50/50

[4.0 stars] 50/50 (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

True fact: when you Google "50/50", the first result is Google's calculator, telling you that 50/50 = 1. I knew that.

The movie, however, is billed as a "comedy/drama" about young Adam's struggle with the big C, a nasty tumor along his spine; 50/50 are the approximate odds of Adam's survival. (Adam is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who's kind of turning into a major talent.) It's a straightforward story, with a host of supporting characters. Kyle is Adam's buddy, notable for his efforts to use Adam's illness as a device to pick up chicks. Kyle is played by Seth Rogen; most of the movie's R rating (for "language throughout, sexual content and some drug use") are due to his efforts.

In addition, there's Adam's shrink, Katherine (Anna Kendrick), who's well-meaning but hilariously inept at her job; Adam's girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard); Adam's mom (Anjelica Huston); two old dudes who are in Adam's chemotherapy sessions (Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall).

That is all some serious acting talent, and they are working from a smart script written by an actual cancer survivor. Especially worth watching is Anna Kendrick, who plays her role exactly right, with subtlety and intelligence. She is also extremely easy on the eyes. (I'd forgotten she had an Oscar nomination for Up in the Air. She deserved one here too.)

Mrs. Salad refused to watch this, not finding anything remotely funny about cancer. She's not wrong, but the humor here resides with the characters, and they make it work.

And there's the little nagging question: if I were in that situation, could I have handled it this well? Probably not.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:58 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2012-02-26 Update

[phony baloney]

Our (arbitrary) inclusion rule forces us to bid goodbye (once again) to Newt Gingrich this week; he's down to a 3.7% probability at Intrade.

He could be back, though. Because, whatever his flaws, his first name is not "Mitt".

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-02-19
"Barack Obama" phony 184,000,000 +9,000,000
"Rick Santorum" phony 62,400,000 +49,400,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,510,000 -4,650,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 1,130,000 -30,000

  • At Reason, Jacob Sullum pointed out the sheer phoniness of President Obama's promised "accommodation" for religious organizations who would prefer not to pay for "health care" they consider to be immoral.
    By exempting churches from the birth control mandate, Obama concedes their religious freedom is at stake. But he arbitrarily denies that freedom to church-affiliated organizations. Although he acknowledges "many genuine concerns" about the mandate, he isn't willing to address them in a genuine way.
    Sullum is dismayed by the mainstream media who "reported the administration's spin as fact."

    More generally: Obamacare isn't just a war on religious liberty, it's a war on liberty in general. And Obama can't allow conscientious objectors.

  • Keith Hennessey notes a problem with President Obama's campaign-speech demand that "Congress needs to make the Buffett Rule a reality." And right now! According to the Prez, it's one of the "things we can do today."

    The "Buffett Rule" is a mandate that "millionaires" pay at least 30% of their incomes in taxes. Only problem is, as Hennessey points out, Obama's proposal is "vaporware"; the Administration hasn't actually proposed any legislation that would implement the Buffett Rule.

    But my guess is that it plays well with focus groups as a campaign issue. And running against Congress probably does too.

    President Obama continually demonstrates his contempt for the intelligence of the electorate. But can he really get away with saying "I demand that Congress act immediately on legislation that I haven't actually proposed myself"? Hey, maybe!

  • There was also Obama-action on the corporate tax front this week, and it was (predictably) phony. Peter Suderman's headline about the proposal deserves quoting in full:
    Obama Administration Proposes Corporate Tax Overhaul Based on Theory That Loopholes Are Bad and Should Be Replaced With Different Loopholes
    After examining the details, Suderman sums up the Orwellian reality:
    So the Obama administration's proposal to reform the corporate tax code is a tax cut that will probably result in a net tax hike, and a tax simplification that will include the creation of new loopholes.

  • President Obama, using the p-word in 2012:
    It's the easiest thing in the world (to) make phony election-year promises about lower gas prices.
    Senator Obama, 2008, making phony election-year promises about lower gas prices:

    Proposed Obama campaign slogan: "Because You'll Believe Anything"


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:38 PM EST

I Gripe to my Local Paper (Again)

bias tape for quilt finish

Here's a letter I sent to my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, about the latest instance of their occasional bad habit of letting "activist" opinion into their news articles (links added):

Your recent news article ("In Protest", page B1, Sunday February 26) erred in uncritically echoing the views of the activists holding the "peace vigil" in Dover the previous day, concerning the West Bank city of Hebron. The article held an obvious anti-Israel bias and presented the activists' claims, mistakenly, as fact.

Specifically: The article referred to "a massacre of 40 of [Hebron's] locals at a mosque by Israeli forces" eighteen years ago. A few minutes spent checking reputable sources might have revealed that the massacre was not perpetrated by "Israeli forces", but by one Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish extremist from the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba. Goldstein was a maniac, acting alone. The body count is usually reported as 29, not 40; this doesn't include Goldstein himself, who was eventually overcome by the mosque's worshipers and beaten to death. Subsequent violence in Hebron claimed both Palestinian and Israeli lives.

It's fine if Foster's reports on the doings of local activist groups. It's not so fine when a news article acts as a mere conduit for a particular group's one-sided opinions and bogus "facts".


Last Modified 2012-02-27 7:28 AM EST

Dangerous Crossing

[2.5 stars] Dangerous Crossing (1953) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

Another "Fox Film Noir" oldie from 1953. Again, a definition of "noir" out of my comfort zone. But taken on its own, it's all right.

Jeanne Crain and Carl Betz (Mr. Donna Reed himself) play newlyweds Ruth and John, boarding the SS Monrovia for a honeymoon trip to Europe, after a whirlwind romance and quickie marriage. But no sooner do the loving couple set up in their stateroom than John goes missing. Worse, nobody else on the ship seems to have noticed him, and any documentation that might have proven his existence is absent. So Ruth's increasingly frantic insistence that his disappearance be investigated is met with skepticism. The crew don't quite make the "she's crazy" finger gesture behind her back, but it's close. Michael Rennie plays the ship's doctor, and is slightly less skeptical than anyone else of Ruth's story.

Clue: a maid who we (the audience) know saw Ruth and John together is now lying about it. And Ruth gets phone calls from John telling her that she's in terrible danger and to trust nobody. So what's going on?

Downside: yes, there's a plot going on, but (without giving too much away) even at the end, it's unclear exactly how the scheme was supposed to work. I'm not alone: searching around the Internets finds people similarly confused about it. I can think of some possible explanations, but the movie should have explained itself better.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:57 AM EDT

UNH Manchester Hazardous to Your Health

Quack!

We're kind of used to the political monoculture of University Near Here, where the diversity ranges from "left" to "hard left." But UNH's branch in Manchester (UNHM) has switched things up in an interesting way, with its ongoing Sidore Lecture Series this semester.

The series' title is innocuous enough: "Food for Thought." But looking through the offerings should set off some warning bells: the lecturers are, from all appearances, a bunch of pseudo-scientific health and nutrition quacks.

It's not as if UNHM is presenting varying perspectives on a controversial issue; that could arguably be useful in an academic setting. But the lecture series will offer nothing representing the "other" (i.e., fact- and evidence-based) side. Why is UNHM giving these people a respectable academic sheen?

A quick summary:

  • One lecturer, and one "moderator" are "naturopathic" physicians. Like most of the other participants, they maintain businesses in New Hampshire, so a relevant question is: how much of the lecture series is about education, and how much is about self-marketing?

    Naturopathy merits an article of its own at the invaluable "Quackwatch" site. The conclusion:

    I believe that the average naturopath is a muddlehead who combines commonsense health and nutrition measures and rational use of a few herbs with a huge variety of unscientific practices and anti-medical double-talk.

  • An upcoming lecture (by a "Certified Holistic Nutritionist/Wellness Coach") is titled "Understanding Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms". Lest that innocuous title gull you into thinking that the speaker will be even-handedly examining the pros and cons, the description is pure scaremongering:
    Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be one of the most dangerous health and environmental problems we face. Learn more about where GMOs are lurking and steps you can take to avoid them.
    Aieee! Lurking danger!

    For a non-hysterical, more balanced view, see Wikipedia.

  • There will be a screening of the documentary Forks Over Knives. Description:
    What has happened to us? Despite the most advanced medical technology in the world, we are sicker than ever by nearly every measure.
    (That is, of course, nonsense.)
    Could it be there’s a single solution to all of these problems? A solution so comprehensive but so straightforward, that it’s mind-boggling that more of us haven’t taken it seriously? Forks Over Knives examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by what we eat.
    Spoiler: the "single solution" is veganism. The Center for Consumer Freedom makes the (plausible) claim that this assertion is "laughable" and has health risks of its own.

  • Capping things off in April is Lucille Lagasse, an 89-year-old lady who claims to have healed "leukemia, arthritis and shingles through nutrition and old fashioned wisdom." Even Lucille has a book to sell, Doin' What Comes Natur'lly, apparently self-published. (You just get the old Irving Berlin song if you look for it at Amazon.)

    Lucille's magic remedies don't just cure leukemia: "She has helped many people heal themselves of diabetes, kidney stones, cancer, dementia, and infertility, to name a few."

    And, no, she "hasn't been to a doctor in over 44 years." Who needs a doctor when you can just read her book for "her secrets of vibrant health"?

There's more, but you get the idea. Once you get beyond Obviously Good Advice (hey, eating some more fruits and vegetables probably wouldn't hurt), you're off into hand-waving charlatanism and propaganda.

It's easy to dismiss UNHM's lecture series as a bad joke. But here's a question: if even a few attendees decide to eschew traditional medicine for themselves (or their kids), and health suffers as a result… is it really so funny then? Would UNHM feel at all responsible for that?

The Phony Campaign

2012-02-19 Update

[phony baloney]

Hey, Newt's back! He is showing up at Intrade with a 4.0% chance (as I type), and by our arbitrary rules, we shall include him once again in our phony poll:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-02-12
"Barack Obama" phony 175,000,000 +11,000,000
"Rick Santorum" phony 13,000,000 +3,520,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 6,480,000 ---
"Mitt Romney" phony 6,160,000 +190,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 1,160,000 -40,000

  • A side effect of entering the contest for an invitation to dine with President Obama: I'm on his campaign's mailing list. Their latest missive offered me a "free" bumper sticker. And the sales pitch is intelligence-insulting, e.g.: "Once you put it in a visible place like the back of your car, in your window, or near your desk, things might start happening."

    For example, people like me will lose a certain amount of respect for your judgment.

    Anyway, they are proud to trout out their new design:

    Obama BS

    But gosh, what's that remind me of? Oh, right: they totally ripped off the flag of Luxembourg:

    Flag of Luxembourg

    I can't imagine what the bumper sticker designers were thinking. A subliminal appeal to Luxembourger-Americans? Can Luxembourg sue? Isn't there some kind of international law that can stop this desecration?

  • Rick Santorum used the p-word yesterday, referring to President Obama:
    After bemoaning the White House's energy policy during a campaign stop here on Saturday, Mr. Santorum, "This is what the president's agenda," before cutting himself off. He continued, "It's not about you. It's not about you. It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your job. It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology, but no less a theology. "
    Pun Salad doesn't like Santorum much, but this falls squarely into the "obviously true" bin. President Obama's devotion is to the theology of the state. (A theme your proprietor has been harping on since his Usenet days.)

    But Santorum's point is (apparently) being lost in the backlash of—guess what?—phony outrage! The WSJ (!) article attempts to link Santorum's comment to birther efforts to "paint [Obama] as something short of American." And an Obama campaign spokesdroid lost no time in saying "This is just the latest low in a Republican primary campaign that has been fueled by distortions, ugliness, and searing pessimism and negativity."

    I think the Obama campaign has that programmed into a hotkey.

  • The true phony news this week was the release of President Obama's budget for FY2013. Here's Chart 5-1 from the budget's Analytical Perspectives section:

    Debt Projection

    Have kids? Want to throw a scare into 'em? Show them that, and explain what it means.

    But wait, it gets worse. Tim "Turbo Tax" Geithner went before a Congressional committee and needed to defend the budget document before, among others, Paul Ryan. Many noticed the imbroglio, including Guy Benson, who noted the "political quote of the year".

    Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, speaking on behalf of the Obama White House, to Rep. Paul Ryan: "You are right to say we're not coming before you today to say 'we have a definitive solution to that long term problem.' What we do know is, we don't like yours."
    Guy comments, accurately:
    Those two sentences speak to a mentality so bereft of intellectual vigor, so stunningly and candidly shallow, so thoroughly irresponsible, so politically myopic, selfish, and cowardly, that it should disqualify this crew from a second term in office. What a disgrace. Remember this moment the next time Democrats accuse the GOP of being the "do nothing," intransigent, "party of no."
    Yeah, the Republicans would have to be massively, ineptly, brain-dead to fail to win against this bunch.

    Oh, wait…

  • Mike Riggs catches up with Gary Johnson, who's now running for the Libertarian Party nomination. One of Johnson's main planks is marijuana legalization. So you'd think pot-smokers would be a natural source of campaign funds, right. But as it turns out:
    In theory, it was a swell plan. In practice, Johnson has "done so many events with marijuana. So many marijuana events. Basically, nothing comes out of it other than for an enthusiasm for what I say. No money comes out of it."
    Dude, if you can't depend on potheads, who can you depend on?


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:38 PM EST

Taken

[Amazon Link]

Ah, a new Robert Crais novel. Life is good. And (at last), the World's Greatest Detective, Elvis Cole, and his stoic sidekick Joe Pike are solving someone else's problem, not enmeshed in ones of their own. Elvis's absent love, Lucy? Thanks to the magic of Kindle's search function I can tell you that her name does not appear in the book.

Elvis is hired by Nita Morales, who's concerned that her daughter Krista has gone AWOL with her mysterious boyfriend Jack. And she's gotten a ridiculously low ransom demand, communicated by Krista in a way to let Mom know that something strange is going on.

But since there's a prologue, we know that Krista and Jack have been Taken, rounded up with a bunch of illegal immigrants by murderous thugs.

Will Elvis figure things out? Well, sure: he's the WGD. But, thanks to the book's Pulp Fiction-style disjointed storytelling, we also learn early on that he falls into peril himself, leaving Joe Pike (assisted by relatively new character Jon Stone) to do some detecting on his own in order to rescue his buddy. As it turns out, Joe's pretty good at it.

Although Elvis's wisecracking powers seem to be diminished from the early novels, he does get off an excellent one on page 303. (No spoilers here.)


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:58 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2012-02-16

We almost have a theme today. That's unusual. bearcat

  • OK, so I very seldom type these next eight words: there's a good article at the Huffington Post, by ex-Reason guy Radley Balko, talking about Keene, New Hampshire's hankering to get a … a … tank. For its Police Department.
    It's not quite a tank. But the quaint town of 23,000 -- scene of just two murders since 1999 -- had just accepted a $285,933 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to purchase a Bearcat, an eight-ton armored personnel vehicle made by Lenco Industries Inc.
    It's opposed by a coalition of hippies and libertarians. But even if you're neither, it's difficult to read the article without coming to the conclusion the government has way too much money.

  • Philip Klein discusses Rick Santorum's anti-libertarianism.
    To be clear, it's one thing to make a moral case for protecting the right to life of the unborn, which Santorum does passionately. But it's another thing to argue, as he did in an interview last October, "One of the things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea." Well, there's a reason why no president has talked about these things -- because the president has absolutely no business lecturing Americans about their sex lives. If there's a discussion to be had about sexual promiscuity in society, it should be left to churches and other private institutions.
    It's one thing to be squishy on libertarian issues; it's another to be actively hostile. If the GOP nominates Santorum they will be nut-kicked in November, hard. And they will deserve it.

  • Of course, when we're talking about things the government has absolutely no business doing, but does anyway
    A preschooler at West Hoke Elementary School ate three chicken nuggets for lunch Jan. 30 because the school told her the lunch her mother packed was not nutritious.

    The girl’s turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the person who was inspecting all lunch boxes in the More at Four classroom that day.

    Once again: if some level of government is sending a functionary to inspect "all lunch boxes in the More at Four classroom", then it has way too much money.

  • Somewhat relevant to the above item is Bryan Caplan's musings about "free-range parenting", and the fact that you can get into Big Legal Trouble if you differ from some busybody-with-a-badge about the correct way to raise your kids. Specific example: a 5-year-old was left in an air-conditioned pickup, with a DVD and a cell phone, while dad was in a store for about 30 minutes. Dad got convicted of child endangerment, because … well, what could have happened?

    The conviction was overturned. Caplan observes, sagely:

    … [P]ower-mad bureaucrats probably outnumber kidnappers and serial killers at least a thousand to one.
    … and that's our theme of the day.


Last Modified 2012-02-17 3:41 PM EST

Drive

[4.0 stars] Drive (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

Ryan Gosling plays "Driver", an otherwise anonymous stoic stuntman for the movies. He enjoys a cordial relationship with his mechanic employer, Shannon (played by Bryan Cranston), and they dabble in providing transportation services for thieves. They have hopes of breaking into NASCAR, funded by a couple of Jewish (!) gangsters, who are played menacingly by Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks(!). Driver has a budding romantic relationship with Irene (Carey Mulligan) and a budding fatherly relationship with Irene's cute son Benicio.

But then Irene's husband gets out of the slammer. A nice enough guy, for a crook, but he owes money to a mobster. The mobster also threatens Benicio and Irene; that's enough to drag Driver into a heist. But things go terribly wrong, and bodies start piling up.

Rated R for (among other things) "strong brutal bloody violence", and they are not kidding in the least. The violent scenes are brief, but they are explicit and unglamorous. Definitely for the kids, maybe not even for you.

Other than that, the pacing is artsy and languorous between the action scenes. The cinematography is nice, with some stunning aerial shots of L.A. at night. The plot is relatively complex, with lots of double crosses and hidden motives. If you're used to Albert Brooks from Finding Nemo … well, he's different here.

If you see it, watch for "Doc" to show up to yank some shotgun pellets out of Driver's arm: that's Russ Tamblyn, friends, Riff from West Side Story.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:56 AM EDT

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

[Amazon Link]

Or: six down, one to go.

Harry returns to Hogwarts, finding the darkness/whimsy ratio has gone up again for the fifth straight year. And he's busy. In addition to normal coursework, Harry's captaining his quidditch team. Headmaster Dumbledore asks Harry to meet with him for tutoring, which primarily consists of trips down the memory hole, researching how Dark Lord Voldemort came to be, how he survived his first encounter with Harry, and how he could possibly be defeated for good. In the meantime, Voldemort and his minions are engaged in a foul plan to strike within Hogwarts itself; Harry's nemesis, Draco Malfoy, is clearly up to no good; the seemingly slimy Severus Snape is apparently pledged to help him out.

Fortunately, Harry is helped out in his weakest subject, Potions, by finding a textbook heavily annotated by someone billing himself as the "Half-Blood Prince". Hermione sees danger in this, but Harry heedlessly takes the free advice the Prince offers.

Oh, yeah: somebody big dies at the end. (No spoilers here, but how can you not know?) Ms. Rowling is clearly setting things up for the final book.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:59 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2012-02-12 Update

[phony baloney]

Things have been volatile at Intrade; the traders there have crowned a new "Not Mitt", with Rick Santorum surging up to a 13.5% chance of grabbing the GOP nomination, compared to Romney at 78.7%. Newt has faded to 3.2%, and although Ron Paul spiked to over 5% earlier in the week, as I type he's down to a more realistic 2.1%.

So our updated Phony Poll says:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-02-05
"Barack Obama" phony 164,000,000 +5,000,000
"Rick Santorum" phony 9,480,000 -
"Mitt Romney" phony 5,970,000 +170,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 1,200,000 -70,000

  • President Barack Obama continues to hold a big lead, and he shows every sign of wanting to run up the score. Harvard genius econ prof Greg Mankiw summed up this week's big kerfuffle:
    Consider these two policies:

    A. An employer is required to provide its employees health insurance that covers birth control.

    B. An employer is required to provide its employees health insurance. The health insurance company is required to cover birth control.

    [Amazon Img]

    Professor Mankiw notes that these policies are effectively the same thing. And yet, the White House thought it was a big deal that, whereas it previously was demanding A, it will henceforth only demand B. He says "the whole thing leaves me scratching my head."

    Pun Salad is happy to elucidate for Professor Mankiw. Herman Cain might have been a flawed candidate, but had by far the best book title this campaign season, and it ably describes a prime underlying assumption of Obama's decision-making: they think (a) you're stupid, and so (b) they can get away with it.

  • I would be derelict in my phony duties if I didn't share:

    That is a remix of a song originally by Jay Z. Being a geezer, Pun Salad automatically thinks the only possible ending to the words "a song by Jay" is "and the Americans".

  • If your preferences run to text over video, Pete Suderman's comprehensive Reason article about Mitt Romney is now online, and it's very much worth your attention. Bottom line:
    In this, his second primary campaign, the problem that consultant Romney has chosen to solve is not the Medicare crisis, the federal debt burden, or sluggish economic growth. Instead, it is how to appeal to a Republican Party torn between Tea Party activists and Beltway moderates. Romney's insistence on having it both ways at every opportunity reveals not just his own incoherence but a party with irreconcilable goals: a leaner federal government that cuts no major programs, a balanced budget with a beefed-up defense budget, entitlements that are reformed and reduced but never cut or changed. What does Mitt Romney believe? Like [his policy document] says, he believes in America--and anything America wants him to believe.
    The strongest argument for Romney continues to be weak: "he might be better than Obama, and has a chance to win."

  • Although Rick Santorum is our newbie entry in the standings, it's tough to find any good phony clippings for him. For example, here's Warner Todd Huston reporting from CPAC 2012 on the various candidate speeches. On Santorum:
    One might be tempted to feel that Santorum missed his opportunity to really rile up the base with a rip-roaring speech. He just didn't give us that. Instead we got a steady, competent speech. One might also hasten to note that Rick was being Rick. Nothing phony about him for sure.
    This sort of thing can be frustrating for phony hunters.

  • Liberals (on the other hand) don't have any problem detecting a lack of Santorum authenticity. Writing in the dreadful Daily Beast, the dreadful Michelle Goldberg decries Santorum's "phony marriage attack on Obama". Santorum has claimed that regs now prohibit anyone who receives funds from your Federal Government to "teach marriage" or tell young women "that it's better to get married than not to get married."

    Santorum, says Goldberg, "was either mistaken or he was lying". With respect to the example Santorum used, a foundation run by Bill Bennett's wife, Elayne:

    On Tuesday, Elayne Bennett was finally forced to correct the record. In fact, Bennett's foundation is currently getting federal funds through the government's Healthy Marriage grant program to teach about, well, healthy marriage. "Marriage and the benefits of marriage continued to be an integral part of the curriculum," she said in a statement to Factcheck.org. Students in the program, she wrote, are taught "Conflict Resolution skills, Communication skills, Abuse Prevention skills, Budgeting and Financial skills." (The capitalizations are hers.)
    Santorum, as he's admitted, is not a libertarian, so he doesn't have any problem with the the Federal Government having something called a "Healthy Marriage grant program." (Neither, by the way, does the Heritage Foundation, which bemoaned Obama's effort to eliminate the program — but of course, replace it with something more progressive.)


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:38 PM EST

Decoy

[3.0 stars] Decoy (1946) on IMDb

noalt

The second half of our DVD film noir double feature from Netflix.

I've quibbled in the past about movies billing themselves as film noir when they seem (to me anyway) to lack key ingredients. Not this one. This one has it all. Especially a femme that's more fatale than most.

It's told mostly in flashback, as Margot, a dame dying from a serious case of lead poisoning, relates her sordid tale to dapper cop Joe Portugal (Sheldon Leonard, in a rare non-gangster role).

Margo is hot on the trail of $400K in loot, stolen by her imprisoned sweetie, Frank. Unfortunately, Frank has an appointment with the gas chamber, as he killed someone in the heist. And he's not saying where he hid the money.

Margo (as it turns out) is adept at luring guys into lustful fascination with her, and having them do her bidding. She allies with Tommy (a thug), and the prison doctor, coming up with a ludicrous scheme to steal Frank's lifeless corpse post-execution and have the doctor revive it with a miracle chemical, "methylene blue".

No, that wouldn't work in real life. But it works in the movie. Frank's resurrection sets off a domino chain of betrayal and murder, probably pretty shocking for 1946.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:57 AM EDT

Crime Wave

[3.0 stars] Crime Wave (1954) on IMDb

noalt

The first half of a DVD film noir double feature from Netflix. Crime Wave is a 1954 cheapie crime thriller with Sterling Hayden as "Sims", a hard-as-nails L.A. cop and Gene Nelson as "Steve", an ex-con trying hard to live the straight life for his lovely wife, played by Phyllis Kirk.

Things get complex for Steve when a trio of his prison buddies break out and head for L.A., comitting minor theft and murdering one cop along the way. Steve is alerted to possible problems when a mortally-wounded member of the gang forces his way into Steve's apartment. A doctor (also an ex-con) is summoned, but the guy dies before he can be helped. This draws the attention of Sims, who sees Steve as a means to track down the bad guys. Steve has to avoid getting thrown back into the slammer, but also deal with the remaining members of the gang, who coerce him by threatening his wife. They're planning to knock over a bank, and need Steve to aid their escape.

It's not bad, although (as mentioned) very cheaply made, and the acting is both hammy and wooden by today's standards. It's one of Charles Bronson's early appearances (he's billed as Charles Buchinsky). And Timothy Carey has few memorable scenes as a psycho menacing Steve's wife.

The DVD has a commentary track with noir expert Eddie Muller and author James Ellroy (who wrote L.A. Confidential, in which one of the major characters was Bud White, played in the movie by Russell Crowe). As reported here, it's pretty funny:

JAMES ELLROY: Sterling Hayden-- THAT is my Bud White. THAT is my Bud White! F--- Russell Crowe in 'L A Confidential.' I mean he was okay, but he's a shrimpy little f--ing Bud White as Bud Whites go. Sterling Hayden is the real deal. Look at this! He's not even acting. Look at that HAT.

EDDIE MULLER: That's a really ugly pork pie.

JAMES ELLROY: It's ugly because he batters down doors using his head.

Might be worthwhile to re-rent just to listen to Ellroy and Muller.

Last Modified 2012-09-24 5:00 AM EDT

The Fountainhead

[3.5 stars] The Fountainhead (1949) on IMDb

noalt

Well, they don't make 'em like this any more. I'm not sure they made 'em like this before either. It is, as far as I know, one of a kind. I suppose that's not surprising: Ayn Rand wrote the screenplay from her novel, and got it into her contract that the filmmakers were not to touch a single word. So the film is as unique as she was, for better or worse.

The hero of our story is Howard Roark (played by Gary Cooper), an uncompromising individualist architect. He wants things his way; he's not a team player. He antagonizes even those who recognize his brilliance. His career path is therefore rocky, but it's hard to stop a determined genius. His career is contrasted with that of mediocre classmate, Peter Keating; Keating loves to compromise, and gloats that his mediocrity will thereby win out over Roark.

Keating is not the primary villain of the piece; that's the odious little Ellsworth Toomey, who glorifies the collective, and instantly recognizes Roark as the kind of man that must be beaten down and defeated. Toomey is initially aided in his crusade by newspaper magnate Gail Wynand (Raymond Massey); Wynand recognizes Roark's talent, but is willing to go along with Toomey in order to sell more papers to the ignorant masses.

Along the way, Roark meets a semi-kindred spirit: Dominique Francon (played by Patricia Neal—one of her first movies). Their relationship is turbulent; early on, there's an encounter that most folks label, er, "rape", portrayed as graphically as moviemakers could in 1949.

Oh, and Dominique is initially engaged to Keating, Wynand happens to be in love with Dominique, who, dumping Keating, and realizing that her relationship with Roark might be rocky, agrees to matrimony. And then Wynand and Roark, incredibly, become friends.

It's way complicated.

No surprise to anyone who's read anything by or about Ayn Rand: her characters were primarily designed as archetypal props to promulgate her philosophy. Characters don't converse with each other; instead, they give speeches, ostensibly to each other, but mostly aimed at the audience. It's not enough for the characters to do something; they must tell you they did it, they must tell you why they did it, and they must describe how this fits in with the theme of the film.

OK, I'm exaggerating, but not by much. It's probably easier to take when the audience is, as I am, in agreement with around 80% of what Rand has to say.

And it is a good yarn, there's a Max Stirner soundtrack, and the cinematography by Robert Burks is interesting. So even if you're not a semi-Objectivist, you might want to check it out.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 5:00 AM EDT

Stop It, Ya Big Bully!

Bullying (327/365)

I am embarrassed to report that a bill recently introduced in the New Hampshire General Court has been receiving some national attention. I found it via Radley Balko's Agitator blog. It will cause ridicule to rain upon our fair state.

The bill is HB 1533, advertised as "prohibiting bullying in the state house and legislative office building." But not just any bullying. The only bullying they care about is that directed against "any member of the general court." I.e., any of the Granite State's 424-odd legislators. The bill is sponsored by 10 members; by my count, five are Democrats, five are Republicans, all are Idiots.

What does the bill consider to be "bullying"? Well, it's not threatening to beat up a legislator in the back alley behind the State House after a session adjourns. Believe it or not, criminal threatening like that is already against the law in New Hampshire, and said law protects everyone, not just 424 special people.

According to the legislation, bullying can be a "single significant incident". Or a "pattern of incidents". The bullying can take the form of "written, verbal, or electronic communication". Or even a "physical act or gesture". Or—let's not leave any possible base uncovered here—"any combination thereof".

The bullying can be any of those activities that:

(A) Physically harms a member;

(B) Causes emotional distress to a member;

(C) Interferes with a member's legislative opportunities;

(D) Creates a hostile environment; or

(E) Substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the general court.

Obviously, the big loopholes here are (B) and (D). Who's to say what's going to cause "emotional distress" to a thin-skinned pol? Especially the sponsors of this legislation! I mean, they already seem to be a little on edge, and no doubt have some people in mind who they think have been creating a "hostile environment" for them. They'd like to get into those people into trouble right now.

What kind of trouble can a "bullied" legislator make for a "perpetrator"? He or she shall sic the Attorney General on them; the AG is obligated to investigate. And, if the AG finds that the perpetrator ran afoul of the extremely broad and vague definition of bullying, civil suit shall be brought against the miscreant, to the tune of not less than $2.5K per violation.

There are obvious First Amendment problems with the bill. That's bad enough, but we don't even have to get to that.

Parts of the legislation seem to imply that the target is specifically legislator-on-legislator bullying. It's unclear (however) that it is limited to that. But the legislation does, unambiguously, single out a class of 424 souls for special protection, beyond that afforded to the citizenry of the state. That's obnoxious.

Or, put another way: the bill would grant a small group of people special powers to bring misery to others (in the form of an official AG investigation) based on their arbitrary whim. Isn't that the definition of bullying?

I am reminded very much of what Harry Truman never came close to saying about politics: "If you can't stand the heat, get the Attorney General to bring civil suit against the guy who turned up the kitchen stove."

By the way, one of the bullying tactics specifically mentioned in the legislation is "websites". Like, uh, this one.

[Update: Let the record show that Granite Grok was all over this legislative travesty last month. Pun Salad: slow on the uptake!]


Last Modified 2012-02-07 6:33 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2012-02-05 Update

[phony baloney]

Newt is still hanging in, above our arbitrary 4% threshold at Intrade, so we will continue to include him in our Phony table:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-01-29
"Barack Obama" phony 159,000,000 +23,000,000
"Newt Gingrich" phony 7,980,000 -12,020,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 5,800,000 +210,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 1,270,000 -100,000

  • President Obama continues to lead by a wide margin. Little wonder. Back on January 25, in his State of the Union speech, he decried "phony profits". This past Thursday brought him to the National Prayer Breakfast, where
    We can all benefit from turning to our Creator, listening to Him. Avoiding phony religiosity, listening to Him.
    As usual with the President, this was a cheap shot. Phony religiosity? Who could be against it? And since Obama didn't provide any examples, all who listened could imagine he was inveighing against their favorite examples of fake piety.

  • And, not that it matters, but isn't this whole "National Prayer Breakfast" concept kind of an in-your-face insult to The Man Himself? I mean, here He is in Matthew 6:5:
    And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
    And back in Jesus's day, they didn't even have C-SPAN. Which almost certainly is seen of men more than in the corners of the streets.

  • But one more thing about that quote: Back in August, "news"man David Gregory (on Meet the Press) demanded that then-candidate Michele Bachmann reveal how much "cues from God" would play in her Presidential decision-making. Now that President Obama has revealed his pride in "listening" to God, will Gregory similarly grill the President on this matter?

    Just kidding. He won't. Because nobody thinks Obama actually believes anything he says about God.

  • At least he didn't botch a Bible quote this year, as he did in the same venue in 2011.

    Oh, wait. He did.

    And when I talk about shared responsibility, it's because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it's hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I'm willing to give something up as somebody who's been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that's going to make economic sense.

    But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus's teaching that "for unto whom much is given, much shall be required." It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who've been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.

    As the good professor Mark Liberman points out at Language Log, the quote from Luke 12:48 actually says:
    For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required;…
    By omitting the "of him" part, Obama (says Liberman) made the quote "ungrammatical and semantically incoherent."

  • But more important than a mere Bible misquotation: the verse so beloved by the President is the punchline to one of Jesus's more violent parables. It concerns a slave assigned high responsibilities by his master. During the master's long absence, the servant takes to beating other "menservants and maidens", plunders the master's larder, and gets drunk on the master's booze.

    But—oh oh—when the master returns, there's big trouble: the head servant gets "cut… in sunder", and sent to Hell. Other misbehaving servants who knew they were disobeying the master's will get heavy whippings. Everyone else? Just a few "stripes" with the lash.

    Swell. This is how our President knows he's advocating the right tax policy: because he dimly remembers a parable about the right amount of punishment masters should dole out to slaves.

Maybe next week we'll return to talking about the phoniness of the other candidates. Or maybe Obama will keep making the big phony news. We'll see.

Last Modified 2014-12-05 11:43 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2012-02-02

GHD
  • If you didn't read it last year, or the year before that, or… Or even if you did: Jonah Goldberg's classic essay on Groundhog Day is here. A wonderful movie, and if you haven't seen it, there's no better day than today.

  • Apologies for the dreadful art over there on the right, but apparently that's a faithful reproduction of the DVD box. The likenesses of Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell look like they were done by one of those guys that produce celebrity t-shirts for sale in downscale mall kiosks.

  • Time Out New York lists the "50 Best Uses of Songs in Movies". And, yes: Groundhog Day is represented by Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe". Some others are pretty obligatory/obvious: "In Your Eyes" from Say Anything; "The End" from Apocalypse Now. Some are quirky. Not that you asked, but I would add:

    1. Jack Black's performance near the end of High Fidelity. If you haven't seen it: disclosing anything more (even the song title) would be a major spoiler; the entire movie is a setup to this wonderful punchline scene.

    2. In Back to the Future, I was mightily impressed by how they used "The Power of Love" by Huey Lewis and the News in the opening scenes. If you happen to watch it, check how the song fades into the background for a while, but when Marty McFly sees his sweetie Jennifer awaiting him, the music swells and Huey yells:
      That's the POWer of love.
      Just about perfect.

    3. The last scene in Irreconcilable Differences: Ryan O'Neal, Shelly Long, and Drew Barrymore (the cute nine-year-old version) meet for lunch. We don't hear what they're saying, but the soundtrack is Frank Sinatra's version of "You and Me (We Wanted It All)" by Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen.

      I am not a huge fan of any of those people, but those elements came together here to make a heart-tugging scene, as we've just watched a chronicle of a family wrecking itself and (finally) trying to patch up some sort of maintainable relationship.

    4. The TONY article's number one pick is Also sprach Zarathustra from 2001. Not really a song! But that gives me permission to plug Ennio Morricone's entire soundtrack for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Especially its perfect use in the movie's very last scene.

    To paraphrase Will Farrell parodying James Lipton: if you haven't seen any of these, go right now to a place where movies are sold, rented, or streamed, and buy them, or rent them, or stream them. They are delightful.

  • Perhaps made even more appropriate by Mitt Romney's shoulda-known-better "I'm not concerned about the very poor" comment: there's new P.J. O'Rourke content available from the Weekly Standard, and it examines the dirty little secret of the "progressive elites": they hate the poor.
    The elites who denounce poverty despise the poor. Their every high-minded, right-thinking “poverty program” proves this detestation—from the bulldozing of vibrant tenement communities to the drug law policing policies that send poor kids to prison and rich kids to rehab to the humiliation of food stamps and free school lunches to the loathsome inner-city public schools where those free lunches are slopped onto cafeteria trays.

    The federal government has some 50 different “poverty programs.” Nearly half a trillion dollars is spent on them each year. That’s about $11,000 per man, woman, and child under the poverty line, enough to lift each and every one of them out of poverty. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2011 poverty guideline for a family of three: $18,530.) We call them “poverty programs” for a reason. If ordinary people with down-to-earth common sense were spending that half trillion, we’d call them “modest prosperity programs.”

    Something Mitt should read. I wish he had the guts to quote it.

  • Good stuff on "fairness" from Iowa's own Will Wilkinson.
    FAIRNESS played a central role in Barack Obama's state-of-the-union address, and I suspect it will play a central role in the president's re-election campaign. But what does Mr Obama have in mind when he deploys the f-word? It may not be the case that fairness is, as Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, puts it, "a concept invented so dumb people could participate in arguments". But it cannot be denied that fairness is an idea both mutable and contested. Indeed, last week's state-of-the-union address seems to contain several distinct conceptions of fairness worth drawing out and reflecting upon.
    I suspect what Mr Obama has in mind when he talks about fairness is: "semantically void term that focus groups like".


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:56 AM EDT

Senator Ayotte's PIPA Response

[Stop PIPA]

Our fine state's finer Senator, Kelly Ayotte, has responded to my mail requesting that she drop her support of the Senate's PIPA legislation. (Akin to the House's SOPA bill.) Her response:

Dear Mr. Sand:
Interesting contrast with Senator Shaheen, who opened with "Dear Paul".
Thank you for contacting me regarding the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP; S. 968) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA; H.R. 3261). I appreciate hearing from you.

As you know, PROTECT IP and SOPA provoked a groundswell of grassroots activism across the Internet. This demonstrates how important the Internet is in our time, its growing prominence in influencing the political dialogue, and how citizens can make their voices heard. The input that I received from thousands of New Hampshire citizens highlighted the need to address concerns regarding Congress' legislative efforts to combat online piracy and copyright infringement.

PROTECT IP was originally scheduled to be considered in the Senate on January 24, 2012. Because of the outpouring of concern about the legislation as it continued to be developed, I could no longer support the legislation in its current form and withdrew my cosponsorship.

As many New Hampshire citizens have made clear, we cannot allow America's brightest ideas, products, art, and media to be stolen and sold by foreign criminal enterprises. PROTECT IP was supposed to be about stopping this foreign piracy. However, the legitimate concerns about government overreach warrant further consideration and careful deliberation, and I was pleased to see the bill pulled from the floor.

We must find a lawful and reasonable way to protect intellectual property rights. For example, shutting down a dealer selling stolen cars is not censorship or "breaking capitalism," it is protecting private property and preserving societal values and standards. We should seek to afford American copyright holders adequate protections against foreign thieves. Foreign rogue websites, online piracy, and counterfeiting threaten U.S. businesses, consumers, and many thousands of American jobs. We must be able to safeguard intellectual property without undermining Internet freedom.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. As your Senator, it is important that I hear from the people I represent regarding the issues facing our country. Please do not hesitate to be in touch again if I may be of further assistance.

I much prefer Senator Ayotte's response to Jeanne's. But her analogy with stolen cars in paragraph five seems faulty.

Last Modified 2012-02-03 5:24 AM EST