College is Good Because You, Like, Learn Stuff

[College Tuition Bubble]

Only 281 days until Election Day! This means President Obama's proposals must meet a stringent three-point test before they are unveiled to the public:

  1. Will they help Obama get re-elected?
  2. Will they help Obama get re-elected?
  3. Will they help Obama get re-elected?
Any output from the White House these days is indistinguishable from a campaign document. So I had (at best) mixed feelings when the Upper Administration at the University Near Here mass-emailed down to us Underlings a messsage with the subject line "Suggested reading for all". Content was a single URL: http://www.edweek.org/media/presagenda-blog.pdf. Which (in turn) popped up a White House press release/campaign document: (HTML version here): "FACT SHEET: President Obama’s Blueprint for Keeping College Affordable and Within Reach for All Americans".

So UNH is pushing us to read Obama's propaganda. Worse, it's not even good propaganda. If I may summarize: it's a gimmick-filled sop to those concerned about runaway college costs. Convincing only to those who think that, despite all evidence to the contrary, Your Federal Government can do a effective job of making services more affordable. Here's the opening:

In his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last – an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values. As an important part of keeping the American promise alive, the President called for a comprehensive approach to tackling rising college costs. In today’s global economy, a college education is no longer just a privilege for some, but rather a prerequisite for all. To reach a national goal of leading the world with the highest share of college graduates by 2020, we must make college more affordable.
… or: yet another Soviet-style Five-Year Plan, meant to reassure the rubes that Obama is Doing Something About It. Winning this game doesn't involve providing useful services that people want; instead, a horde of college bureaucrats will be amply paid for jumping through myriad hoops that a horde of government bureaucrats will be amply paid to think up. Losers: students, parents, America.

A telling indicator of how much care went into preparing the document:

o The President is also proposing to begin collecting earnings and employment information for colleges, so that students can have an even better sense of the post post-graduation outcomes they can expect.
Not just post-graduation, mind you: we're talking post post-graduation.

For more amusement on the same topic, perhaps typical of the response of higher educators to the plan, you might check out the "Dear President Obama…" "open letter" composed for Inside Higher Ed by Professor Robert J. Sternberg of Oklahoma State Univerity. It is in the form of ten supplications to the Great Leader. I think I can summarize them down into four general pleas:

  1. Please don't make us do anything we don't want to.
  2. Please don't try to measure how well we're doing our jobs.
  3. Please don't look too closely at how we're spending money.
  4. Please keep the money flowing.
Check it out; am I being too harsh?

In loyal opposition to increased socialization of higher ed is Neal McCluskey at Cato. Worthwhile reading, especially his conclusion:

[…] if the president really wants to rein in costs he will call for significanlty reducing student aid, both the amount available to individual students, and the numbers of students eligible.

That, though, will probably not happen. Not only did the president talk up keeping aid cheap and casting an even wider net in his State of the Union, but taking the right course — cutting aid — means taking the politically tough course. And neither this president, nor almost anyone else in Washington, has ever signalled real willingness to do that. It’s just much easier to keep giving money away.

Or: if you think higher ed is overpriced now, just wait until President Obama is done making it more "affordable."

Last Modified 2012-09-24 5:39 AM EDT

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

[Amazon Link]

If geeks were to play their own version of David Lodge's "Humiliation" game, here would be my entry: I never got into the oeuvre of Douglas Adams at all. But this book showed up on this list of the "Top 10 Greatest Science Fiction Detective Novels Of All Time", and so …

I've not had the best results from that list. I'll keep trying.

The protagonist is young Rich MacDuff, software engineer working on applications for "WayForward Technologies" and its boss, Gordon Way. His current work is on a program that represents business data not in boring old spreadsheets and graphs, but in music. He has a sofa in his apartment that got stuck on a staircase; it's apparently impossible to move it further upward. More mystifyingly, it's also impossible to reverse the moves that got it into that position.

Rich is invited to attend the annual reading of Coleridge's poem ""Kubla Khan" at his alma mater, St. Cedd's College. He meets up with his old professor "Reg", who holds the position of "Regius Professor of Chronology". Originally established by George III, "to see if there was any particular reason why one thing happened after another, and if there was any way of stopping it." During their discussions, a horse turns up in Reg's bathroom. Did it come in the window?

In the meantime, Gordon Way, Rich's boss and the brother of Rich's girlfriend is murdered. Rich winds up a suspect, and that's where the titular Dirk Gently comes in. Can he pull together these various odd things into a coherent explanation?

You get the point: it's pretty silly. Adams' style hits a lot of comic bases: he's ironic in spots, witty in others, surreal in still others, … There are (probably) a lot more. I chuckled a lot more near the beginning of the book than I did near the end. The "look at how clever I am" schtick apparently doesn't work over a whole 300+ pages. And there's an additional irritant in Adams' "anything goes" plot; when anything goes, nothing really matters.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 6:33 AM EDT

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

[3.5 stars] Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

A tragic tale of how well-intentioned scientific hubris can lead to … well, see the title.

James Franco plays Will, a scientist working desperately hard for a soulless corporation so he can come up with an Alzheimer's cure for his dad (John Lithgow). He tests it on primates, of course. Results are promising, but early demo goes disastrously wrong, and the company demands the primates be put down. Will, however, saves an exceedingly bright infant chimp, bringing him home, and naming him Caesar. Oh oh.

Things go less than smoothly; an altercation between Will's hothead neighbor and Will's demented father blows up into violence and Caesar gets incarcerated in a primate facility. The keepers put up a humane front for the outside world, and manage to deceive Will, but internally it's a Hobbesian nightmare where the apes are brutalized. Caesar, understandably, plots revolt.

There are a lot of nods to the original classic movie series, some subtle, some not so much. (Will someone say "Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!"? Yup.)

Lots of actors caused the "where have I seen them before" reaction. Fortunately, there's IMDB to provide near-instant relief. Will's hapless lab assistant, Franklin? Oh, yeah: he was Dale, in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. And that sadistic keeper at the primate facility turned out to be Tom Felton, aka Draco Malfoy in eight Harry Potter movies. Is he doomed to play psychotic creeps for the rest of his career?


Last Modified 2012-09-24 6:37 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2012-01-29 Update

[phony baloney]

Newt's still hanging on at Intrade, where the traders have him with a 5.7% chance of capturing the GOP nomination. So:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-01-22
"Barack Obama" phony 136,000,000 -33,000,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 20,000,000 -1,800,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 5,590,000 -150,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 1,370,000 -100,000

  • President Obama mentioned phoniness in his State of the Union speech last week:
    No, we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits.
    Instead, he said, we're sticking with an economy weakened by overregulation, uncertainty, scapegoating, out-of-control government spending, and phony rat-hole subsidies like Solyndra.

  • Another bit of phoniness from the President's speech was his repeated use of Debbie Bosanek, Warren Buffett's secretary, to provide rhetorical cover fire for advocacy of Increased Taxes On The Rich Not You Just Those Rich Bastards Like Warren Buffett. Debbie was even a guest at the speech! Obama claimed:
    Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.
    … which he used to advocate:
    […] we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of Members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes. Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule: If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes.
    How phony is it to claim that it's "fair" to single out a class of citizens on which to impose an arbitrary rule?

  • Obama doubled down on even that, however:
    Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.
    There's that word again: "asking". Pretending that taxes are merely a polite request.

    If I had my way, every time a politician does that in a televised speech, an easily-read subtitle would automatically pop up on the screen: "GOVERNMENT WARNING: This person thinks you are stupid enough to be taken in by an obviously dishonest euphemism."

  • Some diligent folks tried to make sense out of the (specific) claim that Debbie was paying a tax rate of 35.8% while Warren was coasting along at 17.4%. Largely, they failed in matching up those numbers with any current tax laws. Despite being held up as a very public example of tax inequity, Debbie and Warren refused to release details that might clarify things. Maybe they were comparing apples and oranges. Maybe comparing apples and wombats. Maybe just flat lying, as phonies are wont to do. As Scott Johnson observes: "It is a farcical mistake to take anything these folks say at face value."

  • Another bit of Obama phoniness was teased out by Jim Geraghty, who concentrated on this (deserved) compliment to the Navy Seals:
    At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations. They're not consumed with personal ambition. They don't obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together. Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example. Think about the America within our reach.
    Comment from Geraghty:
    The man who ran for the state legislature at age 34, who ran for a seat the U.S. House after four years in the state legislature, ran for the U.S. Senate at age 42, and ran for the presidency after two years in the Senate laments that America would be a better place if we weren't consumed with personal ambition.
    Mmmm… that's some good phony.


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

Site Tweak

You may notice a new post date-displayer over there on the left. (No, your left.) Inspired by the cool kids at Granite Grok and Transterrestrial Musings, I went in search of code that would display the date that way instead of the old boring (but agreeably geeky) ISO-8601 date. The result gains a few more pixels of horizontal space for content, too.

Credit: I stole code from here and here (for the drop shadow, hope your browser is not stumped by it.)


Last Modified 2012-01-28 7:44 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2012-01-25

  • I was gratified to see this opening to a post by Prof Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek:
    Unlike most people in my line of work (and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit this fact), I cannot bear to watch politicians speak – and I especially cannot tolerate watching any President of the United States deliver the so-called “State of the Union” address. That address is invariably a series of statements that are often downright false and always insulting to the intelligence of people with I.Q.s higher than that of sea slugs. And beyond all that, all State of the Union addresses grate like fingernails on a chalkboard to anyone who has no desire to be a happy cog in the Great Collective as it is portrayed and lauded by our Leaders.
    Hey, me too! (And I left a comment to that effect.) But Don has a pile of great links worth your attention.

  • Speaking of the Great Collective: apparently President Obama wishes the Body Politic could be more like the military, noting that "Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn from the service of our troops.”

    I can't read that without wondering if he's more-than-idly wishing that his powers as Commander-in-Chief extended to civilians too? Ed Driscoll notes: "it’s the latest reminder that Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism was meant as a warning, not a how-to guide."

  • I took an online quiz and…

    How Thick Is Your Bubble?

    View user's Quiz School Profile
    Guest
    Score :7 out of 20 (35% )
    Result
    On a scale from 0 to 20 points, where 20 signifies full engagement with mainstream American culture and 0 signifies deep cultural isolation within the new upper class bubble, you scored between 5 and 8.

    In other words, you can see through your bubble, but you need to get out more.

    This is in support of Charles Murray's new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 which I've stuck on my (very large) stuff-to-read list.

    Sample question: "Have you ever held a job that caused a part of your body to hurt at the end of the day?" ("Hm… how about my brain? Does that count?")

  • Good news: Congress has lost its enthusiasm for SOPA/PIPA (at least for now). Since I last reported, my CongressCritter, Frank Guinta, sent me mail pointing to his YouTube response and included the following text:
    In SOPA's current form, the well-intentioned desire to stop online piracy would actually open a Pandora's Box of problems for Internet security, free speech online and restricted innovation. We all agree Internet piracy is a costly crime and should be stopped. But trampling on the First Amendment while harming a resource that's vitally important to all Americans isn't the way to do it.
    So good for Frank.

    Our state's Senator Kelly Ayotte dropped her support (and her co-sponsorship) for the Senate-side PIPA legislation, although she didn't bother to send me mail about it yet. (Hmpf!) So good for Kelly, too.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 8:45 AM EDT

Border Incident

[2.0 stars] Border Incident (1949) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

In a word: boring. If you want another word: contrived.

Long ago, I indiscriminately put a lot of movies labelled "film noir" in my Blockbuster queue; when I transitioned to Netflix, I moved them over. Even though the Netflix algorithm advised I wouldn't like it much, I decided to chance bumping it up to the top. Bad decision!

I don't think it's noir, not even close. Made in 1949, it was meant to illuminate the illegal immigrant problem from Mexico, and how criminals on both sides of the border exploited cheap undocumented labor. U.S. and Mexican law enforcement decide to investigate, putting American cop Jack Bearnes (George Murphy) and Mexican cop Pablo Rodriguez (Ricardo Montalban) undercover to investigate the racket.

And they did a great job, which is why we don't have any of those problems, over sixty years later.

It's slow, right up until the end; it gets violent when the bad guys (led by Howard Da Silva) see through Bearnes's cover story and Rodriguez tries to rescue him.

The movie is very earnest, with a pretentious narration at the beginning and end prattling on about the great friendship and cooperation between the two great countries, blah, blah, blah. It's directed by Anthony Mann, but he's done better. Searching around IMDB will tell you about the great cinematography, but … eh.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 8:02 AM EDT

The Guard

[4.0 stars] The Guard (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

A clever comedy/crime thriller starring Mad-Eye Moody his own self, Brendan Gleeson. (He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role; we'll see if Oscar does the same thing.)

It's set in Connemara, out in western Ireland, where the Emerald Isle's bleak rocky shores meet the cold Atlantic, lads. Gleeson plays Gerry Boyle, an unconventional member of the Guard, the local police force. How unconventional? Arriving at the scene of a fatal auto crash, Boyle riffles though the pockets of one of the victims, and consumes the tab of LSD he finds. He frequents prostitutes, drinks heavily, and loves to needle his superiors and co-workers. He is devoted to his mother (Fionnula Flanagan), who is awaiting death in a local hospice.

All in all, not a bad life. Excepting the mom thing, of course. But a team of murderous drug smugglers pick the area to bring in a shipment of cocaine. Pretty soon a body shows up, as does the American FBI, in the person of agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), on the trail of the smugglers. Everett is very much by-the-book, but his investigation is hampered by the fact that the citizenry is totally uninterested in helping with his investigation; either they ignore him, or pretend to be Gaelic-only speakers. He and Boyle become reluctant partners.

Gleeson is hilarious, and has especially great chemistry with Cheadle. If you watch it, it might be a good idea to toggle the subtitles; those Irish accents can be pretty thick.

Without spoilers, I think the guys making the FX series Justified were inspired by one of the scenes here, where a voluble bad guy gets the drop on the hero in his own domicile in Season 3, Episode 1. Not an outright steal, the details differ, but similar enough.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 8:03 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2012-01-22 Update

[phony baloney]

Newt Gingrich rescued his campaign from oblivion by reminding South Carolina Republicans that he's not afraid to tackle the singlemost big issue facing the country: the silly left-wing media, embodied (this week) by John King of CNN.

Fearless prediction: in Monday's debate in Tampa, NBC's Brian Williams will ask Newt a question of dubious relevance; Newt will throw a pie at Williams in response. The audience will give Newt a standing ovation.

So, anyway, Newt has requalified for inclusion in our phony poll due to his rebound at Intrade:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-01-15
"Barack Obama" phony 169,000,000 +7,000,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 21,800,000 ---
"Mitt Romney" phony 5,740,000 +100,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 1,470,000 -50,000

  • Professor Don Boudreaux shares a letter he wrote to the Wall Street Journal about attacks on Romney's time at Bain Capital:
    It's no surprise that Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry each attacks the perfectly appropriate capitalist activities that Mitt Romney performed during his time at Bain Capital ("Romney Lashes Back on Bain," Jan. 12): Gingrich and Perry are politicians, each desperate to delude voters into believing that he - and not Romney or anyone else - is fit to exercise the dizzying powers that today are vested in the U.S. presidency. Therefore, neither of these men will honor any principle or respect any truth if doing so will cost him votes; nor will either man refrain from any slander or shun any chicanery the practice of which will, in his estimation, beguile the masses into elevating him into the ostentation of the Oval Office.

    But, of course, Romney's own flip-flop on the health-care issue and his absurd attack on Americans who buy Chinese-made goods prove that he, too, is of the species politicus duplicitus - and, therefore, deserving of no sympathy.

    Prof Don expresses the theme of our Phony series very well.

  • At Reason, Peter Suderman amplifies just how well that politicus duplicitus tag applies to Mitt:
    There are two main things to remember about Mitt Romney. First, he's been on multiple sides of most every major issue. Second, he's currently on whatever side is most politically convenient.

    Romney isn't some garden variety legislative flip-flopper who's changed his mind a few times or reversed support for a few pieces of legislation; he's a true political shape shifter whose core political principles and beliefs are almost impossible to determine.

    Suderman reviews the leaked McCain opposition research on Romney from 2008 and concludes: "You may not know exactly which Romney is going to show up once in office, but it's a safe bet that it won't be the one people voted for. "

    On the other hand…

  • President Obama issued his first campaign ad. You can watch it at the WaPo's Fact Checker column, which awarded it three out a possible four "Pinocchios". Among the most amusing fibs:
    Then, in bold type, the ad proclaims: President Obama "kept a campaign promise to toughen ethics rules" and it cites: "PolitiFact, 1/21/09."

    Politifact did write that on Jan. 21, 2009, but then it almost immediately changed its ruling as Obama began granting waivers to his ethics policy.

    The GOP nominee, whoever he is, will have to put on more staff to compete with Obama on phoniness. Because…

  • Sometimes it seems that the Obama campaign has made a conscious decision to rub our collective noses in its phony droppings. Quoting Andrew Malcolm:
    Hey, Mr. President! You've just destroyed the Keystone XL pipeline project and thousands of new union jobs. What are you gonna do now?

    "I'm going to Disney World."

    And he did. Phony detail: ostensibly to promote tourism, Obama's visit to the Magic Kingdom's Main Street caused it to be shut down for actual tourists.

    Among those belaboring the obvious was Newt Gingrich.

    "I think to close half of Magic Kingdom for the purpose of a White House invitation town hall meeting on a phony main street on behalf of a phony president just strikes me as weird. This is one of those things historians will write about," Gingrich said to a crowd of about 500 people sitting in the theater at Magnolia Hall.

    "I want you to think about the president standing with Mickey Mouse on one side and Goofy on the other," Gingrich continued. "And I'll let you decide which Cabinet office he'll likely offer to the two of them while he's there."

    Gawrsh!

Last Modified 2014-12-05 11:38 AM EST

Senator Shaheen Defends PIPA, Badly

[stop PIPA]

Following my own advice, I sent e-mail to my Congressman (Frank Guinta) and both New Hampshire's senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte) opposing SOPA (the "Stop Online Piracy Act" being considered in the House) and PIPA (the "Protect IP Act" in the Senate).

I (so far, only) have received mail back from Senator Shaheen. Hope she doesn't mind if I post it here:

Dear Paul,
OK, so we're on a first-name basis. I'll call her "Jeanne" from here on out.
Thank you for contacting my office about online intellectual property rights. I appreciate hearing from you about this important issue.
As previously noted, Jeanne is one of the co-sponsors of PIPA. I didn't really expect to change her mind, but…
The illegal online sale and distribution of copyright-protected material over the Internet has increased dramatically in the past decade. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has estimated that the theft and illegal online sale of products like music, movies, books, and television shows costs the U.S. economy tens of billions of dollars each year, and according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit goods has already cost the U.S. over 750,000 jobs. I am a cosponsor of the PROTECT IP Act, which would provide the Justice Department with new tools to crack down on websites whose primary purpose is to illegally distribute intellectual property or counterfeit goods.
The single specific number here, "750,000 jobs", looks impressive!

Guess what? It's also known to be "utterly bogus." It was convincingly debunked over three years ago by Julian Sanchez in an Ars Technica article. The General Accounting Office issued a report nearly two years ago that noted that number (among others) could not be "substantiated or traced back to an underlying data source or methodology." Which is (as these guys note) bureaucratese for "made up out of thin air."

Similarly for Jeanne's vaguer "tens of billions of dollars each year." (Although some even wilder people have claimed costs of $200-$250 Billion-with-a-B yearly.) There are simply no reliable figures there. But let's say $50 billion; that works out to about $160 per US Citizen—is that even credible? I'm not even doing close to my share, are you? The latter link makes a good point:

As Mark Twain once wrote, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. However true that may be in general, statistics can be particularly tricky when they are used to assess the effects of IP piracy. Unlike stealing a car, copying a song doesn’t necessarily inflict a tangible loss on another. Estimating that loss requires counterfactual assumptions about what the world would have been like if the piracy had never happened — and, no surprise, those most affected tend to assume the worst.
Jeanne appears to have zero skepticism when it comes to believing hype from special interests.

She continues:

I understand that concerns have been raised about this bill's potential effects on free speech and innovation on the Internet. However, I believe this bill strikes a commonsense balance in strengthening intellectual property rights and protecting Internet freedom by providing the Justice Department and American companies with a process by which they can attempt to show that a website based overseas has no significant use other than the illegal distribution of intellectual property and counterfeit goods.
I find that lawyer Marvin Ammori is more believable than Jeanne here. For example:
[SOPA and PIPA] do not, as often advertised by the copyright industry, merely target foreign “rogue” sites like the Pirate Bay. They are not even limited to sites guilty of any copyright infringement, direct or even contributory infringement. Instead, the bills would extend not only to foreign but also to domestic websites that merely “facilitate” or “enable” infringement. Thus, in their language, the bills target considerable protected speech on legitimate sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. The bills also affect non-infringing speech by search engines, advertisers, and domain name providers.

Coupled with this overbroad scope, the bills authorize remedies that lack the usual procedural safeguards, ensuring that even more protected, non-infringing speech will be restricted. Even though a judicial determination is generally required to remove speech from circulation, the House version empowers copyright-holders to send notices to payment processors and advertisers to shut off funding for non-infringing sites that meet the bill’s broad definitions. The bills also encourage over-enforcement by making companies immune from suit for mistakenly punishing sites outside even the bills’ over-expansive scope.

So, sorry Jeanne: your defense of this legislation is weak. But I appreciate that you tried. I've yet to hear anything at all from your colleagues. However, this may mean that they, unlike you, are too embarrassed to even attempt to offer reasons to support this legislation.

The Rational Optimist

[Amazon Link]

If you're old—like I am—you have been exposed to decades of doom mongers. OK, so the Ice Age they predicted didn't get us, but Global Warming will. OK, so we didn't all die from that 70's disease; or that 80's disease; or that 90's disease; or that 2000's disease; but just you wait; this decade is going to get us. OK, acid rain didn't eat off our faces while we were out scavenging for mushrooms during the worldwide famine after the population bomb blew up, and we ran out of non-renewable resources, and pollution overwhelmed us. Also, that big final financial apocolypse? Didn't happen on schedule either, but (mind my words) it's just around the corner.

In addition: kids today are no damn good, and their music? It's just noise! And they should get the hell off my lawn.

Matt Ridley calls bullshit on the doom mongers, but that's just one part of this book. His primary purpose is to explain how prosperity happens: why it occurred when it did, how it became self-sustaining, and how it can falter. The scope is wide, covering millennia, examining cultures over the whole world. He brings in insights from history, anthropology, economics, science, and technology.

His "hook" is: ideas have sex. Hence they procreate and evolve, and this happens blindingly faster than biological evolution. The "sex" thing is kind of cheap attention-grabbing, the analogy is strained, but illuminates something real: an innovation originally confined to some backwater can be exchanged between cultures until it dominates worldwide.

Ridley is no Pollyanna, but he points out that many actual problems could be better ameliorated if we stopped wasting so much time and resources on the chimerical ones. He has no patience with technophobes.

Ridley's website is here; I've started subscribing to its RSS feed. Here's a video from the site:

Fittingly, I alternated reading the book between my Kindle and my iPad. As Arthur C. Clarke predicted: this would have seemed like magic just a few years back. Now, commonplace.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 8:46 AM EDT

Crazy, Stupid, Love

[4.0 stars] Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

There are a lot of ways romantic comedies can go wrong, and Crazy, Stupid, Love avoids nearly all of them. For a PG-13 movie, it's kind of raunchy (MPAA: "coarse humor, sexual content and language") but it's also very funny. A lot of the humor is situational, but a gratifying amount springs from its six primary characters, none of whom fall into the caricature trap. (There are also strong performances from supporting characters.)

Here's the story: on a "date night", Emily (Julianne Moore) announces to her husband Cal (Steve Carell) that she (a) wants a divorce and (b) has been canoodling with co-worker David (Kevin Bacon). This immediately impacts their kids, most notably 13-year-old Robbie (Jonah Bobo). Robbie has a major crush on his sitter, 17-year-old Jessica (Analeigh Tipton); who, in turn, is smitten with Cal.

Bereft, Cal starts spending time in a bar, drinking too much, and regaling the other patrons with his misery. This proves too much for fellow patron Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who is perhaps the smoothest one-night stand artist you'll see. We only see him strike out with one woman, Hannah (Emma Stone). Jacob takes Cal under his wing; soon enough, he's filling his nights with female companionship. But he still pines for Emily. (Cal's first "success" is with Kate, who's played by Marisa Tomei; her brief scenes are probably the best part of this very good movie.)

The movie (I think successfully) walks a fine line: while showing the misery of infidelity and marital breakup, it doesn't forget to be funny. Without spoiling things, it also has a couple of Dickensian coincidences that are successfully played for laughs. Just keep your eyes open.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 8:47 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2012-01-15 Update

[phony baloney]

We bid farewell, at least for now, to Mr. Newt Gingrich. The Intraders now have dropped his probability of becoming the 2012 Republican Presidential Nominee to 2.3%, well below our arbitrary 4% threshold. (Ron Paul is actually ahead of Newt, at 3.6%.)

So it's a two-man race! Well, three, if you count the probable Libertarian nominee, Gary Johnson, and I might as well start doing that. (Disclaimer: "Gary Johnson" is a common enough name so that the Google hit count could be distorted by other phonies named "Gary Johnson". Given that what we're doing is totally bogus anyway, we shall ignore this detail.)

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-01-08
"Barack Obama" phony 162,000,000 -1,000,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 5,640,000 +4,862,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 1,520,000 ---

  • Ex-senator Rick Santorum had a brief day in the sun as the not-Mitt, but that seems to have passed. This has served to point out the slow response time of print journals: Santorum's on the cover of the current issue of National Review and Andrew Ferguson has an article in the Weekly Standard about him. Kind of, anyway. After Santorum's defeat in 2006, he didn't move back "home" to Pennsylvania, but instead retained his true home in the D.C. suburbs, and held down a number of lucrative positions, none of which involved doing any actual work.
    I found myself strangely touched by the stories of Santorum's recent wealth, for they certified that he wasn't a "Washington insider" in any pejorative sense, at least by my libertarian lights. He's just another Washingtonian of a particular type: the anti-Washington Washingtonian--an AWW, a contented resident of the nation's capital who has based his career on his loudly declared disdain for the nation's capital, particularly the federal Leviathan residing there. The AWW campaigns against Washington, catalogues its harmful effects, extols alternatives, and contrasts it with the "real America," which he vows to liberate forever from its depredations--while never admitting that Washington is the very thing that makes his life worth living.
    Funny and insightful, like most everything Ferguson writes. Pun Salad encourages you to Read the Whole Thing™.

  • Louis Woodhill poaches on our territory with a column titled "Why Mitt Romney Comes Off As A Bit Of A Phony". He even does a Google hit count comparison, using a different query string, every bit as bogus as ours:
    If you Google "Mitt Romney is a phony", you get 102,000 hits. If you do the same search on "Rick Perry", you get 51,800; "Ron Paul", 32,300; and "Newt Gingrich", 3,960. At the opposite end of the "authenticity" spectrum, if you Google "Herman Cain is a phony", you get 8 hits.
    Woodhill's theory is that Romney comes across as phony because he's a "brilliant, pragmatic problem solver"—and, as admirable as that is, it's not what Americans look for in a President. Instead, Romney's trying to present himself as something that Americans are (arguably) looking for: a big-picture Reaganesque optimistic visionary. But this masquerade is difficult for Romney to pull off, hence the perception of phoniness.

    Hey, maybe! But I quibble: Woodhill should have also Googled "Barack Obama is a phony": I get 2,380,000 hits, over 20 times Mitt's hits. Woodhill would have been slightly more convincing if he had a Grand Unified Google Phony Theory that explains that result.

  • At the National Journal, Ron Fournier pens an article: "New Hampshire Shows Romney Can Be Painted as a Cold-Hearted Phony". For phony aficionados, this is about as newsworthy as "New Hampshire Shows Winter Can Be Painted as a Cold and Snowy Season".

    And it's hardly new ground for Fournier. Back in 2007 he penned: "Analysis: Is Edwards real or a phony?" (That's John Edwards. With the benefit of hindsight, the answer has become even more obvious.)

    Fournier also looked at Romney's Phony Problem in October of last year: "The most serious threat [Herman] Cain poses to Romney is that his candidacy, however fragile and fleeting, underscores the power of a virtue that Romney seems to lack: Authenticity." Because nothing says "authenticity" more than sending cash to a woman without telling your wife.

    So is Fournier doing any better this time?

    The caricature isn't new or entirely fair, but the GOP presidential front-runner gave his desperate rivals fresh ammunition: Romney said he liked being able to "fire people who provide services to me;" he claimed to have once worried about being laid off; he suggested that it's best to get rich before running for president; and he seemed to stretch the truth about attack ads and about his motives for leaving the Massachusetts governor's office.
    Well, yeah. Nice try, Ron, but the typical GOP attitude seems to be: "So what? The other guys aren't any better."


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

GOVERNMENT WARNING

[government warning]

Our topic is the GOVERNMENT WARNING that you, Mr. or Ms Average American, will find on every beer, wine, or booze container that you buy, borrow, steal, or pick up on the side of the road. Example at right. (No, your right.)

The relevant Federal Government Regulation for such labels may be found here. Recommended reading! The GOVERNMENT WARNING has been required since the late 80s, and the regulation goes into great, mind-numbing detail. (Example: If you're producing booze for foreign markets, you don't need the WARNING; unless it is to be consumed by American military personnel, in which case you do.) No doubt a horde of well-paid BATF bureaucrats labored mightily in its production, and when it was finished, lo, they rested, after pouring themselves a stiff drink.

The wording of the GOVERNMENT WARNING is specified exactly; don't try to add, subtract, or change anything. Whatever you do, don't change GOVERNMENT WARNING to something more accurate, like HERE ARE SOME WORDS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SAYS WE MUST PUT ON THE LABEL. That would get you into serious trouble. (Up to a $10K fine per day.)

More about GOVERNMENT WARNING: those two words not only have to be there, they have to be all-uppercase, and they have to be in "bold type". And don't get any funny ideas about the rest of the GOVERNMENT WARNING: everything else is prohibited from being in bold type. On containers of 8 ounces or less, the WARNING font has to be at least 1 millimeter tall; between 8 oz. and 3 liters, it has to be at least 2mm. Over 3 liters: at least 3mm. (And if you think that's picky: check out the recommendation from the nannies at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, cosigned by a Senator and three CongressCritters, who demanded even more regulatory verbiage to make the warning more prominent.)

The rules go to great lengths to make the GOVERNMENT WARNING sacrosanct. States are prohibited from mandating their own WARNINGS to be placed on the label. The GOVERNMENT WARNING has to be "separate and apart from all other information". So if a particularly conscientious brewer wanted to point out additional helpful information, for example:

Overconsumption of this product obliterates the fine line between clever and stupid.
or
Unscrupulous people may try to take advantage of any impairment to your physical and mental faculties caused by consumption of this product. People write books about this, for goodness sake. Maybe you should read some of them before, or instead of, drinking.
or
Habitual overuse of this product will almost certainly cause severe damage to your family ties, and loss of other meaningful relationships. Your only remaining friends will probably be drunken losers like yourself.
… well, adding any of that to the GOVERNMENT WARNING is strictly illegal.

What I really want to see is a GOVERNMENT WARNING somehow attached where it belongs: to the government. Every government building, project, TSA checkpoint, or publication would need to display it prominently. Every speech by a government employee would need to include it at the end. Something like:

GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) Government has been shown to be a significant risk to your life, liberty, property, and privacy. (2) Over-reliance on government has been determined to reduce your self-worth and self-responsibility. (3) Expecting equitable, wise, or effective behavior from government has a high probability of leading to disappointment or even depression. (4) Government can, and does, get away with doing stuff that would land you in jail. (5) Over-exposure to government employees can result in a significant loss of intelligence and can cause irrational behavior.
The problem here is knowing where to stop.

Last Modified 2012-01-12 4:28 PM EST

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

[Amazon Link]

Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts is even rougher than years one through four. Even before it starts, he and his porcine cousin Dudley get attacked by Dementors, a surprising event in the supposed safety of Privet Drive. Harry behaves heroically, but gets in serious trouble for using magic in the muggle world; he gets brought up on charges before the Ministry of Magic.

He gets out of that scrape, thanks to some clever and resourceful defenses by Headmaster Dumbledore. But things still aren't good: Harry's haunted by dreams that make his famous scar throb. His claims about the return of Voldemort are widely disbelieved, especially in the Ministry of Magic. Dumbledore is also put on the defensive: the Ministry forces Dolores Umbridge into Hogwarts, and she's very interested in tormenting Harry.

It's the longest Harry Potter book (870 pages), but it continues to be a good yarn. Once again, Harry survives; but just as in the previous book, there's a dreadful loss at the climax. A overarching theme is the refusal of bureaucracy to react effectively to menace; wonder if Rowling is trying to say something about the real world there?


Last Modified 2012-09-24 8:07 AM EDT

Point Blank

[3.5 stars] Point Blank (2010) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

A French movie, but—thank goodness—hardly artsy-fartsy at all. There are good guys, bad guys, desperate situations, and non-stop action. You can even opt for the dubbed-in English version and pretend it's not French at all. (However, you can tell even then: there's a lot of cigarette smoking.)

Samuel and Nadia are a very happy married couple; she's extremely pregnant, he's about to become a male nurse at the local hospital. But things quickly go south: a mysterious guy is brought to the hospital; he's been chased into traffic by a couple of gun-wielding thugs, and got hit by a motorcycle. While in the hospital, an assailant cuts his respirator hose; Samuel saves him in the nick of time. Hero!

But then things turn really bad: Nadia is kidnapped and threatened with death unless Samuel gets the mysterious guy out of the hospital. Which, of course, he must do.

It's a neat little thriller, with a plot worth paying attention to.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 8:08 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2011-01-10

  • This week's phony update alluded to the various partisans who thought pro-forma Senate sessions were hunky-dory when used to deny Dubya's recess appointments; now that Obama has asserted the power to make recess appointments anyway, those previous pronouncements have gone down the memory hole.

    Or almost. Check Adam White who examines the that-was-then-this-is-now shamelessness of Lawrence Tribe; the MinuteMan does an equally fine job on the New York Times.

  • Here's basic free-market econ: a society becomes more prosperous by shifting resources from less productive activities to more productive ones. Most people win, but some lose, and some have to make adjustments they would have preferred not to have made. One side of the dynamic is so-called "creative destruction", yet another term originally coined by the enemies of capitalism that's been adopted by its advocates.

    Which is why the use of Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital as a political issue by his opponents is so disgusting. Did Bain's involvement with some companies result in some people losing their jobs? Sure. Did Bain make mistakes? It would be surprising if they didn't.

    So I'm with James Pethokoukis: Romney doesn't need to apologize for his Bain career. I'd expect Democrats to use the issue against him; they thrive on demagogic economic illiteracy. But Republicans should know better, and I've lost a lot of whatever respect I've had for Huntsman, Gingrich, and Perry.

    Fortunately, Ron Paul gets it right, as does Rick Santorum. Good for them.

  • I think SOPA (the "Stop Online Piracy Act" being considered in the House) and PIPA (the "Protect IP Act" in the Senate) are dreadful, liberty-killing, pieces of legislation. If you're unfamiliar, see Jerry Brito at Time; Peter Suderman at Reason; or just Google and look around.

    It's probably a write-your-legislators issue. Unfortunately, for New Hampshirites, both our state's Senators are co-sponsors of this travesty. Write them anyway.

    My CongressCritter, Frank Guinta is apparently undecided.

    Constituent pressure works in some cases. Congressman Paul Ryan changed his position on SOPA yesterday. Good for him.

  • Tim Carney puts his finger on the Huntsman misjudgment that (I'm pretty sure) doomed his campaign: by going out of his way to announce his "belief" in evolution and anthropogenic global warning, he signalled his contempt for the great unwashed.
    Huntsman chose to play the game of identity politics, and it hurt him. There's an apt saying that voters don't need to like a candidate, they just need to believe that the candidate will like them. When Huntsman gives off his substance-free liberal signals, he's telling conservatives to buzz off and go back to their Bible class or hunting blind.

    If Huntsman fails tomorrow in New Hampshire's primary, it will partly be the consequence of his unwise signaling, but it will also be an indication that the GOP base has put style over substance.

    So there.

  • Here's something I didn't know: astronomers have observed a phenomenon called "the ashen light of Venus" for centuries, and we still don't know what causes it.

Metropolitan

[3.5 stars] Metropolitan (1990) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

When John Miller came out with a list of the best conservative movies a few years ago, I'd seen most of them. One I had missed was Metropolitan, a 1990 movie written, produced, and directed by Whit Stillman. (The writing part got him an Oscar nomination.) Finally, I got around to it. And it didn't make me rave, but it was unusual and unexpectedly watchable.

And it's not my kind of thing at all: it concentrates on a close-knit group of Manhattan-based upper-class socialites, in the midst of something called the "debutante season". This involves a lot of post-dance gatherings where conversation occurs. A semi-outsider, Tom Townsend, gets caught up in the group. He refers to himself as a devotee of Fourier's socialism, and still has a hopeless crush for Serena, a girl from his college days. Tom develops an asymmetrical relationship with Audrey: he enjoys discussing literature with her, she's gradually becoming smitten with him.

Much of the dialog is ultra-stilted, affected, and (sometimes) mean; for a group of ostensible friends, they sure do insult each other a lot. They're obsessed with their status and prospects. As weeks go by, unexpected alliances are formed, characters are revealed.

Although billed as a comedy, there aren't a lot of jokes; the amusement is to be found in observing the characters' manners, pretensions, delusions, and affectations. This worked for me, maybe not everyone.

The actors are relatively unknown, and IMDB makes it easy to verify that. Edward Clements, who played Tom, had a grand total of one more movie appearance, as "Young Crewman" in Star Trek VI.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 8:09 AM EDT

Thanks to National Review

[Romney for President]

On Saturday evening, I hiked over to Manchester for a shindig hosted by National Review. This was a reprise of their successful New Hampshire Primary event they did back in 2008. And it was fun in 2012 as well. Even though I brought my iPad, it went unused—too lazy, sorry—so my report is incomplete and relies solely on my hazy memory.

True fact: On the way, I saw an actual Buddy Roemer sign posted at the Lee Traffic Circle. Not that that has anything to do with anything, I just thought I'd mention.

Saturday nights in Manchester are usually pretty sleepy, but Saturdays three days before a contested primary are an exception. Media outlets were setting up, satellite trucks in the streets, noisy Ron Paul supporters on one corner, an "Occupy" group set up in Veterans Memorial Park to try to leech off the primary coverage.

On the way in, I noticed George Stephanopoulos holding court at the front door of the Radisson. But four years ago, I saw Tim Russert in roughly the same spot; we all know how that worked out for Tim. Stay well, George.

NR's event had free food (yay!) that was gone all too soon (boo!) Had I known, I would have grabbed more bacon-wrapped scallops; truly, they are the food of the gods.

Things were centered around the GOP Candidates' debate hosted up the street at St. Anselm's College; the room had a big-screen set up so attendees could watch. But we had a couple panels before that.

The first was introduced by NR's publisher, Jack Fowler. He mentioned that he'd run into a guy who had been a subscriber since 1971. Had I known there was going to be a competition, I would have mentioned that I've been a reader since… I'm pretty sure it was 1967. I remember an article by James Burnham on civil disobedience; I think the cover was a bomb with Dr. Benjamin Spock's picture on it. (I was very young.)

Anyway: the first panel contained NR stars Rich Lowry, Ramesh Ponnuru, Robert Costa, and political consultant Mike Murphy. They were funny and insightful. Lowry introduced the group as "the most impressive collection of RINOs since Lincoln Chafee had dinner with himself." Managing both a little GOP in-joke, and semi-humorously referring to the outrage supporters of conservative candidates feel when they feel their guy or gal is disrespected in the magazine's pages. It would be a recurring theme.

Mike Murphy asked for a show of hands about who the folks in the room were supporting; most were for Romney and Santorum, with Romney hands getting a significant edge. When Murphy asked for Ron Paul supporters, he made a crack about their flying saucer arriving on the Radisson's roof. (A safe joke to make in that crowd.)

The evening's second panel was funnier, due to their making no pretense at sober political analysis: Jonah Goldberg, James Lileks, and Rob Long. The memorable argument here belonged to Jonah, where he talked about the "RINO" slur (RINO == "Republican in name only", in case you didn't know).

Jonah's argument, paraphrased: I'm a RINO. Most conservatives are RINOs. Otherwise, you have to get behind Arlen Specter; you have to get all excited when Olympia Snowe gets re-elected. No thanks.

But it wasn't all that serious; the term "cuddle puddle" was mentioned quite often, and apparently it's a real thing.

I got to briefly converse with Mr. Lileks afterward, basically to express my appreciation for his work. I was a little apprehensive, because what could be more tedious than listening to some fanboy mumble incoherently about his fanboyhood?

But… Lileks talks about his NH jaunt in today's Bleat. And, what do you know:

The greatest bestest happy-happy-joy-joy moments came when I met Bleat readers from the region: made my night, folks. You have no idea how cool it is to hear that you're readers. Just wish I’d gotten a haircut before I met you all.
Whoa, he's talking about me! (And no doubt many others of course. But including me.)

I didn't foist myself on Jonah, Rob, Rick, or even Jack Fowler. (What I would have said: "Gee, Jack, I sure get a lot of mail from you." Maybe we're both better off.) I also saw Robert Stacy McCain (who later dubbed the event "RINOCon" and the " National Review Romney GroupHugFest") and Datechguy. I heard Mickey Kaus was around somewhere, but not anywhere I was. ("Hey, Mickey. I read The End of Equality. It was good!")

As the time for the debate drew near, they put the big-screen back on; ABC's show before its debate coverage was "Wipeout", where competitors attempt to navigate a messy obstacle course, mostly to their humiliation. I was talking to Skip Murphy (proprietor of the great and mighty GraniteGrok) at the time, and I think we were in agreement that we'd pay real money to see the GOP candidates compete in that event.

But my ass was already flat, and I could not face the prospect of sitting in those uncomfortable Radisson chairs for another couple hours. And the road back to Pun Salad Manor was long and dark. So I bugged out, and hope I didn't miss much.

The general attitude seemed to be that Romney has the nomination sewn up. (Although NR, unlike in 2008, hasn't yet actually endorsed him.) Few are enthusiastic about that, but what are you going to do? Yes, he's flawed, but you know who's even more flawed? Everyone else, that's who. He's better than Obama. He's better than McCain. I'm with Frank J: Stop whining and suck it up.


Last Modified 2012-01-13 5:27 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2012-01-08 Update

[phony baloney]

It's the same lineup as last week. Rick Santorum's strong showing in the Iowa caucuses caused him to (occasionally) blip up above our arbitrary 4% threshold at Intrade this week. But as I type, he's underwater (at 3.8%), so he stays out for now.

Newt is barely hanging in at 5.0%. Which makes (ta-da) Mitt Romney quickly moving to the "prohibitive favorite" stage at 83.4%

As for phoniness itself, the President maintains his massive lead:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-01-01
"Barack Obama" phony 163,000,000 -2,000,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 6,030,000 -310,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 778,000 +107,000

  • President Obama's primary phony activity this week was making "recess appointments", bypassing the normal Senate confirmation process in a manner allowed by the Constitution. Only problem: the Senate was not in recess; they were conducting so-called "pro forma" sessions, which had been previously considered to prevent recess appointments.

    It was an unprecedented power grab. Amusingly, the Obamites pointed to an op-ed written by two Bush-era Justice Department underlings which called such pro forma sessions (I am not making this up) "phony". (One of the authors went into more detail at the Volokh Conspiracy blog here.)

    Why it seems like only a few years ago that Democrats regularly excoriated the Dubya-era Justice Department as a criminal conspiracy to deliver America into the dark night of totalitarianism. (Oh, wait: it was only a few years ago.) But now they're happy to use its past employees' pronouncements as dicta to excuse this latest end run around the Constitution.

  • I have not received the Ron Paul letter where he calls Newt Gingrich a counterfeit conservative. But there's still a chance with tomorrow's mail.

  • Newt, on the other hand, offered Mitt Romney some campaign advice:
    I just think he ought to be honest with the American people and try to win as the real Mitt Romney, not try to invent a poll-driven, consultant-guided version that goes around with talking points, and I think he ought to be candid. I don't think he's being candid and that will be a major issue. From here on out from the rest of this campaign, the country has to decide: Do you really want a Massachusetts moderate who won't level with you to run against Barack Obama who, frankly, will just tear him apart? He will not survive against the Obama machine.
    Hm, that advice may not have been provided in good faith.

  • Fake Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has endorsed Ron Paul:

More phoniness to come, I'm sure.

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

Fright Night

[3.5 stars] Fright Night (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

A vampire movie that doesn't take itself too seriously. And a remake of a 1985 movie which I haven't seen. But I had a fine time.

In a sterile Las Vegas suburb, young Charley has it pretty good. He used to be a nerd, but has recently acquired a hot girlfriend, Amy (to the consternation of the local jocks). His father is not around, but his mom is nice. The only thing slightly out of place is their new neighbor, Jerry. He's blacked out his windows, and has a construction dumpster in his yard, but there's no visible construction going on. Also people keep vanishing from the neighborhood. What's up with that?

Charley's friend, Ed (who's still a nerd) thinks he knows what's going on: Jerry's a vampire. And he's right, for all the good it does him. Pretty soon Charley's convinced too, and Jerry decides it's time to vampirize him, Amy, and his mom. After a couple of close calls, Jerry tries to seek help, not from the cops, but from "Peter Vincent", a sleazy Vegas stage magician, who's rumored to be a vampire expert. He is, but he's also a dissolute coward.

Part of the fun of a vampire flick is discovering the rules. For example, that cross thing? Doesn't work on Jerry, sorry. But apparently the must-be-invited-in rule applies. (And, as one of the good guys discovers to her chagrin, you have to remember which vulnerabilities apply to vampires, and which apply to, say, werewolves.)

The cast is uniformly good. Charley is played by Anton Yelchin—where had I seen him before? Oh, right, he was Chekov in the latest Star Trek movie. Colin Farrell is excellent as Jerry.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 8:10 AM EDT

MLK Day 2012: UNH Attacks Wealth

[Look! Rich People]

It's time to check out what's coming up for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day "Celebration" at the University Near Here.

Some things never change. As in past years:

  • MLK Day is the only holiday the University sees fit to "celebrate" with a guest speaker and other sponsored events.

  • The actual MLK Day is January 16, which is both (a) a holiday and (b) a week before Spring Semester classes begin. Even fewer people would show up. So UNH's shindig will actually happen a couple weeks afterward.

  • UNH publicizes a "Spiritual Celebration" service to be held at the Durham Community Church. MLK Day is a day on which the Wall of Separation is temporarily lowered, where the University advocates you show up at a church for "song, readings, reflection and prayer". It allows the participants to obtain that warm-n-fuzzy moral superiority buzz without getting bogged down in all that tacky, inconvenient God and Bible stuff.

  • The University demonstrates its firm commitment to Diversity by holding events where political diversity runs the spectrum from left to hard-left.

But the details change. One can well imagine how the folks in charge want to be seen as "with it" and "relevant". So, hey, how about something that might appeal to that whole "Occupy" movement?

And so the theme this year is "The Politics of Wealth and Social Justice". The description:

In recent years, racial tensions have risen, public educational institutions are being defunded, and the gap between the rich and poor has widened. The 2012 MLK Commemorative program, The Politics of Wealth and Social Justice, will focus on the wealthy - to examine how a small minority of the population can control the political arena that is so often toxic for the working class. We'll examine poverty in the midst of plenty as incompatible with democratic values.
In other words, the usual question-begging incoherent babble, aimed at the season's trendy scapegoat: the rich. Is there anything we can't blame them for? They increase racial tension! They cause cuts to public education! They control a toxic arena! Um, whatever that means. And simply having them around is incompatible with democratic values!

[Actually, "Toxic Arena" is both an online game and a Swiss Grunge/Metal/Punk band. This is also the fault of the rich.]

The keynote speaker is The Reverend Rosemary Bray McNatt (who is identified as a "powerful social change activist"). But attendees needn't worry about the God stuff: her gig is the Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York; you don't have to believe in much of anything besides Leftism to be sanctified there.

Googling for the writings of Rev. Bray reveals that the topic that interests her most is… herself. She wrote a book… about herself. She deems Thanksgiving a problematic holiday… for her. You don't get reasoned arguments from the Rev; she just tells you how she feels, what she likes and doesn't like. Not that interesting, and not worth spending a lot of effort to analyze.

But The Reverend is actually pretty inoffensive compared to the odious choices for speaker UNH has made in years past. (For example, 2011, 2010, and especially 2009, probably the nadir.)

And—I was surprised by this—her brother is Hiawatha Bray, who reports on technology for the Boston Globe. A few years back, Mr. Bray was targeted by the lefties at Media Matters for daring to express conservative/libertarian positions in a public forum. His job survived, but he's been pretty quiet about politics since.

I have a dream that one day, the University Near Here will just once invite someone like Hiawatha Bray up here for MLK Day.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 8:49 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2012-01-01 Update

[phony baloney]

Happy New Year! Will it be more, or less, phony than 2011?

Both Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman dropped below our arbitrary 4% inclusion threshold at Intrade. (Ron's at 3.5% as I type, while Jon is at 3.3%.) So it's a three-man race right now, and still a runaway for the incumbent:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-12-26
"Barack Obama" phony 165,000,000 -4,000,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 6,340,000 +560,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 671,000 +44,000

  • Mr. Dave Barry performs his yearly (and, I suspect, court-mandated) public service of reviewing the big events of the year past.
    What made [2011] truly awful was the economy, which, for what felt like the 17th straight year, continued to stagger around like a zombie on crack. Nothing seemed to help. President Obama, whose instinctive reaction to pretty much everything that happens, including sunrise, is to deliver a nationally televised address, delivered numerous nationally televised addresses on the economy, but somehow these did not do the trick. Neither did the approximately 37 million words emitted by the approximately 249 Republican-presidential-contender televised debates, out of which the single most memorable statement made was, quote: "Oops."
    You should definitely Read The Whole Thing™.

  • My family roots are in North Central Iowa, so I paid special attention to Jonathan V. Last's report from the bustling metropolis of Mason City.
    Music Man Square in Mason City is named for Meredith Wilson, the native son who wrote The Music Man. It's not a square in the traditional sense. It's a building whose interior is mocked up into an elaborate--and quite lovely--version of River City's Main Street. There are fake storefronts and brick sidewalks, with the polish of a Disney World production. (You can see for yourself here.) You may recall that The Music Man is a story about a good looking, smooth talking phony who comes to town and swindles the locals. Whoever thought it would be a good idea for Mitt Romney to hold an event here--he entered from the far end of the fake Main Street and gripped and grinned his way through a throng of perhaps 400 people--either has a dark sense of humor or no sense of irony.
    Well, at least he didn't sing.

  • Michael Barone wonders why GOP nominees are taking Iowa so seriously.
    [T]he Iowa Republican caucuses have a poor record in choosing their party's nominees. In the five presidential nominating cycles with active Iowa Republican caucus competition, the Hawkeye State has voted for the eventual Republican nominee only twice--in 1996 for Bob Dole, in 2000 for George W. Bush--and only once was the Iowa winner elected president.
    The New Hampshire GOP is doing significantly better than Iowa at voting for the eventual nominee. Looking at the last six contested primaries (1980, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2008), the eventual nominee won in four (1980, 1988, 1992, and 2008), and the eventual President twice (1980 and 1988).

    Yes, that's right: NH has not picked a winning GOP president in a contested primary for 24 years.

    South Carolina, on the other hand, has gone six-for-six at picking the eventual GOP nominee during the same time period.

  • The Toronto Sun covers the news the more timid American Lamestream Media avoids. For example, as near as I can tell, the Sun was the only paper to report verbatim the remarks of Jacob Volkmann, a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. After last night's victory (over Efrain Escudero) in Las Vegas:
    Volkmann, who survived a deep north-south choke in the third round, claimed Obama is in need of a 'glassectomy,' a fake procedure.

    "Ask me what a glassectomy is, Joe," Volkmann said to interviewer Joe Rogan. "It's where they remove the belly button and put in a piece of glass so you can see what you're doing while your head's up your ass."

    Most other stories seem to have substituted "[expletive]" there.

    Previous comments by Mr. Volkmann about President Obama earned him a visit from the Secret Service.


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