URLs du Jour — 2013-04-16

  • Copley Square I have no deep thoughts about the horror at the Boston Marathon yesterday. We spent quite a bit of time watching the local TV news folks babble, and report a lot of stuff that later turned out to be wrong. Jim Geraghty's "Morning Jolt" e-mail is titled "Making Sense of the Sensless", and it's pretty good:

    Right now, I could write segments on the idiot comments made by the usual suspects . . . but do you really need another piece of evidence to support the argument that, say, Cynthia McKinney is a lunatic? Eh, if so, here you go. I can't get all that revved up about it. She is what she is. If you really put much stock in her judgment of what's "the real story" behind a horrific news event, theories that hear this awful news and immediately jump to elaborate theories of "false flag" operations and the notion that our local and federal law-enforcement ranks are full of men and women willing to set bombs and blow up children in order to score some sort of propaganda victory . . . well, then I doubt there's anything anyone can say to dissuade you of that vast worldview you've constructed within your mind.

    The conspiracy theorist is only a couple of steps away from the person who — often on Twitter — begins discussing who was behind it with way too much certainty. As I said on Twitter yesterday, I suspect that speculation, unhelpful as it is, is a coping mechanism: People attempt to make a sudden unexpected horror fit into pattern of known facts. If we can figure out who did it, we can find someone to feel anger and rage towards and, for some people, that's a much easier emotion to deal with than shock, horror, fear, and sorrow.

    The all-too-confident speculator is only a few steps away from the ordinarily knowledgeable terrorism expert or pundit yanked into a television studio at a moment's notice and asked to speak, extemporaneously, about what could be behind these awful events based on nothing more than initial reports and the most horrific of images playing on a monitor just beyond the camera.

  • A Washington Post article claims that New Hampshire's better Senator, Kelly Ayotte is "undecided" on the Manchin-Toomey "background check" amendment.

    So Granite Staters might want to sway her one way or the other. If you're like me, you might want to point out that the amendment is the worst sort of "do something" legislation: hastily cobbled together, "limp and pointless" (J.D. Tucille); "broader and fuzzier than the legislation described in the press" (Jacob Sullum); a "slippery slope" with a near-guarantee that today's "exemption" will become tomorrow's "loophole". (C.W. Cooke).

  • Two good articles from the current print edition of Reason are now free online. The first is "The End of Power" by Moisés Naím. It suffers a bit from gee-whiz breezy prose. But Mr. Naiím notes some trends that might make even the most cynical pessimist cheer up a bit. E.g.:

    According to the World Bank, between 2005 and 2008, from sub-Saharan Africa to Latin America and from Asia to Eastern Europe, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty (those with incomes under $1.25 a day) plunged. Given that the decade was marked by the onset of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression of 1929, this progress is even more surprising. The world is expected to reach the Millennium Development Goals on poverty set in 2000 by the United Nations much earlier than originally anticipated. One of the most audacious goals back then was to cut the world’s extreme poverty in half by 2015; that impressive feat was achieved five years early, in 2010.

    Even though it's in Reason, Mr. Naím is not your usual libertarian nutbar (like me), but an internationally-known journalist and scholar. If he says something revolutionary is happening, it probably is.

  • The second article is from Peter Suderman, titled "Down the Drain" and it refers to the $833 billion stimulus from a few years back—you know, the one that was supposed to bring us to 5% unemployment rate by now.

    I can't recommend it unless you have your blood pressure under control and are not prone to throwing things when enraged.

    If you want to see where a little bit of your $833 billion stimulus went, head south from St. Louis on Interstate 44 until you reach the Mark Twain National Forest. On March 13, 2009, less than a month after President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) into law, the federal government awarded $462,912.30 to a Spokane, Washington, construction firm called CXT Incorporated to build and install 22 “precast concrete toilets” in the park.

    I, for one, am making travel plans to visit my ex-money.

  • Remember the Jesus-stomp incident from last month? That bizarre incident revolved around a faculty member, one Deandre Poole, in the "School of Communication and Multimedia Studies" at Florida Atlantic University, who thought it would Teach a Useful Lesson to have his students write "JESUS" on a piece of paper, then put it on the floor and stomp on it. Mr. Poole was placed on leave.

    The FAU Administration has now decided to reprimand a different facule in the same department, one James Tracy, over wacky conspiracy-mongering at his blog. Among other things, Tracy questions "the official Newtown narrative". Like, did the whole thing ever really happen?

    Speaking as a University employee who expresses out-of-mainstream views on his blog at times: I don't think a University should be reprimanding its employees for expressing out-of-mainstream views on their blogs.

    But to expand a point I made: FAU is a clusterfrak of (a) clueless administrators who don't understand academic freedom or the First Amendment; (b) academically-worthless departments with names like "School of Communication and Multimedia Studies"; (c) which are full of undergifted faculty like Poole and Tracy.

    That's your real scandal, right thar.

    (Story via Col·lege In·sur·rec·tion, which I enjoy typing.)

Last Modified 2013-06-19 10:09 AM EDT

Chernobyl Diaries

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I won't bore you with the details of how we came to watch Chernobyl Diaries. Suffice to say: I would have preferred to get something else from Netflix, but I'm not the only person living in Pun Salad Manor.

Three young Americans (two female, one male) are doing a tour of Europe; they stop off in Kiev to meet with the male's brother, who lives there. They plan to travel on to Moscow, but the brother has a different idea: he's heard of a local guy, Uri, who engages in "extreme tourism", and one of the extreme tours is to Pripyat, the abandoned ghost town that the Soviets once built to house workers for the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Together with another couple (Norwegian girl, Australian guy), they head off for Pripyat.

But this is a horror film, and other than its unique premise, it's extremely generic. Eventually, things get creepy, then scary, then the troupe starts getting picked off, one by one. The only question is whether there will be a sole survivor (probably the plucky independent girl) or whether they'll get her too.

Filmed mostly in shakycam, giving it that "found video" vibe, although most of the shots show the entire group, so who's holding the video camera? There's a lot of running, screaming, crying, mostly in the dark with flashlights waving around. It is rated R, but (I think) nearly entirely for overuse of the f-word; there's remarkably little gore, and the Disturbing Images aren't that Disturbing.