[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
"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 EDT