Frankenweenie

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

After two dud movies in a row, it was a relief to watch this sweet little stop-motion animated movie about a boy and his (mostly dead) dog.

Little Victor Frankenstein is a geeky kid, a loner in the little town of New Holland. His best friend is Sparky, a sweet dog of indeterminate breed. When Sparky gets hit by a car, Victor is inconsolable, but inspired by his science teacher… gosh, look at the kid's name, the movie's title, and the picture over there on the right. Can you guess what happens next?

But once that happens, Victor finds it impossible to keep Sparky's secret to himself. His classmates, desperate to outdo Victor's achievement for the upcoming science fair, determine to replicate his feat. Their experiments turn out badly, but also hilariously. And there's also (of course) a mob with torches to persecute poor reanimated, misunderstood, Sparky.

The movie is filled with imaginative characters and little shout-outs and gags from old-time movies and TV. New Holland's mayor, for example, is named "Burgermeister", and he's a dead ringer for Burgermeister Meisterburger, the memorable bad guy from 1970's stop-motion Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town. (If you watch the movie, check out IMDB's connections page to see how many you caught and how many you missed.) (Actually, they miss a few themselves. Bambi Meets Godzilla anyone?)

The Paperboy

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

Consumer note: Despite this movie's title, we only are treated to one brief scene of newspapers actually being delivered.

It's set in 1969 redneck Florida, in a little town called Lately. The main character is Jack, played by Zac Efron; he's been tossed out of college for misbehavior, and is hanging out at home doing stuff for his newspaper-publishing dad. But to demonstrate that his heart is in the right place, the movie goes out of its way to show that he enjoys an unusually friendly relationship with the African-American part-time maid, Anita.

Meanwhile, white-trash Charlotte (Nicole Kidman) has started a campaign to free her fiancé-by-correspondence, Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), from prison; he was convicted of a cop-killing a few years back, and he was (arguably) railroaded. Charlotte and Van Wetter have been exchanging R-rated letters, and she's become convinced that of all the convicts she's been writing to, he's her one true love.

The effort to free Van Wetter brings Jack's brother, Ward (Matthew McConaughey), back to Lately; he's working for a big-time Miami newspaper. He has co-worker Yardley (David Oyelowo) in tow, an African-American newspaper writer. They smell a possiple big crusading-journalist story of justice miscarried.

Zack, Ward, Charlotte, and Yardley form an unlikely, unstable team of investigators. And the movie becomes more about them than their investigation: Charlotte is a devious slut, Jack has the hots for her, Ward and Yardley have their own secrets.

It all gets quite sordid and (eventually) violent. (Key quote: "If anyone's gonna piss on him, it's going to be me. He don't like strangers peeing on him.") If you have the urge to see Nicole Kidman act and talk dirty in a southern accent, this is your go-to movie. (She was nominated for a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award.) Otherwise, I can't recommend it.

Dredd

[0.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Why yes, I did watch Dredd after Ted. What's next? Fled? Dead? Head?

Dredd may claim the widest disparity yet witnessed between critical/viewer consensus and my personal reaction to a movie. IMDB users thought it was OK; Metacritic gives it a 59 metascore (with an 8.3 user score). And Netflix's algorithm thought I'd like it. But I really hated it.

It's set in a dystopian future where nuclear war has rendered all of earth uninhabitable save for a single megacity stretching between Boston and Washington. And that city teeters on the brink of chaos due to rampant poverty and criminality. In response, law enforcement is put in the hand of Judges, cops who can sentence perps on the spot. And mete out capital punishment, if warranted, and it often is.

The biggest, baddest judge is Dredd. (Dredd is played by Karl Urban, but it could just as well have been Enzo Cerusico, because he wears his helmet all the time.) He and a rookie psychic girl partner investigate a triple homicide at a 200-story tower filled with the dregs of a dysfunctional society. (It has a atrium going all the way to the top, which is good for hurling victims into.) The situation develops into an all-out war with the "Ma-ma Clan", a gang led by a ruthless female drug dealer.

And it's all loud and stupid, just an excuse to have people and scenery shot up, blown up, and otherwise f'd up. Dialog is mechanical, characterization is minimal. Nothing hangs on the outcome.

But the set is impressive. Half a star for the set.

URLs du Jour

2013-01-25

  • Building a positive meritocracy: It's
harder than it sounds David Brooks has an interesting column on how (what he calls) "meritocracy" is driving inequality. An interesting factlet (picked up by Tyler Cowen.

    Robert Oprisko of Butler University found that half of the jobs in university political science programs went to graduates of the top 11 schools. That is to say, if you have a Ph.D. from Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and so on, your odds of getting a job are very good. If you earned your degree from one of the other 100 degree-granting universities, your odds are not. These other 100 schools don’t even want to hire the sort of graduates they themselves produce. They want the elite credential.

    Highlight added.

  • David Mamet, writes eloquently in (of all places) Newsweek on "Gun Laws and the Fools of Chelm". Specifically, it's about guns; more generally, it's about the proper relationship between government and the citizenry.

    It is not the constitutional prerogative of the Government to determine needs. One person may need (or want) more leisure, another more work; one more adventure, another more security, and so on. It is this diversity that makes a country, indeed a state, a city, a church, or a family, healthy. “One-size-fits-all,” and that size determined by the State has a name, and that name is “slavery.”

    Must read. If only to find out what and where "Chelm" is. There's a poll at the bottom to agree/disagree with Mamet, and I know you'll do the right thing there.

    [Update [2012-01-26, 5:58am]: Just checked, and the pro-Mamet side is winning in an 88%-12% squeaker.

  • You might have noticed a line from President Obama's Inaugural address that defended the current set of entitlement programs by denying that they made us a "nation of takers". My ears pricked up a bit at that; wasn't there a recent book with that title?

    Why yes there was: A Nation of Takers: America's Entitlement Epidemic by Nicholas Eberstadt. Is Obama the only president to use his Inaugural Address to trash a book he disagreed with? Probably.

    Anyway: Eberstadt responds today in the WSJ. It's filled with sad statistics that illustrate that—yup, when you look at the programs that that rob Peter to pay Paul, there are getting to be an increasing number of Pauls and fewer Peters. Conclusion:

    The moral hazard embedded in the explosion of social-welfare programs is plain. Transfers funded by other people's money tend to foster a pernicious "something for nothing" mentality—especially when those transfers seem to be progressively and relentlessly growing, year by year. This "taker" mentality can only weaken civil society—even as it places ever-heavier burdens on taxpayers.

    Generosity is a virtue, on that we can all agree with President Obama. But being generous with other people's money is not the same thing.

  • Here's a story on Slashdot that describes proposed legislation to increase the H-1B visa cap to "rise automatically with demand." (H-1B visas go to workers with technical skills or other special qualifications.)

    I don't have strong opinions on immigration changes, but what's interesting is the comments. Tech professionals are heavily represented in the Slashdot community, and they usually lean left, but holy cow are they spittin' mad about furriners possibly competing for their jobs.

    There are also wiseacres who snark about the Orwellian notion of a "cap" that "rises with demand."

  • It's always nice when someone you like likes something you like. If you know what I mean. Andrew Klavan agrees with Pun Salad that Justified is "the best crime series on TV and what may be about to become one of the genuinely great crime series of all time. " If you didn't believe me when I said it, maybe you'll believe Andrew.


Last Modified 2013-01-31 11:41 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2013-01-24

  • Sarah Mildred Long Bridge In New Hampshire news: That bitch Sarah Long sure is stuck up.

  • Ex-Indiana Governor Mitchell Daniels (not to be confused with Daniel Mitchell) was my 2012 Presidential pick for awhile, mostly due to his outstanding list of the five books that influenced him most (by F.A. Hayek, Milton & Rose Friedman, Charles Murray, Mancur Olson, and Virginia Postrel). Alas, it was not to be.

    But Mitch did become President of something, namely Purdue University, earlier this month. And he went and wrote an interesting open letter to "the people of Purdue", but you and I can read it too. And we should.

    President Daniels outlines the criticisms of today's higher education system: it's overpriced and underperforming; administrative bloat; grade inflation; lack of accountability; instruction taking a back seat to research; much of said research being of low relevance; "diversity" is prized, except for diversity of thought; overemphasis on athletics.

    Typing as a semi-loyal employee of the University Near Here: most of those criticisms hit home. Daniels goes on to note:

    However fair or unfair these critiques, and whatever their applicability to our university, a growing literature suggests that the operating model employed by Purdue and most American universities is antiquated and soon to be displaced.

    Would it be too disloyal to say: "Couldn't happen soon enough."

  • One of the recent things that brought me to share Mitch's "antiquated and soon to be displaced" conclusion was reading Nick Gillespie's Reason interview with Salman Khan. Khan is the guy behind Khan Academy, a dizzying collection of free educational videos. Among the insights:

    Khan: College is a confusing, muddled concept. There’s a learning part, a socialization part, and a credentialing part. The students and parents appreciate the experiential, the socialization parts, but they are paying that significant amount, if you really ask them, for the credential. If you went to students graduating at Harvard and said: “Look, I’ll refund all your tuition—you get all the experiences, all the friendships, all the learning—but you can never tell anyone that you went to Harvard University.” Would they do it? I suspect most will not do it. Which tells you that they were paying for the credential. The experience was kind of gravy on top of that. The universities think that the credential is nice but the main thing they’re giving is this experience. So that’s a huge transaction—a huge part of someone’s total lifetime income—where the person buying is buying something different from what the person selling [thinks he is selling].

  • While I'm not saying this has anything to do with that …:

Ted

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

Another entry in the R-rated romantic comedy genre. And it's good, unafraid to offend, but not relying on offense for cheap laughs. Even better, it's filmed in Boston with a thrilling scene set in beautiful Fenway.

The premise is: John, a friendless kid in a 1980s Boston suburb gets a teddy bear, Ted, for Christmas. He wishes (just as a falling star zips through Ursa Minor) for his bear to come to life. And he does! In the movie's universe, this is initially seen as a big deal, but soon enough the notoriety fades.

Fast-forward to the present and the world is pretty much just like ours, except there's one intelligent talking stuffed bear in it. John is an irresponsible delayed-adulthood loser, too fond of pot-smoking with Ted. Ted's a foul-mouthed lout. Inexplicably, John's got a devoted girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis). But conflict ensues when she demands that John cut down on his dysfunctional relationship with Ted.

The movie is packed with off-color humor, cultural references, and small roles for famous folks. And it's all actually funny. Especially this one bit by Ted Danson.

The movie is written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, and he also does Ted's voice. I was vaguely aware he did great impressions, so during the opening and closing narration, I thought: heh, that's a pretty good Patrick Stewart impression. Foolish me! It actually was Patrick Stewart. Make it so!

Consumer note: the Netflix rental-version DVD contains only the theatrical release of the movie, and no extras.

URLs du Jour

2013-01-22

  • True leadership I knew someone would be able to articulate my reaction to President Obama's Inaugural Address better than I could. And that someone is James Delingpole at Ricochet. He translates a passage in the speech into What Obama Really Means:

    You, Republican America, are incredibly dumb and I totally hate and despise you. But in order to pretend that I'm some kind of bi-partisan healer I'm going to dress my words up with the kind of imagery that you crazies seem to go mad for. You like God, right? And the Founding Fathers? OK. So here's some nice God 'n' Founding Fathers stuff for you. Happy now? Course you are. You're that dumb -- you didn't even see what I did there. Did you?

    Yeah, I kind of did.

    This goes along with the Obama-approved ad during the campaign that said Mitt Romney was "not one of us". By extension: anyone who voted for a not-Obama isn't "one of us".

  • Bad news: we only have 25 years (counting from, um, last Saturday) until the 32-bit Unix time counter overflows.

    It's too early for panic, but those of us in the early parts of their careers will be the ones who have to deal with the problem.

    On the other hand, given good fortune, I will be 86 years old when that happens. You befuddled young whippersnappers can give me a call at the home.

  • Amy Kane commits a nice little bit of actual journalism on the repairs to the seawall in North Hampton. Key quote:

    “Putting the riprap back to defuse the wave action is probably the biggest help,” said Thompson.

    If you want to know what that means, check it out. Even if you don't live near the New Hampshire seacoast, it's a fine piece of reporting.

URLs du Jour

2013-01-21

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. 1964 (source:
Library of Congress) Happy Martin Luther King Day, people. Matt Welch has a good essay on how people of a libertarian bent can find wisdom in the Rev's words. Conclusion:

    In 2013, we have no shortage of morally suspect laws to oppose, starting with a drug war that has debased our constitutional rights and created a grotesque prison-industrial complex that warehouses millions of disporportionately [sic] minority prisoners. As King argued, radically and inspirationally, "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." Thanks to his example, and the elusive, cross-partisan appeal of his words, we have a blueprint for doing just that.

    Not that I'm going to start using illicit substances or anything, but those are wise words.

  • In case you missed it: Pun Salad's annual commentary on the celebration of MLK day by the University Near Here.

  • At AEI, Mark Perry is bemused by a report entitled "Gender Equity in Education" issued by the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education. On most measures, females are doing much better than males in navigating the US educational industry. For example, 57% of students in post-secondary education are women; girls are less likely to be held back a year than boys; and they enjoy large majorities in enrollment in "Education and Training" and "Health Care."

    But females are not overrepresented in some fields, notably science, math, and IT.

    The report does not conclude that these disparities are a result of students' preferences and talents. And it's not even-handed: it points with alarm to the 23.9% female participation rate in postsecondary IT programs as a travesty. But an 18.4% male participation rate in Health Science? Who cares? Not Your Federal Government.

    Perry innocently asks:

    Only when women (men) are overrepresented (underrepresented) on every educational metric, including STEM, will we have reached the goal of "full gender equity." The fact that men are undrepresented on almost all positive educational outcomes and overrepresented on negative outcomes (like being held back a grade for academic defiiency) is apparenly completely consistent with the Office of Civil RIght's goal of "full gender equity," which apparently inequitably only applies to one gender?
    My cynical take: people employed in the Grievance Industry will always find it worthwhile to find reasons to Grieve.

Dark Shadows

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

The standard disclaimer for Johnny Depp movies: Mrs. Salad loooves Johnny Depp. But this one didn't even make it for her.

Folks of a certain age might remember that "Dark Shadows" was an actual soap opera on Daytime TV back in the 60s. I think I may have watched 5 minutes of it back in 1966. This incarnation is played more for goofy laughs.

Mr. Depp plays Barnabas Collins, heir to a fishing magnate in coastal Maine back in the 18th century. But he makes the mistake of jilting a witch, Angelique, a psycho who destroys his true love and turns him into a vampire. The townspeople, outraged at his subsequent thirst for their blood, bury him alive.

And so things sit until 1972, when he's accidentally dug up by a construction crew. After making short work of them, Barnabas returns to his manor to find the dissolute remains of his family, together with a bunch of ne'er-do-well hangers on. And worse, Angelique is still around to make trouble.

There's a huge pile of well-known acting talent in addition to Mr. Depp: Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, a near-unrecognizable Jonny Lee Miller, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee. And, let's face it, any movie with Christopher Lee is not gonna totally suck. (Heh. Get it?)

It's genuinely funny in spots, but too much of the humor is forced.


Last Modified 2013-01-21 10:23 AM EST

Maphead

[Amazon Link]

I've been a Ken Jennings fan since his winning streak on Jeopardy! back in 2004. I recognized kind of a kindred spirit, I think. Except that he's smarter, funnier, more interesting, and (worst of all) younger. Also (as this book demonstrates, a better writer.

(Not that it matters, but I got Ken to sign my copy of Maphead when he spoke up at the University of Southern Maine in Portland last year. ("To Paul! Who is Ken Jennings?") And discovered, in addition to all those other things, my kindred spirit is also a far better public speaker than I. Oh well.)

But still: kindred spirit. Case in point: this book sprang out of Ken's longtime love of maps. And, as he describes his youthful encounters with atlases, schoolroom pulldowns, globes, etc., I found myself saying: Hey, I remember doing that too. Ken's touchstone is his old Hammond World Atlas; mine would be my National Geographic Globe. One of my perennial complaints with novels where the action involves the characters traipsing over the countryside, or even a building, is: this book could really use a map or two. Tolkien did it, why don't today's authors?

In addition, both Ken and I have wives that are totally hopeless mapwise.

This is not a textbook: each chapter is an exploration of some map-related topic, but it's not systematic or exhaustive. The chapters are filled with interesting trivia, interviews, anecdotes, and yarns. Topics include the general geographic illiteracy of US students; visits to the Library of Congress's map collection and Britain's Royal Geographic Society; people who map imaginary lands; the National Geographic Bee; Google Maps and Google Earth; geocaching. And more.

The index is funny too. ("Trebek, Alex; after a few drinks: 147")

If you've ever spent idle hours in Google Earth, or with physical maps, I think you'll find this book to be entertaining and edifying. Go ahead and do the Amazon clicky thing over there, you won't be sorry.

Sleepwalk With Me

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

I watched Mike Birbiglia's hilarious stand-up routine ("What I Should Have Said Was Nothing") a few years back on Comedy Central. It really stood out amid the standard dreck: he's gifted at telling as-far-as-I-know true stories about his life and activities. ("Chalk up another save for the Eck!")

Since then, he's put on some big-boy pants, writing and starring in this actual movie. Well sort of. It has real actors (e.g., James Rebhorn and Carol Kane as his parents. Yes, Carol Kane.) It's based on a play, which (in turn) is based on his stand-up. Mike plays a character named "Matt Pandamiglio", who, at the beginning of the film, is a dreadfully unfunny and unsuccessful comedian, making do by tending bar at the same club at which he performs. He also has an eight-year relationship with Abby, who's beginning to chafe at the lack of long-term commitment.

Matt accidentally discovers a key to professional success: to talk honestly, but amusingly, about his personal life. (His first big laugh comes when he blurts out "I'm not going to get married until I am 100% sure nothing good can happen in my life anymore." Oh oh.) Professional success dovetails with personal turmoil, as he develops a nasty sleep disorder (see title) and gets stampeded into a marriage engagement.

Now there's a lot of funny stuff here, but the funniest stuff is when Birbiglia talks directly to the camera. This leads me to suspect I would have laughed more at his stand-up routine.


Last Modified 2013-01-21 10:24 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2013-01-20

  • Maxwell_Neanderthal Are you an adventurous human woman? You're in luck! "Scientist Seeks 'Adventurous Human Woman' For Neanderthal Baby". No, it's not the National Enquirer, it's Slashdot.

  • In a saner world, the folks running Politifact, the site that self-proclaims its purpose as to "help you find the truth in American politics", would simply shutter the site, turn out the office lights, and go find honest jobs.

    But instead: Politifact awarded its 2012 "Lie of the Year" to Mitt Romney, who made a campaign ad pointing out that Fiat, the company that owns Chrysler, was planning on making Jeeps in China.

    Only problem is: that "lie" was (ahem) actually true. At the Weekly Standard blog, Mark Hemingway analyzes Politifact's defense. Buried in Politifact's self-justifying bullshit is:

    The Romney campaign was crafty with its word choice, so campaign aides could claim to be speaking the literal truth, but the ad left a false impression that all Jeep production was being moved to China.

    (Emphasis added.) That crafty Romney campaign! Speaking the literal truth! But we heard lies, precious!

    Perhaps Politifact could rebrand itself. Might I suggest the "Ministry of Truth".

  • There are lies, and then there's bullshit. And Jacob Sullum found plenty of the latter in President Obama's press conference last week, where he talked about his gun proposals.

    Obama said the gun control task force headed by Vice President Biden has given him "a list of sensible, common-sense steps that can be taken to make sure that the kinds of violence we saw at Newtown doesn't [sic] happen again."

    Jacob's retort:

    Sensible and common-sense! Who could be against that?

    These words are, indeed, reliable markers of Barackrobatic bullshit. Overuse is a mark of ineptness, though.

    But that's the window dressing. Jacob notes Obama's proposals are also excrement-based in substance:

    Still, note that Obama, who a month ago conceded that "no single law [and] no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence," is now promising just that. He reiterated that unrealistic goal later in the press conference, saying he wants "sensible steps that we can take to make sure that somebody like the individual in Newtown can't walk into a school and gun down a bunch of children in a shockingly rapid fashion."

    It's worth clicking through, if only to see the mouse-over on the picture accompanying Jacob's post. No spoilers here! Jacob's is the kind of "fact-checking" you won't see at places like Politifact.

  • The Bad Lip Readers have been watching them some football. For Patriot fans, there's a lot of Tom Brady.

    >


Last Modified 2013-01-21 5:32 AM EST

ParaNorman

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

Usually I am pretty OK with ostensibly-for-kids animated movies. But I didn't like this one much. Maybe I was in a bad mood? As always, your mileage may vary.

Norman is a nice kid, but he has a problem: like Haley Joel Osment, he sees dead people. Nobody believes him, of course. His dad yells at him, his sister scorns him, and he's bullied at school by the large, obnoxious Alvin.

Blithe Hollow, where Norman resides, is kinda like Salem, MA: famous for its supernatural past. Specifically, a condemned witch once cursed her accusers for eternity. Since then a townsperson has been given the annual task of protecting the town from the curse. Currently, that's Norman's uncle, but he passes this duty onto Norman just after he kicks the bucket. Mistake! Because Norman botches the job, putting the town into peril.

There's some clever stuff here, but it's overwhelmed by (a) action and (b) Message. The action is frenetic, endless, loud, and not particularly interesting. The Message is an unsubtle mixtape of every Earnest Do-Gooder's middle-school lecture: bullying, intolerance, and fear are bad. Everyone's just misunderstood. Zzz.


Last Modified 2013-01-16 9:55 AM EST

Sound of My Voice

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

This little movie appears to have been made for about $3.98, but that's OK. I was surprised to see that the actors involved have reasonable-sized credits at IMDB, because it seems more like a film-school project.

Peter and Lorna are sorta-journalists looking for a hot scoop as they investigate a secret cult. They arrive at a house where they're ordered to disrobe and shower (using "a lot of soap") and then taken, blindfolded, to the cult leader. Improbably, it's a young woman named Maggie.

Maggie claims to have arrived from the future; she doesn't know how or why, but claims to provide helpful advice to her followers, enabling them to survive the coming bad times. She asks them to perform various disgusting/degrading tasks; she preaches banalities. She sings them a song, which is OK until someone points out that it was originally by the Cranberries. And she tosses out cult members who point out that she hasn't offered the slightest bit of evidence that she's actually from the future.

Eventually, she asks Peter and Lorna to do something sketchy. But Peter is no longer the hard-nosed investigative journalist; instead he's halfway seduced by Maggie's spiel. What will happen? Assuming you care.

There is a lot of ambiguity, and a number of untied loose ends. I'm sure that's intentional, but I don't care for it. The actress playing Maggie, Britt Marling, also wrote the screenplay.


Last Modified 2013-01-21 10:24 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2013-01-14

  • Enjoy Capitalism The Other McCain does the dirty job of watching Michael Moore's recent movie Capitalism: A Love Story. The movie is (of course) tendentious. But also just plain bad. And Moore's also doing a poor job of hiding the sheer ugliness of his thoughts:

    A preference for blame over understanding is a hallmark of prejudice. There’s not really that much difference in hating “the rich” and hating any other group of people.

    Using loaded language about “greed” and labels like “Corporate America” isn’t any less prejudicial than talking about how Mexicans are sneaking over the border to take away American jobs. As a matter of fact, Democrats spent a lot of time the past year talking about “outsourcing” and “shipping jobs overseas,” which is really just another method of xenophobic blame-shifting: The Foreigners! Are Taking! Our Jobs!

    Why don’t we recognize the language of the Left as expressions of prejudice? Why is demonization of ”the rich” accepted as a substitute for actual understanding of how the economy works?

    The showing was on Current TV, recently in the news for making Moore's buddy, Al Gore a pile of money. Is that irony? I can never tell.

  • A couple weeks back, we looked at the comments of NH state rep Cynthia L. Chase, who deemed the participants in the Free State Project to be New Hampshire's "single biggest threat". That bit of progressive demonization got quite a bit of publicity, even outside the Granite State. In a brilliant move, some Free Staters got together and sent Representative Cynthia a… lovely thank-you bouquet.

    But wait, that's not all: the editorial writer from my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, was not amused.

    We understand, that as with any fledgling movement, there needs to be a growing-up process. But childishly delivering flowers to Chase as a thank you would indicate the FSP has a ways to go.

    Foster's apparently has a bee in its bonnet about the FSP, one that induces complete humor-impairment in its writers. Sad!

  • But, despite the flowers, Tim Condon of GraniteGrok recommends that Cynthia call her therapist lest she happen upon this Forbes article about Free Stater Mark Warden and his Porcupine Real Estate. (Mark is exactly the kind of person Cynthia considers to be a "threat".)

  • Did you watch the Golden Globe awards last night? So didn't I. But apparently it consisted of wealthy Hollywood denizens telling each other stories about how brave they are.

    There's this quote I remember. It starts: "You keep using that word…"

URLs du Jour

2013-01-09

  • Crazy Frog Michael Tanner has some "fiscal facts of life". It's a good big-picture look at the dire financial straits of Your Federal Government. As probably everyone reading this already knows: the Democratic mantra of "raise taxes on the rich" is a non-solution; we have to cut spending. But:

    Domestic discretionary spending amounts to 18 percent of all federal spending. Interest on the debt amounts to another 6 percent, but that is essentially untouchable. This leaves defense (19 percent) and entitlement programs, notably Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which consume 46 percent of federal spending. (Another 11 percent goes to other entitlements, homeland security, and a few additional categories.)

    That is why it is so disappointing that Republicans are working to undo the sequester for defense spending, while President Obama is keeping entitlement reform off the table. Frankly, there is no way to balance the budget or reduce the debt if 71 percent of the budget (defense plus entitlements plus interest payments) is uncuttable.

  • As far as strategy goes, I liked this suggestion, addressed to Speaker Boehner, from Patterico, so I'm just going to post the whole darn thing.

    They want to play the “no negotiation” game? Obama, Mr. Stimulus, wants to blame CONGRESS for overspending?

    Fine. Here’s what you do.

    You draw up a budget that has what you want. No more whining about what the other side will agree to. Just figure out what you want and then pass it.

    And then approve nothing else. Whatsoever.

    You have the House. You have the spending power. Obama is blaming YOU for not exercising it wisely.

    And he’s right.

    So raise the debt limit. And then pass what YOU think is a defensible budget.

    If the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Democrat president won’t pass it, that’s on them.

    The debt ceiling is not a way to make a stand because it’s suicidal and you know it. So raise it.

    And then, pass exactly what you want. If they’re going to blame you, then you vote only for a bill you feel comfortable taking FULL responsibility for.

    Dammit. Take a stand for once in your life. Why are you doing this job if you’re not going to take a stand?

    What he said.

  • At the Oatmeal, Matthew Inman relates a story from his youth: "When your house is burning down, you should brush your teeth." Especially recommended for cat owners.

  • Justified returned for its fourth season last night, so I'm as happy as the Bird whose nest is heaven'd in the heart of purple Hills. We didn't see much of Art Mullen, Raylan's boss, however. To make up for this deficiency, here's episode 4 of Nick Searcy's Acting School (with a brief cameo from Timothy Olyphant):

    You know you've made it when you have actual bitches to do your bitch-slapping for you.

The Hard Way

[Amazon Link] And this is the tenth Jack Reacher novel for me. As always, Lee Child presents a very enjoyable page-turner. The man deserves every penny of his undoubtedly astronomical royalty checks.

Reacher starts things out by being a little too observant of the swirl of Manhattan street traffic as he sips an espresso outside a coffee shop. He sees a man get into a Mercedes and drive off—that's all. But when he revisits the same shop the next day, he's asked to tell what he remembers.

Why? Because the car contained a $1e6 ransom payoff; the wife and stepchild of Charles Lane, head of a private "security organization", have been kidnapped. No cops! But Reacher's not a cop, and he's roped into the scheme, joining in with Lane's team of cold-blooded mercenaries. Can Reacher discover the bad guys and save the innocent? As Child might write: "That was for sure. That was clear."

This entry in the series is slightly unusual in that (and stop reading if you don't even want a minor spoiler) Reacher keeps making mistakes and getting things wrong here. (Basically, if Reacher confidently asserts something on one page, expect it to be contradicted shortly.) The plot essentially turns on Reacher's misconceptions. That's a relief, I suppose, for those who have found Reacher to be impossibly omniscient in previous books.

Looper

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

Yes, this is two Joseph Gordon-Levitt movies in a row. (If you don't count The Hobbit, which was more of an Event.) Good catch.

I got to admit: I really kind of like that kid.

Hooray (by the way) for Netflix, who got this to the Pun Salad Manor mailbox on the exact day of the DVD release. I know they don't really like fogies like me getting old-fashioned physical media in the mail, but they (nonetheless) do a pretty good yob of it.

I'm going to describe the premise of this movie as it's laid out in the early going. It's set in the dystopian world of 2044, where vagrants wander the streets and criminals operate with impunity. But things are really bad in 2074. They have invented time travel by then, but it's illegal. The (even bolder) criminals of 2074 use it to send their victims back to 2044, where they are immediately blunderbussed by "loopers" and their bodies disposed of.

With me so far? OK: when a 2044 looper makes it to 2074, he is often time-machined back to 2044, where his younger self kills him. (Called "closing the loop.") If the 2044-looper fails to kill his older version, this is deemed to be "letting your loop run", and it's very unacceptable.

Now, all of that falls apart under very easy questioning. Why don't the 2074 bad guys just send their victims back to the Jurassic? Or to Antarctica, or the middle of the Pacific, or five miles above an active volcano? Cheaper, more reliable.

But once you swallow hard and buy the premise, this is actually a pretty good movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a young looper (Joe) confronted unexpectedly with his older self (Bruce Willis). Old Joe escapes Young Joe, and goes on the lam, looking for a young version of the criminal mastermind that's caused him some serious grief in 2074.

Good stuff! Joseph Gordon-Levitt underwent some serious makeup artistry to make him look more like a younger Bruce Willis. (Only problem being that we Moonlighting fans pretty much remember what the 30-years-younger Bruce Willis looked like, and he didn't look like that.)


Last Modified 2013-01-21 10:22 AM EST

Why Reuters is Worse than Worthless, Part CXXIII

Minimum wage at Iceland - £0.00 per
hour This Reuters story ("Ten U.S. states raise minimum wage, rates up 10 to 35 cents/hour") appeared at the top of my Google News page early in the new year. First paragraph:

Ten U.S. states kicked off the new year with a minimum wage rise of between 10 and 35 cents, modestly boosting the incomes of nearly 1 million low-paid workers.

I looked for the Econ 101 caveat: … or at least for those still employed, clocking the same number of hours, which won't be everyone. But it wasn't there. The "news" story didn't seem at all interested in possible negative effects of minimum wage increases. In ReutersLand, it's all sunshine and lollipops.

The increases are due to state laws mandating a wage rate higher than the US minimum of $7.25/hr, and linking the rate to inflation. To reinforce the story's Pollyannish view of the effects, seemingly expert views are quoted:

The increase will put an extra $190 to $510 per year into the pocket of the average minimum-wage worker, according to a study by the non-partisan National Employment Law Project, released last month.

Is the National Employment Law Project (NELP) "non-partisan"? Well… Their website is here. To give you an idea on whether they have an invested position on the minimum wage, they also maintain the website www.raisetheminimumwage.com. And if you look at NELP's Board of Directors, you'll see a preponderance of union bigwigs, "community activists", and "progressive" hangers-on. Apparently the Reuters rulebook allows the NELP to be deemed "non-partisan." But I would be stunned if you were able to show me a single GOP donor on the Board.

Reuters' labelling of NELP as "non-partisan" is lulls the reader into thinking they're getting authoritative facts from an unbiased source; in fact, they're getting ideological advocacy.

The story continues…

"For a low-wage worker, these increases are a vital protection against rising costs. In states without indexing, inflation slowly erodes the value of minimum wage workers' pay," said David Cooper, an analyst with the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute.

There's that "nonpartisan" blessing from Reuters again. And (again) the "nonpartisan" EPI turns out to be another left-wing advocacy outfit. Their board is about as nonpartisan as the AFL-CIO. (Clue: the board's chairman is Richard Trumka, also the president of the AFL-CIO.)

[Note that Reuters isn't shy about labelling the ideology of organizations when they're not on the left. For example, this article follows up a reference to the Heritage Foundation with the dismissive "a Washington-based conservative think-tank"; the Cato Institute is nearly always referred to as "the libertarian Cato Institute" or a "libertarian think-tank".]

You would not know from reading the Reuters article that there's any controversy about the minimum wage at all. Wikipedia could have told Reuters about it. Fun fact: a 2006 survey of 210 Ph.D. members of the American Economics Association asked about the minimum wage: of the economists responding to that question, nearly half thought it should eliminated; that was the largest single response.

New Year Resolution: try to figure out how to remove Reuters articles from Google News.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

So Mrs. Salad and I went to see the Hobbit movie. Not wanting to be a technological old fogey, I sprang for the extra dough to see it in 3-D and "high frame rate" (HFR) 48 frames per second (fps). This in contrast to normal movies, which display at 24 fps.

Consumer note: I was not wowed by HFR. Fairly or not, I kept thinking: this looks like TV. (Yes, a very large screen, very sharp TV. But still.) And the 3D is neat, of course. But not really vital to the story. Unless you (like me) just want to see what it looks like, I'd recommend that you save your money. The special effects are capital-I Impressive; they may not have the same sense-assaulting impact in a cheaper showing, but I would imagine they'd be more than satisfactory.

All that is just kvetching, because it's an epic tale, told slowly. This is just part one of a three-film series, and it runs just 11 minutes shy of three hours. Plan accordingly, bathroom-wise.

Plot: A young Bilbo Baggins joins up with the wizard Gandalf and a gang of dwarves to reclaim the dwarves' home in the Lonely Mountain from the evil dragon Smaug. We don't see that much of Smaug, unfortunately, because the group is continuously in peril from orcs, goblins, trolls, and other hostile denizens of Middle Earth. This happens when you stray from the Shire.

Oh, also Gollum. And some sort of ring. Gosh, it's good to see them again.

A number of cast members from the Lord of the Rings trilogy show up here: Ian Holm and Elijah Wood as older Bilbo and Frodo; Ian McKellen (of course) as Gandalf; Hugo Weaving as Elrond; Cate Blanchett as Galadriel; Christopher Lee as Saruman; and (also of course) Andy Serkis as the G-dude. Martin Freeman is young Bilbo, and he's great.


Last Modified 2013-01-15 5:15 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2013-01-01

Happy New Year! Try not to think too hard about the weasels in Washington DC. Weasel catches mouse

  • You don't want to go too far into 2013 without remembering the year past, and I would suggest Dave Barry's Year in Review as the best way to do that. For example, in September:

    Abroad, the big story is a deadly 9/11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. It soon becomes apparent that the attack either was or was not a spontaneous protest to a movie that either does or does not actually exist, or possibly it was an organized terrorist attack that either did or did not involve al Qaeda and either could or could not have been prevented if there had been better intelligence, which maybe there was, or maybe there was not, although if there was, it was not acted on, possibly for political reasons. Or, not. But beyond these basic facts, little is clear. The White House issues a strong statement assuring the nation that President Obama was not in any way involved in this, "or anything else that may or may not become known."

    Yeah, that's pretty much as I remember.

  • But seriously: Kevin D. Williamson continues to write compelling stuff, in this case, how to win the war of ideas with progressivism. It's longish, but read it anyway. Kevin (I call him Kevin) offers three observations about the differences in attitudes/prejudices between Them and Us, which I'll copy here:

    1. Progressives and those who sympathize with them are economically risk-averse compared with conservatives.
    2. Progressives benefit enormously from the fact that economic inequality matters much more to Americans than conservatives like to admit.
    3. Conservatives see people as assets, and progressives see people as liabilities.

    These (in turn) have serious implications for both the content of viable conservative proposals and how they should be marketed. Read The Whole Thing™.

  • Did Republicans deserve to lose? Find out the thrilling answer in Thomas Sowell's new article "Republicans Deserved to Lose". He refers back to a year-old prophetic WSJ column by Bret Stephens bemoaning the GOP presidential field that (by then) was pretty much Mitt and Newt, seeing Mitt as "hollow". Sowell continues:

    Yet this is not just about Mitt Romney. He is only the latest in a long series of presidential candidates backed by a Republican establishment that seems convinced that ad hoc "moderation" is where it's at -- no matter how many of their ad hoc moderates get beaten by even vulnerable, unknown, or discredited Democrats.

    I despair.


Last Modified 2017-12-02 4:44 AM EST