Frivolities du Jour - 2015-02-27

  • Drew Cline pens a funny column: "The New Hampshire primary to come, if current journalism is a clue". Small (fair use, I hope) sample:

    [Reporter:] “Excuse me, do you mind if I ask what you thought of [Marco Rubio's] speech?”

    Woman: “I thought it was great. I liked how he related to average people, you know? I don’t hear a lot of candidates talking about how to make it easier for low-income families to succeed in America.”

    Reporter: “It didn’t bother you that his second cousin once removed said Tom Brady wears ladies underwear?

    Woman: “Who said that?”

    Reporter: “Rubio’s second cousin once removed. He said it at a Miami fund-raiser three weeks ago. Thus far, Rubio has failed to disown his cousin, denounce the comment, or apologize to Tom Brady for it."

  • I got "Libertarian" on this quiz. See how you do:

    (I've also pre-ordered Charles C.W. Cooke's book), and so should you.

  • There's Dave Barry content at the WSJ this weekend, musing about whether his (and my) parents' generation managed to have more fun than ours. It's hard to find anything excerptable, just go read it if you can breach the WSJ paywall. (Or buy—ahem—Dave's book.)

  • Let us count the layers of awesomeness in this Variety story: (1) Rosamund Pike is said to be co-starring with (2) Christian Bale, who is playing (3) Travis McGee in The Deep Blue Good-by, an upcoming movie based on John D. MacDonald's novel. That was enough for me, but: (4) the movie's screenplay is by Dennis Lehane.

    Does that mean it will be set in Boston instead of Fort Lauderdale? Nah, probably not. In any case, could the filmmakers just tell me where I should send my wallet?

  • And finally:

    … those wounds run pretty deep.

Pun Salad is 10

Pun Salad's first post was 10 years ago today. Not sure how to celebrate, but here's a somewhat arbitrary "greatest hits" selection of posts, one per year:

2005: Jane Smiley is a Better Human Being Than Holman Jenkins, and Probably Me, and You Too.
2006: Myth Communication: Professor Farrell on Professor Woodward
2007: The Times Channels Engine Charlie
2008: Top XLII Facts About the Super Bowl (Historical note: the Pats lost. I regret the snark directed at the psychic powers of Dionne Warwick in this post.)
2009: MLK Day 2010: UNH Goes With Academic Poet-Thug
2010: President Obama: Not a Fan of the First Amendment
2011: Mark Fernald, Math Whiz
2012: GOVERNMENT WARNING
2013: Carol Shea-Porter: College Does Not Necessarily Make You Employable. Or Smart.
2014: Money is Evil, Unless You're Sending It To UNH

Enjoy, if you are so inclined.

Higher-Ed Follies du Jour - 2015-02-26

  • I encourage you to read the long but worthwhile article "Grievance School" by Steven F. Hayward at National Review; it's a piece with which I was much impressed when I read it in my dead-trees copy a few days ago.

    Of all the college towns fixed in the American mind as bastions of elite leftism, a Big Four stand out: Cambridge, Madison, Berkeley, and Boulder. It was no wonder, then, that the University of Colorado at Boulder received national attention, and raised many eyebrows, when it announced a couple of years back that it wanted to hire an identified conservative as a visiting faculty member — the beginning of a privately funded pilot program to bring conservative perspectives to its storied campus. I ended up being the guinea pig for this unorthodox experiment.

    Steven was (briefly and unsuccessfully) accused of "bigotry" for un-PC observations at the Power Line blog.

  • And more recently, Steven has been one of the scholars targeted by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ); Rep Raul has demanded that Steven's employer, Pepperdine, produce "detailed records on the funding sources for affiliated researchers who have opposed the scientific consensus on man-made global warming". Steven calls Raul and his ilk "McCarthyite witch hunters" and it's hard to disagree.

    I do hope the House Committee on Natural Resources will hold a hearing on this topic, because I’d love to ask Rep. Grijava some questions in return, such as which contacts at Greenpeace ginned up the particulars of his complaint (since I doubt the worthy Rep. or his staff actually read Power Line, which is cited in his letter). Further, it will be fun to ask a series of questions about the incentives of government-funded scientists, such as what might happen to their government research grants if they didn’t report a result congenial to Rep. Grijalva. More to the point: why pick on the seven of us at universities?  Does he really just say “how high?” every time Greenpeace asks him to jump?

  • And, yes, I've heard of Pepperdine:

  • Another scholar under investigation by "Tailgunner Raul" Grijalva is Roger Pielke, Jr. His reaction is also very much worth your attention. His heresy was minor: asserting (with plenty of solid evidence) that it was “incorrect to associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases.” Pielke's conclusion:

    The incessant attacks and smears are effective, no doubt, I have already shifted all of my academic work away from climate issues. I am simply not initiating any new research or papers on the topic and I have ring-fenced my slowly diminishing blogging on the subject. I am a full professor with tenure, so no one need worry about me — I’ll be just fine as there are plenty of interesting, research-able policy issues to occupy my time. But I can’t imagine the message being sent to younger scientists. Actually, I can: “when people are producing work in line with the scientific consensus there’s no reason to go on a witch hunt.”

    When “witch hunts” are deemed legitimate in the context of popular causes, we will have fully turned science into just another arena for the exercise of power politics. The result is a big loss for both science and politics.

    Good luck unringing that bell.

  • Katherine Timpf reports that Wesleyan University is now offering "Open House", a "LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM" dorm. The uncensored version of the acronym: "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Flexual, Asexual, Genderfuck, Polyamourous, Bondage/Disciple, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism".

    Ironically, it's on Church Street.


Last Modified 2015-02-27 5:02 AM EST

Outrage du Jour - 2015-02-25

Politifact attempted to check an aside in Jonah Goldberg's recent column on "gotcha" questions posed to Scott Walker:

As my National Review colleague Kevin Williamson notes, “Everybody wants to know what Scott Walker and Sarah Palin think about evolution, but almost nobody is asking what Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama think about homeopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy and the like.” Even though such remedies have been given elevated legitimacy under the Affordable Care Act.

The quote is from Kevin Williamson's article here. Specifically:

I have made the point here a dozen times — and you’d think that one of these big-on-science guys like Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye would take up the cause — that there is in reality an important federal project under way giving rank pseudoscience and pure hokum the force of law: Obamacare, which, thanks to the efforts of Senator Tom Harkin (D., Iowa), will oblige taxpayers to subsidize all manner of scientifically illegitimate “alternative medicine.” Everybody wants to know what Scott Walker and Sarah Palin think about evolution, but almost nobody is asking what Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama think about homeopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy, and the like. The same people who are scandalized that Walker doesn’t want to talk about something that he doesn’t know the first thing about celebrate as the most important health-care advance in a generation a law that treats as legitimate sundry species of quackery based in pure mysticism.

The point Jonah and Kevin assert about Obamacare is somewhat tangential to the main point of their articles, but that's what the Politifact-checker, Lou Jacobson, chose to "factcheck".

And deemed it "Partially True". Because “it leaves out important details.”

Really?

A fair reading of Jacobsen's "analysis" reveals that those statements are true, full stop.

I can't do better than Jonah's response. Key:

As best I can tell, [Jacobsen's quibbles] amount to the fact that Jacobson doesn’t like the fact that my statement was entirely true. So he meanders along pointing out things I didn’t mention (because there was no need to) as a way to lessen the blow of the point I was making.

Also amusing: Jacobsen asserts:

(Neither Williamson nor Goldberg returned inquiries for this fact-check.)

Jacobsen's "inquiries" were (1) e-mail message to one of Jonah's public addresses and (2) a tweet to Kevin.

This last bit inspired an article devoted to ridicule on Twitchy. And Kevin's response … well, remind me never to get on his bad side:

Bottom line: Politifact is useless partisan hackery.

Irritants du Jour - 2015-02-24

  • Watch out, ladies! The Law School of the University Near Here has announced that Joe "Excuse Me While I Feel Up Your Wife" Biden will be on hand in Concord tomorrow.

    Vice President Joe Biden will receive the second Warren B. Rudman Award for Distinguished Public Service on February 25, 2015, when he visits the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

    Biden and the late Senator Rudman were pals, of course. Their most magical moment was a recreation of one of the scenes in Brief Encounter between Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. The setting was immediately after the Supreme Court's Casey v. Planned Parenthood decision, in which David Souter helped to reaffirm Roe v. Wade. Rudman had previously shepherded Souter's nomination to the Court by quietly assuring Democrats that Souter wasn't as anti-abortion as they (or George H. W. Bush, who nominated him) thought. And so:

    As fate would have it, on that same day Senator Rudman and Senator Joe Biden bumped into each other at the train station, not in Washington, DC but in Wilmington, Delaware.

    “At first, I didn’t see Joe; then I spotted him waving at me from far down the platform,” Rudman later recorded in his memoirs, Combat: Twelve Years in the U.S. Senate. “Joe had agonized over his vote for David, and I knew how thrilled he must be. We started running through the crowd toward each other, and when we met, we embraced, laughing and crying.”

    An ecstatic Biden wept tears of joy, telling Rudman over and over: “You were right about him [Souter]! ... You were right!”

    The two men were so jubilant, so giddy—practically dancing—that Rudman said onlookers thought they were crazy: “[B]ut we just kept laughing and yelling and hugging each other because sometimes, there are happy endings.”

    … except for all those dead babies, of course. They weren't available to dance on the train platform with Joe and Warren.

  • Joe's also famous for … wait for it … getting caught at plagiarism when he was a law student at Syracuse. And now he's getting getting honored by our law school. Is that irony? I can never tell.

  • We might as well continue our Biden theme by pointing out a recent Slate article from Jamelle Bouie: "Why Joe Biden Should Run for President".

    The subtitle (and I swear I am cutting-n-pasting, not just making it up): "The vice president won’t win, but it’d be the best thing for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party."

    Bouie's entire argument seems to be that using Biden as a "sparring partner" would help Inevitable Hillary get ready for the November election. (I would have said "punching bag", but …)

    I don't get it. Why would anyone find this kabuki useful?

Insights du Jour - 2015-02-23

[J.
Jonah

  • Good for J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor last night. Nice to see someone from my demographic (bald 60-something white guys) win something.

    Like many Oscars, I see this as really an acknowledgment that Oscar failed to honor him for his work as J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man (2002).

  • In other Oscar-related news, Monica Guzman did not care for The Imitation Game.

    Instead of an inventor, it shows a stereotype. Instead of a machine, it shows an obsession. And instead of inspiring us to follow in the footsteps of a person who shaped technology, the film inspires us only to get out of the way of the next genius who can.

    Monica is (like my kids) a graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas High School of Dover, New Hampshire. She's turned into a perceptive and successful journalist. Good for her. (Unfortunately, her take on "Network Neutrality" is dreadful, but you can't have everything.)

  • A recent NYT op-ed discusses "The Government’s Bad Diet Advice (the URL gives a possible alternate title: "When the Government Tells You What to Eat").

    It's short, and depressing for those of us who took that advice seriously for way too long. But I can't improve on Philip Greenspun's summary: "What happens when you combine the world's two most arrogant organizations?". Those being? The US Government and Harvard University.

    Fun fact: Phil's blog is hosted by Harvard Law School.

  • Does Obama love America? I think this guy has his finger on the truth:

    (Need an explanation? Here you go.)

The Phony Campaign

2015-02-22 Update

[phony baloney]

As expected, Rand Paul's multi-million phony hit count has come crashing back to earth this week.

But (slightly unexpected), Betfair odds on Chris Christie being elected in 2016 have gone to 48, longer than our arbitrary cutoff of 30. So, at least for now, Governor Christie is outta here.

And (totally unexpected), Joe Biden's odds have improved to 30, which has us include him in our standings. Phonywise, he's edging out Rand Paul for a respectable third place:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-02-15
"Jeb Bush" phony 863,000 -118,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 355,000 -5,000
"Joe Biden" phony 174,000 ---
"Rand Paul" phony 171,000 -3,209,000
"Scott Walker" phony 154,000 +15,000
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 95,500 +3,900
"Marco Rubio" phony 95,100 +3,800

  • Biden's improved odds perhaps show that there's no such thing as bad publicity. As a WaPo blogger summarizes:

    First, he's getting heat for placing his hands on the shoulders of Stephanie Carter, wife of new Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Then, Biden said he has great relations with the Somali community in Wilmington, Del., "because an awful lot of them are driving cabs." (Fox News, Huffington Post) Worse, or not as bad, as the 7-Eleven crack about Indian Americans?

    It's easy to be depressed about the future of our nation when Biden's odds of becoming President are better than those of Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, or Bobby Jindal.

  • Another significant phony news story was: Pinterest took down Rand Paul's fake "Hillary Clinton" page. So, alas, we won't be able to see:

    Among the pinned items on the parody page were photos of Clinton posing with Muslims, as well as quotes poking fun at the former secretary of state's statements on the killing of Americans in the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

    Hillary's supporters deemed it "sexist". I get the feeling we're going to hear that a lot over the next (at least) 624 days or so.

  • While the candidates are certainly phony enough, let's give some extra attention to the good old MSM, which did its best this week to live up to the "Democratic operatives with bylines" insult. As former Governor Tommy Thompson tweeted:

  • I am not a huge fan of Jennifer Rubin, but she had some wicked fun with a competing journalist covering Jeb Bush's foreign policy speech/Q&A;

    There is a decided lack of seriousness among the press in the substance of foreign policy, typified by an unintentionally hilarious tweet from a Huffington Post reporter: “Ok. Tuning out now. I think Jeb’s pretty good at this Q+A thing. Real approachable. And obviously has knowledge/data points.” So whatever. Nothing remotely suggesting a gaffe so let’s tune out.

    It's sweet of Jen to classify the HuffPo as "the press", instead of "Democrat propaganda site". Although there's certainly overlap there.

Frivolities du Jour - 2015-02-20

  • From the Washington Post:

    The author of a Minnesota newspaper slideshow that called President Obama an "assclown" for using a selfie stick apologized Monday.

    … "If any actual assclowns took offense at being compared to the President, I sincerely apologize to them."

  • I've been shovelling snow a lot recently. The mind tends to wander. Specifically: what if I had a flamethrower?

    I need wonder no more, because someone in a no doubt similar situation asked Randall Munroe:

    I've long thought about putting a flamethrower on the front of a car to melt snow and ice before you drive across it. Now I've realized that a flamethrower is impractical, but what about a high-powered microwave emitter?

    Short answer: his flamethrower idea is more practical than the microwave idea. But click through for the long answer, because the discussion is (as is standard for Munroe) funny and entertaining.

    I'm (slowly) reading Munroe's book What If?. Highly recommended.

  • Your Tweet du Jour:

  • Well, now, if we wanted our children to listen to Bob and Ray's Komodo Dragon sketch… where would be take the children to listen to Bob and Ray's Komodo Dragon sketch?

Free Will

[Amazon Link]

A couple months ago, I read Free by Alfred Mele, who examined the philosophical "free will" controversy. Professor Mele was on the pro-free will side. At the time, I resolved to read someone on the anti-free will side, and here he is: Sam Harris, a relatively famous philosopher/neuroscientist.

It's a short book, with the main text coming in at 66 pages. Acknowledgments, notes, and the index add a couple dozen more. (Still, it's an actual book, and counts toward my yearly total.) I took my time going through it. I wanted to give it a fair shake.

But I was not won over.

Part of the problem was Harris's somewhat surprising sloppiness in language, right from the start. The book opens with a description of a 2007 horrific rape-murder in Cheshire, Connecticut committed by Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky. Harris then considers a thought experiment:

As sickening as I find their behavior, I have to admit that if I were to trade places with one of these men, atom for atom, I would be him: […]

Wait a minute. That's not right.

What Harris is describing is a entire body swap (the only thing "atom for atom" can possibly mean), kind of a combination of a Star Trek-style transporter with a time machine. But if all the Harris-atoms are magically transported to 2007 Connecticut (while, say, the Komisarjevsky-atoms are transported elsewhere), the result is (simply) Sam Harris. He's incorrect to assert that "I would be him".

So Harris means something other than what he says here. He is not actually proposing an "atom for atom" swap. Instead he's imagining a different magic:

If I had truly been in Komisarjevsky's shoes on July 23, 2007—that is, if I had his genes and life experience and an identical brain (or soul) in an identical state—I would have acted exactly as he did.

From this we can deduce that, far from an "atom for atom" swap, Harris is imagining that nearly nothing is traded. The Komisarjevsky body and brain (with its memories) remains in 2007 Connecticut.

So it's not a Star Trek transporter at all. It's not even like the "Turnabout Intruder" episode of Star Trek where Kirk's personality was switched with that of the homicidal Janice Lester; in that case, Kirk's memories went into Lester's body and vice-versa. (Also: not like either version of Freaky Friday.)

So what does Harris imagine is being traded with Komisarjevsky in his thought experiment?

When Harris uses the personal pronoun "I" above, he is referring to "the conscious witness of my thoughts and actions" (page 7). This is the "I" he imagines is transplanted into the (otherwise intact) murderer's body.

And Harris's position is that this "I" is extremely powerless. It can't stop the 2007 horrors. It's like a toy boat, helplessly tossed on the vast ocean of thoughts, memories, desires, physiology that make up the remainder of our physical bodies, which generate actions that we only imagine are under our conscious control.

Harris relies heavily on the famous experiments of Benjamin Libet, which (he claims) support his assertions that "unconscious causes" in the brain are the true initiator of our volitional acts. Libert's EEG measurements showed telltale neurophysiological activity significantly before his subjects perceived corresponding conscious thoughts. (Interestingly enough, Libet himself was on the pro-free will side, and thought his experiments tended to confirm free will.)

Harris sets a high bar for "free will" (page 13):

Consider what it would take to actually have free will. You would need to be aware of all the factors that determine your thoughts and actions, and you would need to have complete control over those factors.

Or… not. Isn't Harris making a too-convenient assertion here? Can't free will involve being aware of some (if not all) of the factors that determine my thoughts and actions? Can't free will mean I have incomplete control of some of those factors? This seems to me to be a pretty accurate description of reality, but as near as I can tell, Harris would prefer to refute his absolutist strawman.

A late chapter has gratuitous slams of conservatives. You see, they "often make a religious fetish of individualism". Which Sam is happy to excoriate them for, except the entire rest of the book is an argument that they have no free-will control over such beliefs.

There's more, of course, but this has already gone on too long.

The Phony Campaign

2015-02-15 Update

[phony baloney]

Rand Paul has leapt to the lead with a near-twentyfold increase in his Google phony hit count. I assume this is yet another Google glitch, but stay tuned…

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-02-08
"Rand Paul" phony 3,380,000 +3,206,000
"Jeb Bush" phony 981,000 +175,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 360,000 -37,000
"Scott Walker" phony 139,000 +29,000
"Chris Christie" phony 132,000 -8,000
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 91,600 +3,700
"Marco Rubio" phony 91,300 +6,800

The week in phoniness:

  • Scott Walker got jumped on for telling the story of Megan Sampson, a teacher who was laid off by her Wisconsin school district in 2010 under then-onerous last-hired-first-fired seniority rules. Typical headline: "Scott Walker's laid-off teacher story turns out to be a phony".

    Walker's sin (as near as I can tell), was referring to Sampson as someone who was "honored as the outstanding teacher of the year in my state". She actually got the Nancy Hoefs Memorial Award, given for "an outstanding first-year teacher of the English language arts."

    Meanwhile, a different teacher, Claudia Klein Felske, who also got a "Teacher of the Year" award was pretty bothered by Walker's remarks to the extent that she penned an "open letter" to the Governor.

    You failed to mention these details as you used Sampson’s lay-off from her first year teaching position as an opportunity to bash Wisconsin schools on the national stage. You blamed the seniority system for Sampson’s lay-off when, in good conscience, you should have done some serious soul searching and placed the blame squarely on your systematic defunding of public education to the tune of $2.6 billion that you cut from school districts, state aid to localities, the UW-System and technical colleges.

    Only problem (as many people have pointed out): Sampson’s layoff notice came in June of 2010. And Scott Walker wasn't Governor until 2011.

    Ms. Felske is a "language arts" teacher; my guess is that this doesn't involve pesky things like facts and dates.

  • Obama advisor David Axelrod wrote a book. The big story was his admission that then-candidate Obama lied and hid behind his (alleged) faith in 2008 when he was asked for his position on gay marriage.

    So, yes, Obama was, is, and always will be a huge phony. A slightly more odious one for dragging religion into it. But Colin Campbell of Business Insider notes that Axelrod makes similar unflattering observations about Hillary:

    Despite offering effusive praise for her elsewhere in his book, Axelrod also tore into Clinton for her allegedly phony embrace of Obama's 2008 "change" message.

    Axelrod is quoted:

    She had pressed her advantage on Washington experience and gamely parried our call for change by embracing the word. Yet the 'change' Hillary was offering was not much change at all — certainly not a move away from the raw, divisive politics that had come to define Washington. Rather, she seemed to revel in those politics. ('So if you want a winner who knows how to take them on, I'm your girl,' she boasted.) The change she was offering was not away from Washington's habit of parsing words and passing on tough issues. (She habitually sought safe harbor.) The change she was offering was not away from a system dominated by PACs and corporate lobbyists. (She had taken their money and vocally defended their work.) The only real change she was offering was in political parties, and that simply wasn't enough. … In the memo, we said our task now was to 'create a distinct and sustained contrast in all of our communications: …. Hillary Clinton is a prescription for more of the same, meaning that our shared goals will once again be frustrated by Washington's failed politics.'

    Yeah, thank goodness Obama won and spared us the "raw, divisive politics" … oh, wait a minute.

  • Campbell also summarizes an incident with a New Hampshire connection from Axelrod's book: the dustup caused by (now-Senator) Jeanne Shaheen's husband, Billy, asked out loud whether Obama sold drugs in his addled youth. Good times, man. Good times.

  • Elizabeth Warren won't support Rand Paul's bill to audit the Federal Reserve. Comments Robby Soave:

    So the next time anyone talks about Warren in the context of a populist hero, remind them that the senator from Massachusetts believes the activities of the most powerful money-related institution in the country should be hidden from public scrutiny.

    Why it's almost as if all her class-warfare rhetoric was just boob-bait for the (left-wing) bubbas, just a tool to grab onto political power.

Out of Range

[Amazon Link]

Book number 5 in C.J. Box's series about Joe Pickett, a game warden working for the State of Wyoming. It helps to have read the previous ones. I can't say enough good things about the series.

In this one, Joe is tasked with filling in for the Jackson Hole game warden, Will Jensen. Joe had always looked up to Will, so it's very disturbing for him to learn that Will had gone crazy, taking his own life. Jackson Hole is also fast-paced, high-pressure, and very upscale compared to Joe's normal station. There's a meat-is-murder group not only trying to get hunting shut down in the area, but also opposed to a real estate mogul trying to establish a "pure meat" development. The developer is trying to railroad Joe's approval of his plans, and his comely wife seems to have an independent interest in Joe. Is she just a sucker for his game warden uniform?

But the overriding mystery is: what happened to Will? Is Joe in danger from the same nefarious forces? (Hint: yes, he is.)

Meanwhile back home, Joe's wife and kids are being harassed by anonymous phone calls. Joe's friend-with-a-mysterious-past, Nate, has pledged to look after Joe's family, but he has problems of his own: a guy from out of town is trying to track him down, and it's not to give him flowers.

Mr. Box does his usual fine job of describing the spectacular beauty and (sometimes) danger of the Wyoming countryside. Unlike many genre heroes, Box's Joe is quite human: he makes mistakes, he gets scared, he's a little slow on the uptake. He and his wife have believable strains on their marriage.

Sometimes I gripe about books getting padded out to contractually-obligated lengths. I didn't get that impression here, even at 384 (paperback) pages.


Last Modified 2015-03-12 6:39 PM EDT

The Girl Who Cried Wolf

[Amazon Link]

After his trilogy of books about a dystopic United States under Islamic rule, Robert Ferrigno returns to his previous genre of hard-boiled crime fiction. Apparently only available as an e-book, it's an insanely great deal, $2.99, at Amazon.

The bad guys here are eco-terrorists, hoping to save the world by various foul deeds, like blowing up a development on the orange bluffs above South Laguna Beach. Collateral damage: one real estate agent and her Mercedes, crashing in flames onto the beach below.

The bad guys are various mixtures of evil, stupid, and crazy. Behind them is the secretive beauty, Chloe, who is playing her own game. Their next gig is a complex one, involving (a) the kidnapping of a show-biz lawyer, Remy, whose daddy just happens to be a tycoon; (b) the hijacking of a truckload of anhydrous ammonia.

Things go off the rails pretty quickly. Remy is not a docile victim; when she regains post-snatch consciousness, her first words to her captors are: "Get me a triple-espresso. Two sugars. And a bottle of Advil." And her boyfriend, Mack, is an ex-cop, a maverick who didn't play by the rules, etc. Just the sort of guy to track Remy down.

It's all sorta predictable, by the numbers thriller, but you get to wonder about how many of the characters will survive until the last page, and who will do who in.

The Phony Campaign

2015-02-08 Update

[phony baloney]

Jeb's phony hit count from last week was (indeed) one of those Google Glitches. Not that he doesn't retain his firm hold on the number one spot:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-02-01
"Jeb Bush" phony 806,000 -2,744,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 397,000 +7,000
"Rand Paul" phony 174,000 +4,000
"Chris Christie" phony 140,000 +11,000
"Scott Walker" phony 110,000 +14,100
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 87,900 -1,200
"Marco Rubio" phony 84,500 -2,300

  • Boston Globe columnist Scott Lehigh uses Mitt Romney's exit from the race as a springboard to generalize about the problem of political authenticity: "Voters want political candidates to get real". No great insights here, but you might find his classifications either convincing or contestable. Phony: Romney, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, both Clintons, and Kerry. Authentic: Reagan, Ford, Carter, and Obama (!?)

  • Lehigh does not provide his assessment of Jeb Bush, but his paper did its part with a hit piece researching his time at Phillips Academy in Andover MA, the kind of research they never seem to do about Democrats. While some of the more scurrlious yarns are unconfimed, Jeb has admitted that he was a lousy student, partaking of both alcohol and pot.

    And yet, as many have pointed out, he went on to be an eager participant in the drug war, putting less fortunate people in the slammer for the same thing he got away with at Andover. For example, Rand Paul:

    “He was even opposed to medical marijuana,” Paul said of Bush, a potential rival in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. “This is a guy who now admits he smoked marijuana but he wants to put people in jail who do.

    Well, at least he wasn't in the Choom Gang.

  • One side effect of NBC News anchorman Brian Williams long-running fabrications has been for people to recall Hillary's equally fabulist yarn about coming under sniper fire during her visit to Bosnia in 1996. For example, Linda Stasi in the New York Daily News:

    The fact that Brian Williams and Clinton thought they’d get away with their outrageous war stories despite there being living, breathing witnesses, video and now social media, is bizarrely disturbing. The hubris of the famous in believing that they can get away with lying forever because they are above it all never fails to astound. And never fails to happen.

    It's the sort of thing that makes me doubt Scott Lehigh's belief that voters want authenticity in their political candidates. Dude, if that were even close to being true, Hillary would be baking cookies in Little Rock.

The One I Love

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

I didn't know much about this movie going in; it was one of Mrs. Salad's picks. Just the Netflix description:

Confronted with the potential end of their marriage, Ethan and Sophie take off for a weekend together, hoping to negotiate their future. When they reach their idyllic destination, however, the couple strolls into a bizarre new brand of trouble.

Ethan is played by Mark Duplass and Sophie by Elizabeth Moss. Their whiny mutual insecurity is played for some very subtle humor at the start. They go to a marriage counselor, and before you can say "Hey, that's Ted Danson", they are off to a very nice estate where they are to spend some time alone together.

Except: are they really alone? Pretty soon the movie takes an unexpected turn into what Sophie calls "Twilight Zone" territory. I can't really say any more here without spoilers, but it's a very clever script that sneaks up on the viewer.

I was impressed by the acting talent of both Mr. Duplass and Ms. Moss. But (again) I can't go into much detail about that without spoilers.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

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

A sequel to (guess what) How to Train Your Dragon. The IMDB raters (as I type) have given this a slightly lower rating (8.0) than its predecessor (8.2, and number 152 of the best 250 movies of all time). But I liked it a bit better.

The Viking land of Berk has settled into a cooperative harmony with its dragon population. Hiccup, the previous movie's hero, is getting along with his dad, Stoick. Hiccup and his dragon, Toothless, are devoted to each other, and like nothing better than to explore the neighboring lands.

But Hiccup and his pals happen upon a ragtag crew of dragon-trappers, who are accumulating the beasts for the brutish, evil, wannabe-world-conquering Drago. And another strange character appears, a masked dragon-rider whose skills are comparable to Hiccup's. Who is it? No spoilers, sorry.

This movie has a fine plot and sympathetic characters, but wait, there's more: The animation folks at Dreamworks continue to display their almost-Pixar levels of imagination and expertise to make it jaw-droppingly gorgeous at points, hilarious in others, and butt-clenching at others. So good on them.

And, yes, How to Train Your Dragon 3 is apparently in the works. I'll be there.

The Last Colony

[Amazon Link]

I plunked this into by TBR pile … whoa … must have been back in 2008 or so, when I read the first novel in John Scalzi's trilogy, Old Man's War. I followed up by reading the second entry in 2009, The Ghost Brigades. And now, nearly six years later, I'm finally getting around to the third book in the (then-)trilogy, The Last Colony. This delay was due to the randomness in my book-selection algorithm and the depth of the particular sci-fi sub-pile.

So (bad news), the details of the first two books in the series had faded. Fortunately, this didn't matter too much, although I wouldn't recommend the delay to others.

Here, John Perry, the hero of Old Man's War, and Jane Sagan, the heroine from The Ghost Brigades, have married and adopted a teenage daughter Zoë (who has her own story). The previous books were heavy with mind-blowing levels of genetic engineering and consciousness transfer, and all three are a product/victims of those technologies. Talk about an untraditional family! They reside on the colonial planet of Huckleberry, where John is an administrative bureaucrat. A very peaceful existence, but things change when they are persuaded out of semi-retirement to establish a new colony, Roanoke.

Problems abound: earthlike planets in the reachable parts of the galaxy are rare, and hundreds of different species are willing to fight for them. Setting up on a new world is inherently risky. It doesn't help that the government that's sending John, Jane, and Zoë to the new world is lying through its teeth about everything involved: the risks, the opposition, its own motives, and the nature of the world itself. It doesn't take long before the risks develop into actual danger, not only for Roanoke, but for the entire human race.

But… (quibble) it takes awhile to get going. On page 110 or so, Zoë complains about how boring things are for her. I thought: you and me both, little girl. Things pick up shortly after that, but a lesser writer couldn't have brought this plot off at all.

Scalzi is a gifted writer, and the people who compare his storytelling technique to Heinlein's aren't wrong. I need to add at least one more book of his to the TBR pile: Redshirts, which won the Hugo Award for Best Novel.

The Phony Campaign

2015-02-01 Update

[phony baloney]

For some inexplicable reason, Mitt Romney's odds of being elected President have gone very long at Betfair. So he has been dropped from our tabulation:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-01-25
"Jeb Bush" phony 3,550,000 +2,801,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 390,000 +4,000
"Rand Paul" phony 170,000 +11,000
"Chris Christie" phony 129,000 +8,000
"Scott Walker" phony 95,900 +19,100
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 89,100 -1,900
"Marco Rubio" phony 86,800 +2,500

That's quite a phony bump for Jeb this week; based on past experience it's more than likely one of those inexplicable Google Glitches, and he'll be back in the pack next time we look.

But what else is going on in the world of Presidential Political Phoniness?

  • Okay, one last shot at Mitt, from a January 27 WaPo story about the campaign that wasn't:

    If he runs again in 2016, Romney is determined to rebrand himself as authentic, warts and all, and central to that mission is making public what for so long he kept private.

    Not for the first time (or the last), we'll quote Jean Giraudoux: "The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made." If only Mitt had figured this out four years ago!

  • Mike Huckabee does not, as I type, have odds at Betfair, but Indispensable Geraghty notes that his "homespun schtick" is getting on some peoples' nerves. Charles C. W. Cooke is quoted, from his article on Huckabee's "cornpone politics":

    Unlike so many in Washington, Huckabee claims, he is firmly on the side of “Bubbaville” rather than “Bubbleville”; of the “catfish and cornbread crowd” rather than “the crepes and caviar set”; and of those who “come home tired at the end of the day” rather than those who “burn tires in the street.” Are you tired of the incumbent set? he seems to ask. Then you know what to do.

    Geraghty goes on to note some facts in discord with Huckabee's trying to paint himself as jes' folks: his $2.8 million Florida beachfront house; his recently-concluded $500K contract with Fox News; his $50K+ speaking fee; his PAC that doles out $400K in salaries to his extended family while providing a relative pittance in support of GOP candidates.

  • Rand Paul posted a fake transcript of a phone call between Jeb and Hillary. In this vein:

    Hillary: Well you're right...Maybe we can work something out…we both agree on so many issues! Bigger government, common core, and amnesty for illegal immigrants!

    Jeb: Well, we've both got problems... you've got problems with the grassroots and I've got all those damn conservatives. What say, we make a deal

    Everyone says it's fake, anyway. I'm not too sure.

  • And more news from the Democratic side:

    A group of major liberal donors who want Elizabeth Warren to run for president have paid for a poll intended to show that Hillary Clinton does not excite the Democratic base and would be vulnerable in a 2016 general election.

    Shadowy fat cats trying to push their radical agenda by torpedoing a mainstream candidate? That would be real alarming news if they were Republicans!

    [Update 2017-11-29: wow, that turned out to be prescient! Vulnerable even to Trump!]


Last Modified 2017-11-29 4:12 PM EST