URLs du Jour — 2014-06-20

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So in the past few days and weeks:

  • We've learned that the Internal Revenue Service is either inexcusably incompetent or dangerously lawless.

    Or both. "Both" is a real possibility.

    But (a) Democrats are using that as an excuse to give the IRS more money; and (b) (worse) you still have to pay your taxes.

    I liked this bit transcribed from a Congressional hearing today:

    “You are the IRS,” [Congressman Paul] Ryan told IRS commissioner John Koskinen. “You can reach into the lives of hardworking taxpayers, and with a phone call or an e-mail or a letter you can turn their lives upside down. You ask the taxpayers to hand us seven years of their personal tax information in case they’re audited, and you can’t keep six months’ worth of employee e-mails?”

  • You may have heard about Amazon's hardnosed negotiations with Hachette, a publishing company. A lot of people have gone over-the-top about this, casting Amazon as the mustache-twirling villain in a moral melodrama. (Example: Stephen Colbert, whose—tsk!—ox is being gored.)

    There's very good commentary on that from Nick Gillespie at the Daily Beast. Opening paragraph:

    Can you believe those…those…those…sons of bitches at Amazon? After launching almost 20 years ago and making virtually every book—new, used, dead-tree, electronic, audio, and I’m guessing any day now, olfactory—available to everyone in America at good-to-great prices, the company’s true character now stands revealed. It’s not pretty, folks. Despite a huge market share, Amazon apparently still wants books, especially the e-books that everyone agrees are the future of the medium, to be cheaper than what publishers and big-name authors want you to pay for them.

    RTWT. Disclaimer/Humblebrag: I've been an Amazon customer since November 1995 (their online store had only opened a few months previous), so I may be a bit sentimentally biased.

  • Outrageous on a smaller scale is the controversy over "The Hillary Tapes", kicked off when the Washington Free Beacon obtained and published a recording of Hillary Clinton's recollections of defending an "alleged" child rapist back in the mid-70s.

    You can decide on your own what the story says about Clinton's character. For me, the interesting thing is the demand by University of Arkansas Dean of Libraries Carolyn Henderson Allen to get the Washington Free Beacon to take down the audio it obtained through the "You of A" library. Dean Allen also put the WFB reporter on "double super-secret probation", barring her from further research there.

    Yes, attempted censorship of inconvenient truths. By a University administrator/librarian. (Who is also, by the way, a donor to Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign.)

    Is that irony? I can never tell.

    Anyway Matthew Continetti of the WFB has the story, and the attached letters from Dean Allen and the response from the WFB's lawyer are not to be missed.

  • I thought, by the way, that the marketing slogan currently used by the University Near Here ("Where education is more than a matter of degree") was lame and meaningless. But I hereby swallow my provincial pride and admit that the University of Arkansas' "The YOU of A" slogan makes UNH's look clever and insightful.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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

We watched this movie (in which Martin Freeman plays Bilbo, the nebbish hobbit turned into courageous hero) sandwiched between the last two episodes of the Fargo miniseries (in which Martin Freeman plays Lester, the nebbish human turned into sociopathic murderer). It's a little weird to see the same actor, using some of the same acting tics (double takes, peeved exasperation) play two so-totally-different characters.

Otherwise, an action-packed installment in the Hobbit trilogy; we waited for the DVD instead of seeing in the theatre. It suffers a bit for being the middle entry: you're supposed to remember the characters and their goals, and you're also pretty sure things won't be wrapped up by the end of the (very long) movie.

So: the gang of thirteen dwarves plus Bilbo continue their quest to reclaim the kingdom and treasure lost to Smaug, the evil dragon that took over years back. Smaug's bad enough, but on the way to him, they are beset by orcs, a huge bear, and giant spiders. (Gandalf might be able to help out, but he spends most of the movie wandering on errands of his own.)

They encounter allies, mostly reluctant to get involved on a dangerous mission. We get to see our old elf buddy Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and learn how he found out that dwarves, humans, and hobbits aren't as gross and icky as he had been brought up to believe. A new elf character is introduced: Tauriel, played by the luminous Evangeline Lilly. (She has a recurring purpose: showing up just in time with sword/bow/elvish medicine to save the day.)

Eventually most of the band makes it to Smaug's lair. Then their troubles really begin.