URLs du Jour — Easter 2013

  • Andrew Napolitano Usually, actual religious belief doesn't make it onto the Reason website. But Andrew Napolitano smashes through that barrier with "This Easter, Celebrate Freedom"

    Easter is the linchpin of human existence: With it, life is worth living, no matter its cost or pain. Without it, life is meaningless, no matter its fleeting joys or triumphs. Easter has a meaning that is both incomprehensible and simple. It is incomprehensible that a human being had the freedom to rise from the dead. It is simple because that human being was and is God. Easter means that there is hope for the dead. And if there's hope for the dead, there's hope for the living.

    It's Reason, so fans of meaninglessness crop up in the comments.

  • Speaking of hope, the Red Sox season starts tomorrow in the Bronx. I'm hoping Jackie Bradley, Jr. lives up to his preseason performance (.419 batting average, for example).

  • If you are a Star Trek fan of a Certain Age, and you missed William Shatner's 46-years-later rematch with the Gorn in one of the other eleventy-thousand blogs that had it, here you go:

    If you have no idea what this is about, this Wired article will explain things.

    Speaking of hope—we apparently have a theme today—I hope I'm still as mobile as William Shatner when I'm 82.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:26 PM EDT

URLs du Jour — 2013-03-28

  • Menu Typo My local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, ran an editorial yesterday accusing current New Hampshire Speaker of the House Terie Norelli of taking a bit too much personal credit for a less contentious atmosphere in the body this season. I got a chuckle out of this:

    But we would suggest that Norelli's gentile approach to squeezing more from taxpayers has little to do with bipartisanship.

    Although I guess Speaker Norelli is a gentile, I'd bet that's not what they meant to say. (Not corrected yet online as I type, but I left a comment.)

  • Despite the best efforts of Speaker Norelli and her crew, New Hampshire is still in the top 5 in the ranking of Freedom in the Fifty States. But the bad news: it's dropped two spots since the last ranking in 2009. And it's in a dismal 27th place for its regulatory climate.

  • David Harsanyi quotes the right person:

    P.J. O'Rourke once remarked, "Feeling good about government is like looking on the bright side of any catastrophe. When you quit looking on the bright side, the catastrophe is still there." With all the doom and gloom free-market advocates must be feeling these days, there's one truth that should bolster their resolve about the future: The catastrophe will still be there.

    The catastrophe Harsanyi looks at is Obamacare, and remembers when Obama promised that the legislation would "lower premiums by $2,500 per family per year." Even Politifact rates that "promise broken."

    Why aren't people madder?


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:26 PM EDT

URLs du Jour — 2013-03-27

  • rupauk's scrapbook ~ programming
notes Our CIO recommends Code.org, a site designed to encourage young people to learn coding in school, in order to move into careers where such skills are (allegedly) useful. You know, like mine.

    There's a long array of famous, semi-famous, and not-at-all-famous people endorsing this effort on the front page, with pictures and encouraging quotes. (Bill Clinton: "At a time when people are saying "I want a hot babe good job - I got out of college and I couldnt find one," every single year in America there is a standing demand for 120,000 people who are training in computer science.") Check it out.

    One of my past jobs was trying to teach introductory programming to mostly-unwilling students. Very unpleasant! But maybe I just sucked at it.

    My snarky take: out of the dozens of people on the page, how many would even know how to start writing a computer program? Could even recognize a control structure or say what an array is?

    Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, sure. Maybe Steve Ballmer too. But Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Marco Rubio, Snoop Dogg? I don't think so.

  • Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has a nice article at Forbes discussing the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) incident where an instructor facilitated an in-class activity where students wrote "JESUS" on a sheet of paper and were directed to stomp on it. A student, Ryan Rotela, refused, complained to higher-ups, and (as a result) was subjected to disciplinary measures.

    Greg says that FAU has (finally) "apologized and dropped all charges against Rotela." But there's a more general point:

    The fact is that universities these days rely on double standards to function, as the overwhelming majority of colleges, like FAU, maintain unconstitutional speech codes that typically ban inappropriate, offensive, or hurtful speech. If the plain language of these codes were followed, they would not last a day, since every professor and student would be found guilty of violating them. In order to exist, these kinds of codes must be selectively applied.

    The University Near Here has been awarded a red light rating from FIRE for its clearly-unconstitutional speech code. It's only a matter of time before a clueless administrator attempts to enforce it against an intransigent student, and UNH (once again) becomes a nationwide laughingstock.

  • If you're feeling too happy and optimistic, a good remedy is to check out what people are saying about Obamacare.

    • At Reason Peter Suderman notes HHS Secretary Sebelius admission that insurance premiums will go up, and that a study by the Society of Actuaries estimates the rise as 32% over the next three years; and nobody thinks Obamacare's "exchanges" will be ready to go when they are supposed to.

    • At NR, Yuval Levin has a long post highlighting that the Obama Administration is urging its spokesdroids to stop claiming that Obamacare will bring healthcare costs. People, you see, might get upset about such blatant lies made to their face.

      (It was OK to lie about this before the law was passed.)

      And even the way-too-optimistic "rosy health-costs scenario" predicts eventual fiscal disaster.

    So we're screwed unless politicians (and the voters who elect them) put on their big-boy pants and start taking this seriously. And what are the chances of that?

  • If you're using the default view of Pun Salad: over on the Books page, I look at Holidays in Heck by P.J. O'Rourke and Way Down on the High Lonely by Don Winslow. On the Movies page, recent entries are for Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, Wake in Fright, and Wreck-It Ralph.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:27 PM EDT

Zero Dark Thirty

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

Why yes, we did watch two Kyle Chandler movies in a row. Good catch. Also, another Oscar nominee for Best Picture. (Nominated for five Oscars total, but only winning for "Sound Editing".)

And you probably already know the general story: it's the based-on-fact story of how Osama bin Laden was tracked down and killed. Spanning many years, the focus of the story is "Maya", a young woman recruited out of high school by the CIA (they do that?) Her entire career has been about bin Laden. She's (variously) profane, obsessed, shrill, egotistical, and abrasive. And one of her colleagues calls her "[adjectival form of a very bad word] nuts." But (as you know) she was also effective and correct.

It's an effective, gritty, spy sorta-thriller, with the extra bonus that it's all sorta true.

The controversy around the movie is almost more interesting than the movie itself. (See Wikipedia for starters.) Mostly it swirls around the movie's portrayal of what the bed-wetters call "torture" and the euphemizers call "enhanced interrogation techniques"; what was done, who was it done to, and did we get critical information as a result? Lefties go (predictably) ballistic at any suggestion that "torture works".

Michael J. Morell, acting CIA Director when the movie came out, wrote a letter that criticized Zero Dark Thirty for creating an "impression" about the techniques' effectiveness that was "false". But, like a good spook bureaucrat, his wording is ambiguous. Leon Panetta, CIA Director from 2009-2011, claimed otherwise. It's a sensitive topic, but given the intense political pressure, I'd tend to bet on the "hell, yes, it was effective" side.

Holidays in Heck

[Amazon Link]

I've been a fan of my fellow Granite Stater, P.J. O'Rourke, since the 1970s, when he wrote insanely funny stuff for the old National Lampoon. Now he's older, cut down on the drugs, ramped up on the cigars and whiskey, and got libertarian/conservative. Hey, just like me. Except for the drugs, cigars, and whiskey.

The title of this book is a takeoff on his 1988 book, Holidays in Hell, where he recounted visits to various world hotspots. Things are calmer now, and nobody is shooting at him, at least not on purpose. P.J. checks out a Lindblad cruise to the Galapagos; the WW2 Memorial and other touristy attractions in Washington D.C.; Kabul; mainland China; Kyrgyzstan on horseback; (unfortunately) the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon NH; and many other places.

P.J.'s very observant, very cynical, very opinionated, and very funny. Every page has a chuckle or unexpected insight. He's rarely in awe, so when he is (on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, or in the Three Gorges area in China), one pays attention.

It would be fun to tag along with him as a buddy. Unfortunately, he has a million friends, and if I were a hundred times more interesting, I'd still be "the boring one". Hey, P.J., I promise: I'll just sit out of the way in any convenient corner quietly and chuckle. Next time you go to Kyrgyzstan…


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:26 PM EDT

Argo

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

Oscar's nominees for Best Picture are coming out on DVD, finally. We failed to see every single one of them when they were in the theatres. But we're starting out with the winner, Argo. And it's a perfectly fine movie.

I was personally more entertained by Skyfall, The Avengers, The Hobbit, The Dark Knight Rises, Brave, and The Pirates! Band of Misfits. And maybe a few others. But that's just me. Oscar has different criteria.

It's likely you are already acquainted with the plot synopsis, but here it is anyway: back in 1979-80, when Iranian "militants" took over the US Embassy in Tehran, six employees escaped and were hidden in the Canadian Embassy. It was only a matter of time before their presence became known and they become (at best) hostages like the other 52 capturees, or… well, worse.

But getting them out of Iran was problematic. In steps Tony Mendez, a CIA operative "exfiltration" expert. (He's played by Ben Affleck, who also directed.) His kooky scheme: get into Iran pretending to be a Canadian filmmaker; the six fugitives will then pose as a film crew scouting locations for the blockbuster sci-fi film Argo. And they will all fly out together, pretending their work has been completed.

There's a lot of edge-of-your-seat suspense as the plan nearly falls apart six or eight times. There's also a surprising amount of deadpan humor, especially between Affleck's character and the filmmakers he recruits to help him out with the scam (played by John Goodman and Alan Arkin). If you suspect it's all a little too good to be true, you're right: the Wikipedia page goes into detail on how the film diverges from reality.

Trivia: The actual Argo project was to be based on Roger Zelazny's Hugo-winning novel Lord of Light. (The CIA changed the name, apparently.) I think that might have been a bitchin' movie, done correctly. Too bad they didn't follow through.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:23 PM EDT

URLs du Jour — 2013-03-25

  • The Culture of Safety Even a cat may look at a king, and even a lowly editor of Reason magazine can dare to challenge an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Bowdoin College. Specifically, Nick Gillespie can take on Sarah Conly, author of the recent book Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism and a recent NYT op-ed "Three Cheers for the Nanny State". Her thesis is that "public benefit" can justify the subtitled "coercive paternalism". Something that Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama and a host of other nanny-statists would applaud.

    Nick is appropriately merciless:

    But there are so many holes in Conly's case, you've got to wonder if she's gonna make it past the assistant prof level. For starters, she invokes a "public benefit" without even bothering to specify what that might be, even as she assents to a cost-benefit analysis for public policy (go ahead, she says, "where the costs are small and the benefit is large").

    I like Kurt Schlicter's idea: build a "Bite Me" coalition.

  • Update on the Jesus-stompin' activity in which a Deep Thinking instructor at Florida Atlantic University recently engaged his class: the University has apologized to the public for assigning this particular exercise. But (at least according to this report) the student who complained most vociferously remains suspended.

    ("We can confirm that no student has been expelled, suspended or disciplined by the university as a result of any activity that took place during this class" is their Clintonian wording. So the student is in trouble for what he said afterward.)

    As near as I can tell, Florida Atlantic University did not apologize for running an academically-bereft course at their bad joke of a college.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:28 PM EDT

Carol Shea-Porter: Sequester Will Kill Us All, Etc., Etc.

Carol Shea-Porter My own CongressCritter and perpetual toothache, Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH01), pens an occasional column to the Little People Back Home, i.e. me, and perhaps you. I've really developed an unhealthy fascination with her thought processes and writing skills.

Her latest effort is titled "Another call for compromise" and it appears at her government-provided website. Eventually, residents of NH01 may see it as an op-ed in their local papers.

So (once again) let's take a look at Carol's column! Carol's (appropriately) on the left with a lovely #EEFFFF background color; my comments are on the right.

The sequester went into place March 1, the day after the House of Representatives adjourned and members of Congress went back to their districts. Constituents, regardless of how they felt about the sequester, were upset that Congress was leaving Washington, D.C. in the middle of still another crisis, and I agree. I voted to stay in Washington until we could work something out, but the majority controls the voting schedule, as well as which bills go to the floor, and all committee hearings. When Democrats were in charge, they made those decisions. Now, Republicans are in charge of the House of Representatives, and they call the shots. There is always tension over this, but it is far more intense recently. Carol cries "crisis", and seems more than a little upset that not enough people share her Sense of Impending Doom. In last month's column, she literally warned us: "The Sky is Falling". Her preferred mode of operation is to panic, and ram through ill-considered legislation.

Now, instead of being sheepish about her alarmism, she's griping vaguely about not being able to "stay in Washington until we could work something out."

Carol, you had plenty of time to "work something out". In fact, you still do. Stop pointing fingers. It's not an attractive quality.

Even the schedule has become a fight. This week, there was one vote Monday. There were two simple votes Tuesday: one to require that annual budget submissions of the president to Congress provide an estimate of the cost per taxpayer of the deficit, and one to stop tobacco smuggling in the Territories. It took a total of twenty minutes. Wednesday, there is supposed to be a vote on a spending bill. We were going to vote Thursday, but votes have been cancelled. So, Congress will go home again Wednesday afternoon, not returning until next Tuesday night. Is this any way to run a government? Without a more convincing argument, I'd have to say: well, sure. It's one way to run a government. Is there anything that absolutely needs to be legislated on right now? I'm sure if there were, we'd know about it.

Missing from Carol's finger-pointing is President Obama's blowing the legal deadline for submitting his FY2014 budget. It was due February 4; an anonymous "administration official" now says… uh, yeah, we might get it out by April 8 or so. ("It's hard! There's math!")

But Obama did manage to fill in an NCAA bracket in his spare time. Truth be told, he almost certainly did a better job on that than he will on the budget.

To clear up possible confusion: Carol's column is dated March 15, but when she says "this week", she's actually referring to the week before that. The vote on HR 338, the "Stop Tobacco Smuggling in the Territories Act of 2013" occurred on March 5. Its stated purpose: "Amends the federal criminal code to include American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam in the definition of "state" for purposes of provisions prohibiting trafficking in contraband cigarettes and smokeless tobacco."

So thank goodness it passed on a 421-5 vote. At last the Samoans will be free from the scourge of counterfeit smokeless tobacco.

The House has had 31 roll-call votes since then. Is that enough voting for Carol?

People are clearly not happy with the way government is being run. Duh.
I received a high volume of calls and letters about the sequester. Most people who contacted me wanted the sequester stopped, because they don’t want drastic cuts to domestic programs and defense, and they really don’t want to see workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard furloughed. People who benefit from federal government spending do not like spending cuts. Again, duh.
Some Granite Staters wanted to keep the sequester, because they said it is the only way to force spending cuts, and some were even happy that half of the across-the-board cuts were to the defense budget and half were to domestic programs. Carol seems slightly incredulous that "some Granite Staters" hold a contrary opinion to hers.

I, on the other hand, am slightly incredulous that people with contrary opinions are bothering to contact Carol at all. Based on past data, the chances of her voting against her party leadership are roughly 2-3%. It's not as if she's likely to be persuaded by reasoned argument.

Many wondered why the two parties can’t compromise. I explained that Democrats, who wanted a mixture of cuts and revenue (by closing loopholes such as oil, sugar, and agricultural subsidies, and by placing a minimum tax on millionaires) couldn’t get an amendment, and Republican leadership wants only cuts. Translation: by insisting on tax increases (over and above the $620 Billion increase approved just a few months ago), Democrats prevented any hope of a "more intelligent" compromise on spending cuts. Instead, we got the meat-ax approach of the sequester. Sigh. Fine.
That is the basic problem in both the House and the Senate. Republican leadership wants only cuts to reduce the debt and Democrats want a mixture of cuts and revenue to reduce the debt. That is a fundamental difference that is hard to get around. I know that there are Republicans who mostly disagree with the Democrats’ formula but are willing to see some revenue increases. However, they are the rank and file. What we see here now is a battle of wills between conservative Republicans and moderate Republicans, and then between Republican leaders and Democrats. I would not be surprised that there are GOP wobblers who might be gulled into supporting tax increases in return for illusory promises about spending cuts at some point in the future.

But are there no moderate Democrats that might break with their party leadership on taxes? Never you mind: Carol's not one of those, and acknowledging their existence might complicate the finger-pointing.

I believe the sequester is damaging to defense and domestic programs because cuts are too deep and untargeted. I do believe our nation’s economists, two-thirds of whom state that the forced austerity from the sequester will slow down our economy. I have listened as the Department of Defense has pleaded to end the sequester and target cutbacks that make sense, and as others have talked about furloughs and cuts to Head Start and Meals on Wheels. What will happen to families who need help for child care expenses or rely on student work-study programs to help pay for college? What about medical research and nutrition programs, etc., etc.? "Etc., etc.?"

If the idea is to send us into panic, this is not effective writing.

"We've traced that call. It's coming from another room inside the house, etc. etc."

See? Doesn't work as well.

To see why I don't take this as seriously as Carol wishes I would, browse the Google results for sequester fear mongering.

There are savings to be found, of course. There is waste to cut. There is duplication to eliminate. There is sacrifice required because there is a debt to reduce. This is Carol's ritual nod to vague spending cuts. I bet you can guess the very next word in her column…

But there is still good work to be done. There is still a bridge to replace, a child to educate, a senior to visit with a hot meal. There is still a cure to be discovered, a train or airport to run, a food shipment to inspect. There is still a government to run. And compromise is the only way to get there.

You guessed right: the next word was "but". Gold star for you.

When it comes to spending Other People's Money, Carol sees nothing but "good work to be done". She acknowledges no limit in diverting cash from taxpayer's wallets into funds to be dispensed at her discretion. Her true motto is: "Never Enough".


Last Modified 2014-12-05 11:36 AM EST

Doin' the Jesus Stomp

[Amazon Link] Gosh, this story has "red meat" written all over it.

A Florida professor and high-ranking member of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party recently instructed his students to take out a piece of paper, write “JESUS” on it, then put it on the floor and stomp on it – and the Mormon student who refused to do so, calling the assignment morally offensive – was suspended.

The article goes on to identify this activity as coming from the text “Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach, 5th Edition,” and (if you haven't blocked Pun Salad ads) you can see over there on the right that it's an actual book selling for $45.49 at Amazon. List price $89.00. For a paperback. The author is James W. Neuliep. And it's already accumulating some funny reviews. ("A Jesus stomping good time!")

But what does the book actually say? You can find just about anything on the Web. Here is, I think, the source of the "exercise", probably from a previous edition of the text:

7.3
This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings. Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence, instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.

Note what it doesn't say: "Suspend any student who refuses to stomp on Jesus." In fact, the exercise seems to assume that some students will refuse.

Other accounts clarify that other students did refuse to do the Jesus Stomp. But the student in question griped further about it to higher-ups, and he was reportedly suspended from the class for his trouble.

There are multiple layers of stupid here.

  1. The first is with the exercise. The choice of "JESUS" ("in big letters") is trite and convenient. The alleged point is trivial: symbols have "importance" in "culture" and "take on very strong and emotional meanings." Duh.

    There's also an implict unmentioned "lesson" for the Christians in the classroom: your attachment to your "arbitrary" symbol is irrational and silly; get over it.

    But there's also one more component to the exercise that the description (probably disingenuously) ignores: students are directed to engage in their own symbolic act: a public display of extreme disrespect for a "symbol", under orders of an authority figure, the class instructor.

    There's a lesson to be learned there: do what you're told and shut up.

    Suggested exercise: install a dartboard in the classroom with a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. on it. Have the students take turns throwing darts.

    My guess at the result: a set (but a different set) of students will refuse to do that; at least one will complain to the administration; those students will not be suspended, but the instructor probably will.

    Similar exercise, an entirely different lesson learned.

  2. The second layer of stupid: the class instructor, who thought this was a great idea. Hey, it's less work than actually trying to convey abstract concepts, encourage rational thought, and making relevant distinctions.

  3. The third layer of stupid: whoever suspended the kid from the class when he complained. Escalating a simple (justified) complaint into an punishable offense? Really? They couldn't see this reaction coming?

  4. And finally, stupid layer number four: a system of higher education where useless bullshit courses like this are taught by undergifted instructors out of vapid $45.49-for-the-paperback textbooks. This is yet another symptom of what Glenn Reynolds and others call the "higher education bubble." Friends, it can't pop soon enough.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:26 PM EDT

URLs du Jour — 2013-03-21

  • Perl Sorry for the lack of blogging. As if you care. But I took a slug of my free time over the past few days to extricate myself from the soon to be defunct Google Reader.

    Instead of relying on third-party solutions—because if you can't trust Google, why should you trust anybody?—I decided to roll my own RSS feed fetcher/parser via the usual everything-looks-like-a-nail hammer of Perl, mostly via the modules XML::Feed and URI::Fetch. Add a datastore design that would make purists scream in horror: a config file written in Perl; plus a Berkeley database; plus a Linux file system directory tree. And cron everything.

    So we'll see how that works out.

  • If you missed it, James Taranto was on fire yesterday with not one but two worthwhile essays in his Best of the Web Today column. The first covers some all-too-rare good news: the exclusion of the so-called "Assault Weapons Ban" from legislation under consideration by the U.S. Senate. The joy is threefold:

    1. The legislation's demise is, of course, a good thing on its own.

    2. But it was also a defeat for what Taranto accurately calls the "demagogy" of its supporters:

      They cynically sought to exploit a horrific crime in order to promote dubious policies that they had long wished to impose but had refrained from pushing for fear of the political consequences.

      The good news: it didn't work. And it wasn't even close to working.

    3. And, as a final bonus, lefties are just apoplectic about this ignominious loss. We have to take our schadenfreudian joys where we can find them.

  • But JT was also good on exposing the economic illiteracy of new Senator Elizabeth Warren, who recently wondered why the minimum wage shouldn't be raised to $22/hr, based on productivity gains since 1960. Taranto wonders about the 1960 date:

    Heck, why not go back to the Pliocene? We'll bet that'd get you to 100 bucks an hour.

    But there are more substantive criticisms too.

  • Meanwhile, Reason notes that Senator Fauxcahontas is (at least) consistent in her anti-freedom sentiments. Taking aim at one of the candidates to replace John Kerry in the Senate:

    Addressing the crowd, Senator Warren said, "I advise everyone to pay very close attention to Dan Winslow's platform. He has a 100 percent ranking from the gun lobby and he's for the legalization of marijuana. He wants us armed and stoned."

    Elizabeth, on the other hand, wants us poor and unfree.

  • Thanks to McSweeneys, you might want to learn some Politically Correct Terms for Politically Incorrect Terms.

  • Lore Sjöberg also performs a public service: Rating the Greatest Martians. Example:

    Marvin the Martian
    I once loved Marvin, but in recent decades he's been overexposed and overused to the point where -- oh, who am I kidding? I still love this guy. Why wouldn't I? He wears sneakers, a green tutu and a Roman centurion's helmet with a little broom on top. And he has a dog that wears the same outfit! In a better world, those things would also be true of me. He was also kind of a thinking man's cartoon bad guy. For instance, you know that helmet? It's Roman. Like Mars. The Roman god. See? Brainy! B+

    Missing: Dejah Thoris. But given the suckiness of the recent movie, my guess is that Lore is just being charitable.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 3:39 PM EDT

Way Down on the High Lonely

[Amazon Link]

This is book number three in Don Winslow's five-book "Neal Carey" series, originally published between 1991 and 1996. Like the first two I've read (here and here), I found Way Down on the High Lonely to be well-written and fun to read. Apparently out of print from the original publisher, but fortunately Kindlized.

As it opens, Neal's where he was left in the previous book: stuck as a prisoner in a remote Chinese monastery. Which would make for a pretty boring book. But never fear, Neal's "Dad" shows up to extricate him, and also to lead him on their next mission. (Which they perform for a secretive Rhode Island bank catering to the ultra-rich, such catering sometimes extending to extralegal investigations and operations.)

This time, their goal is to retrieve a missing child, snatched by the ne'er-do-well ex-husband of a Hollywood movie producer. He's absconded with the kid to middle-of-nowhere Nevada, which has its share of totally upstanding citizens, but also tin-hearted hookers and a secretive organization of nasty white supremacist religious kooks.

It's with that latter bunch where the kid was last seen, unfortunately. Neal goes undercover as a drifter trying to make sense of his life, ingratiating himself with the locals, both decent (including the local schoolmarm) and indecent. He's in a dangerously precarious position. It's a real page-turner (or, since I was on a Kindle, a next-page-button-pusher).

Wake in Fright

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

This is billed (honest) as "a seminal film of the Australian New Wave." It was believed "lost" for many years. But they found it, and here it is. Probably the best-known actor here is Donald Pleasance, but (depending on how many old flicks you've seen), you might also recognize Chips Rafferty or Jack Thompson. It was directed by Ted Kotcheff, who went on to direct movies as diverse as First Blood and Weekend at Bernie's. But this one is less accessible and more arty.

It's kind of a horror movie, but one without monsters or any kind of supernatural goings-on. The protagonist, Grant, is a dissatisfied school teacher in the Middle of Nowhere, Australia. For Christmas vacation, he plans on going to Sydney to meet up with his girlfriend. This involves travelling by rail to Bundanyabba (known to the locals as "the Yabba"), and spending a night before catching a flight to civilization.

The Yabba is a, well, colorful place. The locals are polite, but have a knack of insisting that Grant drink up with them. And of course, Grant's money is also welcome at the local game of chance. This begins Grant's spiral into moral degradation. It's not a pretty picture, Emily.

Consumer note: this movie is probably not for squeamish folks who like marsupials. There's a drunken hunting scene that involves actual shooting of actual kangaroos, and (Wikipedia reports) involved actual drunk hunters. Reportedly, the film crew faked a power outage in order to end the carnage. But more than enough of it wound up on the DVD.

Wreck-It Ralph

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

The premise is Toy Story-like: the heroes, villains, monsters, and other assorted creatures you see in a video arcade are actually alive and conscious inside the box. When the arcade closes, they commute down the game's power cord to "Game Central Station" where they schmooze and engage in other leisure-time activities. (I bet they don't play video games themselves, though.)

The titular hero of this movie is the villain of the game "Fix-It Felix": as Ralph attempts to destroy an apartment building, Felix is there with a magic hammer to repair the damage, defeat Ralph, who invariably winds up getting tossed off the top of the building to his demise.

But Ralph is a villain with a heart of gold, and he's getting tired of the rejection and stigma attached to his role. Could he find happy acceptance in a different game? This kind of thinking is taboo among the video beings, but Ralph tries it anyway. His efforts produce multiple unintended consequences threatening the entire collection of arcade machines.

It's very inventive and fun—probably even more fun if I'd played more recent video games—and the voices are near-perfect: John C. Reilly as Ralph, Jack McBrayer as Felix, Jane Lynch as a no-nonsense military commander from a shoot-the-aliens game, and Sarah Silverman as Vanellope, a "glitchy" character in "Sugar Rush", a racing game aimed at kids.

I recognized Q*Bert, though.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:27 PM EDT

URLs du Jour — π Day 2013

Happy π Day, readers. Your exercise is to engage in at least one circular argument.

  • ineffective sorts I'm a coding geek, but I don't do as much algorithm stuff as I used to. (I have people for that, out there on the Internet. Who do that for free.) Still, I remembered enough to laugh out loud at xkcd's "Ineffective Sorts". Click over there on the little picture for the full-size comic, and. once you're there, don't forget to check out the mouseover.

  • I'm disappointed that Google Reader is going away in a few months. It guided a lot of my web surfing. The blogroll over there on the right (no, your right) is generated via a Javascript call to the Google Reader API. Basically, the world is ending and we're all doomed as doomed can be.

    What to do? Fortunately, the Slashdot commenters at the article linked above have lots of possible ideas. A leading possibility is Tiny Tiny RSS, which looks powerful and challenging.

    Or I could go back to doing it myself, with Perl scripts and RSS parsers and cron jobs.

    But wherever and whatever I install, I guarantee that it will be less available and robust than Google Reader. Sigh.

  • George F. Will writes well, and when he writes about writing well, attention should be paid. He writes about another writer who mostly writes about writing, William Zinsser.

    When asked to explain the brisk pace of his novels, Elmore Leonard said, "I leave out the parts that people skip." You will not want to skip anything in William Zinsser's short essays written for the American Scholar magazine's Web site and now collected in The Writer Who Stayed, a book that begins with him wondering why "every year student writing is a little more disheveled."

    Zounds good. Zinsser's book is going into my virtual to-be-read pile.

  • Have you noticed Target's latest "Everyday Collection" ads? Funny, very tongue-in-cheek. Here's one, for which I get no compensation, but anyway:

    Not enough to make me want to shop at Target (I'm more of a Wal-Mart guy) but still.

  • On the other hand, if you are interested in something for which I receive compensation, the pictures under the "Media I'm Consuming" section, and the ones that illustrate the posts on the Books and Movies pages, are Amazon links, and if you click over and buy something, I get credit.

    The Amazon links are also completely easy to block with (for example) Adblock Plus, but I promise they are simply Amazon product images, with some easily-avoidable popup magic.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:22 PM EDT

URLs du Jour — 2013-03-12

  • tango lessons Like Pun Salad, Dan Davis of Seacoast Liberty was no fan of the Free State Project-trashing editorials printed by my local newspaper, Foster's Daily Democrat. Bottom line:

    In short, Foster's efforts to portray the FSP as a secretive cabal have backfired with this native; such attacks fortify my support for these idealistic underdogs. After all, the libertarian principles of non- aggression, self-ownership, and personal responsibility are completely consistent with the values we hold dear in NH.

    Yeah. What he said.

  • Just in case James Lileks' Bleat is not a daily must-read for you, he's on fire today, responding to ad copy promoting Tangos™ Cantina Style Tortilla Chips. (Recommended so you can be The Crunch of the Party™.)

    Not kidding about those ™s. I encourage you to read the unexcerptable whole thing.

  • Also funny today: at McSweeney's, "The Campus Copy Center is Closed Indefinitely" by Ben Godar.

    Attention Students, Faculty & Staff:

    The Copy Center will be closed for the immediate future due to water damage from last week's incident. In the meantime, a temporary Copy Center has been setup in Friley Hall, in the space previously occupied by the student radio station. And frankly, we thought that would be the end of it.

    But it wasn't. While reading, I was sure that Ben Godar had to be affiliated with an Institution of Higher Education, but he's apparently not.

  • On the Pun Salad book page, something that might interest the libertarians in the audience: Michael Huemer's The Problem of Political Authority.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:23 PM EDT

The Problem of Political Authority

[Amazon Link]

I became aware of Michael Huemer thanks to the recommendations of bloggers Bryan Caplan and Arnold Kling. I had read his earlier book, Ethical Intuitionism and found it interesting but (since it was aimed at his fellow professional philosophers) a bit above my level.

There is no similar problem here: I think just about any mature reader can follow the arguments presented in The Problem of Political Authority.

Which is, in a nutshell: Not only does the emperor have no clothes, his power over his subjects lacks any rational justification. This applies not only to emperors, but also your standard liberal democracies. As long as they rely on coercion of their citizenry—which all governments do in practice, and nearly by definition—their powers have no moral force.

Huemer's argument is careful and clear. We would not tolerate our next-door neighbors suddenly assuming powers of taxation, legislation, punishment for misbehavior, etc. Especially if (at the same time) they claimed that we had some sort of patriotic duty to submit to their demands and dictates.

In fact, we'd consider our next-door neighbors to be crazy and dangerous.

So don't we need at least a good yarn about how existing states might have justifiably claimed the same powers?

Huemer examines various attempts to justify political authority. Without going into detail inappropriate for this blog post: he finds them all lacking. I found his arguments to be compelling. I've been a minimal-state libertarian for the past couple decades. Ballparking, I'd say my confidence that a small, rights-respecting government was necessary for human flourishing was around 80%; Huemer knocked that down to somewhere around 30%.

Why does anyone take government's claims to authority seriously? Huemer is also convincing when he discusses the psychology involved. For better or worse—mostly worse, these days—humans seem hardwired to fit comfortably into authoritarian modes, no matter how artificial and arbitrary. (See the Stanford Prison Experiment, Stockholm Syndrome, etc.)

In the latter parts of the book, Huemer explores the likely contours of anarcho-capitalist society: protection agencies, private arbitration, etc. This will be mostly familiar ground to folks who have read Murray Rothbard or David Friedman, but Huemer's treatment is fresh; he also dismisses Robert Nozick's argument (in Anarchy, State, and Utopia) that a minimal state could (in theory) evolve out of an anarcho-capitalist society without transgressing anyone's rights.

Finally, Huemer looks at the likelihood that our current societies could become government-free. He's surprisingly optimistic, noting how our current liberal democracies developed in, historically-speaking, a relative eye-blink. Radical changes do occur—just ask Gorbachev—so who's to say we couldn't get there?

Thumbs up, by the way to the library gurus at the University Near Here, who purchased this book at my request. (The price is daunting, even for the Kindle version.) But it's somewhat ironic, since the thrust of the book is that the University (like every other institution funded via coercion) is one of the institutions that would be (at best) radically transformed or (probably) eliminated under the anarcho-capitalist system Huemer advocates. (Doubly ironic: like your blogger, Huemer also works for a similar institution, the University of Colorado; it might have been good for him to write some paragraphs justifying this. I would find that personally useful, as it's a continuing philosophical irritation for me.)


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:23 PM EDT

URLs du Jour — 2013-03-11

  • Dystopia Kevin D. Williamson rambles insightfully on the tired sci-fi trope of corporate dystopia. Is that a credible fate? It certainly gives comfort to the prejudices of today's "progressives" who spit out "corporate" as a swear word. Among Kevin's fascinatin' facts:

    You would not know it from reading fiction, speaking with Occupy types, or listening to the speeches at the Democratic National Convention, but the corporation as we know it is in decline: The average size of a corporation as measured by personnel has been diminishing since 1975. In 1955 the largest U.S. company, General Motors, employed 576,000 people out of a U.S. population of 166 million; today Exxon Mobil, the largest U.S. company, employs only 82,000 people. Microsoft employs fewer than 100,000 people worldwide; Google employs about 54,000, and Facebook fewer than 6,000.

    More interesting stuff at the link. Especially recommended to science fiction writers who don't want to write complete economic hooey. ("Progressives" are probably hopeless.)

  • Gosh, the professional journalists at USA Today, with layers of editors and fact-checkers, have (as I type) this story with lead paragraph:

    The approval Thursday by the U.S. Security Council of tougher sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program sparked a war of words Monday.

    Yes, they misspelled "U.N." Two lousy letters, they still couldn't get it right.

    They'll probably fix it soon. Or maybe they won't.

  • You too can write press releases for politicians. The grab bag of words to describe your favored policies: balanced; bipartisan; sensible (or common-sense); all of which will responsibly deliver benefits to the middle class. You never want to raise taxes; but increasing revenue is a must.

    Conversely, your opponents' policies: reckless; irresponsible; harmful; mindless; haphazard; spending cuts are always indiscriminate and arbitrary; and the programs they affect are all vital; Worse, your opponents want to keep open loopholes (usually corporate loopholes).

    Nearly all of these are present in the latest press release from my own Congressperson, Carol Shea-Porter.

    She (of course) claims to want to "reduce spending", but that's a joke.

    For extra credit, you can score this short press release from Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02). I count six instances of bipartisan; three common sense (with one sensible); three responsibly (with one responsible); three balanced; three middle class. Yeesh! It's a surprise they had room for anything else besides the buzzwords.

  • News you can use: How Fast Would the Earth Have to Spin to Fling People Off?

  • On the Pun Salad movie page: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and my take on Taken 2. On the book page: Pat Cadigan's Tea From an Empty Cup.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:24 PM EDT

Taken 2

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

Why yes, we did watch two movies set in Turkey right in a row. Thanks for noticing.

But could two movies be any more different. This one did not win Grand Prize at Cannes. Mostly in English. About one merciful hour shorter. Not boring at all.

In Taken, hyper-competent and deadly security consultant Dad (Liam Neeson) was on the outs with Ex-Wife (Famke Janssen) and Teenage Daughter (Maggie Grace). But Teenage Daughter was kidnapped in Paris by white slavers (honest) and was barely rescued at the last moment when Dad killed all the bad guys. That sets up the scenario of this movie, where…

Dad breaks into a little more of a sweat, as the father of one of the previous movie's corpses swears revenge on him and his family. Conveniently, the entire family is in Istanbul, where a small army of villains aims to capture them and subject them to violence and degredation. In a switch, Dad and Ex-Wife are the ones initially Taken, while Teenage Daughter escapes initial capture. She shows unexpected pluck in helping rescue Ex-Wife and Dad.

This is one of those cynical movie-studio attempts to squeeze out a few more millions by rehashing a successful formula. Still, it held my interest, and there were a few laughs as Daughter, who has yet to pass the driving test back in the US, drives madly through the crowded Istanbul streets, dodging bad-guy gunfire and dozens of cops. Reminds me of teaching Pun Daughter to drive, I thought.

Consumer note: even though Maggie Grace is playing a teenager here, she's actually nearly (as I type) 30 years old.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:24 PM EDT

Tea From an Empty Cup

[Amazon Link]

The reading of this book completes the project I set out upon about three years back: to read all the books mentioned on this io9 list of the "Top 10 Greatest Science Fiction Detective Novels Of All Time". To recap: two I had already read, and considered reasonably decent. My results for the next seven: not bad; mediocre; not my cup of tea; meh; hated it; pretty good; another clunker. So my hopes weren't that high for Tea From an Empty Cup. You might say—(taking off sunglasses)—I suspected it (also) might not be my cup of tea. But, while not great, it wasn't bad.

It's set in a near future where video games have morphed into full-fledged Artificial Reality (AR); players don "hotsuits" which take over their sensory inputs and get dropped into scenarios of their choosing. Sort of a Matrix deal, except that the participants know what they're seeing isn't real.

So if you die in AR, it's no biggie. Except a number of players are winding up dead in Actual Reality too, and having kicked the bucket in disturbingly similar ways to their virtual counterparts. Female police detective Konstantin is on the case; she decides she must invade AR-land to investigate fully.

In a parallel thread, Yuki is in search of missing boyfriend Tom; she has heard that Tom was seen in the company of the mysterious Joy Flower. Unexpectedly, Joy Flower offers to hire Yuki as a personal assistant; Yuki accepts in order to further her search. Pretty soon she finds herself in AR too.

AR is kind of a cyber-Wonderland, Yuki and Konstantin playing the mutual role of Alice. They meet up with all sorts of bizarre characters, nightmarish situations, and dreadful jokes. (When Konstantin encounters a building entrance guarded by two werewolves, her escort remarks: "Well, their hair is perfect." Moan.) And commercialism is a running joke: you can always spend more money to improve your AR experience, and you keep getting nagged about it.

I can only take so much loopiness though. In an anything-goes, anything-can-happen AR, not much actually matters. Didn't care much about the characters or the outcome.


Last Modified 2014-11-30 12:09 PM EST

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

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

Another "your mileage may differ" flick for you. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia won the Grand Prize at Cannes in 2011, and the IMDB raters bring it in at 7.7 (as I type). So it's not impossible, nay even likely, that you'll like it better than I.

It's set in eastern Turkey. A murder has been committed, the alleged perpetrator has confessed, and the local prosecutor has organized a search party for the corpse. They drive out into the rural countryside with the accused, his mentally-challenged brother, and a few hangers-on. Unfortunately, the perp has only a dim recollection of where he buried the body. So there's a lot of driving.

Spoiler: they eventually find the victim. It takes a real long time, however. The movie is about two and a half hours long. If I were being polite, I'd say the pacing is leisurely. Alternatively: it's sluggish and padded and boring. There are a lot of long scenes where you just see cars driving across the landscape, guys trampling through the countryside, guys staring at each other, or staring at nothing.

The characters spend a lot of time chatting with each other, and there's an interesting subplot revealed in discussions between a prosecutor and the doctor that's been brought along. (Or rather: would have been interesting if the movie were about an hour shorter.)


Last Modified 2017-12-01 12:56 PM EST

URLs du Jour — 2013-03-06

  • [Peasants Begone!] The Obama Administration is cancelling all White House tours starting this Saturday, and blaming the Dread Sequester.

    But, as Daniel Halper of the Weekly Standard points out, the White House is still employing a "Chief Calligrapher" (at $96,725/yr). But just in case, there are also two Emergency Backup Calligraphers (at $85,953/yr and $94,372/yr). (I would guess there are also equally prudent expenditures for pens, brushes, parchment, embossers, ….)

    Perhaps the Calligraphers could produce some tasteful signs for the White House entrances. Pun Salad's suggestion illustrates this post.

  • A recent positive report from the Brookings Institution on Amtrak finances was breezily reported in the MSM. At Cato, Randal O'Toole dismantles it.

    As a long-time lover of passenger trains, I wish the report's statements were true, but they are not. To reach these conclusions, Brookings scholars have selectively used data; ignored one of the major travel modes; and relied on Amtrak accounting tricks to disguise losses.

    O'Toole's short post is worth reading to illuminate how fudgy such "objective" reports can be.

  • On a somewhat similar note: David Friedman reminds us that it's also a good idea to be skeptical of "Official Scientific Truth".

    A pattern I have observed in a variety of public controversies is the attempt to establish some sort of official scientific truth, as proclaimed by a suitable authority--a committee of the National Academy of Science, the Center for Disease Control, or the equivalent. It is, in my view, a mistake, one based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how science works. Truth is not established by an authoritative committee but by a decentralized process which (sometimes) results in everyone or almost everyone in the field agreeing.

    David's college work (like mine) was in physics, so he's not a know-nothing.

  • Rich Lowry is funny on the regulatory barriers to construction of the Keystone Pipeline.

    For a taste of the 21st-century American attitude toward building things, I direct your attention to Volume 2 -- not Volume 1, 3, or 4 -- of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, not to be confused with the three prior environmental studies, including one in August 2011 that was erroneously called the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

    Therein is a section considering the pipeline's impact on endangered and potentially endangered animals and plants. It evaluates the effect on everything from the Sprague's Pipit to the blowout penstemon, although special attention is devoted to the American burying beetle. Just like your congressman, the beetle is a "federally protected invertebrate."

    "Heh. Indeed."

  • Rob Long is (of course) also funny and perceptive in looking at a recent pronouncement from the US Metric Association, which derides America's "old nationalistic prejudice against measurement change".

    There's a US Metric Association? And it's been around for ninety-six years? Wow. I had no idea how hard it is to kill a stupid idea. But, of course, from that telltale phrase -- "nationalistic prejudice" -- we know that this isn't about a system of measurement. It's about teaching American rubes a lesson.

    Metric units make calculations easier. That advantage has been irrelevant for about four decades, since calculators got cheap.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:26 PM EDT

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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

Your mileage may differ on this. As I type, the IMDB raters have this at an 8.1 rating, which is high. (It's #223 on IMDB's top 250 movies of all time, which is ludicrous.) I thought it was kind of smug and trite. But I stayed awake for the whole thing. So I'll bump it an extra half-star for me staying awake.

Set in the early 90's (according to IMDB), it centers on Charlie, who's entering his freshman year at Cruel Kids High School, somewhere near Pittsburgh. He has serious psychological problems, the underlying cause of which we know will only be revealed much later in the movie.

But showing Charlie as a rejected, possibly suicidal, loner for the entire movie would be boring. So after a few movie minutes, he gets accepted into the world of stepsiblings Patrick and Sam (Emma Watson!). They are sensitive seniors who drag Charlie around in their mad social whirl.

There are funny things. There are sad things. Good English teachers (Paul Rudd). Bad Shop teachers. Clueless parents (Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh). Sympathetic siblings. Unrequited love. Girls infatuated with jerks. Easy availability of booze and drugs. And, of course, the big secret buried in Charlie's childhood.

Emma Watson is fine, though. Kept wanting her to say something like: "Y'know, this isn't at all like my previous school, Hogwarts. I was, like totally in love with this nice guy, Ron…" But no.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:24 PM EDT

Local Paper Hates Freedom

Newspaper Fail A quick recap: The Free State Project (FSP) is an endeavor to get 20,000 "liberty-loving" people to move to New Hampshire. The stated intent is to have them "work within the political system to reduce the size and scope of government."

Last December, NH State Representative (Democrat) Cynthia Chase deemed Free Staters "the single biggest threat the state is facing today" and advocated establishing an "unwelcoming" environment for them. Cynthia's intolerant comments made waves even outside of New Hampshire, getting attention from Matt Welch at Reason, Warner Todd Huston at Big Government, and Fox News's Brett Baier.

Which brings me to the editorial antics of my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat. Although they've never shown any interest in covering the FSP in their news pages, they've published three FSP-trashing editorials so far this year.

The first, on January 8 warned ominously that the FSP was "co-opting our way of life". While barely criticizing Chase's invective as "inopportune", the editorialist condemned the FSP as being "surreptitious" (without providing a single example), and leaned heavily on us-vs.-the-outsiders demagoguery.

The second came after some FSP wags sent Cynthia Chase a lovely bouquet, thanking her for the free publicity. The humor-impaired editorialist tsk-tsked: the FSP, he said, "had some growing up to do."

And then, finally, yesterday: "Cat is out of the bag ... for sure", the headline read. The editorialist had found a smoking gun! Where? Why, in the words of Carla Gericke, the FSP President! (As reported in the Union Leader, because as previously stated, Foster's has shown no interest in covering the FSP in its own news pages.) The issue is how soon it will take for the FSP to reach its 20,000-person pledge goal.

Based on the current recruiting rate, Gericke said, the pledge total would hit 20,000 in 2018, triggering the large-scale move to New Hampshire. Under that scenario, the goal would be to have all pledgers relocate by 2023.

However, Gericke said she does not want to wait until she is 51 years old to trigger the move.

"I want to do it in the next two years," she said, explaining the only way to accelerate the move is to begin major fundraising efforts and secure sponsors to help raise about $270,000 - a figure she believes could make the move feasible.

Uh, so what's so nefarious about that? The Foster's editorialist knows:

If the goal of 20,000 members by 2015 sounds suspicious, it should. That would be in time for a next full presidential election cycle, which would include not only state offices but most of the state's congressional delegation.

Whoa. I hope you were sitting down for the revelation of that bit of news.

Now, how silly is this, really? When the FSP hits the 20K pledge mark, that is supposed to start the five-year window during which the signers are supposed to move to New Hampshire. (How many will actually do that is anyone's guess, but I would bet: fewer than 20K.)

But the Foster's "suspicious" editorialist imagines the dark future of 2015 when 20,000 Free Staters show up all at once and … do what, exactly? Well, worst case: "work within the political system to reduce the size and scope of government." You know, exactly as their Statement of Intent states.

[Just to be clear: I'm not a Free Stater, having moved to NH when Jason Sorens was about 8 years old. But, heck, I wish all 20,000 of them were here today.]

The Foster's editorialist also makes a big deal about the FSP's stated desire to organize itself under the IRS's 501(c)(3) rules. He is, in fact, aghast:

But a 501c3 is a nonprofit that under the Internal Revenue Code, "may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates."

I have no opinion on whether the FSP should organize as a 501(c)(3), but in fact a lot of advocacy groups do so, perfectly legally: examples include Planned Parenthood, the National Rifle Association, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, People for the American Way Foundation, etc.

It's a mixed blessing that Foster's news reporting on the FSP is nearly non-existent. If it were as transparently lame and grudge-driven as its editorials, it would certainly be an easy target for a blogger to make fun of.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:28 PM EDT

End of Watch

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

This may seem frivolous, but does the Chicken Dance really span so many cultures? The Wikipedia page seems to suggest it does. Perhaps we'll look back on it one day as the unexpected uniter of humanity in peace, harmony, and oom-pah.

But it's just a small, sweet part of End of Watch. Which follows around two LAPD beat cop partners, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) as they prowl the very mean streets of a crime-ridden Los Angeles neighborhood.

The idea is that this is "found video", pieced together from recordings taken by the participants themselves. (Taylor is taking a filmmaking class, and he says his video for a class project.) That means there's a lot of bouncy/shaky camerawork, meant to add an air of reality to the enterprise. (Does this technique drive traditional cinematographers crazy?) Everybody records everything, though, so we not only get video of Taylor and Zavala on the job, we also get to see their personal lives. And the bad guys have video too.

Taylor and Zavala have great chemistry together—their videotaped banter is often hilarious—and they're also brave, smart, and effective cops. Unfortunately, disrupting too many criminal enterprises brings them to the deadly attention of the Sinaloa cartel.

The best actress ever to come out of Portland, Maine, Anna Kendrick, plays Taylor's love interest and eventual wife. And yes, if you want to see Anna Kendrick do the Chicken Dance, this is your movie.

The people who count such things count 326 occurrences of the F-word, which is good enough to put End of Watch in sixth place on the all-time list.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:27 PM EDT