Sixkill

[Amazon Link]

Truly a bittersweet read: Robert B. Parker's final Spenser novel. I've been a fan for about 35 years, since I picked up Mortal Stakes one fateful evening at the Bethesda branch of the Montgomery County (MD) Public Library System.

In this one, Spenser's old cop friend, Quirk, prevails upon Spenser to investigate the mysterious death of a young lady while she was in the company of movie star Jumbo Nelson. Jumbo is a pig, even compared to his peers, a glutton for food, drink, illicit substances, and kinky sex, not necessarily in that order. But is he guilty of murder?

Spenser (being a mensch) and Jumbo (being a slimeball) inevitably clash, and that brings Jumbo's bodyguard, Zebulon Sixkill, into the picture. He's no match for Spenser in fisticuffs, and his failure gets him an immediate insulting pink slip from Jumbo.

Sixkill's life (it turns out) has been on a downward spiral ever since his days as a football star in college; getting fired and verbally abused by Jumbo is pretty much the definition of hitting bottom. Sixkill forms an unlikely relationship with Spenser, probably surprising them both. Working together, they team up to get to the truth and put themselves in peril from those who'd prefer they didn't.

No spoilers, but there's nothing here that shouts "final book". In a nice touch, Henry Cimoli, owner of the gym where Spenser works out, gets a bigger role than usual. Hawk is absent. Susan is… well, she's Susan; I used to find her annoying, but I gave that up a few years back. She is what she is, and provides our gumshoe with some solid assistance here.

Parker's publisher and his family announced that the Spenser series will continue, written by a guy named Ace Atkins. He's got big shoes to fill. And he may be good, but he won't be the same.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:11 AM EDT
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Tangled

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

The Pun Salad Manor Animation Fest continued with Tangled, which Disney claims as its 50th animated feature.

It's loosely based on the Grimm tale of Rapunzel. She's a princess with Magic Hair; due to some legerdemain with a glowing superflower when she was still in the womb, her uncut follicles have healing and rejuvenating powers. All she has to do is sing a little song. Unfortunately, Rapunzel was kidnapped as an infant by the evil Mother Gothel, and squirreled away in a tall tower. As she nears adulthood, however, she feels the ever-increasing pull of the outside world. And the situation is transformed when one Flynn Rider, a petty thief, stumbles upon the tower and lets himself in.

Tangled is solidly in the Disney formula, and I mean that in a 98% good way. Everything is gorgeous. The script is clever and funny. The heroine is spunky and resourceful. The protagonists speak in Southern California accents and slang. ("Don't freak out," Rapunzel counsels Flynn, as she reveals her hairy powers.) Songs by Alan Menken. Two colorful and amusing animal sidekicks, a chameleon and a horse. The good guys win, after enduring multiple perils, and evil is defeated.

It's not The Lion King, but nothing is. Just a lot of fun to watch.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:06 AM EDT
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Memorial Day 2011

Let's all remember.


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The Phony Campaign — 2011-05-29 Update

[phony baloney]

Our arbitrary inclusion requirement (4% or better at Intrade) forces us to include Texas Governor Rick Perry this week. His "gonna think about it" remark this week jumped him up to 6.1%. This merest hint was enough for the Intraders to consider him a more likely prospect than actual/likely candidates Michele Bachmann (5.8%), Newt Gingrich (2.4%), Ron Paul (2.2%), Rick Santorum (0.8%), and Gary Johnson (0.3%).

Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki also hinted that they might do us the great favor of running, but Intrade was unimpressed: they scored 2.1% and 0.1%, respectively.

And, inexplicably, Intrade considers Scott Brown to have a 7.7% shot at the nomination.

This week's results show all candidates with healthy increases in phoniness, with Herman Cain moving ahead of Tim Pawlenty:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-05-22
"Barack Obama" phony 5,130,000 +550,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 3,130,000 +250,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 2,750,000 +340,000
"Scott Brown" phony 2,190,000 +330,000
"Michele Bachmann" phony 1,660,000 +220,000
"Herman Cain" phony 1,550,000 +803,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 1,310,000 +434,000
"Rick Perry" phony 1,010,000 ---
"Jon Huntsman" phony 462,000 +102,000

  • I think you could make some money, in fact, by shorting Scott Brown at Intrade. Elected with strong Tea Party support, he joined the RINO party to vote against Paul Ryan's plan this week, which included Medicare reforms. Not that he has any better ideas.

    Brown writes that Medicare's "increasing cost must be addressed" and that attempts to do so are "long overdue" as part of any "serious" effort to do something about the long-term national debt. But Ryan's plan is just too stingy, apparently: "As health inflation rises," Brown writes, "the cost of private plans will outgrow the government premium support--and the elderly will be forced to pay ever higher deductibles and co-pays." So Brown agrees that the problem with the current Medicare system is that it puts the public on the hook for ever-rising health care expenses, which are growing faster than we can afford to pay for them. Yet his first complaint about Ryan's plan is that it backs away from that commitment, altering the system in such a way that the federal government doesn't continue to spend on Medicare at a rate that's rising at a dangerous and unsustainable rate. Like many Democrats, Brown seems to be upset that Ryan's plan solves the problem Rep. Ryan intended it to solve.

    Oh well. Better than Martha Coakley, anyway. Slightly.

  • As always, the GOP field faces an uphill battle in matching President Obama's phoniness. Just this week, the President messed up a toast to Queen Elizabeth; dated his entry in the Westminster Abbey guestbook three years ago; insisted—in the same speech—that while Israel can't be expected to negotiate with a "terrorist organization", they nonetheless must try to negotiate with the Palestinian "government", a thugocracy including Hamas, a terrorist organization.

  • Somewhat fittingly, the Patriot Act was renewed this week. As often happens, President Obama found himself at odds with Senator Obama on the issue. And when it came time for the Presidential Signature, it was provided not by the Presidential Hand, but by the Presidential Autopen. Let's just hope that thing doesn't get near the Big Red Button.

  • On Bill O'Reilly's show, ex-candidate Mike Huckabee found it dreadfully hard to avoid saying the obvious about Mitt Romney:

    O'REILLY: ...and here's the Northern governor and the Northern governor is getting a little haughty and you didn't like it very much.

    HUCKABEE: Oh, that's probably some of it. But a lot of it was on issues. I felt like that there was a lack of authenticity on the sanctity of life issue and on the same-sex marriage issue and on the gun issue, issues that really matter to people in the Midwest and in the South.

    O'REILLY: So you think he's a phony?

    HUCKABEE: No, I didn't say that.

    O'REILLY: You said lack of authenticity.

    HUCKABEE: Lack of authenticity.

    O'REILLY: See, where I come from...

    HUCKABEE: You're a long calendar, Bill, and you can just...

    O'REILLY: Where you come from in Arkansas, lack of authenticity is a phony, too.

    HUCKABEE: We say -- we say bless his heart. He didn't fully understand...

    O'REILLY: Yes.

    HUCKABEE: When you hear a Southerner say bless his heart...

    A long calendar?


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:10 AM EDT
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Megamind

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

Netflix seems to have put us into an animation streak for our movie-watching. Megamind was an extremely commercial 3-D offering from Dreamworks, and made a pile of cash. It was directed by Tom McGrath (who also directed the first two Madagascar movies). Lots of big-name voice talent: Will Farrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross, Ben Stiller. We enjoyed it quite a bit.

It starts out as your standard superhero story: both "Megamind" and "Metro Man" are infants launched into space from doomed worlds by their parents and make it to Earth. But their paths diverge given Metro Man's winning (but shallow) personality, and Megamind's propensity to screw up. By the time adulthood arrives, they are sworn enemies, with Megamind on the villainous side, Metro Man settling into the superhero role, fighting things out on the battleground of Metro City.

Megamind's nefarious plots routinely involve the kidnapping of Roxanne Ritchie, Metro Man's TV-reporter girlfriend. He is just as routinely thwarted, and it's all getting a bit old. But then something unexpected happens.

It's very funny, frenetic, and inventive. As I've mentioned, Mrs. Salad and I no longer feel guilty about watching kids' movies with no actual kids present, and this is a good example of why not.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 5:58 AM EDT
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I Got a Chrome-Plated Heart

… I got wings on these fingers trying to tear it apart: [Chrome]

  • Not that it matters, but I've pretty much transferred my browser allegience from Mozilla's Firefox to Google's Chrome.

    Why? Pretty much just one reason, and that's TPGoogleReader, a Swiss Army Knife for anyone using Google Reader. As near as I can tell, Firefox has nothing like it.

  • One side effect of Google Reader: satirical articles from the Onion get dropped into the feed at random. So when the headline is (for example) "Final Minutes Of Last Harry Potter Movie To Be Split Into Seven Separate Films", there's that few seconds of doubt before you see the source. Really? Wouldn't put it past 'em.

  • Roger Simon reviews David Mamet's new book, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture
    Mamet certainly made up for lost time. Barely ten pages into his book, you know this man has read, and thoroughly digested, the major conservative works of our and recent times, from Friedrich Hayek to Milton Friedman and on to Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele. And he is able to explicate and elaborate on them as well as anybody.
    Whoa. I think I'll see if I can fool the University Near Here's Library into getting a copy. Then maybe seeing if Mamet's eligible to run for President.

  • For GOP liberty-lovers trying to make up their mind between Gary Johnson and Ron Paul, Matt Welch, Reason editor, provides your go-to URL today. Lots of further links to more information and opinions.

    When it comes to the premature, shoot-your-own-darn-self-in-the-foot game of Ron Paul or Gary Johnson?, I'm squarely in the Jesse Walker camp-"for now, let them double-team all the authoritarians on the stage."

  • And if your blood pressure is dangerously low, or you need to remember why business-as-usual should not be an option, or you need a reminder of how dishonest politicians and their corporate pals can be, Conn Carroll looks at the numbers behind the recent Chrysler $7.6 billion "loan payback". Bottom line:
    So, to recap, the Obama Energy Department is loaning a foreign car company $3.5 billion so that it can pay the Treasury Department $7.6 billion even though American taxpayers spent $13 billion to save an American car company that is currently only worth $5 billion.
    Gosh, it's almost as if they want to bamboozle taxpayers.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 5:56 AM EDT
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The Illusionist

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

Not to be confused with the (pretty good) live-action movie with the same title from a few years back; this one's an animation. In fact it was Oscar-nominated for "Best Animation" last year, losing to Toy Story 3. It was written and directed by Sylvain Chomet, who also wrote and directed The Triplets of Belleville.

Set in the late 1950s, it's the story of "The Great Tatischeff": a stage magician in decline, finding himself playing to ever-smaller and ever-less-appreciative audiences. Even his rabbit that he—yes—pulls out of a hat is hostile, nipping at his fingers and escaping at every opportunity. The magician's wandering ways gives him a venue in a remote Scottish village, where a young girl, Alice, sees him as an escape route to the outside world. Alice and Tatischeff become non-romantically linked, and have many adventures in the big city (Edinburgh).

Subtitles are available, but they're hardly necessary: I can't remember seeing a modern movie with less dialogue. The movie is adapted from a screenplay by the French comedian Jacques Tati and the magician is clearly based on him, even down to physical resemblance and mannerisms. (Tatischeff was Tati's actual name.)

It's a bittersweet and beautiful-looking movie with a lot of understated, gentle humor. It's not as wacky as The Triplets of Belleville, but if you liked that, you'll probably like this, and vice versa.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 5:55 AM EDT
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For I'm One Too Many Mornings

… and a thousand miles behind: [Mr. Dylan]

  • Happy Birthday to Bob Dylan, who turns 70 today. I'm … considerably less than a thousand miles behind. Tyler Cowen has some "underrated highlights of his career." The Beeb has the scoop on his heroin addiction. (Yes, you can go on to have a decent life, but that doesn't make it any easier.) And Scott Johnson at Power Line is very much worth reading on Hibbing, Minnesota's favorite son.

  • You may have heard about President Obama's big speech on the Middle East. Bret Stephens is merciless on the latest example of Barackrobatics:
    For starters, it would be nice if the president could come clean about whether his line about the 1967 line--"mutually agreed swaps" and all--was pathbreaking and controversial, or no big deal. On Sunday, Mr. Obama congratulated himself for choosing the hard road to Mideast peace as he prepares for re-election, only to offer a few minutes later that "there was nothing particularly original in my proposal."
    Good luck figuring that out. I rarely quote twice from the same article, but this was both subtle and devastating:
    On Friday in the Oval Office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his version of the truth, which was that the 1967 border proposed by Mr. Obama as a basis for negotiating the outlines of a Palestinian state was a nonstarter.

    Administration reaction to this reciprocal act of friendly truth-telling? "That was Bibi over the top," the New York Times quoted one senior U.S. official, using the prime minister's nickname. "That's not how you address the president of the United States."

    Yeah, "Bibi." Don't get so uppity when you're talking to the One.

  • For more on Bibi-vs-Barry, Don Surber has a pictorial juxtaposition that speaks more than the expected thousand words.

  • For libertarians looking around at the GOP presidential field, Ilya Somin compares and contrasts Gary Johnson and Ron Paul. But for we libertarians who are immigration skeptics, Kevin Williamson points out some negatives.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:06 AM EDT
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Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Pasts

[Amazon Link]

A big scholarly tome that recounts the history of America—as you might guess—prior to the Revolution. The author, Daniel K. Richter, is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. I prevailed upon the library at the University Near Here to buy it after reading this glowing mention from Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, and they graciously complied. But whenever I do that, I feel obliged to check the book out and read it. So…

It's written more for an academic audience, while I was looking for something more aimed at the "semi-curious semi-educated goofball" market. It was kind of a slog. Richter's writing is adequate, but it rarely sparkles. (Occasionally, he'll let slip an opinion or two into the text via strong wording; that's about it.)

So I read this sort of thing for interesting stories, oddball facts, and a better sense of my country's historical roots. But I'm glad I don't have to pass a test on it. A few things I picked up, big and small, that I was insufficiently aware of before:

  • The Little Ice Age (starting around 1300) had profound effects on both Native Americans and Europeans; the collapse of agricultural systems arguably set things up for the European "discovery" and eventual takeover of America.

  • For example, the Native city of Cahokia, just east of today's St. Louis, lasted for hundreds of years; at its peak it probably had more inhabitants than London at the same time. But it began to decline around 1300 and was abandoned a few centuries later. And today, it's just mounds.

  • This one is embarrassing: there was a French-inspired 1690 Indian raid on my home town (then called Salmon Falls); this raid (and others like it) inspired a little prequel to the French and Indian War a few decades later.

Quibble: early on in the book, discussing Native agriculture, Richter is discussing the dietary properties of the crops. He refers to zein as an amino acid; it's not, it's a protein. He discusses lysine and tryptophan "whose absence is a major causes [sic] of pellagra." Although blunders are inevitable in a big work, letting two slip by within the same paragraph doesn't inspire confidence.

But, on the whole, recommended to you history buffs. (Here is a review from Charles C. Mann in the WSJ.)


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:07 AM EDT
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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

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

Sorry to the Harry Potter fanboys. I'm just hanging on. Only watching this one because I watched the first six. Don't remember enough about the first six for this one to make total sense. Just wishing it was over.

Plot summary: Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron are on the run after Voldemort has taken over Hogwart's. The V-dude's evil forces are everywhere, competent enough to place Harry in near-constant peril, but not competent enough to finish the job. Convenient! A number of people on Harry's side don't make it to the end of the movie. Harry, Ron, and Hermione bicker (tediously) just about all the time.

Here's an example of the kind of thing that got my goat: An epic battle between good and evil forces near the beginning of the movie is less than epic, because it focuses entirely on Harry. We learn afterwards about the killing of one good guy, and see that another's been seriously injured; why not show this happening during the battle itself? Things are edited MTV-style, fractions of a second per shot, it's difficult to tell what's going on. Didn't these guys see Braveheart or any of the Lord of the Rings movies?

It's very, very dark. In more ways than one. Specifically, two.

And for all the running about and special effects, the situation at the end of the movie isn't that different from the situation at the beginning, other than the body count. I'll put the last DVD into the Netflix queue when it comes out, but grudgingly.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:07 AM EDT
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Hell-Bent on Destroying My Powers of Concentration

… while you were living like a saint: [not too smart anyway]

  • Mike, one of the Granite Grok contributors, will not miss Mitch Daniels in the upcoming race:
    Just when the RINOs thought that it was safe to get back into the water, when they thought they'd secured a sensible, boring candidate for 2012 to lock out those pesky Tea-Partyers, another disappointment for the rulng class: In a midnight email, governor Mitch Daniels confirmed what many suspected - If you have to ask for your wife's permission to run for president, you don't have it.

    The ruling class is scared to death that, what they insist on referring to as second tier candidates, EG Palin, Cain, Bachmann, Paul will catch fire with the GOP base. […]

    For the record, I'm disappointed that Daniels decided not to run. This may be the first time in history that anyone's confused me with a RINO member of the ruling class.

  • I can't tell a Sunni from a Shia, I could maybe match up a half-dozen heads of state with their countries at best. But even I know about the Palestinian "right of return".
    U.S. presidential candidate Herman Cain is trying to recover from an embarassing stumble over the question of the Palestinian Right of Return on Sunday.

    "Right of Return?," Cain blankly asked twice in response to being questioned about the vital issue on "Fox News Sunday." The second or two of deafening silence that lasted before host Chris Wallace repeated "The Palestinian Right of Return" to the Republican hopeful seemed to last forever.

    A typical negative reaction: D.G. Myers says Cain's "cluelessness on the right of return suggests that Cain is more blowhard than gadfly." But also see Cain fanboy Stacy "Other" McCain. And Geraghty doesn't see it as that big a deal.

  • And not to pick on Herman Cain or anything, but David Bernstein picked up this tidbit from the Des Moines Register:
    Cain, 65, who lives in suburban Atlanta, made his announcement at Atlanta's Centennial Park, urging Americans frustrated by the country's direction to read the Constitution.

    "Keep reading," he said. "Don't stop at life, liberty and pursuit of happiness."

    The good news is, I guess, that if you are reading the Constitution and intend to stop at "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"… well, you'll wind up reading the whole darn thing.

  • Newt's press secretary was unappreciative of the criticism touched off by his boss's appearance on Meet the Press:
    The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding. Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world. The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness. They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment's cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods. Now they are left exposed by their bylines and handles. But surely they had killed him off. This is the way it always worked. A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught. But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won't be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.
    English prof Margaret Soltan criticizes the prose:
    Instead of gaining a clear picture of the press bullies, we struggle with three incompatible images:

    1. A firefight.
    2. Sheep.
    3. Cocktail parties.

    Our minds, striving to make sense of disparate phenomena, put it all together into a picture of party-going, pistol-packing, sheep. This takes us very far away from the image of embattled heroic Gingrich that's intended.

    But perhaps it would make a good Michael Bay movie.

  • OK, so not Mitch, not Herman, not Newt. How about T-Paw?
    GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty said Monday he wants to phase out federal ethanol subsidies, which are considered a sacred cow in Iowa.
    I'm with Simberg: my respect just went up a few notches.

  • SMBC unearths some rare historical tech support documents.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:08 AM EDT
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The Gods Themselves

[Amazon Link]

I've been working through the good Dr. Isaac Asimov's science fiction novels. (For pedants: I'm skipping over short stories blown up into novels, juveniles, and the Fantastic Voyage books.)

This one was published in 1972, a long 15 years after The Naked Sun; during this period, Asimov concentrated on (presumably more lucrative) non-fiction. But he hadn't lost his touch: The Gods Themselves won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel.

And yes, it's pretty good. The premise is that, via scientific mumbo-jumbo, communication has been established between our universe and one with vastly different physical behavior. A "pump" between the two universes is established, generating copious amounts of clean, cheap energy on both sides. Free lunch!

Hallam, the "discoverer" of the other universe and the inventor of the pump is understandably famous, revered, and powerful. But he rubs a young dissident, Lamont, the wrong way; Lamont eventually becomes convinced that the physical-law leakage between the universes will soon cause the sun to go kablooie, and that Hallam is a small-talent hack who's being manipulated by the other universe. Can he convince Earth that Hallam's a fool, and that it's necessary to get off the gravy train? It's an uphill battle.

So far, a pretty standard yarn. But the scene shifts to the other universe; Asimov masterfully sets up the plot there with beings that are (understandably) even more alien than usual. (Example: three "sexes" are necessary for reproduction, and said reproduction involves phase changes between the participants.) On that side, Dua is an "emotional" who shows an unusual amount of curiousity and ability to grasp complex systems. She also becomes aware of her side of the pump, discovers its fatal effects on the other (our) universe, and vows to stop it.

As usual, Asimov's human characters aren't that inherently interesting or sympathetic. And most of the time, they talk, talk, talk. It's surprising this works at all, but Asimov's imagination and ingenuity allows him to get away with it.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:09 AM EDT
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The Way Back

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

Prison escape movies are a small but vital genre. In this one, the escape is the relatively easy part.

The prison here is a good old Stalin-era Gulag work camp, smack dab in the middle of Nowheresibirsk, Siberia. A motley bunch of inmates, facing their imminent demise, band together to break out. They have a vague idea of hiking south to Lake Baikal and escaping to Mongolia. This turns out to be much, much more difficult than expected. At the end, the survivors will have walked 4000 miles to India. (Not a spoiler: it's revealed right at the beginning.)

The difficulties faced by the group, both before and after their escape, are graphically shown. Among the IMDB keywords for the movie: "night blindness", "freezing to death", "sunstroke", "torture", "death by dehydration", "starvation", "sandstorm",… and they're missing some. It's an impressive, epic story.

The recognizable faces here are Ed Harris, playing a mysterious American only known as Mr. Smith, and Colin Farrell as a murderous Russian criminal. It's directed by the relatively famous Peter Weir.

The movie is based on memoir of one of the alleged escapees, Slawomir Rawicz. Its accuracy is questionable, but that doesn't take away much from the movie.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:11 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2011-05-22 Update

[phony baloney]

Our candidate list is shaken up once again due to our (arbitrary) inclusion criterion for GOP candidates: a 4% probability or greater at Intrade for capturing the nomination. Today:

  • Mitch Daniels is gone; Intraders noticed that he announced his decision not to run last night, and dropped him right down to 0.2%. Pun Salad is officially disappointed, because Pun Salad was officially impressed with his reading list. (That's probably not the best way to choose a candidate, but I can't think of a better one right now.)

  • Newt Gingrich dropped off the map (3.0%), almost certainly due to his stupid answer about Paul Ryan's plans on Meet the Press last week.

  • Michele Bachmann is back in at 5.4%. Intrade is still misspelling her last name.

But in phony news, Mitt Rommney made a big move. (As did Scott Brown, who Intrade still insists has a 7.7% of being nominated.):

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-05-15
"Barack Obama" phony 4,580,000 -80,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 2,880,000 -40,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 2,410,000 +1,663,000
"Scott Brown" phony 1,860,000 +1,432,000
"Michele Bachmann" phony 1,440,000 ---
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 876,000 -5,000
"Herman Cain" phony 747,000 +14,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 360,000 +37,000

  • We haven't looked at Jon Huntsman much, but he's up here in New Hampshire this weekend. Does he have what it takes, phony-wise? At Commentary, Jonathan S. Tobin thinks so: "Huntsman Makes Romney Look Principled".

    According to a piece in Politico, LDS members are viewing Huntsman's decision to place his national campaign headquarters in Orlando, Florida rather than on the shores of the Great Salt Lake with dismay. Even worse, various opinions attributed to Huntsman about his Mormonism are being interpreted as an effort to distance himself from his religion. At a time when the LDS church has become a popular culture piñata with HBO's recently concluded Big Love and Broadway's Book of Mormon both skewering the Saints, they have good reason to be sensitive about a public figure that seems ashamed or uncertain about his identity.

    TIME magazine calls Huntsman the GOP candidate that "Democrats most fear". As if they'd know. But here's the sort of thing Tobin et. al. are talking about:

    And as for whether or not Huntsman still belongs to the Church of Latter-day Saints, I know less than I did before I asked him. ("I'm a very spiritual person," as opposed to a religious one, he says, "and proud of my Mormon roots." Roots? That makes it sound as if you're not a member anymore. Are you? "That's tough to define," he says. "There are varying degrees. I come from a long line of saloon keepers and proselytizers, and I draw from both sides.")

    I think this means he has the proselytizing saloonkeeper vote sewn up.

  • True fact: browse over to the one-page website http://jonhuntsman.com/ and you'll find a copy of Huntsman's hand-written thank you note to President Obama on his appointment to be ambassador to China. ("You are a remarkable leader - and it has been a great honor getting to know you.") There's a pretty border of pink hearts.

    Via this Politico story about "smear sites". (Which seems a little strong.)

  • John Nolte finds Sarah Palin to be a lot less phony than the MSM narrative about her:

    The idea is, at all costs, to undermine her seriousness and to create a relentless storm of nonsensical controversies around her that serve the leftist MSM's partisan desires in three ways. First, by creating a narrative out of the ridiculous, the Governor is never allowed to get her message out. Second, it furthers the goal of turning her into a punchline. Finally, this Palin-Fury the MSM constantly brews up is meant to condition us to wince every time she pops her head out of the ground.

    John shows how this worked with Palin's reaction to Osama bin Fishfood's recent demise.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 5:59 AM EDT
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Watching Some Good Friends Scream "Let Me Out"

[under pressure]

Gosh, if you're a conservative/libertarian with blood pressure problems, you might want to stop reading right here, right now.

Of the 204 new Obamacare waivers President Barack Obama's administration approved in April, 38 are for fancy eateries, hip nightclubs and decadent hotels in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's Northern California district.

… but if you're taking medication, you can probably risk going to the linked article. Mona Charen is eloquent on how intrinsically corrupt the waivers are:

There are rumblings of suspicion that HHS has shown favoritism -- labor unions have received some 26 percent of waivers while constituting only 12 percent of workers. As Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, remarked, "What does it say about the feasibility of the health-care law when the administration needs to exempt over 1,000 health plans from its own law?"

Ms. Charen quotes extensively from a National Affairs article titled " Government by Waiver" by Richard Epstein, also one of my favorites. He examines the waiver notion as it applies not just to Obamacare, but other regulatory regimes. What's the common problem in all instances? Epstein:

The fate of our rights and liberties is left to the wisdom and discretion of individuals; we are therefore governed by men, not by laws. It was this exact circumstance that our system of government was designed to avoid: As James Madison noted in Federalist No. 10, "enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm." In this sense, the problem of government by waiver shows us just how far we have strayed from the intentions of those who created our system of government -- and how we risk betraying their hope that we might preserve it.

Tossing the car keys to bureaucrats with no effective constraints on their arbitrary behavior is no way to run a country.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 5:58 AM EDT
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The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra

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

As Abe Lincoln probably didn't say: If you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you'll like.

Good scientist Dr. Paul Armstrong and his lovely wife Betty are on the trail to find a meteorite that he thinks might contain the rare element "atmospherium". Unfortunately, Evil Scientist Dr. Roger Fleming is also looking for it in order to revivify the titular Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and bring about his plans for world domination. And (by sheerest chance) a couple of humanoid aliens (Kro-Bar, and his wife Lattis) have crash-landed their spaceship in the area, and need atmospherium for repairs.

And, worse yet, the aliens have accidentally let loose "Mutant", an ugly three-eyed beast that looks just like a guy in a cheap rubber suit.

As you can tell, the movie is strictly for laughs, poking gentle fun at the cheapie SF horrorfests of the 50s. The movie appears to have been made for about $398, including salaries. (It actually cost, according to one of the special-feature interviews, "under $100,000.")

The dialog is intentionally loopy. When Dr. Paul suspects that Kro-Bar and Lattis may not be of this world, Kro-Bar replies: "Aliens? Us? Is this one of your Earth jokes?"

So it's very funny, but (to quibble) it's just one joke, over and over, for for the entire 90-minute movie. I don't care how funny a joke is: eventually, you're gonna stop laughing at it. (Well, maybe if you're high. We weren't.)


Last Modified 2012-09-26 5:57 AM EDT
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You Tell Me Mistakes

… are part of being young: [Sorry]

  • I think people who make excuses for light-to-no blogging are lame. And yet, here I am, doing just that.
    • A couple of work projects slopped into me-time;
    • I migrated to Google Reader for everyday web-surfing, which took a surprising amount of experimentation and false starts to "do right";
    • Mid-spring yard work;
    • Abducted by UFOs (Unusual Family Obligations);
    • One too many doctor visits;
    • I fell behind on my dead-trees reading;
    • I got a Kindle!
    • And so I immediately fell behind on my Kindle reading.

    I think I see things settling down, although I could simply be adjusting to a different level of chaos.

  • Here's something I don't have time for: figuring out what Newt Gingrich really thinks about health insurance mandates or entitlement reform.

    At Commentary, Peter Wehner tried. Key terms: "intellectually incoherent", "flip-flopped", "irresponsible", "unsettling". And he digs out an old quote from one of Newtie's ex-friends:

    "The important thing you have to understand about Newt Gingrich is that he is amoral. There isn't any right or wrong, there isn't any conservative or liberal. There's only what will work best for Newt Gingrich."

    Unfortunately, that rings true.

    At Cato, Michael F. Cannon is merciless.

    … Newt endorsed a "variation of the individual mandate" (tell me again why he opposes ObamaCare?) and said there is "a way to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy." He must have meant to say leftists rather than libertarians. Regardless, I invite Newt to come to the Cato Institute so he can explain to people who actually care about freedom just how happy he's going to make us.

    The surest way Newt could make me happy: "I am ending my campaign…"

  • When faced with demands to bring government finances under control, Democrats have a two-part universal solution: (a) find a convenient set of scapegoats; (b) propose raising their taxes.

    Given gasoline prices, it's not surprising to see the "big oil companies" getting flogged this time around.

    David Harsanyi performs some useful debunking. Among other things:

    How much would Harry Reid and friends save Americans by ending these tax perks? In five years, an estimated $18 billion. To put this savings in perspective (and we'll get back to how president Barack Obama would like to spend… er, "invest" this money), the federal government borrows around $28 billion every week. To make this kind of trivial savings the focus of a high-profile plan to is to engage in transparently political gotchas.

    And Ron Bailey notes that $18 billion over five years compared to…

    According to estimates by Earth Track founder, Douglas Koplow, if current laws are maintained until 2022, the biofuels industry will receive more than $60 billion per year in subsidies, more than six times the $9.5 billion in support received in 2008.

    The corporate welfare queens and their government enablers are hoping people won't notice.

  • Cracked articles are usually fun and interesting, but I thought "The 8 Most Disgusting Animal Defenses" was above average. For example, everything I know about Komodo Dragons is from the famous Bob and Ray sketch. But from Cracked:

    They're not poisonous. Their mouths are just so disgusting that they might as well be. The gingival tissue surrounding their teeth is constantly being lacerated, causing perpetual open wounds and the flow of blood. This turns their mouths into a Taco Bell-level bacterial orgy.

    Disgusting facts about seven other beasties at the link.

  • Wisdom in unexpected places, via this xkcd cartoon: the Wikipedia "List of numbers" says at the top:

    This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.

    And via this post at Language Log: Wikipedia's article on toilets is similarly self-descriptive:

    This article may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality standards.

  • From this collection of Twitter one-liners at Wired:

    Finding the perfect analogy is like balancing a muffin on a pencil.
    Joe Randazzo
    @Randazzoj

    I think he meant "simile", but it's still funny.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:12 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2011-05-15 Update

[phony baloney]

When I started this campaign season's Phony Poll a few months back, I thought setting the criterion for inclusion to be a 4%-or-greater score at Intrade would give a relatively stable pool of candidates. That whole "wisdom of crowds" thing, right?

Boy, was I wrong. Just between last Sunday and today:

  • Mike Huckabee is gone. This makes sense, since (if you haven't heard) he took himself out of the running yesterday. The crowds, at least the ones that hang around Intrade, did not see that coming.

  • Herman Cain is in, at 4.8%. Which is sort of sensible, since he's been polling decently recently.

  • Donald Trump is down to 3.6%, so he's out.

  • Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown popped up to 7.7%, despite the fact that (as near as I can tell) he's shown no interest in running. Nevertheless, rules are rules, so he's in.

  • After a one-week appearance due to a 15% score at Intrade, Chris Christie is back down to around 3%. So long, Governor Christie.

  • Jon Huntsman, on the other hand, vanished from our poll last week, scoring 2% at Intrade. And this week, he's up to 12%. Welcome back to the Phony Poll, Governor Huntsman.

  • Sarah Palin is up at 5.2%, so she's back in the poll after a couple weeks' absence.

  • I (frankly) didn't expect to see Newt Gingrich again, but Intrade puts him at 4.7%. Newt Gingrich, come on down!

  • Newt might have gotten a bounce from his official entry into the race this week. But Ron Paul, determined to show that not all libertarians are actually sane, also announced this week, but nevertheless remains a 3.1% long shot at Intrade.

So without further ado, the phony results for our shaken-up field:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-05-08
"Barack Obama" phony 4,660,000 +130,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 2,920,000 ---
"Newt Gingrich" phony 2,120,000 ---
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 881,000 +32,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 747,000 +6,000
"Herman Cain" phony 733,000 ---
"Mitch Daniels" phony 651,000 +53,000
"Scott Brown" phony 428,000 ---
"Jon Huntsman" phony 323,000 ---

Making the phony radar this week:

  • As a farewell to Mike Huckabee, we'll note that this story about his departure from the race contains:

    Huckabee stated, “What a hyocrite, what a phony!”

    Context shows (unfortunately) that he was not speaking about any of his fellow candidates, but instead about porn-loving, beard-dying, narcissist Osama bin Laden. Sure, Huck: go for the easy target.

  • The Phony-in-Chief spoke about unemployment at a "Town Hall" sponsored by CBS News in Washington D.C. And let loose a pandering howler to an audience undoubtedly filled with government workers:

    "The reason the unemployment rate is still as high as it is, in part, is because there have been huge layoffs of government workers at the federal level, at the state level, at the local level," he said. "Teachers, police officers, firefighters, social workers-- they have really taken it in the chin over the last several months. And so, what we're trying to do is to see if we can stabilize the budget."

    As the indispensable Jim Geraghty points out, this is mendacious bullshit.

  • But President Obama was on a roll. Also this week, he was out in the west Texas town of El Paso, where he fell in love with a Mexican girl mostly lied about immigration.

    “The [border] fence is now basically complete,” asserted the president. Complete? There are now 350 miles of pedestrian fencing along the Mexican border. The border is 1,954 miles long. That’s 18 percent. And only one-tenth of that 18 percent is the double and triple fencing that has proved so remarkably effective in, for example, the Yuma sector. Another 299 miles — 15 percent — are vehicle barriers that pedestrians can walk right through.

    Obama then boasted that on his watch 31 percent more drugs have been seized, 64 percent more weapons — proof of how he has secured the border. And for more proof: Apprehension of illegal immigrants is down 40 percent. Down? Indeed, says Obama, this means that fewer people are trying to cross the border.

    Interesting logic. Seizures of drugs and guns go up — proof of effective border control. Seizures of people go down — yet more proof of effective border control. Up or down, it matters not. Whatever the numbers, Obama vindicates himself.

    That's Charles Krauthammer, and you should read the whole thing.

  • In honor of Newt's entry into the race, and his re-entry into the Phony Poll, let's look at the Washington Post's "Fact Checker" on Newt's interview with Sean Hannity on Fox. Newt's awarded four "Pinocchios", the highest possible. To me, Newt's gravest sin is:

    Ronald Reagan didn't get up every morning and say, gee, I wish they like me. Ronald Reagan had been a movie actor. Only had one movie, ‘King's Row,’ get a good review from the New York Times. Only one. But he had a pretty good career because it turned out that middle class, Middle America liked his movies.

    The Fact Checker checked, and lo and behold, the New York Times didn't like King's Row that much. But:

    We checked 10 of Reagan’s best-known movies. As mentioned, “King’s Row” (1942) was panned by The Times, as were “Working Her Way Through College” (1952), “Hellcats of the Navy” (1957), “The Killers” (1964) and “Storm Warning” (1951).

    Bedtime for Bonzo” (1951) got a lukewarm review.

    But these movies got positive notices, even raves: “Knute Rockne: All American” (1940), “Hasty Heart” (1949), “The Winning Team” (1952), and “Brother Rat” (1938).

    One wonders how and why Gingrich came to believe this fairy tale. Too good to check?

    Alternate theory: Newt's been taking lessons from President Obama.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 5:56 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — Mother's Day Update

[phony baloney]

Some weird stuff going on at Intrade this week; New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had never scored over our (arbitrary) 4% inclusion threshold since we started phonyblogging back in January. But (as I type) he's all of a sudden at a 15.0% probability of getting the GOP presidential nomination, putting him right up there with front-runners Mitt Romney (16.0%) and Tim Pawlenty (15.9%). This despite the fact that (as near as I can tell) Christie has made no recent moves toward actually running.

Go figure. Like Jeanne Shaheen, I can only blame greedy speculators.

Christie's bounce means that other candidates have to deflate, and so we bid farewell for now to Michele Bachmann (at 2%, and Intrade hasn't yet managed to spell her name correctly) and Jon Huntsman (also now at 2%).

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-05-01
"Barack Obama" phony 4,530,000 -70,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 2,370,000 -80,000
"Chris Christie" phony 931,000 ---
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 849,000 +38,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 741,000 -14,000
"Mitch Daniels" phony 598,000 +22,000
"Donald Trump" phony 500,000 -221,000

And now the phony stories behind the news:

  • The phony word of the week is "gutsy". Bruce McQuain collects a number of folks using that word or a variant thereof in reference to President Obama's green-light to Operation Geronimo. And you may have heard that—at least for now—the URL http://gutsycall.com redirects to the Obama campaign website.

    OK, so it was gutsy—for Obama. Making a decision that, given similar circumstances, probably 41 of the previous 43 inhabitants of the office would have made the same way. (I'm not too sure about James Buchanan or Franklin Pierce.)

    Surely, Stewart or Colbert have mercilessly satirized this herd of independent (but thesaurus-lacking) minds? Or the quick metamorphosis of a catchphrase into a talking point into a campaign meme? No? Well, maybe this week.

  • Up here in the Granite State, Bruce Keough, the chairman of Mitt Romney's (losing) 2008 primary campaign, disclosed that he'll be dancing with someone else this time around.

    It's this ever-changing persona that soured Keough on Romney. "I don't think the voters are looking for somebody who's going to be recasting himself," he says. "They want somebody who's been true to a certain set of political ideals for a while."

    We'd prefer a less obvious phony, in other words.

  • Five GOP candidates showed up for a debate in South Carolina, only one of whom is currently above 4% at Intrade. And at least one observer was even unimpressed with him:

    As for Pawlenty, I’ve got to come down on the side of those who are less than sanguine about the way he came across. He was, as I noted during the debate, the one with the most polished answers and sounded the most knowledgeable on foreign policy. But his attitude seemed phony, if not sanctimonious. I think it was more than the bad makeup job that Jen Rubin and others have pointed out. If this was his first chance to breakout from the pack, he missed it.

  • The New York Times reported the reaction of Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus to the SC contenders:

    “As we all know, there are numerous other candidates that are looking at it — and thank God,” Mr. Priebus said before the proceedings began.

    Wait a minute. Who did he say to thank?


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:04 AM EDT
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Black Swan

[2.5
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Note to Moms out there: if you would like to discourage your little girl from becoming a ballerina, this is the movie to have her watch. It's the bearded-Spock universe's version of The Red Shoes. Your daughter won't want to dance. She will be frightened by swans. In fact, she will become catatonic if she gets too near the Swan Boats in the Public Garden in Boston.

Natalie Portman plays Nina, who's eager to climb to the top of the ballet world, playing (both) the White and Black Swans in Swan Lake, staged by a Big Important New York Ballet Company. She successfully displaces the older star (played by Winona Ryder), who doesn't take it well. Nina's director (Vincent Cassel) drives her mercilessly. She suspects another dancer (Mila Kunis) is trying to horn in on her role. Her mother (Barbara Hershey) is a has-been (and never-was) dancer herself, and she's a manipulative lunatic.

And then things gets kind of creepy: Nina starts hallucinating she gets paranoid, she hangs out with the wrong kind of people, ingests some ill-advised of substances, and otherwise neglects the USDA nutrition pyramid. Things go badly.

This movie won Natalie Portman a Best Actress Oscar, and got four other Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. So I'm surprised I didn't like it better; I think I was put off by the creepiness and ambiguity. ("I had no idea what was real and what was fantasy!" "It was all fantasy, Paul: it's a movie." "Well, yeah, but…")


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:02 AM EDT
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Bloodsucking Fiends

[Amazon Link]

[Playing catchup with my neglected book and movie blogging today.]

I'm not a fan of horror books, but that preference is easily trumped for my author-love for Christopher Moore.

His heroine here is the lovely Jody, an insurance company underling, trying to become upwardly mobile in big bad San Francisco, perpetually disappointed and disrespected in her love life. But one fateful night she's grabbed by an ancient vampire, and wakes up as that sort of undead being herself.

She decides she needs a Renfield to go along with her new status, and settles on C. Thomas Flood, a kid just into town from the Midwest. He's aspiring to be a writer, although he seems to have more aspiration than actual talent. So he takes a job as a night manager at a local supermarket, in charge of the Animals, a motley squad of losers who'd rather spend time turkey-bowling.

Here's a line at which I laughed out loud: "A collective gasp rose from the crew as the fourteen-pound, self-basting, fresh-frozen projectile of wholesome savory goodness plowed into the soap bottles like a freight train into a chorus line of drunken grandmothers."

Jody and Tommy have an uneasy partnership: they need to discover under what rules her vampirosity is governed, they need to come to an understanding about the nature of their relationship, and they need to thwart the demon that vampirized Jody, who continues to stalk the SF streets.

Bloodsucking Fiends is the first book of a series, so I'll be putting the others into my virtual to-be-read pile.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:01 AM EDT
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The Tourist

[2.5
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

[Playing catchup with my neglected book and movie blogging today.]

This got mediocre reviews, a mediocre score from IMDB voters, and Netflix didn't think I'd like it very much. But—guess what?—Mrs. Salad looooves Johnny Depp, so into the top of the Netflix queue it went. And it's not awful, it's just mindless fluff.

Elise, played by Angelina Jolie, is being shadowed by an elite crime-fighting force. She is their only hope of getting a line on her boyfriend, Alexander Pearce, a famed international thief. Pearce is also being sought by the last guy he ripped off, a ruthless mobster. To throw everyone off the track, Elise latches onto Frank (Depp), a clueless American; perhaps she can convince her pursuers that Frank is a surgically-altered Pearce. This gambit puts both Elise and Frank in peril. (Eventually. It takes a long time for anything to actually happen, peril-wise.)

Ms. Jolie changes into a lot of different costumes, and looks appropriately mysterious/glamorous. Mr. Depp demonstrates unexpected courage and resourcefulness. If only Depp were (say) Cary Grant and Ms. Jolie were (um…) Grace Kelly, and the whole thing was directed by Hitchcock 60 years ago… but it wasn't.

The movie was written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who previously wrote and directed the totally stunning (and far better) movie The Lives of Others. Hope this is just a dip in the road for him.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:01 AM EDT
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Ethical Intuitionism

[Amazon Link]

[Playing catchup with my neglected book and movie blogging today.]

Last month I noticed that Econlog's Bryan Caplan called Michael Huemer his "favorite living philosopher." That's good enough for me! So I checked out Ethical Intuitionism from the library at the University Near Here, and read it in tiny doses over the loan period.

It's a serious philosophical work by an actual professional philosopher, so when I say I "read" it, what I mean is: I looked at just about every page, honest. Although Huemer is a very good writer, his argument is aimed at his peers, and it's about a topic that's been discussed for centuries. When he responds to the views of others in the field, it's like coming in late to a deep multi-person conversation, where you can only hear one guy, and you're not that familiar with the jargon. But that's the nature of this sort of work.

Huemer's project is to explain and defend an objective ethics based on values that are directly perceived by rational intuition. This is (then) a theory of metaethics; other competing metaethical theories are non-cognitivism, subjectivism, reductionism, nihilism, and naturalism. Huemer criticizes each of these alternate approaches. He then lays out his careful argument for intutionism, considering and rebutting the various objections raised by others.

I was won over! But I'm typically persuaded by any plausible philosophical argument, as long as it's not self-evidently superficial. (But to the extent that I've thought about ethics at all in the past, I've found myself coming down in the same general area as Huemer.)

I find myself distrusting natural language, with all its fuzziness and ambiguity, as being an appropriate tool for philosophical discussion. For example, one of Huemer's refutations detects a fallacy based on his opponent glossing over different ways words can be "misused". Huemer is convincing, but—as far as I know—there could be equivalent fallacies here. I'd never notice.

Michael Huemer's personal web page is here. It contains some good jokes, good advice, and some scary quotes from the Bible.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 5:59 AM EDT
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The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

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

[Playing catchup with my neglected book and movie blogging today.]

We've been watching a lot of movies claiming to be film noir over the past few months; the label seems wildly inaccurate in some cases. But The Strange Love of Martha Ivers strikes me as the real deal, noirwise.

The movie opens in 1928 Iverstown, where young heiress Martha Ivers is tyrannized by her strict aunt (the Vulcan High Priestess herself, Dame Judith Anderson). Despite being about to inherit vast wealth, Martha tries to run away with young semi-hoodlum Sam Masterson. The attempt fails. Back at home is Martha's scheming tutor who wants to hitch up Martha with his goody two-shoes son, Walter. Conflict ensues, and Auntie winds up dead. Who'll take the fall?

Not Martha, as it turns out. Later that same century, she's come into her riches, and is played by Barbara Stanwyck (which is never a good sign); she's married to Walter, who has become the good-looking but insecure drunkard Kirk Douglas. Completing the triangle is Sam (now Van Heflin, and a war hero), who by coincidence is returning to Iverstown for the first time since 1928. Those old skeletons get taken out of the closet pretty quickly. Also—for some reason—Sam hooks up with Antonia (played by Lizabeth Scott); she has problems of her own that add just enough complications to push the plot to its high-body-count conclusion.

Trivia: this is Kirk Douglas's first movie.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:00 AM EDT
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Do the Brain Tap Shuffle

lose your mind: [debt ceiling]

  • David Harsanyi makes a good argument:

    It is reprehensible how politicians waste our time with whimsical notions about "debt ceilings" and "budgets." A federal debt limit is much like other government guidelines--e.g., "speed limits" and "filing taxes"--that exist only theoretically. In the past decade, Congress has raised the debt limit -- instituted in 1917 to restrain spending--10 times, and the U.S. has reached its ceiling 74 times since President Barack Obama's birth. So in other words, technically speaking, there is no ceiling. We might as well eliminate it.

    I agree that it's tough to see the purpose of a "limit" that doesn't effectively limit anything.

  • I love this opening to a Katherine Mangu-Ward review of Listed, a book about the politics of endangered species:

    Wolves are notoriously slow to hire lobbyists. Lichen doubly so.

    Ms. Mangu-Ward is both perceptive and funny.

  • If you're the sort of person (like me) that thinks President Obama can't get anything right, Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren will try to convert you on the issue of tax breaks for the oil and gas industry.

    First of all, let the record show that President Obama is right and the GOP is wrong about these tax breaks. They make the economy less--not more--efficient and do nothing to reduce prices at the pump.

    You'll want to read to the end, however: Jerry and Peter point out that Obama only gets two cheers: he's indulged in shameless demagoguery on the issue; he falsely claims that eliminating the tax breaks will lower pump prices; he fails to extend his (correct) arguments to other more politically-favored industries; he proposes to extend and expand equally-indefensible subsidies to "renewable" energy industries.

    So it's kind of like applauding a stopped clock because it's right twice a day. Still…


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:05 AM EDT
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But I Shot a Man in Abbottabad

… just to watch him die:

  • Let me be the last to blog about the happy news of Osama bin Laden's demise at the hands of Navy Seals. For all the crap I hurl at President Obama, I'm gratified that he didn't send a team of cops to attempt an arrest with Miranda rights read, etc.

    So: good job, Mr. President. You made the right call. You stuck with it. Thanks from me and my family.

    And we now return to our regularly scheduled libertard screeching…

  • There's P.J. O'Rourke content at the Weekly Standard. He has a worthy revenue-raising suggestion: a tax on political power.
    Wipe that smirk off your face, Mister President. "We cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society." Is there some Sidwell Friends night school class liberal politicians take to perfect an expression of smug disdain? When Teddy Roosevelt was demagogue-in-chief he at least had the nerve to come right out and call the successful people he despised "malefactors of great wealth." He didn't simper and moue at his audience. Go ahead and say it, President Obama: Let's steal from the rich and give to the poor. Never mind that we're doing a pretty good job of it already. The top 5 percent of the nation's earners are being soaked for almost 60 percent of America's tax revenue.

  • In other news, the Onion has the goods on the latest iteration of President Obama's fiscal efforts:

    WASHINGTON--Saying the nation must face the "grave realities" of its mounting debt, President Barack Obama unveiled a deficit-reduction plan Wednesday that included far-reaching spending cuts, pulling off a daring robbery of the heavily fortified Fort Knox bullion depository, and repealing Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

    And the scary thing is: it kind of sounds like something he might want to try.

  • I'm a longtime subscriber to the dead-trees National Review not least because of prose zingers like this:
    John Steinbeck at his best—Of Mice and Men—was a force. At his worst—The Grapes of Wrath—he was the liberals' Ayn Rand, minus the fun parts.
    That's the introduction to a pointer to recent work by Bill Steigerwald, who demonstrated that much of Steinbeck's Travels with Charley was manufactured balderdash. Wisely or unwisely, Reason puts its print content on the web eventually, so you can read a short version of Steigerwald's' debunking of the myth yourself.

  • Back at the Weekly Standard, Michael Warren went behind the lines to report on the earnest collegians attending "Power Shift 2011", a gathering of young environmental activists. Sample:
    There was plenty of discussion about "white privilege" and the "oppressor-oppressed dichotomy," but it wasn't exactly clear what any of this had to do with the environment. Luckily, Langer Smith had the answer. "One day, I just started writing down how white privilege causes climate change," she said. "Everything from silence to white supremacy to the ignorance of about a whole, like, side of not just your community, but you know, like, the world."
  • At the Washington Post, Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman have a plaintive query: Why do Americans still dislike atheists?

    Let's ask the Google:

    [atheists are...]

    Well, that helps explain the problem. A previous Pun Salad observation on atheists here.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:03 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2011-05-01 Update

[phony baloney]

I'm a little surprised to be dropping Sarah Palin from our phony poll this week, as she has (at least as I type) fallen below our (arbitrary) 4% Intrade inclusion threshold. She's all the way down to 3.2%, putting her behind Haley Barbour (3.7%).

How poor a showing is that? Well, Haley Barbour pulled out as an active candidate this week. But, according to Intrade, he's still got a better shot at it than Sarah.

Other than that, there were no changes in the standings, although all candidates saw significant increases in their Phony hit count:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2011-04-24
"Barack Obama" phony 4,600,000 +80,000
"Mike Huckabee" phony 2,450,000 +320,000
"Michele Bachmann" phony 1,520,000 +130,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 811,000 +66,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 755,000 +67,000
"Donald Trump" phony 721,000 +146,000
"Mitch Daniels" phony 576,000 +74,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 229,000 +14,000

  • In longshot-ville, both Gary Johnson (Intrade: 1.5%) and Ron Paul (Intrade: 1.9%) took steps toward running.

  • And (in slightly old news that people are only just now starting to pay attention to) Herman Cain (Intrade: 0.4%) won a poll as the most effective speaker at the Concord NH Tax Day Tea Party a couple weeks back. And was also impressive at the Americans for Prosperity Forum in Manchester NH last Friday.

  • But those guys don't seem to be phony enough to be taken seriously as potential Presidents, at least according to the Intraders. Michael Tanner profiled Johnson at National Review Online this week:

    It says something about our political culture that while the mainstream media were obsessed last week with the latest bizarre pronouncements by Donald Trump, another businessman-turned-politician was becoming the first declared Republican presidential candidate, with far less fanfare.

    In many ways, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson is the anti-Trump. While Trump is bombastic and self-aggrandizing, Johnson is self-effacing, often coming across as more wonk than politician. You’re not likely to see him in his own reality show any time soon.

  • A good gauge of phoniness: ask a candidate denouncing corporate welfare in Iowa about ethanol subsidies. Tim Pawlenty passed with flying colors:

    During Pawlenty's speech, he criticized Wall Street and corporate welfare, what he termed "special deals for some.''

    But when asked after the speech about ethanol subsidies—which have come under fired from some fiscal conservatives, but are considered crucial in Iowa, where Pawlenty's campaign could live or die—he hedged.

    Oh well.

  • The GOP candidates still have a long way to go to beat President Obama in the phony race, however. Andrew Malcolm provided a list of events that suggest the President isn't even trying to hide the phoniness any more:

    What the public sees, while it frets over stubborn unemployment and soaring gas prices, is a diffident Democrat who takes a 17-vehicle motorcade of SUVs and limos to be seen looking at clean-energy cars.

    A pontificating president who suggests that one worried commuter buy a new car instead of complaining.

    A guy who spent 745 million donated dollars to get into the White House complaining to visiting editors about losing his anonymity and being locked in the presidential bubble that provide service, luxury, power and security unimaginable to most.

    But read the whole thing.

  • At the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin took aim at the President's phony search for oil speculators:

    The president’s search for the bad guys reminds me of O.J. Simpson’s search for his ex-wife’s “real killer.” In fact, there is no bogeyman in the oil industry; to the extent there is market distortion it is of the administration’s own making.

    There might be an oil shortage, but if we could somehow harness the energy expended by politicians in scapegoating, we'd be in pretty good shape.


Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:03 AM EDT
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