Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

[3.5 stars] Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

According to IMDB, this little movie managed to gross $222,011 in the US earlier this year, safely in the "bomb" category. But the critics pronounced it decent, and the Netflix algorithm thought I would like it, and so to Pun Salad Manor it came. And, lo, it was very entertaining. Movie audiences don't know everything.

The setup is Standard Grisly Horror Plot 7b: A group of pretty college kids are off to the remote Appalachian back country for a camping trip. But—oh oh—they run into a couple of native hillbillies (Tucker and Dale) who seem to be menacing. But never mind, they're off to their campsite. Which just happens to be adjacent to a derelict shack in which our hillbillies reside.

But the thing is: Tucker and Dale are really pretty good guys. Uneducated and naïve, maybe. And Tucker is a little dim; Dale, on the other hand, is kind of smart. Nevertheless, some merry mixups serve to escalate the tensions between the kids and the hillbillies; it doesn't help that (a) the kids are the clumsiest screwups I've seen in a movie this year; (b) one of the kids is kind of a violence-prone psycho. Bodies start piling up.

It's all played for laughs, and it worked for me. The MPAA rated it R for "bloody horror violence, language and brief nudity", but the "bloody horror violence" has a strong slapstick component.

It's a real change of pace for the actor playing Tucker: Alan Tudyk is probably best known for his intrepid spaceship piloting in Firefly.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:10 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2011-12-31

  • At McSweeney's, Greg and Teddy Wayne present their New Year's Resolutions:
    640 x 480

    800 x 600

    1024 x 768

    Get into jazz

    Usually I don't quote entire articles, but…

  • Darnit, I really thought Russell and Katy had a shot at lifetime bliss. Looks as if it was more like 400 days.

  • My new hope: Zooey and Joseph:

    Hey, they're good! One of my Christmas gifts was a various-artists collection of Buddy Holly covers, Listen To Me. Ms. Deschanel sings "It's So Easy" and does a fine job.

  • At Language Log, Mark Liberman discourses on Hashtags' mission creep. An interesting topic, because I believe I saw Hashtag Mission Creep open for Big Audio Dynamite in '87.

  • A new attempt at calendar reform is the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar. 364 days per year, 52 weeks of seven days each. 12 months of 30 or 31 days each. Every five or six years an "Extra" week is celebrated, not part of any month.

    Since 364 == 52 x 7, a given date falls on the same day-of-week every year. January 1 is always Sunday.

    Kids with birthdays in the Extra week? They would age very slowly, even slower than people born on February 29 do now. Easter, since it's based on a lunar calendar, would still bounce around.

    Hanke and Henry also propose doing away with time zones and Daylight Saving Time. Everyone's on UTC, Zulu, Greenwich Mean Time. This is something Pun Salad has advocated before, and it's nice to see it getting attention.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:22 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2011-12-30

  • Your YouTube du Jour is from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education relating their defense of a Wisconsin professor who posted an Unacceptable Poster near his office door.

    That's author Neil Gaiman in the freeze-frame; his opening statement is drily funny, and I won't spoil it.

  • Thomas Sowell presents his reasons for supporting Newt Gingrich. I wasn't convinced, but you might be.

    I enjoyed his New Year's Random Thoughts much better. Sample:

    When an organization has more of its decisions made by committees, that gives more influence to those who have more time available to attend committee meetings and to drag out each meeting longer. In other words, it reduces the influence of those who have work to do, and are doing it, while making those who are less productive more influential.
    … a cheery thought for those of us returning to the job in the new year. Still, better than the alternative.

  • For anti-Newt balance: Damon W. Root at Reason points out something simple about the recent Newtonian criticism of (a) courts being too "activist" in not deferring to the political branches and (b) pointing to Kelo v. New London, the eminent domain case, as the kind of dreadful decision he'd like to keep justices from making.

    But Kelo was an example of the non-"activism" Newt claims to want; the courts declined to override the political branches in this case.

    Newt is, of course, a guy with a lot of big ideas. But in this case, his "ideas" are incoherent.

  • I subscribe to Wired and usually check out their website. An recent article from Michael Graetz titled "Energy Politics Is Lose-Lose" criticizes government efforts in the energy area, but (in a way both amusing and frustrating) mostly echoes arguments that libertarians and conservatives have been making for decades, presenting them as if they were brand new.

    Since one side of Congress is now in GOP hands, it's now acceptable in polite company to trash Congress. Graetz begins by describing the recent appearance of Energy Secretary Chu in front of a House committee, attempting to gloss over the waste of half a billion bucks in a black hole named Solyndra.

    The Energy Secretary no doubt was wishing that he had stayed in his lab in Berkeley. David Biello, Scientific American's energy editor, tweeted: "Stop it with the Solyndra nonsense. Just stop it."
    Aw! It's always nice when an editor of a once-respected magazine channels his inner six-year-old when confronted with things he'd rather not hear, and would prefer that other people not hear about either.

    But Graetz does a good job of briefly describing Congressional culpability in other misguided energy policy initiatives. For example: Graetz has discovered that Congressional earmarks are bad! They divert expenditures for political reasons and hence tend to be inefficient and corrupt. And they write legislation that blatantly benefits well-connected constituents!

    Gosh, I seem to remember hearing about that long before 2011.

    Graetz's article, despite all its one-sided finger-pointing, might help persuade people who don't read Reason or National Review that trusting government to regulate, tax, subsidize, and mandate its way to a sensible "energy policy" is badly misguided.

  • Granite Stater Darrin Garnick videoed his nine-year-old son asking various presidential candidates what superhero they would like to be. Everyone comes off pretty well except for Ron Paul. Even Mitt Romney.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:15 AM EDT
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Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

[4.0 stars] Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

One reliable rule of thumb for movie-watching over the past decade or so: see anything that has Brad Bird's name on it. That would have steered you to Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and The Iron Giant. But do his talents extend to directing a live action movie? Sure they do.

The story here opens with Mr. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) cooling his heels in a Moscow prison. (He's there for reasons that aren't fully revealed until the end of the movie, so be patient.) Just down the road in Budapest, his IMF co-workers are busy trying to steal some MacGuffin from the bad guys. This ends in disaster; before you can say "Hey, it's That Guy from Lost", That Guy From Lost gets shot and the MacGuffin ends up in the hands of some very bad guys, headed by That Guy From The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It turns out he has an insane scheme to trigger a nuclear war between Russia and the US.

That's a desperate enough situation for the surviving IMF team (That Guy From Shaun of the Dead and That Girl From… actually, I don't remember her in anything) to break Ethan out of prison, and attempt to heist a different MacGuffin from the bowels of the Kremlin. But That Guy From The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo gets there first, blows up a pretty good chunk of Moscow, and frames Ethan for the crime. In all the hubbub, "The Secretary", the IMF's boss, gets killed. Things are very bad.

(Also appearing: That Guy From The Hurt Locker and That Guy From Slumdog Millionaire.)

It's an action-packed thrill ride, with numerous big-budget special effects set in unusual and/or spectacular locations. We splurged, and saw it on a (very) large screen with a (very) loud audio system in Newington. I think that was a good idea; if you're into this sort of thing, it's definitely one to see in a theatre at least.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:02 AM EDT
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The Help

[3.5 stars] The Help (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

I thought this was kind of a must-see movie, but (as I type) it is only #20 on the 2011 box office list. However—and here's the funny part— even at #20, it is apparently the highest-grossing movie in 2011 that wasn't (a) a sequel, (b) a cartoon, (c) a superhero saga, (d) sci-fi epic, or (e) a comedy. So, on its own terms, it was quite successful.

It's set in early-60's Mississippi, with all that implies. It's a time of imminent racial upheaval, as the oppressive Jim Crow system in place for decades is about to be upturned. This is played out in the lives of three major characters: Skeeter, a young white woman returning home after college, with hopes of being a professional writer; Aibileen, a middle-aged house servant who's settled into the routine of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of white kids; and Minny, a younger servant who's more "uppity" and, as a result, has become near-unemployable.

Skeeter lands her first job with the local paper, writing a column answering readers' questions about cleaning, a subject about which she knows next to nada. She turns to the black "help" for advice, and begins to learn about their lives; eventually this opens her eyes to the nastiness of the racism around her. She decides to write a book containing stories of the black servant community called—guess what?—The Help. But all does not go smoothly.

It's very much a chick flick. All the major characters are female, and most of the supporting cast are too. (But at least they don't sing ABBA songs, and the plot is mostly not romance-driven.) The basic structure of the plot is surprise-free, the characters are more than slightly stereotypical. But everything is fleshed out well by good acting and screenwriting. The Association of Black Women Historians didn't like it, disagreeing with most critics.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:12 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2011-12-27

[International Electrical
Exhibition Poster]
  • Well, not really du jour, as this post by Jacob Sullum is slightly moldy, just over a week old. But the subject is timeless, a response to (1) a New York Times article shamelessly advocating for the phase-out of the incandescent light bulb and (b) a Politico article noting that companies "like General Electric, Philips and Osram Sylvania" are "fuming" over GOP efforts to remove funding for enforcement of the ban.

    It's very puzzling for liberals, who see the consumer compulsion as yet another "it's for your own good" issue. And the businesses were looking forward to people being forced to buy the much more expensive, and much more profitable, non-incandescents. Sullum:

    Aren't Republicans supposed to be pro-business? Sometimes they are actually pro-market instead, and this is one of those cases. A spokesman for Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, claims "the only people we are aware of who have opposed the bulb standards are some politicians and some conservative commentators." If legislators, regulators, environmentalists, and even the industry all agree this mandate is a good idea, why would consumers object? Maybe because the whole premise of the policy is that their choices do not matter because they are too stupid to know their own interests.

    It's a small but real victory, and here's hoping we see more of the same.

  • Back in 2005, in a column that's since disappeared from the Internets, James Taranto examined the issue of hostility toward atheists. A lot of it, he explained, was pretty simple: atheists act like jerks all the time.

    OK, maybe that was an overstatement. Not all the time. But enough:

    In Santa Monica, California, there is apparently one particular stretch of road alongside a park which has traditionally been set aside for Christmas displays. The nativity scenes on display have been popular with residents and tourists. But in order to be fair to everyone, the city used a lottery to allocate space to groups wishing to put up Creche displays and related scenes. Now, a group of atheists are accused of swamping the lottery and taking over the lots.

    The linked article notes that the atheists grabbed 18 of the 21 available spaces and put—nothing at all in nine of them. Perhaps that's more symbolic than they would have liked.

  • A pretty good combination: Kevin D. Williamson reviews The Thomas Sowell Reader.

    If a mad scientist were to repair to his laboratory to design a machine that would make white liberals uncomfortable, that machine would be Thomas Sowell, whose input is data and whose output is socioeconomic criticism in several grades, ranging from bemused observation to thorough debunking to high-test scorn[.]

    If you have an Amazon gift card burning a hole in your pocket, anything by Sowell would make a good choice.

  • Dennis Leary does an R-rated Peanuts Christmas Special parody where Charlie Brown becomes a devotee of Islamic jihad, progressives object. What's not to like?


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:43 AM EDT
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A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

[Amazon Link]

Back in 2008, shortly after David Foster Wallace hanged himself, Shawn Macomber, frustrated by all the eulogies, urged his readers to "read something by Wallace rather than about him. It'll be a much more gratifying experience." I'm (slowly) taking that advice.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again is a collection of seven of Wallace's articles and essays from the 90s. In order, they are: (1) a memoir of DFW's life as a very good high school tennis player in Illinois; (2) an exploration of the effects of US television on young American fiction writers; (3) a visit to the Illinois State Fair; (4) a (blessedly short) review of a work of literary criticism; (5) a visit to the set of Lost Highway and a discussion of the career of David Lynch, its director; (6) a trip to Montreal for the Canadian Open, a professional tennis event; and (7) a seven-night cruse aboard the Zenith—which DFW dubs the Nadir throughout—then owned by the Celebrity Cruises line. Most articles originally appeared in popular magazines: Esquire, Harper's, Premiere, as the front matter tells us "(in somewhat different [and sometimes way shorter] forms)".

Wallace was full of sharp observations and (sometimes brutal) honesty. His prose here was, as usual, pyrotechnic and personal; not for him was the invisible author mode. (Some essayists try to be a clear pane of glass between the reader and the subject under discussion. Not DFW.) The results, in any case, are (mostly) a lot of fun to read.

Unless, of course, you were seated at DFW's Table 64 in the Zenith's "Five-Star Caravelle Restaurant". DFW's brutal honesty extended to his eating companions as well, and… well, I hope they didn't read it.

Wallace is (for me) at his best when he was doing "straight reporting". The sections where he lapses into Criticism (articles 2, 4, and parts of 5) are opaque and kind of a slog. (Right on page 201, just after one of those slogs, he writes: "I have no idea whether any of this makes sense." This made me feel better about myself, since I had no idea either.)

I got Wallace's final, unfinished novel, The Pale King, for Christmas. Given the height of my virtual ToBeRead pile, it might take awhile, but I hope to get to it.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:16 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2011-12-26 Update

[phony baloney]

Apologies to those who looked in vain for our usual Sunday phony update. Also sympathy, because if you actually spent Christmas surfing for cynical takes on the best our political system has to offer for principled leadership—I'm pretty sure that made the baby Jesus cry.

But on the day after Christmas, it's OK. So:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-12-18
"Barack Obama" phony 169,000,000 +3,000,000
"Ron Paul" phony 35,500,000 +24,900,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 5,780,000 +160,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 3,050,000 +270,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 627,000 +63,000

  • Newt gets the Bad Lip Reading Treatment:

    I love these things. Perhaps too much.

  • Victor Davis Hanson enumerates four words that Obama was supposed to exemplify: "Brilliant", "Healer", "Reformer", "Magnanimous". Or so we were told. Hanson shows the phoniness behind each. His conclusion:
    I could go on, but we know only that we know very little about Barack Obama, and what we do know is quite different from what is alleged. All presidents have mythographies, but they also have a record and auditors that can collate facts with fiction. In Obama's case, we were never given all the facts and there were few in the press interested in finding them.

    To quote Maxwell Scott in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

    Good article. Good movie, too.

  • Also detecting phoniness in our President: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez:
    US President Barack Obama said Monday that Venezuela's government threatened "basic democratic values," and President Hugo Chavez hit back calling him a fake and an embarrassment to blacks.
    Getting insulted by Chavez would be an honor for a normal guy, but when it's Obama, it's just embarrassing.

  • Paul Rahe is equally unimpressed with both Mitt and Newt:
    Neither man recognizes that the source of our problems is government meddling and the distortion that this produces in what would otherwise be a free and relatively efficient market. What they think of as a cure is, in fact, the disease.

  • Jonah Goldberg is unimpressed with Ron Paul's explanations about his past flings with racists, anti-Semites, and Nazis:
    If Paul's explanations are to be believed at face value, he's a shockingly naïve man. If your goal is to persuade people that the libertarian cause is free of bigotry, courting support from bigots is a really stupid way to do it.
    That's from National Review. Paul gets a somewhat more sympathetic view from guys at Reason, like Jacob Sullum and Brian Doherty.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:42 PM EST
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Merry Christmas!

[A ghost-post from Christmases Past. Ooo, spooky!]

As always, Pun Salad encourages its readers to avoid behavior that might make baby Jesus cry, and (otherwise) have a great Christmas.

(Pun Salad is aware that some say the <blink> tag makes baby Jesus cry. Pun Salad hopes that's not true.)


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:32 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2011-12-23

[Chiron Beta Prime]
  • Frank J. Fleming puts the case for taxing the rich in terms we can all understand. You don't want to kill the gold-egg-laying goose, but…
    But suppose, instead of killing the goose because you're unsatisfied with its golden egg output, you just punched it really hard in the face. That's perfectly fine; it won't stop future egg production. But it does let the goose know who is boss. Plus it relieves stress.

    And it just makes everyone feel better to see that stuck-up goose who thinks she's better than everyone get a good whack in her stupid goose face.

    Frank is a national treasure.

  • Had enough of Burl Ives singing "Holly Jolly Christmas"? Me too. As of about 50 years ago. Fortunately, Lore Sjöberg suggests some alternative Christmas tunes. Example:
    Song: "Let's Get It On"
    Artist: Marvin Gaye
    Why: For some odd reason, Gaye never revealed what "it" is. Music scholars have suggested everything from a hand-woven, two-person serape to a reform of the electoral college. It seems to me that we can just declare that Marvin wants to get Christmas on! He wants you to stop beating around the bush and give yourself to him right this minute so that you can both enjoy eggnog and gingersnaps.
    I've recently been introduced to this tender ballad (illustrated above) and have been playing it for family members, to their consternation.

  • XKCD brings you Zeno's Advent Calendar. (Explanation, if necessary, here.)


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:45 AM EDT
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Kung Fu Panda 2

[4.0 stars] Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

I've long since outgrown any embarrassment: I like a lot of ostensibly-for-kids animation. This is another mighty fine entry from Dreamworks.

Aside: It must be frustrating for the Dreamworks animators to be universally recognized as "almost as good as Pixar". Even though that's very high praise in itself.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a sequel to… hold on a sec, let me check my notes… ah, here it is: Kung Fu Panda. The panda Po has been accepted into the fighting ranks of the heroic Furious Five, but he finds himself lacking what his master calls "inner peace".

But meanwhile, Shen, a villainous peacock (really), is aiming at domination of China via his transformation of innocent fireworks technology into heavy weaponry, effective against even the strongest Kung Fu. As it turns out, the peacock has a deep connection to Po's mysterious origins.

So: will Po find inner peace, defeat Shen, and discover the truth about his provenance? Sure. What kind of a kids' movie do you think this is?

Sometimes sequels are cold-blooded slapdash efforts by moviemakers to exploit the audience's good feelings about the original flick. That's not the case here. I was impressed all the way through with the attention to detail: little gorgeous throwaway things that live on the screen for only a second or two, but obviously the folks at Dreamworks put a lot of thought and (expensive) resources into. (Example: At one point, Shen tilts his head while looking at Po, just like birds sometimes do. The animators didn't have to do that. But they did.)

It's also very funny, but also—I know, I'm a softie—moving in places. The voice talent is great: Jack Black as Po, the great Gary Oldman as evil Shen, Michelle Yeoh as a wise old goat-soothsayer, and many others.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:04 AM EDT
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Three Stations

[Amazon Link]

I've been a fan of Martin Cruz Smith since Gorky Park, his 1981 novel featuring Russian detective Arkady Renko. This is the seventh in that series, spanning three decades. That's a low volume compared to some authors, but it's very high quality.

In this book, Renko is barely hanging onto his job as investigator with the Moscow police. Ordered not to investigate anything, he piggybacks onto a case handled by his perpetually drunk co-worker, Orlov. It's an apparent overdose death of an unidentified prostitute; Renko, however, detects enough incongruity at the crime scene to (correctly) suspect murder and to start tracking down the victim's identity.

Meanwhile, Maya, a young girl is on the run from her sordid life, taking a train from the hinterlands to the anonymity of Moscow. With a newborn baby in tow. She's accosted by a soldier, and seemingly rescued by a feisty babushka; but it's a scam. She's drugged by the babushka, and wakes up hours later without her child. Her attempts to get authorities to take the abduction seriously are futile, and she winds up associated with Zhenya, a chess prodigy and Arkady's sorta-ward.

Smith is a masterful writer, and provides meticulous colorful details of Russia today. It's a grim picture: a feral, corrupt society plagued by top-down criminality, exploitation, and general drunken dysfunction. Renko approaches all this with a grim, very Russian, sense of humor. It's not a pretty picture, but (for me at least) it keeps the pages turning.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:17 AM EDT
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Attack the Block

[3.0 stars] Attack the Block (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

Now here's a movie that could really use an exclamation point in the title: Attack the Block! But no.

This is a tongue-in-cheek alien horror flick. Dropping—literally—into London are dozens of unpleasant beasties, about the size of grizzlies with blue-glowing teeth. But for some reason, their ground zero is an area parasitized by young lawless thugs. While the gang is mugging Samantha, a plucky young nurse, one of the beasts lands nearby, and proves no match for the gangleader Moses. But this initial victory proves to be just the opening battle, as the creatures proceed to seek vengeance against Moses and any other humans that get in their way. Samantha finds herself in an odd alliance with the bunch that accosted her earlier; will they prevail against their common enemy? Well, probably. But not without a lot of (as the MPAA puts it) "creature violence, drug content and pervasive language."

For a spacefaring race, the aliens don't seem very smart, and their goals are uncertain. If their goal is world domination, mixing it up with a gang doesn't seem like good tactics. But that's a quibble; it's probably not supposed to make much sense.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:06 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2011-12-18 Update

[phony baloney]

Barack Obama rocketed right to the top of the phony poll this week with… waitaminnit… 166 million hits!?

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-12-11
"Barack Obama" phony 166,000,000 +149,800,000
"Ron Paul" phony 10,600,000 -23,300,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 5,620,000 -5,980,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 2,780,000 +140,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 564,000 -3,746,000

  • It might be a good time to remind Phony Campaign fans: Google hit counts almost certainly mean less than nothing.

  • In a debate last Saturday, Mitt Romney claimed that Rick Perry was misrepresenting what Romney's book said about RomneyCare, and offered to bet Perry $10,000 about the issue. Oh, my, what a kerfuffle erupted! The issue was not whether Romney was right or not (he was probably right); it was the size of the bet. Did it demonstrate that Mitt was "out of touch" with normal Americans? (Oh, and one silly Washington Post contributor cluck-clucked that betting violated Mormon church teachings.)

    Robin Hanson:

    So clearly we have moved high up into belief meta-levels here. "Yes, most people know Romney can afford $10,000, but some aren't sure that most others know this, and so this shows that Romney doesn't know about such folks." Or "It is rude to point out that you are rich, even when everyone knows you are rich. Yes wearing nice suits shows he's rich, but not wearing suits is socially unacceptable. Offering smaller bets is acceptable, however, so offering a big bet could be interpreted as bragging about wealth. Not that I'd interpret it that way, but someone might, and this shows Romney doesn't realize that."

    Geez it must be a pain to be a presidential candidate. This all shows how much we care about social savvy and signaling in such folks. We don't much care if they understand supply and demand, but they damn well better know who might try hard to be offended by what.

    Robin may be giving the people pushing this controversy too much credit. I suspect the outrage is 100% phony; the people dithering about it are trying to manufacture outrage.

  • In other Mitt news, did you hear that he adopted a Ku Klux Klan slogan for his campaign?

    Or so it was widely claimed, including by the Washington Post. But—to their (slight) credit—the Post appended an amusing, horrifying paragraph:

    Editors' note: This posting contains multiple, serious factual errors that undermine its premise. Mitt Romney is not using "Keep America American," which was once a KKK slogan, as a catchphrase in stump speeches, as the posting and headline stated. In a YouTube video that the posting said showed Romney using the phrase, Romney actually used a different phrase, "Keep America America." Further, the video that the blog posting labelled "Mitt Romney 2012 Campaign Ad" is not actually a Romney campaign ad. The video itself states "Mitt Romney does not actually support this ad." The posting cited accounts of Romney saying "keep America American" at an appearance last week. Independent video from the event shows him saying "Keep America America." The Post should have contacted the Romney campaign for comment before publication. Finally, we apologize that the posting began by saying "[s]omeone didn't do his research" when, in fact, we had not done ours.
    The notion that Romney's campaign wanted to send out a dog whistle to the Grand Kleagles was apparently too seductive for the Post reporter.

  • The Obama campaign hit on a new gimmick for fundraising:
    This holiday season, we're giving you a chance to have a little fun at the expense of a Republican in your life by letting them know they inspired you to make a donation to the Obama campaign.

    Simply enter their name and email address below. Then, we'll send them a message letting them know they inspired you to donate. (Don't worry--we won't hold on to any of their information.)

    The Bookworm received e-mail from Obama Deputy Campaign Manager Julianna Smoot that went into even more detail on why one might want to do this:
    Everyone's got that special conservative in their life.

    Maybe it's your dad, who forwards you every chain email about the President's birth certificate, or your neighbor, who just put up a Mitt Romney sign.

    Dealing with these folks can be ... frustrating.

    The unwritten but understood tagline is "… because we're so much better than they."

    Bookworm's comment nails it:

    … emails such as this one give us a great insight into the mind of the liberal, and it's not a pretty picture: Obama's campaign is smug, vindictive, sarcastic, immature and condescending. In other words, it's Obama himself writ large.

  • Jacob Sullum on Newt: he's not a fan.
    From the perspective of someone who wants to minimize the role of government in every aspect of our lives, Gingrich is bad in the ways conservatives tend to be bad--and then some. At the same time, he is generally not good in the ways conservatives tend to be good, which makes me wonder why anyone would prefer him to Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate.
    Well, Newt did a nice job on taking down the insufferably smug Scott Pelley. Other than that…

  • Also not a Newt fan: Sam Riddle at Gizmodo.
    Newt Gingrich Is Bizarrely Terrified of a Fake Sci-Fi Weapon
    The argument is about Newt's doomsday scenario of a hostile country detonating a nuclear bomb high up in the atmosphere in order to generate an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that would knock out all things electrical below. Riddle's riposte:
    If we have enemies capable of getting a nuke over the US, which we don't, wouldn't we be more worried about that? Why would anyone want to turn off our lights instead of, say, destroying New York City or Washington? Why would any country start World War III with an attack that only might-kinda-work on paper? They wouldn't. Nuclear physicist Dr. Yousaf Butt, in a long analysis of the EMP threat, concluded "It is highly unlikely that any adversary would choose to--or, in the case of a terrorist cell, even be remotely capable of-carrying out a nuclear EMP strike against the US." And yet, Gingrich insists "We are on the verge of catastrophic problems."
    It's probably a good thing to have an "idea guy" out there who can come up with all sorts of unexpected scenarios and wacky ideas. Not sure it's a good thing for that guy to be the President of the United States.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:43 PM EST
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URLs du Jour — 2011-12-13

  • [Amazon Link] Since our competent and talented elected representatives have finally managed to eliminate all problems in the government sector, it's only natural for them to offer their sage advice to businesses in their copious spare time.
    Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) blasted Internet retailer Amazon for its controversial plan to gather price data from local businesses, calling it "an attack on Main Street businesses that employ workers in our communities."
    Wait, that doesn't sound like sage advice. Why, that sounds like a powerful politician attempting to browbeat a company into doing her will!

    The culprit here is Amazon's free Price Check App, available free for Android and iPhone. (Android users, just click over there! I'll get a cut of that $0.00!) It sounds neat: when browsing in a brick-and-mortar store, you can scan an item's barcode, or even take its picture, or say its name; Amazon will tell you how much the item costs through them, and (of course) allow you to buy. And—here's the even more controversial part— you can "share" the in-store price with Amazon "to help ensure our prices remain competitive for our customers."

    In short, it's a pro-consumer application, helping the market work more efficiently by decreasing the cost of obtaining price information.

    "Main Street businesses", of course, dislike that. They would prefer to keep customers in the dark on pricing. And—see above— they're not shy about getting their pals in government to help out with thinly-veiled threats. As many have pointed out: pro-business does not mean pro-freedom or pro-market. It would be nice if we could get more Republicans in favor of the latter two.

  • But Olympia Snowe is not the biggest idiot in the Senate.

  • These guys do the War on Christmas right:
    North Korea has warned South Korea of "unexpected consequences" if it lights up a Christmas tree-shaped tower near their tense border.
    Via Radley Balko.

  • I liked Jonah Goldberg on the minor controversy over the choice of villain in the new Muppets movie: an oil baron named Tex Richman. Is it due to a giant liberal conspiracy?
    The notion that Hollywood is a giant conspiracy to brainwash kids gives Hollywood way too much credit. The truth is more often that Hollywood is full of lazy writers — lazy liberal writers.
    Which reminds me: Iowahawk has gone pretty quiet over the past couple months. I have a recurring fantasy that some smart media mogul has given him a boatload of money to write for movies or TV.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:19 AM EDT
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Boomerang!

[3.0 stars] Boomerang! (1947) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

This 1947 movie is in the too-rare tradition of Airplane!, Help!, and Tora! Tora! Tora!; it's got an honest-to-goodness exclamation mark in its title. (There are web pages devoted to this: for example here, here, here, and here.) But seldom was a punctuation symbol less warranted.

Based on a true story. The movie opens with the cold-blooded murder of a beloved Episcopal priest on the main street of a small Connecticut city. (It was filmed in Stamford, but the real-world murder happened in Bridgeport.) The cops are stumped. As a result, the local paper muckrakes shamelessly against the city's government, and the pressure on the police investigators grows. Eventually they find a plausible perp, and browbeat him into a confession.

Enter Dana Andrews, playing the incorruptible fair-minded State's Attorney. He has his doubts about the guilt of the accused. Eventually it all comes down to courtroom dramatics. (So dramatic that I fell asleep, and needed to rewatch the next day.)

Jane Wyatt, Spock's mom, plays Mrs. State's Attorney. She's always great. Ed Begley's first movie. Directed by Elia Kazan, but he went on to do better movies.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:13 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2011-12-11 Update

[phony baloney]

Once again this week: no changes to our Phony Campaign participants, nor to their relative positions.

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-12-04
"Ron Paul" phony 33,900,000 +1,200,000
"Barack Obama" phony 16,200,000 +500,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 11,600,000 +1,720,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 4,310,000 -80,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 2,640,000 +120,000

  • Our guest speaker today is former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin:

    Clip via the Gateway Pundit who also provides the slightly cleaned up transcript, emphasis provided by GP:

    He talks about fairness. You know that he doesn't actually mean it. Especially when he can't walk the walk. He tries to talk the talk but his actions certainly don't match what his speeches are all about. He talked about fairness and yet fairness would be everybody pitching in and at least paying a bit for some of the services that are provided by our government. And yet 50% of Americans don't even pay an income tax and so in that respect they're not participating. But he doesn't consider that. He's heading off for a multi-day vacation in luxurious Hawaii while the rest of America is looking on making sacrifices in order to make ends meet. Again, just example after example of his words not matching his actions. He's a phony, Sean. Barack Obama is a phony. And, America, I believe again, we're waking up to that and we're not going to put up with that.
    Here's hopin'. But note the tree and the fire behind Sarah: a little too perfect?

  • The subject of Palin's ire, President Obama, made a speech in lovely Osawatomie, Kansas this week. He also deployed the p-word:
    This country should not be known for bad debt and phony profits.
    … said the guy who made "Solyndra" a household word.

  • Amusingly, the crack reporter for the Osawatomie Graphic misheard this bit as
    This country should not be known for bad debt and phony products.
    That would have made it even more applicable to Solyndra. Maybe that's what the reporter assumed Obama was talking about.

  • David Harsanyi was equally unimpressed with Obama's speech:
    In Teddy Roosevelt's era, President Barack Obama explained to the nation this week, "some people thought massive inequality and exploitation was just the price of progress....But Roosevelt also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you want from whoever you can."

    And he's right. Even today there are people who believe they should have free license to take whatever they want from whomever they can. They're called Democrats.

    This matches what I've (in all modesty) previously called "The Official Progressive Politician's Guiding Philosophy on Tax Fairness and Equity":

    1. You got the money.
    2. We want the money.
    3. So gimme the money.

    If anyone can find any guiding principles beyond that in "additional revenue" proposals from the President and his party, please call me David Harsanyi.

  • Can President Obama keep insulting everyone's intelligence by deeming taxes something people are "asked" to pay? Why, Yes he can!:
    And so we've also paid for these investments by asking everybody to do their fair share.
    Not once, but twice:
    Now, so far, most of my Republican friends in Washington have refused under any circumstance to ask the wealthiest Americans to go to the same tax rate they were paying when Bill Clinton was president.
    Politicians who talk this way deserve nothing but your contempt and (if you're feeling generous) ridicule. They know they're lying, but also know that more honest language wouldn't go down as smoothly; they're simply assuming that their audience is too stupid to realize it.

  • So the President's Osawatomie speech was phony in many different ways. And, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. But Krauthammer has one more: Even though it's been "President Obama" for (as I type) 1055 days, and his party owned large majorities in the legislature for two years of that time…
    It seems that he and his policies have nothing to do with the current state of things. Sure, presidents are ordinarily held accountable for economic growth, unemployment, national indebtedness (see Obama, above). But not this time. Responsibility, you see, lies with the rich.
    Obama's cheap populist demagoguery is see-through: you're in bad shape because of Them.

    You're poor because they're rich.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:42 PM EST
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The Muppets

[4.5 stars] The Muppets (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

We made a rare trip to the movie theater to see how some old friends were holding up. I'm happy to report: pretty well.

Like all the Muppets genre, the movie is set in an interesting parallel universe where humans live in peaceful coexistence with a separate species of odd, but intelligent and (literally) colorful creatures. They are seemingly fabric-based life forms. Some are ordinary animals (frogs, pigs, bears, dogs, even humans); others not. They neither age nor grow. They are (ortunately for lab assistant Beaker) seemingly indestructible. Maybe immortal? That would be nice.

Also, in this parallel universe, the inhabitants break into song-and-dance numbers every so often. (Although that happens in human-only movies too. So maybe that's a third universe.)

The story here involves two brothers: fabric-based Walter and fleshy Gary. (I'm not quite sure how that works either.) They grow up together—well, only Gary grows—in a dinky town. Walter is loved, but becomes deeply aware of his differentness. His only connection to his cloth brethren is in watching The Muppet Show; understandably, he's a huge fan.

Flash-forward to the present day: Gary and Walter plan a trip to L.A. to visit the fabled Muppets Theater, with Gary's beautiful girlfriend Mary. They find, instead, a decaying monument to a group that's no longer popular. Worse, a shady baron, Tex Richman, is plotting to acquire the theater and drill for oil! Walter, Gary, and Mary resolve to reunite the Muppets for a last desperate try to save their old building and regain their popularity.

It's a lot of fun, I had a great time, and I hate to quibble, but… well, actually come to think, I must not hate quibbling since I do it so much, but: for a long-time fan, it's clear that neither Jim Henson or Frank Oz are prime movers here. The differences aren't bad, but they're there.

The human actors range from "pretty good" to "darn wonderful". Mary is played by Amy Adams, and it's a pity that there aren't more roles available for "beautiful musical comedy heroine", because she was born to do that kind of thing. Jason Segal as Gary displays previously-unseen singing and dancing skills, and turns out to be pretty good in a non-filthy comedy role. (He was also key in getting the movie made in the first place.) Oscar-winning actor Chris Cooper is wonderful as Tex, and he seems to have had a great time. There are a pile of human cameos, some shockingly good.

During one musical number, I thought: hey, this sounds like something from Flight of the Conchords. As it turns out, a number of the movie songs were written by Bret McKenzie, one of the guys. And the are a lot of other commonalities.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:08 AM EDT
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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

[2.5 stars] Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

Have I mentioned? Mrs. Salad loooves Johnny Depp. So we have to watch his movies, eventually.

Mr. Depp returns for his fourth paycheck as Captain Jack Sparrow, the permanently inebriated pirate. Also returning from previous episodes are Geoffrey Rush as semi-reformed pirate Barbossa, and Kevin McNally as pirate-flunky Gibbs. Also that damned monkey has a brief cameo. But Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are absent.

The major new additions this time around are Ian McShane as the legendary Blackbeard, and Penélope Cruz as Angelica, who may or may not be his daughter. Everyone is caught up in the search for the legendary Fountain of Youth. There are mermaids, not all of them nice like Ariel. A lot of double-crossing and threatening behavior; but I found it difficult to follow exactly why people were doing what they were doing. Gorgeous scenery. But a lot of it takes place in the dark—I think it's easier to do special effects in the dark.

It got me thinking about why I liked the first Pirates movie so much more than its sequels. Probably because the primary plot involved interesting and sympathetic characters in peril: Will and Elizabeth. Ever since then, not so much.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:09 AM EDT
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Fire in Babylon

[1.0 stars] Fire in Babylon (2010) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

I should mention, in case it's not absolutely clear, that those star ratings for the movies I watch are entirely based on my personal reaction. The correlation between a movie's objective quality and my personal reaction is not tight.

This is one example. Fire in Babylon is (supposedly) a high-quality documentary, nominated for a British Independent Film Award. The critics loved it (an 87% score at Rotten Tomatoes). But I could barely keep my eyes open. I'm not sure I did keep my eyes open.

Problem number one: it's a documentary about cricket. This is widely thought of as a "sport", although I've always kind of suspected that it's instead a widespread elaborate hoax that the people involved are pulling on the rest of us. (Kind of like the French "language".) The movie did nothing to increase my appreciation of cricket. It was incomprehensible before, and is incomprehensible now. Brief clips of the game are scattered throughout the documentary, but most of them seemed to be the same: a guy throwing a cricket ball at another guy's chin.

It's about the West Indies cricket team of the 70s-80s, the team comprised of players from multiple nations; they competed and won against other teams from other countries. This was a big deal, we're told. And that's mainly the thing: we're told. The documentary is big on talking heads. And reggae. And, just sayin', I think some of these guys are heavily into the ganja.

The racial bit is played up, because all the West Indies players were black. There's also an anti-imperialism theme, because the West Indies are ex-colonies. This is tedious. We're talking about stuff that happened 40 years after Jesse Owens kicked Nazi butt in the 1936 Olympics. 30 years after Jackie Robinson and Woody Strode. It's somehow a big deal that black athletes finally made their mark in cricket? Well, I guess to some people it was.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:07 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2011-12-09

  • At Reason, Jacob Sullum takes issue with a tiresome bit of Barackrobatics: the President's constant use of strawmen signalled by "there are some who…" and "there are those who…". Sample from Obama's recent Kansas speech:
    In the midst of this debate [about the best way to restore growth, prosperity, balance, and fairness], there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that's happened, after the worst economic crisis, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.
    Comments Sullum:
    Who are these "some" who say everyone should fend for himself while playing by his own rules? Obama does not say, but they sound like real dicks, don't they?
    Sullum provides other examples.

  • We trash the "fact-checking" Politifact site every so often, but they did a good job on debunking a legend that's apparently widespread among Christmas haters. Here's the way it's phrased at the ACLU website:
    Congress met on Christmas Day every year from 1789 to 1855, with only three exceptions[.]
    See? Back in the day, they were serious about that Wall of Separation thing!

    This "fact" was also promulgated on a recent episode of Jon Stewart's Daily Show and a History Channel program. And it was too good to check.

    In a heroic research effort, Politifact totted up the number of times the Senate and House met on December 25 between 1789 and 1857. Their result: twice.

  • There's P.J. O'Rourke content at the Weekly Standard. Our hero is given two dreadful books to review: Shiny Objects (subtitle: "Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy") and Against Thrift (subtitle: "Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, the Environment, and Your Soul"). Sample from his discussion of the former work:
    Further bungling numbers, Roberts cites UCLA’s annual survey of freshmen. In 2010, 77 percent of the college kids said they thought it was important to be “very well-off financially.” In 1980, 62.5 percent thought so. And in 1966, 42 percent were of that opinion. To Roberts, this proves that everything in America is getting worse; to a parent, this proves that kids are getting smarter.

  • The lads at Language Log keep their eyes open for new and unusual linguistic constructions, and in this post, Geoffrey K. Pullum describes one seen in recent ads:
    I love my house now belongs to my ex-wife.
    I'm not interested in getting married in church is more romantic.
    I like working with you is impossible.
    See what they do there? Life changes on you quickly, even in mid-sentence.

    Unusual, but not new, Pullum notes. The songwriter Jimmy Webb used the same trick in the song "Honey Come Back", recorded in 1970 by Glen Campbell, and dozens of others since.

  • The National Review editors go full-libertarian on the United States Postal Service:
    Our preferred solution is to get the government out of the mail business. Congress should end the monopoly and sell USPS to the highest bidder. In the age of almost universal Internet access, there is no reason for the government to run a mail company. The USPS services that customers are willing to pay for will continue, and the rest will fall by the wayside. If possible, privatization should also give the new owner a chance to fight the company’s unions, which have negotiated unusually high salaries and benefits, on a level playing field — first in union elections, and then, if workers vote to keep their representation, at the bargaining table.
    Not bad from a publication that still sends me dead trees every couple weeks. (They admit, however, that this is "not particularly realistic on a political level.")

  • News you can use, from Wired: The Right (and Wrong) Way to Die When You Fall Into Lava.

    The author notes, correctly, that most movies get the physics wrong.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:43 AM EDT
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Mark Fernald, Math Whiz

[Calvin Vs. Math]

My local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, recently published an op-ed from New Hampshire Democratic pol Mark Fernald: "Why the supercommittee was a super failure." A little Googling shows that versions also appeared in (at least) Seacoast Online, the Nashua Telegraph, and the Keene Sentinel. You can also read it at Fernald's website.

My guess is, he wants to run for something again, but that's neither here nor somewhere else. Let's take a look; I'll use the Seacoast Online version and leave in the links found there:

For Congress, the federal budget deficit is like the weather: everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it.
Tired simile. Next?
The Super Committee failed to reach a budget-cutting deal for the same reason as previous efforts--their concern is with ideology, not governing.
True enough, and remarkably even-handed. Enjoy the even-handedness while it lasts.
For the forty years from 1969 to 2008, federal spending averaged a little over 20% of gross domestic product. During that period, the federal budget was in surplus for one year of the Johnson administration, and several years of the Clinton administration.
Fernald starts going off the rails here. First, a quibble: my spreadsheet skills actually show federal outlays averaging 20.6% of GDP for Fiscal Years 1969-2008; it's more accurate to say that spending averaged "a little under 21%" than "a little over 20%".

More important is what Fernald conveniently leaves out: federal receipts during that same period averaged about 18.2% of GDP. Remember that as we proceed.

During the administration of George W. Bush, federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) rose while revenues as a percentage of GDP declined. The result, of course, was record deficits.
Fernald actively starts misleading here. I have no desire to defend Dubya's profligate spending, but in fact, federal spending between FY 2002 and 2007 remained below 20.6% of GDP (the long term average, remember); it went to 20.7% in 2008.

And, you may remember: we were fighting an expensive war at the time.

By 2009 (the final Bush budget year), spending was 25% of GDP while revenues were just 15%. (After President Bush left office, the 2009 budget was amended. Taxes were cut and spending increased to counteract the recession, but even without these changes, the final Bush deficit would have been a record breaking $1.2 trillion.)
Fernald is stuck in blame-Bush mode, but it's hard to hide the fact that the actual FY 2009 deficit was about $1.4 trillion, all of which occurred with Democrats in control of Congress. That was record-breaking. Until we hit the budget deficit for the just-ended FY2011, currently estimated at $1.56 trillion. Fernald omits that fact, since it doesn't fit in well with GOP-bashing.

But it gets worse:

To get back to the balanced budgets we enjoyed in 1999-2001, we need to both cut spending and increase revenue so that they balance at about 20% of GDP.
We see now why Fernald omitted mentioning the long-term historical average level of Federal receipts: it allows him to slip in the notion that a 20%-of-GDP take is something that's historically normal and reasonable.

It isn't. In fact, in every year since 1945, Federal government receipts have stayed under—and usually well under—20% of GDP, with only one exception (FY2000: 20.6%).

What did the numbers look like for those three wonderful "balanced budgets we enjoyed in 1999-2001"? Fernald won't tell you, but they're easy to find:

FYReceipts
(%GDP)
Outlays
(%GDP)
199919.818.5
200020.618.2
200119.518.2

Note: outlays for these years were significantly under 20% of GDP; receipts were at levels unprecedented in peacetime.

Republicans have a different idea. They voted this year to cap federal spending at 18% of GDP. Federal spending has not been that low since 1966. Rolling back federal spending to the level of the early sixties may sound appealing until you consider it would mean the elimination of Medicare (enacted in 1965) and a steep drop in Social Security benefits.
Fernald's being kind of deceptive here too. As noted above, federal spending has been close to 18% of GDP as recently as 2001.

Fernald also falsely implies that the 18% cap on spending is the only GOP "idea." In fact there are a bunch: the so-called Ryan Roadmap sees a very gradual reduction in federal spending, not getting below 20% of GDP until 2059 (while assuming taxes can be held at 19% of GDP, forever). The somewhat more enthusiastic "Cut, Cap, and Balance Act" purports to put spending on a "glide path" down to 19.9% of GDP, not tomorrow, but by 2021.

Fernald's summary of the Super Committee's failure is predictably tendentious:

The Democrats on the 'Super Committee' proposed a ten-year plan to cut $3 billion from future expected deficits, with about two-thirds of that amount coming from spending cuts and one-third coming from increased tax revenue.

In their ten-year plan, the Republicans offered to increase taxes by $300 billion -- $30 billion a year, or less than 3% of the deficit.

For a GOP interpretation, see Jeb Hensarling, committee co-chair, in the WSJ. (Hensarling is too diplomatic to note the folly of relying on Democratic promises of future spending cuts.)
It's not that finding additional revenue is hard to do. The major factor in the decline in federal revenues is the Bush tax cuts. Allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for those households with incomes over $250,000 would bring in $70 billion a year. The Republicans offered $30 billion a year, but only on the condition that all the Bush tax cuts be made permanent.
Love the euphemism. We're not raising taxes. We're just 'finding additional revenue'! Or 'allowing tax cuts to expire'!

In fact, repealing the hated Bush tax cuts is something the Democrats couldn't manage to do even when they were in firm control of both Congress and the Executive. And there's zero evidence that those cuts permanently depressed revenue: in 2007, federal receipts were 18.2% of GDP, the long-term average.

The largest source of federal revenue is the income tax. You might think that income is income, but you would be wrong. Investment income -- capital gains and dividends -- are taxed at a lower rate than wages, which means that a middle income person who works overtime to make an additional $1000 will pay more in tax than a millionaire would pay on an additional $1000 in dividends. Taxing investment income at the same rate as wages would strike a blow for equity, and raise $84 billion a year.
<sarcasm>Punishing people who save and invest their income instead of consuming it? What could possibly go wrong there?</sarcasm> No, sorry. Silly, stupid idea. See here for a good argument that the capital gains tax rate should be zero.
The oil and gas industry enjoys tax breaks given to no other industry. Eliminating these would bring in $4 billion a year. Even in Washington, that is real money. The Republicans said no.
Cheap demagoguery against an unpopular industry. In fact, the biggest tax break enjoyed by "Big Oil" is a credit enjoyed by all manufacturers.

But read on…

Our corporate income tax is a mess. Our corporate income tax rate is among the highest in the industrialized world, but our corporate income tax receipts as a percentage of GDP are nearly the lowest in the industrialized world. If we simplified our corporate income tax, decreased the rate, and increased corporate income tax receipts to the average in the industrialized world, it would bring in about $100 billion a year.
This is almost a good idea. At least it is, if you remove the silly implication that the government can extract, pain-free, an extra $100 billion a year from corporations. (And you know that $84 billion Fernald wanted to get from increased investment taxes a few paragraphs ago? Kick corporations in the teeth hard enough, and there won't be any capital gains or dividends to tax.)

But corporate tax reform is a generally excellent idea. Half a thumbs-up for Fernald here.

But then…

A financial transactions tax at a low rate -- say, 0.5% -- would bring in about $79 billion a year. Such a tax would have a negligible impact on long-term investors, but would discourage short-term trades on Wall Street, allowing the Street to get back to its function of allocating capital, rather than rewarding speculators.
… it's right back to horrible ideas. If you think the management fees on your mutual funds are high now, wait until the government starts demanding a piece off the top of each trade made by those managers. Again, Fernald shows no comprehension that all this money removed from private capital markets just might have adverse effects on the economy.
Five changes to our federal tax code -- allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire; eliminating preferential tax rates for dividends and capital gains; eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas; plugging the holes in the corporate income tax so that it brings in revenue similar to other countries; and a financial transactions tax -- would bring in $337 billion a year.
It wouldn't, of course. It's trite, but nonetheless true, that when you tax something, you get less of it. Fernald's multiple-pronged attacks on private investment and economic activity would result in a permanent loss of American prosperity.

And Fernald's mythical $337 billion is only about 22% of the FY2011 deficit: not even one-quarter of the way toward budget balance.

In the face of a $1.3 trillion deficit, the revenue proposal of the Democrats was too timid; the revenue proposal of the Republicans was pathetic.

Simple math dictates a balanced approach to the deficit problem, but Republicans cannot do math any more, they can only do pledges. The Republicans — including Congressman Bass, Congressman Guinta, and Senator Ayotte — are committed to the Grover Norquist pledge not to raise any taxes, the deficit be damned. If Republicans stick by the pledge — and if voters stick by the Republicans — we have no hope of taming the deficit.

Speaking of pathetic, here are Fernald's "balanced" proposals to reduce spending:
 
(And, by the way, here is the number of times the word "entitlement" appears in Fernald's article: zero point zero.)

Fernald (way back in paragraph two) bemoaned the "ideology" of (presumably all) the Super Committee members. But by the end, he's only blaming Republicans, and hiding his own ideology—hey, I'm just doing the math!

But in fact, his math is suspect, his facts are selective, his proposed "solutions" are unbalanced and unserious.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:42 PM EST
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URLs du Jour — 2011-12-05

  • Ilya Somin examines the case for libertarian support of GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. Well worth checking out.

    Huntsman is nowhere near as libertarian as I am, and probably also significantly less libertarian than Gary Johnson. On the other hand, Huntsman is clearly much more libertarian than Mitt Romney and New Gingrich, the current Republican front-runners. And unlike several of the other candidates he seems knowledgeable and competent. I think it’s also pretty obvious that he’s more libertarian than President Obama. It’s unrealistic for libertarians to expect a viable presidential candidate who agrees with us down the line. What is realistic is seeking one who will make federal policy significantly more libertarian than it is today.

    That's something I could have written.

  • A handy reminder from a different Iyla (Shapiro): President Obama’s top 10 constitutional violations. See how many you can guess before clicking over!

  • True fact: Walt Disney and Werner Heisenberg were both born on December 5, 1901, 110 years ago today. Wired has the scoop on both.

  • [The WineRack] It's that most wonderful time of the year! Specifically, the time of the year for Dave Barry's Gift Guide!

    For example, there's the WineRack. Which is not what we generally think of as "a wine rack." Pictured at right—no, your right—Dave explain why it's an udderly appropriate gift:

    For the true wine connoisseur, there is nothing more enjoyable than sucking body-temperature wine from a tube connected to a polyurethane bladder concealed in a woman’s undergarment

    That, in a nutshell, is the appeal of the Wine Rack, a sports brassiere equipped with a bladder that holds 25 ounces of wine or other beverages. According to the manufacturer, you can wear the Wine Rack to “movies, concerts, ball games – anywhere you can imagine” and drink through “a drinking tube long enough to route as you wish.” And here’s a bonus:As your wine rack empties, your bosoms appear to shrink dramatically.

  • I'm not a total football nut, but I enjoyed Jason Gay's recent column about Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. I chuckled all the way through.
    He cannot fly. He cannot see through walls. He cannot talk to the animals, not even cats. He's never picked up an automobile and tossed it across the road. He's failed to publish poetry in Russian. He can't explain Ryan Reynolds.

    These are just a few of the many things Tim Tebow can't do.

    Something Tebow can do: beat the Vikings yesterday. Granted, that's not hard this year.


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The Phony Campaign — 2011-12-04 Update

[phony baloney]

A quiet week for the Phony Campaign, with no changes in our candidate lineup, and no hit count changes large enough to affect the relative standings:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-11-27
"Ron Paul" phony 32,700,000 +1,100,000
"Barack Obama" phony 15,700,000 -200,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 9,880,000 +1,140,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 4,390,000 +90,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 2,520,000 +60,000

  • Our phony poll leader is Ron Paul, and one of the 32,700,000 reasons is a Salon article from a guy named Gary Weiss: "Ron Paul's phony populism". Weiss attended a Paul rally in Keene, NH, and observed how Paul handled a group of disruptive Occupiers:
    It was a masterful performance. Ron Paul -- fraudulent populist, friend of the oligarchy, sworn enemy of every social program since Theodore Roosevelt -- had won the day, again.
    Yay! Oh, no, wait: Boo!

    Being a lefty, Weiss (of course) finds "a lot to like" Ron Paul's foreign policy stances. But the remainder of the article is just shock, horror, fear, and loathing of any suggestion that "populism" might be based in anything other than infatuation with big government.

    Weiss deems Ron Paul "phony", but it's obvious what Weiss really means is that Paul's a heretic, daring to question "progressive" idolatry, and (outrageously) doing so in the name of the masses. Weiss's undying, unquestioned, and largely unexamined faith is in the State. My guess is, as with most True Believers, Weiss's outrage is not based in the reasoned belief that Paul is wrong, but with the sick uncertainty that Paul might be right.

  • At the Huffington Post, Elayne Boosler ("Writer/comedian/animal activist") will have you in stitches, as she writes about President Obama's recent signing of a spending bill that undid the 2006 ban on domestic horse-slaughtering for (possible) human consumption. What brought it to our phony eye?
    This Assault on horses makes the president My Little Phony, or Alydar, Alydar, pants on fire. Animal rescuers are in a Fury and consider him no Black Beauty. They say "Adios, Mr. President, you have just committed Funny Cide". He took a Genuine Risk but ends up with no Cigar. Wish we could give him a Citation. Soon every horse will be a Horse With No Name. In other broken campaign promises, Mr. Obama has proven himself a Man o' War with his finger on the Trigger, keeping his War Admiral and his Secretariat of State always in a Phar Lap in a foreign land. By selling out America's horses, Mr. President, you missed the Bullseye. Adios, Achilles.
    Comedy and "animal activism": they go together like chocolate cake and grapefruit juice.

  • Geez, we haven't looked at Maureen Dowd for ages. If you're under your NYT free article quota, you might (or might not) want to see how she distinguishes the current GOP front-runners, in her usual stream-of-unconsciousness shtick:
    Mitt Romney is a phony with gobs of hair gel. Newt Gingrich is a phony with gobs of historical grandiosity.

    The 68-year-old [Gingrich] has compared himself to Charles de Gaulle. He has noted nonchalantly: "People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz." As speaker, he liked to tell reporters he was a World Historical Transformational Figure.

    Auschwitz? It's never safe to assume that Ms. Dowd is quoting people accurately, but Eric at Classical Values traced it back to Snopes, and pronounces it kosher. Unlike horse meat.

    (Eric's article is a good one to show any otherwise reasonable person who's thinking about voting for Newt.)

  • While Ms. Dowd is amused by the phoniness of the GOP frontrunners, John LeBoutillier, as a conservative GOP ex-Congressdroid, is dismayed.
    So the Republican race - in a year when President Obama is totally beatable -- has come to this: Newt Gingrich, serial philanderer, liar, hypocrite, secret Rockefeller Republican, back-stabber and megalomaniac versus Romney, the Supreme Panderer, the man-with-no-principles, an utter phony who will say anything and flip-flop at any time - and someone who was not a Reaganite until he ran for president in 2007.

    How can the GOP have sunk so low?

    Two candidates so flawed, so inherently fraudulent and so phony.

    Mr. LeBoutillier served with Newt in Congress 1981-83, and found him "the most egotistical, disagreeable, self-centered fraud in a House filled with similarly affected people."

  • Tom McGuire at Just One Minute considers a recent George F'n Will column that urges us to reconsider Perry and Huntsman. Tom's perspicacious comment:
    […] let me steal a point from (IIRC) Jonah Goldberg - Perry adopt[s] a lot of right-wing symbolism, as packing heat to gun down stray coyotes, but that masks some distinctly no-conservative attitudes on, for example, immigration. The net result is that conservatives feel more or less sympatico with the guy even though they don't agree with him on everything.

    Jon Huntsman, by pandering for the NY Times endorsement, has managed the opposite trick - people who might actually like his positions can't get behind a guy who clearly doesn't like them.

    An interesting, but still phony, approach.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:43 PM EST
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Obama: The Greatest President in the History of Everything

[Amazon Link]

I've been a longtime reader of Frank J. Fleming's hilarious blog, IMAO. Recently he's moved into an actual paying gig as an op-edder for the New York Post. (Example here.) He's husband to the lovely SarahK and dad to the even lovelier one-year-old Buttercup, who has the look of someone who will want to go to Yale someday. In short, Frank needs the money, and he's a nice guy, so you should buy this book like I did. It's a mere $1.99. Click on that image over there. I'll wait.

Um, did I say "book"? That might be a slight exaggeration. It's available in Kindle e-book format only, so there's no page count, but it's a 254KB download. And probably a lot of that is the cover graphic. It's a quick read, about the same as one of the longer Atlantic articles about instability in Pakistan, but much funnier.

But it's in the "Book" department at Amazon. And I need to inflate my "books read" count for 2011. So it counts as a book! It counts!

Is it your cup of tea? Here's paragraph one:

It's hard to remember the dark days before 2008. It was a time of hatred, racism, violence, obese children, war, untaxed rich people, and incandescent light bulbs -- perhaps the worst days we had ever seen. And at the heart of it all was a thuggish, thoughtless man, George W. Bush, who lashed out angrily at whatever he didn't understand -- and he understood so very little. Then there was that laugh of his -- that horrible snicker that mocked everything intelligent and nuanced. Also, he looked like a chimp.
I think that's pretty good. And I chuckled the whole way through, which the other folks in my urologist's waiting room might have found irritating, but I don't care.

Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:17 AM EDT
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Horrible Bosses

[4.0 stars] Horrible Bosses (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

Yet another movie where one of the guilty pleasures is a TV sitcom heroine (Jennifer Aniston in this case) doing and saying absolutely filthy things you can't do in primetime. (MPAA: "crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material")

Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis, and Charlie Day are three buddies, underlings to the titular Horrible Bosses: respectively, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Ms. Aniston. Spacey is a psychotic tyrant, whipping Bateman into Stakhanovite efforts with promises of a promotion, only to yank the carrot away at the last moment. Farrell is a drug-addled ne'er-do-well, looking to squeeze every drop of profit from his late father's chemical company in order to fund his dissolute lifestyle. And Aniston plays a dentist who's a nightmare combination of every sexual harassment story you've ever heard, trying to wangle hygienist Day into her scary clutches. All three buddies find themselves desperate enough to consider homicide. Being decent sorts, they are hopelessly inept and ambivalent in the execution.

The gags are nonstop, and the actors do a fine job. Especially good is Kevin Spacey, who can play dangerous manipulative nutjobs in his sleep. There are also some amusing performances in smaller roles: Jamie Foxx, Julie Bowen, Donald Sutherland, and Ioan Gruffudd. And Bob Newhart!


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:05 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2011-12-02

  • The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed column by Andy Stern yesterday. For those who don't know, the WSJ informs us: "Mr. Stern was president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and is now a senior fellow at Columbia University's Richman Center."

    The title of the column: "China's Superior Economic Model". It's simultaneously horrible and fascinating. It is a paean to central planning, an idea that keeps rising from the grave, even after Hayek and his followers drove stake after stake into its heart. For True Believers, it's a dream that they never woke up from. Sample:

    The conservative-preferred, free-market fundamentalist, shareholder-only model—so successful in the 20th century—is being thrown onto the trash heap of history in the 21st century. In an era when countries need to become economic teams, Team USA's results—a jobless decade, 30 years of flat median wages, a trade deficit, a shrinking middle class and phenomenal gains in wealth but only for the top 1%—are pathetic.
    Of course, Stern and his ilk were never fans of the free-market back in the 20th century. It's only now that they're admitting that it was "so successful".

    It should be noted: Andy Stern is in the mainstream of "progressive" thought, and (what's more) a true Friend of Barack: his union devoted a pile of money to get Obama elected, and, back in 2009, it was revealed that Stern visited Obama 22 times between Inauguration and July 31, more than any other visitor. It's fair to ask: how much of this Stern nonsense does Obama buy?

    Stern's column is worth refuting, but it's also worth examining how it came to be, and how it fits in with "progressive" thought.

  • If you read Stern's column, you'll want to check out the reactions. Here's Geraghty, from his Morning Jolt e-mail (to which you should consider subscribing):
    Stern's column, by the way, was the result of a trip organized by the China-United States Exchange Foundation and the Center for American Progress. So a big lefty organization is organizing trips for lefty movers and shakers to go to China and find themselves raving about how well Beijing is running things and how we have to adopt their methods.
    Stern doesn't actually say "I have seen the future, and it works," but he's in the sad tradition of dupes who did.

    (If you follow some of these links, you'll note I'm not alone at drawing that parallel.)

  • James Pethokoukis judges that Stern has written "one of the worst WSJ op-eds ever." He makes the Steffens point, but also seven quick refutations. Here's one:
    Last time, I checked, the U.S. is 6-10 times as wealthy as China on a per capita GDP basis. On a purchasing power parity basis, China sits between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania.

  • Ross Kaminsky says that Stern's column reminds him of something more recent than Lincoln Steffens: the hullabaloo about another Oriental Menace that was going to eat America's lunch back in the 80's, Japan:
    As someone who was studying economics in college in the mid-1980s, I endured countless comments about how American corporations' narrow focus on "next quarter's earnings" (as if that were true) was congenitally inferior to the longer-term view supposedly taken by Japanese companies.
    As it turned out, except for Alex Trebek, we're not all working for the Japanese. But Stern's primary goal isn't to claim that about the Chinese: now, as then, the purpose is to scare people into taking more and more economic decision-making power out the hands of private individuals, and putting it into the always-willing hands of politicians and government bureaucrats.

  • At the CEI's OpenMarket.Org blog, Matt Patterson (after making his Steffens reference) isn't the least bit happy:
    Mr. Stern and his allies in the labor movement have for decades done everything they can to crush the freedom and profitability of private enterprise, enriching themselves as they plunge the economy into enervation. Yet Stern the gall to tell us that freedom has failed American workers? The Journal should be ashamed for publishing such vile communist propaganda.
    I disagree with that last bit: the WSJ is on the side of the angels here, giving Stern's column an audience well-prepared to tear it, deservedly, to shreds. Had it appeared in the Daily Worker, it might have only drawn cheers from the pinkos. Know your enemy, Matt.

  • Jonah Goldberg is very good at tying the Stern column to (guess what?) the long and ongoing tradition of Liberal Fascism. Among his observations:
    Stern sees the Chinese government’s allegedly keen ability to “plan” its way to prosperity as the new model for America. It is an argument of profound asininity. China had five-year plans before it started getting rich. Under the old five-year plans, China killed tens of millions of its own people and remained mired in poverty. What made China rich wasn’t planning, it was the decision to switch to markets (albeit corrupt ones). The planners were merely in charge of distributing the wealth that markets created.
    Being in charge of wealth-distribution is a tempting job. Methinks Stern is polishing his resume.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:43 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2011-12-01

  • I had to look twice to make sure I wasn't reading the Onion:
    A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 43% of Likely U.S. Voters agree with [Newt Gingrich] and think the [Occupy Wall Street] protesters should take baths and get jobs. But an identical number (43%) disagree, and 14% more are undecided.
    (Via Commentary.)

  • In today's cheap-laff department, it turns out that the IRS really is infested with blood-sucking parasites.
    The Internal Revenue Service office in Seattle is investigating an infestation of possible blood-sucking parasites -- bedbugs -- in its downtown office, after an employee complained of insect bites at work, federal officials said Monday.
    The author of that article deserves the Pulitzer for that paragraph, even if they have to invent a new category for it. (Via Dave of course.)

  • At the NYT, Nate Silver is impressed with the power of the New Hampshire Union Leader's endorsement in past contested GOP primaries. You can read his article and make your own call, but… here's (my version) of the data:

    Election YearUL EndorseePrimary Winner
    1980 Ronald Reagan Reagan
    1988 Pete DuPont George H.W. Bush
    1992 Pat Buchanan Bush
    1996 Buchanan Buchanan
    2000 Steve Forbes John McCain
    2008 McCain McCain

    So, as much as I love the Union Leader: since 1980, they are (a) only two-for-five in endorsing the eventual primary winner; (b) batting .000 in endorsing anyone who went on to become President.

  • Reason editor Matt Welch has an article in his magazine's latest issue, about "do-something punditry", the call for increased state authoritarianism to accomplish grand strategies via vague tactics, with emphasis on a couple of NYT chin-strokers, David Brooks and Thomas Friedman, current experts in the genre.
    Do something. Is there a two-word phrase in politics more loaded with disguised ideological content? Embedded within is both an urgent call for powerful government action and an up-front declaration that the policy details don’t matter. The bigger the crisis, the more the urgency, the sparser the detail. On September 30, 2008, in a classic of the do-something genre, Brooks argued that the Troubled Asset Relief Program should be rammed through Congress over public objections because the federal government needed “to give people a sense that somebody was in charge, that something was going to be done.” Did that “something” involve buying up toxic assets? Introducing or relaxing certain banking regulations? Taking over or winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Not important. “What we need in this situation,” Brooks declared, “is authority.”
    As someone once said: read the whole thing. (Also, subscribe to the magazine, cheapskate!) If the clarion call to "do something" didn't spike your blood pressure before, it will do so afterward.

  • Pun Salad officially recommends "Don't just do something, stand there!" as a proverb for would-be government policymakers. Believe it or not, the earliest appearance of this guideline was apparently from the 1950 Disney version of Alice in Wonderland, spoken by the harried and confused White Rabbit. William Safire's Political Dictionary attributes it to (1) Adlai Stevenson in 1956, deriding Ike's domestic policies; but also to (2) George Shultz in 1970, objecting to some Nixonian scheme. Good for George! In 2008, GMU Econ prof Russell Roberts advised it for the then-recent economic crisis, and it's a damn shame that we went and Did Something instead.

  • While you're at Reason, Steve Chapman has a good column about Your Federal Government's efforts to curb Your consumption of sodium chloride. He notes (convincingly) that the science behind such efforts is shaky. (Heh.)

    But (more importantly) even if it weren't, it's not a proper role for government:

    Classifying excess sodium consumption as a "public health" danger mutilates a useful concept. Air pollution, West Nile virus, and E. coli are matters of public health because they inflict harm on broad groups of people against their will and often without their knowledge. No one, however, ingests salt without raising fork to mouth.

    If I burn toxic waste in my yard, I may force you to inhale compounds that cause illness or death. If I make a meal of pretzels and Virginia ham, by contrast, I pose no hazard to anyone but myself. You can avoid this "public health" threat without the FDA barging into your kitchen.

    Eating foods with salt is not a public decision but a private one. That's private, as in: Keep out.

    Could apply to a number of things besides salt.

  • And combining the last few items, here is a still-timely 2005 column from Jacob Sullum, taking on Paul Krugman and Michael Fumento, who both bemoaned American health habits and—guess what?— demanded that the state "do something" about it.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:39 PM EST
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