URLs du Jour

2012-07-31

It's Milton Friedman's centenary, and the web is filled with related wisdom, and some foolishness. The Chicago Theological Seminary Building - The Milton Friedman Institute // Romancing the Stone

  • A must-read for Friedman fans: a personal essay from Kevin D. Williamson, who had the great good fortune to be assigned Free to Choose at Lubbock High School. He makes a pointed contrast between Ayn Rand and Friedman. Rand's literature is fueled by "resentment of the 'moochers' and 'loafers'"—not that there's anything wrong with that, but Friedman went another way:

    Free to Choose gave me the intellectual framework to understand what I already intuited about the welfare state, about the man from the government who says he is here to help. And that is what really should be remembered about Milton Friedman: He didn’t argue for capitalism in order to make the world safe for the Fortune 500, but to open up a world of possibilities for those who are most in need of them. The real subject of economics isn’t supply and demand, but people, and to love liberty is to love people and all that is best in them. And it is something that can only be done when we are free to choose.

    I have read the whole thing. Go, and do thou likewise.

  • Not enough? Check out Steven Hayward; ex-student Thomas Sowell; Bryan Caplan; Steven Moore; the NR Editors.

  • Being slightly older than Kevin Williamson, my come-to-Milton moment was based on something I read years earlier, which I've posted before, but (I think) bears repeating. From his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom:

    In a much quoted passage in his inaugural address, President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." It is a striking sign of the temper of our times that the controversy about this passage centered on its origin and not on its content. Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. The paternalistic "what your country can do for you" implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man's belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, "what you can do for your country" implies that government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary. To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them. He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common traditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped and served. He recognizes no national goal except as it is the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve. He recognizes no national purpose except as it is the consensus of the purposes for which the citizens severally strive.

    The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country. He will ask rather "What can I and my compatriots do through government" to help us discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom? And he will accompany this question with another: How can we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect? Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom. Even though the men who wield this power initially be of good will and even though they be not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp.

    To a mushy-headed kid in the early sixties, it was more than a little jarring to see someone with the utter gall to talk back to one of the Holy Quotations of Saint JFK. And some would say I've never recovered from the shock. I'll always remember Dr. Friedman with admiration and gratitude.

  • I also promised foolishness, and, via Professor Boudreaux Cafe Hayek, we have that in spades from Nicholas Wapshott, writing to soothe the lefty readers of the Washington Post. You see, Friedman actually believed there was a proper role for government; that is in contrast to "today's conservatives, who have adopted a near-nihilistic view of the state." Mitt Romney is explicitly derided for his "oversimplified" views.

    Gosh, says Professor Boudreaux, …

    Does Romney support unilateral free trade? Emphatically not. How about ending the war on drugs? No. Has Romney called for the elimination of government licensing requirements for professionals such as physicians and lawyers? No. Can we expect a President Romney to work to abolish farm subsidies, minimum-wage legislation, antitrust legislation, Social Security, and the Fed? Hardly. Would a Pres. Romney even as much as call for (never mind work for) abolishing the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs? Not on your life. But Milton Friedman explicitly endorsed each of the above (and others too numerous to mention) policies to radically reduce government’s reach and to weaken its grip

    Painting Mitt Romney—Mitt Romney!—as a fire-breathing enemy of the state is… well, it's foolish. What can one say, except: "Ha. I wish."

  • Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren's latest TV commercial in support of her US Senate candidacy wonders wistfully why the United States can't be more like a Communist dictatorship.

    “Why aren’t we rebuilding America?” Warren, a Democrat who is challenging Senator Scott Brown, says in the spot. “Our competitors are putting people to work, building a future. China invests 9 percent of its GDP in infrastructure America? We’re at just 2.4 percent.”

    As Orwell noted (about something else): "One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool."

    Ira Stoll goes beyond mere ridicule to outline a number of problems with Prof Warren's proposal. For example:

    The first problem is mathematical. U.S. gross domestic product is about $15 trillion a year. Increasing infrastructure “investment” to the 9% Chinese level that Warren cites would mean an additional $1 trillion a year in government spending. That’s an immense spending increase. To put it in context, the entire federal government spent about $3.6 trillion in 2011, on revenues of about $2.3 trillion.

    But math is hard. Also, it's uncompassionate to worry about such details when the power to funnel vast wads of cash to one's supporters is at stake.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:21 AM EDT

Last Holiday

[3.0 stars] Last Holiday (1950) on IMDb [Amazon]

A oldie from 1950 that sat in my Netflix queue for a long time. Very British, very dark comedy.

Alec Guinness plays George Bird, a lonely loser who sells farm machinery. A spot of indigestion takes him to the doctor, who x-rays him and diagnoses Lampington's Disease, invariably fatal. Although he feels fine, the doc assures him that's the way with Lampington's: you feel just fine until you slip into irreversible coma and death.

George decides to cash out his life insurance and savings and live it up at a posh hotel. There he becomes acquainted with both the hotel staff and its upperclass guests. To George's consternation, his life actually starts getting interesting, with professional and romantic opportunities. But—oh oh, omens—a mirror breaks, the ace of spades keeps turning up,…I may have missed a black cat or two.

I did mention this was a dark comedy, right?

The credits show "David McCallum" in a bit part as a violinist. Could it have been Ilya Kuryakin/Ducky Mallard in a movie so old? A quick trip to IMDB says: nope, that was David McCallum, Senior in the role. And he was more than qualified to play the violinist: back in the day, among other things, he was Concertmaster violinist for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:17 AM EDT

A Cool Breeze on the Underground

[Amazon Link] Hey, check out the cover! Unusually sordid, even by my standards.

OK, so I didn't like Don Winslow's recent novel Savages very much, but as fate (implemented by the Perl script that picks books out of my to-be-read pile) would have it, this book de-soured me on Winslow for now. It's Winslow's first novel, published back in 1991; it's also part of a series featuring the character of Neal Carey, sort of a private investigator.

Neal has an unconventional background: raised fatherless by his junkie prostitute mother, he's relatively feral until he rips off the wrong guy: Joe Graham, a one-armed, height-challenged PI. Joe becomes young Neal's mentor, schooling him in the ways of shadowing, searching, creeping, and research. But Neal also has his own interest in classic British Literature, and (as the book opens) is also a graduate student working on his degree.

Joe and Neal are provided their assignments by "Friends of the Family", an organization run as a sideline to a Rhode Island bank. It is dedicated to pulling the chestnuts of its ultrarich clientele out of various fires. In this case, Allie, the wayward daughter of Senator Chase, a prospective Vice-Presidential candidate, has gone missing. Allie is in her late teens, and already has a long history with promiscuous sex, booze, and drugs. Neal is tasked with finding her, and getting her presentable enough to appear as part of the smiling happy family at the upcoming convention.

This takes Neal to London, where (as it turns out) Allie has fallen in with an unusually bad crowd. As the cover implies, it's all quite sordid. But definitely readable.

Consumer note: as I type, Amazon only has the Kindle version for a reasonable price. Which is what I read; unfortunately, it's shot through with what appear to me to be typos, errors in capitalization, and missing/extra/wrong punctuation. But it's cheap!


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:21 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2012-07-29 Update

[phony baloney]

Another week of nothing much to see here:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-07-22
"Barack Obama" phony 22,800,000 +600,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,190,000 +100,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 462,000 +50,000

But, as usual, there's plenty of new phony news:

  • USNews reported that Ben Sarma (an actual human being) noticed something funny on the Twitter:

    [Ben Sarmas]

    That might have made a pretty good scene in a sci-fi movie about an impending clone takeover. But here's the thing: all those other accounts were followers of Mitt Romney. And they were not alone, as reported by Mr. Zach Green:

    Green reported that after Romney's account gained only 3-4,000 new followers per day over the past month, it quite suddenly picked up 23,926 new followers on Friday, 93,054 on Saturday and 25,432 on Sunday.

    Romney's account wasn't getting an equivalent increase in mentions, however, suggesting the Twitter followers were not coming in organically.

    Geez, ya think?

    The obvious theory, notes Will Oremus at Slate, is that Mitt's trying to artificially pump up his Twitter follower numbers. But there's no obvious benefit to that, and plenty of downside, so Oremus (to his credit) also entertains Theory B: " Some Obama supporter surreptitiously bought the followers on Romney's behalf, to make him look bad."

  • The headline is "'Key & Peele' Stars Recall Witnessing Obama Fake His Own Poisoning Death." If you don't know: Key & Peele is a show on Comedy Central, and its stars are a couple of guys named Key and Peele. And they were watching President Obama perform his weekly radio address. After being offered a bottle of water from a bystander,…

    "So she gives him the bottle of water and my man goes like this, 'so we need to...,'" before Peele abruptly slouched over and put his head on his chest to recall how U.S. President feigned he'd just been poisoned, before Obama straightened up with a big grin across his face.

    Gosh, that's hilarious!

  • The Washington Post provides an article entitled "What drives the Obama doubters and haters?"

    My input was not requested for the article, but as one of those "doubters", I'd have to say, … um… it has something to do with Obama's devotion to bankrupt political philosophy, dysfunctional economic policies, unconstitutional power grabs, massive hypocrisy, and non-stop rhetorical mendacity.

    But that's just me.

    Irony of ironies, the Post's article is written by David Maraniss, author of a recent Obama biography that showed, … well, let him tell it:

    There are Obama doubters and haters out there who claim with righteous anger that they are "vetting" the president, something they say the mainstream media never did. Some of them have said that my new biography -- unwittingly, they argue, for I am too dumb to understand what my research has unearthed -- proves that Barack Obama's defining memoir is phony and that his entire life is a fraud.

    Well, close. Here's one reaction:

    The new book by Mr. Maraniss suggests that the real story of Mr. Obama's life was less dramatic -- and more routine -- than the president made it out to be in the memoir.

    This "doubter and hater" was Michael D. Shear, writer for that scurrilous right-wing rag, the New York Times. Generally speaking, Maraniss's book told the story of a guy who pretty much loved to make stuff up about his life, in order to buttress whatever image he was trying to market at the time.

    Maraniss goes on and on about birthers, racists, and related conspiratoid nutjobs. Really, if those folks didn't exist, guys like Maraniss would invent them. Wild-eyed fanatics and bigots fit their narrative so well! For who else would be a "doubter" of our wonderful leader?


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:54 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2012-07-27

  • Liberty Granite State-based freedom fans may want to check out the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance's 2012 Liberty Rating of state legislators.

    One of my reps, Kirsten Larsen Schultz, managed to eke out a B! That's not bad in comparison with the other Strafford 2 folks (C+, D+, D, D-).

    And my senator, Amanda Merrill? In a four-way tie for last place with an F. Fortunately, she's retiring. It looks as if her replacement will be either David Watters (English prof at the University Near Here, Liberty Alliance grade: D-) and Phyllis Woods (not a professor, not currently a legislator). Unfortunately for Ms. Woods—and also unfortunately for liberty—this is a heavily Democrat-weighted district.

  • Via Michelle's site, we have ABC News's latest word about its attempt to link the Aurora, Colorado mass murderer with the Tea Party. A Mr. Ben Sherwood, president of ABC News, said:

    “It was a mistake, we recognized it immediately, owned it immediately, Brian has reached out personally to the individual in Aurora. We have learned from it as an organization. I know that moment did not live up to the standards and practices of ABC News. The news division knows how displeased I am about it.”

    Were I to respond directly to Mr. Sherwood, I would say:

    "Look, Ben. This was not a "mistake." A "mistake" is when, for example, you say that Egypt's new prime minister got advanced degrees from one place, when he actually got them from two different places. Mistakes are easy to make—especially when you're sloppy—but they're also easy to fix.

    "This was, instead, a vile slander. Not just against the "individual in Aurora" but also the Tea Party. You're "displeased"? That's bullshit. If you had any kind of professional ethics, you would be irate, and you would say so."

    It got worse though. George Stephanopoulos, one of the willing participants in the slander, also weighed in, repeating the "mistake" claim, and going even farther into self-deception:

    “I think it was a mistake made in good faith.…”

    What's completely obvious to everyone else: the "mistake" was not made in good faith. It was, instead, made out of a kneejerk reflex rooted in political bigotry. Stephanopoulos and Sherwood should either own up to this ugly streak or leave the business. Or both.

  • You really should subscribe to Jonah Goldberg's weekly newsletter. From today's:

    When a politician takes out an ad saying, in effect, "What I meant to say was  . . ." It's like sending your girlfriend flowers with a note that begins, "When I said you could lose a few pounds I didn't mean . . ."

    Jonah provides chuckles and insights in equal measure, sometimes simultaneously.


Last Modified 2012-07-29 6:08 AM EDT

Melancholia

[1.0 stars] Melancholia (2011) on IMDb [Amazon]

I will give in to the temptation to make an off-color stupid pun: the only good things about Kirsten Dunst's Melancholia are Kirsten Dunst's melons. I'll rate it as a one-star, or one half-star per boob.

A Netflix pick by Mrs. Salad. About five minutes in, she noted: "I thought this was going to be different."

It is an arty movie about tedious people at the end of the world. Justine (Ms. Dunst) and Claire are sisters, and as the movie opens, Justine's getting married to Michael. She is, however, a barely-functional whack job. Claire and her husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland!), who have paid for the shindig, find themselves increasingly impatient with Justine. Other people at the wedding party say and do things that other people find offensive. (Almost always because they are offensive. But never in an interesting way.)

[How immensely this movie would have been improved had Kiefer Sutherland just shot someone in the thigh, or exclaimed into his Bluetooth headset, "Dammit, Chloe! There's no time!"]

Meanwhile, a large planet called Melancholia is on track for a close encounter with Earth. We learn that "scientists" all agree that Melancholia will make a spectacular flyby, then zip off into space again.

Guess what? They're lying. (I assume they're not simply mistaken, because accurate celestial mechanics ain't that hard to do.)

So, bottom line: nothing that happens in the movie matters, because everybody gets pounded into hot interplanetary dust at the end. Not exactly a feelgood movie.

Note: The movie got a number of awards, and so did Ms. Dunst, the professional critics were generally supportive, and the IMDB raters didn't hate it. So your mileage may vary.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:08 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2012-07-26

  • The Wizard I had my mind just about made up to vote for Gary Johnson in November, but this bit from an interview of Mitt Romney by Brian Williams was brought to my attention...

    BRIAN WILLIAMS:
    I know how much you love quoting unnamed Romney advisors, so here's a Republican official familiar with your campaign selection process, told the folks at Politico, you are looking for a quote, "Incredibly boring white guy for your vice presidential nominee." Can you confirm or deny?

    MITT ROMNEY:
    You told me you were not available.

    … a couple more like that, and Mitt's probably got me.

  • Dave reports from London and the Olympics.

    There’s a lot of security. You see soldiers everywhere, and the government has installed surface-to-air missiles, including some on the roof of an occupied apartment building. Really. It’s called the Fred Wigg Tower, and the tenants are not happy about having missiles on their roof. I don’t blame them. When you choose an apartment building, you’re looking for many qualities — good location, adequate parking, etc. — but as a rule you are not looking for a building that might get into armed combat with an airplane.

  • That was yesterday. Today, the name "Thurl Ravenscroft" is mentioned. And you probably know Thurl's voice even if you don't know who he was.


Last Modified 2012-07-27 5:47 AM EDT

The Dark Knight Rises

[5.0 stars] The Dark Knight Rises (2012) on IMDb [Amazon]

As I type, the IMDB raters have pushed The Dark Knight Returns to #9 on the list of the Top 250 Movies of All Time. I don't know about that, but it's pretty good.

Consumer note: the movie theater wasn't as crowded as I thought it would have been. I didn't think our local moviegoing citizenry would have been spooked by that horrible event in Colorado, but maybe.

It's set eight years after Batman has retired, and (as you hopefully remember from the previous movie) is widely despised in Gotham after having taken the blame for the crimes of Two-Face, aka Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne has cultivated his image as an eccentric recluse, preferring to work behind the scenes to develop a safe green form of nuclear energy.

But things kick off when a bewitching cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) beguiles her way into Wayne Manor, cracks a safe, and carts off Mama Wayne's pearls. And also Bruce's fingerprints. This intrigues Bruce enough to dust off his detective skills. Unbeknownst to him, this is only the tip of a much darker plot, as supervillain Bane has plans to wreak havoc, terror, and destruction over the whole metropolis.

I could quibble: Michael Caine is a wonderful Alfred, but he's kind of a kvetch here.

But everyone else is just plain great. I especially liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays Blake, a cop of extraordinary perception and courage. There were a couple surprising cameos. I saw a bit of the Big Plot Twist coming, but not everything.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:07 AM EDT

Jane Eyre

[3.0 stars] Jane Eyre (2011) on IMDb [Amazon]

Perhaps I was not in the mood for well-done adaptation of a classic piece of literature. But I'd be lying if I said I was captivated.

I haven't read the book—sorry!—but I understand it's a pretty straightforward tale. This movie keeps jumping back and forth in the book's narrative, for no discernible reason. It opens with Jane fleeing from Thornfield across the moors, to land at the doorstep of the Rivers family, who rescue her from death by exposure.

We then flash back to Jane's early life, where she's been taken in as an orphan by a hostile aunt. Eventually she's shipped off to a strict religious school, also a nasty environment. Jane perseveres, however, and graduates, taking a position as governess to a French girl at Thornfield Hall. Eventually she meets the master, Mr. Rochester—hey, so where's Jack Benny?—and after an initial rocky start, their relationship develops. But Rochester is an odd, moody duck, and (as it turns out) is keeping a dark secret.

I can say no more.

Judi Densch is in this, as Thornfield's amiable housekeeper. And the young Magneto himself, Michael Fassbender, plays Mr. Rochester.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:07 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2012-07-25

  • The First Amendment At Cato, Ilya Shapiro makes a good point:

    Perhaps the first thing you should know about campaign finance “reform” proposals — at least those coming from the left — is that their ultimate goal is to deter speech about political issues. Whether it’s limiting campaign donations or spending, restricting the ability of corporations or other groups to publicize their views, or imposing disclosure rules, the goal isn’t to have better-informed voters or a more dynamic political system, but to have less speech. Those who advocate these things want the government to have the power to control who speaks and how much.

    Ilya goes on to recount his recent appearance before a Senate hearing on the issue. The usual depressing news: senators who don't really get that whole First Amendment thing, despite the fact that it's part of the Constitution they've sworn to defend.

  • Jennifer Rubin snipped the following out of a recent speech by President Obama:

    I’m also going to ask anybody making over $250,000 a year to go back to the tax rates they were paying under Bill Clinton.

    Longtime readers will recognize the word "ask" as a Pun Salad Red Flag: it is not only untrue, but an insult to the intelligence of his listeners. If Obama gets his way, nobody will be "asked" to pay higher taxes. They will be commanded to do so. As always, the relevant Amazon link is to: They Think You're Stupid.

    But, as Jennifer notes, the other bit of Obama's sentence is reality-challenged as well:

    He either doesn’t know what he’s proposed or he is lying. The top marginal rate is now 35 percent. Obama wants it to go back to 39.6 percent plus the 3.8 percent Medicare Insurance tax that is part and parcel of Obamacare. That is a marginal rate of 43.4 percent for ordinary income. Under the Bush tax cuts, dividends were taxed at 15 percent. Under Obama such income would also go up to the 43.4 percent tax rate.

    … which deserves a second Amazon link, this time to Never Enough.

  • A. Barton Hinkle offers to help President Obama out with his failure to tell a story to the American people. For example, the Ant and the Grasshopper:

    Now there are those who say – and my opponent is one of them – there are those who say this story shows the need to be fiscally conservative. And you can believe that if you want to. But I’m always struck by those insects who think they are so smart, who think they work harder than everybody else. Well, let me tell you something: There are a whole lot of hardworking bugs out there.

  • Dave Barry is in London for the Olympics, and promises to make sense out of that strange land with its odd customs and language.

    Be advised that “Bobby” is only one example of the many words or phrases that the British because of centuries of heavy drinking, use incorrectly. Here are some others, with the American, or correct, version on the left, and the British version on the right:

    Flashlight = Torch

    Elevator = Prawn

    Hello = Blimey

    Good (or bad) = Aunt Betty’s celery trampoline

    Torch = Flashlight

    Eat = Spang the wollynacker

    Does it ever stop raining here? = Cor blimey?

    Paul = Ringo

    Take the subway = Neuter the hedgehog

    Go to the bathroom = Make a blimey

  • Attention chemistry fans: xkcd discourses on a mole of moles. That's a lotta moles.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:19 AM EDT

Mirror Mirror

[3.5 stars] Mirror Mirror (2012) on IMDb [Amazon]

For some reason the IMDB raters give Mirror Mirror a mediocre rating. Maybe I'm just in a happy mood these days, or my standards are even lower than usual, but I found it enjoyably watchable all the way through. (Also: it was free, being one of the University Near Here's summer film series.)

Julia Roberts plays the evil queen, risen to her position via her feminine wiles and abusive magic. Her latest conquest was Snow White's dad, who she maneuvered into apparently fighting and losing to a fearsome forest monster. She abuses the kingdom's subjects for her own extravagant appetites. Snow grows up fatherless and neglected, and in mortal danger. She finds unexpected help from Prince Alcott, a handsome good-hearted dim bulb. And (of course) seven height-challenged lads, after initial misgivings, become allies as well.

Things are mostly played for laughs, and Ms. Roberts especially seems to be having a lot of fun. There is—out of nowhere—a big Bollywood-style finale, worth sticking around for.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:15 AM EDT

The Amazing Spider-Man

[4.0 stars] The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) on IMDb [Amazon]

The notion of "rebooting" a series isn't exactly new. (As always, Wikipedia has a good overview.) Like many, I was pretty skeptical of the merit of rebooting the Spider-Man franchise; after all, the previous series of movies isn't exactly ancient history.

Also: Sally Field as Aunt May. Gidget as Aunt May?!

Also: how can you have Spider-Man without J. Jonah Jameson?

Also: Andrew Garfield is nearly 29 years old. And he's supposed to be high school student Peter Parker? (Only slightly more credible is the 23-year-old Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy.)

But it all worked for me. Yes, I'm a sucker.

What's different this time around: Spider-Man's origin story is tied into the mysterious disappearance of Peter Parker's parents, who dump him off with Uncle Ben and Aunt May, before departing for parts unknown. Years later, Peter is a bullied nebbish at school, hopelessly mooning over the lovely Gwen. He finds clues that point him to mysterious doings at Oscorp, where Dad Parker worked. There he finds one-armed Curt Connors, who's researching the incorporation of animal genes into humans. For example, spiders. And I guess you know what happens when Peter wanders around where he's not supposed to…

Great fun ensues, as Peter discovers his powers, tragically loses Uncle Ben (that bit never seems to change), devotes himself to fighting evildoers, and (eventually) finds himself in apocalyptic battles with Connors, who's gotten on the wrong side of his own experimentation.


Last Modified 2014-11-30 1:40 PM EST

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

[3.5 stars] Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011) on IMDb [Amazon]

I was kind of prepared for a mindless R-rated comedy. Which would have been fine, but what I got was significantly different, and in a good way. There are some relatively unusual magical-realism elements here, and they kept surprising me.

We follow three main characters going through everyday crises: there's Jeff—he lives at home, by the way—played by Jason Segal. He's trying to find meaning in his life, but (so far) this mostly involves getting stoned in the basement of his Mom's house.

Ed Helms plays Jeff's brother, Pat. Unlike Jeff, he's outwardly respectable, with a job and a wife (Judy Greer), but cracks are beginning to show in his life's foundations, and he's doing increasingly desperate, counterproductive, and crazy things to hold things together. (Like buying a Porsche against the express opposition of his wife.)

And then there's their Mom, played by Susan Sarandon. She's desperately lonely, but also concerned for Jeff, keeps nagging him to (for a change) do something constructive, even if it's only a small home improvement project. She also nags Pat to help out in trying to get Jeff out of his rut. But Mom's also the target of a secret admirer at work, who keeps sending complimentary messages.

Things kick off when Jeff takes a call for "Kevin"; he takes this as not a simple wrong number, but as a sign from the Universe that will point him toward redemption. Misunderstandings, coincidences, and slapstick follow. It's very funny, at the same time kind of sweet.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:16 AM EDT

Interface

[Amazon Link] One of the many things for which I remain in tearful gratitude to whatever mysterious forces placed me on this Earth in this era: I have the works of Neal Stephenson to read. While I await new stuff to come out, I've gone back to dig out some of his old stuff. This book was written in the mid-90s in collaboration with "J. Frederick George". (Who is, in real life, George Jewsbury, Stephenson's uncle.) It is set in a semi-fictional US leading up to the election of 1996.

The book centers around William Cozzano, governor of Illinois, an honest and admirable politician. (Having an Illinois governor being honest and admirable is probably one of the least believable bits of the book.) The action opens on the evening of the State of the Union message, when the current US President reveals his plan to (at least partially) repudiate the massive US debt. This infuriates Cozzano enough to cause a stroke that kills many important parts of his brain.

Meanwhile, the debt repudiation causes a shadowy organization called The Network to spring into action; a lot of that multi-trillion dollar debt is owed to them, and they're willing to devote resources toward a far-fetched, yet ruthless plan to ensure repayment.

Also meanwhile, a young technologist, Aaron, is trying to get his invention past airport security guards: it is an extremely sophisticated physiological monitoring system that can reveal the inner mental and emotional state of the person to which it's attached. By coincidence, Aaron meets Cy, a political consultant; Cy realizes that Aaron's invention has possible applications in his field.

And also meanwhile, Elanor, a young black woman in Denver is teetering on the edge of financial ruin: her husband has left her with two surly youngsters and done himself in.

The fates of these folks all become intertwined in (very) unexpected ways. But the upshot is that Cozzano's brain is repaired by advanced technology (good), but he also becomes an unwitting pawn of nefarious powers as he becomes a near perfect presidential candidate.

This isn't as good as Stephenson's more recent stuff, but it's still a very enjoyable read, darkly satirical, full of wit and insight. You might think a techno-political thriller written nearly two decades ago might be a tad dated, but you'd be surprised at how timely it feels. Some things just don't change.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:20 AM EDT

Act of Valor

[3.5 stars] Act of Valor (2012) on IMDb [Amazon]

Hope you're not to surprised by this spoiler: there's an Act of Valor in this movie, and if you're paying close attention, it's pretty obvious who's going to make said Act.

The good guys are a band of Navy Seals, the bad guys are a bunch of international terrorists out to cause some massive deaths in the USA. One thing leads to another. And by "thing", I mean: a meticulously planned operation carried out by men of amazing bravery involving lots of gunplay, explosions, and high-tech military weaponry. The action bounces from one scenic location to another: Chechnya, the Philippines, Ukraine, Somalia, and (finally) on the US-Mexico border as the Seals make one last try to stop the terrorists from getting into the States. (The terrorists are in league with Mexican drug cartels, even though if the terrorists succeed, it would mean a sharp decline in the cartels' customer base.)

Apart from the plot details (and constant bad language), it's a very traditional flick. If you remember the publicity, the Navy actively cooperated in making the movie, some of the actors are actual Seals, and none of the weaponry or tactics are made up. It gets a little too real at times: the lingo is at times so laden with military jargon, I found myself mystified. "OK, I heard what he said, I read the subtitles, but what the hell did he mean by that?"


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:09 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2012-07-22 Update

[phony baloney]

How many different ways can one say "President Obama continues to maintain a huge margin of phoniness over his competitors"? Anyway, that's the story for another week:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-07-15
"Barack Obama" phony 22,200,000 +700,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,090,000 +96,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 412,000 +13,000

  • Although there's no direct connection to the campaign, a special phony mention this week goes to ABC News, for its on-air assertion of a connection between the Aurora mass murderer and the Tea Party. This false report was made by ABC's "Chief Investigative Correspondent" Brian Ross. Taranto comments:

    It is reasonable to interpret Ross's hasty unsubstantiated report as an expression of hostility--bigotry--toward the Tea Party and those who share its values, which are traditional American ones. ABC's carelessness here is in sharp contrast with the way the mainstream media treat criminal suspects who are black or Muslim. In those cases they take great pains not to perpetuate stereotypes, sometimes at the cost of withholding or obscuring relevant facts such as the physical description of a suspect who is still at large or the ideological motive for a crime.

    Oikophobia is no less invidious than other forms of bigotry. ABC and Ross have apologized for their irresponsible reporting, but they have something more to answer for here. Their careless and inadvertent falsehood was in the service of a big lie.

    Some have called for the forced resignation of the responsible parties, but I would prefer that ABC just shut down its hopelessly corrupt news division. If contractual obligations demand the continued employment of Brian Ross, then I suggest he get a continuing role as a clueless comic foil in Don't Trust the B--- in Apartment 23. (The role of the B--- can be taken over by Diane Sawyer.)

    Similarly, George Stephanopoulos might be repurposed as a co-host on Americas Funniest Home Videos. Tom Bergeron might object to partnering with the ethically-challenged sleazeball, but that's just too bad.

  • Sheriff Joe Arpaio continues to insist that Barack Obama's birth certificate is a fake, and reputable news organizations continue to insist that Sheriff Arpaio's ravings are newsworthy. Neither is correct.

  • But what has been notable the past few weeks are the increasingly frequent occasions where the Real President Obama has broken through the phoniness. Moments where we can observe: Hey, that's what this guy actually thinks. It's not a pretty picture, but let's give credit where credit is due. Three examples:

    • The private sector is doing fine. That's from June 8, as Obama urged Congress to pass legislation to shovel money at state and local governments in order to hire more warm American bodies.

      The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we've created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we're seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government -- oftentimes, cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don't have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in.

      Now there's a little phoniness there: when Obama euphemizes about state/local governments having less "flexibility" in spending, he actually means they're less able to spend money they don't have. As we know, that's a skill Your Federal Government has honed for decades.

      But Obama really believes that the private sector is "doing fine". In reality, not really.

      [private sector unfine]

      And, as Nick Gillespie notes: states and local governments are currently "hiring at the fastest pace in four years."

      Note the Barackobatic logic: it would actually work if, instead of state and local governments making their own tough decisions on how to allocate their own resources using their own taxpayers' dollars, the (a) Federal government would take money from those same taxpayers; (b) bounce the money around the Federal bureaucracy a bit, then (c) hand some smaller amount over to state/local governments.

      Note: this is not "trickle down" economics. This is not even "robbing Peter to pay Paul" economics. This is "robbing Peter to pay Peter" economics, while trying to convince Peter that you've done him a solid favor.

    • Telling a story. A few days back, Barack and Michelle Obama sat down to a warm and fuzzy nerfball interview with CBS News's Charlie Rose. What was, Charlie wondered , the President's biggest mistake (so far)?

      The mistake of my first term - couple of years - was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that's important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times. It's funny when I ran everybody said, 'well he can give a good speech, but can he actually manage the job?' And in my first two years, I think the notion was, 'well, he's been juggling and managing a lot of stuff, but where's the story that tells us where he's going?' And I think that was a legitimate criticism. So, getting out of this town, spending more time with the American people, listening to them and also then being in a conversation with them about where do we go together as a country, I need to do a better job of that in my second term.

      Again, the important thing isn't whether it's true or not—it isn't remotely true— but instead: that's what he thinks.

      I can't do better than Captain Ed, who observes:

      [Allahpundit elsewhere] wrote that this sounded as lame as responding to a job interview question about what your biggest weakness is, and replying that you "try too hard."  But there's a subtext to this answer, especially since Obama strongly implies that all of his policy choices have been correct, and it hasn't been enough to get his brilliance through our thick skulls.  He's shifting blame for his unpopularity from his own performance to a shortcoming of ours -- for not perceiving his awesomeness.

      And then there's this graphic, worth significantly more than a thousand words:

      [joblessness with and without better stories]

    • And finally: you didn't build that. Apparently this was Obama's initial effort to tell better stories.

      If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

      One more time: the President's argument isn't close to being true, other than in a totally banal sense. The important thing is: he thinks he's saying something profound with important implications for the scope of government and its relationship to the people. Headshake. Eyeroll. Facepalm.

      Mustread: Iowahawk's hilarious lampoon.

      And (eventually) there was a glorious phony moment: Obama's campaign complained that the Romney campaign was "launching a false attack". The "false attack" involved quoting the President accurately. Could you make that up?

    I hope we'll see more of the Real Obama before the election.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:54 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2012-07-17

  • Surfer At Fort Point President Obama's recent rhetorical offenses have come too thick and fast to allow detailed refutation, but Matt Welch takes on his recent implication that Your Federal Government built the Golden Gate Bridge. In fact it was "a state-authorized project built by a partnership of local governments." And in fact, the Feds tried to obstruct the project.

    But this (to me) is the killer:

    My biggest problem with the Golden Gate metaphor isn't necessarily the federal vs. state/private distinction, it's that government spending at any level is being confused for the construction of gorgeous, useful bridges. That $35 million during the Depression is worth around $530 million today, or far less than 1 percent of Obama's stimulus package. So, where the hell are our new Golden Gates? What, exactly, has been the return on all this added "investment"?

    In comparison, it will cost somewhere north of $400 million to repair the USS Miami, a nuclear submarine that our local shipyard accidentally set on fire last May.

  • As I type, Googling "President Obama Ayn Rand villain" comes up with "About 1,520,000 results". This number can only increase.

  • If you would like a chance to share your thoughts directly with the President: he's currently offering a chance for you and a guest to attend his Chicago birthday party. Pun Salad value-added: you can enter the contest without donating to his campaign right here.

    If I don't win, I hope you do. Please note that:

    ALL FEDERAL, STATE AND LOCAL TAXES ASSOCIATED WITH THE RECEIPT OR USE OF ANY PRIZE ARE THE SOLE RESPONSIBILITY OF WINNER.

    Translation: you're gonna pay for whatever fun you might have.

  • Frank J. notes the latest effort by Obama's "Truth Team" to rebut Romney campaign lies. A sample:

    ALLEGATION: Under Obama, there has been 41 months of unemployment over 8%.
    TRUTH: Romney has some connections to companies that did outsourcing.

  • Disappointingly, "Randy Bumps" is not the name of a bimbo in the upcoming James Bond movie; as it turns out, Randy is going to be "Director of Operations" for Mitt Romney's running mate, whoever that may be.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:26 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2012-07-16

  • Air Wonder Stories (April 1930) .....item
1..UFOs seen in London skies: viral video spotlight (June 28, 2011)
... Steven Landsburg titles his post "Charting the Tax Plans", but it could just as well be "Why Nobody Should Take Ezra Klein or Paul Krugman Seriously". Key sentence: "But no such thing is remotely true."

  • Bradley Smith takes a look at the latest incarnation of the "DISCLOSE" Act, and finds it to be (still) offensive to anyone who takes free speech seriously.

    It's an election year, and incumbents are nervous. And so, in a classic sign of political weakness, Senate Democrats have scheduled a vote on legislation that would manipulate campaign-finance laws to silence their opponents.

    The original DISCLOSE Act was bad enough for even the ACLU to oppose it. (Yes, that does sound funny.)

  • Article VI of the US Constituion requires most elected officials, and many appointed officials, to be "bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution". The requirements for the President (in Article II, Section 1) are even stricter: he or she must swear (or affirm) "to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

    How lonely it would suddenly get in Washington if all those folks were required to resign upon breaking their oaths.

  • People of a certain age will remember poet Richard Brautigan. If you frequented decent bookstores in the late sixties/early seventies, you couldn't avoid his prominently displayed works. At the American Spectator, Bill Croke reviews William Hjortsberg's Brautigan bio.

    Although we didn't overlap there, Brautigan was briefly "poet in residence" at my alma mater, and will always be remembered by students for this poem, reproduced in its entirety, sue me:

    I don't care how God-damn smart   
    these guys are: I'm bored.
    
    It's been raining like hell all day long   
    and there's nothing to do.

    It only took him 17 more years to blow his brains out.

  • Speaking of my alma mater, she's currently the focus of a huge sports scandal, and in big big trouble with the NCAA.

    Well, I'll survive. If you want a hint before clicking over, the phrase "once lost 310 consecutive conference games" appears near the end.

The Phony Campaign

2012-07-15 Update

[phony baloney]

No big changes here:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-07-08
"Barack Obama" phony 21,500,000 -400,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 994,000 +1,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 399,000 +7,000

The Big Phony News this week involves American participation in the global economy. The Obama campaign, for re-election purposes, claims this to be a bad thing. At least when some private businesses do it. Or if it happened in Massachusetts while it was governed by Mitt Romney.

The Romney campaign didn't do much better, dubbing President Obama "outsourcer in chief" for subsidizing "solar and wind energy companies that end up making their products outside the United States."

Yeah, like that's the problem with government subsidizing what-used-to-be-free private enterprise.

So, in general: bad week for economic literacy, good week for xenophobia, protectionism, and demagoguery.

  • Things got real stupid when it was revealed that the US Olympic uniforms for this year's games were made in China. I made the mistake of watching ABC News one evening, where Anchor-Airhead Diane Sawyer spent a good fraction of her show smarmily oozing Concern and Outrage about the issue.

    A must-read antidote was provided by Daniel Ikenson at Cato. Read the whole thing, but here's a good summary:

    If you are still not convinced that our policymakers' objections are inane, consider this: As our U.S. athletes march around the track at London's Olympic stadium wearing their Chinese-made uniforms and waving their Chinese-made American flags, the Chinese athletes will have arrived in London by U.S.-made aircraft, been trained on U.S.-designed and -engineered equipment, wearing U.S.-designed and -engineered footwear, having perfected their skills using U.S.-created technology.

    Republicans were quick to offer a similar principled defense of free trade.

    Sorry, just kidding: actually, they were quick to point fingers at Ralph Lauren, the uniforms' designer, and major contributor to Democratic candidates.

    Meanwhile, Ben Shapiro at Breitbart suspects that all the brouhaha is simply a pretext to (eventually) point out that the US athletes at the Romney-run 2000 Olympics were outfitted by a Canadian company.

  • I would be remiss in covering the Phony Campaign if I failed to link to a Bloomberg editorial entitled " Obama-Romney Debate Over Offshoring Is Phony and Harmful" It notes how the Obama campaign is dragging us back to the bad old days of 1992, when Ross Perot ranted about the "giant sucking sound" of American jobs moving to Mexico. And notes that the Romney campaign's responses have been (variously) "specious", a "mishmash of exaggeration and falsehood", and "foolish".

  • The Obama campaign continued to lie without shame about Romney's company, Bain Capital. At the Columbia Journalism Review, Brendan Nyhan notes that our mainstream media is doing an absolutely dreadful job in covering the issue.

    Rather than clarify the misleading nature of the Obama campaign's claims, many reporters have played stenographer and simply summarized the debate for readers. These "he said," "she said" reports--which have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and the Associated Press and on CBS News--serve the basic function of notifying the public of the existence of a dispute but fail to help voters arbitrate among the conflicting claims.

    Also common, Brendan notes, is the pundit-driven approach. These don't care much about the accuracy of the President's charges, but instead concentrate on the relative effectiveness of the charges and Romney's responses. Are they "working"? Do they "stick"?

  • I wrote about this a couple years ago, but it's time to note it again. Here's President Obama yesterday in Virginia:

    "I want to stop giving tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas," Obama told the audience of 2,100 at Centreville High School. "Let's give those tax breaks that are investing right here in Virginia, right here in the United States of America, hiring American workers to make American products to sell around the world."

    If you think you've seen that bolded phrase before, it's only because you have.

    Obama 2010:

    End tax breaks that reward some U.S. companies with overseas subsidiaries and encourage those businesses to create jobs in other countries, President Barack Obama is telling Congress.

    Obama, 2007:

    When I am president, I will end the tax giveaways to companies that ship our jobs overseas, and I will put the money in the pockets of working Americans, and seniors, and homeowners who deserve a break.

    John Kerry, 2004:

    I've proposed a new economic plan for America. It begins by putting an end to tax incentives that are encouraging American companies to ship jobs overseas.

    Bill Clinton, 1992:

    Eliminate deductions for companies that ship American jobs overseas and reward outrageous executive pay.

    That's a couple decades of broken promises, and you'd think that all the jobs would have been shipped overseas by now.

    I'm sure that phrase focus-groups extremely well, which is why the Democrats seem to trot it out for every campaign.

    So why are those TaxBreaksForCompaniesThatShipJobsOverseas still around? Two reasons:

    1. Repealing them would be obviously bad policy.

    2. See above: it's a good thing to say in a campaign. If Democrats actually followed through on it, they would have one less demagogic issue to campaign on.


Last Modified 2014-12-05 11:58 AM EST

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

[3.5 stars] Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) on IMDb [Amazon]

So Mrs. Salad and I took advantage of a nice feature of summertime at the University Near Here: free second-run movies at the Memorial Union Building theatres. And we hadn't seen Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows yet.

Not bad, if you can get past the idea of Holmes as an Indiana Jones-style action hero, constantly in mortal danger, getting out of scrapes not only via his massive mental powers, but also his martial arts skills and weaponry. I don't want to check to see how fast Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is spinning in his grave.

The plot pits Sherlock (Robert Downey Jr.) against his nemesis Moriarty (Jared Harris). He is assisted, of course, by Dr. Watson (Jude Law), who's getting married to the lovely Mary (Kelly Reilly). Unfortunately, in addition to striving for world domination, Moriarty has also pledged to wreak deadly revenge against Watson and his new wife; this is used as an excuse for Holmes to drag Watson along—as if he'd be left out!

In addition, they pick up a Gypsy assistant, intensely played by Noomi Rapace, the Dragon Tattoo girl herself. She's great, but could I just once see her in a comedy? See her smile?

There are a lot of impressive action scenes, and (of course) the climax occurs at the Reichenbach Falls. Holmes fans know how that works out.

(Consumer notes: not only these MUB flicks free, but also split into "family friendly" and "quiet" theatres. Air conditioned. And did I mention free? Downside: it's off a DVD, and the kids who spun it up played at least a few seconds of the movie to test the setup. So we missed a bit of the beginning.)


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:13 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2012-07-08 Update

[phony baloney]

Things were a bit quiet, with President Obama's phony hit-count lead over Mitt Romney shrinking a bit, but still over 20-to-1 in his favor.

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-07-01
"Barack Obama" phony 21,900,000 -1,100,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 993,000 -5,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 392,000 +3,000

It was one thing when the Obama campaign ripped off Luxembourg's flag for their bumper sticker color scheme; but now they're using the "Revolution Gothic" font in campaign materials. The myfonts.com site helpfully points out that the font is "inspired by retro propaganda posters and wallpainting in Cuba from the 60s to 80s."

Could that possibly be true? Compare and contrast one of the campaign images:

[Betting on America]

with a sample from a font company website:

[America is unimpressed]

Yeah, I guess that's pretty close. Can you imagine the meeting among the campaign's graphic designers?

"You know what? We need a font that helps persuade voters that America's dire economic straits are in no way the fault of the bankrupt ideology of its leaders!"

"Well, OK… hm… let's see what they used in Cuba for the past few decades."


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:54 PM EST

This Means War

[3.0 stars] This Means War (2012) on IMDb [Amazon]

This movie stars Chris Pine (who played Captain Kirk in the latest Star Trek movie) and Tom Hardy (who played the bad guy, Shinzon, in the Star Trek movie before that). But this movie is a romantic comedy set on Earth, and includes Reese Witherspoon as the love interest.

Pine and Hardy are CIA agents FDR and Tuck (respectively), best buddies, on the hunt for international bad guy, Heinrich. In an initial action scene, Heinrich's brother is a casualty; Heinrich escapes, but vows revenge against our heroes. (This doesn't matter much until the end.)

In the meantime, both FDR and Tuck become enamored with Lauren (Witherspoon). In pursuit, each uses deception, dirty tricks, and surveillance tactics in order to gain advantage in the competition for Lauren's affections. This strains their friendship to the breaking point. Lauren is torn about which guy to choose, she's unaware that they know each other, and (of course) she's eventually placed in peril by Heinrich's reappearance.

Bottom line: it's got numerous chuckles along the way, doesn't take itself very seriously. It's predictable, but entertaining. Not an awful way to spend a movie night.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:19 AM EDT

Savages

[Amazon Link] I'm kind of a Don Winslow fan, ever since reading California Fire and Life many years ago. And he's remained a good, reliable read. But this one… eh, not so much.

It's the story of a couple of California marijuana growers, Ben and Chon; they have mastered the secrets of producing dynamite weed, and have reaped a fortune doing so. They share a girlfriend, Ophelia, a fact that is described explicitly.

Unfortunately, a Mexican drug cartel has noticed their operation. After Ben and Chon decline its initial offer of partnership, it turns out to have been one of those offers they couldn't refuse. The cartel kidnaps Ophelia in order to gain leverage. The boys must attempt to keep the cartel happy, in order to keep Ophelia alive, until they can ransom her. And, perhaps unwisely, they attempt to raise the ransom by ripping off the cartel itself.

Winslow's style is offbeat, short sentences in short paragraphs, unusual use of whitespace, occasional passages are rendered in screenplay format. This didn't bother me as much as the ending in which <spoiler>nearly everybody dies, including Ben, Chon, and Ophelia</spoiler>. I didn't care for that much.

This book has been made into a movie, recently released. Trivia: one of the high points of the book was its description of Ophelia's airheaded mother, who she calls "Paqu", for "Passive Aggressive Queen of the Universe". Uma Thurman played Paqu, but—what were they thinking?—all her scenes were cut for time constraints. Sigh.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:28 AM EDT

21 Jump Street

[3.0 stars] 21 Jump Street (2012) on IMDb [Amazon]

A funny R-rated movie that (probably) is not aimed at my demographic, but was watchable anyway. It's based on an 80's TV show that I never watched, but there are cameos here that may please those who did.

The story: back in high school Schmidt (Jonah Hill) was a nerd loser, while Jenko (Channing Tatum) was a jock winner. Although they were barely acquainted, they both wind up trying to get on the police force. At the academy, they develop a symbiotic relationship: Schmidt helps Jenko with the book-learnin', while Jenko aids Schmidt with fitness training. And they manage to make the unglamourous bottom rung of police rookiedom: patrolling a park on bicycles.

While Schmidt and Jenko have their special qualities, neither one is particularly cop-smart. They botch a drug bust, and find themselves tossed to the tender mercies of Captain Dickson (Ice Cube!), head of the titular undercover unit: young-looking cops go into high schools to ferret out illegal activity. Specifically, they go in search of the dealers and supplier of a new synthetic drug that was recently implicated in a student's death. This is played almost entirely for laughs.

There's a lot of raunch, and if you have hopes that the youth of today aren't into substance abuse, you won't find much reassurance here.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:10 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2012-07-01 Update

[phony baloney]

Well, President Obama's phony hit counts from two weeks back turned out to be phony indeed. Now he's back, pretty much to the status quo ante: simply a dominant phony lead over Mitt and Gary:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-06-17
"Barack Obama" phony 23,000,000 -196,000,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 998,000 -22,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 389,000 -17,000

Apologies for missing the usual weekly posting last week. I'd provide an excuse, but excuses are even more boring than apologies.

Phoniness did not miss a week, however. I'll try to hit the high points:

  • The big phoniness did not involve the candidates directly, but was emitted by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who found a tenuous argument to vote with the four diehard liberal justices to preserve Obamacare. Mark Steyn was as unimpressed as I:

    There's nothing constitutionally seemly about a Court decision that says this law is only legal because the people's representatives flat-out lied to the people when they passed it. Throughout the Obamacare debates, Democrats explicitly denied it was a massive tax hike: "You reject that it's a tax increase?" George Stephanopoulos demanded to know on ABC. "I absolutely reject that notion," replied the president. Yet "that notion" is the only one that would fly at the Supreme Court. The jurists found the individual mandate constitutional by declining to recognize it as a mandate at all. For Roberts' defenders on the right, this is apparently a daring rout of Big Government: Like Nelson contemplating the Danish fleet at the Battle of Copenhagen, the chief justice held the telescope to his blind eye and declared, "I see no ships."

  • Michael Barone notes and exposes the phony excuse for Obama's mediocre standings in the polls and (possible) defeat in November: it's because he's black. Er, Barone says, waitaminnit:

    There's an obvious problem with the racism alibi. Barack Obama has run for president before, and he won. Voters in 2008 knew he was black. Most of them voted for him. He carried 28 states and won 365 electoral votes.

    Nationwide, he won 53% of the popular vote. That may not sound like a landslide, but it's a higher percentage than any Democratic nominee except Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.

    The liberal punditry is dragging out this charge now in order to swing voters on the fence. "You may have voted for Obama in 2008, fine, but if you don't do the same in 2012, you're a racist." Get used to about four months of various permutations of this phony argument.

  • President Obama and I were (reportedly) within a mile of each other this past Monday, as he visited Durham, home of my employer, the University Near Here. I didn't even try to attend, but apparently I missed

    President Obama today ridiculed Mitt Romney's campaign for saying his former private-equity investment firm engaged in "outsourcing" services rather than "0ffshoring" [sic] jobs.

    "You cannot make this stuff up," Obama told backers in New Hampshire.

    "What Governor Romney and his advisers don't seem to understand is this: If you're a worker whose job went overseas, you don't need somebody trying to explain to you the difference between outsourcing and offshoring," Obama said.

    I mean, how different could those things be? They both begin with "O", end in "ing", and they relate to jobs. Trust me, says the President, you fine Granite Staters don't need to bother your pretty little heads with any argument that makes relevant, not very difficult, distinctions!

    [Amazon Link] Kevin G. Williamson has a request:

    Could somebody please get Barack Obama to shut up about "outsourcing" until some undergraduate aide has explained to him what the word means? As it stands, the president is showing himself an ignorant rube on the subject, and that is to nobody's advantage.

    Unfortunately, Kevin, that's not likely to happen. As long as the President can make a demagogic know-nothing argument, he probably will do so. Yes, they think you're stupid.

    The anti-Romney charges are loosely based on a Washington Post article; Jen Rubin, their house right-wing blogger tells the story of Romney's rebuttal and the Post's subsequent "clarification" article. She also links to the Post's Glenn Kessler awarding the coveted four Pinocchios to an Obama ad on the topic.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:54 PM EST

The Artist

[4.5 stars] The Artist (2011) on IMDb [Amazon]

IMDB has this (as I type) as number 151 of the top 250 movies of all time. I don't know about that, but sure: it's pretty good. It also—oh yeah—won five Oscars including Best Picture.

The story is from the Singin' in the Rain era: talkies are coming in, and the silent movie stars of the day must either adapt or retire, gracefully or gracelessly. Case in point: George Valentin, devilishly handsome, well-liked, and so full of himself he could just about burst. Fate throws him together with Peppy Miller, a fresh-faced actress full of ebullient talent and naïveté. Unbeknownst to them both: careerwise and otherwise, she's on the way up, he's on the way down.

As you may have heard, there are a number of gimmicks that make this all work: (1) George has a co-starring dog, a Jack Russell terrier in the fine tradition of Frasier's Eddie, intelligent, unflinchingly loyal, and very funny; (2) the movie is black&white, and (mostly) silent with occasional dialogue cards; (3) there are also a number of fantasy scenes, due to George's occasional inebriation.

So it's a lot of fun, although George's downward spiral takes him into territory that makes it less than a total laff riot. George and Peppy are played by a couple of French actors I (and probably you) haven't seen before: Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo. A fine cast supports them, including a lot of people I hadn't seen in a while: John Goodman as a film studio exec; Missi Pyle (from Galaxy Quest!) as one of George's co-stars; Penelope Ann Miller as George's about-to-be-ex wife; James Cromwell as George's loyal servant and chauffeur; Ed Lauter as Peppy's butler. Even Malcolm McDowell!


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:12 AM EDT

Brave

[5.0 stars] Brave (2012) on IMDb [Amazon]

It's Pixar. It's got John Ratzenberger. What more do you need to know? Of course it's good. Maybe not as insanely great as Up, The Incredibles, or Toy Story( (2|3))?, but still a decent way to spend your entertainment dollar.

It's set in medieval Scotland, just barely out of savagery. In a few centuries, it would be producing geniuses like Adam Smith, James Watt, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Craig Ferguson, etc. But that would have made a different tale, laddie.

The heroine is Merida, a princess parented by oh-so-proper Elinor and nae-so-proper Fergus. She's blessed with hair so red and wild it's practically a separate character. She's a tomboy, excelling in horsemanship and archery. She's also a tad spoiled and willful, at constant loggerheads with her mom, and is extremely put out that tradition demands that she be betrothed to one of the lunkhead sons of the neighboring lords. She views this prospect with such alarm that she accepts supernatural help from a local witch. But this turns out—as usual in such situations—to make things much worse.

There's a lot of hilarity, gorgeous scenery, amazing animation, a gripping plot, sympathetic characters (eventually) in great peril. What's not to like? We didn't spring for the 3-D. Maybe would have been even better.

Consumer note: in our case Brave was playing next door to Magic Mike, and the timing was such that we got to see a couple of exiting crowds. We estimated that the female percentage was somewhere north of 95%. I guess that's not surprising.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:11 AM EDT