[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


[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


[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
"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 EDT