URLs du Jour

2012-08-28

  • Freebirds Are you a geek that likes Raymond Chandler? So is Jason Harrington, author of "Raymond Chandler’s The Man Who Repaired Laptops.

    She was a doozy of a dame, with dangerous eyes like blue screens of death and a dark umber HP Pavilion laptop with a 640 GB hard drive she’d dropped off the day before. I’d taken her case at the recommendation of her father, the landlord, on account of my being two months behind on the rent.

  • Be sure not to miss President Obama's moving eulogy to Neil Armstrong. Excerpt:

    When I learned of the untimely passing of Neil Armstrong I was, like all Americans, deeply moved and saddened. I share your sense of loss for this American hero, even if his fame had been eclipsed by others over the years. But in our shared moment of grief, let us also celebrate his historic accomplishment in becoming the first astronaut eulogized by me, Barack Obama, our nation's historic first African-American president.

    Brought to you, in case you haven't guessed, by Iowahawk.

  • If you're like me, the only convention coverage you'll want to consume is from Dave Barry. For example, his observation of the welcoming cocktail party, held inside Tropicana Field domed stadium:

    Inside the dome, a major party was in progress on the baseball field, with food stations and open bars everywhere, and thousands of people milling around eating and drinking and enjoying a series of perky stage acts, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders, who entertained the crowd by wearing outfits made from a grand total of maybe six fabric molecules. At one point the P.A. announcer, introducing the next act, said, and I swear I am not making this up: “To celebrate diversity in culture, please welcome to the stage Busch Gardens’ own belly dancers!”

    Dave is, as usual, observant, insightful, and funny.

The Trail to Buddha's Mirror

[Amazon Link] This is the second entry in Don Winslow's Neal Carey series, from back in 1992. According to Amazon (as I type), a used paperback copy will set you back $19.99, a new hardover goes for $300. But the Kindle version is $9.99, and it's worth it.

As the book opens, our hero Neal is recuperating from the events set forth in the first book, reading his beloved Tobias Smollett in a primitive house on some isolated Yorkshire moor. But his "Dad", Joe Graham, pulls him back to America for another unlikely assignment: an agricultural scientist has gone missing in the San Francisco area. His agribusiness company asks for help as one of the "Friends of the Family", the quiet Rhode Island bank accustomed to doing extraordinary favors for its clients.

So Neal heads off to Frisco, where he's just a step behind the scientist and a lovely, mysterious Chinese woman who's made his acquaintance. Neal eventually catches up with them in a sleepy Marin community full of artists and burned-out hippies. And manages to lose them again, while getting shot at for his troubles. Eventually, the trail will lead him to Hong Kong and China, and all sorts of hellish peril. As it turns out, Neal has been kept in the dark about what's really going on.

The plot is complicated, full of double-crosses, twists, dishonesty and betrayal. The narrative bogs down at points. The book is twenty years old, so some of its observations about China and Hong Kong are dated, and the prime motivator of the plot, once it's revealed, is ludicrous. Nevertheless, I had a good time.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 6:32 AM EDT

A Separation

[3.0 stars] A Separation (2011) on IMDb [Amazon]

This Iranian movie from 2011 won the Oscar for "Best Foreign Language Film of the Year". As I type, it's number 108 on IMDB's list of the top 250 movies of all time. And, not for the first time, I find myself on the Philistine side: what am I missing? It's OK, mind you. But if it were filmed in Trenton instead of Tehran, I'm guessing the hoopla and huzzahs would be considerably muted.

It's the story of a disintegrating Iranian marriage; as the movie opens, the lovely Simin is pleading with an offscreen magistrate to grant her a divorce from hubby Nader. The problem is that she wants to leave Iran for some other country; Nader refuses, because his father has Alzheimer's disease, and he needs to stay to care for him.

Simin moves out, so Nader has to hustle to provide care for his father. He hires a devout Muslim lady, Razieh, who totes along her toddler. It soon becomes clear that Razieh is in over her head. Conflict develops with Nader, which leads to tragedy, misunderstanding, deception, additional family strife, and legal proceedings.

Totally watchable, and it's interesting to get a eye into current-day Iranian culture. Just not as insanely great as I hoped it would be.

Although the film is not overtly political, its honesty put it out of the comfort zone of Iranian authorities. At one point they forced a halt to production. A ceremony scheduled to celebrate the Academy award was cancelled. At last report, the director, Asghar Farhadi, was out of Iran and had no plans to return.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 6:35 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2012-08-26 Update

[phony baloney]

The Google would have us believe that nearly 18 million instances of the word "phony" combined with "Barack Obama" vanished from the web in less than a week:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-08-21
"Barack Obama" phony 6,050,000 -17,750,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,200,000 +40,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 465,000 -16,000

… or maybe they were never there to begin with! Or maybe they'll be back next week! Stay tuned!

In any case, the phony news just keeps coming:

  • In a followup to the revelation that the Twitter followers of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were largely fake, it was found that the phenomenon applied to lower-level pols as well:

    Overall, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had the highest level of phonies following them. Polis's followers are 82 percent fake, according to the study, a higher number than any other Democrat or Republican. Most others had a higher percentage of inactive accounts beefing up their follower numbers, but [the researcher] clarified that fake and inactive accounts tend to mean the same thing: there is no human being on the other side of that account.

    Color me shocked.

  • A Ms. Kate Randall, writing at (really) the "World Socialist Web Site" accidentally stumbled on a kernel of truth while writing an article headlined "Obama and Romney's phony Medicare debate":

    With less than three months to Election Day, the presumptive presidential candidates of the two big business parties in the US are accusing each other of targeting Medicare for drastic cuts and placing the government-run health care program for the elderly in jeopardy. The truth is that the policies of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both pose grave dangers to Medicare--a program currently depended upon by some 50 million American seniors.

    You know what else poses grave dangers to Medicare? Arithmetic. You would expect Ms. Rendell, as a World Socialist, to deny that, and she does.

    But Ms. Rendell, to her credit, recognizes the same phoniness that (for example) Peter Suderman at Reason does:

    […] the majority of politicians in both parties have proven stubbornly unwilling to prepare the public for the challenges of reform. President Obama sells ObamaCare on the argument that it strengthens the Medicare trust fund without mentioning that it only does so if you double count the Medicare savings. Romney is running an evasive and sketchy Medicare reform proposal as well as an explicit promise to repeal the Medicare cuts in ObamaCare.

    New Hampshire's own Charlie Arlinghaus, writing in my local paper this morning generalizes:

    You're an idiot. You're so self-serving and adolescent that you can't possibly have an adult conversation.

    That's the thinking of political professionals. Politicians and their like should carefully avoid talking to us like we're adults because clearly we aren't. Anyone attempting to have an adult conversation or be clear about his or her positions on the issues of the day is, in their view, a problem.

    Voters, we are led to believe, prefer bland banalities. Rather than a plan or an idea, politicians should say, "when I get there, I'm going to roll up my sleeves and get this thing going." God forbid -- or at least political hack forbid -- they should let us know they've reached a conclusion about what needs to be done or not.

    Or, as Herman Cain wrote… They Think You're Stupid.

  • What also makes it easy for politicians to be phony: phony journalists.

    The White House is doing something with its local TV interviews that it could not easily get away with in encounters with the White House press corps, which President Obama has been studiously ignoring: choosing the topic about which President Obama and the reporter will talk.

    An example probing query from a San Diego TV news bubblehead who'd been told the President wanted to talk about sequestration: "What do you want individual San Diegans to know about sequestration?"

    Obama gets a small unpaid political ad, where he earnestly rattles off his pre-prepared focus-grouped talking points, in a format that looks like "news". The TV news folks get to pretend they're bigtime serious journalists. It's a phony win-win!


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

Neil Armstrong, RIP

My favorite Neil Armstrong picture, taken July 20, 1969, by Buzz Aldrin. You know where they were and what they had just done.

[Neil Armstrong]

As Ray Bradbury noted at the time: he, and what he did, will be remembered a million years from that night.


Last Modified 2012-08-26 6:16 AM EDT

9

[4.0 stars] 9 (2009) on IMDb [Amazon]

A nice little computer animated fantasy-thriller from 2010 that worked its way to the top of the Netflix queue. Rated PG-13, and a shade darker than your average animated feature.

The premise is (by now) pretty familiar: it's set in the aftermath of a man-vs-machine war, in which the machines won. As often happens in this sort of movie, scientific hubris kills us all! But before kicking the bucket, one scientist creates a small group of sentient rag dolls (which, according to Wikipedia, are called "Stitchpunks"). The main character is…

Darn, what was his name again? Oh, right: 9. It's written on his back, in fact. 9 is the last Stitchpunk to awaken, and does not initially know what's going on. He keeps busy by evading the killer robot that still wanders the devastated landscape. He (briefly) meets the courageous 2, who saves his life. For 2's troubles, though, he's mauled by the robot and carted off to a lair of evil.

But this allows 9 to join up with the rest of the Stitchpunks, a group run by the tyrannical and hyper-cautious 1, with help from his large and stupid enforcer, 8. But 9 finds an ally in 5, and they set out for the lair in order to rescue 2.

It's tempting to sum up the plot as "Terminator meets Toy Story". (And probably plenty of people who saw this movie before I did have already done that.) I enjoyed it. The future it envisions is bleak, but well-drawn.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:35 AM EDT

Gone

[4.0 stars] Gone (2012) on IMDb [Amazon]

This movie earned a mediocre score from the IMDB raters, and the critics hated it (12% at Rotten Tomatoes). And it was a minor bomb at the box office earlier this year. (Number 99 on this list of the 200 "Worst Wide Openings" of the past twenty years). But I found it to be watchable and compelling. Go figure.

Amanda Seyfried plays Jill, a troubled young lady from Portland Oregon who was once abducted by a psycho killer. She escaped, against all odds.

Well, at least that's what she thinks happened. The cops were unable to find any evidence of the abduction; they viewed Jill as a insane hoaxer, and she spent a stint in the funny farm.

But now Jill is out, on her meds, holding down a steady job as a night-shift waitress, living in a cozy house with her sister, Sharon. But when she returns home one morning, Sharon's gone. Jill knows that her abductor has returned! But the cops never believed her, and they don't believe her now. So Jill takes matters into her own hands.

Jill encounters plenty of red herrings and oddball characters in her odyssey. And the movie (skillfully, I thought) notes that Jill really is a huge liar (either impulsive or compulsive, it's not clear). The truth eventually comes out, though.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 9:47 AM EDT

Uncontrolled

[Amazon Link] Jim Manzi, the author of Uncontrolled, is a well-known figure in conservative/libertarian circles. The book (however) takes it easy on the politics, and earned favorable reviews across the spectrum. The Library of the University Near Here purchased it at my request, and I got first crack at it when it arrived.

The book's subtitle is "The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society." To get there, Manzi starts in a surprising place: the philosophy of the scientific method, going back to folks like Aristotle and Francis Bacon.

Which makes sense, sort of. While the scientific method has successfully managed to grow our knowledge of the physical world, its applicability to figure things out in other fields is problematic. Determining how long to fire a rocket engine in order to have your space probe hit the Martian atmosphere at precisely the right location and angle—that's simple in comparison with (say) figuring out how to price thousands of items in your store in order to maximize revenue.

Manzi argues that it's possible to "do science" in matters of what he calls "high causal density": specifically, cases involving the behavior of large numbers of people. While the classic "controlled experiments" of science don't translate well to this arena, the technique of "randomized field trials" shows more promise. It's a technique already widely used in business and (some) social sciences. Manzi urges its wider adoption in political issues as well.

At the end of the book, Manzi discusses how his insights might apply to education, immigration, and welfare. This bit will appeal to political types who want policies that "work". (As opposed to political types who say they want policies that work, which just happen to be the policies demanded by their political party.)


Last Modified 2012-09-21 9:52 AM EDT

Anonymous

[2.0 stars] Anonymous (2011) on IMDb [Amazon]

Warning: to properly appreciate this movie, you should probably be better-versed in Elizabethan-era British history than I. Also it would help to care about Elizabethan-era British history more than I.

The notion that Shakespeare did not write the plays and poems credited to him has been bouncing around since the mid-1800s. The genius and scholarship shown in Shakespeare's works seems totally out of whack with his ordinary origins and enigmatic biography. But if not Bill, then who?

This movie builds its plot around the "Earl of Oxford" theory. In order to do that even semi-plausibly, a large and complex conspiracy theory is needed, in which (somehow) Shakespeare is able to take credit while the Earl abides in silence. So we get sordid decade-spanning tales of royal philandering, rebellion, betrayal, and murder. Fun! If you like that sort of thing.

The acting is fine, especially Rhys Ifans as the Earl. In a bit of fun casting, Vanessa Redgrave (the commie) plays Old Queen Elizabeth I, while her daughter Joely Richardson plays Young Queen Elizabeth I. It seems very realistic, in the sense that just about everything is filthy, ramshackle, and dark. (Even the royalty doesn't seem to have had a recent bath.)


Last Modified 2012-09-21 9:53 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2012-08-21 Update

[phony baloney]

Vacation's over, so let's see if anything happened in campaign phoniness:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-08-12
"Barack Obama" phony 23,800,000 -100,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,160,000 -140,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 481,000 -40,000

Nope. But in recent phony news:

  • Not only does President Obama have a seemingly insurmountable lead in the Phony Poll, it's now being reported that most of his Twitter followers are phony, too.

    Forty-one percent of the commander in chief's 18.6 million Twitter followers are fake, 35 percent are inactive and 25 percent are "good," or likely to be authentic, according to Fake Follower Check, which scours the messaging service specifically for phony adherents.

    Of Mitt Romney's 860,200 followers, 22 percent are sham, 33 percent are inactive and 45 are percent real, the tool shows.

    It's interesting that the Obama/Romney ratio of Twitter followers is about 21.6, in the same ballpark as the Obama/Romney ratio of phony hit counts (currently about 20.6). As Roy Neary said in Close Encounters: "This means something! This is important!"

    Nah, probably not.

  • It's been awhile since Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate. At Cato, David Boaz notes that Ryan's record as a "fiscal conservative" is, well, phony:

    As I say, the test for a fiscal conservative is how he votes on budget-busting bills. And there, Paul Ryan has a real problem. Consider his votes during his 14 years in Congress and particularly during the 8 years of the Bush administration:

    FOR the No Child Left Behind Act (2001)
    FOR the Iraq war (2002)
    FOR the Medicare prescription drug entitlement (2003)
    FOR Head Start reauthorization (2007)
    FOR Economic Stimulus Act (January 2008)
    FOR extending unemployment benefits (2008)
    FOR TARP (2008)
    FOR GM/Chrysler bailout (2008)
    FOR $192 billion anti-recession spending bill (2009)

    It's fun to watch Democrats try to paint Romney/Ryan as if it were Rothbard/Rand (I wish), but that's show biz. Reason editor Nick Gillespie soberly points out what that means:

    But it nows seems that the 2012 election may come down to a vision of a government that either spends $1 trillion or $2 trillion more annually than we do now. Which is not a welcome development.

    Not for the first time, we quote the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: "No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in."

  • "Well," you say, "there's always Gary Johnson." (As not everyone may know: the Libertarian Party candidate.) But at the Washington Times "communities" site, Shaun Connell asks: "Is Gary Johnson a 'Fake' Libertarian?"

    Gary Johnson is running for president, and many see him as the "other" Ron Paul. But is this true? Is Gary Johnson the third-party version of Ron Paul? Does he support no corporate welfare, bringing the troops home, ending the global drone attacks, and a foreign policy of peace?

    To quote Johnson, "perhaps not".

    (Bonus: if you click over to read the whole article, you'll see a picture of Johnson that makes him look, well, deranged.)

  • VP Joe Biden upped the dreadfulness in Virginia last week in front of a predominantly African-American audience:

    "Look at what they [Republicans] value, and look at their budget. And look what they're proposing. [Romney] said in the first 100 days, he's going to let the big banks write their own rules -- unchain Wall Street," Biden said a rally in Danville, Va. "They're going to put y'all back in chains."

    Republicans pounced, in what David Axelrod deemed to be "phony outrage."

    Fine. If anyone deserved to be outraged, it was (specifically) Biden's audience, who Biden assumed would be charmed by his racially-charged condescension.


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

The Lincoln Lawyer

[Amazon Link] I'm working my way through the novels of Michael Connelly. This one, originally published in 2005, is his first to feature lawyer Mickey Haller.

Mickey practically invites us to not like him. He's a criminal defense attorney, skilled in finding loopholes, technicalities, and cop-sloppiness, all in order to minimize the legal damage to his (almost invariably) guilty clients. He skates on the edge of lawyer ethics and financial ruin. His office is a Lincoln Town Car, because he's continually on the move between various LA County jails and courthouses. Also on his mind are two ex-wives and a young daughter he doesn't seem to be able to find time for.

Here's the thing about Connelly: although it would be easy for the reader to perceive Mickey as a money-grubbing shyster, Connelly manages to make him sympathetic and even likeable, right from page one. It's magic!

Things kick off when (seemingly) fortune smiles on him: his favorite bail bondsman hooks him up with a very rich client, who's been charged with a brutal assault against a woman. Mickey's subsequent investigation is centered around delivering a Not Guilty verdict, but it rapidly becomes obvious that there is more going on than meets the eye.

This was made into a pretty good movie last year starring Matthew McConaughey as Mickey. I liked it quite a bit, but seeing the movie first did not degrade my enjoyment of the book.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 9:54 AM EDT

The Secret World of Arietty

[3.5 stars] The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) on IMDb [Amazon]

Thanks to John Lasseter and Pixar merging with Disney, the movies of the Japanese animation factory Studio Ghibli eventually make their way over to the USA, after the dialog has been redubbed by English-speakers. To our great benefit.

The movie is based on the 1952 kid's fantasy novel The Borrowers, written by Englishperson Mary Norton. So it's not just an American translation of a Japanese movie; it's an American translation of a Japanese movie adaptation of a British book. I'm sure this says something profound about multiculturism; if I ever manage to articulate it, I'll let you know.

The premise is that there's a secret race of wee folk that live by "borrowing" life's necessities from the "human beans". A young Borrower girl, Arietty, lives with her mom and dad, ensconced under the floor of a cozy country house inhabited by a nice lady and her housekeeper.

Things change when the lady's nephew shows up to spend a few quiet weeks while waiting for heart surgery. He almost immediately catches a glimpse of the careless Arietty. He won't rest until he's figured out what's going on.

Probably more important than the plot and characters: this is one gorgeous movie to just look at. Like other Studio Ghibli productions, every single scene is rendered with beauty and imagination.

Consumer note: if you watch this, I recommend turning on the English subtitles even if you can hear the English dialogue just fine; there are occasional interesting differences. I think I heard somewhere that some significant rewriting of the dialogue is done to make the spoken words fit the animated characters' mouth movements.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 9:56 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2012-08-12 Update

[phony baloney]

Hey, kids! Your assignment this week is to sing the lyrics of Jimmy Dean's hit "Big Bad John" to the tune of "Dead Man's Curve" by Jan & Dean. It's (surprisingly) easy and fun! You'll need to be creative with the chorus.

Oh, wait. Wrong blog.

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-08-05
"Barack Obama" phony 23,900,000 +600,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,300,000 +130,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 521,000 +23,000

  • Answer to a question nobody has asked: Googling ["Jill Stein" phony] provides 318,000 hits.

  • Answer to the followup question you may have asked: Jill Stein is the Green Party nominee for President of the United States. She's trailing the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson in the phony poll, but trying to make up lost ground, as in this interview with NPR.

    So that is what the party is about. It is about real democracy that meets the crises that the American people are facing. Our priority is to provide jobs, to have an economy that works for everyday people, not this phony economy of high finance where 40 percent of corporate profits are now coming from the financial services industry that's mainly, you know, rearranging the deck chairs.

    Not that it matters, Jill, but: you know a cliché is stale when you start invoking it, but get too bored to finish it.

  • And once you go to Jill, why stop: Googling ["Roseanne Barr" phony] provides 576,000 hits! That would put her ahead of Gary Johnson!

  • Oh, right: Roseanne grabbed the presidential nomination of the "Peace and Freedom Party" this weekend. After having lost the Green Party nod to Jill Stein. She weighed in on the Chick-fil-A controversy, displaying the fundamental decency and tolerance of today's progressives:

    Barr, who vocally opposes the stand against same-sex marriage taken by Chick-fil-A's president, Dan Cathy, initially tweeted, "anyone who eats S*** Fil-A deserves to get the cancer that is sure to come from eating antibiotic filled tortured chickens 4Christ."

    Later, Barr tweeting again "off to grab a s*** fil-A sandwich on my way to worshipping Christ, supporting Aipac and war in Iran."

    Barr later apologized. For using the word "deserves".

  • Rosanne's running mate is Cindy Sheehan, a media darling in 2005 for her anti-Dubya delusional rantings, now somewhat less famous for more of the same. On the news of the demise of Osama:

    I am sorry, but if you believe the newest death of OBL, you're stupid. Just think to yourself--they paraded Saddam's dead sons around to prove they were dead--why do you suppose they hastily buried this version of OBL at sea? This lying, murderous Empire can only exist with your brainwashed consent--just put your flags away and THINK!

    I don't plan on watching the debates, but I'd watch Cindy Sheehan vs. Joe Biden on Univision's long-running series ¿Quién es más loco?


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:53 PM EST

Daemon

[Amazon Link] A fast-paced techno-thriller, and very impressive for a first novel. I've placed the author, Daniel Suarez, on my "gotta read more" list. Suarez is an ex-IT consultant and seems to know whereof he speaks.

The book opens with two unusual deaths. In one, a motorcyclist is gorily garrotted by a cable appearing suddenly in his path. In the second, a programmer is messily electrocuted when trying to enter a computer server room. It turns out that these are homicides, both victims employees of Cyberstorm, a computer game company. And (insert ominous music here) both crimes were carried out—over the Internet! And they are apparently the doing of Matthew Sobol, the recently deceased head of CyberStorm. Yes, recently deceased. Sobol lives on as the Daemon, an insidious program distributed worldwide via the company's popular games. (The term "daemon" refers to processes that most modern computer operating systems run behind the scenes to perform various useful tasks like printing, sending mail, access databases, etc.)

No spoilers here, but the Daemon has a pretty interesting goal, and doesn't really care who it has to kill, maim, or blackmail to accomplish it. (It never heard of Asimov's Laws of Robotics.) Through foul means, it recruits human allies. And the body count keeps going up. A small number of valiant good guys oppose the Daemon, but they always seem to be a couple steps behind.

Consumer note: there's a sequel. If you read this, you'll probably need to read the next one.

Quibble: Suarez's prose is kind of clanky in spots. A lot of hardware (weaponry, computer stuff, cars) is brand-named, which can get a little tedious. Just minor glitches in a very readable effort.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 9:56 AM EDT

David Brin's BS on Hayek

Hayeksplosives, from The Fight of the
Century I enjoy reading Wired; I subscribe to the dead-trees version, and read a lot of their online stuff. I came across this interview with well-known science fiction author David Brin entitled "Why David Brin Hates Yoda, Loves Radical Transparency." Catchy! So even though I've never managed to wade through a David Brin novel, I read on.

Apparently Brin fancies himself a social commentator as well. The "radical transparency" bit is a continuing theme from his 1999 book The Transparent Society. Which, unless my memory is very faulty, I have also not read. In any case, this caught my eye:

One of the gods of the right, Friedrich Hayek, founder of the Austrian School of Economics, who the conservatives claim to consider to be the greatest economist of all time, said that the absolute necessity of capitalism is for all the players to know all of what’s going on all the time, so they can make good capitalist decisions. Even a laborer in a factory, even a peasant, if that peasant knows everything that’s going on, then that peasant can make the best deal for the fish he just caught or the yam he just grew. The greatest hypocrisy on the planet right now is for those who defend capitalism to not be in favor of radical transparency, for all of us to know who owns everything. And that is my militant, radical, moderate, pro-capitalist, pro-Enlightenment, ferocious stand.

I found myself both irritated and confused. Irritated by the implied condescension—look at those silly conservative god-worshippers claiming things! But confused because… did Hayek ever say anything like that? Didn't he kinda believe something 180° opposite from what Brin claims?

Yes. Although I haven't read Brin, I have read a decent subset of Hayek, including one of his better-known essays, "The Use of Knowledge in Society", which (as luck would have it) is online here. Key quote:

The most significant fact about this [price] system is the economy of knowledge with which it operates, or how little the individual participants need to know in order to be able to take the right action.

Emphasis added. Was I missing something, though? Best kick it upstairs to an expert: I e-mailed Professor Don Boudreaux, on the George Mason University's Econ faculty and proprietor of the Cafe Hayek blog. Professor Boudreaux was game enough to reply to Brin on his own, with a more detailed refutation. (And he gratifyingly hat-tipped me; I feel brushed by greatness.)

For Hayek, market prices make economic order and growth possible despite each of us being ignorant of all but a minuscule fraction of the specific facts that must be taken account of for the economy to work well. The price system enables each person to act as if he possesses knowledge that, in fact, he does not possess – to act as if he knows what is known, in this case, only to a small number of strangers over here and, in that case, only to a small number of different strangers over there.

Interestingly, Brin responded to Professor Boudreaux in the post's comments. Lots of invective and bluster, but nothing to actually back up his claim about Hayek. Check for yourself if interested.

And one of the other commenters pointed out something I'd forgotten: David Friedman had a similar go-round with Brin last year; in that case, the economist that Brin claimed to understand better than "today's conservatives" was Adam Smith. Brin was (politely) asked to back up his claim, and, as here, failed to do so.

It's interesting—and a little encouraging—that Brin (apparently) finds it necessary to invoke conservative/libertarian icons to buttress his possibly-interesting ideas on economics, society, and politics. On the other hand, when that invocation is bullshit-laden as above, it makes it difficult to wash away the muck to see if there are any pearls of wisdom left over. Worth my time? Doubtful.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:01 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2012-08-07

  • Olympic Showjumping Best headline I read today: "Cameroonian athletes abscond during games".

    Really, we don't see that word "abscond" enough.

  • Also in the Olympic area, Dave Barry attended an equestrian event:

    The word “equestrian” comes from two Greek words: “eques,” meaning “horses,” and “trian,” meaning “being ridden by people with large inheritances and names like Edwina Ponce-Twickendale.” There was indeed a time when the only people who could participate in horse-related sports were wealthy members of the nobility. But times have changed; in the 21st century, equestrian sports, even at the Olympic level, are wide open to anybody, regardless of birth or background, who has billions of dollars.

    Dave has suggestions for bringing the sport into the 21st century, and, unsurprisingly, the word "lances" appears.

  • The Athletics Department of the University Near Here has a plan for fans of the football and men's hockey teams. Which they formally call "Enhanced Game-Day Experiences", but which I imagine they informally call "Let's Find Out How Much Cash We Can Get Out Of These Boobs".

    What football fans get is: close-by parking for five home games.

    What it costs: you need to buy a season ticket (around $100 for the good seats); and you need to kick in a cool $1000 to the "Wildcat Fund"; then you can buy the parking pass for an additional $125.

    A slightly different, much more expensive, deal applies for hockey.

  • If you have free will, but were confused by a well-known experiment that purported to show you didn't, click the following link: that experiment may have been misinterpreted.

    If (on the other hand) you lack free will, whether or not you click the link is not under your control, so there.

  • Mitt Romney apparently deemed President Obama's recent attacks as "Obamaloney".

    Meanwhile Pun Salad continues to be the only one referring to "Barackrobatics".

Public Enemies

[2.0 stars] Public Enemies (2009) on IMDb [Amazon]

The second part of our Johnny Depp weekend movie festival, in which he plays notorious criminal John Dillinger.

I won't bore you with the plot details: it's a moderately-fictionalized story of Dillinger's rise and demise. That's a fascinating story, and this movie put a lot of talent to work in telling it: directed and co-written by Michael Mann; Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd; Christian Bale as G-Man Melvin Purvis; Marion Cotillard as Dillinger's main squeeze, Billie Frechette; Giovanni Ribisi as Alvin Karpis; and many more. They took pains (according to IMDB) to film at some of the actual historical locations.

But… eh. Nobody seems very interested in what they're doing. Prevailing attitude: Let's just get this over with. Even a philistine like me noticed Michael Mann's visual flair in his previous movies (Heat, etc.); that doesn't show up here.

The movie shows a few scenes of the actual flick Dillinger attended at the Biograph Theatre on the last night of his life: Manhattan Melodrama, with Clark Gable, William Powell, and Myrna Loy. I kind of wished we'd rented that instead.

If you want to see a Dillinger movie, I suggest instead Dillinger from 1973. Warren Oates as the bad guy himself, up against Ben Johnson as Purvis. Michelle Phillips as Billie, Richard Dreyfus (!) as Baby Face, Cloris Leachman (!!) as the Lady in Red. Written and directed by John Milius. Free to stream if you're an Amazon Prime customer.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 9:57 AM EDT

The Rum Diary

[1.0 stars] The Rum Diary (2011) on IMDb [Amazon]

I have mentioned in the past that Mrs. Salad loooves her Johnny Depp. This weekend was a Depp double feature. Which worked out better for Mrs. Salad than I.

In this entry, Mr. Depp plays "Kemp", an alcoholic journalist who's wangled a job on a Puerto Rican newspaper in the 60s. Before long Kemp is involved with colorful characters: Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a rich corrupt plutocrat involved with the island's economic exploitation; Chenault (Amber Heard), Sanderson's fun-loving beautiful girlfriend; Moeburg (Giovanni Ribisi), a reporter even more devoted to substance abuse that Kemp; Lotterman (the great Richard Jenkins), the newspaper's craven editor; Sala (Michael Rispoli), Kemp's co-worker and roomie.

Everyone gets into various hijinks, mostly driven by the fact that just about every single character is an irredeemable asshat. Kemp develops a social conscience at some point, adding stridency to his other unpleasant qualities. Not my cup of tea.

It's based on a novel by Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson had a league of influential fans, who were barely discouraged by his suicide. Like Depp, who was instrumental in getting the novel published and this movie made. I never got the appeal.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 9:59 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2012-08-06

  • MSL /MRO Probably the coolest, most amazing picture of anything you'll see for awhile. Details (and a bigger version) here.

    It's a wonderful time to be alive. Congrats to JPL and NASA for their amazing feat.

  • On a related note, I will duplicate this Slashdot story in full:

    "NASA's livestream coverage of the Curiosity rover's landing on Mars was practically as flawless as the landing itself. But NASA couldn't prepare for everything. An hour or so after Curiosity's 1.31 a.m. EST landing in Gale Crater,the space agency's main YouTube channel had posted a 13-minute excerpt of the stream. Ten minutes later, the video was gone, replaced with the message: 'This video contains content from Scripps Local News, who has blocked it on copyright grounds. Sorry about that.' That is to say, a NASA-made video posted on NASA's official YouTube channel, documenting the landing of a $2.5 billion Mars rover mission paid for with public taxpayer money, was blocked by YouTube because of a copyright claim by a private news service."

    Really? Well, only for a few hours apparently. But still. Additional information is here.

  • Gale Crater, by the way, is not named for Dorothy Gale. It's named after Walter Frederick Gale, an Australian (amateur) astronomer and (professional) banker. The crater has a central peak officially named Aeolis Mons, which pokes up above the crater's southern rim. How did that happen? Maybe we'll find out.

  • And you can always find a NASA apparatchik to make a tin-eared comment about a wondrous event.

    NASA spokesman Guy Webster said the rover, named Curiosity, is currently supporting about 700 people, but has supported 7,000 jobs at various times over the last eight years. The Curiosity project and its $2.5 billion budget has generated jobs not just at NASA but at companies ranging from Lockheed Martin to a bicycle manufacturer in Chattanooga, Tenn.

    Non rocket scientists like you and I (and Greg Pollowitz) can do that math: $357K per job "supported".

    It's not about the jobs. As Rand Simberg tirelessly points out: Space isn't (or shouldn't be) a jobs program.

  • Matt Labash discourses on the Chick-fil-A controversy:

    My natural inclination is to encourage the boycott. Not because of my political views, but because I figure it will help me get through the drive-thru faster. Though it’s a tough call. For the controversy centers around three things I hold sacred: marriage, all God’s children (both straight and gay), and Chick-fil-A’s rapturous spicy-chicken sandwich. Not necessarily in that order. Because when you make that last a combo platter, with waffle fries and coleslaw, it’s no longer a contest.

    The nearest Chick-fil-A to us is all the way down in Nashua. Sigh.

The Phony Campaign

2012-08-05 Update

[phony baloney]

With about as much dynamism as the US Unemployment Rate, President Obama continues to maintain a nearly 20-to-1 phony margin over his nearest competitor, Mitt Romney.

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-07-29
"Barack Obama" phony 23,300,000 +500,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,170,000 -20,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 498,000 +36,000

It seemed like only yesterday that everyone thought that Mitt would win the phony poll in a cakewalk. He must be wondering what he's doing wrong.

  • A phony conspiracy theory about a phony assassination attempt is a twofer for us:

    A Republican member of the Tennessee state legislature emailed constituents Tuesday morning with a rumor circulating in conservative circles that President Barack Obama is planning to stage a fake assassination attempt in an effort to stop the 2012 election from happening.

    Brian Ross and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News have already identified the fake assassin as a Tea Partier.

    [There's nothing new under the sun. Here's a 2004 prediction that Dubya would call off that year's election using a terrorist attack as pretext. And you can still find references to nefarious schemes to avoid the 1972 election. (One version masterminded by Richard Nixon, the other involving his actual assassination, so go figure.)]

  • Ex-cokehead Aaron Sorkin has an HBO show about a fake TV newsroom; it's a safe bet that nothing will be broadcast thereon that might disturb the sensibilities of 21st-century American progressives. Many of the show's fictional characters now have fake Twitter accounts. The people behind them are embellish the typical wise and tolerant liberal mindset.

    The man behind @DrunkWillMcAvoy, which has more than 500 followers, said he enjoys being able to use the mask of his account to disseminate controversial opinions without drawing ire to himself.

    "When I say that I want to round up the GOPers spreading misinformation about climate change or healthcare and drown them like cats in a bag people seem to forgive me of my lust for violence," he said in an email. "Whereas in real life I try to maintain a moderate viewpoint on most things."

    Got violent fantasies about murdering your political opponents? If you're a liberal, that's a "controversial opinion".

  • Over at HuffPo, Jim Kuhnhenn notes that Obama is kinda sorta hoping that Gary Johnson, and another less-known candidate, Virgil Goode, might siphon enough votes away from Mitt Romney to swing some marginal states in a Blue direction.

    Still, in a national contest like this year's where Obama holds slight leads or is running virtually even with Romney in key battleground states, even a sliver of the vote in a crucial state could determine the outcome. Obama's team has scenarios whereby Obama can win states like Virginia and Colorado with less than 50 percent vote with an assist from Goode and Johnson, respectively.

    We've talked about Gary Johnson occasionally, but I have to admit that Virgil Goode is a new name to me. Here is his website.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:53 PM EST