Footnote

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

How you feel about this movie might be in some way related to your attitude about father-son rivalries. Set on a background of obscure Israeli academia. In Hebrew. (But also dubbed in Portuguese.) (But not English.)

Father and son are Eliezer and Uriel Shkolnik, respectively. They are both Talmudic scholars at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Eliezer is old and bitter, and unpopular in the department. He is (in turn) crankily dismissive of what he considers to be the superficial research methods of his colleagues, including his son's. Uriel wishes things could be different, but what are you gonna do?

A symbol of Eliezer's resentment is his decades-long failure to win the Israel Prize. But this year, he gets a phone call saying he's won it. Hooray! Problem solved, right?

Well, no. But no spoilers here.

Footnote was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar last year. It was successfully aimed at critics. For us mere mortals, it is very slow going.

For example, if you zoom in on the DVD box over there, you'll find that Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly deemed it "funny and smart". Well, it's funny if you are inordinately amused by too many Israeli academics crammed into a very small meeting room, having to stand up when someone enters or leaves. I think the Marx Brothers did this better.

Foundation's Edge

[Amazon Link] Isaac Asimov wrote the original "Foundation Trilogy" back in the early 50s, and I (as a very young man) remember getting the omnibus volume as the bait for joining the Science Fiction Book Club: merely 10 cents, plus shipping and handling. Like most impressionable youths, I thought it was just swell.

Nowadays, I note, you can get the same books, albeit illustrated, and with an intro by Paul Krugman, from the Folio Society, and it will set you back a cool $140 (plus, it appears, $12.95 shipping and handling.)

[Krugman's intro is available as a PDF here, and it's mostly free of his dreadful politicizing, so if you're interested.]

So: about 30 years after the original books came out, the Good Doctor A wrote this in 1982: Foundation's Edge. And I was still a young enough man back then to get it from the good old Science Fiction Book Club. And now, 30 more years after its original publication, it's part of my Asimov-rereading project.

The book is set 120 years after the events of Second Foundation, about halfway into the Seldon Plan, the psychohistorical scheme to bring civilization back to the galaxy as quickly as possible after the predicted fall of the Galactic Empire. The Plan is going smoothly: the First Foundation thinks it has destroyed the Second Foundation; the Second Foundation, secure on the Last Planet Anyone Would Suspect, continues to oversee the Plan's steady unfolding.

In fact, the Plan is going way too smoothly. Each Foundation has a Brash Young Man (or, as another character puts it: "undiplomatic young jackass") that realizes this, to the shock and horror of the respective power structures. Something unknown is going on in the galaxy, and each jackass is sent on a mission to discover what that is.

Even after Asimov's decades-long hiatus from SF novel writing, his style is still there: almost all the pages consist of people talking to each other. Things happen, sure, but it's mostly conveyed via stilted dialog. And things are not what they seem, people not exactly who they seem to be. (And if you know that, the big plot twist is pretty easy to see coming.)

But still, it is a pretty tidy ending. And—do I need to say "Spoiler Alert" for a 30 year old book?—Asimov starts to tie together all his previous books into a coherent whole, something he never attempted in the 50s. (Ever wonder why there were no Three-Laws robots in the Foundation series? Find out!)

The Phony (and Scary) Campaign

2012-10-28 Update

[phony baloney]

The penultimate update to our phony poll. (And when I say "penultimate", I mean: "I hope I'm using that word correctly.")

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-10-21
"Barack Obama" phony 7,010,000 +140,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 2,680,000 -190,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 665,000 +6,000

That's all well and good, but in honor of the Halloween season, how scary does the web find the candidates to be? Let's ask the Google:

Query String Hit Count
"Barack Obama" scary 122,000,000
"Mitt Romney" scary 86,400,000
"Gary Johnson" scary 860,000

  • Yes, we've done this before (2007). What a difference five years makes!

  • Unlike 2007, the "scary" hit counts are massively larger than the "phony" hit counts. What's that mean? Back then, we referred to the "Wizard of Oz" principle: people find these guys scary, but they're actually just phony.

    That was a light-hearted attempt to explain a much smaller difference. What now? Maybe months of negative ads predicting the dire results of the Other Guy winning has turned us into a nation of quivering sheep huddled in a dark corner?

  • The fear has (in fact) reached the highest levels. An actual AP news story from last year reported on Michelle Obama's confession to an audience of high school students.

    "I mean this is scary," she said. "Shoot, being married to Barack Obama? He's got big plans. He's always pushing us beyond our comfort zones, and I'm dragged along going, `What's he doing now? No, not this.'"

    Just think how the country feels, Michelle.

  • Both candidates are cowering before Mother Nature, according to Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, Ace Reporter for "Arutz Sheva", the Israel National News:

    "Frankenstorm" Sandy has scared the wits out of Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama as it churns northward, leaving death in its trail while the projected fury of the storm could leave 60 million people without electricity.

    Translation: the storm caused campaigns to alter their schedules. But give Tzvi some props for colorful writing.

  • It's not just Google that claims Obama has a scary lead over Romney:

    If presidential mask sales at Spirit Halloween stores across the country are any indication, Obama is in the lead with 63 percent versus Romney at 37 percent, said Lisa Barr, the company's senior director of marketing.

    Remarkably similar to Obama's 59/41 advantage in scary Google hit counts!

    Lisa goes on to say: "I would say people who are very passionate about politics typically buy a mask to support their candidates." This seems like Democratic wishful thinking to me.

  • Our theme today has uncovered yet another "that was then, this is now" Barackrobatic flip. Back in 2010: "Obama accuses Republicans of fear mongering":

    "Essentially, what the other side has decided is that they are going to try to ride fear and anxiety all the way to the ballot box on November 2," he said, at the event organized by the Democratic National Committee.

    Aaaand in 2012, … "Obama ad on Romney: 'It's a scary time to be a woman'"

    A new ad from President Obama and the Democratic National Committee raises fears about Mitt Romney's positions on reproductive rights.

    "I've never felt this way before, but it's a scary time to be a woman," says 30-something "Jenni." "Mitt Romney is just so out of touch."

    Fearmongering: it's reprehensible except when we do it.

    But of course, people aren't impressed by this transparent say-anything campaign are they? Even your typical Hollywood airheads wouldn't be caught dead echoing this hypocritical crap, would they?

    Oh, wait…

  • Find out the unexpected answer in the Politico article headlined: "Ellen DeGeneres: Mitt Romney is scary"

    And what if Mitt Romney wins instead? "If you're a woman, you should be very, very scared of that, for many reasons," she said. "And obviously as a gay person he doesn't believe in me having the same rights, so of course I'm not happy about that."

    Note: Despite her phrasing, I'm pretty sure Ellen did not mean to say, or even imply, that Mitt Romney is a gay person. I think Ellen is saying she's gay. (And I'm not sure, but I think I've heard that myself at some point in the past.)


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

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This is a nice little movie, which IMDB bills as a "Comedy | Drama | Romance", and Netflix genrifies as "Comedy, Romantic Comedies, Romantic Dramas, Dramas Based on Contemporary Literature, Dramas Based on the Book, United Kingdom".

The main characters are Dr. Alfred ("Fred") Jones (played by Ewan McGregor) and Harriet ("Harriet") Chetwode-Talbot (played by Emily Blunt). Fred is a low-level bureaucrat in the UK's Fisheries Department; Emily is a hard-charging consultant hired by Yemeni Sheikh ("Sheikh") Muhammed to do something totally impractical: engineer a waterway in Yemen in which salmon can run, breed, and be caught by intrepid fishermen.

UK troops are getting shot at and blown up in Afghanistan, so the the UK government, desperate for some good news out of the general region, swings its mighty weight behind the project. Specifically, the Prime Minister's Press Secretary Patricia ("Profane Bitch") Maxwell, (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) starts pulling the strings to make it all happen.

We get to know Fred and Harriet pretty well. Fred's in a passion-free marriage; he also has Asperger's. But (as I observed to Mrs. Salad during the movie), he's very high-functioning, so it's more like half-Asperger's. (Hah! I kill me.) Harriet has a boyfriend, a soldier conveniently sent off to Afghanistan just when Harriet and Fred start working closely on the project. And you see where this might lead, right?

There's some cynical commentary on British politics; some Yemenis are bitterly opposed to the project, and proceed in the way folks in that part of the world do when they disagree: attempt murder and sabotage.

Not bad, directed competently by Lasse Hellström, but it seems much longer than the 107 minutes claimed by IMDB. Movies labeled as comedies are usually funnier, but Emily Blunt is easy on the eyes, so it kind of evens out.

URLs du (Impending Hurricane) Jour

2012-10-27

Hurricane Sandy has caused some folks in the immediate vicinity to soil their britches. The University Near Here has curtailed operations for Monday and Tuesday, giving us non-essential personnel a sweet long weekend.

I can't (however) figure out how that even makes sense, given the current storm-track maps at NOAA's Hurricane Center. But nobody asked me so,…

  • [Cathy Poulin in
Fitchburg] Pun Salad's official (but unaware, and uncompensated) mascot Cathy Poulin has been spotted giving a $5K check to St. Anna School in Fitchburg, MA. Good for her, good for her employer.

    Picture at right. Usually they take the picture of the (literally) Really Big Check, but this time they took the picture of the Really Big Thank You Card the school gave in return. Sweet.

  • For the uninitiated, Cathy is the Director of Public Relations for Bob's Discount Furniture, a chain with multiple locations in the Northeast. She also appears with Bob himself in their irritating advertisements. And our ISP-provided stats tell us that Googling for "Cathy Poulin" is the number one reason people come to Pun Salad.

  • Bob's advertisements may be irritating, but right now I'd prefer to watch five hundred of them in a row than see one more dumb political ad. Thank goodness for TiVo and Netflix.

  • The occasionally-amusing McSweeney provides "Election 20,012 B.C.: Where the Candidates Stand On the Issues.". Sample:

    Q. Why crop not grow for four season now?

    Gog, leader: Terrible magic visit village before Gog become leader. Gog take ancient Horse Crown not knowing full extent of bad magic. Gog pray for guidance; sent vision that virgin sacrifice please gods, bring rain. Opponent say virgin sacrifice never work. But Gog see many sign of turnaround, like evil spirit leaving cave and people buying wheel again. Opponent say stop killing virgin or become like Land That Money Forgot. But Gog consult many Wizard. Them say: Grow crop, then stop killing virgin.

    Mog, opponent: Gog not make crop die. Mog know this. Mog know Gog inherit Bad Times after sorcerer enchant puppet. But Mog say Gog make problem worse with stone tablet that have many word on it. Gog also ask for our virgin. Tell us he can bring crop back. We give him many virgin. But no crop! Now Gog want another chance? Mog have 5-step dance to bring back rain. Mog understand dance; Gog no understand dance. That difference this election. Also, Gog must be toss from mountaintop.

    Plus ça change…

  • While others (I'm told) drop a small fortune on PC games and the high-end hardware necessary to run them seamlessly, I usually just play Monopoly against 3 opponents, each cranked up to "Tycoon" strategy. Very old style: Mediterranean and Baltic are purple, not brown, Luxury Tax is $75, and there are no fancy dice rolls.

    You may know that the inventor of Monopoly was a follower of Henry George and his oddball tax ideas; the game was meant to illustrate/advocate for the "single tax" Georgist position.

    But have you ever wondered how a "true" Georgist single tax might work in Monopoly?

    As so often happens, the Web brings us things we didn't know we needed: economist Bryan Caplan writes: "How Would a Georgist Single Tax Work in Monopoly?"


Last Modified 2012-10-28 7:04 AM EDT

Adventures in HTML5 Compliance

what a mess I've finally completed the dinking of Pun Salad posts into HTML5 compliance, at least according to the W3C Validator, all the way back to post number one in February 2005. Mostly mechanical tag-tweaking, but I couldn't avoid at least looking at some of the older content. A mixed bag of observations:

  • I know I'm supposed to make some self-disparaging comments about how silly and amateurish my old posts are. But (as it turns out) the newer posts are equally silly and amateurish.

    Ahem. Just kidding. False modesty aside: other than gradual changes in my posting style, I think the old stuff holds up pretty well.

  • The further back in time I went, the more work it was to hammer things into compliance. The first few Salad years were really anarchic, HTML-standardswise.

  • Technically-illegal URL characters, mostly spaces and ampersands, are tricky, because most browsers let you get away with using them, and most sites encourage you to cut-n-paste them. But the Validator gripes, so they had to be found and fixed.

  • Embarrassingly, back in 2005-2006, I had no idea how to make a compliant unordered ("bullet") list, putting in <p> tags in unacceptable spots. And, as you may have noticed, I use them bullets a lot. Edit, edit, edit… slowly and tediously.

  • Speaking of ellipses, I also had the annoying habit of leaving off the semicolon of HTML character entities. (E.g., &hellip instead of &hellip;) I think older browsers might have taken a more "oh, I know what you meant to do there" attitude. These days, it just looks lazy and stupid and ugly. Fixed, I hope.

  • For some reason, I took a lot of "online quizzes" in the past. (e.g., "What military aircraft are you?") and mindlessly cut-n-pasted the HTML results into an article.

    As it turned out, those quiz composers didn't much care about HTML5 compliance back then either. In some cases I just had to give up.

  • The number of dead links is depressing and embarrassing. (I left them in, though.) Depressing, because things I thought interesting enough to link to are now lost; embarrassing, because sometimes there's no indication what was going on: essentially, "hey this is neat" with a non-working link. What was I thinking? We'll never know.

    Especially noticeable: YouTube videos that were yanked due to copyright reasons. (In some cases, I was able to find alternate sources.)

  • I also got to remember some bloggers I once linked to all the time, but now have gone on to… well, wherever you go after you stop blogging. Examples:

    • "Robert Musil", the Man Without Qualities: the blog is still there, but the latest post is dated March 2007.

    • Katie Newmark had the best title for her blog: "A Constrained Vision", a nod to Thomas Sowell's classic book, A Conflict of Visions.. But attempting to go there nowadays brings up "It's All about Volkswagen", a blog that the current owner never bothered to post to. A waste of a good URL!

    • New Hampshire's own Shawn Macomber, doesn't do the blog thing any more but I found him here.

    • Virginia Postrel explains that she now is mainly found at Twitter and Facebook.

    • Jaqueline Mackie Paisley Passey is still findable, but Googling also brings up a lot of stuff I bet she'd rather forget.

    … and many, many others. But at least Instapundit is still there.

And not that it matters, but as I was cranking through the old articles, I tried (and I think mostly succeeded) to regularize the links on my movie/book postings to Amazon and IMDB. I especially like the look of the "rating plugin" link provided by IMDB.


Last Modified 2012-10-27 10:27 PM EDT

Echo Park

[Amazon Link] My book-picking algorithm offered me this choice from the to-be-read pile, part of my ongoing project to read all Michael Connelly's novels in publishing-date order. Echo Park was initially published in October 2006, and here it is October 2012. So I'm six years behind.

This blog's search functionality tells me that back in August 2006, I read Connelly's Void Moon, initially published in January 2001. So back then, I was slightly over five and a half years behind.

Disheartening conclusion: uh oh. Given this trend, he's writing them slightly faster than I'm reading them. The only solution is to read faster; everything else is too depressing.

Anyway: this novel is in his Harry Bosch series. Harry is still on the L. A. Police force, still working crimes in the Open/Unsolved unit. Bosch's mission is to keep tugging at the loose ends of historical crimes using new technologies and his famous doggedness.

Here, a new lead has appeared in the case of Marie Gesto, who vanished from the face of Southern California back in 1996. A demented serial killer caught (nearly literally) red-handed offers his confession to the ancient crime (and others) in order to avoid the death penalty. The D.A., in the midst of a hard-fought political campaign, is leaning toward accepting the deal.

Only problem is that the 1996 case files now show that the killer contacted Bosch and his partner back then. And for some reason they never followed up on this lead. If they had, there was a chance they could have prevented several subsequent serial slayings. Bosch, understandably feels pangs of guilt; this goes to the heart of his raison d'être for being a detective.

Bosch thinks the whole thing smells. And (this is a Michael Connelly book) he's right. What transpires is page-turning (figurative on the Kindle, but you know what I mean) drama, corruption, first-class detection, and violence.

Cars 2

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

I feel obligated to see all Pixar movies, but I knew I wouldn't like this one very much. So I didn't go to the theatre to watch it, and it sat in the Netflix queue awhile.

As you probably know, it's set in a world where cars (and other machines) have taken the place of humans. You can't think about this too hard, otherwise you'll come to the obvious conclusion: that this is a result of a successful (but non-radioactive, non-destructive) Terminator scenario, where all the people have been killed off, and their mechanized artifically-intelligent killers just continue on. And (for some reason) doing pretty much what the humans used to do, taking over the buildings and roads the humans used to use, fitting into the roles humans used to fill. And never mentioning how it all came to happen.

And we're supposed to sympathize with these murderous things? And buy the action figures?

The plot, such as it is: a nefarious conspiracy is in motion to deny the mechanized world access to environmentally-friendly fuel. In opposition is the Aston-Martiny "Finn McMissile", an experienced British spy (voiced by good old Michael Caine) and still-wet-behind-the-fenders agent Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). The gang from the original movie, Lightning McQueen, Mater the tow-truck, etc. get looped into the plot when races using the nice fuel are scheduled. But the bad guys look to blow the cars up to make the fuel look bad.

In short, the plot is beyond dumb. The script is also not particularly inspired, with mindless action taking the place of the usual Pixar wit and imagination. It is Pixar, however, so the animation is great and the globe-hopping locations are impressively pictured.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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

Didja see Slumdog Millionaire? How about Downton Abbey? Do you know how to find BBC America on your cable box? Then this movie is aimed right between your eyeballs, binky.

An ensemble cast of Brits heads off to India to "outsource their retirement". There's widow Evelyn (Judi Dench); retired judge Graham (Tom Wilkinson); Douglas and Jean, a married couple in difficult financial straits (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton, making a remarkable recovery from that nasty zombie attack a few years back); gold-digger Madge (Celia Imrie); roving-eyed Norman (Ronald Pickup); and Muriel (Maggie! Smith!) a retired housekeeper who needs a hip replacement faster than she can get it in Britain.

And they all come together in the titular hotel, which turns out to be more ramshackle than advertised, operated by "Sonny" (Dev Patel), with problems of his own: a forbidden romance, a domineering mom, financial ruin, a borderline delusional personality.

A lot of stories to tell, but they are told well, and you couldn't find a better bunch of actors to tell them. There's a mix of comedy and drama, the latter mostly of the melo- variety. If you've watched more than three movies of this type, there's not a lot you won't see coming, long before it actually comes up on the screen.

Just one last thing: Dame Judi has a dazzling smile, when the script calls on her to let it out. I've seen her in a lot of movies, but I can't recall seeing it before.

The Phony Campaign

2012-10-21 Update

[phony baloney]

A solid phony increase for both major-party candidates this week, probably due to their second debate. But President Obama maintains, even slightly widens, his phony lead:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-10-14
"Barack Obama" phony 6,870,000 +630,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 2,870,000 +520,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 659,000 +55,000

  • Roger L. Simon summed up his debate observations in the headline: "Phony Town Halls and Candy Crowley's Ego"

    The U.S. population clock is currently showing 314,583,682 residents as of October 2012 and yet we are about to hold a "town hall" debate for our presidential candidates.

    How quaint. (The first town hall meeting was held in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1633.)

    How completely and utterly phony.

    Roger notes that gathering together a bunch of allegedly "uncommitted" citizens to ask questions is suboptimal. And Candy Crowley was obviously unwilling to restrict herself to the role of "moderator", instead wishing to insert herself into the fray.

    Roger wishes for Lincoln-Douglas style debates. Couldn't be worse.

  • A whole lotta people cried "phony" over a visit by Paul Ryan to a Mahoning County's [Ohio] St. Vincent de Paul Society soup kitchen last Saturday. Ryan arrived after the crowds had left, but washed some dishes that had been (specifically) left behind for him to wash.

    [Juanita Sherba, St. Vincent's Saturday coordinator for the dining hall, says] The event "was a photo op," she said. "It was the phoniest piece of baloney I've ever been associated with. In hindsight, I would have never let him in the door."

    But (in actuality) Ms. Sherba did let him in the door.

  • As noted by nearly everyone. Barack Obama, 2004:

    Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.

    Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.

    And in 2012...

    A new commercial from the Obama campaign targeting Ohio slams Mitt Romney for not having supported the auto bailout and declared the Republican Presidential nominee as "not one of us," as the president looks to shore up support in the crucial battleground state.

  • For a chuckle, visit http://www.romneytaxplan.com/. Phony, but clever.

  • But speaking of tax policy: in the second debate, guess who said, responding to a "20-year-old college student" …

    We've got to reduce our deficit, but we've got to do it in a balanced way. Asking the wealthy to pay a little bit more along with cuts so that we can invest in education like yours.

    Yup. In case there was any doubt, he still thinks you're stupid.


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

Find the Missing Concept

i miss you more than words So I finally got around to reading the Atlantic article "The Weaker Sex" by Sandra Tsing Loh on which James Taranto mused last month (last item, "Plenty of Fish in the Atlantic").

The article is purportedly a book review, but is mostly a long discussion of how Sandra and her female friends view their modern heterosexual relationships, as experienced by successful professional urban women attending an L.A. dinner party. With a focus on those cases where the woman is bringing more money into the household than is the man, something Sandra (probably correctly) contends is likely to become more common in the future.

Clue: all attendees are divorced save for Annette, who seems to be headed in that direction. Even non-marital relationships, like Sandra's current one, can be rocky:

My own culinary moment of truth came on a recent day of frustrating business calls and frustrating writing, plus an hour-long installation of a complex new HP all-in-one printer thingy while roasting a chicken while struggling to fix our enigmatic dishwasher, after which I sat down to dinner with my male partner—who had just cheerfully returned from the outside world—with one candle (I couldn’t find the other). I made the mistake of asking “How was your day?” and he made the mistake of responding, and as I watched his mouth move, I felt my trigger finger twitch and thought those awful words only a woman who needs a man neither to support her nor to be a father to her children can think: How long until I vote you off the island?

Taranto has his own description of Sandra's piece, which I suggest you read. He notes that the Atlantic runs a lot of articles that might be fairly classified as a "disquisition on distaff difficulties". His comment on the genre:

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.

So (as I said) I read Sandra's article. That makes at two heterosexuals, Mr. Taranto! Although I think my motivation is mostly I paid for the magazine, so I'm gonna read the darn thing.

I count somewhere north of 4200 words. But I got to the end, and noticed something. Or, specifically, the lack of something. In an article of that length entirely about intimate man-woman relationships, how many times would you expect to find the word "love"?

Thanks to Firefox's "Find" function, the answer, with emphasis added in each case:

  1. The word appears in the subtitle of one of the books Sandra reviews: The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family

  2. When discussing the other reviewed book, Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson, Sandra says: " I love the passage in which Mendelson talks about…"

  3. A quote from Mendelson's book: "Coming home is your major restorative in life. These are formidably good things, which you cannot get merely by finding true love or getting married or having children or landing the best job in the world—or even by moving into the house of your dreams."

  4. And, finally, in the second-to-last paragraph:

    Much more precarious is the road I’ve pursued with my Mr. Y [Sandra's term for an abstract sensitive, empathetic "feelings guy"]. If Mr. Y is what women (now economically dominant but still wanting companionship and love) are seeking, we’d better brush up on our Quicken and buckle up our tool belts. The non–Martha Stewart Living trade-off (and doesn’t it seem perfectly apt that Martha lacks a male partner?): as for the warm body in bed, men (at least some) are nicer to talk to than dogs, and if their domestic skills stink—well, many of ours are worse.

So: four occurrences, only two of them Sandra's own words. And only the last might conceivably be referring to romantic love. But it's not unlikely to be (as Harlan Ellison put it) a misspelling of "sex".

"I think that might be your problem right there."

[By the way, I think Sandra's 2005 Commencement Speech is one of the best I've read.]


Last Modified 2012-10-18 6:15 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2012-10-16

  • I hope President Obama loses the election in (gulp!) three weeks. But every so often I'm reminded that I can't get equally hopeful about Mitt Romney winning. Here's Phil Greenspun with some common sense about the defense budget.

    One of Mitt Romney’s big ideas is a dramatic increase in funding for the U.S. military. As a taxpayer this reminds me of watching $1 billion Navy ships confronting a few Somalis in a rubber boat with an outboard motor and wondering “How could we possibly afford to sort through these guys one at a time?”

    I like our military just fine, but pretending they're a lean organization doesn't pass the giggle test.

  • Smuttynose - Old Brown Dog Ale Senator Tom Coburn, M.D., has brought out Wastebook 2012, a compendium of this year's Federal government profligacy.

    For Granite Staters, our local pork is being consumed by Smuttynose Brewery:

    A New Hampshire brewery, Smuttynose, will use $750,970 in federal funds to construct a new brewery and restaurant on farmland outside of Portsmouth.The taxpayer money will help the brewery purchase three brew tanks and install sewer connections to its 42,000-square-foot facility.

    References available via the link. I like beer as much as the next guy… OK, I might like beer much more than the next guy, but Smuttynose should pay its own way.

  • Thomas Sowell provides random thoughts on the passing scene, which, as usual, are insightful and fun.

    How are children supposed to learn to act like adults, when so much of what they see on television portrays adults acting like children?

    Sowell also quotes a claim by Edward Lazear: “there hasn’t been one day during the entire Obama presidency when as many Americans were working as on the day President Bush left office.”. An inconvenient truth!

  • "Responsibility" is much-discussed today, since Hillary has taken "full responsiblity" for the botched security decisions leading to the murder of diplomatic personnel in Libya last month.

    Jeremy Lott thinks Hillary should do the right thing:

    She should resign immediately or Obama should fire her. If neither of these things happens in short order, American voters have a duty to punish her party at the ballot box in November.

    Captain Ed recalls a time when Hillary said:

    “I believe we need a president who believed what Harry Truman believed. That buck stopped in the Oval Office.”

    … that was then, this is now.

    And (last but not least) the indispensable Geraghty notes that "I take responsibility" has been an "endless empty refrain" in the Obama Administration (with plenty of examples, if you have the stomach for them). It's a cheap way to make yourself sound like an adult, without it actually meaning anything.

URLs du Jour

2012-10-15

  • spoiler bitch An insightful blog post from the wish-I-was-as-cool-as Nick Gillespie; Nick analyzes, and mostly debunks a Politico article discussing how big-L Libertarian candidates could act as "spoilers" to GOP prospects. Sample:

    Let it be noted that no third-party candidate anywhere ever cost a major-party candidate an election. Have third-party candidates gotten vote totals that more than cover the spread between the Dem and the Rep? Of course.

    But major-party candidates lose elections all on their own. If they cannot close the deal with voters - even with all the institutional advantages they possess - well, that's their problem. Don't blame others for your own failure to woo voters.

    Indeed, the whole spoiler thing tends to falls apart when you look more closely. To wit, here's part of the discussion about the Senate race in the Show-Me State, where a lackluster and thoroughly undistinguished incumbent is facing a challenger whose basic grasp of biology suggests he'd be a first-question washout on Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?:

    … and I suggest you Read The Whole Thing™. (Maybe if I bought a leather jacket, I'd be as cool as Nick? Nah, guess not.)

  • If you haven't already done so, you gotta go to the Google today and check out their homage to Winsor McCay, creator of Little Nemo. (If you miss it today, you might be able to dig it out of Google's doodle archive, which I recommend.)

  • You might have heard about Argo, Ben Affleck's new movie. It's supposed to be pretty good, and it's based on the real-life story of the rescue of American embassy personnel from Iran in 1980. The gimmick (revealed in the trailers) is that the CIA's cover story to get into Iran is that they're making a sci-fi movie titled Argo.

    And you might have also seen one of my perennial gripes: We get piles of movies based on the works of (for example) Philip K. Dick, Richard Matheson, and Jack Finney. More power to them, but what about my favorite SF authors, like Robert Heinlein?

    Or Roger Zelazny?

    Well: it turns out that the fake movie Argo, was based on Zelazny's Hugo-winning novel Lord of Light.

    But (of course) they didn't make a movie based on Lord of Light, either in 1980 or today. But there's a website devoted to it, including some old artwork by the great comic book artist Jack Kirby. Kirby's drawings were borrowed (the website says "stolen") by the CIA to nail down the cover story. Fascinating.

    If Argo does well, maybe Affleck could get Lord of Light made? Seems only fair.

The Disappeared

[Amazon Link] So about 18 months ago, I happened upon this io9 list of the "Top 10 Greatest Science Fiction Detective Novels Of All Time".

Two I had already read; they were, I thought, reasonably decent.

So I started in on the ones I hadn't read. Results on the next six: not bad; mediocre; not my cup of tea; meh; hated it; pretty good.

That's not a bad batting average, but for a "Top 10 Greatest" list, it's surprisingly awful.

There's something about a project of this sort that compels me to finish it, so up comes The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. (io9 actually recommends the whole series, and this is the chronological first in the series.) Another loser, I'm afraid. But at least the Kindle version was relatively inexpensive.

It is set mostly on the Moon, in a time when interactions between humans and intelligent species are common enough to set up legal rules for conflict resolution. And the rules make Draco look like an ACLU card-carrier: if you run afoul of an alien legal system, they get to do pretty much whatever they want to you and your family. Tough darts, kid.

Unsurprisingly, there is a thriving market in "disappearance" services, which promise to extract you from your current life, and set you up tracelessly as someone else, somewhere else, all in order to escape alien legal punishment.

The story here involves two lunar cops dealing with some thorny cases where disappearance has been unsuccessful: one race has kidnapped a couple kids to atone for the sins of the parents; another has slaughtered the passengers of a ship, who thought they were being taken to safety; a third is looking to track down a lady lawyer they hold responsible for the subsequent crimes of a client she defended. It takes a Real Long Time for the cops to figure things out: the disappearance service common to all three cases has decided to make a little more money by betraying their clients to the aliens.

Ms. Rusch is an amazingly prolific professional writer, and won some awards, so you might have better luck with her than I did. Her prose was (mostly) professional, but lacked sparkle and failed to grab my interest. As the book wore on, I got the feeling she was padding things to meet some contractually-obligated word count. One chapter opens with a character waking up to find his right foot asleep. But—ah—a few sentences later, we discover "Only one side had fallen asleep. The other side was just fine."

Good to know. The few fractions of a second I spent parsing that are now gone, never to return.

There are also signs of shoddy editing. One guy says "I was never really comfortable with the way we were flaunting the law." Another reflects that he'd heard some bit of advice "from every single officer he'd spoken too." If my unprofessional eye can catch such boners, there are almost certainly others. Fair or not, I hear the publisher saying: Proofreading? Nah! Just get it out the door so the boobs can buy it.

The Phony Campaign

2012-10-14 Update

[phony baloney]

While the gap continues to narrow, President Obama maintains his comfortable lead with 23 days to go:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-10-07
"Barack Obama" phony 6,240,000 -210,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 2,350,000 +240,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 604,000 +52,000

  • In honor of the veep debates this past week, how is the phony matchup going there? Ask and you shall receive:

    Query String Hit Count
    "Paul Ryan" phony 1,180,000
    "Joe Biden" phony 882,000
    "Jim Gray" phony 524,000

    It's close, but Ryan actually has the lead. I must admit that I did not expect that.

    (And now you trivia buffs know the answer to: "who is the Libertarian Party's vice-presidential nominee?")

  • Thomas Sowell reflected this week on the "Phony-in-Chief".

    When President Barack Obama and others on the left are not busy admonishing the rest of us to be "civil" in our discussions of political issues, they are busy letting loose insults, accusations, and smears against those who dare to disagree with them.

    Like so many people who have been beaten in a verbal encounter, and who can think of clever things to say the next day after it is all over, President Obama, after his clear loss in his debate with Mitt Romney, called Governor Romney a "phony."

    Professor Sowell goes on to detail some embarrassing history of Obama's 2007 rabble-rousing speech at Hampton University, and how it contrasted with his actual voting record.

  • Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus column this week aimed most of the phony fire at Obama. Unsurprising, but he recollects the lapel-flag controversy from the last election.

    Obama is a little funny with his lapel pin -- the American flag. Once, it was on. Then Obama took it off. He said he didn't want any of that phony patriotism. He wouldn't wear his patriotism on his sleeve, or his lapel. Others who did so were phony-baloneys. Then he put the flag pin back on. It can be so confusing, keeping track of Obama's moods and principles.

    First he's for gay marriage. Then he's not. "The union of a man and a woman, only." Then he's back on again.

    Anyway, my question: If Obama loses the election this year, will he ever wear an American-flag pin again? Or will he be free of it? Is the pin just "boob bait for Bubbas," to use a once-famous phrase of Senator Moynihan?

    My bet is: he won't wear the flag pin whether he wins or loses. Because, as he noted to the Russian president back in March: "After my election, I have more flexibility."

  • Via Matt Welch at Reason, we also have a Jack Shafer column as a must-read: "Why we vote for liars". It's very much a plague-on-all-your-houses column, noting truth behind the no-longer-funny joke "How can you tell when a politician is lying? His lips move."

    Shafer's a little too tough on Romney, not tough enough on Obama. But his main point is on target and relates to a different saying, the one about when you point your finger, there are three pointing back at you:

    The pervasiveness of campaign lies tells us something we'd rather not acknowledge, at least not publicly: On many issues, voters prefer lies to the truth. That's because the truth about the economy, the future of Social Security and Medicare, immigration, the war in Afghanistan, taxes, the budget, the deficit, and the national debt is too dismal to contemplate. As long as voters cast their votes for candidates who make them feel better, candidates will continue to lie. And to win.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 3:00 PM EST

The Five-Year Engagement

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Here's what I want to know: has there ever been an actor as lucky as Jason Segel? Although I'm probably not qualified to say, he doesn't strike me as a chick magnet. George Clooney he ain't. And yet, his career has found him canoodling with Alyson Hannigan, Amy Adams, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis,… and here, Emily Blunt.

I know, it's just acting. But still. If Jason Segal doesn't wake up in the morning with tears of gratitude running down his face as he reflects on his good fortune, I swear I will hunt him down and kick his ass until he does.

Anyway: here, Jason—I call him Jason—plays Tom, a gifted and aspiring chef in San Francisco. He's been going out with Violet (Ms. Blunt) for a year, and (in an impressively romantic setup that he manages to endearingly botch) he pops the question. Of course, Violet's answer is yes.

But you did notice the movie's title, right? Violet is hoping for a post-doc at Berkeley in her field of experimental psychology. That doesn't work out, but she gets one almost as good at Michigan. So Tom and Violet postpone the nuptials, and head off to Ann Arbor. Violet blossoms, but Tom has to settle for deli work (albeit upscale deli work). Tom's frustration and resentment continue to grow, reflected in Violet's nagging guilt and dissatisfaction. The not-unpredictable happens.

This movie is from the Judd Apatow factory, and bears most of his trademarks: a supporting cast that's hilariously raunchy, some darker serious notes about infidelity and mortality, and an overall old-fashioned moral theme about love and commitment. It's over two hours long, and feels it in parts, but overall enjoyable. And the ending is sweet enough to make your teeth hurt.

Headhunters

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Stieg Larsson's posthumous success with the Girl series has opened up the field for Scandinavian crime thrillers. This Norwegian movie is based on a novel by Jo Nesbø and it's pretty good.

Roger Brown makes a decent living as a corporate headhunter. But he's insecure—really—about his height and maintaining his beautiful, much taller wife in an expensive lifestyle. So, with the help of a confederate placed in a security service, he's turned to a side career as an art thief.

A risky choice! And Roger finds that even the occasional Munch lithograph theft can't keep up with his budget for spousal maintenance. But he hears that a recent hiring prospect has possession of a long-lost Rubens original work. That could be the big score that would set him up for life! But, as it turns out, it just sinks him rapidly into a horrific tale of murder, betrayal, and totally implausible technology. The pale Norwegian body count keeps going up.

Rated R for "bloody violence including some grisly images, strong sexual content and [mostly pale Norwegian] nudity." The MPAA rating doesn't mention a particularly disgusting (albeit non-gory) scene that had both Mrs. Salad and I averting our sensitive eyes. But it's fun and well-crafted, with unexpected plot twists and some bits of very dark comedy.


Last Modified 2012-10-27 9:10 AM EDT

Cynde Sears Responds to Pun Salad

Ouroboros - The Lion and the Snake I got e-mail from Cynde Sears in response to last Sunday's Phony Campaign Update. If you'd like to read that first, go ahead. I'll wait.

Ah, good. You're back. Here's her response:

Unlike other responses within the blogosphere to my letter to the Washington Post, I found yours a bit charming and silly, not mean or vindictive. But I would like to correct one detail. I would not likely be sipping lemonade while folks earned a living working in my garden - don't care for it, to be honest. No, I would likely be drinking a fine Spanish cava, as I did while enjoying roast suckling pig in one of the finest restaurants in Segovia, Spain, as I did just this afternoon while on holiday. Or perhaps sipping a dram of the world's finest Scotch, as I did while on holiday in Edinburgh this spring.

Brief comment here: I think Mitt, whose behavior was under discussion, is more of a lemonade kind of guy. (Although he might make it with Perrier.)

You see, even as a liberal, I can make money, open a business, have significant savings and a good retirement, send my child to the college of his choice, take European vacations at least once a year -- and still feel that when given a choice between being cheap and giving people meaningful work that pays well, I will always choose to share my good fortune. If Romney will not support three or four workers with his hundreds of millions, why would any reasonable person conclude he would spend what it takes -- from either the public or private sectors -- to put millions to work? His penury and personal greed reflect exactly what's happening in this country. Major corporations are acting like Romney: putting more money in the bank while depriving people of work, thereby contributing to our national economic malaise. They sit on record profits and won't hire. Like Romney, they are cheap. And I don't care for cheap people.

While my original post took Cynde Sears to task for "irritating judgmentalism", her response caused me to regret that a little. Although my mostly-libertarian politics should imply a live-and-let-live attitude, I can be kind of judgmental myself.

[OK, stop laughing.]

And when you're judgmental about the judgmentalism of others, the whole enterprise turns into a sort of Ouroborosian dining on one's own tail, and I have no idea what sort of wine would go well with that.

So, although I'm a lousy Christian, I reread Matthew 7:1-5 and will try to take that to heart, for at least the next few minutes.

I still think her criticism of others' behavior is economically misguided. Like many who claim the "liberal" label these days, Cynde Sears looks at the economic decisions of other people—from "major corporations" down to individuals like Mitt Romney—and thinks: I could do a better job than that.

Even occasional readers know where I sit on that topic: scale up that attitude, add political power, and you find yourself in the Choomwagon riding down the Road to Serfdom. Again, see David Boaz for more specificity.

But the "cheap people" comment caused me to recall an even more appropriate response: this classic Slate article from Steve Landsburg, who mused on the economics of Ebenezer Scrooge-like behavior, the kind that Cynde Sears finds so distasteful. Brief excerpt:

Scrooge has been called ungenerous. I say that's a bum rap. What could be more generous than keeping your lamps unlit and your plate unfilled, leaving more fuel for others to burn and more food for others to eat? Who is a more benevolent neighbor than the man who employs no servants, freeing them to wait on someone else?

[…]

In this whole world, there is nobody more generous than the miser--the man who could deplete the world's resources but chooses not to. The only difference between miserliness and philanthropy is that the philanthropist serves a favored few while the miser spreads his largess far and wide.

If you build a house and refuse to buy a house, the rest of the world is one house richer. If you earn a dollar and refuse to spend a dollar, the rest of the world is one dollar richer--because you produced a dollar's worth of goods and didn't consume them.

Christmas is coming, so I suggest you Read The Whole Thing™. God bless Us, Every One!


Last Modified 2012-10-13 8:53 AM EDT

Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift

[Amazon Link] Paul Rahe is a professor at Hillsdale College and an occasional pundit on current events in the dextrosphere (most recently at Ricochet). This 2009 book has been highly recommended by the good folks at Power Line. It was available at the library of the University Near Here, so I checked it out.

The book's subtitle is "Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect". Rahe's project here is a deep examination of the thoughts of these three French political philosopher/historians and show how they illuminate today's slow march of modern Western democracies into a gray, comfy despotism.

Large sections of the book are devoted to each thinker in turn. It's (frankly) tough going for the casual reader, more so with Montesquieu and Rousseau than with Tocqueville. Rahe's prose doesn't help, as his explications are broken up with many "short quotes from the authors' works", sometimes only one "or two" words "long." In addition, some words and phrases are annotated with the actual French used by the author [auteur]. And there are occasional coded pointers back to the original works (TBpptht, II.iv.3. pp.243-44,11,1) which might be useful to someone who wants to check out the reference, but otherwise not.

So large stretches seem of the book seem to be written in order to satisfy a particularly pedantic thesis committee; I think many general readers would find this a twisty slog full of potholes. (I have to admit I'm one of them.) But things even out in the last stretch of the book, that contains Rahe's comments on America's "drift" over the last century from a limited constitutional, commercial, republic into a administrative state whose central control continues to seep into more and more of its citizens' daily lives. Rahe provides a sweeping conservative critique of this, showing how (in particular) Tocqueville was prescient in detecting some of these trends in the early 19th century. (And others not so much.)

I found an interesting tidbit, given President Obama's recent slagging of GOP budget proposals as "thinly-veiled social Darwinism." That was claptrap, of course, but check out this quote:

[G]overnment is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living thing can have its organs offset against each other as checks, and live. On the contrary, its life is dependent upon their quick cooperation, their ready response to the commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose. Government is not a body of blind forces; it is a body of men, with highly differentiated functions, no doubt, in our modern day of specialization, but with a common task and purpose. Their cooperation is indispensable, their war-fare fatal. There can be no successful government without leadership or without the intimate, almost instinctive, coordination of the organs of life and action. This is not theory, but fact, and displays its force as fact, whatever theories may be thrown across its track. Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice.

Emphasis added. The writer goes on to dismiss the Constitution as written as hopelessly "Newtonian".

Now that's real (and unveiled) Social Darwinism. The promulgator of this odiousness statism? Why, none other than that "progressive" darling, Woodrow Wilson.

URLs du Jour

2012-10-09

  • refrigerator pickles Your R-rated article for the day is at McSweeney's: "Craig’s Artisanal Pickles Philosophy", as set forth by Craig, of Craig's Artisanal Pickles. As it turns out, Craig is kind of … well, judge for yourself (via an excerpt relatively PG):

    [O]ur philosophy gives us a tremendous advantage over our artisanal competitors, shackled as they are by obsolete notions of “Right” and “Wrong.” We donate nothing to charity, instead reinvesting all profits into our intimidatingly massive stockpile of shotguns. We have no qualms about genetically modified organisms, so our flocks of Craig’s Pre-Brined Turkeys are a huge hit at Thanksgiving. And all of our products contain a lot of nicotine.

  • If you go there, you have my permission to ignore the "reasons to re-elect Obama" link that McSweeney's is putting at the top of pages these days. Unless, like Mike Riggs at Reason, you want to make fun of the whole sometimes-cultish, sometimes high-schoolish enterprise. Here he tees off on Reggie Watts, who actually typed, referring to Obama: "He has the power of three eagles."

    Critics of Team Blue have compared Democratic support for Obama, particularly in the face of his authoritarianism, to support for a cult leader. But belonging to a cult means studying your leader's teachings and practicing effective proselytization. Watts, and the other celebrities who have written for 90 Days, 90 Reasons, do neither. With the exception of "free" health care, they can't seem to name (much less explain) anything Obama has done, or anything he plans to do. Hell, they don't even quote him. Instead, they describe how he looks and what his hobbies are, and how awesome it is that he has time to pay attention to them. Obama is a popular kid, and people like Watts are voting for him as if he were running for student body president.

    Four weeks to go, and I'm sure things will only get sillier, nastier, and crazier from here on out.

  • Jay Bhattacharya takes down the LA Times "fact checker" who denies that Obamacarea's Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) will have no effect on patient care.

    The media "fact check" business is incredibly tiresome given how pedantic and downright inaccurate it is, but I wanted to weigh in on this one before it hardens.  The LA Times somehow thinks that the ACA (aka Obamacare) will have no effect on determining what care patients can get, and consequently dings Romney for saying it will.  There isn't a single honest health economist out there who agrees with the LA Times on this one.

    This via Michael F. Cannon of Cato who notes

    I am not aware of a single fact-checker who has grasped that basic point. Not PolitiFact, not the Associated Press, not FactCheck.org, not The Washington Post‘s Fact-Checker, not this Washington Post health reporter.

    It's an observation we've made before: when "fact checkers" are too unqualified/lazy to judge facts, their default position is to buy into Obama Administration spin.

  • Which reminds me: new article from Iowahawk. 'Nuff said.

  • My lovely and talented sister, who lives in Iowa, reports the odd combination of amusement and outrage there that (believe it or not) doesn't have anything to do with politics: Arby's brought out a TV ad with an ex-NYC detective narrator reporting the devastating, nasty truth about competitor Subway: their sandwich meat is sliced in … gasp! … Iowa .

    Which, the commercial implies, might as well be an Upton Sinclair slaughterhouse based in Mordor.

    The outcry forced Arby's to abjectly apologize to Iowans, and alter the wording of their commercial.

    Even better: the Huffington Post article that reported all this contains the following correction:

    CORRECTION: This article originally identified Iowa as the "Buckeye State." In fact, Ohio is the Buckeye State, and Iowa is the Hawkeye State.

    Moral: coast-dwellers can be pretty out of touch with flyover country.

URLs du Jour

2012-10-08

  • Hampton Beach NH Good news: New Hampshire is replacing signs at the beach that attempted to advise French-speaking tourists on proper procedures for requesting assistance.

    One sign warning French speakers about rip currents was supposed to say, "If you're in trouble, wave for assistance," but instead it read, "if you need help, ocean wave."

    How hard can this be? Google Translate suggests: En cas de difficulté, hurler et crier et agiter votre butin. Is that wrong?

  • The 2012 winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest have been announced. As usual, they are hilariously awful. My fave:

    “I’ll never get over him,” she said to herself and the truth of that statement settled into her brain the way glitter settles on to a plastic landscape in a Christmas snow globe when she accepted the fact that she was trapped in bed between her half-ton boyfriend and the wall when he rolled over on to her nightgown and passed out, leaving her no way to climb out.

  • I've been meaning to write on a peeve of mine: Comcast envelopes in the mail proclaiming "IMPORTANT INFORMATION ENCLOSED".

    And it is invariably not IMPORTANT. Instead, Comcast wants to sell me something new.

    Gosh, you think anyone else might be irked? Thanks to Google, I can tell you the answer is: yes, yes, yes, yes, …

Terminator Salvation

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

<voice imitation="emily_litella">

"Terminator Salivation? That's disgusting! Those killer androids are menacing enough, you want to make them drool, too? Didn't we get enough of that in the Alien movies?

"Wait, what?

"Oh, that's quite different! Never mind."

</voice>

A small prequel sets up the plot driver: Marcus (played by Sam Worthington) is about to be executed by the judicial system. Thanks to Helena Bonham Carter's badgering, he donates his body to "science"; although it turns out the scientists work for Cyberdyne, who, as we know, go on to invent technology that ends the world.

The next thing Marcus knows, he's in the future, and Skynet has blown up most of humanity. I hate it when that happens.

John Connor (Christian Bale) is a major fighter in the resistance, of course, but he's not the leader. That's General Ashdown, played by well-known hardass Michael Ironside. And John has not yet encountered Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), but thanks to his mom's posthumous instructions, he knows that he pretty much has to. (Since we've seen the previous movies, we know this too.)

If you don't understand anything I just said: there's absolutely no reason you should see this movie.

And (generally) we also know what has to happen: Connor and Reese have to meet up; Marcus has to help out; Ashdown's pig-headed stubbornness will nearly doom the good guys; some major character is not gonna make it to the end of the movie, and there's only one candidate for that.

I wanted to like this, but… sorry. Christian Bale is a fine, intense, actor, but his talent is expended to no purpose here. There are lots of explosions, chases, and other PG-13 mayhem, all with decent special effects, but not much very interesting. Perhaps realizing that there's not a lot of reason to care what happens to the adults in this movie, the makers threw a cute (and mute) kid into the perilous mix. Shameless.

There's a scene near the end where we see a scowling old friend from the first movie, but that just reminded me that I liked that one a lot better.

The Phony Campaign

2012-10-07 Update

[phony baloney]

According to the Google, Mitt Romney increased his phony hits by over 30% in just one week. With 30 days before the election, could he actually make this a horse race?

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-09-30
"Barack Obama" phony 6,450,000 -20,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 2,110,000 +490,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 552,000 +36,000

(I should mention once again: don't take this seriously.)

  • But, Beelzebub help me, I'm actually starting to like Mitt Romney. The latest nudge in that direction comes from this WaPo letter to the editor from Ms. Cynde Sears of Oak Hill, Virginia. Cynde wrote in reaction to a WaPo article, which described an occasion of sinful behavior:

    Mitt Romney asked a contractor (perhaps a small business) for an estimate to construct a walkway. When he learned what it would cost, he decided to build it himself with his sons' help. In this one action, Mr. Romney unwittingly displayed who he really is.

    And, according to Cynde, who Mitt "really is", is a horrible, horrible person. Cynde goes on to detail what the morally superior person (herself, specifically) might do to handle a comparable home improvement: go ahead and hire contractors. (And perhaps watch them toil under a blazing sun, while sipping lemonade on the veranda.) But with his do-it-himselfishness, Cynde says, Mitt was "cheating people out of jobs."

    The link is from David Boaz from Cato@Liberty, who (correctly) chastises Cynde for her woeful economic ignorance. But I what I took away from the letter was her even more irritating judgmentalism.

    It used to be that moralizers, pecksniffs, and bluenoses were a right-wing phenomenon; at least that was the stereotype. Cynde reminds us that this unctuous tide has shifted leftward.

    And that's why I'm liking Mitt more: he's pissing off the correct people.

  • And, as another data point, this column from Andrew C. McCarthy has the aside:

    Whatever you may think of the former Massachusetts governor's politics, there should never have been any hesitation about Romney the man. This is a bright, self-made man, one whose public and private philanthropy, which puts most of us to shame, should be legendary. It is not. That's because his good works weren't done to burnish his political credentials and his decency discourages their exploitation toward that end. You don't have to agree with Romney on everything to see that he is a mensch. He obviously loves the America that is -- the land of opportunity that has rewarded his work ethic. Like most of us, he wants that America preserved, not "fundamentally transformed."

    Um, good point. I've said a lot of mean stuff about Mitt over the past few years. If Mitt wins, I'll probably continue. But Andy's right: as a person, Mitt puts me to shame.

  • Which made me think: if we did elect presidents on "character issues", is there any doubt that Bill Clinton would never have made it out of Arkansas? How about JFK? LBJ? Nixon?

  • And now, back to our regularly scheduled program, already in progress: At Investors Business Daily, John Merline details "Obama's Re-Election Case Rests On 5 Phony Claims." Which is no news to anyone who's been paying attention, but comes with a nice chart, which I, erm, borrowed:

    ibd chart

  • At the Washington Examiner, Brian Hughes notes that "After taking debate lumps, Obama calls Romney a phony"

    "When I got on the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney," Obama told Denver supporters. "The real Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy."

    Only problem: Romney hasn't been running around the country promising that. The $5T number was made up by pro-Obama sources. Romney's actual proposals are discussed here. (Warning: you need to have a longer attention span than President Obama has to get through it.)

  • At Reason, Brian Doherty opines: "Libertarian Gary Johnson Should Win the Election". In the sense (I think) that "winning" means: take enough votes away from one candidate or the other in key states in order to swing the election to the other guy.

    But as far as phoniness goes:

    Money is so important that Johnson's campaign did something liable to piss off many hardcore libertarians who don't believe in publicly financed elections. He sued the FEC, trying to get $750,000 out of them before the election that he claims he is legally entitled to and has not received, as the Miami Herald reported last week.

    Note that Doherty, bless his libertarian heart, fails to avoid the statist euphemism when he says that Johnson is trying to get $750K out of the Federal Election Commission. A truer libertarian would note that Johnson is trying to get $750K from taxpayers, merely using the FEC as a temporary piggy bank.

  • Non-presidential phoniness: New Hampshire is a "swing state", so the Pun Salad household is under steady assault by presidential-race TV commercials. Thank goodness for TiVo and Netflix!

    As a "bonus", we also get ads out of Boston TV stations for the Senate race between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren. In the Weekly Standard, Michael Warren looks at that race with the irresistible headline: "The Natural Versus the Phony". You already know which is which. But here's an amusing bit from a Warren rally, where Mike Monahan, a union official, delivers a speech riffing off the Carhartt jacket Scott Brown wears while driving his pick-up truck in his ads:

    "Pick-up truck? Carhartt?" Monahan says, pronouncing it Cah-haht. "Don't let him insult your intelligence. Where's the cutting oil stains on that Carhartt? Where's the chalk stains on that Carhartt? Where's the rip from the rebar tie wire? There's none, because that jacket or truck has never seen a day's work."

    Geez, maybe Brown could help Mitt Romney with some home improvements or something.


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

Vengeance

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

This movie was directed by Johnnie To, who (news to me) is a famous moviemaker in Hong Kong. For a crime thriller, it's quite arty. The primary protagonist is played by Johnny Hallyday, who's a famous French actor (also news to me).

Right from the get-go, an entire Hong Kong family, husband, wife and kids, is shot up by a team of hit men. (The kids too? Yes. Although that's mercifully not explicit.)

Unfortunately for the bad guys, the wife was the daughter of Costello, a French chef with a restaurant on the Champs-Élysées, but with a darker history. And he sets out on a crusade for… well, you see the title up there.

His method relies on hyper-Dickensian coincidence: he just happens upon a different team of hit men who are in the process of taking out the unfaithful mistress of a local mob boss and her lover (in flagrante delicto if you know what I mean). He hires them for their skills and local connections. What follows is (of course) a lot of shooting. But there is also a major ironic plot twist based in Costello's violent past. There's a reason he keeps taking pictures of people: he needs to.

I said it was arty: there are a lot of imaginative eye-catching visuals layered over the (admittedly pretty standard) plot. And there's an undertheme of loyalty; I couldn't help but think that this is a movie the late Robert B. Parker would have loved.

I May Never Get Off the Couch Again

Potato Head - Couch Potato : )

A brief consumer note.

Awhile back, our cable provider, Comcast, "went digital" on us, requiring us to get a Motorola digital decoder box; only some broadcast channels remained on their analog feed.

But a few weeks back, Comcast yanked the analog feed, replacing it with an ugly text screen saying, in effect, "you shouldn't be seeing this." Sigh. Fine. Welcome to the future.

Why this mattered: we had a TiVo Series 2 DT DVR. It had two tuners, and we could feed one from the Motorola box, the other direct from the cable. It took a little bit of pre-planning and care, but we were able to reliably record two shows at once (or watch one and record one) as long as one was on the analog feed. It was a little kludgy, involving an IR "blaster" cable strung between boxes which allowed the TiVo to change the Motorola's channel. But it was OK.

However, going to all-digital changed all that: no longer could we watch one show and record another. And we couldn't record two shows at the same time. Argh. Back to the dark ages? Never!

Fortunately, TiVo had a solution: The Premiere 4. Which has (woo!) four tuners.

This took a bit of bravery. Because the Premiere 4 requires a plug-in multi-stream CableCARD™ to do its magic, and you need to get it from Comcast. It is not encouraging when a simple Google search takes you to this page, a thread entitled "Multi Stream Card & HD Tivo Nightmare", dedicated to headaches experienced by some folks trying to put this all together.

But I'm here to tell you that it all worked:

  1. I ordered the Premiere 4 direct from TiVo; you don't have to do that, but if you do, it comes pre-authorized. (Otherwise authorization is a separate step.) You get a UPS tracking number when it ships.

  2. On the arrival date, the local Comcast service center gave me the required multi-stream card with no hassle: I just needed to show them my latest bill.

  3. Once everything was at home, the hardest part of installation was the de-installation: navigating the tangle of cables and cords to yank the old TiVo and the Motorola box.

  4. But then, just followed the clear directions: (a) hooked the cable up to the Tivo; (b) hooked the TiVo to the TV; (c) plugged the 802.11g adapter from my old TiVo into the new one; (e) plugged in the power, and turned on the TV. "Welcome to TiVo" came up. Yay!

  5. The onscreen guided setup is also straightforward, although the initialization procedure involves some internet downloading at wireless-G speeds, so takes awhile. I was prompted to insert the CableCARD™, and it was detected straight away.

  6. Later, I copied the old system's "Season Passes" to the new one; this happens via TiVo's website. It took a few hours to become effective. Minor gripe: the priority settings were lost along the way, but with (again, woo!) four tuners, that shouldn't matter a bit.

The only bump in the road came when it was necessary to call Comcast to "pair" the CableCARD™. The nice lady at the other end had a thick accent, and I had to keep asking her to repeat. After she did the pairing procedure, we were slightly concerned that I was not getting TV at that point; as it turned out, she thought I was at a different stage of the setup process than I actually was. She assured me that if I just muddled through, all would be well. And it was.

So it's a total win: one fewer box, one fewer remote, a lot fewer wires. The new box has some new fancy features the old one did not. The Comcast "On Demand" material is accessible via the TiVo interface.

And wow, four tuners. But will there ever be four things I want to watch on at the same time? We'll see.

URLs du Jour

2012-10-03

  • Don't Vote An eggshellent Reason article titled "Your Vote Doesn't Count" by Katherine Mangu-Ward is now online, and it gets the coveted Pun Salad Read The Whole Thing™ award for the day. Ms. Mangu-Ward is witty and perceptive. Sample:

    Voting is widely thought to be one of the most important things a person can do. But the reasons people give for why they vote (and why everyone else should too) are flawed, unconvincing, and sometimes even dangerous. The case for voting relies on factual errors, misunderstandings about the duties of citizenship, and overinflated perceptions of self-worth. There are some good reasons for some people to vote some of the time. But there are a lot more bad reasons to vote, and the bad ones are more popular.

    See if you don't agree.

  • OK, so you might vote, or not. Gonna watch the debates? There's one on tonight! Not me, bubba. David Bier notes "How Debates Make Us Dumber". Brief and convincing. For example:

    In tonight’s debate, you will not learn of the great issues of the day. Those, I can assure you, will not be addressed, and even if they were, the shallow slogan with which they would be dismissed will only grant the illusion that they are not so great a problem after all. Nor will you even learn anything about the candidates or how they will “rule us.” You will just discover the better entertainer, the greater fraud, and perhaps even the next fancy of the democratic mob.

  • But if you decide to watch the debate, here's a drinking game. For example:

    • Obama uses one of the following phrases: “Middle class,” “wealthy,” “fair share,” “Neil Armstrong,” “Sasha and Malia,” “Caymans”: Shot.
    • Romney uses one of the following phrases: “Job creators,” “job-killing,” “class warfare,” “Olympics,” “Obamacare,” “Kenya”: Shot.*

    That's just one. Here is one from Peter Suderman at Reason.

    In any case: even if the debate makes you dumber, the drinking can give you an excuse for that.

  • James Taranto appealed to my inner Heinlein fanboy yesterday:

    Because It Is a Harsh Mistress

    "Why We Need a Supercomputer on the Moon"--headline, Wired.com, Oct. 2

    Heh!

  • [Amazon Link] In case you're interested, I recently read Frank J. Fleming's short and cheap and wonderful Kindle book, How to Fix Everything in America Forever: The Plan to Keep America Awesome. My take is here.

  • Various smart folks of a libertarian bent have taken to their keyboards to opine on whether to vote for Mitt Romney, or not. Both sides make good points, check them out if you're in the market:

    • On the pro-Romney side: Stephen Green, aka VodkaPundit.

      We don’t get to choose this year between “good” and “better’” — have we ever enjoyed that choice? But we do get a sharp distinction this year between “bad” and “worse.”

      I’m going with “bad” because I’m not sure we’ll survive another term of the worst.

    • Doug Mataconis says: there's no case for a libertarian to vote for Mitt.

      I’m not going to tell other libertarians how they should vote. Some have made the decision that defeating President Obama is their top priority and I can understand that. Others, like me, are sick of choosing between the lesser of two evils and seeing the person you voted for leading the nation further down the road to calamity. Some, like Kevin Boyd, are suggesting that not voting for President at all is the way to go. You can all choose for yourselves. For me, though, I have yet to hear a persuasive case for any libertarian to support Mitt Romney, which is why I will be voting for Gary Johnson.

    • And Timothy Sandefur agrees with Mataconis:

      Worst of all, in my mind: a Romney victory would spell the end of the Tea Party movement. The Republican Party would then be able to discipline libertarian-leaning Republicans to support the Administration in just the same way that they’re trying to yoke libertarians to support the ticket. Free-market libertarians could have said no when George W. supported expanding Medicare. They could have said no when George W. proposed bailouts. Now, once again, they have a chance to say no. And they better do it while they still can—and insist that the 2016 nomination go to someone who actually believes in limited government and individual freedom.

    • Ted Frank is a one-issue voter: Supreme Court nominations.

      One can point to individual unhappy results from Republican-appointed justices, but it is a mathematical certainty that Obama-appointed justices will flip the Court on […] critical issues of the rights of individuals against the government—none more critical than First Amendment protection for political speech. Once that falls, the game is over and libertarians have lost permanently. This alone is a dispositive libertarian case for Romney, even before one gets to the difference between a Romney and Obama on economic freedom and regulation.

    Like Mataconis, I'm enough of a libertarian to not tell you how you should vote. But I think all these guys should be read in the light of the Mangu-Ward article cited first today. Clarify your reason for voting, then decide what makes sense in light of that.

URLs du Jour

2012-10-02

  • Shanghai Acrobatic Show Hugh Hewitt prepares you for the debate by listing a number of President Obama's "poker tells" that should inform the attentive listener that the verbiage in progress will be deficient in truth-content. For example:

    … watch for the parade of straw men, the president's favorite rhetorical trick. He will set up arguments that have never been made in the service of Republican goals that have never existed, and then he will denounce both. If the appearance of a straw man serves as a trigger in a drinking game, many bottles will empty by the end of Debate No. 1.

    Pun Salad has, in the past, done something similar with "Barackrobatics", reliable signals that the President was about to utter something reality-challenged. A small sample, with links to past articles:

    "Dime."

    As in: "this legislation is fully paid for and will not add one single dime to our deficit."

    "Let me be clear."

    What follows will not be clear.

    "In the right direction."

    As in "I am extraordinarily confident that we're moving in the right direction." The President used to say this at least once a month, but has cut way back. People were beginning to giggle.

    "From Day One."

    As in "we've been at work on this crisis since Day One".

    Downside: more recently, it's been used in sentences like: "the Administration knew from Day One that the Benghazi attack was an act of terrorism and lied about it."

    As Steve Macdonald of Granite Grok pointed out, actually happens on Day One of a crisis in the Obama Administration is: "How can we blame blame Bush or Republicans, and if not them who?"

    "False choice."

    Closely related to Hewitt's strawman.

    It can be a false choice between two bad things, as in: "We need not choose between a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism and an oppressive government-run economy. That is a false choice that will not serve our people or any people."

    Or it can be a false choice between two good things, as in "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."

    Either way, Obama will claim to have a scheme to avoid making such "false" choices.

    Spot the ellipsis.

    The President has a habit of leaving out inconvenient words that might irk some of his supporters. As in "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights: life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

  • On the higher education front:

    Michigan State University said it will offer counseling for students after a professor in the Engineering Building began shouting in a hallway, and, according to some social media reports, removed his clothing.

    Since this was allegedly a math prof: the intersection of the sets

    (professors who might do that)

    and

    (professors you'd like to see do that)

    is null.

  • The student newspaper of the University Near Here has a news article about the upcoming speech by some guy who lied under oath.

    This Wednesday, Oct. 3, the UNH campus will be visited by former president Bill Clinton as part of his campaign tour stumping for President Barack Obama.

    The grassroots event, […]

    I stopped reading right there, as the article at first seemed to be written in English, but instead was in an unfamiliar language where "grassroots" has a totally different meaning.

  • Pet peeve: having to click, click, click in order to read an entire story at a website. It's a peeve for me, but for Farhad Manjoo it's a crusade:

    Pagination is one of the worst design and usability sins on the Web, the kind of obvious no-no that should have gone out with blinky text, dancing cat animations, and autoplaying music. It shows constant, quiet contempt for people who should be any news site’s highest priority—folks who want to read articles all the way to the end.

    Manjoo writes with tongue (slightly) in cheek, but he's pretty much right.

How to Fix Everything in America Forever

[Amazon Link] The proprietor of the wonderful website IMAO has written another book, available for the low, low price of (as I type) $4.74 for Amazon's Kindle. Just click on the book jacket over there, and do what Amazon tells you. Pick up a Kindle while you're there, if necessary. (Pick up another Kindle if not necessary. I get a cut.)

Frank's subtitle is "The Plan to Keep America Awesome", and he's not exaggerating. Just a few recommendations, picked at random:

  • Forget going for "a shining city on a hill." While that was OK for Reagan, Frank's overall goal: an America so awesome that foreigners should "scream in pain if they dare to gaze upon it."

  • The president should not be elected, but picked from experienced past presidents of smaller countries, kind of like NFL quarterbacks are picked from the college ranks. Then: "Hide him away in a bunker somewhere and tell him to keep an eye on other countries and leave us alone."

  • Pain collars on legislators. That's such an obviously good idea it needs no explanation.

  • A special holiday every four years: Regime Change Day. "Americans will pick one evil dictator to overthrow. Whomever we like the least. He'll be awakened by loudspeakers announcing, "Happy Regime Change Day!" followed by explosions."

  • Stop coddling the kids. For example, teach them all kung fu. Why? "We could have a generation that if suddenly attacked by ninjas, would just sink into a fighting stance, ready to do battle. That's a group of kids no one is going to mess with. We want the next generation not to shrink from challenges but instead be ready to roundhouse-kick them in the face."

  • Put scientists to work on new weapon systems. Specifically: genetically-resurrected dinosaurs with rocket launchers mounted on their backs. Another obviously good idea.

  • A simple reform for homeland security: whoever spots the most terrorists gets a free hat.

  • Punch your inner hippie.

It's short, because Frank doesn't feel the need to screw around with the usual political book fripperies, such as: considering what others have said on the issue under discussion; gathering supporting evidence for one's assertions; dealing with possible objections; showing that one's proposals are feasible in the real world. Stuff like that. Who cares?

It's consistently amusing. Consumer note: If I had to do it over again, I'd read it slower, probably only a chapter per day. For the same reason that I don't eat a dozen Krispy Kremes in one sitting: the twelfth one isn't quite as satisfying.