UNH Takes Down Bias-Free Language Guide

As I guessed might happen yesterday, the University Near Here made its "Bias-Free Language Guide" unavailable for web viewing early this morning.

The associate vice president for community, equity and diversity removed the webpage this morning after a meeting with President Huddleston. The president fully supports efforts to encourage inclusivity and diversity on our campuses. He does not believe the guide was in any way helpful in achieving those goals. Speech guides or codes have no place at any American university.

I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting. For people who missed what all the fuss was about, the pre-fuss version of the Guide is memorialized at the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

An article in my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, quotes the president further:

While Huddleston said he respected the right of individuals on campus to express themselves, he said that the “First Amendment is paramount and key to” the University of New Hampshire.

So, a happy ending? Well, I figured I might point out the obvious in a letter to Foster's:

In the wake of the massive unfavorable publicity and ridicule stirred up by the University of New Hampshire's "Bias-Free Language Guide", it was good to see UNH's President Mark Huddleston take a forthright stand in favor of the First Amendment, and make a commitment to "free and unfettered" speech on campus. The bizarre and arrogant guide is now absent from the UNH web server.

I hope President Huddleston follows through on his First Amendment enthusiasm by taking one more step: The Foundation for Individual Rights in education (FIRE) has long classified UNH as a "red light" school, for having "at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech." (https://www.thefire.org/schools/university-of-new-hampshire/). That's at least as embarrassing as the Bias-Free Language Guide.

This shouldn't be hard to remedy: just in New Hampshire, both Dartmouth and Plymouth State have been granted "green light" ratings by FIRE. UNH should strive for the same.

I'll update here if it gets published. [Update: published in Foster's Monday, August 2, right down to my capitalization typo on "education". Gotta start being more diligent on proofing]


Last Modified 2015-08-03 7:07 AM EDT

UNH Language Cops Are Kind of Old News

The University Near Here has its "Bias-Free Language Guide" (BFLG) online, visible to the Whole Wide World, and it has been the subject of much comment and ridicule over the past day or two. (Examples: Jonathan Chait at New York magazine; the (hilarious) "Everything's A Problem" tumblr; Campus Reform; the Daily Caller; the perceptive Steve MacDonald at Granite Grok; Twitchy.)

[Note: UNH President Huddleston is, according to the Portland Press Herald, "troubled and offended" by the BFLG. Can you hear the sound of our local Social Justice Warriors being thrown under the bus? So who knows how long it's going to hang around on our website? Better check it out while you can.]

It's always fun to have one's employer mercilessly mocked, but I'm not sure anyone's taken the trouble to point out: this is not new. The Internet Archive Wayback Machine has versions of the same URL going back to September 2013. And almost all of the stuff that people are (laughing|shaking their heads) at today has been there since then.

Example: The item that many find most amusing is the guide's deeming the use of "American" to refer to United States citizenry to be "Problematic". But that's been in there right along, as near as I can tell. Yes, it's stupid. But UNH is consistently stupid. (Or, I guess I should say: consistently cognitively disabled.)

Not to say there haven't been changes. The 2013 section titled "SEXUAL ORIENTATION" has been broadened; it's now "SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND GENDER IDENTITY", wouldn't want to leave that out; there are a couple of new terms in that section's glossary: "gender expression" and "gender identity". (Not the same thing, buddy, and don't you forget it.)

Some changes are mysterious: in 2013, "preferred" ways to address a group of humans were "Folks, Peeps, People, You All, Y’all". All acceptable ways to avoid the dread "Problematic/Outdated" term "Guys".

But here we are in 2015, and "Peeps" has vanished from the "preferred" list. But neither has it appeared in the "problematic" list. It has been consigned to the Memory Hole, no doubt by some editor who had a bad reaction to a marshmallow peep over Easter.

There are some obvious absurdities, probably inevitable when a document is group-edited by peeps who score high on feeling/thinking ratio. For example: if you refer to someone with no disabilities as "healthy", that is considered "problematic". But this is a mere few paragraphs after claiming that following the BFLG will "create a healthy, more productive classroom culture or work environment." [emphasis added]

What is the innocent reader to think? "Healthy" is OK when you use it as a metaphor, but not to refer to objective reality?

There's more. Much more. If your sport is shooting fish in a barrel, have at it.

But to mention one last thing, the proffered justification for the BFLG is especially egregious: "Starting a Conversation about Word Choice". Presented with the usual who-could-be-against-that framing?

But "conversation" here should be taken in the progressive sense: the one where you listen to us lecture on the current enlightened dogma about matters racial, sexual, and political. After which you will adjust your expression accordingly, or risk being labeled a heretic against UNH's official "value" of "diversity".


Last Modified 2015-07-30 5:40 AM EDT

Enemy

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

As I'm sure I've noted before: Mrs. Salad's Netflix picks tend to the offbeat and bizarre. Sometimes based on nothing more than (in this case): "I like Jake Gyllenhaal". Downside: you wind up watching movies like this sometimes. It was named "Best Canadian Film of the Year" at the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards, but truth be told, it might have been a slow year for movies up there.

Spoilers ahead, probably. Adam is a college history prof, who tells his bored students about Hegel's historicism, which Marx abbreviated to "first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." (He's shown saying this twice—heh!). But while watching an obscure DVD movie, Adam notes a bit-part actor who is literally his double. It's Anthony, who's shown to be a dissolute, disagreeable jerk and pervert. Adam and Anthony eventually meet, and before you can say: "nothing good can come of this", it doesn't.

Keep your eye on the spiders, folks.

Problem: like many pretentiously arty movies, this one has endless (but pointless) shots of scenery (especially the ugly Brutalist architecture of Adam's school), Gyllenhaal-as-Adam wandering around looking lost and moody, tricky lighting, and the like. Cut those out, trim some of the gratuitous nudity, and you've got a pretty good 60-minute episode of Night Gallery with room for commercials.

If Not Us, Who?

[Amazon Link]

I got this as a freebie for renewing my subscription to National Review awhile back. (You can only have so many NR t-shirts or coffee mugs.) And it finally percolated to the top of my to-be-read pile. Written by David B. Frisk, it is a hefty tome, 438 pages of text, over 60 pages of endnotes.

And what's it about? It is a biography of William A. Rusher (1923-2011), the publisher of National Review for about thirty of those years, from 1957 until his retirement in 1988. In addition to his work at the magazine, Rusher was also a political activist, heavily involved in an effort to steer the Republican Party to a more consistently conservative direction. Although his early GOP efforts were in support of Dewey and Ike, he came around to a solid conservatism after being disillusioned with the Eisenhower presidency.

Rusher was considerably different from NR's famous editor, William F. Buckley Jr. Buckley was born rich, comfortable moving in sophisticated society, totally charming. Rusher was from a modest background, working his way into Harvard Law, very much the practical politician, obsessed with devising winning strategies. WFB was the golden retriever in the limo, Rusher the pitbull in the street.

It's surprising things worked as well as they did at the magazine. Frisk does a good job of describing the inner wangling factions at NR, often setting Rusher at odds not only with WFB, but also with such eminences as James Burnham. There were disagreements aplenty: what the overall tone of the magazine should be; which political candidates should be supported, which dumped; just how dismissive should the magazine be toward conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites, and other fringe-dwellers. (Shrinking the tent of acceptability is fine in theory, but once you start factoring in the loss of subscribers, contributors, and advertisers, it gets more difficult.)

Rusher was a huge Goldwater fan in the early 1960s, a major force pushing him into his 1964 presidential candidacy. Frisk reminds us that, like any sane person would be, Goldwater was unenthusiastic about running. He seems only to have embraced the process when it was clear he wouldn't win.

But the Goldwater campaign was successful at beating the liberal Republicans, and it hatched the political career of conservatism's most shining success, Ronald Reagan. Rusher was an active participant there too. He never liked Nixon much, and wanted Reagan to be the nominee in 1968.

Outside of politics, well… there wasn't much there to Rusher. Never married, a few close friends. Obviously his choice, but somewhat sad.

I can't recommend this book to anyone who isn't really interested in the history of the US conservative political movement. At times it seems that there's no memo so inconsequential, no squabble so trivial, that Frisk doesn't describe it. Still, it's readable, and will act as a lasting memory to someone who undoubtedly had a major effect on his times.

The Phony Campaign

2015-07-26 Update

[phony baloney]

The prognosticators at PredictWise have raised Joe Biden's probability of being Our Next President to 2%, so he's back, baby:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-07-19
"Jeb Bush" phony 924,000 -96,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 697,000 -4,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 468,000 +63,000
"Donald Trump" phony 259,000 +18,000
"Rand Paul" phony 157,000 -11,000
"Joe Biden" phony 136,000 ---
"Scott Walker" phony 112,000 -16,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 105,000 -15,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 99,300 -13,700

  • MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Slams Jeb Bush for Visiting a ‘Fake Abortion Clinic’? Wow, that's a grabber.

    That turned out to be News from Planet Rachel. On Planet Earth, Jeb was visiting the Carolina Pregnancy Center, which (indeed) does not perform abortions.

    Is the Carolina Pregnancy Center, as Rachel claimed, falsely "designed to look like they provide abortions to patients"? Well, you have to be pretty oblivious to get that impression. In fact, if you can't figure it out from their home page, you have to travel one mere mouseclick from there to learn that they "do not offer, recommend, or refer for abortions."

    Some people out there get their news from Rachel. Pity them.

  • The NYT gives a tonguebath to its favored candidate: Bernie Sanders’s ‘100% Brooklyn’ Roots Are as Unshakable as His Accent.

    “I’m very proud of the fact that he speaks Brooklyn, because he’s not a phony, and that shows,” said Marty Alpert, who used to cheer for Mr. Sanders when he was on the track team at James Madison High School, where she is now on the alumni board.

    Unassailable logic there.

  • At Reason, Nick Gillespie puts forth the question: Agree or Disagree?: Rand Paul Should Go Libertarian or Go Home. Noting that Paul has lowered his score on the Libertarian Purity Test:

    As a matter of fact, on a bunch of recent issues, Paul has been very close to other, more-consciously conservative Republican candidates than to any vision of libertarianism. His response to the murder of a San Francisco woman by an illegal immigrant, for instance, was to denounce "Sanctuary Cities" and support an onerous surveillance program. He's against the Iran deal. While he was quick to call for yanking the Confederate battle flag from public grounds, he was slow-to-never in challenging Donald Trump's moronic view of Mexican immigrants as mostly criminal or to issue a statement about the Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage (he eventually said he wants to privatize marriage). Earlier in the year, he supported more defense spending than a couple of GOP hawks (albeit, Paul wanted to pay for the increases with offsets elsewhere in the budget).

    Big surprise: when you blur your branding enough to blend in with the other candidates, you don't give anyone any special reason to vote for you.

  • Huck went on Fox & Friends and meandered extemporaneously:

    Huckabee said that Trump has “struck a nerve with people,” and “I’ll be honest with you, a lot of the things that he’s saying, those are things that, in many ways, I’ve been saying those for eight years, before he was a Republican. Things like talking about how China has cheated. Talking about how there is this Wall Street-to-Washington axis of power that grinds out jobs against Americans. I mean, these are themes that I’ve been talking about. But, let me say this, if you put as much air in my balloon, not just you, but if all the media, will pump the air in my balloon, as has been pumped into Donald Trump’s balloon, I’ll be leading the pack as well.”

    Thanks be to Huck for reminding us that there's more than one know-nothing demagogic populist on the GOP side.

Manhattan Melodrama

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

Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, William Powell. While I suppose it would be possible for those people to make an unwatchable movie, this isn't it.

Gable and Powell play Blackie and Jim, respectively. They are literally boyhood chums. A tragic riverboat fire bonds them for life, but they take divergent paths: Jim becomes a crusading attorney, destined to root out organized crime and corruption, while Blackie adopts the path of a gentleman gangster, with a slightly off-kilter sense of honor about him.

Myrna Loy, lovely as always, is Eleanor, initially Blackie's moll, but won away (literally) overnight by Jim, as she realizes Blackie's essential disreputableness, and is charmed by Jim's honorable intentions and traditional values.

All this—well, you see the title—sets up inevitable conflict driven by a contrived plot. And it's all pretty good stuff, because those three can make anything believable, and make you care about how things are going to turn out.

Under the Skin

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Looking over the reviews, it seems that this is one of those love-it-or-hate-it polarizing flicks. I would bet on a bimodal distribution of user ratings. I come down on the side of "arty, pretentious junk", sorry to the filmmakers.

It did, however, win at the Golden Schmoes Awards for "Trippiest Movie of the Year". So maybe take that as a suggestion as to what you need to ingest to make the movie watchable.

Scarlett Johansson plays (according to IMDB) "The Female". In cooperation with a motorcyclist, she dons the clothes of a recently-deceased woman, gets made up at a local store, and sets off on her mission. Which seems to involve enticing lonely Scottish guys back to her lair where they (under her alien spell) sink into a large dark pool and dissolve. After a few rounds of this, she seems confused and wanders off. But things eventually come to an unsatisfying and ambiguous conclusion.

This is apparently your go-to movie for Scarlett Johansson nudity. But, trust me, it's arty/dark enough to remove any titillation factor. And in between there are more than enough pointless (but seemingly endless) shots of drab Scottish scenery.

The Phony Campaign

2015-07-19 Update

[phony baloney]

The fickle oddsmakers at PredictWise have dropped Christie and Biden below our 2% threshold, but behold! Mike Huckabee has arisen to take their place. This is Huck's first appearance in the poll, and he's already in a solid second place:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-07-12
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,020,000 -110,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 701,000 ---
"Hillary Clinton" phony 405,000 -8,000
"Donald Trump" phony 241,000 +14,000
"Rand Paul" phony 168,000 -4,000
"Scott Walker" phony 128,000 +19,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 120,000 +4,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 113,000 -10,000

In recent phony news:

  • The Donald dragged himself back into the spotlight by saying something stupid and offensive about John McCain. I concur with the sentiments of Matt Welch:

    What has gone underplayed in today's widespread outrage over Donald Trump's dismissal of John McCain's war heroism is that the GOP national-poll front-runner's comments, besides demonstrating an idiocratic lack of basic human judgment and decency, are also dead wrong.

    Because this is Donald Trump, and Donald Trump is a vulgar anti-intellect who cannot string a coherent paragraph together, his full statement contradicts itself several times within 57 short words.

    If you need reminding of just how dead wrong Trump was, check out the whole thing.

    Pun Salad is no fan of McCain as a person or politician. As noted back in March 2008: he's a jerk. And note that Trump's comment was in the wake of McCain's accusation that Trump had "fired up the crazies" in a Phoenix rally. Referring to thousands of McCain's own constituents.

    Pun Salad did not enjoy Star Trek season 3 much, but wishes for a solution to the McCain/Trump brawl similar to the episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield": beam them both down to a desolate planet, let them fight it out, while the rest of us move along at warp speed.

  • The NYT reported on the doin's of man-of-the-people Bernie Sanders last weekend:

    […] Mr. Sanders quietly stepped off the campaign trail this weekend to visit Martha’s Vineyard, a favorite summer destination of the country’s elite, in order to mix with representatives of some of the same interests he inveighs against in his stump speech.

    Mr. Sanders attended the annual Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fund-raiser on the Massachusetts island, a popular gathering that draws some of the most prominent business lobbyists and fund-raisers in the Democratic Party.

    A "prominent attendee" was anonymously quoted as saying that Bernie's presence at the affair (which had a $37K admission fee) "suggested he was more pragmatic than his rhetoric would let on."

    Pragmatic? That's an interesting way to spell "phony". (See the Weekly Standard for a funny poster.)

  • Reuters reports that computer algorithms used by analytics firms to harvest data from social media are flummoxed by "sarcasm and mockery". And—you see where this is going—that's a particular problem for political campaigns using those results to target advertising dollars. Example:

    Haystaq, a predictive analysis firm, examined Tweets containing the expression “classy” and found 72 percent of them used it in a positive way. But when used near the name of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, around three quarters of tweets citing "classy" were negative.

    <sarcasm>I certainly hope that campaigns don't waste money on poorly-targeted ads!</sarcasm>

  • Martin O'Malley hasn't cracked the 2% barrier at PredictWise lately, but we'll blog about him anyway. In just a few hours timespan:

    1. O'Malley made a horrific gaffe at the left-wing Netroots Nation conference by saying: "Black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter." The last two phrases departed from the current Progressive Holy Writ enough to get him booed off the stage.

    2. An abject apology was not long in forthcoming.

    3. Which caused this tweet in response:

    Note to analytic software algorithms: the above tweet is mockery. I repeat: mockery.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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

A tongue-in-cheek fantasy spy thriller. We don't get enough of those.

Mr. Darcy himself, Colin Firth, plays Harry Hart, an agent for "Kingsman", a super-secret private espionage organization. In a strained allegory, the agency is run by "Arthur" (Michael Caine); there's a technical wizard "Merlin" (Mark Strong); Harry's code name is "Galahad". You get the idea.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Long ago, Harry's life was saved by the noble sacrifice of a fellow agent. He tracks down the agent's son, "Eggsy", who's living a lower-class life with his slutty mom, hanging out with street thugs. Harry recruits Eggsy into a grueling Kingsman "boot camp", where he competes to be the "last man standing" in increasingly dangerous tests of perilous adventure.

Just in time, too. Because a nefarious plot is in progress, masterminded by "Valentine" (Samuel L. Jackon) and his deadly-but-gorgeous assistant "Gazelle" (Sofia Boutella). It involves massive worldwide casualties in service of (here's a twist) eco-nuttiness.

And also: hey, that's Mark Hamill.

While Drowning in the Desert

[Amazon Link]

The fifth and (so far) final book in Don Winslow's "Neal Carey" series, originally published in 1996. This is significantly more light-hearted than the first four.

My take on the previous entries in the series: here, here, here, and here. Although seemingly out of print, they're available and inexpensive for Kindle.

Neal is enjoying semi-retirement in a remote Nevada town with his fiancée Karen. Two problems: Karen decides she wants a baby. Like, right now. And his "dad", Graham, calls with an assignment: Neal needs to escort the aging vaudeville comic Natty Silver from Las Vegas back to his home in the California desert.

Natty is a motormouthed jokester, delivering his patter and shaggy-dog stories to any willing listener. (And also to Neal, who's unwilling.) But there's more going on than Neal is aware of. Specifically, Natty is the target of a desperate Nazi arsonist who wants him dead.

Things eventually work out.

I don't know if Don Winslow has any plans for writing more about Neal. I, for one, would like to know how his life turned out, here nearly twenty years later. Did he and Karen have those babies? Did he ever get his English Literature doctorate? Is he out there teaching bored undergrads about his beloved Tobias Smollett? C'mon, Mr. Winslow, I bet there's a lot of people who want to know what happened next!

By the People

[Amazon Link]

Subtitle: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission.

I am something of a Charles Murray fan. I think his 1988 book In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government remains the best introduction to libertarian philosophy I've seen. He's been a consistent advocate of the values I most appreciate: personal responsibility, humane individualism, mutual respect, and so on. I buy his books automatically.

By the People is a diagnosis and possible remedy of major flaws in modern American society and our government, combining history, sociology, and legal analysis. Murray considers the "Madisonian" vision of the founding fathers, and shows how that vision has been trashed over the past 8 decades or so. (Not that flaws didn't appear earlier with Wilsonian "progressivism".) Our legal system is a thick morass of vague rules that a sufficiently zealous prosecutor can use to make his chosen targets miserable. Ditto for essentially unregulated regulatory agencies. Our politics are systematically corrupt with both parties more than willing to play the "public choice" game, doing big favors for well-connected constituents, spreading the costs out to the unaware masses.

What to do? Murray suggests strategic civil disobedience, fueled by the (so far) imaginary "Madison Fund", designed to defend the flouters of unjust laws and stupid regulations. The theory: make it expensive for Big Government to force its pet policies down the throats of the citizenry. Essentially, he hopes, the most outrageous legal bullying will become totally impractical.

Murray describes why he thinks this might be a winning strategy, in his usual accessible prose. I hope he's correct about that.

The Phony Campaign

2015-07-12 Update

[phony baloney]

For the first time since May, there are no changes to our phony presidential pol population. According to PredictWise, the following have a 2% or better chance of being the next White House inhabitant:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-07-05
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,130,000 +70,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 413,000 +11,000
"Donald Trump" phony 227,000 -41,000
"Rand Paul" phony 172,000 -10,000
"Chris Christie" phony 149,000 -13,000
"Joe Biden" phony 135,000 -4,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 123,000 +9,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 116,000 -31,000
"Scott Walker" phony 109,000 +4,000

  • A. Barton Hinkle notes (at Reason) that "Phonies Dominate Presidential Race". (A theme Pun Salad has been singing since, oh, 2007.)

    Hillary comes in for scorn, obviously. Also Jindal, Christie, Walker, Paul, and Cruz. A. Bart concludes:

    Granted, it's a trifle naive to ask for authenticity from most presidential candidates. You might as well ask a school of hungry piranha to show a little self-restraint. Still, if recent history offers any clue of what is to come for the next 18 months, it's a safe bet Holden Caulfield won't be the only one who wants to throw up.

    I always thought Holden's standards were a little too high.

  • Jonathan S. Tobin writes in Commentary about "Scott Walker’s Flip-Flop Problem" and he's not talking about ancient computer circuitry. Note: Tobin relies heavily on a heavily disputed report that claimed that Walker was saying one thing to pro-immigration think-tankers, something else out on the populist hustings. But still:

    With the first GOP debate only a month away, it is no longer possible to excuse Walker’s missteps as the inevitable mistakes of a rookie on the national stage. Walker needs to make up his mind about immigration and stick to it. Walker’s flip flop problem is real. If he continues to need his staff to pressure people to walk back accounts of his flip-flopping, he’s going to find himself outflanked by conviction conservatives on the right who need no such help as well as other Republicans who are prepared to stick to their guns in the same manner that Walker demonstrated back in 2011 when he was besieged by the unions.

    Walker's official entry into the race is, as they say, imminent.

  • I should have blogged this before, but: at Legal Insurrection, Jay Caruso analyzes "Hillary Clinton And Her Phony Spotify Playlist".

    Key takeaway (quoted from the linked CNN article): "None of the 14 songs on the 67-year-old candidate’s playlist was released before 1999."

    Hil's list includes a song ("Break Free") featuring the nefarious donut-licking Ariana Grande; I can't help but wonder if that track will be quietly dropped.

  • Professor Althouse articulates something that has been percolating incoherently in my own brain for a while, springing off Hillary's recent CNN interview where her dismal "trustworthiness" numbers were discussed.

    Yes, she lies constantly. You know that. I know that. She knows that.

    And I suspect that when she talks this over with her advisers, a central idea is: Politicians are dishonest. Everyone knows that and everyone thinks that. It's trifling that it shows up in a poll that people think Hillary is dishonest. It's like a poll showing people think the sky is blue. The important thing is, people are familiar and at home with Hillary's dishonesty. It's a comfortable old friend. We know all about it. It's acquired a transparency of its own. But what is the dishonesty of all those other candidates? That is the mystery. That is what people should worry about — all the strange ways in which Jeb/Marco/Scott/Rand/Ted/etc. are dishonesty. So confusing and disturbing. Who knows how to begin to delve into that swamp? Best to stay with good old dishonest Hillary!

    I don't know if that's accurate. It could be.

American Sniper

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

Wait a minute. You're telling me that this movie didn't win the Best Picture Oscar? And it lost to Birdman?!

I mean, I love Michael Keaton and everything. But how does a movie about an unlikeable semi-insane self-centered actor win over this movie?

Oh well. Hollywood. At least it was nominated for Best Picture. (Also: Best Director, Clint Eastwood; Best Actor, Bradley Cooper; Best Adapted Screenplay, Jason Hall. It won for Sound Editing.)

Everyone kind of knows the plot, but: the movie follows Chris Kyle, mostly centered on his exploits in Iraq, trying to save his fellow soldiers from the savage attacks of the insurgents that popped up post-Saddam. There's plenty of ass-clenching suspense and action, but the movie also shows the dreadful toll of war on Kyle, his fellow troops, and his family. It does that without following the easy anti-American tropes of other recent Iraq movies.

It's very powerful, even when you wait to see it on DVD. Recommended.

Wild Tales

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

I put this into the Netflix queue on a whim. But it's #214 on IMDB's top 250 movies of all time (as I type), and was nominated for Best Foreign Language movie last year. (It's Argentinian, and you should see how it did at the Argentinian Oscars! They thought it was the best movie ever!)

It is actually a collection of six shorter movies, with no particular relation other than having characters dropped into stressful situations. The IMDB lists the genres as "Comedy, Drama, Thriller", but be warned, the comedy is pretty darn dark.

Summaries: (1) passengers on a plane flight realize they seem to have more in common than one might expect; (2) a waitress and a cook at a late-night restaurant deal with an unpleasant customer; (3) a road rage incident on a remote highway escalates dramatically; (4) a demolition engineer reacts poorly to having his car towed by a rip-off company (yeah, they have those in Argentina too, I guess); (5) a father tries to cover up his son's involvment in a fatal hit-and-run; and (6) a bride discovers her new husband's infidelity and turns her wedding into an emotional roller-coaster.

I enjoyed some more than others, but all were watchable. It put me in mind of the old "anthology" TV shows, like Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Certainly such a series could thrive in these days of cheapie video?


Last Modified 2015-07-08 5:01 AM EDT

Under Tower Peak

[Amazon Link]

I was encouraged to pick up this book by a glowing review in the WSJ back in 2013. (Yes, it can take a while to get to items in my TBR pile.) Comparisons to Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, and Jim Harrison were made. And I found it a pretty good read too. It is an auspicious debut novel for author Bart Paul.

The narrator and protagonist is Tommy Smith. He and his longtime buddy Lester work in the California mountain wilderness, wrangling horses and acting as guides for tourists who want to rough it in the outdoors. But on an expedition near a remote pass through the Sierras, Tommy and Lester happen upon a plane crash and the pilot's corpse. They remember news stories from months back about a missing billionaire, and reach the obviously correct conclusion: they found him.

Tommy wants to do the obviously correct thing: report the crash site and the body when they return to civilization. But Lester gets way too clever, grabbing the dead guy's Rolex and some loose cash. Tommy reluctantly refrains from doing the right thing. But things get worse: Lester and his girlfriend launch a crackpot scheme to grab some of the billionaire's family fortune in return for their knowledge.

Unfortunate choice, because (as it turns out) there are people who would just as soon keep the billionaire's death unrevealed. And if the only way to do that is to kill everyone who can say different? Okay, fine!

Tommy, just like Liam Neeson, has "certain skills" that might ensure survival. What ensues is a cat-and-mouse can't-trust-anyone thriller.

The Phony Campaign

2015-07-05 Update

[phony baloney]

Chris Christie breaks the (arbitrary) 2% Predictwise threshold today, so he returns to our poll. (His most recent appearance was back in February.)

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-06-28
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,060,000 -180,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 402,000 -29,000
"Donald Trump" phony 268,000 +89,000
"Rand Paul" phony 182,000 +1,000
"Chris Christie" phony 162,000 ---
"Bernie Sanders" phony 147,000 +61,200
"Joe Biden" phony 139,000 +1,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 114,000 -2,000
"Scott Walker" phony 105,000 +8,800

What's new in the world of presidential political phoniness?

  • Chris Christie officially announced his candidacy on Tuesday; the NYT welcomed him with an editorial: "Gov. Chris Christie’s Phony Truth-Telling". As you might expect, they are not fans, and much of it is predictable partisan sniping. Still:

    Sometimes, Mr. Christie wants to make himself a strong, reliable right-winger. He told an anti-gun-control crowd in South Carolina in June, for example, that all of New Jersey’s gun laws preceded his tenure and “no new ones have been made since I’ve been governor.” Actually, he signed three major pieces of gun-control legislation.

    So keep your hand on your wallet when Christie comes to town.

  • Jaime Fuller of New York Magazine writes a brief hit-piece on Jeb: "Jeb Bush and His Friends Have Spent a Lot of Time Explaining His Bad Business Deals". (Although the URL implies the original headline was something like "Jeb Bush Has Apologized a Lot For Helping Crooks".) It is mostly a summary of reporting done by others, including the Washington Post, but still …

    One of Bush's real-estate friends gave the Post the most amusing spin for Bush's nonexistent business bullshit detector, saying that the presidential candidate has a “record for having only a few clients who ultimately turned out to be less than truthful is remarkable, and that record would compare favorably with any firm in this business, either in Miami or another city.” We should be impressed that a presidential candidate didn't get involved in more shady dealings — especially in Florida!

    Jeb appears to be a poor judge of character. Not a quality you really look for in a president.

    By the way, the double standard we can expect from "journalists" is on full display in Fuller's article. An arguably more sleazy association of Hillary Clinton with convicted drug smuggler Jorge Cabrera is briefly described. There's even a picture of Hillary and Jorge in front of a Christmas tree at a White House reception. This is dismissed airily with "that’s what politicians do" and "how would Hillary have known?"

  • Allahpundit considers recent stories about candidate Scott Walker reassuring pro-immigration Stephen Moore that "I’m not going nativist; I’m pro-immigration," allegedly contradicting his current public stance.

    Allahpundit speculates: "Maybe he was BSing Moore."

    Or maybe he’s BSing us. Between his previous agonizing immigration flip-flop-flipping, his well-timed reversal on ethanol in Iowa, and his sudden rediscovery of social conservatism, I don’t really believe anything Walker says anymore. He’s the most conspicuous panderer among the field’s top candidates. If there’s anyone running who might be telling voters one thing in the name of getting elected while telling donors and establishment allies another, it’s him.

  • The NYT unearthed some Deep Thoughts from Bernie Sanders' writings for The Vermont Freeman. Particularly lurid was a column entitled “The Revolution Is Life Versus Death"

    The piece began with an apocalyptically alarmist account of the unbearable horror of having an office job in New York City, of being among “the mass of hot dazed humanity heading uptown for the 9-5,” sentenced to endless days of “moron work, monotonous work.”

    “The years come and go,” Mr. Sanders wrote, in all apparent seriousness. “Suicide, nervous breakdown, cancer, sexual deadness, heart attack, alcoholism, senility at 50. Slow death, fast death. DEATH.”

    So was Bernie about 17 when he wrote that? No, he was thirty. (Or, as the NYT puts it, "barely 30", as if that's an excuse.)


Last Modified 2015-07-07 3:42 PM EDT

The Shadow University

[Amazon Link]

Subtitle: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses. This book is © 1998, seventeen years ago as I type. (Yes, it took a very long time to get to the top of the to-be-read pile. Sue me.)

One author, Alan Charles Kors, is a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania; the other, Harvey Silverglate, is a Massachusetts lawyer. After this book came out, they founded FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, still going strong.

The book starts out with a particularly egregious example: 1993's persecution of Eden Jacobowitz, a student who yelled "Shut up, you water buffalo" out of his UPenn dorm window to a group of boisterous students below. Unfortunately for Eden, the targets of this shouted demand were mostly black females, who complained. Penn administrators demanded a disproportionate and unjust punishment. But unlike most students, Eden fought back. (Prof Kors was his advocate, to his good fortune.) Eventually, it became a national cause célèbre and Penn backed down.

Eden's case had a happy conclusion, but the drawn-out battle, wasteful, draining, and contentious as it was, was its own punishment. And, as Kors and Silverlate show, it was hardly an outlier.

One might expect universities, of all places, to be champions of free and unfettered discussion, due process for accused misbehavior, and tolerance for oddball, unpopular views. But, as Kors and Silverglate show with sometimes mind-numbing recitations of case after case, exactly the opposite is true. Mostly drawing from the 1980s and 1990s, they detail arbitrary penalties and unfair procedures, mostly aimed at the unfortunate minorities deemed to be politically incorrect. They are predictably and justifiably outraged.

The roots of this behavior, the book argues, lie in the 1960s, where are generation of deep thinkers learned Herbert Marcuse's Marxist philosophy, with special attention to his theory of repressive tolerance: the notion that fair treatment of all ideas only benefits capitalistic domination of the masses. Hence, some ideas should be "more equal than others", and there's nothing wrong with people holding "correct" views suppressing rival opinions.

Now, to be fair, only a small (but very vocal) fraction of today's university personnel are true Marcusean social justice warriors. But the strident oft find allies with the spineless. In this case, go-along-to-get-along administrators whose primary interest is in keeping controversy and contention (with its attendant bad publicity) to a minimum.

The results, over and over, are episodes that seem like they could spring from a novel co-written by Franz Kafka, George Orwell, and Ayn Rand: secretive and power-drunk villains deploy their full arbitrary powers against (at best) minor infractions and offenses. As in Eden's case, the good guys usually prevail, but only after excruciating legal procedures and publicity.

There are a lot of New Hampshire roots in the book, going back to 1942's Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, based on an incident that happened just up the street in Rochester, which generated the regrettable "fighting words" limitation on First Amendment rights. There was also Wooley v. Maynard, the irony-inspired case of the free thinker who got in trouble for taping over the "Live Free or Die" motto on his license plates.

New Hampshire's university system is also (sadly) well-represented here, going back to the 1950s, the state's efforts to hassle then-professor Paul Sweezy about his (acknowledged) Marxist views and associates is discussed. In more modern times, there was UNH's efforts to discipline Professor J. Donald Silva for allegedly creating a “hostile and offensive environment” in his classroom with his (um) colorful analogies and examples. Up north at Plymouth State, Leroy Young, a graphic design professor was summarily canned after allegations of sexual harassment of his students. (I'm not sure how Young's suit against Plymouth and USNH turned out.)

[Well after the book came out, UNH showed that it hadn't learned much about free expression by evicting a student who posted a satirical flier in his dorm's elevator. UNH continues to have a red light rating from FIRE for its unconsitutionally overbroad policy on "sexual harassment".]

So: while you might expect a 17-year-old book on then-current events to be dated, it turns out (regrettably) not to be at all. The mentalities and procedures it describes are still in vogue in American higher ed, as any look at recent headlines shows. (See, for example: here; here; here, all easily-found stories from the past few weeks.) Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, or as President Eisenhower [never actually] said: things are more like they are today than they've ever been before.

A relatively new wrinkle is the Obama Administration's aggressive (and probably unconstitutional, but what's new) push to force schools and colleges to cut back on due process and free speech via an expansive interpretation of its authority granted by anti-discrimination statutes, like the famous Title IX. This book doesn't cover that, obviously, but it's easy to see how it could be the source for Volume II.

Jersey Boys

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

As a kid, songs by the Four Seasons were in my soundtrack. Like most baby boomers, I suppose. I wasn't a major fan, but I can still rattle off (at least partial) lyrics from their hits.

So this was a natural choice for the Netflix queue. It is based on the hit Broadway musical, and directed by the immortal Clint Eastwood. It relates the story of how the group came together, their connections (mostly innocuous) to mobsters, inner frictions, family woes, and—well, I think it hits every cliché about celebrity rise and fall you could imagine. But I suppose sometimes things are clichés because they're based in fundamental truths. Millions of years of evolution did not prepare mere humans to deal with superstardom.

It's a pretty good yarn—I stayed awake for the whole thing, anyhow, which is increasingly rare these days. But it's way too long (134 minutes). I was surprised to learn that the songs were actually performed live on set by the actors, many of whom were from the Broadway cast. They're good!

Christopher Walken appears as a benevolent gangster, I kept wishing for him to drop a "more cowbell" line.

Rated R, entirely for bad language. (Except in New Jersey, where it's rated "G": a child is likely to hear far worse in the home.)