The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

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

A must-see-in-theatre for us, as I'm sure the filmmakers coldly calculated.

At the end of the previous movie, our reluctant heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) had been rescued from near-death by revolutionaries eager to take down the oppressive government of Panem as symbolized by its ruthless sadist leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland). But one of Katniss's boyfriends, Peeta, remained behind. Katniss is pretty irate about that. It's apparent that she loves Peeta slightly more than she does her other boyfriend, Gale.

The revolutionaries are based in "District 13", long-supposed to have been destroyed by Panem. But they're living in a deep underground complex, full of weaponry and spirited people. They are led by President Coin (Julianne Moore) with assistance from Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and some other folks from previous installments. Coin wants Katniss as an inspirational symbol to lead the revolt. Katniss is more concerned about getting Peeta back to safety, and she uses that as a bargaining chip.

As a number of reviewers observed: for a two-hour movie, not too much happens. There are a few conflict scenes where the ruthless forces of Panem take on the plucky dissidents. But the main plot driver is a mopy Katniss pining for Peeta's safe return.

So: it's OK, but clearly just setting up moviegoers to shell out for another ticket next November. And, God willing, we'll be there. I haven't read the books, so I (honestly) don't know how things turn out. At times it appears the District 13 allegedly-good guys are nearly as power-hungry as the Panem thugs, and some of the scenes where Coin addresses her minions give off a Triumph of the Will vibe. So maybe it will turn out to be one of those meet-the-new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss deals? Don't tell me.


Last Modified 2014-12-08 3:29 PM EST

URLs du Jour - 2014-11-24

  • Kevin D. Williamson detects in President Obama a case of "A Small Man in a Big Office". It's a very interesting take on how character, or the lack thereof, manifests itself, either on the playing field or in elective office:

    I have seen a high-school football coach refuse to shake the hand of his opposite number after a football game in response to perceived affronts to sportsmanship, and that’s a serious thing. (They take it seriously in that other kind of football, too.) It’s basically Sampson biting his thumb at Abraham in the opening of Romeo and Juliet. “When good manners shall lie all in one or two men’s hands, and they unwashed, too, ’tis a foul thing.” You don’t shake hands with somebody who has behaved dishonorably.

    I do not think I would shake hands with Barack Obama.

    That's a thought experiment I doubt either Kevin or I would get a chance to test in real life, but I think I'd probably go the same way.

  • There is P.J. O'Rourke content at the Daily Beast: "Why 2016’s Hopefuls Are Hopeless", a quick look at both parties' likely presidential candidates. Jeb Bush, for example:

    He’s got everything.

    He’s young (for a Republican), just 61.

    He was a Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Texas. Hook ‘Em, Horns!

    He was a successful businessman.

    And a successful two-term Governor of a state where the balloting incompetence and idiocy is absolutely vital to the GOP.

    He’s fluent in Spanish. His wife is Hispanic. His children are too! He’s sure to move, temporarily, from Coral Gables to Houston so he can choose fellow Floridian Marco Rubio as his running mate. Kiss the Latino vote goodbye, Democrats.

    John Ellis Bush has just one problem. Perhaps you can take a “Bush-league” guess what it is. But don’t worry. Jeb is all set to legally change his name to “Scott Walker.”

  • You probably saw or heard about this past weekend's Saturday Night Live opening sketch that was openly non-reverential to President Obama and his immigration moves a few days ago! Heresy! At Breitbart, John Nolte noticed that the Washington Post actually spent time fact-checking the sketch. (Something nobody can remember happening in response to the approximately 2,396 anti-Ford/Reagan/Bush/GOP SNL sketches over the past 40 years.)

    And at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey lists a few things the WaPo could also correct, for example:

    • There are actually very few people with cone-shaped heads, and they rarely talk like robots.
    • Don’t Fear The Reaper didn’t really need more cowbell.
    • Sarah Palin never said she could see Russia from her house.

    And more.

  • And finally, a couple of seasonal links. Reason reports that the latest attack in the War Against Christmas has been beaten back:

    It's a Christmas miracle! An elementary school in a Boston suburb that was going to cancel its annual trip to see The Nutcracker has decided allowing kids to see a Christmas tree on stage will not destroy the non-Christians in the audience.

    It's usually wise to check that these stories aren't coming from some wackily paranoid right-wing source, but not in this case: link above goes to WHDH, the Boston NBC affiliate.

  • But the season would not be complete without perusing Dave Barry’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guide.

    [Amazon Link]

    But what if you want to go “old school” this holiday season? What if instead of giving your loved ones high-tech devices that will, in time, become obsolete and useless, you’d prefer to give gifts that are already useless?

    In that case, you have come to the right place: our annual Holiday Gift Guide, which has been a beloved American holiday tradition dating back to the dawn of time. Each year, we scour the entire solar system, looking for unique and tasteful gift ideas. Each year, we fail utterly and wind up with a collection of random crap we found on the Internet. This is our holiday gift to you.

    My "favorite" would have to be "The Meat", which is one in a series of toy action figures from to the Rocky movies. Pictured (with handy Amazon link) at right. No, your right.


Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:16 PM EST

The Norm Chronicles

[Amazon Link]

Thought experiment:

Scenario A: Suppose your neighbor is manufacturing anthrax spores in his basement. There's no indication of evil intent, it seems to be just a hobby. He claims he's taking reasonable precautions. But you're uncertain: an accident or a robbery involving those spores could kill you or your loved ones. Is it a proper function of government to confiscate his spores?

Scenario B: Suppose your neighbor has a gun. There's no indication of evil intent, it seems to be just a hobby. He claims he's taking reasonable precautions. But you're uncertain: an accident or a robbery involving that gun could kill you or your loved ones. Is it a proper function of government to confiscate his weapon?

My guess is: most people, even most libertarians, would find government intervention OK in Scenario A, not in Scenario B.

But what's the difference? Could it simply be the perceived/actual level of risk involved? Is there some principled way to quantify that, to justify government actions that mitigate extreme Scenario-A levels of risk, while somehow stopping short of a totalitarian nanny state that disallows any Scenario B-style activity that might conceivably put innocent parties at risk, but probably won't?

I don't know. And (as a dilettante in libertarian political philosophy) I've been thinking about this sort of thing for a number of years without coming to a satisfactory conclusion. It all seems to revolve around the concept of risk, though.

One of my efforts at self-education was to pick up this book: The Norm Chronicles by Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter. Its subtitle: Stories and Numbers About Danger and Death. Seemingly very relevant to my lackadaisical intellectual quest!

Blastland and Spiegelhalter illustrate their story using fictional typical characters: there's the risk-averse Prudence; the thrill-and-pleasure-seeking, risk-be-damned Kevlin brothers (Kelvin, Kevin, and Kieran); and then there is Norm, who is completely (guess what) normal, all the way down to his weight and height, and seeks moderation in all things risky. (At one self-reflective point, he marvels at how paradoxically unusual his normality makes him.)

The book is a romp through the major categories of Things That Could Possibly Do You In: getting born, of course, but also giving birth; sex; crime; transportation; drugs, licit and illicit; your lifestyle; medical woes; etc. Wherever possible, the authors quantify: risky activities are measured in "micromorts", a one-in-a-million chance of death. (For example: serving in Afghanistan exposes one to a risk of 22 micromorts per day; World War II RAF bomber pilots experienced 25,000 micromorts per mission.) Chronic risks are measured in "microlives", about a half-hour in length. (Examples: each cigarette smoked will set you back about 0.5 microlives; being male instead of female will cut off about 4 microlives per day.)

And there are the big risks: climate change, earthquakes, and stuff falling from above (meteors, killer asteroids, unfortunate stowaways in airplane wheelwells …)

All these morbid facts and numbers are presented with enough wit and charm to make them (paradoxically) lively and interesting. Norm, Prudence, and the Kevlins become actually sympathetic characters in the narrative.

And it's funny. Try reading this without amusement:

[…] We know for sure that countless things—unlikely or not—will happen somewhere to someone, as they must. More than that, we know that they will often happen in strange and predictable patterns. Fatal falls from ladders among the approximately 21 million men in England and Wales in the five years to 2010 were uncannily consistent, numbering 42, 54, 56, 53, and 47. For all the chance particulars that apply to any individual among 21 million individuals, the numbers are amazingly, fiendishly stable—unlike the ladders. Some calculating God, painting fate by numbers up in the clouds, orders another splash of red: "Hey, you in the dungarees, we're short this month."

So: a fine book, wonderfully entertaining, and I learned a lot.

But did I get any illumination on the topic that drove me here, seeking some sort of objective, principled guidance on the proper regulation of risk in a free society?

No. If anything, the opposite. The authors just about convinced me that there is no bright line that can be drawn between risks that must be prohibited and risks for which laissez-faire is the proper policy. Some cases seem clear, but those in between will probably forever be a matter of unresolvable conflict between people with different values and attitudes. We could handwave about distinguishing between "rational concerns" and "irrational fears", but there's no infallible test, as near as I can tell, that will allow one to tell one from the other in all possible cases.

But I'll keep looking.


Last Modified 2014-12-08 3:31 PM EST

X-Men: Days of Future Past

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

So, yeah, it's okay. And I'm glad I watched it. But, for some reason, I've always been considerably less enthusiastic about the X-Men than I am about (say) Cap or Shell-head. Even though this one has Jean-Luc and Gandalf in minor roles. It doesn't help that this one works off a time-travel premise that will be totally familiar to anyone who watched the Back to the Future movies or relevant installments of Star Trek.

The movie starts off in a grim future with eternal genocidal warfare between mutants and non-mutants. The mutants are about to be on the losing end, due to the "Sentinels", deadly robots that are able to absorb mutant powers and jiu-jitsu-like reflect them back on the mutants. All this tracks back to the good/bad shape-shifting mutant Mystique, who fatefully killed the Sentinels' inventor back in 1973. That turned out to be a bad call.

So the obvious solution (obvious at least to Professor X, since he was in some of those Star Treks) is to send someone back to 1973 to prevent Mystique from working her murderous mischief. Time-travel turns out to be another handy mutant power. Wolverine is the only practical choice for the trip. And (to avoid a certain class of paradoxes), it involves sending W's conciousness back to '73 to inhabit his then-body.

So: all he has to do is seek out the 1973 versions of Professor X and Magneto, and whatever other X-men they can gather, then to thwart Mystique. There are a number of complications due to the involvement of Magneto, who starts out helpful, but is soon enough up to his old tricks.

So: not a bad flick. Clever and occasionally funny, and seemingly not as tediously didactic as previous entries. (Or maybe I'm just getting used to that.)


Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:16 PM EST

URLs du Jour - 2014-11-21

Once again, a catchup UDJ post:

  • I liked Keith Hennesey's take on MIT prof Jonathan Gruber's invocation of the "stupidity of the American voter".

    Now: goodness knows I have no illusions about the intelligence of the electorate that elected President Obama twice and (in my own state) just re-elected Jeanne Shaheen. But Keith notes that when lefties digress on "stupidity" it is really a composite complaint, lumping together at least six different gripes against its target. RTWT, but Keith's conclusion is well-taken:

    If American voters are stupid because they think academic credentials do not perfectly equate with intelligence…

    If they are stupid because they think policy decisions should be informed both by sound science and values…

    If they are stupid because they would rather let people make their own mistakes than allow government to make different mistakes for them…

    If they are stupid because they support less redistribution than certain progressive policymakers and their allies in academia…

    If they are stupid because they don’t spend all their time trying to sift through policies intentionally designed to deceive them…

    If they are stupid because they trust that elected and especially appointed American officials will not abuse the power temporarily granted to them…

    … then I’m with stupid.

    Yes. Me too.

  • In the earlier days of the Obama Administration, Pun Salad invented the word "Barackrobatics" to refer to President Obama's rhetorical tics that were reliable indicators that he was saying was detached from reality, lacking in honesty, or demagogic bullshit. (And often all of the above.) Pun Salad's efforts to popularize the word went nowhere, as you can tell by asking the Google.

    Nevertheless, Megan McArdle gets so close to "Barackrobatics" when she headlines her analysis of the President's immigration speech last night "Obama's Immigration Speech Acrobatics".

    There's a perfect word to describe President Barack Obama's speech tonight, and that word is "blatherskite." He was supposed to be explaining his actions to regularize the status of millions of undocumented immigrants; what he delivered was a festival of glorious nonsense.

    I watched "The Big Bang Theory" instead.

  • The word "blatherskite" does not appear in Kevin D. Williamson latest article. It is a generalized discussion of the dishonesty of our rulers, of which Obama's speech was but one example. RTWT (I probably don't need to say that), but the penultimate paragraph is:

    The problem of illegal immigrants is not insoluble; it is, rather, a problem that people in power do not wish to solve, partly out of anxiety related to Hispanic identity politics, partly because many of them find it convenient to maintain a permanent class of marginalized serf labor. That is the truth obscured by the gigantic heap of lies piled up around the immigration debate — that we are ruled by criminals who will ruthlessly violate the law while claiming that they not only enjoy the authority to do so but occupy the moral high ground as well.

    As Iowahawk says:

  • A straight news story from Reuters leads off:

    The U.S. Export-Import Bank has mischaracterized potentially hundreds of large companies and units of multinational conglomerates as small businesses, a flaw in its record keeping that could undermine the export lender's survival strategy.

    Or, shorter: they lied, they got caught.

  • Daniel J. Mitchell notes that Ex-Im is just one example of reprehensibility:

    [T]here are some forms of redistribution and intervention that are so self-evidently odious and corrupt that you can’t give supporters the benefit of the doubt. Simply stated, there’s no justifiable argument for using government coercion to hurt poor people in order to benefit rich people.

    Another recent example, Mitchell notes, is the Obama Administration's efforts to shut down Wisconsin's school choice system, clearly a goodie thrown to benefit teacher unions at the expense of poorer students.

  • There is now one less reason for Mrs. Salad to keep me around: Meet Boris, the robot that can load a dishwasher.

The Sense of Style

[Amazon Link]

I like Steven Pinker's work quite a bit, so I picked this up despite the insufferably smug subtitle: "The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century".

On the other hand, for those of you who doubted I was a "thinking person": you will now have to admit it. Because I read this book. Ha!

Many of Pinker's trademarks are here: the sense that the chapters are slightly adapted from college lectures; a decent amount of humor, including amusing comic strips that illustrate the point he's making; a forthright honesty in presenting somewhat controversial notions. (He drives some folks crazy on this last bit; see below.)

Pinker is, by training and employment, "offically" a research psychologist. In fact, he's a wide-ranging scholar, willing to investigate and explicate whatever strikes his fancy. This book might seem to be a leap away from his usual science-related topics. But it's really not: he has enough applied linguistic creds to chair the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, which he's done since 2008.

So this book is a scientist's take on what makes writing good and bad. What sets it apart from classic style manuals like Strunk & White, et. al. is Pinker's willingness to get down into the technical linguistic weeds, and introduce the reader to syntax "trees", which modern linguists use to parse (or fail to parse) sentences into their component parts. (Which you do unconciously when you understand "The boy stood on the burning deck", and are flummoxed by "Stood boy deck the on burning the."). Pinker shows how some poorly-constructed sentences may be grammatical, but generate ugly trees.

But most of it is pretty straightforward advice to writers on how to avoid stuffiness, vagueness, opacity, and other bad things. Pinker is no pedant, peddling ill-conceived rules: go ahead and split that infinitive, friend, if it makes your sentence work.

On the other hand, he warns you away from usage that might be technically correct, but … well, here he is on "literally":

The "figuratively" sense is a common hyperbole, and it is rarely confusing in context. But it drive careful readers crazy. [pas: but not "literally" crazy.] Like other intensifiers it is usually superfluous, whereas the "actual fact" sense is indispensable and has no equivalent. And since the figurative use can evoke ludicrous imagery (e.g., The press has literally emasculated the president.), it screams, "I don't think about what my words mean."

See Nathan Heller in The New Yorker for a contrarian take on Pinker. (Interesting source, since E.B. White, of "Strunk & White" fame, was a New Yorker guy for so long.) Rebuttal here.


Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:16 PM EST

Edge of Tomorrow

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

I'm sure a bunch of people did this already, but I will compare this movie to the classic Groundhog Day:

  • Both movies involve the hero living the same time period over and over. (The hero's name here is "William Cage", and he's played by Tom Cruise.)

  • He remembers what he did in previous time iterations, but everyone else is living the day for the first time.

  • The other main character is a female named "Rita". (Vrataski, played by Emily Blunt).

  • Cage starts out unlikeable and cynical, but his character improves throughout the film.

  • And Cage's only hope of escaping the time loop is to somehow learn from his past mistakes, go back and try again.

There are differences, of course. Mainly because it's a cross between Groundhog Day and (the good parts of) Starship Troopers.

Instead of simply falling asleep at the end of the day, Cage gets killed, in invariably nasty (but PG-13) ways: his death snaps him back to the start of the loop. He's in a war against alien invaders, and he gradually discovers he's humanity's only hope against certain doom. So he's got that going for him.

It's a lot of fun. Special effects are super-impressive, but (like Godzilla) too many of them take place in the dark. (I think that's how they save money on special effects.) Tom Cruise, no matter how nuts he might be in real life, remains a very fine actor. Emily Blunt… well, wow. Just wow.


Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:16 PM EST

URLs du Jour - 2014-11-13

  • We've occasionally run into Mark Bittman, who specialized in writing in the NYT about food (and did a fine job with that, as far as I know) and "food policy" (a very, very poor job of that). (Pun Salad articles mentioning Bittman here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) He recently teamed up with Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador and Olivier De Schutter to write a WaPo op-ed: "How a national food policy could save millions of American lives"

    Opening paragraph:

    How we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on Americans’ well-being than any other human activity. The food industry is the largest sector of our economy; food touches everything from our health to the environment, climate change, economic inequality and the federal budget. Yet we have no food policy — no plan or agreed-upon principles — for managing American agriculture or the food system as a whole.

    It's (of course) nonsense to claim that "we" have "no food policy". We have, in fact, a vast collection of laws, regulations, subsidies, prohibitions, programs, mandates, nudges, and nags all designed to affect what gets produced and eaten. What the authors really mean is: they don't like this current policy.

    But it's not hard to see where these earnest statist nannies are going:

    This must change.

    (Picture four fists hitting the table to punctuate this totalitarian demand.)

    Bittman and his co-authors prattle (on and on) about the current "food system" but the "system" of letting people freely decide what to consume on their own and letting the marketplace provide it is never really considered. Quoting myself from a few years ago:

    The whole notion of food being a "system" that can be "fixed" is another instance of what Thomas Sowell called the "unconstrained vision": the unexamined, unshakeable belief that it's all one big well-understood machine, and to get the outcomes we prefer, all we have to do is "fix" it. And there's the obvious corollary: anyone who disagrees is either evil or foolish, and can be safely ignored, or made ineffective "by any means necessary".

    And (indeed) the four authors assure us:

    Only those with a vested interest in the status quo would argue against creating public policies with these goals.

    Any opposition is illegitimate.

  • Which naturally brings us to "Liberal Bullshit" from the perceptive writer William Voegeli (excerpted from his new book). See how this relates to the "policy prescription" set forth by the aforementioned nannies:

    A bullshit prescription, by the same token, might actually work to some degree, but any such efficacy is inadvertent and tangential to the central purpose: demonstrating the depths of the prescriber’s concern for the problem and those who suffer from it, concerns impelling the determination to “do something” about it. As the political project that exists to vindicate the axiom that all sorts of government program X’s can solve an endless list of social problem Y’s, liberalism is always at risk of descending into prescriptive bullshit. Liberal compassion lends itself to bullshit by subordinating the putative concern with efficacy to the dominant but unannounced imperative of moral validation and exhibitionism. I, the empathizer, am interested in the sufferer for love of myself, Rousseau contended. Accordingly, an ineffectual program may serve the compassionate purposes of its designers and defenders as well as or better than a successful one.

    Vogeli's book is going on my read-someday list.

  • The Fire tells the story of a recent panel at Smith College, where Wendy Kaminer used words that made the ladies shriek and stand on their chairs. Well, figuratively. There was the n-word, for example, but that's not all. The student newspaper published a bowdlerized transcript of the discussion, including the following from Ms Kaminer (WK):

    WK: And by, “the c-word,” you mean the word [c-word]?

    The paper also couldn't resist expurgating a word used by Smith President Kathleen McCartney:

    Kathleen McCartney: … We’re just wild and [ableist slur], aren’t we?

    The [ableist slur]? It was "crazy". As in "You don't have to be [ableist slur] to send your daughter to Smith, but it helps."

  • Read David Weigel on the "nobody" Rich Weinstein, who's made it a sideline to discover the "speak-o"s and "off the cuff" remarks of Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber that revealed how intentionally dishonest and opaque the process of crafting the legislation was.

    This is kind of priceless:

    “The next day, I woke up and turned on my iPad,” Weinstein recalls. “I did a quick search. You know, 'Gee, if I wonder if anything is out there about this Jonathan Gruber guy?' And the first result was about this video. 'Holy crap, what is going on?' Excuse my language. It just kept getting bigger and bigger. Later that day, a friend told me that Rush Limbaugh was talking about this video. I’m at WaWa, and I'm eating a sandwich in the car, and Limbaugh comes back from commercial and says 'There's more on this Gruber video. The White House is responding.' I’m like, 'What do you mean, the White House is responding?'”

    If our mainstream news organizations weren't such mindless shills for the left, uncovering this story would have been their job. But in this world, it's left up to folks like Weinstein.

  • Back this summer when I saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes I mentioned that Andy Serkis, who played the noble Ape leader Caesar, deserved on Oscar for his performance. I'm happy to report that according to this Wired article, that could happen. (Video at the link.)

  • … and your tweet du jour is from the great Dean Norris:

    I can't be the only one wishing that he'll bring a little Hank Schrader to his role.


Last Modified 2014-11-14 3:55 AM EST

The Stench of Honolulu

[Amazon Link]

If you were watching Saturday Night Live between 1991 and 1998, you probably noted the "Deep Thoughts" segments: brief absurdist jokes narrated by Phil Hartman, always identified as "by Jack Handey". Handey was, and is, a real person, and he wrote a book, and I bought it (heavily remaindered).

The book's first-person narrator is very much the "Deep Thoughts" guy. His real name is not revealed, because he decides to go by the nickname "Wrong Way Slurps". We learn a bit more about him: specifically, he's an extremely stupid, lazy sociopath. His friend Don invites him on a trip to Honolulu, a smelly tropical hellhole full of hostile natives, evil scientists, and scam artists. At least that's the way it appears to Slurps.

He and Don are sold a treasure map said to lead to the mythical "Golden Monkey". Since neither one is that sharp, they decide to head up Hawaii's "mighty Paloonga River" to rip off the fabled riches. Things don't work out exactly as planned.

Now: the book is essentially a bunch of absurdist one-liners linked together by an equally absurd plot. Even if you liked "Deep Thoughts", stringing them out into an entire book (albeit a short one) might not be your cup of tea. I chuckled all the way through, but I didn't try to read it all at once.


Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:15 PM EST

Veterans Day 2014

Veterans Day 2014

… thank a vet near you.

URLs du Jour - 2014-11-10

  • In case you haven't seen it: Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber bragged about the "lack of transparency" during the debate to be a "huge political advantage". ("Lack of transparency" is a euphemism for "nonstop dishonesty, occasional outright lies") And he credited "the stupidity of the American voter or whatever" for making that strategy a winning one.

    People will be offended, but I'm writing to you from a state that just re-elected Jeanne Shaheen, one of the eager participants in the obfuscation and bullshit. So to me "stupidity of the American voter" seems to be simple, blunt honesty on Gruber's part.

  • President Obama came out and asked the FCC to regulate the Internet as a "public utility". The proposal is cloaked in feel-good language about "Net Neutrality" (which polls remarkably well, for an empty slogan), keeping the Internet "free and open", blah blah blah.

    Nick Gillespie cuts through the fluff:

    Obama is old enough to remember Ma Bell, which was even worse to customers than today's cable and Internet providers. And he is smart enough to recognize the Orwellian contradiction in introducing onerous new regulatory regimes in the name of keeping anything "free." The FCC has never been particularly adept at acting in the "public interest." The less control it has over the Internet (and TV and anything else), the better off we will all be.

    It's the default "progressive" position: remove power from private hands, place it in the clutches of the almighty State.

  • The FCC was originally established to divvy up the broadcast spectrum among its corporate welfare recipients. A bad idea, but par for the fascist course at the time. In any case: that's a done deal, and one of ever-shrinking importance. So the official Pun Salad position on the FCC is not to give it more to do, but to abolish it. Some pointers that might convince you this is the only sensible policy: Matt Welch at Reason; Peter Suderman at Reason; an Investors Business Daily editorial; David Harsanyi at Real Clear Politics; and (even) Jack Shafer at Slate and Larry Lessig at Newsweek (in 2008).

  • There is P.J. O'Rourke content over at the Daily Beast, and it's highly recommended for anyone who might be feeling giddy over last week's election results.

    Extraordinary things occurred the last time Republicans took legislative power away from a liberal quack. To sum those things up in just two words, which still stir the heart of every right-thinking member of the Grand Old Party: Monica Lewinsky. Was that fun or what?

    Need I tell you to Read The Whole Thing? Didn't think so. But it's also worth clicking over just for the (I'm pretty sure) Photoshopped picture.

    [Today's illustration: a liberal quack. Get it?]

  • Dave Barry is Principal for a Day at Coral Reef High School ("Miami's Mega-Magnet"). It's not hilarious, but worth reading.

  • … and your tweet du jour is:

Still Mine

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

I think I saw this movie on a list of libertarian-themed flicks (Can't find that list now, though.) So into the Netflix queue it went. True enough, its libertarian (specifically: pro-individual, anti-regulation) sentiments are clear. That theme is wrapped around a solid tale of devotion, family, and love.

James Cromwell plays Craig Morrison, a farmer and handyman, working his land outside of St. Martins, New Brunswick, overlooking the Bay of Fundy. He's strongly independent, and more than slightly cantankerous. And he is totally committed to the happiness of his lovely wife Irene (Geneviève Bujold!) They've raised seven kids, all now middle-aged, a few of whom are hanging around.

[Yes, Star Trek fans: Zephram Cochrane and the first Captain Janeway got married and moved to Canada.]

Problem: Irene is gradually succumbing to dementia, and needs a safer environment than their aging farmhouse. And she refuses to move into a home. So Craig resolves to build a smaller, one-level home that would be more appropriate as they grow old.

Unfortunately, Craig is thwarted at every turn by officious local bureaucrats who demand plans, permits, inspectors, and—above all—deference and subservience. Craig tries—he really does—but Irene's deteriorating condition, the oncoming winter, and continuing bureaucratic obstinence are limiting his options. It all heads to a courtroom scene where Craig faces the possibility of jail time and destruction of his new home.

So, yes, it's kind of like a small-scale Atlas Shrugged. There's another scene where Craig attempts to sell his farm's strawberries to a wholesaler; he's informed that new government regulations demand that farmers bring their crops in refrigerated trucks. This makes no sense in Craig's case, but rules are rules, and most of the crop goes to waste.

But the movie doesn't beat you over the head with ideology. The real story is Craig's love for Irene, and his desire to remain independent while caring for her. Mr. Cromwell and Ms. Bujold handle their roles extremely well.


Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:16 PM EST

Gone Tomorrow

[Amazon Link]

Number 13 in Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" series, and a very good one. As with most entries, you have to buy into the premise: Jack isn't looking for trouble, just traveling around the great USA, but keeps falling into the middle of incidents that start out seemingly small, but eventually are revealed to be the phenomena of an underlying evil plot.

In this case, Reacher is on a Manhattan subway around 2AM when he notices that one of his fellow riders is exhibiting most of the telltale signs of a suicide bomber: a heavy coat in summer (no doubt concealing a large amount of explosive); a fixed stare; lips continually mouthing something, perhaps a Muslim prayer; one hand concealed in a bag, perhaps a detonation switch.

Reacher confronts the passenger—that's the kind of guy he is—and immediately discovers that things are not what they seem; it's a different kind of desperate situation, and he's plunged into his usual milieu: in big trouble with the authorities, but able to find some allies; investigators that show him bogus identification; other investigators that don't think they need to show any identification at all; a missing witness; ties to a Senate candidate with a mysterious military past; an equally mysterious beautiful woman with an unsavory companion. And so on.

Even though the reader knows it's just one entry in the Jack Reacher series, and hence Reacher will make it out OK at the end, it's a tribute to Child's prowess as a writer that he's able to put him in deadly peril and make me wonder: is this the end for Reacher?


Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:16 PM EST

Chef

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

Despite having Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansen, and Jon Favreau in the cast list, this is not an Iron Man or Avengers movie. Instead it's a sweet little comedy/drama that we enjoyed quite a bit.

Jon Favreau wrote, directed, and plays the protagonist, chef Carl Casper. Carl is off his game: divorced and poor, spending an inadequate amount of time with his 10-year-old son, Percy. He's the head of the kitchen at a trendy LA restaurant, but he's intimidated by the restaurant's owner (played by Dustin Hoffman). He admits that he and the restaurant are "stuck in a creative rut". Due to an ignorance of how Twitter works, he gets into a stupid flamewar with a restaurant critic.

There are lots of pressures on Carl's life, and it explodes when the critic comes to the restaurant. Carl's epic rant becomes a YouTube sensation. And he gets canned.

Low point. Fortunately, his wife (Sofía Vergara, because I guess they couldn't get Gwyneth Paltrow) is still fond of him, and asks him to come along on a business/pleasure trip to Miami with their son. Her ulterior motive is revealed: she's sweet-talked her previous husband (a hilarious cameo by Robert Downey, Jr.) into donating a beat-up food truck. It's an obvious set up for redemption. Will it work? No spoilers here, but if you can't figure it out, you probably don't see a lot of movies.

It's lots of fun. All the actors are top-notch. I really liked John Leguizamo, who plays Carl's assistant. Slight downside: you might want to pre-plan to go out for Cuban sandwiches after watching, because this movie might make you crave one.


Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:15 PM EST

URLs du Jour - 2014-11-06

I'm just about politicked out for the week…

  • But first, a brief analysis from Mary Katherine Ham: "The man who would not pivot". Opening (about yesterday's press conference):

    President Obama took to the podium today to inform the nation that he will change exactly nothing about how he does his job after a historic drubbing in the midterm elections. He will tout the same policies in the same ways, with no particular plan for how to get any of them passed, with no particular nevermind paid to how the politics have shifted tectonically beneath his feet, armed with nothing but his assertions of his rightness. Again.

    Are we in for a couple of years of a petulant, detached, taking-my-golf-ball-and-going-home presidency? Interesting. (As in the alleged Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times.")

  • According to this quiz, I am a "Objectivist Libertarian Isolationist Nationalist Traditionalist". Not that there's anything wrong with that. How about you?

  • But it's "Saxophone Day" today, and not coincidentally the 200th anniversary of the birth of its inventor, Adolphe Sax.

    I'm more of a guitar fan myself, but a saxophone can really make a song work. Spend a few minutes coming up with your own list, then check out " 10 Of The Most Memorable Sax Solos In Rock" or The 25 most awesome saxophone songs of all time".

    Prominent on both lists is (you probably could have guessed) Springsteen's "Jungleland" with the late Clarence Clemons (misspelled as "Clemens" in the latter). I'd kick in "Born to Run" and "Rosalita", but that's me.

    I am also partial to Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes' version of "Walk Away Renee", a cover ten times better than the original. I think Joey Stann played sax on the original version. Seek it out.

  • Pun Salad's official (but unaware, and uncompensated) mascot Cathy Poulin has been spotted at a Foxboro blood drive:

    [Cathy with Bob himself]

    [For the uninitiated, Cathy is the Director of Public Relations for Bob's Discount Furniture, a chain with multiple locations in the Northeast. She also appears with Bob himself in their irritating commercials. That's Bob Himself on the donation couch. Our ISP-provided stats tell us that Googling for "Cathy Poulin" is the number one reason people come to Pun Salad.]

  • And (since a goodly part of me is still thirteen years old) your tweet du jour:

    Allegedly out December 18, 2015. To quote Jonathan Last (about a different movie): "Have my money now. I was only keeping it warm for you, anyway."


Last Modified 2014-11-06 6:29 PM EST

URLs du Jour - 2014-11-05

I got good news and bad news…

  • Starting with the good news: my CongressCritter/Toothache, Carol Shea-Porter, is now a lame duck. She will be replaced with the slightly less unsatisfactory Frank Guinta. For those not familiar with the district: Frank and Carol have been alternating in this seat since 2007.

  • Bad news: Jeanne Shaheen will be one of our state's US Senators for another six years; her victory was one of the few bright spots for Democrats last night. In 20-20 hindsight, you have to wonder if the GOP's importation of ex-Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown to run against her was really that wise.

    But (good news): she'll be in the Senate minority for at least a couple of years, which will decrease the amount of constitution-threatening mischief she can cause.

  • Reason reports some really good news: 15 participants in the Free State Project will be headed to Concord as legislators. Where they will (I hope) cause headaches to the mainstreamers in both parties.

  • Paul Mirengoff of Powerline bemoans Libertarian spoilers, especially in Virginia, where Democrat incumbent Warner is leading GOP challenger Gillespie by (as I type) about 12,000 votes, and the Libertarian nominee got 53,000 votes. (Brian Doherty has some more exit poll-based details.)

    Mirengoff isn't happy, but I'm hoping every potential GOP candidate is looking real hard at those numbers. The lesson is: it makes sense to appeal to libertarians as well as conservatives. Don't lie about your positions (please), but don't be afraid to pitch them to liberty-lovers.

  • In non-election punditry, an addendum to Monday's reference to actor/dimwit Russell Brand's anti-capitalism book Revolution: Ed Krayewski notes something obviously out of whack.

    Russell Brand is reportedly worth around $15 million, the kind of money his ideology says is "hoarded" when it's all in one place or one person. Nevertheless his book, Revolution, an anti-capitalist screed, is available for sale at capitalist enterprises like Amazon. Despite the possibility in 2014 to release a manifesto like Brand's at no cost to the reader over the internet—and Brand's fame would guarantee a wide audience—Brand chose the more traditionally capitalist route of charging good money for his book. It's his right in a market we would deem free, but it wouldn't be in the kind of market Brand would impose on the rest of us. Weird indeed.

    Brand also dismisses criticism of his book by "highly paid, privately educated journalists". I'm not sure how many of those journalists have a net worth of $15 million.

URLs du Jour - 2014-11-03

  • Not that it matters, but I'll be voting tomorrow with my fingers crossed (hoping Democrats lose) and holding my nose (because I'll be voting for Republicans).

    Holding the pencil will be a challenge.

  • Out in California, political speech got a little too free for "civil rights activists": "Civil Rights Activists Demand Probe Of Maxine Waters ‘Poverty Pimp’ Posters"

    Here 'tis:

    [Maxine Waters Poverty Pimp]

    I wouldn't ordinarily mention that, but apparently the same geniuses took to ridiculing our state's Senator Jeanne Shaheen as well:

    [Quarantine Shaheen]

    I don't know how many votes this will generate on one side or another. But (as far as I know) no investigations have been threatened here in NH. [And there must be more out there besides those in New Hampshire and California, right?]

  • Longtime readers may know that I despise the tinpot-despot madness of Daylight Saving Time. At NR's Corner, Tim Cavanaugh is on my wavelength too: "Spring Forward, Fall Back, Kneel to Your Masters".

    How did you spend the extra hour? The twice-yearly flipflop from standard to “daylight savings” time and back again may not be the most terrible thing the government does. But it is certainly the most irritating, the most unnecessary, the most maddeningly dependent on — and reinforcing of — the innate idiocy of all of us.

    Tim doesn't go as far as I in advocating the separation of time and state.

  • Michael Moynihan has read the actor/comedian/druggie Russell Brand's new book Revolution and he leaves little doubt that Brand is a moron.

    The problem here isn’t so much that Brand knows nothing about history, is politically naive, doesn’t understand even the rudiments of economics, can’t write, and manages 320 pages without producing a single laugh. It’s that his self-righteousness often veers into the authoritarian.

    He was good in… well, I think I saw him in something.


Last Modified 2017-11-29 5:09 PM EST

Dead Silence

[Amazon Link]

If you look at the reviews on Amazon, you'll see that this book (number 16 in Randy Wayne White's "Doc Ford" series) gets an unusual number of negative reviews. My guess is that White confounded some reader expectations. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but my default setting when reading an entry in a long-running series is: let the author take the story where he wants.

The book is set in a slightly-alternate universe where Fidel Castro has finally kicked the bucket, a revolution has deposed the Communists in Cuba, and all is well, right? Wrong, because Castro's legacy includes piles of documents that illuminate past decades of horror and subversion. A plot is hatched to extract the documents from the clutches of the US government, involving the kidnapping of Senator Barbara Hayes-Sorrento.

Ford is on the scene, however. He manages to prevent Barbara's abduction, but the kidnappers settle for a 14-year-old Native American kid, Will Chaser, who is travelling with the Senator because he's won an essay contest.

Will Chaser is a handful. Think "The Ransom of Red Chief", except more violent. Will has a rich background of growing up on an Oklahoma reservation, getting shuttled off to a foster family in Minnesota, headed by a retired pro wrestler in a wheelchair. He's no angel, dealing weed to his classmates, and not averse to totally inappropriate relationships with his female teachers. (It turns out his winning essay was ghosted by one of his teachers.) We alternate between Will's desperate struggle to escape his captors and Doc's attempts to track him down.

Oh yeah: Doc also arranges for the demise of one of the more despicable villains from a previous book. He's in a spot of legal trouble for that. So there's a lot going on.

Minor annoyances: slipshod editing (example: on page 49, a character is described taking a "tone less differential"). And, even given my general inclination for letting an author tell a story in the way he wants, I found myself annoyed at a number of spots with the nonlinear narrative: even within a single chapter, White will start in one place, back up and describe what went on slightly before, then continue. For no good reason, as near as I can tell.


Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:16 PM EST

The Thanatos Syndrome

[Amazon Link]

Back in 2010, National Review listed 10 post-1950 novels written by Americans deemed by the editors to be fine conservative novels. (List here.) I had read two (Advise and Consent and Bonfire of the Vanities.) So this shows how deep some of my to-be-read piles are: I finally got around to reading a third.

The Thanatos Syndrome is a 1987 novel by the late Walker Percy, his last. It is a sequel of sorts to Love in the Ruins, which was written in 1971. (I read that too, but back then, and I remember nearly nothing about it.) The protagonist is Dr. Thomas More, a Louisiana psychiatrist.

When the book opens, Tom, a once-famous brain researcher, has returned home from a stint in prison. He'd been selling large quantities of uppers and downers to truck-stop middlemen, who would resell to long-haul truckers. He's restarted his private practice, and notices unusual behavior in a number of his patients: they are (somewhat) mellowed out, but prone to unnatural responses. (Specifically: they become unable to recognize context switches. Tom asks a patient, out of the blue, where St. Louis is, and gets an ordinary, correct, response without notice of the conversation's discontinuity.) A priest has taken up occupying a local fire tower, and refuses to come down. And Tom's wife has become a surprising prodigy at contract bridge.

A little detective work finds nefarious forces at work: social engineers with only the "common good" at heart are injecting "sodium-24" into the water supply, which is causing the mental changes. (In real life, sodium-24 is highly radioactive with a 15-hour half-life, so this is pretty much a plot device.) The perpetrators tell themselves, and anyone who'll listen, that it's a public health measure, much like fluoridation. But Tom uncovers an underlying seam of animal-like behavior, perversion, and a genteel cult of death.

And, even amid all the sordidness, the book is also quite amusing in spots.

Percy, like James Lee Burke, describes the Louisiana bayous with painfully beautiful prose. (Almost so I want to go there; I keep telling myself: calm down, it's probably hot, muggy, and buggy, and you're not a fisherman.)


Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:15 PM EST