URLs du Jour — 2013-07-29

  • I obviously looked "extra
pickle-licious" while ordering... Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the Greatest Food in Human History. Kyle Smith will tell you why.

    Seriously, it's what I usually get for lunch when I didn't bring leftovers from home. It's a quick turnaround at the Lee Traffic Circle. And I am your typical miserly New Englander.

    But you should read Kyle's column for a more serious point: people who want to deny other people access to McDonald's are not doing them any favors. Using the government strongarm to drive up McDonald's costs also has negative impact on the poor.

    (More commentary from Molly Hemingway at Ricochet; the March Freakonomics post that got the story started.)

  • Too obvious, and yet too perfect:
    • President Obama, in his July 27 weekly address:

      And as long as I have the privilege of holding this office, I will spend every minute of every day doing everything in my power to make this economy work for working Americans again; …

    • And later that same day

      President Obama is playing his usual round of Saturday golf with his usual roundup of junior aides.

    How big a rube do you have to be in order to believe anything this guy says?

  • Potential Presidential candidates are known for bland pronouncements, not wishing to write off any potential supporters. To his credit, Chris Christie is not that kinda guy:

    'As a former prosecutor who was appointed by President George W. Bush on Sept. 10, 2001,' Christie told his audience on Thursday, 'I just want us to be really cautious, because this strain of libertarianism that’s going through both parties right now and making big headlines, I think, is a very dangerous thought.'

    On the other hand, he made it a lot more likely that he'll inherit the Mike Huckabee role in the upcoming campaign, another fat guy (well, used to be fat) who dissed people concerned about eroding liberty.

Swan Peak

[Amazon Link]

Amazon helpfully informs me that I bought this with a Christmas gift card on December 26, 2008. So I'm slightly less than 4.5 years behind in reading James Lee Burke novels. Got to pick up the pace!

Burke's hero, Dave Robicheaux, has taken a long overdue break from his beloved Louisiana, which is struggling to recover from Katrina. He, his wife Molly, and good friend Clete Purcel are up in Montana, determined to be uninvolved with their usual assortment of bad guys, moral degenerates, and folks down on their luck.

It's nice to wish for things like that, but trouble follows Dave and Clete like a too-loyal dog. They are beset by a strange conflation of circumstances: first, their vacation spot is near the dwellings of the very rich Wellstone brothers. One of whom is married to the former Jamie Sue Stapleton, ex-country singer. Whose former beau, Jimmy Dale Greenwood, has made his own share of mistakes, one of which was defending a hooker from her pimp, who just happened to be the nephew of the meanest judge in Texas. Jimmy Dale escapes from his intolerable imprisonment, but not without making an implacable enemy of guard Troyce Nix, who pursues with bloody vengeance on his mind. But while on the quest, runs into ex-Roller Derby skater, ex-junkie, bosom-tatted, Candace Sweeney. And they develop a complex relationship.

Complicated enough? But then a couple of bodies turn up, murdered in a fashion most gruesome. Local law asks Dave and (reluctantly) Clete to help out. Which sets everyone on a collision course. The course of the plot is somewhat surprising, hearkening back to the first couple of books in the series. Did not see that coming, although I should have: if there's a theme to Burke's work, it's that the past is always returning to haunt everyone.

I can't say enough about the evocative beauty of Burke's writing. And (I've said this before), some TV genius should turn his books into a Justified-style series, where the overall plot plays out over the course of the season.

The Food Police

[Amazon Link]

In my long association with the University Near Here, I had never before used its Interlibrary Loan service to get a book. Guess what? It's easily accomplished online in these days of modern times, and (although it took longer than promised) I was able to check out The Food Police by Jayson Lusk, magically transported from the B. Thomas Golisano Library of Roberts Wesleyan University, Rochester NY. Win!

Lusk is a professor in agricultural economics at Oklahoma State. And he, like many of us of a libertarian bent, is dismayed and outraged by the nannies, blue-noses, and noodges that have taken it upon themselves to alter the diets of the tubby American people. In his sights are NYT food writer Mark Bittman; journalist/activist/Berkeley prof Michael Pollan; NYU prof Marion Nestle; NYC's Mayor Bloomberg; and their ilk.

Lusk is unsparing, showing how his opponents' elitist values are backed up with nothing more than shaky science, bad economics, and (above all) an overweening craving for reshaping the diets of the little (or, considering their waistlines, not-so-little) people. Among the topics considered: locavorism (eating food produced within N miles of your table), organics, "Frankenfood" (genetically modified eats), farm regulations and subsidies, and efforts to impose taxes and onerous regulations on "bad" food.

Lusk's heart is in the right place, and I'm in total agreement with his general thesis. If I had to quibble, it would be with his tone: it's very much preaching to the choir, not likely to persuade anyone who isn't already likely to agree with him.

It's a short book, and you might get some ammunition for your next debate with a "food activist", should you get into that sort of thing.

It's A Disaster

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

It's kind of a slack time at Netflix, not a lot of new good movies coming out on DVD. We zipped through 13 episodes of Kevin Spacey's series House of Cards pretty quickly, and otherwise have been dipping down pretty far into the queue, a lot of older movies that slipped through the cracks, a lot of arty stuff, a lot of low-budget stuff.

Like this movie, It's A Disaster: a low-budget comedy. There are a few actors you may have seen in something else: David Cross, Julia Stiles, America Ferrera. But otherwise, the biggest budget expense might have been the hazmat suit someone shows up in.

Eight folks get together for a periodic brunch in Los Angeles; Tracy (Ms Stiles) is bringing along new boyfriend Glen (Mr. Cross). What ensues is the usual: behind-the-back sniping, warnings not to bring up certain topics with certain people, hidden romantic strife, conversational cul-de-sacs, etc. This is occasionally amusing, because the writers are clever.

But then (see the movie title, folks), it becomes apparent that all is not well in the outside world. First the Internet goes out, then phone service, then electricity. Then the guy in the hazmat suit mentioned above. And the eight sorta-friends have to deal with the fact that their lives are in mortal danger, and there's not a lot they can do about it. Things get a little crazy, and much funnier.

This is not an awful way to spend a Netflix pick.

Evil Dead

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

Another useful guide, in case you ever find yourself in a remote cabin in the dark forest with a bunch of your 20-something friends, gathered to wean one of your buddies off of a nasty substance-abuse habit: if you find an ancient book, bound in human skin, written in human blood, amidst a bunch of sacrificial animals, do not start reading it out loud. In fact, maybe you should just get in your car and drive until you find a Holiday Inn or something.

Needless to say, the young folks in this movie do not follow this advice. Instead, they (and their dog) find themselves visited with all sorts of horrors. (MPAA sez: "strong bloody violence and gore" and that's kind of an understatement.)

Jane Levy, who I like as Tessa in the TV show Suburgatory, plays the primary character here, saying and doing things that will not appear on primetime broadcast TV anytime soon. (The rest of the cast are generically pretty actors and actresses who aren't asked to do much besides scream and die.)

It's actually a remake of Sam Raimi's cheapie made in 1981 with Bruce Campbell. I dimly remember seeing it, but the IMDB raters have it a full point better than this effort.


Last Modified 2013-07-28 12:30 PM EDT

Here, There & Everywhere

[Amazon Link]

Readers of National Review will know Jay Nordlinger as one of their Senior Editors; he's also a prolific contributor to their website. (I've long suspected he also has a major hand in the unsigned "The Week" snippets at the front of each dead-tree issue.)

This book (published by "National Review Books" in 2007) is a selection of some of Mr. Nordlinger's essays and articles from the late 1990's and early 2000's. Confession: it was a freebie, in return for some past renewal or contribution, and I probably wouldn't have it otherwise. But it's an interesting and enjoyable read. I suggest small doses: I read it in 20-page chunks over the span of slightly over three weeks. Too much of even a good writer's style can get tedious after a while.

The entries are arranged into broad sections: there is, of course, the meat-and-potatoes political stuff, which, given the timeframe, is more than slightly dated. (There is, for example, no entry for "Obama, Barack" in the index, but dozens for Dubya, the Clintons, Gore, etc.) But it's worth remembering the issues from back then, who were the heroes, and who were the weasels. More often than not, I was reminded of that "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" thing.

In addition to Mr. Nordlinger's take on politics generally, he has also taken on more special fields as his own. One is the continuing horror of Communist tyranny in Cuba and China; he knows, and keeps track of, the major opponents of the regimes and the abuse that's visited upon them. (He also keeps score on the outrageous American apologists for Castro.) This is important stuff, and nobody covers it as well.

Other topics: golf (with much appreciation for Tiger Woods, which is probably the most dated thing in the book); classical music of all sorts; some personal anecdotes.

All in all, good stuff. I can't recommend you run out and plunk down the $24.95 cover price, but if NR offers it in exchange for renewing your subscription, go for it.

Casa de mi Padre

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

This movie must have seemed like a great idea to someone: hey, let's make a movie that looks like a low-budget Mexican western. Including everybody speaking Spanish. Cheap special effects. Amateurish cinematography. Ludicrous dialog and a boilerplate plot.

Oh, and we'll get Will Ferrell to play the hero.

The problem being: stretching that idea out to a movie length. And it's just not that great an idea. Ferrell plays Armando, the cowardly, dim-witted, less-favored son of a local rancher. He hangs out with his buddies, and the only blips in his mostly-happy existence is the occasional drug lord using their land to kill a squealer.

But Armando's brother Raul shows up with his gorgeous fiancé Sonia; he seems to have some sort of relationship with the aforementioned drug lord. I predict bullets will be a-flyin'.

There's a lot of Saturday Night Live DNA at work here. In addition to Ferrell, Both the writer (Andrew Steele) and director (Matt Piedmont) used to work for the show. Unfortunately, some of the show's flaws tag along with them. The movie is not without laughs, but some gags just lie there, others go on way after the laughs have died down.

Abduction of Eden

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

Netflix has this as Abduction of Eden; it's also known as just plain Eden. Warning: it deals with a very scummy, nasty activity, the kidnapping and forced prostitution of girls. It is the fictionalized account of Chong Kim (she has a story credit on the movie), who claims to have been a victim of that game in the 1990s. As with any "fictionalized" account, we're left guessing at how much of what we're watching actually happened, how much is self-serving slant, and how much is made up movie magic.

So it's probably best to just judge it as a movie. On that basis, it's not bad.

"Eden" is the assigned pseudonym of the movie's heroine, a young Korean-American girl growing up in the southwest. She is chafing a bit against her strict mother, helping out at the family store. One fateful night, armed with a fake ID, she decides to kick up her heels a bit at a local bar. She's temporarily smitten by a cute guy … who turns out to be no darn good at all.

Before you know it, she's cooped up with a bunch of other girls who are regularly pimped out to perverts in nearby Vegas. The people running the show are ruthless, led by a local lawman (played by Beau Bridges) who (we're shown) will casually murder anyone who might obstruct the smooth function of his lucrative side occupation.

Worse, the operation depends on young girls. Once they're no longer convincing jailbait, their usefulness goes to zero, and they can't just be set free, so…

Eden figures this out, and (in an interesting plot twist) works to make herself into a more valued employee in the organization. Not exactly a Horatio Alger story.

The movie is pretty well made, the actress playing Eden, Jamie Chung, is quite good. Still, you might want to wash your soul out with soap after watching the movie.

Head Start Arithmetic Fail

[Newspaper Fail] A recent article in my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, once again stoked my frustration with newspaper journalism. It's a sob story about the recent closing of a Head Start program in Newmarket, NH. Lead paragraph:

The closing of Newmarket’s nearly 20-year-old Head Start Program in June — caused by the federal sequestration — has forced the parents of more than a dozen children to either drive to a nearby community for the program or to just stay home.

So: eek, that's awful. Those mean and nasty Republicans.

But wait a minute: just a few paragraphs down:

According to the national Head Start website, funding was cut nationally by about 5 percent for the nearly 50-year-old program.

So, let me get this straight: a 5% cut at the national level translates into a 100% cut at the Newmarket program? How does that work, exactly?

You don't need to be a math whiz to smell some untold story here. And I mean that literally: the Foster's story doesn't even attempt to explain the discrepancy.

Could this, for example, be "the so-called Washington Monument maneuver"? (Also known as the "gold watch" tactic, or the "firemen first" principle.) The idea is that "cuts" are taken primarily from highly visible, easily publicized services. Like, um, your local Head Start program. The easier to get people riled up and demand the "cuts" be undone.

Not that I have any brief to hold for Head Start. It's expensive, even after a minuscule cut to its funding, and even after decades of research, nobody's established that the program has any lasting benefits to the kids it is supposed to serve.

But you won't hear about any of that in Foster's.

The Brass Verdict

[Amazon Link]

A brief ad: this Kindle Edition of this book is available for $2.99 as I type, which is an insanely good deal. You know how it works, just click over there … (Unless you're blocking Pun Salad ads. Don't do that, they're unobtrusive and attractive Amazon links.)

Anyway, this book is from prolific writer Michael Connelly, who's been a Pun Salad fave for years. It is the second entry in his "Lincoln Lawyer" series, featuring flawed hero Mickey Haller, criminal defense lawyer.

After getting gut-shot in the previous book, Mickey is only just now crawling back from a sad addiction to painkillers. Things happen quickly when his shady colleague Jerry Vincent is murdered by an unknown assailant: due to a previous contractual agreement, Vincent's open cases are awarded to Mickey by default. Among these is the well-publicized case of movie tycoon Walter Elliot, who is alleged to have caught his wife in flagrante delicto with a younger man, shooting and killing them both.

There might be interesting stories to tell about lawyers whose primary purpose in life is to defend hapless, hopeless little folk being railroaded by an implacable legal juggernaut. Mickey is not one of those guys. He is interested, most of all, by the income the Elliot case will bring in. The case against Elliot is pretty good, but not airtight; Mickey must find a way to establish reasonable doubt, all while dodging his personal demons and skating on the edge of conduct that might get him disbarred.

And there's the annoying fact—remember—that Elliot's previous lawyer, Vincent, was murdered. Is Mickey travelling down the same path? Fortunately, the primary detective on the Vincent case is none other than Harry Bosch, the dour, dogged police detective from thirteen previous Connelly books. In this book we see him through Haller's eyes, which could have been corny, but Michael Connelly makes this work well. Neither Bosch nor Mickey is entirely honest with the other, they both know it, and their relationship alternates between contentious bickering and mutual, grudging, respect.

Mickey is a pretty good detective too, and things eventually get figured out. But the very end contains a twisty shock that I did not see coming.


Last Modified 2014-12-23 12:02 PM EST

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

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

Why did I get this? Let me give you a hint: one of my favorite episodes of "The Big Bang Theory" is "The Thespian Catalyst", where the surprise finale features a fantasy sequence with Raj and Bernadette …

Wait, I don't want to spoil that if you haven't seen it. If you haven't seen it, watch for it to roll around on one of the channels that syndicate "Big Bang". You won't be sorry.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, this movie. It's a 2008 Indian movie that Netflix (correctly) predicted I'd like a lot. The hero is Suri, a 40something schlub working in a cubicle for Punjab Power. He is infatuated with beautiful young Taani. Which is fine, but her father's untimely demise somehow results in the marriage of Suri and Taani.

"Be careful what you wish for" is as true in India as it is anywhere else. Both Suri and Taani are painfully aware of the age gap between them, and neither knows how to bridge it. But fate intervenes in the form of the dance show "Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi", for which Taani auditions. Suri gets a bright idea from his hairdresser friend, Bobby: he will audition as well, but as the flamboyantly made-over "Raj". Like Clark Kent and Superman, nobody, including Taani, can tell that Raj and Suri are the same person.

There are a lot of lavishly-produced song-n-dance numbers, which had me convinced that Anushka Sharma, the actress playing Taani, is the most beautiful and talented woman in the world. (Excepting, of course, Mrs. Salad.)

Cynics may quibble: the plot is preposterous, the acting is over-the-top, and the singing is screechy with repetitive, stupid lyrics. But (on the other hand), it's a lot of fun.

The movie is nearly 3 hours long, and it could easily have been trimmed by about an hour, but that's OK.


Last Modified 2014-11-09 8:27 AM EST

Monsters University

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

Pixar can do sequels incredibly well (Toy Story 2 & 3), or very badly (Cars 2). This is pretty good; I would have had a good time even if I hadn't been escaping from the oppressive heat this past weekend.

It's actually a prequel to Monsters, Inc.; we get to see Mike's backstory as an earnest kid with a desperate wish to become a "scarer". (Which, since we've seen Monsters, Inc., we know he does.) Surprisingly, this career path requires higher education, and the best to be had in the Monsters universe is … well, see the title.

Somebody pointed out that the plot is a shameless ripoff of Revenge of the Nerds. (And probably a few dozen other college movies contribute their DNA as well.) So lot of the plot is foreseeable: for example, Mike will meet his soon-to-be lifelong friend Sully at MU, but (of course) they don't initially get along well at all, but amusing slapstick incidents keep forcing them together.

So: it's not as insanely wonderful as some Pixar flicks, but kept me chuckling and marvelling at the creativity and imagination of the moviemakers. I may not splurge for the DVD, but (on the other hand) I enjoyed it more than I did Man of Steel.

Machete

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

A very guilty pleasure, written and directed by Robert Rodriguez. As IMDB will tell you, its unusual origin was as a fake trailer in Grindhouse, a (tribute to|parody of) gory low-budget thrillers of past decades. The hero, Machete, is played by the spectacularly ugly Danny Trejo; if you saw any of the Spy Kids movies, he played the same guy, as "Uncle Machete". But nobody calls him Uncle here.

A brief opening scene establishes both Machete's bad-assery and his ultimate nemesis, the ruthless Mexican crimelord Torrez (Steven Seagal!) who deprives Machete of his friends, family, and nearly his life.

A few years later, up in the US, Machete is living an odd-job life as an illegal immigrant. But soon enough he gets (completely coincidentally) roped into a complex (completely unbelievable) conspiracy. A host of bad guys wants him dead. Fortunately, he has his eponymous weapon close at hand.

The plot, such as it is, is cartoonish and tendentiously hung on the issue of illegal immigration: the opponents are uniformly murderous, venal, sadistic, perverted, and all under the control of aforementioned criminal Torrez. (In addition to Seagal, there's Don Johnson, Jeff Fahey, and Robert De-frickin'-Niro, along with dozens of machete-fodder minions.) Fortunately, there are some good guys too: Cheech Marin, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez.

Also appearing: Lindsay Lohan's boobies. Probably the rest of her too, although I didn't notice.

The Better Angels of Our Nature

[Amazon Link]

A big book: the main text (in my paperback edition) is nearly 700 pages, unwide margins, and unsmall type. (There are occasional graphs, tables and illustrations, but still: it's a project.) But it's written by Steven Pinker, a guy I've enjoyed reading in the past. And it got rave reviews when it came out a few years ago. And cover blurbs most authors would kill for, for example: “One of the most important books I’ve read—not just this year, but ever.”—Bill Gates.

[Of course, Steven Pinker wouldn't kill for a blurb like that. As the book makes clear, he's a pretty peaceful guy.]

So yes, it's pretty good. If you're willing to invest the time on something a little denser than the latest Lee Child novel, I can recommend it.

The subtitle is: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker first attempts to show that it has declined, and he is pretty close to irrefutable here. First, there is the trend of centuries and millennia: he debunks the hazy-hippie myth of ancient tribes living gently in sustainable communities. Instead, it was amazingly likely back then that you'd be violently killed by warriors of a neighboring tribe; if you were male, and lucky, you might take out a few of your antagonists first. Pinker argues, to the discomfiture of anarchists, that the development of the modern "leviathan" state moderated tribal violence to a fraction of the historical rate.

The modern state, of course, has its own nasty record of murderous violence, both against other nations and (in many cases) against its own citizenry. But (again) Pinker shows that this trend is also downward over the past centuries. There's the notable exception of what's called the "hemoclysm" ("blood flood") of the first half of the 20th century; Pinker argues that this really was an exception to the overall historical trend: states have gotten significantly better-behaved since then. (Yes, when you look at, say, Syria, things can seem bad; but they were much worse before, with much larger levels of violence going unremarked because they were so common.)

Pinker also considers interpersonal violence of all kinds: homicide, rape, assault, infanticide etc. To the extent that reliable statistics can be had, the trends are downward over the long term. (I was wondering if Pinker was going to look at abortion; yes he does. Although his discussion probably wouldn't satisfy the National Right to Life Committee, it's remarkably even-handed for a Harvard prof.)

After thoroughly documenting violence's decline over the years, Pinker gets to the topic promised by his subtitle: why has it happened? Pinker is a psychologist, and goes into great detail on brain physiology and function. ("The orbital cortex is strongly connected to the amygdala, hypothalamus, another parts of the brain involved with emotion.") How do violent thoughts get generated, and how do they get translated into action? There might be evolution at play, with selection over the past centuries operating in relative favor of brains that are better at controlling impulses, for example. (But, Pinker cautions, maybe not.)

Instead, Pinker argues that the decline is more likely due to actual old-fashioned progress: the spread and interconnectedness of rational thought, the easy availability of information, the victory of positive-sum free-market mechanisms over negative-sum command-and-control diktat. (And there's also the Flynn Effect: we really are just getting smarter as the years go on.)

Pinker is one of the best popularizers of science today. His style is, as always, accessible, occasionally funny, and very wide-ranging, with lots of pop culture references. One can imagine how the chapters developed from lectures provided to easily-bored Harvard students. Pinker is occasionally glib and simplistic, especially when wandering too close to current American politics. (He engages in some regrettable Dubya-bashing, which he supports by quoting dubious research.) But it's a big book, and you can hit the fast-forward during these parts and not miss much.

Man of Steel

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

Our third see-in-theatre summer blockbuster this year. A Superman movie is a must, of course. Even better when Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder are involved. Michael Shannon as General "Kneel Before" Zod! I was prepared to be blown away by its wonderfulness.

And I came away a bit let down. It was fine. Maybe even good. But …

Every sentient being knows the story here: it's a reboot, so the origin story is told again: Russell Crowe instead of Brando as Jor-El; Kevin Costner instead of Glenn Ford as Pa Kent; Diane Lane instead of Phyllis Thaxter as Ma Kent; Amy Adams in for Margot Kidder at the "Lois Lane" position; no Lex Luthor, although some sharp eyeballs spotted "Lexcorp" on a gasoline truck just before it blows up. What's not to like?

Well, it's significantly more pretentious than previous Superman flicks. You heard rumors of Christ analogies? They are there, and they are heavy-handed.

The epic battles between Superman and Zod's forces are special-effects heavy, and they wreak massive destruction to both Metropolis and Smallville. (This PG-13 flick, I guess, couldn't even hint at the massive death toll of innocent bystanders. It makes the New York battle in Avengers look like kids playing with cap guns.)

I was somewhat disappointed in the final fight scene. Without spoilers, I found myself thinking: That was it? Why didn't he do that before? Oh well.

And (again without spoilers): at a key confrontation, the Kryptonian bad guys make an unexplained, arbitrary demand that their human opponents must go along with; as it turns out, that becomes the eventual key to their undoing.

I'm griping a lot, but: the acting is fine, the effects are awe-inspiring, and the plot is mostly gripping and moving. So: four stars.

URLs du Jour — 2013-07-03

  • Worldwide Vegan Bakesale - Austin
2010 If you are some sort of hippie living in Austin, Texas, your first association to the acronym “WWVB“ might be “WorldWide Vegan Bakesale”. But for us geeks with geeky watches, it’s the radio station in Fort Collins, Colorado that keeps us synchronized down to the second with Actual Time according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

    It is WWVB’s 50th anniversary on July 5, and there’s a nice article on the Wired website about it and the folks that keep it running. The article notes that the NIST’s time service is available on the Internet, and any GPS device can sync that way too. But:

    Despite these challenges, Congress thinks NIST’s time radio broadcasts are still essential to national infrastructure and recently granted $16 million for signal enhancements ([NIST honcho John] Lowe says they only used $100,000 and were proud to return the rest).

    Um, wow. “$16 Mil? Thanks, but we only need 0.625% of that.”

  • Ruben Bolling draws the comic strip Tom the Dancing Bug. It’s sometimes left-wing, but always funny, so it’s a must read. However, a couple of his recent strips caught my attention:

    • On June 27, Bolling’s point seems to be: using a far-fetched scenario to justify a favored policy is ludicrous.

    • But on June 28. Bolling’s point seems to be: far-fetched scenarios are just fine.

    Gosh, it’s almost as if we shouldn’t rely on cartoonists, even funny ones, for principled and sophisticated political commentary.

  • I was occasionally disappointed by Dubya when he was President. But check out this photo essay about his trip to Zambia, and try to tell me that he isn’t a heck of a good person.

  • So, <voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone!</voice> The Obama Administration has decided to give businesses a one-year delay in the Obamacare mandate requiring many businesses to provide health insurance to many of their employees. Even news sources usually in the President's back pocket point out the obvious: it won't happen until after the 2014 elections.

    The slimy political calculation is to be expected from Obama, of course. Also expected: the Administration's complete contempt for the rule of law. Some choice quotes:

    • Michael F. Cannon:

      […] the IRS’s unilateral decision to delay the employer mandate is the latest indication that we do not live under a Rule of Law, but under a Rule of Rulers who write and rewrite laws at whim, without legitimate authority, and otherwise compel behavior to suit their ends. Congress gave neither the IRS nor the president any authority to delay the imposition of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate.

    • Shannen W. Coffin:

      Once again President Obama demonstrates a stunning disregard for a duly enacted statute. Using what he apparently views as his executive authority to pick and choose which statutes to enforce and which to ignore, he grants a blanket exemption to businesses from compliance with a central feature of his own signature health-care statute. His action is not too dissimilar from his announcement last year that he would unilaterally implement the DREAM Act, which had hitherto languished in Congress, by declining to deport any and all deportation-eligible illegals who met the requirements of the never-enacted statute.

    • Arnold Kling:

      I could make a case that Congress should insist that the President enforce the law, or else face impeachment. The fact that this suggestion seems absurd says something about the state of the health care law. However, it says even more about the state of our Republic.

    • Charles Murray:

      We live in a country where the law has not only become unintelligible, written in thousand-page chunks, but has morphed into a giant mass of silly putty that can be reshaped as our rulers find convenient.

    Thoughts to occupy your mind on Independence Day, 2013. We're commemorating a document that scornfully looked down upon this sort of hanky-panky tyranny, after all.

  • According to the BBC, Germans (including Prime Minister Anglela Merkel) have taken to using the word "shitstorm". Apparently it's more acceptable in polite company than "scheißsturm" or "Obamacare".


Last Modified 2014-12-05 11:35 AM EST

Our Idiot Brother

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

A 2011 movie that wormed its way up the Netflix queue. It has a mediocre IMDB user rating, but got a decent reception from critics (67% on the Tomatometer). I was pleasantly surprised: I found it sweet and charming, in a low-key way.

Paul Rudd plays Ned, the Idiot Brother of the title. Although his habits are not made explicit, he has the mellow demeanor of someone whose THC levels are well up there, all the time. This has made him friendly, outgoing, generous, trusting, and (most importantly) dysfunctionally naïve. So much so that he sells weed to a uniformed cop who tells him a semi-plausible sob story. This lands him in the clink, and when he gets out, his previous old lady has taken up with a new hippie and doesn’t want him back on the farm. Also, she keeps his dog, “Willie Nelson.” Dude, that’s mean!

So Ned falls back on family, primarily his three respectable sisters: there’s Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) a wannabe journalist who is letting her career overpower her life; Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a wobbly lesbian in a relationship with a no-nonsense lawyer (Rashida Jones); and Liz (Emily Mortimer), married to a twit Brit filmmaker (Steve Coogan). Ned’s traits (eventually) drive them all to distraction. But in an amusing way.

It’s rated R, but the raunch is not at the usual level of R-rated comedies (Ted, Pineapple Express, et. al.)


Last Modified 2017-12-01 10:39 AM EST