel the need to back him up on it.

    The "Fact Checker" columnist of the Washington Post awarded Biden's comments a coveted "Four Pinocchios". On the other hand, Poltifact rated Biden's claim as "Mostly True", which only fortifies their record as hopeless Democrat apologists.

  • But sanity does not universally reign at the Washington Post, as Chris Cillizza encouraged President Obama to—I am not making this up—adopt the populist campaign stylings of John Edwards as his own.

    Every Republican reader of Cillizza's post immediately hoped that Obama would take that advice. Jonathan S. Tobin at Commentary:

    It bears recalling that Edwards's fall from grace came after his political career had ended in failure and played no part in the series of humiliating defeats that he suffered. Though his origins may have been humble, by the time he entered the political fray, Edwards was the poster child for tort reform: a blow-dried millionaire ambulance chaser. Though his soak the rich rhetoric pleased some on the left, his attempt to position himself as the spokesman for the disadvantage flopped because most Democrats, let alone the rest of the electorate, regarded him as a phony.

    Ah, I remember John Edwards. As phonies went, he was the real thing.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:44 PM EDT

Lady in the Lake

[1.0 stars] Lady in the Lake (1947) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

I've been a Raymond Chandler fan ever since high school (which was, kids, a long time ago). There have been a bunch of movies based on his work, some better than others. This one had been stuck in my Netflix queue for years, and I finally decided to bump it up to the top, even though the Netflix algorithm predicted mediocrity. How bad could it be?

As it turns out, Netflix's rating was overgenerous. It was be just horrible. Easily the worst Chandler flick I've seen. (And, yes, I've seen The Long Goodbye.)

Made in 1947, its technique was experimental: most of the movie was filmed from the point of view of Chandler's private-eye hero, Philip Marlowe. We see him occasionally in mirrors, and in a few spots he narrates the movie directly, speaking to the camera. This first-person POV might have been interesting and fun, but the execution here is clumsy and artificial. When the other actors talk to Marlowe, they speak and react directly to the camera; none of them look like they're interacting with an actual person. At one point Marlowe and another character talk to each other while both are looking in a mirror, which is just weird.

And that's far from the only awful thing.

  • The movie's opening titles are accompanied by Christmas carols. For no reason.

  • Chandler's Marlowe is a sharp-eyed cynical observer of humanity, handy with a wisecrack. The movie's Marlowe seems just peevish and unpleasant.

  • A minor female character from Chandler's book is given a major role and becomes a love interest for Marlowe. This is both (a) stupid, and (b) unbelievable, because he spends most of the movie insulting her and treating her as a suspect.

  • In the book, critical parts of the plot take place at the Lake. As you might expect, because it's in the title. In the movie, Marlowe goes to the Lake, but we never see him there. He just talks about what happened when he returns to L.A.

So: mainly an exercise in how not to make a private eye movie.

Last Modified 2012-09-25 4:51 AM EDT


[4.0 stars] Paul (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

Consumer note: to catch all the in-jokes in this movie, it helps to have a decent familiarity with a whole pile of movie and TV science fiction over the past few decades: the collected movie oeuvres of Spielberg, Cameron, Lucas, Zemeckis, Schwarzenegger and (of course) all things Star Trek would be a good start. No doubt part of the reason I liked the movie so much is that the filmmakers seem to be the same genus of geeks.

Also, it's a pretty rare movie that jokes about the Fermi Paradox.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play Graeme and Clive, two geeky but not-too-bright Brits, in America. Starting at ComicCon in San Diego, they plan to rent an RV to check out all the SF hotspots: Area 51, Roswell, etc. By utter chance they encounter Paul, an alien on the lam from the government functionaries that have kept him hidden and imprisoned for years. They decide to help him make a planned rendezvous with the alien rescue party he's summoned.

What follows is an entertaining road trip. While eluding government agents, they also encounter a lot of colorful characters, most notably Ruth, played by Kristen Wiig. She's a fundamentalist Christian, but Paul's presence causes her to drop her beliefs like a hot phaser.

The movie's rated R for pervasive crude language (especially Ruth's: this is a go-to movie if you've always wanted to see Kristen Wiig talk dirty). And Christians without a sense of humor might be offended. (John Nolte, for example: "just more of the strident, boorish evangelical atheism we’re seeing from our entertainment overlords these days") I tend to be more easygoing about these things.

Last Modified 2017-12-03 3:55 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2011-10-16 Update

[phony baloney]

As I type, Intrade has Mitt Romney with a 68.5% chance to be the 2012 GOP Presidential nominee, Rick Perry at 11.8%, and Herman Cain at 9.0%. Everyone else (Ron, Newt, Jon, Michele,...) is under 3%. My favorite among the declared candidates, Gary Johnson, is at 0.4%; must be tough for him to get up in the morning.

So no change in the phony poll contenders this week. But there were big changes in the hit counts: an inexplicable increase for Cain, and an equally inexplicable decrease for Romney:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Rick Perry" phony 12,900,000 -900,000
"Herman Cain" phony 8,380,000 +5,520,000
"Barack Obama" phony 7,010,000 -80,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 3,920,000 -3,910,000

But there's more than enough phoniness to go around:

  • In the Dartmouth debate on Tuesday, Rick Perry bespoke on energy policy:

    "We're going to be focused on initially the energy industry in this country and making America again independent, and clearly the place where domestic energy needs to be produced from," Perry said.

    Yup. If we're gonna have domestic energy, it definitely should be produced in this country. So-called "experts" may disagree, but Perry's spot on here.

    In Perry's (slight) defense, however: on the other side are the geniuses that gave us the Solyndra loan guarantee.

    Seriously: the linked article cheap-shots Perry for sounding like Jimmy Carter in his advocacy of "energy independence". But it's not just Carter: Perry's just echoing the same silly refrain that politicians of both major parties have been singing for decades. (See this 2004 Reason article for pronoucements by Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and candidate John Kerry; in 2006, Nancy Pelosi pledged to achieve "energy independence within 10 years"; in 2008, it was a staple of both the McCain and Obama campaigns.)

    I'd be impressed with a candidate that pointed out the folly of "energy independence." That's not going to be Obama or Perry, obviously. And it's not going to be Herman Cain or Mitt Romney either.

    By the way: anyone notice who was missing from this long history of political nonsense? Here's a quote from the 2004 Reason article linked above:

    Bush and Kerry should take a lesson from the one president who refused to meddle extensively in energy markets--Ronald Reagan. In January 1981, on the day he became president, Reagan ended the remaining federal regulations on domestic oil supplies and prices, allowing oil prices for the first time since 1971 to fall and rise with world market levels. In December 1985, Reagan signed legislation dismantling the U.S. Synthetic Fuels Corp. What happened when all these government attempts to manage our energy supply were cruelly killed? Oil prices dropped from their peak of $37 per barrel in 1981 to less than $14 per barrel in 1986.

    Reagan understood that for most Americans lower gasoline prices and lower home electric bills are all the energy independence they want or need.

    It's a shame that the only candidate making Reaganesque noises in this area is Ron Paul.

  • Ron Paul
Eyebrow Speaking of Dr. Paul, even though he's too much of a long shot to include in our Phony Poll, we should give him an honorable mention for his phony eyebrows.

    Extra points for the explanation from Jesse Benton, Paul campaign spokesperson: "Dr. Paul's allergies acted up a touch."

  • But for real [sic] phoniness, the Obama Administration is a reliable weekly source. It's like drinking from a firehose! Ed Morrissey examined a recent bit of Barackrobatics:

    Old and busted: Jobs "saved or created." New hotness: Jobs "supported." In attempting to advance the argument for Barack Obama's new jobs stimulus plan, the White House has decided to create a new term that has, er, even less meaning than their previous measure[.]

    The rhetoric is silly, but the unstated strategy is obvious: transforming programs initially justified as one-time "emergency" spending into a long-term Federal commitment, allowing states and localities to dodge tough choices.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:44 PM EDT


[3.5 stars] Limitless (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

The new TV season is slowing down our movie-watching some. But we managed to slip this in.

Bradley Cooper plays Eddie, who, as the movie begins, is sliding down the slippery slope to Loserville. He's divorced, and his current girlfriend has given up on him. He (unaccountably) has a book contract, but he's stuck with writer's block on page zero. And his apartment's messy.

But fortune strikes him in the person of Vernon, his ex-brother-in-law, who's also an (ex?-) drug dealer. He offers Eddie this little clear pill called NZT; since Eddie's obviously not best at Making Good Choices, he takes it. As it turns out, NZT unlocks Eddie's untapped mental powers. (There's some mumbo-jumbo about people normally only using a small percent of their brains; this is bullshit, but you can buy into it for the length of this flick.)

There are complications: Vernon obtained the pill illicitly from people not above using deadly violence. NZT wears off, and continued use has nasty side effects. And Eddie gets involved with a Master of the Universe (Robert De Niro), who's looking to exploit Eddie's new skills by fair means or foul. It's not clear that Eddie can make his way to a happy ending.

An interesting plot, and a lot of the dialog is clever. Cooper manages to make Eddie a sympathetic character, and there's some fancy camera work that's fun to watch. I almost gave it four stars, but (frankly) it drags a bit about two-thirds through.

Last Modified 2012-09-25 4:53 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2011-10-09 Update

[phony baloney]

Chris Christie and Sarah Palin took themselves OUT of the running this week. At Intrade nobody was sufficiently impressed with the remaining candidates to raise them above our (arbitrary) 4% threshold, so we're down to looking at the phony numbers for three GOP candidates.

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Rick Perry" phony 13,800,000 0
"Mitt Romney" phony 7,830,000 +4,600,000
"Barack Obama" phony 7,090,000 -120,000
"Herman Cain" phony 2,860,000 +520,000

In an unusual development, politicians got some stiff phony competition this week from non-pols:

  • Margie Phelps of the homosexual-hating Westboro Baptist Church announced plans to picket Steve Jobs's funeral via her iPhone.

  • Not to be outdone, the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters professed to be outraged at "greed". Simultaneously, they emitted a proposed list of demands that can fairly be summed up as: "give me a bunch of free stuff I don't have to work for."

Could mere mainstream politicians hope to compete with this phoniness? They tried:

  • The First Lady made an effort to reassure Americans that she and Barack were Just Plain Folks by slipping out to the Alexandria Target for a few things. With her "assistant", of course. And a Secret Service detail arriving 30 minutes ahead of her. And (just like you or I might do), notifying the press ahead of time, so the momentous event would be preserved for posterity:

    CBS News reports the pics were snapped by an Associated Press photographer who says he was tipped off that she would be there.

    Media alert: Pun Salad will be appearing at the Rollinsford (NH) Cumberland Farms around 1pm this afternoon to get enough gas for the year's final mowing of the Pun Salad Manor lawn.

  • Michelle's husband held a news conference; phony-wise, it was a lot of fish in a small barrel. (If you're interested, the Associated Press shot a few of them.)

    But this was grade-A phony:

    "I had a chance to meet a young man named Robert Baroz. [...] He's got two decades of teaching experience. He's got a master's degree. He's got an outstanding track record of helping his students make huge gains in reading and writing. In the last few years, he's received three pink slips because of budget cuts. Why wouldn't we want to pass a bill that puts somebody like Robert back in the classroom teaching our kids?"

    As the Boston Herald reported, although it is technically true that President Obama "had a chance" to meet Baroz, this did not extend to actually meeting Baroz. And although Baroz did receive three pink slips in four years, this was almost certainly a legal technicality forced by temporary budget uncertainty: he remains employed by the Boston Public School system. And putting Baroz "back in the classroom"? It's not clear he was ever in a classroom: his current position is "literacy and data coach", which involves "analyzing MCAS [state testing] data and applying it to teachers' everyday lessons."

    Baroz's primary skills seem to lie in the area of educratic rhetorical fog emission.

  • Mitt Romney (a front-running 61.9% at Intrade) issued a paper late last month: "Here is How I Will Control Federal Spending". At Reason, Peter Suderman analyzed:

    The first half of the essay might have better been titled "How President Obama, Who Has the Job I Would Like to Have, Didn't Control Spending, And Should Not Be Re-elected." But eventually, Romney offers his own zippy prescription for keeping federal spending in check--cut federal spending, cap it at a percentage of GDP, and then pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

    Suderman has his own criticisms, but here are a couple of mine:

    • It's nice to advocate a Balanced Budget Amendment. But here is the Presidential role in the process of amending the United States Constitution: none whatsoever.

    • Here is an important word that does describe one of the Constitutional tools the President may employ in controlling federal spending: veto. Here is the number of times that word appears in Romney's essay: zero point zero.

    As a front-runner, Romney can probably afford to stay "respectable", non-threatening, safe, etc. The risk is: maybe people will start to notice that his proposals don't involve him actually taking Presidential responsibilities seriously.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:44 PM EDT

3 Idiots

[3.0 stars] 3 Idiots (2009) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

An epic Bollywood flick from 2009. And when I say "epic", I mean "nearly three hours long." You can almost hear the filmmakers saying: "Hey, let's put one more thing in there." According to Wikipedia, it set box office records in India, and got all kinds of awards; if you'd like to know how your movie taste comports with Indian critics and moviegoers, this is a good choice.

The movie centers around three young men, Farhan, Raju, and Rancho, who originally met at a competitive engineering college. (Roughly: the Indian MIT.) Ten years later, their irritating college nemesis, Chatur, dupes Farhan and Raju into joining him in seeking out Rancho. Why? Because Chatur and Rancho had a bet about who would be more successful, Chatur is pretty sure he's won, and he would like to humiliate Rancho and his friends.

Most of the story is told in flashbacks to the lads' college exploits, which involved plenty of wild hijinks, but also melodrama and tragedy. Forbidden love, academic tyranny, suicide, toilet humor, medical emergencies, wacky misunderstandings, … it's all here! Also Bollywood song and dance, which is an (um) acquired taste. My cats scampered from the room.

There are a couple of plot twists (didn't see them coming) and a big surprise ending (which I did see coming 90 minutes away, and you will too).

Last Modified 2012-09-25 4:52 AM EDT

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

[Amazon Link]

Book Two in my quest to (at long last) read through the Harry Potter series. So far, so good!

It's Harry's second year at Hogwarts, although he barely makes it. A good-hearted elf named Dobby would prefer that Harry stay in the non-magical world, where he'll be safer; Dobby engages in all sorts of trickery to keep Harry at home with his despicable step-family, the Dursleys.

But it wouldn't be very interesting if Harry wasn't in some sort of peril, and so he (barely) makes it to Hogwarts, where he tasks himself with finding the titular Chamber of Secrets, hidden somewhere in the school's magical innards. Because something evil is slithering through Hogwarts, detected only by Harry. Bad things happen to good people, including Ron Weasley's little sister Ginny. Can Harry save her in time?.

It's not all grim, though. Comic relief is provided by the new instructor in Defense Against the Dark Arts, Gilderoy Lockhart, whose incompetence is matched only by his vanity. (Kenneth Branagh played him very well in the movie.)

Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:04 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2011-10-02 Update

[phony baloney]

Our arbitrary 4% Intrade criterion demands that Herman Cain be IN our phony poll this week (at 4.4%) and Sarah Palin to be OUT (at 3.9%). This is as I type, early Sunday morning; by the time you read this, things could change. It may seem the Intraders are needlessly volatile, but they're only trying to follow the mood swings of the GOP electorate, and the tergiversations of unannounced candidates. It's like trying to bet on the fate of Schrödinger's Cat, or the object of the affections of a fickle Omaha homecoming queen.

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Rick Perry" phony 13,800,000 -500,000
"Barack Obama" phony 7,210,000 -190,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 3,230,000 -380,000
"Herman Cain" phony 2,340,000 ---
"Chris Christie" phony 2,000,000 +270,000

  • Kevin D. Williamson is concerned that one of the candidates might not be phony enough:

    I certainly hope Mitt Romney is as insincere as he appears to be. The alternative is that he really does, as he says, "see eye to eye" with Donald Trump on the question of China. In case you've forgotten Trump's position on China, it is:

    "Listen, you m---f---s" (and he didn't say "muffins") "we're going to tax you 25 percent."

    Hey, a trade war is exactly what this struggling economy needs, right?

    True fact: Senator Reed Smoot, of Smoot-Hawley fame, was a Mormon Republican.

  • Charles Krauthammer notes a sense in which President Obama's is actually less phony this time around, given his recent pivot to hard-left rhetoric:

    But this is more than a political calculation. It is more than just a pander to his base. It is a pander to himself: Obama is a member of his base. He believes this stuff. It is an easy and comfortable political shift for him, because it's a shift from a phony centrism back to his social-democratic core, from positioning to authenticity.

    The authentic Obama is a leveler, a committed social democrat, a staunch believer in the redistributionist state, a tribune, above all, of "fairness" -- understood as government-imposed and government-enforced equality.

    I hope Obama will continue his path toward refreshing honesty in this area.

  • Governor Rick Perry espies phoniness in all the talk about the "Buffett Rule." (Roughly: millionaires shouldn't pay income taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries, which Warren Buffett implied—falsely—was a common occurrence).

    When asked if he thinks taxing millionaires will kill jobs, Perry said, "I think taxing millionaires is such a fake way to talk about what's going on in this country."

    If you Google that quote, by the way, you'll find it mostly on lefty sites, who are outraged that Perry is presuming to know more about the real world than Saint Warren.

    But Perry is right, at least on this. Notes Mr. Mark Steyn:

    Obama is proposing to raise taxes because of some cockamamie yarn Warren Buffett has been peddling about his allegedly overtaxed secretary. Yet the court eunuchs of the media persist in taking Buffett seriously as a archetypal exemplar of the "American business community" rather than as an especially well-connected crony.

  • Steyn's column deserves a read-the-whole-thing award. I also liked this:

    Occidental, Columbia, Harvard Law, a little light community organizing, a couple of years timeserving in a state legislature: That's what America's elites regard as an impressive resume rather than a bleak indictment of contemporary notions of "accomplishment."


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:44 PM EDT