URLs du Jour

2014-02-28

[demon!]

  • Frank J. wonders (among other things):

    So are the Koch brothers a real thing or just the name the left has given the screeching demons inside their heads?

    Both. I think the answer is both.

  • Jonah Goldberg ponders the recent uproar about Arizona's failed effort to legalize a business's (theoretical) refusal to do business with a customer for religious reasons. (Which got translated in most media to "anti-gay".)

    Future historians will likely be flummoxed by the moment we’re living in. In what amounts to less than a blink of an eye in the history of Western civilization, homosexuality has gone from a diagnosed mental disorder to something to be celebrated — or else.

    Indeed, the rush to mandatory celebration is so intense, refusal is now considered tantamount to a crime. And, in some rare instances, an actual crime if the right constable or bureaucrat concludes that you have uttered “hate speech.”

    "Progressives" used to whine about religious types "imposing their morality" on others. Now the shoe's on the other foot.

  • Tom McGuire is a fine responder to this morning's NYT editorial advocating a hefty minimum wage increase. The editorial asserts: "Paying workers more can help companies lower turnover and improve productivity."

    You really should Read the Whole Thing™, but Tom's response is neatly summarized by his headline: "From The People We Look To For Business Advice".


Last Modified 2014-03-01 11:10 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2014-02-27

[Nine]

  • Pun Salad is nine years old today. If you'd like to see the brave first post, it's right here. The major change since then is my move off the network of my (then and current) employer, the University Near Here. Which allowed my current blatant commercialism (tasteful Amazon links, which I hope you'll use to buy, buy, buy). Also, I figured out how to do RSS feeds along the way.

    Thanks, as always, for reading.

  • Bradley A. Smith, writing in the WSJ, notes the docile response of the MSM to the IRS targeting of conservative/libertarian 501(c)(4) groups for legal harassment.

    The mainstream press has justified its lack of coverage over the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative groups because there's been no "smoking gun" tying President Obama to the scandal. This betrays a remarkable, if not willful, failure to understand abuse of power. The political pressure on the IRS to delay or deny tax-exempt status for conservative groups has been obvious to anyone who cares to open his eyes. It did not come from a direct order from the White House, but it didn't have to.

    Smith outlines the history, and demonstrates the IRS's efforts were almost certainly in response to demands from the President and other powerful Democrats. Including New Hampshire's own Senator Jeanne.

    You'd think the press might take a bit more interest when unbridled government power is used to silence opposition. Especially when it's cheered on by elected officials.

  • Speaking of which:

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday that the conservative Koch brothers are "un-American."

    This was reported at the Washington Post website, in a lead paragraph, so good for them. Senator Harry, however, is simply following other prominent members of his party (e.g., Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi; Jennifer Granholm) in applying the "un-American" smear to his political opponents.

  • Years ago, back when I listened to radio stations, a local DJ was a fan of guitar hero "Johnny A". I quickly became a fan too; Johnny (or should I call him "Mr. A"?) can make an electric guitar do just about anything he wants to do. And (fortunately) what he wants to do is to make amazing music. Rock, blues, jazz, surf, country, classical: it's all one to Johnny.

    Johnny is about to release his third studio album. He is raising funds to promote it through PledgeMusic, and I gratefully plunked down a pledge this morning. And I never do this sort of thing.

    As I type, they've blown well past Johnny's original funding goal, but that's OK. I encourage you to check it out. Get his album, you won't be sorry. Or, if you have a few kilobucks rattling around, he'll even come to your house and play a set for you.

URLs du Jour

2014-02-26

[nag nag nag]

  • Ann Althouse has a terrific pair of posts inspired by NYT food cop Mark Bittman's op-ed touting a recent book by (CUNY professor) Nicholas Freudenberg. (Lethal But Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health).

    The headline of Bittman's column is: "Rethinking Our ‘Rights’ to Dangerous Behaviors". The sneer-quotes around "Rights" should tell you nearly everything you need to know about the Bittman/Freudenberg thesis. Big corporations are profitably selling us unhealthy stuff, so government must step up, etc.

    Professor Althouse:

    Bittman likes Freudenberg’s debunking of notions of "rights and choice," because he agrees that "we need... more than a few policies nudging people toward better health." As Freudenberg told Bittman: "What we need... is to return to the public sector the right to set health policy and to limit corporations’ freedom to profit at the expense of public health." Oh! Did you see that? Freudenberg said "right." He said "right" in the context of government, and he spoke of returning this "right" — a right to control people — to government. He's saying "right" where the legal term is actually "power." He wants government power at the expense of rights. And the fact that he speaks of the "return" of power to the government is either deceptive or unAmerican. We are free and have a right to do what we want until we give power to government. If the laws that restrict us are repealed, it makes sense to speak of returning rights to the people, but it's wrong and really offensive to characterize new restrictions in terms of returning a right to the government.

    Pun Salad went on kind of a anti-Bittman kick a few years back (for example: here; here; here; here; here; here; here; here; here). But Bittman kept saying the same thing over and over, and I realized that if I wanted to respond, I'd have to say the same thing over and over. So I got off that merry-go-round. But I'm glad that Professor Althouse has stepped up.

  • The GOP has a new tax proposal out. At the WSJ, Congresscritter Dave Camp, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, gives the highlights: two brackets (10% and 25%), a surcharge on "the rich", and "simplifying" the code. And at NR, Eliana Johnson discusses the proposal's efforts to curb IRS abuses.

    Mark Calabria at Cato is (on the other hand) not a fan of the proposal's "Bank Tax".

  • A. Barton Hinkle has some fun with the new Obama budget proposal.

    “With the 2015 budget request,” The Washington Post reported last week, “Obama will call for an end to the era of austerity that has dogged much of his presidency.”

    Well, it’s about time! The end of austerity cannot come soon enough, as far as your humble correspondent is concerned. And a quick look at the historical budget tables shows why: In 2008, the federal government spent just a hair under $3 trillion. After six years of President Slash-and-Burn, spending has shrunk to almost $4 trillion. If we keep cutting like this, it will be down to $5 trillion before you know it.

    I think he's being sarcastic. Not sure.

URLs du Jour

2014-02-25

pinocchio, imagine four

  • Glenn Kessler of the rabidly right-wing Washington Post sadly notes that President Obama's assertions about Obamacare's benefits continue to be truth-impaired. To wit, his recent claim that “We’ve got close to 7 million Americans who have access to health care for the first time because of Medicaid expansion.” After doing some rudimentary research, Kessler concludes this is a Four-Pinocchio whopper:

    In any case, no matter how you slice it, it does not add up to 7 million. It is dismaying that given all of the attention to this issue, the president apparently does not realize that the administration’s data are woefully inadequate for boastful assertions of this type.

    That's an overly charitable interpretation. Mine is: he's lying. Because he thinks he can get away with lying.

  • A perceptive point made by Thomas Sowell:

    It seems as if, everywhere you turn these days, there are studies claiming to show that America has lost its upward mobility for people born in the lower socioeconomic levels. But there is a sharp difference between upward "mobility," defined as an opportunity to rise, and mobility defined as actually having risen.

    I smell the social-engineering mentality behind this confusion. In that view, the mass of people can and should be pushed/nudged/regulated/controlled/etc. into furthering grand societal goals imagined by their betters. The obvious corollary: if those grand societal goals aren't being accomplished, it can only be due to insufficient pushing/nudging/regulation/control/etc.

    Need I encourage you to read the whole thing? Didn't think so.

  • Ricochet headline du jour is "The Duke Porn Star Is a College Republican".

    And it gets even better with the first sentence, which starts "Well, she's actually a libertarian…"

    Now that's diversity, kids. Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown has a positive reaction here.

  • Kevin Williamson recalls a historical Republican who also had to deal with others' poor opinions.

    “She drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a Republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.” That was one schoolgirl’s description of Mary Fields, a.k.a. Stagecoach Mary, who is an obvious candidate for induction into the inaugural class in the American Bad-Ass Hall of Fame. Miss Fields was a freed slave who worked for some years as the foreman of a Catholic mission in what was then the Montana territory, hauling freight through blizzards and fighting wolves to defend the nuns’ cargo.

    There's a link to an Ebony article where Gary Cooper (yes, that Gary Cooper) tells Mary's story.

  • A lot of appreciations of the late Harold Ramis are out there. I especially liked this one where Matt K. Lewis shares Charles Murray's plug for Ramis's Groundhog Day in his latest book. (The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life, which I've just pre-ordered.)

    It was never sold as a smart or important film, but, instead, as a Bill Murray comedy. In this regard, Murray says that reminds him of Huckleberry Finn: ”In the very beginning of the book, there’s a notice to the reader, something about ‘anyone attempting to find a moral in this book will be banished,’” Murray says. “Mark Twain is saying to his readers,’ hey, this is just for fun.’ And Groundhog Day was similar in this regard. It was presented as a really fun Bill Murray movie.”

    As far as I know Bill and Charles Murray are not related. Also see Jonah Goldberg's classic 2005 essay on Groundhog Day.

    And if you have 28 seconds, enjoy the odd chemistry between Ramis and Annie Potts in Ghostbusters:

URLs du Jour

2014-02-24

a sign

  • I seem to have been watching a lot of "comedy" movies lately that generate, at most, an occasional amused snort.

    So when I heard that Harold Ramis had passed away, I went to his IMDB page. And just the "Writer" category has: Ghostbusters; Groundhog Day; SCTV; Caddyshack; Meatballs; Stripes; and (last but not least) Animal House.

    The world just got significantly less funny. RIP.

  • I've been a Tom Wolfe fan ever since I used to sneak peeks at my dad's copies of Esquire back in the 60s. George Neumayr has a good interview with him over at the American Spectator website. For example, this story about hanging out with Muhammad Ali and his retinue:

    Most of [Ali's] hangers-on had nothing to do with boxing. One night we went to a nightclub. There must have been a dozen people at a big table and everybody was ordering drinks and every kind of food. When the waiter brought the desserts, Ali got up and stretched, said it was a little stuffy in the restaurant, and left. I was pretty quick to get out too. That was the kind of thing that that story was full of. Ali just didn’t want to pay the bill.

  • I missed Breaking Bad in its first run, but AMC had a marathon of all 62 episodes at the end of 2013, and that is precisely what TiVo is good at. Mrs. Salad begged off, but I finally managed to watch them all when she was asleep or out of the house.

    Holy cow, what a fine show. Only problem is, when I'm out in the real world… That guy over there with the metal-band shirt? Meth addict! Two guys just sitting in that car? Meth dealers! That restaurant that nobody ever seems to go to? Money laundering for the meth trade!

    It's probably a good thing I read Jacob Sullum's "Meth Mouth and Other Meth Myths." Bottom line:

    Over-the-top warnings about methamphetamine—encapsulated in the slogan "Meth: Not Even Once"—aim to scare people away from a drug that might harm them (but probably won't). By contrast, Hart argues, exaggerating the hazards posed by methamphetamine causes definite damage by encouraging harsh criminal penalties (such as a five-year mandatory minimum for five grams), fostering distrust of accurate warnings about drugs, suppressing useful information that could reduce drug-related harm, driving users toward more dangerous routes of administration (as efforts to reduce meth purity, if successful, predictably would do), and justifying ineffective policies that impose substantial costs on large numbers of people for little or no benefit (such as restrictions on the methamphetamine precursor pseudoephedrine, a cheap, safe, and effective decongestant that is now absurdly difficult to obtain). In other words, hyperbole hurts.

    Although Breaking Bad's overall theme is probably still on point: becoming a drug criminal is probably not good for your family, friends, or your own self.

  • Back in 1968, computer scientist Edsger W. Dijkstra wrote a letter to the editor of the Communications of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery). Begins:

    For a number of years I have been familiar with the observation that the quality of programmers is a decreasing function of the density of go to statements in the programs they produce. More recently I discovered why the use of the go to statement has such disastrous effects, and I became convinced that the go to statement should be abolished from all "higher level" programming languages (i.e. everything except, perhaps, plain machine code). At that time I did not attach too much importance to this discovery; I now submit my considerations for publication because in very recent discussions in which the subject turned up, I have been urged to do so.

    The editor, Niklaus Wirth, stuck on the title "Go To Statement Considered Harmful"; the "Considered Harmful" phrase took on a life of its own.

    But after 46 years, the go to statement is still claiming casualties, as this Wired article about Apple's recently-revealed iOS vulnerability in its Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) code. If you know any C or C++, you'll get a chuckle out of the bug.

The Spectacular Now

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

Warning for fellow geezers: this movie shows high school students drinking, using bad language, and having ze sex. I guess that's what's happening these days. IMDB bills this as Comedy/Drama/Romance, but (just like Blue Jasmine) there aren't a lot of laughs.

Plot: high school senior Sutter Keely (really) is the self-admitted "life of the party", but his hot girlfriend Cassidy dumps him (for some reason I didn't quite get). Now, Sutter is a nice guy, but he is way too fond of ethanol. And getting dumped is a fine reason to overdo even more. So one morning he wakes up on the lawn of Aimee Finicky (again, really), a fellow student.

Aimee is an introverted nerd, a reader of science fiction and fantasy. And not as hot as Cassidy. Aimee knows Sutter—everyone knows Sutter—but he's been unaware of her. They are drawn to each other, becoming friends at first, then graduating to a more serious relationship. Sutter's friends are dubious about the whole thing. Can this relationship work?

Both Sutter and Aimee are sympathetic and likeable characters. But we discover the serious cracks in their personal foundations, especially Sutter's. He's the product of a broken home, and his mom has kept him in the dark about the details. I already mentioned the boozing. He's also neglectful about his future plans, living in the "spectacular now". This is a pretty unusual theme for a teen movie to hit on, I think.

It's cleverly written, not predictable, and the acting is first-rate. Although this was a low-budget indie movie, the main actors are moving into bigger roles: the guy playing Sutter is going to be Mr. Fantastic in the new Fantastic Four movie, and the girl playing Aimee is the heroine in the Hunger Games ripoff, Divergent. So good for them.

Blue Jasmine

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

I have no clue whether Woody Allen is as dreadful a perv as his ex-family claims he is. But if I boycotted all entertainers associated with actual or alleged perviness, I'd run out of entertainment pretty quickly. So Mrs Salad and I got Blue Jasmine from Netflix and let 'er spin last night. It's nominated for three Oscars, so it's probably not awful.

IMDB classifies it as a Comedy/Drama, but (like most Woody Allen movies since about 1977) it's not one of those comedies that actually make you laugh.

Jasmine (played by Cate Blanchett, one of the Oscar nominees) is kinda nuts. As revealed in flashbacks, her ex-husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) was sent to jail for financial shenanigans, where he committed suicide. But on his way there, he managed to "invest" (i.e., piss away) the lottery-winning nest egg of Jasmine's sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins, another nominee) and her husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay!).

Jasmine finds herself without funds, but that doesn't stop her from jetting first-class to San Francisco to prevail upon her sister for assistance. (Someone's gotta pay for her Xanax and Stoli, two substances she's inordinately fond of.) You might think that Ginger would be too pissed to put up with this, but no. Spoiler: Jasmine does not prevail over her character flaws.

The movie held my interest, despite Woody's wooden dialog. The third Oscar nomination for the movie is his screenplay, but that must be because the nominators had the sound turned off while watching the movie. Nobody talks like this. But the actors and actresses are strong performers, so they carry the day.

URLs du Ragnarök

ragnarök

  • As the title says, people are predicting Ragnarök, the Viking apocalypse today. (Aka, Götterdämmerung, Twilight of the Gods, etc.) My heritage is Norwegian, so I'm genetically inclined to give this a little more credence than that Mayan stuff back in 2012. If you need to brush up on what to expect, Wikipedia is probably your best bet.

    As I type, it hasn't happened yet. (I think I would have noticed the total submersion of the planet in water.) But the Norse Gods have the whole dämm day to get it done, and they may be running on Oslo time.

  • But if that whole end-of-world thing doesn't happen, and you're feeling glum about it, where might you move to cheer up? According to Gallup, your best bet is North Dakota. And whatever you do, stay out of West Virginia.

    My own state, New Hampshire, dropped out of the top ten, coming in eleventh place. It was eighth last year. I blame Maggie Hassan.

  • On a more serious note, Jonah Goldberg's column this week looks at the would-be-amusing-if-it-wasn't-so-sad academic world and its devotion to muddled thought and conformity

    Cancel the philosophy courses, people. Oh, and we’re going to be shuttering the political science, religion, and pre-law departments too. We’ll keep some of the English and history folks on for a while longer, but they should probably keep their résumés handy.

    Because, you see, they are of no use anymore. We have the answers to the big questions, so why keep pretending there’s anything left to discuss?

    At least that’s where Erin Ching, a student at Swarthmore College, seems to be coming down. Her school invited a famous left-wing Princeton professor, Cornel West, and a famous right-wing Princeton professor, Robert George, to have a debate. The two men are friends, and by all accounts they had an utterly civil exchange of ideas. But that only made the whole thing even more outrageous.

    “What really bothered me is, the whole idea is that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion,” Ching told the Daily Gazette, the school’s newspaper. “I don’t think we should be tolerating [George’s] conservative views because that dominant culture embeds these deep inequalities in our society.”

    Read the whole thing; if you believe that "children are our future", then things are glum indeed, even if you live in North Dakota.

  • For example, the University Near Here recently announced:

    Anne Lawing, dean of students, and Alberto Manalo, associate professor of environmental and resource economics and vice chair of the faculty senate, will co-chair the search committee for the associate vice president for Community, Equity and Diversity, a new position President Mark Huddleston announced in his State of the University address Feb. 4.

    It is unclear where the AVP for "Community, Equity and Diversity" will fit into the current rat's nest carefully designed organization of vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, associate vice presidents, deans, provosts, vice provosts, senior vice provosts, assistant provosts, associate provosts, officers, special assistants, directors, executive directors, deputy directors, senior directors, and senior associate directors.

    But I'm sure the compensation will be more than adequate. And the new AVP will no doubt join the chorus of voices singing about how dreadfully the UNH is underfunded.

  • If you need some cheering up after that (especially if you live in West Virginia, or are about to be murdered by Norse Gods), I can recommend a WSJ-provided excerpt from Dave Barry's new book You Can Date Boys When You're Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About

    We live in ridiculously convenient times. Think about it: Whenever you need any kind of information, about anything, day or night, no matter where you are, you can just tap your finger on your smartphone and within seconds an answer will appear, as if by magic, on the screen. Granted, this answer will be wrong because it comes from the Internet, which is infested with teenagers, lunatics and Anthony Weiner. But it's convenient.

    Indeed. Especially useful are Dave's helpful steps for grilling a steak, jump-starting your car, and surviving in the forest.


Last Modified 2014-02-23 6:07 AM EST

W is for Wasted

[Amazon Link]

I picked up a paperback of A is For Alibi by Sue Grafton in a long-gone Crown Books in Bethesda, Maryland back in the early 80's. I fell behind Ms. Grafton's chronicles of hardboiled female private eye Kinsey Millhone for awhile, but now I've caught up again. W is for Wasted is an above-average entry in the series. Kinsey is confronted with two deaths: one, a homeless guy named R. T. Dace has passed away on the Santa Teresa beach, apparently of natural causes acerbated by his substance-abusing lifestyle. But he has Kinsey's name and phone number in his pocket. And, to Kinsey's surprise, R. T. is a long-lost relation. (Kinsey's lack of knowledge about her family tree has been an occasional plot point in previous books.)

The second death occurred a few months previous: private eye Pete Wolinsky was shot for reasons unknown. Although ostensibly in the same line of work, Pete was as shady as Kinsey is honest. Numerous flashbacks describe the events leading up to Pete's demise. We learn that, although he is professionally slimy, he loves his wife dearly, and he's fond of feeding the pigeons.

Are these two deaths connected? Well sure. Sorry if that's a spoiler. Kinsey half-blunders into the connection (about a hundred pages after most readers will have seen it coming), but she follows things through to a satisfying conclusion.

The book is padded out to 480 pages; I assume this is a contractual obligation. In addition to the main plot, there's plenty of irrelevant and unnecessary detail, and side narratives involving Kinsey's usual acquaintances. (And there's a surprise appearance by a guy I thought was gone for good. No spoilers on that, but I hope we see him again in X, Y, or Z.

So I know much more than I did about the Beale Memorial Library on Truxtun Avenue in Bakersfield, CA. ("The interior was spacious and smelled of new commercial carpeting. The ceiling was high and the light was generous. I couldn't even guess at the square footage or the number of books the building housed, but the patrons had to have been thrilled with the facility. …" Sheesh. Sorry, I just don't care whether they were or not.)

But I just fast-forward through that stuff now. Rest assured that what's left is worthwhile: when Ms. Grafton is good, she's really good.

Senator Jeanne: A Deer in the Headlights

[Deer, Headlights] [Inspired by yesterday morning's mail from Jim Geraghty.]

Tuesday, the Washington Post featured a story from "Kaiser Health News":

Some Democrats have now joined their Republican counterparts in asking the Obama administration to moderate scheduled Medicare Advantage payment cuts for 2015.

Wha? Well, cut to the letter wherein this request is made to Ms Marilyn Tavenner, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS). Sure enough, one of the signatories is:

[signed by Jeanne]

Yup, that's one of my state's Senators, Jeanne Shaheen. Our other Senator, Kelly Ayotte, also signed, but that's not important to my point.

Which is this: the Medicare Advantage cuts are (in fact) part of Obamacare.

And Jeanne cast one of the deciding votes for Obamacare. It wouldn't have passed without her.

Worse: there was a separate vote that would have prevented these changes (see vote 72 description here). Like all but two Democrats, Senator Jeanne voted in favor of keeping the Medicare Advantage cuts in the final legislation.

In short: Jeanne should have known these cuts were coming. She voted for them. (And she voted, separately, against preventing them.) Now (as I type), 256 days away from Election Day, she wants backsies? Her letter to the CMMS Administrator is a good indication that she's aware her Obamacare support is sinking her polling numbers. (Her near-mindless voting record in support of President Obama continues to this day.)

Back in 2009, Jeanne was fully invested in the "if you have health coverage that you like you can keep it" lie; in fact, she has not yet memory-holed her response to "Emil from Salem" where she proclaimed this was "a requirement that I have for supporting a bill".

But many of us knew that was a lie back then; see the e-mail I sent to her back then in response to her empty promise, and (if you're feeling masochistic) my response to her form-letter reply.


Last Modified 2014-02-21 9:48 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2014-02-19

[http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6153/6179872109_26935df01c_n.jpg]

  • Frank J's "random thoughts" are always superior to my (allegedly) non-random ones. Sample:

    Government didn’t step in to save Firefly, so unless something on PBS or NPR is better than Firefly, I don’t see why my tax dollars should go to it.

    On target. So check out the rest.

  • Keith Hennessey, like me, thinks Senator Ted Cruz has noble goals, but finds him wrongheaded on strategy, specifically his approach to the recent vote to raise the debt ceiling "cleanly".

    But having the right policy goal isn’t enough to succeed, to change policy. You also need a legislative strategy with an endgame and some chance of success. As best I can tell Senator Cruz didn’t have one last fall and he didn’t have one earlier this week. His tactical legislative moves, then and now, need to be considered in that context. The same is true for his public comments surrounding those legislative moves. His objection this week served only to expose that Republicans were boxed in, forced to choose between facilitating passage of a bill they didn’t like and an even worse policy outcome. And they were boxed in because they could not build sufficient support for a unified legislative strategy that had a chance of success.

    And Thomas Sowell sees Cruz as … not a team player.

    Senator Ted Cruz has not yet reached the point where he can make policy, rather than just make political trouble. But there are already disquieting signs that he is looking out for Ted Cruz -- even if that sets back the causes he claims to be serving.

    Could be.

  • Scott Sumner takes apart the recent White House effort to defend the 5-year-old ARRA "stimulus". Summary: "every bit as embarrassing as you might expect." But details abound, including:

    3. Instead of comparing actual to predicted results, they have lots of graphs showing the success of fiscal stimulus based on models of the economy that simply assume the policy was successful. How is that supposed to convince anyone?

    Apparently the report is aimed at people who are predisposed to believe anything the White House says.

  • And, stolen from PowerLine:

    [Bob has diabetes]


Last Modified 2014-03-04 3:37 PM EST

In a World...

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

We took our Curtailed Operations Day to squeeze in this Netflix DVD, and the general consensus was: "Cute". It's technically a comedy, but one where there aren't a lot of laugh-out-loud moments.

But I think it has a claim to fame, because I'm pretty sure it was completely inspired by this hilarious trailer for Jerry Seinfeld's 2002 documentary Comedian, which featured the late, great, Don LaFontaine, master voice-over star:

I can't think of any other movie hatched by a different movie's trailer. (This one comes close, but not quite the same thing.)

In a World... was written, directed, and stars Lake Bell. She plays Carol Solomon, daughter of (fictional) master voice-over star Sammy Sotto (Fred Melamed). She's also trying to make a go of her vocal/aural gifts, mainly picking up work as a voice coach (for example, teaching Eva Longoria how to sound believable as a Scottish pirate). She finds herself in a financial bind when Sammy tosses her out to make room for his new girlfriend, so she moves in with sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her husband Moe (Rob Corddry). Who have their own problems.

There are a few merry mishaps. For example, Carol finds herself in the sack with Gustav (Ken Marino), a cad who happens to be Sammy's voice-over protégé; while concurrently being incompetently wooed by Louis (Demetri Martin), who manages the voice studio she frequents. Carol eventually finds herself in contention for voicing a movie trailer for "The Amazon Games", the first of a blockbuster "quadrilogy". And, yes, it starts out with the words "In a world...".

So the amusement here is pretty much rooted in absurd situations, rather than sight gags or jokey dialog. To its credit, it's not formulaic. Just watchable and (as I said) "cute".

S

[Amazon Link]

J.J. Abrams is a hero in my book, for (among other things) the reincarnated Star Trek movies and Lost. So I was intrigued by what I read about this book, S., which he is credited with "conceiving". (The writing seems to have been mostly due to Jeopardy! champ Doug Dorst.)

And it's very cool. The book comes in a plastic-wrapped slipcase, which is the only indication of its actual provenance. The book (in turn) seems to be a library book titled Ship of Theseus by one V.M. Straka, written in the late 1940s. This fiction is carried out amazingly well: the due-date stamps on the inside rear cover and a Dewey-Decimal sticker on the spine.

Ship of Theseus itself is kind of a Kafkaesque paranoid fantasy with (no doubt) piles of symbolism and metaphor, and all that stuff that makes simple-minded readers like me tired. It's about an amnesiac who, after briefly wandering the streets of some depressing port city, becomes enamored of a briefly-glimpsed woman. Unfortunately, he's also quickly shanghaied onto a mysterious ship, where all but one crew member have their mouths sewn shut. Our victim acquires the name "S.", and this initial keeps popping up in odd places.

The "ship of Theseus", I dimly remembered, is an ancient paradox first put forth by Plutarch: components of a ship's structure are gradually replaced over years as they wear out or rot away. And eventually every part of the original ship has been replaced. Is it the same ship now, or not? If not, at what point did it stop being the original? A ripe metaphor for questions of identity and evolution, very suitable for undergraduate dorm rooms.

Anyway, that's just part of it. Because this library book was filched from a high school by Eric, a devotee of V.M. Straka. Eric goes on to become a graduate student in literature at Pollard State University. There, his personality collides with faculty bigwigs, and he becomes a persona non grata. For obscure reasons, he leaves his copy of Ship of Theseus in the library, where it is discovered by Jen, a soon-to-graduate undergrad. Jen and Eric soon start corresponding with each other in the margins of the book.

As it turns out, the identity of "V.M. Straka" is a topic of lively academic interest, as is Straka's relationship with the translator of his works, the equally mysterious "F.X. Calderia"; the translator adds an occasional wacky footnote to the mix. (And perhaps more?) Jen and Eric find themselves racing to sort out the clues offered by the book, in competition with the evil faculty member, Professor Moody and his henchwoman Ilsa.

What else? Oh, yes: there are items crammed into the book: a page of the Pollard State student newspaper; a coffee shop napkin with a scrawled map of the campus steam tunnel system; postcards from Brazil. Even a (so called) "Eötvös Wheel" (pictured here) which has something to do with decoding … something.

So it's all very mysterious. There may well be conundrums to unwind in the book. I didn't unwind any of them. (And I'm not sure the reward would be worth the effort. If you look around at the website linked in the above paragraph, you'll see that a lot of smarter people are working on it and I didn't notice any stunning revelations.) Still, it's an intriguing and impressive work.

The Power of Glamour

[Amazon Link]

I've been a Virginia Postrel fanboy ever since she was editor of Reason (1989-2000). But even I was worried I'd be less than interested by her latest book, The Power of Glamour. What possible interest would I, with about as much glamour as an urban pigeon, have in reading a whole book about the topic?

So I cheated, managing to convince the University Near Here's sainted Dimond Library to buy a copy. And (it turns out) I was wrong about my interest; the book is a tour de force exploration of what glamour is, what it involves, and convincingly argues that it's a hidden force behind much of our social psychology.

Years of meticulous research went into the book, and it shows. Ms. Postrel writes with the touch of a philosopher, carefully drawing fine distinctions, teasing out nuances, and clarifying confusion. She draws pungent examples from history, literature, cinema, advertising, fine art and pop culture. (And she's not afraid to be funny: for example, quoting at length from an old Saturday Night Live bit where Gilda Radner, as Roseanne Roseannadanna, hilariously skewered the glamour of Princess Lee Radziwill. (I can't find a video but a transcript is here.)

Consumer note: do not skip the "Acknowledgments" section at the end, where Ms. Postrel describes the genesis of the book and how she — literally — owes her life to the power of glamour. I was moved.

Prisoners

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

For those of us who have been seeing Hugh Jackman mostly as Wolverine, and need a reminder that he's a pretty good actor, this movie should do the trick. Better: it's a finely wrought whodunit mystery, something that seemed moviemakers had all but forgotten how to do.

Some opening scenes paint Mr. Jackman's character, "Keller Dover", as a manly man, self-reliant, but teetering on the financial edge. Things rapidly go downhill when he and his family attend Thanksgiving dinner with friends; after the meal, the families' young daughters go outside unattended, and go missing. The only clue is an RV that was seen hanging around the area shortly before. That's traced back to a very odd duck, young Alex Jones (played by Paul Dano). Alex says things that convince Dover that he knows where the girls are. But the cops (led by Jake Gyllenhaal as "Detective Loki") are not convinced, and Alex goes free.

So what's a manly man to do? Obviously: abduct and torture Alex in order to find out the whereabouts of his daughter. Duh! Dover continues down this soul-destroying path while Loki continues his frustrating search for clues.

This may be an uncomfortable movie for parents to watch; it was for me, anyhow. Child abduction is right up there in the top five terrors that moms and dads contemplate every time a kid doesn't appear when and where they expect. Mr. Jackman's character doesn't handle it well, but any father can imagine himself going right down that same road.

Fauxcahontas Reinvention: Doubling Down When You're Already Busted

An "apology" from the USPS for
stealing my Netflix rental The blurb on the front page of the Puffington Host was intriguing (as blurbs, of course, are meant to be): "Elizabeth Warren Seeks To Reinvent The Post Office".

Could it be something interesting? One of those blue-moon events where a left-wing politician actually has a good, innovative idea? Senator Warren, after all, has the seat previously occupied by Teddy Kennedy, who uncharacteristically championed airline deregulation in the 1970s.

So could Senator Warren be possibly proposing a market-friendly reinvention of the United States Postal Service? It would be a fine idea. The USPS loses billions every year; even its weak revenue stream depends on a government-enforced monopoly; it is hidebound by Congressional micromanagement, a bloated unionized workforce, and its own anticompetitive culture.

And a market-friendly reform wouldn't even be that revolutionary. The United Kingdom turned its Royal Mail into a private for-profit corporation last year. Sweden (of all places) allowed private competition with its state-owned postal service 20 years ago. The people who keep track of such things classify the United States as having one of the least competitive, least-free market postal systems in the world.

So could ex-Harvard prof Elizabeth Warren actually have come up with even a half-good idea in this area?

You may have guessed the answer from the title on this post: no.

Instead, Senator Warren proposes to make the already too-socialist USPS — more socialistic! The bright idea is for the USPS to start offering "basic banking services" (identified in the article as "bill paying, check cashing, small loans"). The excuse is the (alleged) 68 million Americans "underserved" by the current banking industry.

This is the "progressive" answer to government-engineered failure: let's keep doing that, and add on more things to fail at.

This isn't difficult to understand. If banks, credit unions, or other denizens of the financial system could make money serving the "underserved", they would do so. In a relative heartbeat.

The Rube Goldberg process is pretty well understood. Percived problems are (a) politically "solved" by over-regulation; this causes (b) traditional operators to abandon services that can no longer offer profitably. (c) The gap is filled, often less satisfactorily with less traditional firms. (In this case: payday lenders, pawnshops, check-cashers that take a significant cut off the top.) These firms are then (d) vilified as "predatory" and "greedy" by the same pols whose actions brought them into being. Which (e) causes more "solutions" to be proposed, and we're back to (a) again.

Is the USPS equipped with any sort of magic wand to do a better job? Almost certainly not. The only reason this isn't a flat "no": they could benefit from a government-mandated unlevel playing field, getting exemptions from regulations that private firms are forced to follow.

More likely, though: this scheme would just add another money-losing operation to USPS's current business. Congresscritters love to micromanage USPS now; the appeal of extending such fiddling-power into any new services would be near-impossible for politicians to resist.

Senator Warren references this article from The New Republic, which is shot through with the same socialistic fallacies. But in addition, the article muses that this is one area where Obama might follow through on his promise to issue diktats without legislative action. Fascinating that old rag should be so enthusiastic about the executive wielding power unencumbered by Constitutional niceties.