The Phony Campaign

2012-09-30 Update

[phony baloney]

… and this week, President Obama widened his already hefty phony lead over Mitt Romney and Gary Johnson. It will take some pretty major phoniness in the next 37 days if Mitt wants to close that gap!

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Barack Obama" phony 6,470,000 +220,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,620,000 -100,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 516,000 +43,000

And we turn to the past week's phony news:

  • Over in Iran, the VOA reports: "Iran's semi-official Fars news service Friday published a story on its website titled 'Gallup Poll: Rural Whites Prefer Ahmadinejad to Obama.'

    The poll was reported in America's Finest News Source:

    CHARLESTON, WV--According to the results of a Gallup poll released Monday, the overwhelming majority of rural white Americans said they would rather vote for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than U.S. president Barack Obama. "I like him better," said West Virginia resident Dale Swiderski, who, along with 77 percent of rural Caucasian voters, confirmed he would much rather go to a baseball game or have a beer with Ahmadinejad, a man who has repeatedly denied the Holocaust and has had numerous political prisoners executed, than spend time with Obama. "He takes national defense seriously, and he'd never let some gay protesters tell him how to run his country like Obama does." According to the same Gallup poll, 60 percent of rural whites said they at least respected that Ahmadinejad doesn't try to hide the fact that he's Muslim.

    Yes, it's the Onion. Wonder what happened to the Fars news staff who were duped into taking the story at face value? Demoted? Imprisoned? Hired at the New York Times?

  • A Huffington Post blogger notes that both Obama and Romney are pounding the protectionist drums about Red China, and how that fails to match up well with their previous actions.

    So... which of them is lying?

    Possibly, both are, as it's no secret that working class votes are up for grabs in key states like Ohio, which are trade sensitive. They may both be posturing at trying to help people who are only of interest to Washington every four years.

    The quoted blogger is (apparently) a die-hard anti-free trader, but his point is nonetheless valid: neither candidate is brave enough to embrace free trade, one of those rare issues where economists like Paul Krugman and Greg Mankiw largely agree: it makes countries more prosperous.

    If I had to guess, I'd say: Romney almost certainly knows better. Obama probably knows better, but admitting it would really piss off union leaders, so it won't happen.

  • Speaking of Ohio: J.D. Tuccille reports on a recent Ohio poll that showed Obama slightly ahead of Romney, 45.2% to 44.3%.

    But then adding Gary Johnson to the question, the numbers go to: Obama 44.5%, Romney 37.8%, Johnson 10.6%. Uh oh, Mitt.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:59 PM EST

Fantastic Voyage

[Amazon Link] A few years back I decided to work through Isaac Asimov's science fiction novels, mostly last read when I was a youngster. I initially said: OK, but not Fantastic Voyage. It's not part of his Foundation series; there are no robots. And it's based on a movie screenplay, so technically it's somewhat less of an "authentic" Asimov novel.

But, as it turned out, I owned the paperback. I didn't remember buying it, but there it was on the shelf. So, why not?

It's a cold-war story: Benes, a scientist defecting from Their Side to Our Side (this is actually how Asimov refers to them), is critically brain-injured during Their one last attempt to assassinate him. A small clot is blocking a critical pathway in his brain, too deep for normal surgery. But without getting rid of the clot, Benes is a goner, as is the vital information his brain carries.

Fortunately, Benes's work involves the new technology of ultra-miniaturization. Which allows a small submarine, the Proteus, and its crew of five to be shrunk down to the size of a cell, injected into Benes, where a very small surgeon will dissolve the clot with his tiny laser. The time limit for the procedure is one hour; longer than that, and the sub will enlarge to its normal size automatically, killing Benes (and probably the crew) anyway.

But the Proteus is beset by bad luck; only minutes after they're injected into a brain-bound artery, they're set off course by a fistula, sending them the wrong way down the jugular vein toward the heart. Various technical mishaps also threaten the mission. Could there be a traitor amongst them? (Spoiler: yep.)

It's all pretty silly, but Asimov did a pretty good job of papering over the totally implausible scenario with an impressive display of scientific mumbo-jumbo.

I first read this as a fifteen-year-old kid in the old Saturday Evening Post, to which my parents subscribed. I watched the movie multiple times. (It was nominated for a Hugo Award, but lost out to a very good Star Trek episode.) So while this was not great literature, reading it brought on a pleasant nostalgia attack.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

We have no actual evidence for the claim made in the title, obviously, other than Jiro's word in the matter.

Jiro Ono runs a small 10-seat sushi restaurant in the basement of a Tokyo office building. It costs about 30,000 yen or (Google says at today's exchange rate) $384 to sit down at the counter. Don't even think of just popping in; you need to book your seat months in advance. No menu; you just eat whatever the chef drops in front of you. Jiro is widely thought to be the best sushi chef in world, and perhaps number one in this arm of the galaxy.

So this movie takes a look at Jiro, a tiny 85-year-old man who's been making sushi since he was nine. He has two sons, Yoshikazu and Takashi, and the movie interviews them too. And Jiro is followed on the bullet train as he goes to his high school reunion.

On the plus side: Jiro is an upstanding, occasionally funny, guy. He's (obviously) dedicated to his craft, and the movie shows that dedication well.

However: that doesn't mean you'll find it interesting. How many times can you watch a very sharp knife slice a tuna steak just right to produce a beautiful little fishy masterpiece? The filmmakers think you want to see it a lot. I felt like I was stuck in a very special, very long, very repetitive, episode of Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. (But that's me: critics and IMDB raters think this movie's pretty good, and Mrs. Salad demanded to go to our local Japanese restaurant the next evening.)

Consumer note: Amazon Prime members can watch this for free, and it's Netflix-streamable.

URLs du Jour


  • LIberty is Hope 2 color David Kirby at Cato has an interesting analysis of how small-l libertarians voted in past elections, and how they're polling for this one.

    Among these likely libertarian voters, the presidential horserace currently stands:

    Romney 77%
    Obama 20%
    Other 3%

    Romney’s share of the libertarian vote represents a high water mark for Republican presidential candidates in recent elections.

    In addition, adding Gary Johnson into the polling mix takes away about equal percentages from Romney and Obama, turning a 77/20 split for Romney into 70/13.

  • Speaking of Gary Johnson...

    For some reason lost in the mists of history, I have a subscription to the Atlantic. It's mostly painful, but occasionally interesting. The latest issue contains a small profile of Gary Johnson. "Key" (heh) quote, describing a D.C. campaign stop:

    A Malian woman in an embroidered purple gown and headdress talked to Johnson about her country’s troubles, then asked to take a picture with him. Johnson, who is a better listener than the average politician, heard them all out, while his volunteers circulated petitions and distributed packets of rolling papers bearing his likeness. A stout blond blogger-activist in a bright-blue dress and pearls said Johnson could raise his profile through civil disobedience. “Get arrested,” she told him firmly. “Ralph’s mistake”—she was referring to Ralph Nader’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns for president—“was he didn’t get arrested.”

    Johnson chuckled, putting one hand on his hip and scratching his head with the other. “I’ll bet if I took off my clothes right now and ran around the circle, I could get arrested,” he said, “but I don’t think it would do me much good.”

    The rolling papers bit caught my eye. (They are pictured in a funny post here.) I didn't notice them at his recent UNH appearance but I could have missed it; I tend to walk fast and not make eye contact in political situations.

    The Atlantic article, by the way, is illustrated with an unrecognizable caricature of Johnson running nude through a field of (I'm pretty sure) marijuana. <sarcasm>Clever!</sarcasm>

  • But speaking of the Atlantic: Yesterday, James Taranto put his finger on why the magazine can often be a tedious slog for anyone with a Y chromosome (last item, "Plenty of Fish in the Atlantic"):

    Every issue of the venerable magazine seems to feature a disquisition on distaff difficulties by someone like Hanna Rosin or Kate Bolick or Anne-Marie Slaughter. (Rosin, it should be said, affects a chipper enthusiasm about it all.)

    Then follows a short, funny, takedown of a recent article from Sandra Tsing Loh. Taranto concludes:

    Perhaps these Atlantic pieces are assigned and written with only women in mind, and this columnist is the only heterosexual man who finds them interesting enough to read all the way through. Another possibility is that the magazine's actual editorial mission is to disabuse bachelors of any notion that it might be nice to be married.

The Enemy

[Amazon Link] Number Eight in Lee Child's series of novels featuring Jack Reacher, and it's a bit of a departure. Set in 1990, Reacher is still an MP in the Army. The Berlin Wall has fallen. Reacher has been recalled from Panama, where Noriega's still at large, to an Army base in North Carolina.

He's only been there a few days when a General, supposedly en route from Germany to California, turns up dead in a sleazy motel adjacent to a strip club. Evidence points to a clandestine assignation. He's not the victim of foul play, but … his briefcase is inexplicably gone missing. As Reacher struggles with trying to clear up this one niggling detail, other bodies are discovered, ones that definitely are homicide victims.

Lots of globetrotting, from Germany and France to the California desert. A twisty plot reveals a vast conspiracy, with heavy emphasis on Reacher's dogged detective skills. His battles are not only with the bad guys, but also an Army bureaucracy that seems to want to cover up embarrassing details.

Since it's sent in "the past", we get to meet folks that are deceased in the "present": Reacher's brother, Reacher's mom (!), and Reacher's mentor, General Garber.

Can Tom Cruise play Reacher convincingly on the big screen? I have my doubts; I keep seeing Kiefer Sutherland instead.

Last Modified 2012-11-11 8:49 AM EST

URLs du Jour


  • [Cathy] Pun Salad's official, but unaware (and uncompensated) mascot, Cathy Poulin, was recently spotted presenting a Really Big Check to the Leominster (MA) St. Anna School in support of its arts program. Good for her, and her employer, Bob's Discount Furniture.

  • Tom Palmer provides a wicked review of What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel.

    Michael Sandel knows something about money. After all, the Harvard political philosopher exchanges his ideas for money—a lot of money, in fact. Now Sandel has written a book (available for $27) about what things should not be for sale.

    Consumer note: the list price is $27, but (as I type) Amazon has the hardcover for $16.43, Kindle edition for $12.99, and the (not yet available) paperback for $10.20.

    Anyway Palmer does an impressive takedown of Sandel's (seemingly) foolish book. Surely a Harvard professor wouldn't have output something this silly, right? I might check it out, just to see.

  • In case you haven't noticed, and why would you, Pun Salad has entered the brave new world of HTML5 /CSS level 3 compliance. (No fancy-shmancy cutting edge stuff, just compliance.)

    Why? Because I'm anal. But the W3C folks have a lengthier answer.

    I'm in the process of editing past entries to bring them up to speed, but it will take a while. It is mostly a mechanical process of translating deprecated tags and attributes, figuring out CSS equivalents, and so on. It shouldn't be a problem unless you're in the habit of plowing through my old stuff, and probably not even then.

    Still, the links to the validator are down at the bottom of the right column; clicking them should check the compliance of the page at which you're looking. (I can't imagine why you would do that, but …)

Cabin in the Woods

[3.5 stars] The Cabin in the Woods (2011) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

This was co-written and produced by Joss Whedon. If you're geeky enough to know the name, it's a good bet you've probably already seen this. But if not: it's a smart, frequently funny, takeoff on "this sort of movie". (Hereafter: TSOM.)

Because it starts out just like TSOM, except with tongue firmly in cheek: five young adults set out for a weekend of fun at the titular Cabin. And they are exactly the stereotypical group that winds up being terrorized, gore-spattered, and mostly killed in TSOM. Which is entirely the point.

In seemingly unrelated scenes, technical personnel are shown working in some underground lair on some mysterious project. The two main technicians are played Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, and they're big enough stars to tell the attentive fan that they must be doing something importantly plot-relevant! But what is it, and how does it relate to our five protagonists?

Do you ever wonder why the characters in TSOM act so stupid just before they get done in? It turns out there are perfectly good explanations for that.

No spoilers here, but what the MPAA refers to as "strong bloody horror violence and gore" is soon to commence. If you're a bigger fan of TSOM than I, you will almost certainly love it more and get more of the in-jokes.

Favorite quote: "Good work, zombie arm!"

Last Modified 2012-09-23 11:03 AM EST


[3.5 stars] Unknown (2011) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

This 2011 Liam Neeson flick worked its way to the top of the Netflix queue. It's a twisty tale of lost identity.

Liam plays Martin Harris, a doctor arriving in Berlin for a conference. He's accompanied by his lovely wife, Elizabeth. (Who's played by January Jones from Mad Men.) But—darn it!—Martin's misplaced his briefcase back at the airport. Without a word to Elizabeth, he's back in a cab, headed back to the airport to retrieve it. But there's a horrific accident, and Martin goes into a coma for days.

He expects to have his concerned wife at his bedside when he awakens. But she's not. He goes back to the hotel where they were staying, only to find that Elizabeth seemingly doesn't know him from Adam, and there's a new guy with her claiming to be Martin Harris. Whoa, what's going on?

Martin's pretty upset. He's also surprised when people start trying to kill him. (As moviewatchers, we are not surprised: that sort of thing happens in every movie like this.)

All is explained by the end, of course. Little clues are scattered throughout; I confess that I only figured them out in retrospect, and was as surprised at the Surprising Plot Twist as the filmmakers intended me to be. (I think it would have been even better to have opened the movie with Martin coming out of the coma, telling the previous events in flashback as necessary.)

The Phony Campaign

2012-09-23 Update

[phony baloney]

A slight narrowing of Obama's phony lead over Romney and Johnson, but it's still pretty dominating:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Barack Obama" phony 6,250,000 -90,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,720,000 +130,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 473,000 +26,000

And now, the news behind the phoniness:

  • Two Obama fans took the President's advocacy of "redistribution" a little too seriously and decided to do some freelance redistribution on their own.

    Bail was set at $100,000 and $75,000 today for two men charged with depositing two checks stolen from President Barack Obama's campaign headquarters into bank accounts they fraudulently opened.


    The checks were made out to legitimate businesses, but the suspects deposited them in phony accounts they had set up under the names of those companies, authorities said.

    Obama could have told them: That sort of expropriation is only legal if you're a government official.

  • A small kerfuffle erupted on the left in response to Mitt Romney's interview with Univision.

    Mitt Romney dyed his face brown for his Univision interview.

    … accompanied by pictures that (under different lighting conditions) show Romney looking paler.

    But crack investigators at ABC News/Univision found there was nothing to it, via an interview with the makeup artist Lazz Rodriguez:

    "When he walked in, I remember thinking, 'Wow this is tanner than I thought he was,' but I think he's just been outside a lot lately for his campaign," Rodriguez noted. "It was definitely a real tan."

    I see a new campaign slogan: "Mitt Romney: less phony than he sometimes appears to be."

  • Mark Steyn noted the phoniness of the Obama Administration's desperate spinning of the horrors in Libya. Please Read The Whole Thing™, but here's a small excerpt:

    … after a week and a half of peddling an utterly false narrative of what happened in Libya, the United States government is apparently beginning to discern that there are limits to what even Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Susan Rice can say with a straight face. The official line -- that the slaughter of American officials was some sort of improvised movie review that got a little out of hand -- is now in the process of modification to something bearing a less patently absurd relationship to what actually happened. That should not make any more forgivable the grotesque damage that the administration has done to the bedrock principle of civilized society: freedom of speech.

    Any chance some Obama fans might notice that the Administration that once promised to be "reality based" is dealing increasingly in fantasy and lies? Probably not.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:59 PM EST

John Carter

[2.0 stars] John Carter (2012) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

I really, really wanted to like this movie. Netflix thought I would. But instead, I have to agree with the folks that made John Carter a huge box-office disappointment: it's not fun or interesting to watch.

What makes it even more painful is the director and co-writer is Andrew Stanton, who did so much wonderful stuff at Pixar (Director of Wall·E, Finding Nemo, and A Bug's Life; writer on Toy Story [123], Wall·E, Finding Nemo, A Bug's Life, and Monsters, Inc..) They clearly spent a pile of money on the spectacular special effects. How could things have gone so wrong?

You know what William Goldman said about Hollywod: Nobody knows anything. Meaning: if someone had the knack of churning out cinematic hits, deftly avoiding the duds, we'd know. But instead… nobody knows anything.

Anyway: John Carter is an ex-Confederate soldier, trying to make a living looking for gold in the Arizona territory. A series of mishaps cause him to take refuge in a cave; a strange being appears, and in the resulting kerfuffle, Carter is teleported off to Barsoom, what we humans call Mars.

Once there, the low gravity and Carter's Terran physiology make him into sort of a superhero. Literally able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Which is fortunate, because Barsoom is wracked with civil war between the various tribes, both human-like and not. As it turns out, hostilities are egged on by the Therns, the race to which the strange being in the paragraph above belonged.

That doesn't sound so bad! And there's a lot of good stuff: a so-ugly-he's-cute Martian doggie, some gags, and scenes and ideas that many past SF movies stole erm, borrowed from the original Edgar Rice Burroughs yarns. (Looking mostly at you, Star Wars.)

But, bottom line, I wasn't hooked. Dozed off briefly during the 53d epic battle. Andrew Stanton might be a movie genius, but he can't choreograph a good fight scene.

Gary Johnson @ UNH

Don't blame me, Libertarians never

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson came to the University Near Here yesterday, speaking in the large Granite State Room of the Memorial Union Building. I popped over to check him out.

Johnson's appearance was sponsored by the student group NORML/Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (I was tempted to refer to them as "the local pothead group", but… well, I guess I did anyway.) The attendance was not large, maybe slightly over 100 souls.

Not being fascists, the organizers of the event did not make the event run on time. But while we were waiting, we were treated to a YouTube medley of Gary Johnson ads. Very slick, although they all seemed to share the same driving-rock musical theme, which got a little tedious. But a welcome relief from the unavoidable Democrat/Republican ads on regular TV. Bonus for Granite Staters: apparently the campaign's official motto is the first half of New Hampshire's: "Live Free".

Before Johnson stepped up, a host of Libertarian Party candidates (and some sympathizers) spoke. The afternoon master of ceremonies was Hardy Macia, the LP candidate running against Charlie Bass and Ann McLane Kuster for New Hampshire's 2nd Congressional District seat. Giving short speeches were the NH01 LP candidate Brendan Kelly (running against incumbent Frank Guinta and ex-incumbent, Carol Shea-Porter) and perennial candidate for NH Governor, John Babiarz (running against Ovide Lamontagne and Maggie Hassan).

Giving a somewhat longer speech was Seth Cohn, a current NH state rep (from Merrimack 6). Seth is a Republican, and proud owner of an "A" grade on the NH Liberty Alliance's Liberty Rating system for 2012. An actual voice for liberty in office! Unfortunately, he's not running again. But he gave an excellent speech.

And then, finally, Gary Johnson. He was very animated, very professional. Probably (however) has the worst haircut among the candidates. He was garbed in a sportscoat over a t-shirt with a peace symbol thereon. (This worked for Johnson, but I couldn't help but wonder how it might look on either Romney or Obama.)

He elaborated his experience in running for, winning, and being re-elected to, the New Mexico governorship. He made a convincing case that hard-nosed vetoes of profligate spending, coupled with a sharp eye against executive-branch overreach, can work, and actually did work in New Mexico.

As you might have heard, drug policy is a biggie for Johnson. Specifically, marijuana; he wants to end Federal efforts in this area, and encourage states to legalize and regulate. Works for me! (During the Q&A session, a principled libertarian asked him: why not other drugs? Johnson gave the reassuring, if not particularly principled, answer: once pot is legal and society is not destroyed, that will make it easier to move toward sensible policy for all drugs.)

As might be expected from a college crowd, the drug stuff was popular. As was his pledge to (essentially) go to a Ron Paul-style foreign policy (withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, make nice-nice with Iran) and ACLU-style anti-terrorism policy (repeal Patriot Act and NDAA).

The crowd (on the other hand) did not applaud wildly for his tax policy (the only Federal tax should be a consumption ("Fair") tax set at about 23%), and immediate budget balance. (Yes, immediate.) He promised to slash (his word) Medicare and Medicaid—brutally honest! Oh, yes: he's also a Ron-Paulite on the Federal Reserve Bank: it should be ended, and private entities should be able to issue competing currencies. Rad! But not something to make your typical college student stand up and cheer.

And there was the usual whinging about not getting into the debates. (Both now, and back when he was a candidate for the GOP nomination.)

I went in torn about whether to vote for Romney or Johnson in November; I came out—leaning more toward Romney, sorry Gary. I was not impressed with blame-America-first foreign policy when it was explicated by Ron Paul, and it doesn't get any more plausible coming from Gary Johnson. While I'm no fan of the Patriot Act/NDAA generally, I'd prefer to not blindly hobble anti-terrorism efforts.

(It should tell you something that Obama was making these ACLUite noises before he actually became President. Once in, and privy to all the information about terrorist activity around the world, he essentially said: yeah, maybe we should keep doing this stuff, even if it pisses off the ACLU.)

But if I were voting on personality, I'd almost certainly go for Johnson. Mitt's so phony it's a joke; Gary's the real deal.

Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:40 AM EST

Get the Gringo

[3.0 stars] Get the Gringo (2012) on IMDb [Amazon Img]

Mel Gibson's latest movie went more or less directly to DVD in the USA. That's what happens, I guess, when you self-destruct on booze and bigotry. Still, it's a pretty decent movie. Mel also wrote the screenplay.

Mel plays career criminal "Driver", and as the movie opens, he's fresh off a robbery with piles of cash and a gutshot partner coughing up blood. He's also being hotly pursued near the US-Mexican border by cops. Out of options, he aims his vehicle at the border barrier, crashing through it into Mexico.

Before you can say "seemed like a good idea at the time", corrupt cops have grabbed the loot, and sent Driver off to "El Pueblito", a prison where inmates' families are allowed to live. It's an otherwise nasty place where life is ultracheap, corruption rampant, and sanitation an unknown concept. As Driver muses in a voiceover: "Is this a prison, or the world's shittiest mall?"

Driver's initial goals are simple: survival, retrieval of "his" money, and escape. But he gets involved with a "special" kid and his mother; the reason the kid is "special" turns out to be an important plot point; it turns out that the guys who actually run the prison are pretty high up on the evil scale. Driver must manipulate a complex web of criminal factions in order to prevail.

It's rated a very solid R for (according to the MPAA) "strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some drug use and sexual material." If anything, that's an understatement. I would have also added "and ubiquitous filth", but I guess the MPAA doesn't consider literal cleanliess in its ratings.

Last Modified 2012-09-18 3:41 PM EST

The Phony Campaign

2012-09-16 Update

[phony baloney]

All candidates received modest phony bumps this week, not enough to cause significant changes:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Barack Obama" phony 6,340,000 +70,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,590,000 +20,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 447,000 +7,000

And although there was plenty of phoniness this week, very little of it lends itself to the usual Pun Salad detached snark. Today, Pun Salad is more than a little pissed off.

  • As is Glenn Reynolds. An uncharacteristically lengthy post titled "Why Barack Obama Should Resign". He's right. Really: read the whole thing, if you haven't done so already.

  • Let's see if I have this right: we've been living under nearly four years of a delusional foreign policy based on stabbing our friends in the back, and appeasing our implacable foes. We're rewarded with murderous violence and dead Americans. Instead of taking responsibility, the Administration (as Glenn notes) is demonstrating contempt for our Constitutional values. But the real story is something about Mitt Romney's timing.

  • Let me dredge up a six-year-old quote from Bruce Schneier:

    The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn't make us any safer.

    Schneier is a liberal, and wrote this back in the days of Dubya; it will be interesting if he can manage to recognize that things have not gotten better under Obama. Obama has utterly failed his "refuse to be terrorized" test.

  • And the delusion continues, with (for example) Presidential press secretary Jay Carney, saying, hey, it's nothing we did.

    We also need to understand that this is a fairly volatile situation and it is in response not to United States policy, and not to, obviously, the administration, or the American people, but it is in response to a video, a film that we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting. That in no way justifies any violent reaction to it, but this is not a case of protests directed at the United States writ large or at U.S. policy, this is in response to a video that is offensive to Muslims.

    It's hard to say which is worse: whether Carney believes this nonsense, or if he doesn't.

    At the link, Victor Davis Hanson comments:

    Apparently no one in charge seems to grasp that this latest video pretext is simply yet another tool, in a long line of many, for premodern Islamists to manipulate and galvanize their fury against the United States, whose success and power obsess them no end -- no matter what we do or who happens to be in the White House, soaring Cairo speech and "leading from behind" or not.

    But for the mainstream media, the real story is about what Mitt said.

  • Your tax dollars at work: California has hired a PR firm, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, (with Federal money) to promote its Obamacare "exchange". And …

    Plans are being discussed to pitch a reality television show about "the trials and tribulations of families living without medical coverage," according to the Ogilvy plan. The exchange will also seek to have prime-time television shows, like "Modern Family," "Grey's Anatomy" and Univision telenovelas, weave the health care law into their plots.

    I'd call these folks whores, but whores are more honest, and aren't dependent on taxpayer funds.

  • Tim Carney took one last look at the phoniness of the Democratic Platform. Everyone was amused at the phoniness of the now-you-see-em-now-you-don't "God" and "Jerusalem" shenanigans. But, as Carney notes, other changes went mostly unnoticed:

    Four years ago, Obama ran on a platform declaring, "We support constitutional protections and judicial oversight on any surveillance program involving Americans." That platform added, "We reject illegal wire-tapping of American citizens."

    To borrow Biden's phrasing, those platform planks are dead, and illegal wire-tapping of Americans is alive.

    Citing one of President George W. Bush's more egregious blows to the Constitution, the 2008 platform stated, "We reject sweeping claims of 'inherent' presidential power." The new platform scraps that plank and proposes no limits on presidential power. The only mentions of executive power are positive.

    "We will revisit the Patriot Act," the 2008 platform promised, "and overturn unconstitutional executive decisions issued during the past eight years."

    In May 2011, Obama signed a bill reauthorizing the Patriot Act complete with the provisions that most disturbed civil libertarians, including roving wiretaps and surveillance of people with no known ties to terrorist organizations. The 2012 platform omitted any mention of the law.

    Democrats even stripped innocuous promises from the platform, such as "We will respect the time-honored tradition of habeas corpus."

    Who were more phony: the Democrats of 2008, who pretended to care about these things? Or Democrats of 2012, who pretend that that such things never existed? Or the mainstream media, who don't find such elisions worthy of comment? In any case, Orwell's memory hole is functioning well.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:59 PM EST

Wild Target

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This 2010 movie worked its way to the top of the Netflix queue. Not bad: a screwball comedy set in the world of professional killing. You kind of have to turn off your moral sense to enjoy it.

The hero here is Victor Maynard, played by Bill Nighy. Victor is well-known inside the community as the best in the business, but he's actually just continuing the family trade with colorless, dispassionate efficiency. His mother, put away in an old-folks' home, approves of his profession, but why hasn't he gotten married? It's obvious to anyone who's watched over fifteen minutes of Dr. Phil: Victor is emotionally shut down.

But all that changes! Of course. It's brought on by Rose, a small-time free spirit, thief, and con artist. We like her too, because she's played by Emily Blunt, full of charm, good looks, and wit. She has hatched a big score, duping a customer into thinking he's buying a stolen Rembrandt; instead, Rose sticks him with a well-done forgery. Unfortunately for Rose, the trick is quickly discovered. Worse still, the customer is not the kind of guy to go to the cops; instead he calls up Victor to terminate Rose with extreme prejudice.

Which is initially OK with Victor, but a series of missed/bungled opportunities puts him into too-close familiarity with Rose, and he—literally—finds he can't pull the trigger. This puts a target on the back of both Rose and Victor. What will happen? I bet you can guess. But it's fun watching.

Rupert Grint, yes Ron Weasley himself, plays Tony, a stoner to whom Rose and Victor get attached in their travels. Also notable is Martin Freeman (who played Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock in the great BBC series) as the "bad" hitman who's hired to eliminate the good guys.

Last Modified 2019-01-01 7:31 AM EST

Some Remarks

[Amazon Link] Here's a wonderful quote from a Freeman essay by Don Boudreaux:

I need not lament that I, personally, have no creative, productive ideas. I have the great good fortune to live in a society that encourages truly creative people to share the fruits of their creativity with me. My blessings are literally too great to count.

Don perfectly encapsulates the feeling I get whenever I read the works of Neal Stephenson. This recent book brings together some of his shorter stuff: essays, articles, some fiction, interviews, and a book forward. As a plus, I read the Kindle version, itself a bonus miracle blessing. (Also: significantly cheaper than the hardcover.)

Over a third of the book is Stephenson's 1996 Wired article "Mother Earth Mother Board", where he, as a self-described "hacker tourist" travels the world (Malaysia, Thailand, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Japan, Egypt, …), examining transoceanic cables. It's a wondrous blend of science, technology, history, economics, nitty-gritty construction, all tied together by Stephenson's sharp observations and keen wit. How did he not win a Pulitzer for this?

Generally speaking: maybe there needs to be a special Pulitzer category: "Excellence in Doing That Kind of Thing Neal Stephenson Does". And Stephenson would win it every year in which at least one of his things was published.

Also notable is Stephenson's introduction to Everything and More, David Foster Wallace's discussion of the mathematical concept of infinity, aimed at general readers. Stephenson reflects on his and Wallace's common upbringing as faculty kids a Midwestern American College Town (which he conveniently abbreviates: MACT). As an ex-Midwesterner (but not a college-affiliated one), and a fan of Wallace, it was insightful and moving.

But it's all good. I encourage you to check it out.

Last Modified 2012-09-18 3:44 PM EST


[4.0 stars] Prometheus (2012) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

A small pat on the back for the University Near Here: they've taken over the niche once filled by dinky private-sector theatres driven out of business by the big chains: they show second-run movies, often just before they're about to come out on DVD. If you're within a reasonable distance of Durham, New Hampshire: the upcoming showings are here. Prices, even for non-students, are reasonable. Parking… well, that can be a challenge. E-mail me if you need advice.

So that's how I saw Prometheus in (woo!) 3-D, finally, after missing it in the theatres.

Produced and directed by Ridley Scott, who directed Alien back in 1979. It's a sorta-prequel; you might want to re-watch Alien to refresh your memory before you watch this.

(I say "re-watch Alien", because if you haven't seen Alien, my guess is that you're not the sort of person who would want to watch Prometheus.)

Anyway: a trippy opening scene shows a primeval lifeless Earth being visited by a flying saucer; a humanoid being disembarks, imbibes a burbling substance, and immediately disintegrates into the surrounding environment, his bodily fluids setting things up to produce… well, us.

And then we jump from the distant past to the (comparatively) near future, where star travel has become possible. A team of archaeologists discover ancient clues pointing to humanity's origins in an obscure star system many light-years away; one of the moons there just might be able to support LifeAsWeKnowIt!

So a fantastically expensive expedition to the system is mounted, bankrolled by the mysterious Weyland Industries. (They even have their own website.) Two of the archaeologists, Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are onboard. There's an android, David (Michael Fassbender), to take care of the crew in hibernation. An ice-princess representative of Weyland, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). Piloting duties are handled by Captain Janek (Idris Elba). And there's an assortment of scientists and grunts, who, for purposes of this movie, might as well have been given red shirts with "Purina Alien Chow" stenciled on the back.

Although Shaw hopes to find Answers to Big Questions, like "How was humanity created?", she and the rest of the crew rapidly turn to more mundane questions, like "How do I kill this thing?" and "How do I get off this planet alive?"

It's a cliché to say a movie's visual effects are stunning. But—holy cow—the visual effects are really stunning. You'll believe a big-ass spaceship landed on a strange world, and is immediately dwarfed by the landscape and alien artifacts. It's very impressive. And, once the violence begins, perpetrated by all sorts of hostile beasties, you'll believe that too. I found myself averting my eyes at one particularly nasty 3-D bit.

Last Modified 2012-09-18 3:45 PM EST

The Brothers Karamazov

[Amazon Link] Every so often I get the feeling that I'm overindulging on literary junk food, that I really should eat some bookish vegetables. I was inspired by this post, where Steven Landsburg details his impressive 2011 summer reading. Among his conquests was The Brothers Karamazov, which he deems "Arguably the greatest novel ever." Landsburg was merely echoed Freud, who opined that TBK was "the most magnificent novel ever written". OK, fine, I can try that. I checked out the Peavar/Volokhonsky translation, deemed to be pretty good, from The University Near Here's Dimond Library. Their translation had a somewhat Biblical cadence; I almost felt like it should have book/chapter/verse numbering.

It was tough going, although I finished in time to get the book back to the library without incurring an overdue fine.

It's the epic tale of the Karamazov family, headed by the father, Fyodor, who is, by all accounts, a very bad guy. Abusive toward his (two) wives, neglectful toward his (three) sons, and just kind of an all-around jerk. He's probably also fathered an illegitimate child via a disabled girl who died in childbirth.

The legitimate brothers are Alexei, Ivan, and Dmitri. Dmitri, the oldest, is a hothead and a wastrel, perpetually enraged in the (accurate) belief that Fyodor is withholding the inheritance he's due from his long-dead mother. The middle kid, Ivan, is (seemingly) the smooth intellectual; he's written a famous essay advocating for a theocratic Russia, while he himself rejects God. Astonishingly, Alexei seems to be a genuinely good person; at the start of the book, he's doing a monkly thing at the local monastery.

There are also a host of other characters, many of which you need to keep track of. What doesn't help you do that is the Russian habit of calling people by different names, seemingly at whim. Thanks to Wikipedia, for example, I can tell you that Alexei is also referred to as " Alyosha, Alyoshka, Alyoshenka, Alyoshechka, Alexeichik, Lyosha, and Lyoshenka." Repeat for the other major characters. Fortunately, the version I read had a small cast-of-characters entry at the beginning that you can consult when you're confused. Which I was, a lot.

Squirreled away in these many pages is a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, social commentary, philosophical and religious disquisitions, and sordid soap opera. But mostly talk. All the characters talk to each other, all the time; and they're usually rambling incoherently or lying, either to others, or to themselves. No wonder Freud liked it.

Again via Wikipedia: Dostoyevsky intended the story of the Karamozovs to continue in future works, and it shows: at the end, I found myself saying: "Yes, and then what?" But he died shortly after publication, so we'll never know.

I also couldn't help but reflect that the book was written a few decades before Russia was to slip into a nasty totalitarianism. In the US, on the other hand, Mark Twain was writing stuff about Tom and Huck. And (in contrast to Russia) we kept muddling along with bourgeois democracy. Cause and effect? Over to you, literature majors.

Last Modified 2012-09-18 3:46 PM EST

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

[4.5 stars] The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

When I put this in the Netflix queue, I was expecting a mildly amusing animation aimed primarily at the kiddos. (It's from Sony Pictures/Aardman Animations.) But what I got was a hugely amusing movie that has plenty of laughs for the big kids too. Recommended for anyone who likes comedy.

The movie is set in 1837, and pirates infest the seas, on the lookout for (heh) "booty". (That's slightly ahistorical, but never mind.) Our hero, the Pirate Captain, is—for a pirate—a remarkably likeable fellow, albeit not too bright, with a ragtag, but fiercely loyal, crew. His primary goal is to be named "Pirate of the Year" by the Pirate King, but he's hopelessly outmatched by his peers. He desperately needs to make a huge score.

Fortuitously, the Captain's ship meets up with—what are the odds—Charles Darwin! (Who's accompanied by his extremely sharp simian companion, Mr. Bobo. Mr. Bobo can't talk, but uses fluent sign language. Using literal signs.) Darwin notices that the ship's exceptionally odd and ugly parrot is not a parrot at all, but a dodo, previously believed extinct. Darwin convinces the Captain to head off to London, where he'll receive untold riches and fame for his bird. And, undoubtedly, Pirate of the Year honors.

Ah, but it turns out that the new Queen, Victoria, really, really hates pirates. So the P.C. soon finds himself in hot water.

The movie is a feast of hilarious sight gags—pretty sure I missed a lot of them—and clever dialog. Hugh Grant voices the P.C. perfectly.

Last Modified 2012-09-18 3:48 PM EST

URLs du Jour


  • August Jobs Report: The 43rd straight
month of 8% unemployment Hans Bader is must-read today, as he notes various Federal agencies
    • requiring businesses in the financial sector to fire employees who have had legal run-ins involving dishonesty; even if the offenses were minor and occurred decades in the past;

    • prohibiting other businesses from using criminal background checks on prospective employees.

    One might ask whether all this Federal micromanagement of hiring/firing decisions might just have an overall negative impact on employment. Only because… y'know… that's exactly what's going on.

  • One half of the lefty-reviled Koch brothers, Charles, has a pretty good column in the WSJ today, on the general idea that "pro business" and "pro free market" are sometimes not the same thing, and some businesses, well …

    Far too many businesses have been all too eager to lobby for maintaining and increasing subsidies and mandates paid by taxpayers and consumers. This growing partnership between business and government is a destructive force, undermining not just our economy and our political system, but the very foundations of our culture.

    What he said.

  • I continue to be slack-jaw amazed at pictures coming back from Mars. In case you missed it: here (among other things) is a picture of Curiosity and its tracks, as taken my the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Last Modified 2017-12-02 5:38 AM EST

The Thin Man Goes Home

[3.0 stars] The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

This 1944 movie is the fifth of six movies in the Thin Man series. (Although we saw it last, thanks to its temporary unavailability at Netflix.) Now we'll have to satisfy our craving for monochrome sophisticated amateur crime-solving some other way.

It's not strictly true that the "Thin Man Goes Home" in this movie. As movie pedants will tiresomely point out: Nick Charles is not really the Thin Man. The "Thin Man" refers to a victim in Dashiell Hammett's original novel. But the movies kept using the appellation, leading to what Wikipedia terms "contemporary confusion."

Glad to clear that up.

In any case, Nick and Nora (and Asta) are on a jaunt to Nick's hometown of Sycamore Springs. Unbeknownst to Nora, Nick is on the track of some nefarious doings. There are a couple of corpses, a wayward painting that turns out to be a key clue, and some funny business with Nick's mom and dad. (You see, Nick's father, a beloved hometown doc, has never been too impressed with Nick's career. Nora remains convinced that this bothers Nick.)

It is a formulaic rehash of other Thin Man plots; as usual the wrongdoers are revealed in a you-might-be-wondering-why-I-called-you-all-here gathering. But still fun.

The DVD came with an amusing cartoon, and a Robert Benchley short "Why Daddy?" Which is not very funny.

Last Modified 2012-09-18 3:49 PM EST

The Phony Campaign

2012-09-09 Update

[phony baloney]

I would have expected the Democratic National Convention to have provided President Obama with a larger phony bump. The effect was modest:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Barack Obama" phony 6,270,000 +190,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,570,000 +80,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 440,000 -10,000


  • In an interview with Bill O'Reilly, Senator John McCain offered some advice to the Romney campaign. Including:

    "You got to let the folks know who you are in a sincere way. It's not a phony political deal," McCain said, offering some advice on what he's learned himself as a two-time Republican presidential candidate.

    Pun Salad will offer additional advice to the Romney campaign: politely but firmly decline to take advice from John McCain.

  • The DNC inspired Lurita Doan to reminisce about Obama's acceptance speech four years ago:

    Four years ago, Barack Obama chose to use ten, grandiose, Greek columns as the backdrop for his speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. The staging was a rather clumsy effort to substitute showmanship and theatre to help disguise Mr. Obama's hostility towards American enterprise.

    What many Americans watching the Obama speech four years ago may not have realized was that Obama's fake Greek columns were a bad omen of things to come. Mr. Obama was about to put the United States on the same economic path as Greece.

    That's not a difficult point to make. Will Romney be able to make it?

  • Democrats used to bill themselves as "reality-based", but David Harsanyi saw little evidence of that at the DNC.

    Government is the only thing we all belong to--but, don't worry, you won't have to pay for any of it. That about sums up the Democratic National Convention's case to America, a place where whatever isn't handed to you is actually just being taken away.

    Or as Bastiat put it:

    "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."

    Democrats believe Bastiat's fiction is reality, and that it can actually work.

    Some Republicans will, on the other hand, agree with Bastiat. If you get them drunk. And promise not to quote them on the record.

  • Bastiat's point is illuminated nowhere more brightly than in the mainstream discussion of Medicare. Veronique de Rugy illustrated the sobering if-this-goes-on projections for costs over the next few decades, including this chart:

costs doubling

    You know who's talking honestly about this? Well, there's Veronique and a bunch of cranky libertarians. Republicans and Democrats? Fuhgeddaboudit! Nick Gillespie, writing at Hit&Run:

    Sadly - and despite mutual invective to the contrary - neither the Dems or the Reps have any real plan for cutting Medicare spending down to size.

  • Phony rhetoric abounds from the two major parties on the whole issue of entitlements. For more on the issue, Nicholas Eberstadt is a must-read. His conclusion:

    The U.S. is a very wealthy society. If it so chooses, it has vast resources to squander. And internationally, the dollar is still the world's reserve currency; there remains great scope for financial abuse of that privilege.

    Such devices might well postpone the day of fiscal judgment: not so the day of reckoning for American character, which may be sacrificed long before the credibility of the U.S. economy. Some would argue that it is an asset already wasting away before our very eyes.

    And on that cheerful note, have a good week!

Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:59 PM EST

URLs du Jour


  • Factchecker goes timetraveling I ranted a little yesterday about MSM "fact checkers", and so did James Taranto. There is absolutely no question about who did a more thorough, more convincing, more damning job. You should Read The Whole Thing™. Sample:

    The usual conservative complaint about all this "fact checking" is the same as the conservative complaint about the MSM's product in general: that it is overwhelmingly biased toward the left. But the form amplifies the bias. It gives journalists much freer rein to express their opinions by allowing them to pretend to be rendering authoritative judgments about the facts. The result, as we've seen, is shoddy arguments and shoddier journalism.

    It might actually be useful for journalism to point out the divergence between political rhetoric and reality. But with the term "fact checker" taken, what would such people call themselves?

  • For more detail on one of the "fact checking" skirmishes, see Robert Rector at NRO, who examines the claim, derided by the "fact checkers", that the Obama Administration is attempting an extralegal run-around to gut welfare reform.

    So it appears the administration intends to do away with standards of the reform law that require 30 to 40 percent of the work-eligible [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] caseload to engage in clearly defined activities for 20 to 30 hours per week. It will replace those standards with a new standard urging that the work-eligible caseload engage in vaguely defined activities for as little as one hour per week.

    This sounds a lot like “gutting” to most reasonable people.

    It only sounds like that because that's exactly what it is.

  • Dave Barry continues his exemplary coverage from Charlotte:

    Anyway, Jeff (Thanks, Jeff!) and I were sitting at the CNN Grill bar enjoying complimentary margaritas when up walked famous political insider strategist James Carville. He chatted with us for several minutes, during which he revealed some fascinating inside political information. Unfortunately I can’t tell you what it was, because I can never understand anything Carville says. I know he is brilliant, but he sounds -- and I mean this respectfully -- like an extremely Cajun version of the Aflac duck. My notes just say: “Carville.”

  • You can ogle the PDF version of the 2012 Democratic Platform. The one that fails to mention "God". Or "Jerusalem". But "abortion" shows up a lot. And I couldn't help but check for …

    1. We see an America where everyone has a fair shot, does their fair share, … [p. 32]
    2. "… asking the wealthiest to again contribute their fair share." [p. 32]
    3. "… while asking the wealthiest and corporations to pay their fair share. [p. 34] [Amazon link]
    4. "Cutting Waste, Reducing the Deficit, Asking All to Pay Their Fair Share" [p. 38]
    5. "The Republican Party has a different vision—instead of asking everyone to do their fair share …" [p. 38]
    6. "We believe America prospers when everyone, from Main Street to Wall Street, does their fair share …" [p. 44]
    7. "It’s a vision that says everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone engages in fair play. " [p. 46]
    8. "We reject the Republican budget plan that would force us to destroy the safety net in order to help the wealthiest avoid doing their fair share. [p. 54]

    The Democrats continue to play that same scratchy record, the one that says "We think you're stupid."

  • Do "we all belong to the government?" PJ Tatler notes an attempt to find a Democrat that believes otherwise.

Last Modified 2012-09-18 3:56 PM EST

URLs du Jour


  • donkey As I did with the Republicans, I plan to rely mostly on Dave Barry for my insights into the Democrats' convention:

    Now the eyeballs of the nation turn toward this vibrant, proud, ambitious city in North or possibly South Carolina as the Democrats gather here to present their message of hope for America, namely that the Republicans are fascist, racist women-hating scum.

  • It might actually be useful to have journalist-type people going out and doing some research as to whether the words coming out of politicians' mouths bore the slightest relation to reality.

    We could call these folks—oh, I don't know—fact-checkers?

    Or we could, if that word hadn't been grabbed by journalists already. Unfortunately, they seem to be doing anything but fact-checking, and their efforts have been inspiring boos from all over. A small sampler from just the past few days:

    • Matt Welch notes that fact checkers uniformly botched their "check" of Paul Ryan's remarks about Obama's 2008 campaign speech about GM's Janesville, Wisconsin plant.

      Ryan is universally condemned for mentioning that an auto plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, was shut down during Obama's presidency the year after candidate Obama had vowed that the plant would be there another century. "The plant was closed in December 2008, before Obama was sworn in," Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler wrote. But Kessler and his fellow fact-checkers turned out to have been wrong; the plant did close in 2009.

    • Mickey Kaus notes the "fact checkers" were overly credulous about accepting White House spin about the gutting of welfare reform.

    • And Clive Crook (hilariously) takes on Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post fact checker. Kessler is in the habit of "rating" the pols on a scale of 1-4 "Pinocchios".

      Of course [Romney's assertions Kessler is "checking"] are misleading, and for the reasons Kessler says, but let's not be distracted by any such split-the difference bullshit. The point is, Kessler isn't confining himself to checking facts, he's contesting one interpretation of the facts with his own interpretation. Whatever the merits of the rival interpretations, that's not fact-checking, it's commentary. Kessler himself says, "Romney is asserting an extreme interpretation of what might happen..." See? Guilty. An interpretation is an opinion--not a fact.

      Some of you may find that distinction hard to grasp. It's Two Spocks difficult. Paul Krugman helped me see that people are divided into three groups: the ones who know I'm right (I call these "excellent"), fools and knaves. Possibly, you're a fool, so let me spell it out for you. When a fact is wrong, it's not some number of Pinocchios, it's just wrong.

      I'd disagree with Cook about the "misleading" bit; read the Kaus link. But (in any case) Read The Whole Thing™.

  • Jennifer Rubin notes the 2012 Democratic platform has moved singificantly out of the mainstram on abortion and Israel. Abortion is no surprise, of course—can't afford to offend a single feminist! But (even) I was surprised at how thoroughly Israel is being thrown under the proverbial bus:

    The platform is dramatically less supportive of Israel than it was even four years ago. In 2008, Obama committed “to isolate Hamas until it renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel’s right to exist, and abides by past agreements.” That language is gone in the 2012 platform. The 2008 platform said: “All understand that it is unrealistic to expect the outcome of final status negotiations to be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949. Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.” That entire section is absent in 2012, and, as we know, the administration won’t say where the capital of Israel is. “Jerusalem” is not mentioned in the platform. This is the most radically unsupportive statement of policy on Israel by any major party since the founding of the state of Israel. It is indeed Obama’s Democratic Party.

  • Speaking of platforms: at Cato, Juan Carlos Hidalgo tries to find any significant difference between the party platforms when it comes to the War on Drugs. And fails:

    It appears both the Republicans and the Democrats will seek to maintain the status quo in the war on drugs. They agree that if we double-down and refocus our efforts, perhaps we can help Mexico make a small dent in the violence engulfing their country.

    Why, it's enough to make any good libertarian… vote Libertarian.

    Although this hasn't stopped President Obama from courting the stoner vote.

Last Modified 2014-12-05 12:01 PM EST

The Hunger Games

[4.0 stars] The Hunger Games (2012) on IMDb [Amazon Img]

Both Mrs. Salad and Pun Daughter have read the Hunger Games trilogy by Stephanie Collins, and I haven't. Pun Daughter even bought the DVD and (thanks, kid) lent it to us for an evening home viewing. A good time was had by all, with Mrs. Salad keeping up a running commentary:

"That's different from the book."

"They left a lot of stuff out that was in the book."

"I didn't see Haymitch like that when I read the book."

"Does this make you want to read the book?"

"Who's Lenny Kravitz?"

(That last one was in response to me saying: "Hey, Lenny Kravitz was in this?!" during the credits.)

Things are set in the dystopian country of "Panem", where a decadent upper class lives off the sweaty labor of twelve exploited "districts" in the hinterland. The districts are kept in line by the "Hunger Games": two youths from each are conscripted into a battle to the death. The competition is broadcast for the entertainment of the upper classes and the subjugation of the lower.

(I don't really get how that's supposed to work, by the way. Exactly how do you keep rebellion from breaking out by grabbing a bunch of kids and sending them off to their near-certain demise? That would not make me docile, it would royally piss me off. But maybe it's explained better in the books.)

Our heroine is from District 12, the plucky Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence. She's good with bow and arrow, but the odds are not in her favor.

The movie does a fantastic job of painting the ugly dystopian society, and making us root for Katniss. It's longish, at 142 minutes, and spends quite a bit of time setting up for the big competition. But once that kicks off, it's edge-of-your-seat for the remainder.

My favorite bit of trivia from IMDB:

The second movie in two years (after Winter's Bone) in which Jennifer Lawrence plays a character who feeds her destitute family and herself partly by catching and killing squirrels.

Beware typecasting, Ms. Lawrence! Before long, casting directors will be saying things like: "Yeah, this might be a good role for Jennifer Lawrence, except there's no squirrel-eating."

Last Modified 2012-09-18 3:58 PM EST


[3.5 stars] Bernie (2011) on IMDb [Amazon Img]

The plot revolves around a barely-fictionalized true murder, and yet it's a comedy. A dark comedy, true, but not as dark as you might think. Rated PG-13, for (as the MPAA puts it) "some violent images and brief strong language."

Jack Black plays Bernie, a funeral home worker who charms just about everyone in the small East Texas town of Carthage. He has deep roots in the community, and a beautiful hymn-singing voice that he deploys at church services, funeral services, and just while he's driving around town.

Bernie's usual practice is to console and support grieving family members of the recently deceased that pass under his care. But he develops a deeper-than-usual acquaintance with rich widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine!) after her husband's funeral. While Marjorie is poisonously hostile to nearly everyone else, she eventually takes a shine to Bernie. Over the years, he becomes her constant daily companion. But their relationship turns sour and, eventually, deadly.

The movie is shot in semi-documentary style, with frequent breaks for true-crime-style interviews with townsfolk and relations. (Some of the interviewees are actors, others are actual citizens of Carthage; I couldn't pick out which were which.)

It's fun, although you probably have to shut down the moral-judgment part of your brain for true enjoyment. I read up on the actual case at Wikipedia and (indeed) the movie leaves out or underplays a few sordid details that would have made it a lot less amusing. The real Bernie did get convicted of first-degree murder; the movie provides no insight into how that serious charge was justifiable, and implies it wasn't.

Matthew McConaughey has an unglamourous role as the crusading prosecuting attorney, Danny Buck. Unlike every other Matthew McConaughey role I've seen, his shirt stays on for the entire movie.

Last Modified 2012-09-18 3:59 PM EST

Shadow of the Thin Man

[3.5 stars] Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) on IMDb [Amazon Img]

Netflix apparently lost all their copies of 1941's Shadow of the Thin Man, because it sat for a real long time in the "Saved" (not yet available) section of my queue. But they bought a couple more, and—yay!—sent it along.

It's the fourth of the six Thin Man movies, where Nick and Nora Charles are played by William Powell and Myrna Loy. In this installment, they're back in San Francisco with toddler Nick Jr. Nick still has his preferences for drinking and gambling: he reads to Junior from the Racing Form instead of his fairy tale book, and Nora calls him back home with a cocktail shaker.

But Nick gets sucked into a mystery when a race-throwing jockey is found shot in a shower stall at the track. Intrepid reporter Paul Clarke smells the involvement of two local hoods, Link Stephens and Fred Macy. He relies on his girlfriend Molly, who just happens to be Macy's secretary, to give him underworld insight. But Paul's investigation leads him into conflict with a crooked reporter, who quickly winds up dead, with Paul looking good for the rap.

Nick decides to find out what's really going on. And—don't worry—eventually, all the possible suspects are gathered in a room where Nick fingers the guilty party.

It's a lot of fun. Especially good for checking out the supporting cast: Paul is played by a fresh-faced Barry Nelson, and IMDB notes that this is his first movie. And it's also Ava Gardner's first appearance (in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it role—and I missed it). Donna Reed plays Paul's girl Molly.

Also: an early appearance by Will Wright; you may not recognize his name, but he was a go-to guy for playing an "old man" role in nearly everything back in the 40's and 50's. And even though this was one of his first movie appearances, he plays a pretty old guy here too. (As a bonus, the DVD contains a 20-minute version of Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart. And Will Wright is in it, playing one of the (old) suspicious cops.)

Finally: the famous acting teacher Stella Adler shows up as the girlfriend of one of the hoods. IMDB shows that this was one of her very rare acting roles.

Last Modified 2012-09-18 4:01 PM EST

The Phony Campaign

2012-09-02 Update

[phony baloney]

It appears the Republican National Convention provided Mitt Romney with a solid phony bump: President Obama's phony advantage is now a mere 4.08-to-1, while last week it was 5.04-to-1:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Barack Obama" phony 6,080,000 +30,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,490,000 +290,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 450,000 -15,000

Will the Democrats' convention enable Obama's lead to widen again? Stay tuned!

  • Mark Steyn was among many who noted some phoniness behind an Obama campaign ad titled "Republican Women for Obama".

    Prominently featured among these lifelong Republican women is a striking brunette who is aghast to find out that Romney wants to reverse Roe v Wade. This totally Republicanly Republican GOP-type conservative-to-the-hilt woman has since been identified as Maria Ciano of Colorado. She's a registered Democrat, but don't let that fool you. Her accumulated Facebook "likes" over the years testify to her rock-ribbed Republicanism. They include Amy Goodman,, Bernie Sanders, and a Facebook page called "I Love It When I Wake Up In the Morning and Obama Is President".

    Ms. Ciano still self-identifies as a woman, and is "for Obama", so probably considers herself only one-third phony.

  • Keith Hennessey responded to President Obama's weekly address, which managed to be unusually phony with respect to Medicare. You should Read The Whole Thing™, but here's his response to the President's wish that "the millions of Americans who are working hard right now deserve to know that the care they need will be available when they need it."

    Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid are growing at unsustainable rates. The "millions of Americans who are working hard right now" are paying taxes into a system that will be unable to afford to pay the benefits it is promising them today. President Obama says these workers "deserve to know that the care they need will be available when they need it," but he has not proposed policy changes to produce that outcome.

    Fearless prediction: no such proposals will be forthcoming in the next couple months.

  • Your intrepid blogger did not watch any convention coverage. I hate watching speeches. When I disagree with the speaker, I get mad at their cheap focus-grouped, fallacy-laden demagogic appeals.

    A more subtle danger is when I agree with the speaker, and fail to notice that I'm falling for their cheap focus-grouped, fallacy-laden demagogic appeals. Which makes me mad at myself.

    Either way, a waste of time.

    But Clint Eastwood is not a pol, and I've been a fan ever since his spaghetti-western days. So I checked out his controversial GOP convention speech at YouTube. My reaction: not bad for 82! But for a more nuanced reaction, see Jesse Walker at Reason.

    In short: A widely beloved figure came onstage, offered a politically popular critique of the other party's candidate, put it in transpartisan terms that are more likely to appeal to undecided voters, and did it in a way that guaranteed we will remember it. He was human, eccentric, funny, weird, relatable. Maybe I would have preferred a performance of Eastwood's anti-government monologue from The Outlaw Josey Wales, but I'm not the target audience. I say the speech helps Romney.

    By coincidence (honest), The Outlaw Josey Wales is in my media-consumption list over there on the right. (No, your right.) Click to buy at Amazon; you might need something to watch, because I hear there's another convention coming up…

Last Modified 2014-12-05 12:00 PM EST