12 Years a Slave

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link]

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For some reason we Dropped The Ball on watching our Netflix DVDs over the past couple months. We seem to have been always playing catchup (via the TiVo) with our regular TV viewing habits. With most of our shows in reruns, we'll probably start DVDing more intensely.

And we started off with 12 Years a Slave, which won three Oscars, including Best Movie. (The others were for Lupita Nyong'o as Best Supporting Actress and Best Writing Adapted Screenplay). It was nominated in six more categories. And the IMDB raters have made it (as I type) #146 on the Top 250 movies of all time. I don't know about that, but it's pretty good.

The story is fact-based on the experiences of Solomon Northup, a free black man with a loving family, living in Saratoga New York, employed as a violinist. Enticed off to a good-paying gig in Washington DC, he is quickly kidnapped, and coerced into assuming the identity of a runaway slave. And then it's off to the South, where he experiences… well, you see the title up there.

The everyday horrors of slavery (over and above the simple obscenity of one person claiming another as property) are displayed explicitly and relentlessly: the everyday violence and torture; the breakup of families; grueling forced labor; betrayal, despair, injustices grand and petty.

There are also occasional hints of the dreadful psychological and cultural toll on the whites involved in the slave culture. Michael Fassbender plays the role of the horrid slave-owner Epps, but not as a cartoonish mustache-twirler: he's somewhat haunted and torn by his own depravity and corruption. (Not enough to actually be a decent human being, but still.)

I should point out that the iconoclastic historian Thaddeus Russell is not a fan:

He's referring to Northrup's original memoir, an "as told to" book that was used as fuel for the abolitionist movement. Point taken. But it's only a guilt-fest if one somehow feels responsible for being vaguely the same color as most of the bad guys here; I don't.

Last Modified 2024-01-27 5:40 AM EDT

How Not To Sell Your Privacy Product

If you are a dinosaur (like me) and still use e-mail, you should check your Spam/Junk folder every so often. The obvious reason: even very good spam filters will sometimes mistakenly classify a good message as spam.

The not-so-obvious reason: some spam is unintentionally very funny.

Up on Gmail (where my address is sand.paul@gmail.com), I've been getting incessant mail for months from "mylife.com". A recent example is from a scary e-mail address:

[From: Public Record Alert <mylife@mail.mylife.com>]

An alert! Aieee! Identity theft! I knew I should have stayed away from our local Target store!

Even an unusually naïve person might have gotten a little skeptical when reading the Subject line:

[Subject: Sandy, erase your public information from the web]

But wait! I'm not… er…

What follows might be scarifying: "5 or More Sites May Be Displaying Your Information". OK, so not identity theft. But still: oh no!

Just to remove all doubt, mylife.com pulls out its trump card:

[Not even close]

Take my word for it: my name is not Sandy Paulin. I do not live in Gooding, Idaho (although it looks like a nice place). And the age of 51 I can't even spy in my rear-view mirror any more.

So, is this any way to get people to visit your website? MyLife, if your best guess is this far off, why should I worry about anyone else trying to find me?

(Parenthetically, I should mention that Reason magazine did a much better job of this back in 2004 when they sent me my issue with an aerial shot of my own house on the cover.)

Anyway: the Wikipedia entry for MyLife demonstrates that they've operated for years on the shady side of the web. Sample:

Hundreds of frustrated customers have turned to online complaint forums, describing the MyLife site as "a total scam" and a "rip-off."

So: laugh, but stay away.

Moonlight Mile

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In the private-eye genre, there are prolific writers, and then there's Dennis Lehane: he's cranked out all of six novels with Boston-based heroes Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro over the past twenty years. Recently, he's shown more interest in standalone works not so easily pigeonholed (Shutter Island, Mystic River, etc.) No spoilers, but Moonlight Mile could easily be the last Kenzie/Gennaro book.

It is a sequel of sorts to Gone Baby Gone (which was also a pretty good movie), in which Patrick and Angie worked to find an abducted four-year-old girl, Amanda McCready. The ending of that book was heart-rending. As one character observes here, Patrick "did the right thing. But it was still wrong." It wrecked the lives of many well-meaning people, placed Amanda back into the custody of her dreadfully dysfunctional bio-mother, and (at least temporarily) ruined Patrick's and Angie's budding romantic relationship.

But it's twelve years later, Patrick and Angie are married, with a beautiful four-year-old of their own. Things aren't perfect: they're on the edge of financial disaster. Patrick is trying to wangle a full-time investigator job with a prestigious Boston firm, but it remains just out of reach, due to the huge chip on his shoulder born of working-class resentment against the well-to-do; he can't disguise his contempt for the firm's rich clients.

And then comes the bombshell: Amanda, now sixteen years old, has apparently gone missing again. The ripples of Gone Baby Gone extend into the previous day. Patrick and Angie go on the hunt, and bump up against (once again) Amanda's disgusting mother and her new boyfriend; Amanda's high school classmates, teachers, and counselors; petty thieves who are paid to chase them off the case; and eventually some very nasty Russian mobsters. Patrick follows the slimy and dangerous trail where it leads, out of a sense of duty born of his unsatisfactory resolution of Amanda's case twelve years ago.

Lehane is a wonderful writer, and I'm very fond of this series. If it must end, so be it, but I'll be sad.

Last Modified 2024-01-27 5:40 AM EDT

Particle Fever

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

We've been undergoing a real dearth of movie-watching of late. But Pun Daughter and her boyfriend dragged us out of our rut for a trip to Portsmouth to see Particle Fever at the Music Hall Loft. (Venue review: it was my first time there, the movie was 99 minutes, and the seating in the theatre would not have been tolerable for much more than that.)

Particle Fever is a documentary about the search for the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), just outside of Geneva, straddling the border between France and Switzerland. As a physics major, I appreciated that the movie's heroes are physicists, both theoretical and experimental, the real-life versions of the fictional characters on The Big Bang Theory. We follow a handful of them over a few years, as the LHC approaches its go-live date, and experimental results start to trickle out.

At this level, the physics is difficult for laymen to comprehend. (And me too; I never got more than hand-waving close to the sophisticated theory underpinning the Standard Model of elementary particles.) But the basic idea is simple to understand: you collide protons, moving at 0.999999991c, head-on into each other, easily overcoming their normal electric repulsion, let them rip each other apart, and examine what flies out of the collisions. You would never see a Higgs Boson directly, but what you do see would strongly imply its existence and properties.

The movie understandably glosses over the details of the physics, just lets the physicists talk, occasionally scrawling incomprehensible formulae and Feynman diagrams on chalkboards. Neither is there an effort to go beyond superficial descriptions of the experimental setup. (The moviemakers probably correctly judged at what point their audience's eyes would start glazing over.) There is some mumbo-jumbo about What It All Means: if the Higgs is found, then its observed mass makes various theories of supersymmetry and multiverses either more or less likely, which has implications for (yes) the Big Bang Theory, and how the universe will either end, or not.

There is heartbreak, caused by an accident that destroys some of the accelerator's superconducting magnets, causing a shutdown of over a year. But there's also triumph as the two independent teams searching for the Higgs present their results, with Peter Higgs himself in the audience. (Spoiler: yes, they found it.)

Quibble: The movie takes shots at the US's cancellation of its own big-physics machine, the Superconducting Supercollider near Waxahachie, Texas. Brief C-SPAN clips from 1993 of a couple of GOP Congresscritters are shown decrying the expenditure of billions on the facility; the movie wants us to jeer at the ignorant yahoos (and the Portsmouth audience complied, of course) carrying out the long-running Republican War on Science!

But that's a mistaken impression. Democrats were in control of the House when the SSC funding was cut, the termination was orchestrated by Jim Slattery, a House Democrat from Kansas, and the Congressional votes were bipartisan. The movie's story in this area is a drive-by cheap shot.

Other than that, the movie is very watchable, competently put together, imaginative at times, funny at others, occasionally visually stunning.

Last Modified 2024-02-02 5:20 AM EDT

Intellectuals and Race

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Another book filched for me by the sainted staff of Dimond Library at the University Near Here; this time, from the Harry A. B. and Gertrude C. Shapiro Library at Southern New Hampshire University. Thanks to all involved.

Here, Thomas Sowell examines the topic of how intellectuals have influenced racial and ethnic issues over the years. For anyone who's even slightly familiar with Sowell's work, the answer will not be surprising: their influence was bad, although it often veered into the horrible.

I've read a lot of Sowell, though, and I still learned things here. For example, the story of Madison Grant (1865-1937), a solid Progressive, who "knew" that racial disparities were the result of race-linked genes. His logic led inexorably to advocating active measures to insure that the genetically-superior not interbreed with their inferiors. His book laying out his horrible vision, The Passing of the Great Race, was a US bestseller, and also in—gulp—Germany. Hitler called it his "Bible".

Sowell has long convincingly argued that disparities between races and ethnicities are the (historical and worldwide) rule rather than the exception. The modern intellectual habit of blaming "society" is incorrect and harmful, as is the related vice of "multiculturalism". The worst thing that can happen to a downtrodden group is to have intellectuals willing to "help", often in concert with grievance-hustlers whose only talent is in perpetuating resentment and a false sense of entitlement.

We live in a time when the demented rantings of a sleazeball NBA owner to his hooker-mistress can be imagined to have important relevance to the state of racial relations in the modern USA. Sowell is a fine antidote to that.

Last Modified 2024-01-27 5:40 AM EDT

URLs du Jour — 2014-05-12

Another backup-clearing post, but (I promise) all worth your while:

  • Megan McArdle has been Making Sense for quite awhile, and her BloombergView article, "Rape on Campus Belongs in the Courts" is no exception. She takes on the latest offensive White House Offensive designed to get colleges to Take Action Now against sexual assault. She quibbles with the inflated scare-mongering statistics used by the Administration; but the real problem is the venue in which serious accusations are to be handled:

    No one accused of a serious crime should have his fate in the hands of a single investigator with a mandate to err on the side of believing the people who are testifying against him. In fact, colleges shouldn’t be handling this sort of thing at all. If a college wouldn’t conduct a murder trial, it shouldn’t be conducting rape trials, either. We certainly shouldn’t press them to punish these crimes because we can’t get a conviction in a court of law, as it sometimes seems is happening.

    Indeed. It's not difficult to predict a few years' worth of due-process lawsuits which colleges will uniformly lose, before some sanity is restored. (But don't worry: we'll immediately move on to the next insanity.)

  • Post-9/11, progressives were pretty certain that the Bush Administration, empowered by the Patriot Act, was only minutes away from shredding the First Amendment, and a few more as well. (See Jonah Goldberg for some that-was-then history.)

    But, as the WSJ points out, there's an actual effort underway to undermine the First Amendment, and the lefties are pretty OK with it. Because it's about regulating "raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents" to candidates or used in "in support of, or in opposition to" their elections. It is being pushed by Senators Schumer from NY and Udall (MT, oops, NM). Proposed text is here. The WSJ comments:

    The real guarantee would be political advantage for all incumbents, since it's the sitting lawmakers who really benefit from any law limiting contributions to candidates or on their behalf. While Beltway boys like Messrs. Schumer and Udall have the name recognition to raise money in small increments, challengers often need the financial boost from a few individuals to get their message heard.

    There are 39 co-sponsors including (moan) New Hampshire's own Jeanne Shaheen.

  • Today's must-read from Kevin D. Williamson muses on his upcoming visit to the Connecticut DMV, and how it exemplifies the quality of services provided by the State, as opposed to those by private enterprise.

    If we could transport [19th Century left-wing anarchist] M. Proudhon or any of his contemporaries to the here and now, their eyes would not register any economic system with which they were familiar at the sight of the daily wonders we take for granted. They wouldn’t see capitalism they’d see magic. But the DMV, the USPS, the housing project, and the prison would all be familiar to their 19th-century eyes. Our choice is not really between neat ideological verities with their roots in Adam Smith or Karl Marx, but between the DMV and the Apple store. Each model has its downsides, to be sure, but it does not seem like a terribly difficult choice to me.

    It's not a new observation that we hold the State to much lower standards of performance, quality, and honesty than we do private enterprise; but Williamson has a knack for keeping that insight fresh.

  • Being a libertarian, I much appreciated the photo essay "33 First-World Anarchists Who Don’t Care About Your Rules" (It claims 1.3 million views, so I suppose there's a good chance you've seen it already.)

  • From Granite Grok, a helpful guide for distinguishing your labs.

  • And Ms Ellie Kemper informs us: "I Have No Plans To Stop Using ‘AHAHAHAHAHAHA’ Instead Of ‘lol’ Anytime Soon."

    A lot of people with whom I email have had enough of me. Their gripes are always the same: “You write back too quickly,” “You don’t give me enough time to respond,” “Your Build-a-Bear is 100% safe; this will be our final cease and desist letter.” But the complaint I get the most—the one that, if complaints were an Indian tribe, would be the friggin’ chief—is this: “It makes me anxious and upset to read your ‘AHAHAHAHA’s when you think something is funny. Why don’t you just use ‘lol’?”

    It's funny.

Last Modified 2014-08-06 9:06 AM EDT

Cheap Shot

[Amazon Link]
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This is the third Spenser novel written by Ace Atkins, the designated flamekeeper of the series after the demise of the legendary Robert B. Parker. OK, so this practice is somewhat ghoulish and exploitative, designed to make the cash registers ring on. Unless you're blocking Amazon ads—and you shouldn't, they're very tasteful—note the relative sizes of the names over there on the cover. What are they really selling?

But it works, thanks to folks like me: I kind of want to know what Spenser is up to, badly enough to shell out for the dead-trees hardcover. It's a funny old world.

And I'm happy to report that Atkins is really hitting his stride. As a devoted-over-decades reader of the series, I can tell the differences. (For example, Spenser's squeeze, Susan, seems to drop a lot more F-bombs in this book than I remember her doing in the past.) But those differences are small, and do not detract from the book. I can't imagine anyone doing a better job at this than Atkins. Spenser is still a wiseacre, to the consternation of his enemies, and even many of his friends. Hawk is still a formidable ally. The new guy, Zebulon Sixkill, is coming along nicely. Despite the fact that the primary characters were middle-aged in the 1970s, they still are.

So, on to the story: Pats middle linebacker Kinjo Heywood is convinced someone's out to get him. Spenser is hired to watch over Kinjo, his bimbo wife Cristal, and adorable son Akira. (The Heywood family is kind of into Japanese culture.) Spenser is somewhat convinced it's just paranoia, caused by the normal crap endured by a multi-millionaire NFL superstar, but then someone kidnaps the kid. Spenser has to go through Kinjo's dirty-laundry history (and that of his family), which involves…

Well, Raymond Chandler said it pretty well:

Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.

Parker had this paragraph engraved on his heart, and so does Atkins.

Consumer notes: the cover has a fish. There are fish in the book, but (spoiler non-alert) they do not play any major role in the plot. Also the title, Cheap Shot: unless I missed something, it is seemingly unrelated to anything that actually happens in the book. And—hey, waitaminnit—isn't an important plot component here kind of a ripoff from a Mel Gibson movie?

But, bottom line, it's good. It's fun. I can't imagine Spenser fans being disappointed.

Last Modified 2024-01-27 5:40 AM EDT

Disappointed in Wired

I mentioned a few days back that I was a Wired subscriber, and I appreciated that it wasn't a hotbed of knee-jerk soft-leftism like many of the other mags published by its parent organization, Condé Nast.

Doesn't mean it's perfect, though. Let me take it to task for a one-page "Infoporn" article from its April 2014 issue (page 19). It is entitled "The Money-Go-Round", with the subtitle "How Silicon Valley shuffles patents and code around the world to avoid taxes."

First the good news: The UK version of the article is online here; please check out the beautiful graphic (that's the "Infoporn" bit) with multicolored arcs showing how Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook transact cash, intellectual property, and physical products across the globe between their businesses and subsidiaries. (My magazine has the numbers in $ instead of £ of course.) It's a fine example of efficiently conveying information that would be utterly dry and boring as a block of text. You can get similar graphics by Googling "double irish" "dutch sandwich" (really) because those are common names for the tax-avoidance schemes used by the big boys.

With all that information crammed into the graphic, you don't need a lot of text, and my dead-trees Wired has but a single paragraph:

For sheer ingenuity, you can't beat Silicon Valley—especially at outsmarting the tax man. By selling intellectual property rights to sock-puppet subsidiaries, tech giants shift profits to low-tax nations like Ireland. But that's just a start. Sublicense the IP to a second Irish unit that books global sales, have entity B pay onerous royalties back to A (wiping out its earnings), then show that A is headquartered in the Caribbean, making its royalty income untaxable in Ireland. Slick! Only problem: Until the IRS gets its cut, the companies can't bring the cash back home to use it. Hmm … not so genius after all.

Three points:

  1. The snarky bit at the end of the article is just, well, stupid. I am totally innocent of any knowledge of international finance, corporate tax law, or business organization. Still, who do you want to bet is smarter about this kind of thing?:

    1. a crack team of experienced accountants and lawyers, undoubtedly well-paid to come up with sophisticated strategies to optimize a company's profitability, shareholder value, and tax exposure;
    2. a Wired journalist coming up with one paragraph for this month's issue.

    I know which way I'd bet, how about you?

  2. But the real problem here is that, instead of going for the snark, Wired could have pointed out the actual underlying issue: that the USA has (as even the left-leaning Politifact grudgingly admits) the highest corporate tax rates in the world (among the large industrialized democracies). Google, Apple, et. al. are not engaging in these international shenanigans simply for the fun of it. Clearly, if the USA had a more competitive tax policy, they would do less of it, and maybe none.

    That would be better for them, and also for the domestic economy. Wired could have made this simple and obvious point, but didn't.

  3. Of course, these sophisticated gimmicks can only be carried out by corporations large enough to hire the previously-mentioned strategic teams and have far-flung business operations. Speaking of infoporn, this Dilbert cartoon makes the point well. Just reproducing the dialog between Dogbert and the Pointy-haired Boss:

    Dogbert: I can lower your corporate taxes by using a strategy that tax attorneys call the "Dutch Sandwich." And I'm not even making that up.

    PHB: So... that would transfer our tax burden to people who can't afford tax attorneys.

    Dogbert: Yeah... Their sandwich has a less appealing name.

    Yes, smaller companies are (relatively) penalized for being too small to take advantage of these (legal) tax ploys. Another pithy argument for lowering corporate tax rates.

Last Modified 2014-08-06 9:05 AM EDT

The Ringworld Engineers

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Might be some sort of personal record for me: I bought this book (as an SF Book Club hardcover) back in 1980 when it came out. The dust jacket has long since been destroyed. And it finally got to the top of my virtual to-be-read pile over a third of a century later. It's a sequel to Ringworld, which I reread a few months back in preparation.

Larry Niven (it is said) never intended to write a Ringworld sequel, but was inspired by fans (ka-ching!) and also by the geek-critics who pointed out that the Ringworld portrayed in the first book (a solid band with a 1 AU radius, a million miles wide, circling a Sol-class star) was seriously unstable. Any small perturbation would build, and the ring would eventually collide with its star, sooner rather than later. Yet, there it is, so there must be some sort of stabilizing mechanism that they missed describing in the first book.

This book's premise: that mechanism has stopped working, and Ringworld is seemingly doomed.

It is set a couple of decades after the events described in Ringworld. Louis Wu, the human protagonist, has returned to civilization only to become a "wirehead", addicted to a device that stimulates his brain's pleasure centers. The "Hindmost", a Puppeteer mentioned in the first book, abducts Louis and his Kzinti co-explorer (Speaker-to-Animals, now called Chmeee) for another visit.

Once they're there, things go wrong: Louis and Chmeee aren't too happy about being shanghaied and they manage to escape the Hindmost's direct control. Louis takes on the task of discovering why the Ringworld's stabilizing system went down.

Since the Ringworld's inner surface is 3 million times Earth's surface area, there's a lot to explore. They come up against a host of species which cohabit the ring in varying degrees of cooperation and strife. Most interesting is the layout of some islands in the Great Ocean: they've been engineered to be close replicas of Earth's continents and those of other known-space planets. What's going on there?

Anyway: I could understand why, back in 1980, I started reading this and lost interest a few pages in. Niven's characters aren't that interesting, or even particularly sympathetic. The setting is grand in design, but pedestrian in implementation. Reading it is kind of a trudge.

Last Modified 2024-01-27 5:40 AM EDT

URLs du Jour — 2014-05-05

A lot of stuff has piled up in my things-to-blog list. I'll just try to hit the high notes.

  • Vikram Bath has a long and thoughtful read-the-whole-thing article at Ordinary Times on liberal tolerance. And (like me), Bath is disappointed in Randall Munroe's recent xkcd cartoon "Free Speech".

    Actually, "disappointed" is too mild: Bath says: "I hate this comic." And he makes many of the same arguments I made, but better.

    I think part of the reason Randall drew this comic was a sense of his side winning in the marketplace of ideas. The most recent boycotts seem to be of bigots and other unsympathetic characters. Munroe isn't thinking about the McCarthy-era blacklists that were simply private boycotts of workers holding legally protected but worse-than-assholish political beliefs. Are these the norms of private behavior we wish to emulate and carry into the future?

    Not me. We'll see if we're in for another season of left-McCarthyism, I guess.

    [Bath's article via Ed Driscoll and Sonny Bunch, who have their own comments.]

  • From Virginia Postrel, a column originally titled "Free Speech Zones and Other College Lies", but has since been toned down to "How Much Free Speech Will Your Child Have at College?" If you're worried about going (or having your kids going) to a school where free speech is respected, Ms. Postrel provides some questions to which you should get answers.

  • Kevin D. Williamson has a long, wide-ranging, and wonderful article at NRO, responding to the redistributionist schemes of progressives. You should read the whole thing, but here's the final paragraph:

    Politics is parasitic. Even at its best, it produces no goods of its own; it has only that which it takes from what others produce. For about 200,000 years, human beings produced almost nothing — the per capita economic-output curve is nearly flat from the appearance of the first homo sap. until the appearance of Jethro Tull and Eli Whitney. We’ve had politicians since before Hammurabi, but we didn’t escape the shadow of famine until a few thousand years later when somebody discovered that the wars fought over dividing up the harvest could be prevented by making that harvest bigger — and then figuring out how to get that done. Politics is a footnote — the inventory in your local Walmart is the headline.

    Also appearing in the article: "If Mrs. Piketty sends out her second-grade tactical SWAT unit to seize Jenny’s SweeTarts …" How could you not read an article that has that within?

  • I subscribe to Wired, which is in the Condé Nast publication family. But (good news) it doesn't share the knee-jerk soft-leftism exhibited by other magazines in that stable. A good example is now online: "Renewables Aren’t Enough. Clean Coal Is the Future" by Charles C. Mann. It's long, but well worth your time. Mann is a good writer, a diligent researcher, and unafraid to advocate based on his research.

  • I'm waaay behind on noting the anti-Rand Paul freakout among some conservative pundits. And although I'm a lot more libertarian than the average Republican, and I liked his speech at the Freedom Summit last month, well, um.

    • Bret Stephens in the WSJ notes his lack of experience, associating with a neo-Confederate wacko, and fondness for Cheney/Halliburton conspiracy theories
    • At NR, Rich Lowry also notes the Cheney/Halliburton thing, and points out Paul's revisionist WW2 history, and his excuse-making for Russia's Ukrainian moves.
    • As a (slight) antidote, actual-libertarian Randy Barnett refers to the above two columns and a couple others. His advice to Senator Paul:

      Just as Paul is reaching out to new groups that might not have voted Republican in the recent past, I think the Senator and his advisers need to find a way to credibly make the case that libertarians need not be against a strong national defense, and neither is he. Otherwise, for better or worse, he won’t secure the nomination that he appears to desire. This won’t be as difficult as some may think, as Paul is actually taking smaller politically-appealing positions, such as his opposition to NSA date [sic] collection, rather than running as an across-the-board libertarian ideologue. It is a mistake simply to attribute to him all the views of his father or of other libertarians (like myself). Indeed, just as “only Nixon can go to China,” Paul’s libertarian background allows him to take less stridently libertarian positions without alienating his base.

    • Perhaps most ominous is the Politico piece from Ben White and Maggie Haberman: "Wall Street Republicans' dark secret: Hillary Clinton 2016". The thesis (which might discomfit as many Democrats as Republicans): the high-finance denizens would almost certainly prefer Hillary Clinton to a bomb-thrower like Rand Paul or (even) Ted Cruz.

    I would (of course) prefer an explicitly libertarian GOP nominee, but … President Hillary? I can understand Wall Streeters favoring someone complaisant who won't rock their boats too hard. But are the American people really so stupid?

  • Senator Mike Lee from Utah is also sometimes mentioned as a candidate. At Reason, Jacob Sullum notes that one of Lee's "principles", a return to federalism, crumbles pretty quickly when states threaten to allow something of which Lee doesn't approve:

    So why on earth is Lee co-sponsoring a bill introduced last month that would ban online gambling throughout the country, instead of letting each state decide whether to allow Internet-assisted poker? The contradiction illustrates one reason the GOP seems destined for permanent minority status: Too many of its members are unprincipled killjoys who do not understand that federalism requires tolerance of diversity.

    Another co-sponsor of the bill is (sigh) New Hampshire's own Kelly Ayotte.

  • Finally, Ann Althouse has some perceptive commentary on Justice Sotomayor's unfortunate dissent in Scheuette v. BAMN (quoting James Taranto, who was quoting Althouse.)

    The issue is Sotomayor's expressed wish to use the phrase "race-sensitive admissions policies" instead of the old standby "affirmative action". Taranto and Althouse note that Sotomayor is climbing the "euphemism ladder", where a "new euphemism is needed because the old one has lost its power to obscure".

    I like Professor Althouse's musing:

    A more common expression than "race-sensitive admissions policies" — and it must be somewhere on that treadmill journey — is "race-conscious admissions policies." Why "sensitive" instead of "conscious"? "Sensitive" connotes feelings of warmth (and irritability), and "conscious" connotes mental clarity and perception. If they're going to talk about when government may take race into account, judges should be speaking about sharply observed and understood facts about the real world. It's called "strict scrutiny" for a reason. "Sensitivity" suggests a more vaguely sourced intuition about how things ought to be, the very stereotypes and prejudicial impulses that strict scrutiny is supposed to preclude.

    The Latina is not as wise as we all thought.

Last Modified 2017-11-30 11:49 AM EDT

Reach Out, I'll Be There

So on the iPod the other morning: "Reach Out, I'll Be There" by the Four Tops. Gosh, what a fine song. (But only my second-favorite Four Tops song; "Bernadette" will always be number one.)

And I found myself wondering: what instrument makes that haunting sound right at the beginning of the song? I went to find out.

The song has its own Wikipedia page, where you will be reminded that it was a Billboard number one single for two weeks in October 1966. How many times have I heard it since then? Maybe five hundred? I could listen to it a couple hundred more times.

From there I got sidetracked to the list of all number-one songs from 1966, and got transported back to my 15-year-old self in Omaha, glued to my transistor radio, listening to the "Mighty 1290" KOIL.

Things sure were diverse back then: Frank Sinatra ("Strangers in the Night") jostling the Beatles ("Paperback Writer") for the top spot. The top song for the entire year? It's somewhat embarrassing to report: "The Ballad of the Green Berets" by Barry Sadler. (Who went on to live a life of sordid tragedy.) And—whoa—there's "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys, "Good Lovin'" by the Young Rascals, "Cherish" by the Association, "Sounds of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel, the first two Monkees singles, and… wow. Just wow. What a year. Something for everyone, I think.

But back to "Reach Out":

Via Wikipedia, I came to this recent article from the Guardian: "The Four Tops: how we made Reach Out (I'll Be There)", an interview with a couple of survivors: singer Duke Fakir and Shelly Berger, manager.

And I got an answer to my original question: that's a piccolo. Berger calls it "typical of how Motown would do something unexpected."

But I also got answers to questions I didn't know I had. For example, I defy you to listen to the song more than once, and not get into the habit of shouting out along with Levi Stubbs at 2 minutes and 37 seconds in: Just look over your shoulder! Where did that come from? Fakir notes this was "something he [Levi] threw in spontaneously."

Why? Because he was a frickin' genius, that's why.

It's one of many brilliant Holland-Dozier-Holland songs, produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier. Edward Holland (it is claimed) wanted Levi to do "Bob Dylan-type singing" over the pre-existing instrumentals. (And I say: Dylan? really? I don't hear that at all. Still, Dylan or not, it worked.)

What I hear isn't Dylan, but cowboy music: a galloping horse coming to the rescue, jingling spurs, and Levi saying "Hyah!" a couple times to speed his majestic stallion along. But maybe that's just me.

The group thought it was "experimental", "didn't sound like a Four Tops song" (?!), and were perplexed and saddened that Berry Gordy wanted to release it as a single. Not for the first time, Gordy knew something his artists didn't.


Last Modified 2014-08-06 9:07 AM EDT

Could Someone Tell Me Where This Bandwagon is Headed?

A must-read for anyone interested in campus culture: "The White House Joins the War on Men" by KC Johnson. KC looks at the recent emission from the Obama Administration on how colleges and universities accepting federal funds (pretty much all of them) must deal with accusations of unwanted sexual activity. It's all bad news, starting with Orwellian languge tricks.

The administration tips its hand quickly with a telltale verbal switch--referring to complainants as "survivors," rather than as accusers. This language, which assumes guilt and the fact of a sexual offense before any hearing, is the terminology of hardline feminists who have the ear of this administration and have made it clear that they want more guilty findings.

The administration (and much of the lapdog press) claim as fact that "One in five women is sexually assaulted in college." KC deems this a "preposterous statistic", and you'll probably agree after watching Christina Hoff Sommers:

The administration is using this loaded language and bad stats to justify degrading due process and the rights of the accused. It also has the—probably intentional—side effect of increasing fear, loathing, and paranoia among college women. What's not to like?

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) also had some quibbles; instead of fixing what seemingly everyone regards as a horribly broken system, the White House is making things worse.

Sexual assault is one of the worst crimes a person can commit. Those found guilty of it should be punished to the fullest extent allowed by law. But precisely because sexual assault is such a serious crime, providing those accused of it with due process—a term that appears nowhere in the entire report—becomes even more important. Due process is more than a system for protecting the rights of the accused it’s a set of procedures intended to ensure that findings of guilt or innocence are accurate, fair, and reliable.

FIRE is under no illusion that there is a simple solution to the problem of sexual assault on campus. But by lowering the bar for finding guilt, expanding the definition of harassment beyond recognition, eliminating precious due process protections, and entrusting unqualified campus employees to safeguard the vitally important interests of all involved, we are creating a system that is impossible for colleges to fairly administer, and one that will be even less fair, reliable, and accurate than before.

Unfortunately, the University Near Here is an enthusiastic participant in this hysterical effort; we were, in fact, called out by the White House as being one of the "leaders" in the movement. (Compare and contrast Dartmouth, over there on the other side of the state, which is on a previously-unrevealed Office of Civil Rights shitlist, subject of an "investigation" due to an increasingly totalitarian interpretation of Title IX.)

Even UNH employees (I'm one) are being dragooned into this groupthink movement. Last week I received a much-forwarded message (from a UNH VP, to the UNH CIO, to the director of my Department, to me and a lot of others) to "sign" a (web-based) pledge: “Never commit, condone, nor remain silent about violence against women.” Just type in your name, and UNH affilliation, and your name will be added to this public list.

Now (it so happens) I am opposed to violence against women. But I'm not a fan of empty symbolic gestures and morally-superior preening. And (as noted above) it's part of a movement whose foundations are shaky, justifications are dishonest, impacts are poisonous, and implementations are Constitutionally suspect. So I moved on and didn't sign.

But it's also a tad disturbing to know that various layers of boss were "encouraging" me to sign, and that my failure to do so is (now) a matter of public record. Another employee was moved to write an (anonymous) letter to UNH's student newspaper in protest. (Not me; I'm content to merely blog about it.) But I agree with his main point: will our absence from this list be noted by higher-ups, and will that be an (almost certainly unspoken) factor in future performance evaluations? What "worthy cause" will we be "encouraged" to lend our names to next?

Last Modified 2014-08-06 9:10 AM EDT