Million Dollar Arm

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

A PG-rated Disney movie starring Jon Hamm. The mind reels. Slightly.

It is based on a true story: Hamm plays sports agent J. B. Bernstein, who has set up a small independent agency with a partner and savvy administrative assistant. They are failing, unable to compete with the big boys. What they need is a Big Idea, and J. B. gets one while channel surfing between an Indian cricket match and "Britain's Got Talent" (the Susan Boyle episode, coincidentally). Hey, what if we set up a reality-TV talent search in India for cricket bowlers to see if they could throw a baseball with speed and accuracy enough to get a shot at a Major League Baseball contract?

Well, that's exactly what happens. It is very formulaic, following (as the astute Mrs. Salad predicted) the Bad News Bears plot recipe right down the line: amusing misadventures based on cultural clash, occasional doom-threatening crises, mistakes are made, lessons are learned, and does everybody wind up more or less happy? No spoilers here, but what do you think?

Lake Bell plays J. B.'s tenant and eventual romantic interest. (Which apparently accurately reflects reality.) Alan Arkin is a crusty agent, and Bill Paxton is a crusty coach tasked with providing the Indian prospects with enough baseball skills to get them to (at least) single-A minor league level. Acting talent raises the quality of the movie to overall watchable.

The Conservative Heart

[Amazon Link]

This book's author, Arthur C. Brooks, was one of the speakers at the "New Hampshire Freedom Summit" I attended last year; I thought he gave the best speech of the day, better than the host of professional pols that also attended. So I was favorably inclined to check out his new book.

This book's breezy, informal, accessible style reminded me of something… but what? Oh, I know: self-help books. Back when I used to read self-help books, this is exactly what they sounded like.

(Nowadays, I figure I'm beyond help.)

But that impression is pretty much on target: Brooks has written a self-help book for conservatives, libertarians, and the GOP. Brooks' thesis: For too long, these groups been satisfied with being right. Shouldn't that be enough? Brooks says no, instead they (we) have the responsibility of packaging their (our) ideas in ways accessible and acceptable to those who can be persuaded by them.

Would it work? Maybe. Among Brooks' suggestions, the one I liked best is for conservatives (et al.) to "fight for people, not against things". I.e., don't be satisfied with an abstract, reactionary response to progressive/socialst proposals: show how your ideas and values act to make peoples' lives better.

Quibble: Much of Brooks' argument involves alleviating American poverty. He (convincingly) argues that the best methods to help the poor is to wean them off government dependence, involve them with private-sector work, provide their children with school choice, and remove the barriers to entrepreneurship they encounter.

He's right. But to what extent is this the politically winning strategy he says it is? I have my doubts. The economic issues in recent campaigns (to the extent I've paid attention to them) seem to be aimed squarely at middle-class pocketbook issues, not poverty issues. Remember the "Life of Julia", a 2012 Obama campaign web presentation, designed to show how an imaginary woman was "helped" throughout her life by various Federal programs (and how Mitt Romney would gut those programs)? Well, there was no pretense that Julia was mired in poverty.

Surveys also indicate—sorry, Arthur!—that people don't consider poverty per se to be a major issue. Check Gallup; the "poverty/hunger/homelessness" issue is nowhere near the top of the list of concerns.

All in all, however, The Conservative Heart is a fine book, written by an insightful and entertaining thinker.