The First Assassin

[Amazon Link]

Readers of National Review will recognize the author's name: John J. Miller is one of their correspondents, and writes for other, lesser, publications too, like the Wall Street Journal. So I became aware of this book via that link, and decided to take a chance. Hey, not bad.

It's set in the dark days of 1861: Abraham Lincoln is assuming the Presidency, and the Union is being rent asunder. Anti-Union plots and conspiracies abound. But one seems more serious than others: embittered South Carolina slaveowners hire a mysterious professional killer named Mazorca to stalk and kill Lincoln only a few weeks into his first term.

The book's hero is Colonel Rook, who's part of General Winfield Scott's efforts to defend Washington D.C. Rook is a good detective, but Mazorca is ruthless and deadly. Fortunately, a few slaves become aware of the plot, and send a plucky slave girl north to inform the good guys of Mazorca's identity. But that's a perilous journey for a slave—will she make it?

Miller obviously did his historical homework, especially in describing the 1861 environs. (The US Capitol dome under construction; the Washington Monument unfinished; Mount Vernon falling into disrepair.) I thought I caught one anachronism when a character uses the word "okay" — surely that wasn't used in 1861? No, I was wrong, it was in normal use long before then.

It's a pageturner, no doubt. If I had to quibble, it's a little in-your-face about history. (Yes, someone does exclaim to Rook: "Colonel! Fort Sumter has given up!")

I read this in paperback, so that's where the Amazon link will take you, but the Kindle price of $4.99 is kind of a steal.

Robot & Frank

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

I was very pleasantly surprised by this little movie: it's humane, witty, and moving. I'm not very perceptive when it comes to "arty" movies, but I think I was able to pick up on some subtleties.

We're told up front that the movie is set in the near future. Elderly Frank (played by Frank Langella) lives alone in a remote house just outside of a small town. He's gradually succumbing to dementia, existing in a perpetual state of confusion and forgetfulness. His only joy is his periodic trips to the library, where he (always unsuccessfully) hits on Jennifer (Susan Sarandon).

His son, Hunter (James Marsden), makes weekend trips up to see Frank, but it's arduous, and there's only so much he can do. So Hunter buys Frank a robot (played by an Asimo, voiced by Peter Sarsgaard). Frank initially resists, but Robot is really helpful around the house, and is a decent cook.

Oh, did I mention that Frank is a retired cat burglar? Old habits die hard. And (as it turns out) Robot can also help out there too.

The movie's full of small and large surprises, fine acting talent and intelligent dialog. And allusions: Is it any accident that Frank shares his name with 2001's doomed astronaut, Frank Poole? Maybe. But here's a little more obvious one: during one of their meetings, Jennifer confesses her love for an ancient illustrated copy of Don Quixote owned by the library. Oh yeah, I get it: Frank ⇔ Don Quixote; Robot ⇔ Sancho Panza; Jennifer ⇔ Dulcinea. The agreement isn't perfect, but pretty good. What do you think?

Also Liv Tyler is in it, playing Madison, Frank's do-gooding, well-meaning daughter. Gosh, she's pretty.


Last Modified 2013-02-26 4:01 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2013-02-24

  • Hello Kitty Darth Vader Surprising approximately zero baseball fans, the New York Yankees have successfully prevented a company, "Evil Enterprises, Inc." from trademarking the term "Baseballs Evil Empire" [sic]. Ilya Somin has the appropriate links at The Volokh Conspiracy. From the opinion:

    Opposer's evidence demonstrates that a number of its fans have adopted the EVIL EMPIRE moniker as a "badge of honor" so that it now has a "positive connotation" among Yankees' fans. The Smith declaration admits that opposer has "implicitly embraced" the EVIL EMPIRE designation. For example, opposer has played the ominous theme from the STAR WARS movies at baseball games. Opposer's embracing the EVIL EMPIRE characterization, whether explicitly or implicitly, undermines its argument that use of BASEBALLS EVIL EMPIRE disparages the Yankees. In other words, having succumbed to the lure of the dark side, opposer will not now be heard to complain about the judgment of those who prefer the comfort of the light. We find that use of the term BASEBALLS EVIL EMPIRE is not disparaging to opposer.

    Yeah, so there. Boston Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino originally applied the term "Evil Empire" to the Yankees in 2002.

  • Speaking of that: as I type, it's a mere 36 days until the Red Sox play their first game: April 1, 1:05pm, against the (now self-admittedly dark side-embracing) Yankees in the Bronx. A little difficult to believe, looking out my window at the snow falling, but the calendar doesn't lie.

  • Jacob Sullum reminds us (as if we needed to be reminded) about the dishonest rhetoric employed by nearly all advocates about taxes:

    In her most recent report to Congress, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson notes that "tax expenditures" -- the exclusions, exemptions, deductions and credits that make the Internal Revenue Code such a bloated, bewildering behemoth -- total more than $1 trillion a year. She explains that she tries to avoid calling these provisions "loopholes" because that word has a pejorative connotation: "Policymakers use the term 'loophole' to describe a tax expenditure that they do not agree with ... and use terms like 'incentives' or 'sound government policy' to describe tax expenditures that they like."

    President Obama, Sullum notes, exemplifies this two-faced language every time he opens his mouth about taxes. Sullum goes on from there, and if your blood pressure can afford it, I recommend Reading The Whole Thing™

  • But about that "National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson" Sullum mentions: I did not know, or had forgotten, that was even a thing. Ms. Olson is an Official Federal Government Employee in that Actual Federal Government Position. And her job is to point out how stupid, evil, counterproductive, and ruinous are the tax laws her department is tasked with enforcing.

    As far as I'm concerned, this may make Ms. Olson the best Official Federal Government Employee ever. Her website is here where you can read the report Jacob mentions and other worthwhile stuff.

  • A lot of good stuff out there on the Sequester. Here's George F'n Will:

    Even during this desultory economic recovery, one industry thrives -- the manufacture of synthetic hysteria. It is, however, inaccurate to accuse the Hysteric in Chief of crying "Wolf!" about spending cuts under the sequester. He is actually crying "Hamster!"

    As in: Batten down the hatches -- the sequester will cut $85 billion from this year's $3.6 trillion budget! Or: Head for the storm cellar -- spending will be cut 2.3 percent! Or: […]

    He goes on, wonderfully. Check it out, all the way to the end where the hamsters make another appearance.

  • Glenn Reynolds posts so much worthwhile stuff, it's hard to follow it all, but if you skipped over his link to this WaPo news story about the sequester, here's another chance. An anti-sequester lobbyist is quoted, pretty much exposing the phony rhetoric.

    "The good news is, the world doesn't end March 2. The bad news is, the world doesn't end March 2," said Emily Holubowich, a Washington health-care lobbyist who leads a coalition of 3,000 nonprofit groups fighting the cuts. "The worst-case scenario for us is the sequester hits and nothing bad really happens. And Republicans say: See, that wasn't so bad."

    Glenn comments: "So I guess we can expect the Administration to make it as bad as it can." A cynical attitude, but I would wager his expectation is also 100% accurate.