Fedora 19

fedora poker chips I’ve been using Red Hat flavors of Linux since 1996 (with a brief flirtation with Slackware in 1995), and I’ve been married to the offspring Fedora distribution since early 2004. I’ve been tempted to stray to some other distro, but I’m just not adventuresome that way. In theory, some major malfeature could make me file for divorce, but that hasn’t happened yet.

[Notice the strained analogy in the above paragraph? It’s not far off.]

Fedora 19 is their latest version, in Beta as I type (scheduled for actual release on July 2). On a whim I decided to install it on machines at work and home. (The work machine is a VMWare virtual machine run under Windows 7 on a Dell Optiplex 780; my home box is an older Dell running Linux-only.)

Some notes:

  • Well first, an important one. Your mileage may vary. Poor Rand Simberg, for example, encountered display problems and data loss during/after his upgrade. (Although the latter can’t really be blamed on Fedora.)

    Bottom line: no matter how knowledgeable you are, an OS upgrade is good time to wear both suspenders and a belt. If you have a working environment with precious data, you’ll want to be able to fall back to it if things go wrong.

    But things didn’t go wrong in my case. So yay.

  • The Fedora 19 installer is not much changed from the Fedora 18 installer. Which at least one guy found to be “counter-intuitive, dangerous and useless, all at the same time.” But once I figured out what the deal was, I thought it was OK.

  • I made things slightly more challenging by opting to use the MATE desktop environment instead of the Xfce environment that I’d been using for the past few iterations of Fedora. (Cinnamon might have been another candidate, but I arbitrarily passed.)

    I’d switched to Xfce after hitting and bouncing off Gnome 3, which became the default with Fedora 15. What an awful decision for the Fedora honchos to make! And it didn’t help that the Gnome developers came off as snooty and unsympathetic; if we puny users could not appreciate their brilliant design, it was our fault. True fact: Googling gnome arrogance brings up 2.7 million hits, and they’re not all talking about the garden statues.

    I understand Gnome may have gotten better since then. Don’t care. Fortunately, you can easily choose which environment to install. And you can have multiple environments installed if you want to compare and contrast.

  • As stated, the work machine was a spankin’ new virtual machine; the only tricky part was setting it up to use a different IP address than the Windows host; VMWare makes this pretty easy, although you have to remember where it is and when you have to do it.

    The minor tricky part: getting all the necessary Perl modules back. I didn’t want to mindlessly re-install everything I had before, since that might well contain some unused cruft built up over the last few months with Fedora 18. I settled for an incremental approach (wait for things to break, then fix them). I really should come up with a better method the next time around.

  • My home machine isn’t virtualized, but has a tricky disk partitioning scheme: I divided the disk into three parts, each holding boot and root partitions: current release, previous release, and the one before that. So pre-upgrade I had Fedora 16, 17, and 18. The upgrade reformatted and replaced the F16 partitions with 19. Again, the installer made this pretty easy. (As above: just pay attention to where it is and when you have to do it.)


Last Modified 2013-06-27 5:18 AM EDT

Side Effects

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

Just when you think they don’t make movies like this anymore, they go ahead and make a movie like this. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, who I swear was operating under the spooky influence of Alfred Hitchcock.

[The less you know about the plot, the better; so don’t read the following couple paragraphs.]

Rooney Mara plays Emily, wife of Martin (Channing Tatum). Despite Martin’s imprisonment for insider trading, Emily’s there waiting for him when he gets out. But she’s got lingering serious mental problems. Compassionate shrink Dr. Banks (Jude Law) prescribes one ineffective medication after another, finally hitting on Ablixa. It works wonders for Emily, but does it have … side effects?

Well, sure it does. That’s the name of the movie.

A dandy thriller, competently made. One cliché I noticed, which I’ll put in mouse-over white: When a major actor in a movie appears to be underutilized, he or she will turn out to be the surprise villain. You can still be surprised if you don’t think about this too hard.


Last Modified 2013-06-26 7:51 AM EDT

Night Train to Munich

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

A Netflix DVD that had been languishing in my queue for years; I finally decided to bump it up to the top. It’s an early directing effort from Carol Reed (most famous for The Third Man). Stars Rex Harrison, Margaret Lockwood, and Paul Henreid (who the credits identify as “Paul von Hernried”). Henreid’s presence made me say at a number of critical points, in my best Bogie impression: “You’re getting on that train with Victor Laszlo.” Mrs. Salad, to her credit, refrained from throwing things at me.

It starts out just at the outbreak of WWII, and Czechoslovakia is getting overrun by the Nazis. Brilliant researcher Axel Bomasch has just developed some super-effective defensive armor, and the Nazis would dearly love to use it for their side. Fortunately, Bomasch escapes to Britain; unfortunately, his lovely daughter Anna (Ms. Lockwood) is captured and sent to a concentration camp. Will she escape? Well, sure. But that’s only the beginning.

What unfolds is a nice game of undercover cat-and-mouse, with the Nazis being cats. The mouse is Gus Bennett (Rex Harrison), who’s charged with keeping the Bomasches safe from the evildoers. Eventually there’s a train, headed to Munich, some part of the trip occurs at night. Hence the movie lives up to its title.

Here’s something I didn’t expect: this movie has two minor characters, very clueless Brits named Charters and Caldicott. They’re mostly comic relief, and eventually play a key role in the final outcome. But I thought: Hey, these guys seem familiar.. And they were: from the 1938 Hitchcock flick The Lady Vanishes, which I watched back in 2010. Same actors playing the same characters, also on a train streaking through Europe. As it turns out, the same writers wrote both movie scripts. And Charters and Caldicott went on to appear in a bunch more movies. Neat!

URLs du Jour — 2013-06-19

  • Stop Anti-Catholic Bigotry Sad news out of New Hampshire on Monday, as Strafford County Superior Court Judge John Lewis ruled that the state's new education tax credit for businesses that donate to scholarship funds can't be used to send kids to "religious schools".

    The Cato Institute has a good review of the decision and the reactions. Especially noteworthy is that Judge Lewis's decision was based on the NH Constitution's "Blaine Amendment", adopted in 1877 as an anti-Catholic measure.

    Granite Grok notes Judge Lewis is the guy that overturned a new law last year that would have tightened up residency requirements for voting.

  • In other unintentionally hilarious New Hampshire news, a bunch of out-of-staters came up to Concord to yammer about Kelly Ayotte's vote against the Manchin-Toomey "background checks" back in April. One of the too-earnest speakers against "gun violence" went a name too far, as Matt Lewis relates:

    During the rally, supporters of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns read the names of those “killed with guns” since the Dec. 14 Newtown shootings — and Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s name was reportedly memorialized among the names of the dead. (Tsarnaev, of course, was killed in a police shootout.)

    There was also a lot of bickering, and a tasing. The Union Leader provides the details, including the observation that the bus the rally organizers drove in on bore Texas plates.

  • Speaking of New Hampshire, our Governor’s attempt to place a casino here is looking shaky. Kevin Williamson notes that Delaware, which had that bright idea awhile back, is now thinking about diverting $8 million tax dollars to a casino bailout.

    The popular argument for gambling is a lot like the popular argument for marijuana: Legalize it and tax the stuffing out of it. (I embrace one half of that policy.) The problem with that is that casino “taxes” are really more accurately described as profit-sharing arrangements, making states in effect business partners in gambling operations, a recipe for crony capitalism, favoritism for politically connected businesses, and, now, to no one’s great surprise, bailout considerations. And there are as always real economic limits to how much you can tax any given enterprise: Delaware’s casinos face an effective tax rate eight times that of establishments in Las Vegas, and they do not have the cultural infrastructure that Nevada has developed since legalizing gambling in the 1930s. Nobody says mischievously: “What happens in Wilmington stays in Wilmington!”

    My guess: we dodged a bullet; I hope we’re smart enough to realize that we did.

  • There's an election down in MA for the US Senate seat previously held by John Kerry; competing are Democratic hack Ed Markey and newcomer GOP Gabriel Gomez. The collateral damage is that innocent TV viewers in New Hampshire can get pelted with ads.

    But this one from Gomez I thought was pretty funny. Enjoy:

  • Back in the day, I knew some PDP-11 assembly language. It's nice to know there's a job waiting for me up in Canada.


Last Modified 2013-06-26 7:48 AM EDT

The Last Stand

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

Arnold Schwarzenegger seems intent on reviving his post-political movie career. This movie came out a few months ago to tepid reviews, and a mediocre box office take. It's essentially a mercenary grab for the movie-watcher's wallet, coldly calculated to trade on our fond memories of Predator, Terminator, True Lies, and the like.

And what can I say? It worked in my case…

Arnold plays Ray Owens, head cop in sleepy Sommerton, Arizona, a town near the Mexican border. (But due to hazardous geography, it's not near a likely border crossing, which turns out to matter.) He enjoys a good relationship with his three deputies, who are straight out of Hollywood Stereotype, Inc.: a Hispanic guy (the great Luis Guzmán), an inexperienced but gung-ho kid (Zach Gilford) and a beautiful and sensible female (Jaimie Alexander). Ray's fine with all that: he is a scarred and tired veteran of the LAPD, and wants nothing more than to spend the rest of his working days managing parking disputes and domestic squabbles.

But, because he's Arnold, we all know that's not gonna happen. A ruthless and rich drug dealer in Federal custody unhatches a deadly escape plan under the nose of an FBI guy (the great Forest Whitaker), gets into a souped-up Corvette, and heads south. A heavily-armed gang (headed by the great Peter Stormare) has been sent ahead to forge an escape route through Sommerton. Pretty soon, there are lots of bodies, dispatched through various forms of R-rated violence.

The movie's tongue is firmly in its cheek throughout. Johnny Knoxville turns in a decent performance as a semi-deranged gun nut collector to whom the good guys turn to provide firepower. And (the great) Harry Dean Stanton turns in a good thirty-second performance as a cantankerous farmer who comes out second-best in a confrontation with the bad guys.


Last Modified 2014-11-09 8:40 AM EST

Carol Shea-Porter: College Does Not Necessarily Make You Employable. Or Smart.

Occupy_Wall Street_17 It's time once again to look at one of "Carol's Columns", the latest in a series of pieces from my own CongressCritter and perpetual toothache, Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH01).

Carol's current column is titled "The burden of student loan debt"; it appears at her government-provided website and residents of NH01 may see it at some point as an op-ed in their local papers. I am reproducing her entire column here, lest I be accused of quoting out of context. Carol's words are (appropriately) on the left with a lovely #EEFFFF background color; my comments are on the right.

Spring is here, and a joyful tradition – the graduation ceremony – is being carried out across our state and around the country. Newspapers show the mostly young graduates flashing big smiles, throwing caps in the air, and celebrating with their families, friends, and other students. An observer of rituals would not know whether this was three decades ago, when my class finished graduate school at UNH, or this year. Goopy sentimentality. Zzzzz.

A cynic might suspect that Carol is attempting to evoke the good feelings associated with milestone celebrations and ceremony in order to have us buy into the rest of her column.

Or she might just be trying to pad her column's word count to the standard 700-800 expected for newspaper op-eds. It's sometimes hard to tell with Carol.

However, there is a huge difference, one that undermines our middle class and threatens both the graduates’ future plans and our country’s future. That difference is the amount of student debt, and as a nation, we must address this growing crisis if we want the American dream to live on for the middle class. Carol does not mention that another "huge difference" in the past few decades has been the ever-increasing role of government in higher education. Its efforts to "do something" about college financing has led to… well, where we are today, with a "growing crisis."

But don't worry, I'm sure that this time the government will "do something" to fix things. Carol is on the case!

Most students have to both borrow and earn money at jobs to go to college. I certainly did. What is different is the cost of school now, and how much these young people and their families need to borrow. Carol writes as if skyrocketing college costs and massive student debt "just happened", like a hurricane or earthquake.
Many of this generation are unable to reach their dreams simply because they cannot borrow enough to attend school. USA Today had some sobering statistics about the students who could find money. In an article appropriately titled “Will you marry me (and my student loan debt)?”, the reporter wrote, “About two-thirds of college grads in the Class of 2013 will graduate with some student loan debt. The average debt is about $28,000.” You can read the USA Today article Carol references here.

But, geez, what a muddle: Carol notes that some kids "cannot borrow enough". Some other kids find out that they've borrowed way, way too much, given their employment and salary prospects. (Look, for example, at our—literal—poster child illustrating this post.)

Why, it's almost as if some perverse incentives were at work. I wonder where they came from?

This is outrageous. Young people, who should be sailing into a bright future, are struggling to pay college debt. When I finished school, I remember tight budgets, but I also remember my generation planning for marriage, to buy a car or a house, or to go to graduate school or start a small business. The loan burden is too great now for too many. How many ways can Carol find to say the same thing?

Even non-skeptical readers might begin to notice that she's going on and on about the "outrageous" symptoms of the problem; she is remarkably uninterested in ferreting out any underlying causes.

Bloomberg reporter John Hechinger wrote in his article, “Overdue Student Loans Reach Record as U.S. Graduates Seek Jobs“ that, “Eleven percent of student loans were seriously delinquent - at least 90 days past due - in the third quarter of 2012, compared with 6 percent in the first quarter of 2003...” You can read the Hechinger article here. Again, the evidence fairly screams of a set of perverse incentives, obvious to anyone who's not a politician: students were led to badly misjudge the risk of assuming debt.

Certainly some of the fault was theirs. Was it anyone else's? Cui bono? Again, Carol's totally uninterested in raising uncomfortable questions like that.

The article goes on to state why young people still need college: College graduates have an 87 percent employment rate and high school graduates have a 64% employment rate. Carol's factoid (also from the Hechinger article) does not show that people "need college". At best it shows that, given a choice between a college graduate and a high school graduate, employers might be more likely to pick the college grad, irrespective of whether the job actually requires college-level skills or not.

Other data tend to discredit the "still need college" mantra: "About 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests requires less than a four-year college education. Eleven percent of employed college graduates are in occupations requiring more than a high-school diploma but less than a bachelor's, and 37 percent are in occupations requiring no more than a high-school diploma."

A telling anecdote from the same page: "The proportion of overeducated workers in occupations appears to have grown substantially; in 1970, fewer than one percent of taxi drivers and two percent of firefighters had college degrees, while now more than 15 percent do in both jobs."

Put another way: a substantial fraction of kids are going to college who don't need to, are wasting their money and time doing so, and (side effect) taxpayers are getting stuck with the bill for their delinquent loans.

Student debt is now larger than credit card debt in this country. This debt could jeopardize our economy. We also can see by the employment numbers that we have to keep educating our young. After all, education is the key to prosperity, for the young and for our economy. The question is not whether to educate, but how to pay for it. Carol blithely demolishes a straw man, taking a brave stand against all those people out there who think there is a question about "whether to educate" American youth.

Nay, for Carol, she'd rather just ask: how much more can the American taxpayer shovel into the gaping maw of the higher education system?

Since Carol doesn't recognize the role of past government decisions in setting up the corrupt financing structure of higher education, she can't be expected to come up with any intelligent reform proposals. And she doesn't.

Education is both a personal responsibility and a societal one, because we all gain. Families should do what they can to pay for education. Businesses need bright, educated employees to stay competitive, to make the new discoveries, to understand and carry out their mission. When Carol talks about a "societal" responsibility, she's really talking about putting taxpayers on the hook for it. (And of course, to the extent that Your Federal Government subsidizes and guarantees loans, we're already on the hook for it.)
These big corporations like Facebook should have to start paying federal income taxes, just like small businesses and individuals have to. Citizens need educated leaders who will be able to face the challenges tomorrow brings, so they need to insist that their colleges and universities are properly funded. And finally, schools themselves need to be better stewards of money. Education has to be the prime reason to brag, not the new gym or the new waterfall on campus. As we've seen in the past, there's not a single dollar in private hands that Carol Shea-Porter doesn't imagine the state could spend more wisely and humanely. In this specific case, Facebook could cough up some more dough, couldn't they?

Carol—no doubt reluctantly—implicitly acknowledges that a major part of increasing college costs are non-educational fripperies. Of course, to the "new gym" or the "new waterfall", we could add "new logo" for the University Near Here. ($65K so far for ugly-ass designs that everyone hates.)

Congress also has a role to play. I was proud to support and pass the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, the Higher Education and Opportunity Act, and the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act in previous sessions of Congress, but there is so much more to be done. Translation: "I had a major role in setting up this perverse system that puts ever-increasing numbers of young people in financial peril for dubious benefits. And I'm willing to finish the job!"
Tuition is too high. Interest rates for bank loans for school are too high. Carol knows what the "correct" tuition and interest rates should be. She's smart! She went to UNH!
This 113th Congress cannot even agree on how to at least reduce the interest rates that students and their families pay on federal loans. While we can get 3 percent interest rates for new homes, interest rates on federal school loans will double, from 3.4% to 6.8%, on July 1st unless Congress acts. Unfortunately, both Republicans and Democrats are largely in agreement that the inherently broken federal loan system should continue; they only differ in relatively minor details.
Last week, House Republicans passed a bill, H.R. 1911, that would allow interest rates to be reset each year and would actually cost more than allowing the rates to just double. The Senate rightly will reject it. For our children, for our businesses, for our country, we must keep interest rates at 3.4% and then work to reduce the other costs. After all, education really is the key to prosperity for all of us. Other than the obvious stupidity of letting legislative action set interest rates, Carol's telling is predictably partisan; for a slightly more skeptical take, see this Roll Call article that lays out the positions of the various parties, and notes that practically nobody in the debate is being "honest and transparent about their positions and motivations."

Fearless prediction: the outcome of this "crisis" will involve some tinkering, but too many students and their families will continue to be deluded into bad financial decisions. Colleges will still happily gobble up the free income, using it to fund Assistant Vice Provost positions and the like. And a few years down the road, Carol or her replacement can issue another column pointing with alarm to the same "growing crisis". And taxpayers will find themselves increasingly responsible for it all.

One final thought: Carol and her ilk often fret about US inequality. When the talk turns to higher education subsidies (which includes, but is a larger topic than just loans), all that worry goes out the window; nobody considers how such subsidies are a reliable pipeline vacuuming cash out of low-income wallets into the bank accounts of the relatively well-off. Milton and Rose Friedman made this observation decades ago in their book Free to Choose:

We know of no government program that seems to us to be so inequitable in its effects, so clean an example of Director's Law, as the financing of higher education. In this area, those of us who are in the middle- and upper-income classes have conned the poor into subsidizing us on the grand scale—yet we have no decent shame, we boast to the treetops of our selflessness and public-spiritedness.

In the years since, it's only gotten worse.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 9:29 AM EDT

Cloud Atlas

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

I didn't pay a lot of attention to reviews of Cloud Atlas when it was released in theatres, but I got the general impression that it might be both pretentious and incomprehensible. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that—after initial disorientation and confusion—eventually things made sense and I was able to enjoy myself. And (it turns out) part of the fun is trying to straighten things out and notice connecting threads. Yes, there's some goofy metaphysical bullshit involved along the way, but it's easy to ignore, and didn't stop me from having a good time.

The movie presents six stories (and a short bracketing prologue and epilogue) each set in a different era. The segments differ widely in tone and content: a historical 1840s morality play involving a South Seas voyage; a soap opera involving a gay composer in the 1930s; a 1970s thriller involving corporate malfeasance and a crusading reporter; a present-day dark comedy about a rest home that doubles as a prison for inconvenient oldsters; an SF saga about a rebellious clone fighting an oppressive society; and a post-apocalyptic tale about a society divided into near-savage tribes and a technologically-savvy remnant.

Many of the actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Hugh Grant,…) appear as different (but connected!) characters in each yarn. (Thanks to heavy use of makeup, hair stylists, and prosthetics, they're often difficult to recognize.)

It's long (nearly three hours). It flopped in theatrical release. The primary moviemakers are the Wachowski, erm, siblings, best known for The Matrix. I think it's probably the best thing they've done since then.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 9:12 AM EDT

Sleepless Night

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

Consumer note: even though the link over there on the right (no, your right) goes to the DVD-buying page at Amazon, they also have it available on Instant Video at the low, low price of $0.00 for Prime customers. You could do worse.

Vincent is a cop who, in concert with a co-worker, rips off a cocaine shipment on its way to Marciano, a local crime lord. Unfortunately, Vincent is recognized by one of the mules; very quickly his son is nabbed by the bad guys, and Marciano lets Vincent know that the price for his release is the return of the illicit goods.

Vincent takes the bagful of coke to Marciano's nightclub, where his son is held. Vincent is tailed by two other cops, who are interested in the heist. What follows is a night-long cat-and-mouse(-and-drugs) game full of deception and violence, all in the midst of innocent-bystander nightclubbing crowds that don't have the slighest idea what's going on.

Oh, did I mention it's French? It's French.

It's OK, but not wonderful.

The Impossible

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

Naomi Watts was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her perfomance in this movie. Although I think she gave an OK performance, I think she owes the nomination to her makeup artist.

Well, Ms. Watts starts out pretty, playing Maria, wife of Henry (Ewan McGregor), and sons Lucas, Thomas, and Simon. They are having a swell time at a beachside resort in Thailand. When, with no warning, the entire area is nearly scrubbed off the map by a tsunami. (Which really happened on the day after Christmas, 2004. Somewhere around a quarter million people were killed. Mother Nature can be a murderous psycho bitch sometimes.)

What follows is the harrowing story of how Maria and Lucas are separated from Henry, Thomas, and Simon. Maria is grievously injured by the wave, and she and Lucas must somehow find medical help. Henry and the other boys are in better shape, but they have a tough time navigating through the post-disaster chaos.

And that's pretty much it. If you enjoy based-on-truth movies about people suffering though agonizing events, persevering and (eventually) succeeding, then it's for you. Me, not so much, sorry. There's no great heroism, no great cowardice either, no impressive displays of cleverness or resourcefulness, just people kind of muddling through a horrible situation until it's over. Eh.

Warm Bodies

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

IMDB's "genre" line for this movie: "Comedy | Horror | Romance". Close enough. It's unexpectedly sweet for a zombie movie; I imagine it might offend purists who like their undead cinema grim, cynical, and hopeless. For my part, I thought it was clever and different.

The movie follows teen zombie "R"; he still has enough brainpower to think about his sorry state. (We are treated to his internal monologue, and it's pretty funny.) Inhabiting a derelict airport with his fellows, he spends most of his day shuffling through the concourses. He finds time now and then to visit his retreat: an abandoned passenger jet that he's tricked out with a stereo and collected knick-knacks. For a zombie, he's rather charming and sympathetic. But when hunger strikes, R and his zombie friends stagger off to the nearby city to find some living human flesh on which to feed. So that's a downside.

The remnants of humanity are led by authoritarian John Malkovitch, and they're all huddled in a city behind an immense circular wall. But they need to send expeditions into zombie-dominated areas for medical supplies; one includes General Malkovitch's lovely daughter Julie. The humans are attacked by R's zombie band, and there's a lot of death and PG-13 gore, but during the battle R is entranced by Julie, and instead of eating her, spirits her away to his jet.

Does an unlikely star-crossed romance blossom? Well, sure.

Checking out IMDB and Wired post-viewing, it was brought to my attention that there were a lot of intentional parallels between Warm Bodies and Romeo and Juliet. (Yeah, I'm a philistine, that totally went over my head while I was watching.) Fortunately for R and Julie, they weren't totally married to the R&J plot. But there's a balcony scene.

The Tin Roof Blowdown

[Amazon Link]

Amazon (once again) helpfully informs me that I bought this over five years ago, on May 14, 2008. I need to start reading faster, I think.

But before I get into the book itself, let me share with you a brilliant idea.

I'm a big fan of the FX series Justified. It was originally based on an Elmore Leonard short story, and it follows US Marshal Raylan Givens as he is assigned back into the area in which he grew up, Appalachian Eastern Kentucky. He is surrounded by a fascinating bunch of family, co-workers, criminals, and assorted lowlifes. It's powered by some of the cleverest TV writing ever.

Well, let me tell you: they could do the same thing with James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux. Might be even better. Dave's a little more haunted by his past than is Raylan. But, other than that, there's the same rich stew of colorful characters, outrageous crimes, and a decent guy just trying to navigate the demands of justice, friendship, family, and his inner demons.

There have been two Robicheaux movies, both kind of duds. But an episodic TV series that plays out a novel-length plot over an entire season would work much better than trying to fit the same thing into 100 minutes.

Just sayin'. To potential producers of this goldmine: I don't need any compensation; just send me free DVD sets of the series as they come out.

Anyway: the events of this book are centered around 2005's Hurricane Katrina and its devastating effects on New Orleans. Dave is heartbroken by the toll on the area and its citizenry, outraged by governmental ineptitude and malfeasance. (Burke's prose mostly implicates Dubya's administration of course, and lets local authorities mostly skate. But this isn't a political tome.)

But in the midst of all that horror, the bad guys came out to play, with the usual tragic results. A junkie priest has gone missing while trying to rescue parishoners that mistakenly took refuge in a church about to be engulfed by floodwaters. An insurance agent is trying gamely to hold his family together, although his daughter is recovering poorly from the trauma of a savage crime. A "roving band of youths" coincidentally pick a house to loot that turns out to be chock full of cash and diamonds, but their escape is complicated by sniper fire from unknown persons. Soon a trademark Burke villain, a funny-looking creep is prowling around, menacing all concerned; worse, he takes a shine to Dave's grown daughter Alafair.

In short, it's another engrossing read from James Lee Burke.


Last Modified 2013-06-26 7:49 AM EDT

Senator Ayotte Chooses … Poorly

DSC04182.JPG A message I sent to New Hampshire's better Senator earlier today:

I'm very disappointed that you have decided to back the "Gang of Eight" immigration legislation. As Byron York pointed out in his Washington Examiner column yesterday, you are obviously breaking the 2010 campaign promises on which you were elected.

This is all the more sad given your courageous stance on gun control back in April.

I hope it's not too late for you to re-examine this issue, remember your promises, and change your mind.

Addendum: A lot of my libertarian buddies are dropping their normal healthy skepticism of thousand-page "comprehensive" legislation that nobody's read or understands. This is one of the rare times that my conservative side wins out over my default libertard.

For more arguments, go to Kausfiles and keep scrolling. The NR editors also criticized Senator Ayotte here.

Disclaimer: I probably won't stay mad at Senator Ayotte. I mean, how can you?


Last Modified 2013-06-19 9:12 AM EDT

The Raven

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

We've had plenty of examples where the Netflix algorithm significantly overestimated how much I'd like a movie; this is an example of things working the other way. Netfix thought I'd hate it (predicting 2.3 stars, which is pretty bad). It also had mediocre box-office performance. But I thought it was a bit better than OK.

Maybe I'm just in a good mood these days.

It's set in 1849 gloomy Baltimore (but filmed mostly in gloomy present-day Serbia). Edgar Allen Poe—no spoilers here if you know your history—is approaching the end of his life. For the purposes of the movie, nearly everything else is fictionalized: Poe is working for a newspaper, a job he hates. He drinks way too much, and is arrogant about his long-in-the-past literary career. But he's in love with young and beautiful Emily Hamilton (Alice Lee, who we just saw as Dr. Carol Marcus in Star Trek).

Unfortunately, a homicidal madman is on the loose, and he's staging his murders to resemble those from Poe's works. (The movie is rated R for all the grisliness; for example, "The Pit and the Pendulum" works out less well for the movie's victim than in Poe's original version.) Poe is roped into the investigation, but it's always a few steps behind the bad guy.

All in all, a decent mystery/thriller. John Cusack does a fine job playing Poe. A fine supporting cast too, including a too-brief appearance by Brendan Coyle, Bates from Downton Abbey, as a totally convincing bartender.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 9:07 AM EDT

Decider

[Amazon Link]

I'm working my way through older Dick Francis novels (while also trying to keep up with his Designated Successor, son Felix). I thought I'd read them all at least once, but I was surprised to find that I seemed to have missed this 1993 one.

Or maybe I forgot. But I think I would have remembered. Right?

I got a "Used - Very Good" copy of the paperback from an Amazon seller. It had stickers that told of its travels to Pun Salad Manor: a remainder table at some Barnes & Noble; a stop at a Goodwill store. And finally, a UPS ride from Plainfield, Indiana to here. I feel it should be retired to a good home.

The hero here is Lee Morris, a builder/architect specializing in the restoration of ruins into attractive and liveable abodes. He's a family man, with six sturdy sons and a wife from whom he's growing increasingly distant. He needs to hustle to make ends meet, and it doesn't help that he's decided to keep his latest project as a place to live instead of selling it. But he's the usual Francis hero: professionally ultra-competent, personally a mensch, but still recognizably human.

Into this situation is dropped the violent turmoil of the Stratton family; Lee's mother was previously married to one of its least appealing members, and Lee feels both obligated and reluctant to respond to a situation caused by the recent death of the family head, Lord Stratton. At issue is the fate of Stratton Park racecourse: some Strattons want to sell, some want to renovate, some want to maintain the status quo. And it just so happens that Lee controls some of the voting shares in the track.

Lee winds up taking the five oldest sons for what he hopes will be a quick resolution, after which he can forget about the Strattons altogether. He turns out to be wrong, wrong, wrong: his efforts put (mostly) him and (occasionally) his kids in peril. Since this is a Dick Francis book, Lee handles the situation with courage, stoicism, perception, and intelligence.

The Giant Mechanical Man

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

A perfectly fine, albeit totally formulaic, romantic comedy. (Although IMDB classifies it in the "Drama" genre as well—I don't think so, not really.) It's a product of the arty Tribeca film people, so I though it was filmed in New York. But no, that's Detroit. The movie apparently appeared in one movie theater, one week, and IMDB claims it made $5,360 at the box office. If you have Amazon Prime, you can click the link over there to see it for free.

This movie may have been used to grab Michigan tax credits, or to launder Mob money. Or both.

The two romantic protagonists are Janice (the lovely Jenna Fischer) and Tim (the not quite as lovely Chris Messina). Each has their problems: Janice is a female slacker who manages to get fired from a temp agency. Tim is a street performance artist who puts on stilts, silver makeup and a big shiny suit to act as a… um… giant mechanical man for anyone who'll toss some money in his open briefcase. Both Tim and Janice need to deal with challenges: Janice, it's her bossy younger sister and nebbish brother-in-law. Tim its an impatient, verging-on-bitchy girlfriend.

The movie worked for me because, well, who doesn't want things to come out well for Jenna Fischer? There are more than a few laughs, and especially good is Topher Grace playing an irritating third-rate self-help guru.


Last Modified 2013-06-19 9:13 AM EDT