The Good Dinosaur

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

Definitely a minor Pixar effort here. We wisely waited for the DVD to percolate to the top of the Netflix queue.

The plot: you know the massive meteor that (in our reality) hit Earth and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs? Let's postulate it just grazed the atmosphere instead, causing the great lizards to look up briefly, think Huh! What was that?, and go back to their dino-lives.

Millions of years pass, evolution does its thing, and now dinosaurs have invented language, tool-making, and agriculture. But no machinery, they rely on their brute strength to clear their fields, plow the earth, and build rudimentary structures.

Into one such farming family is born Arlo. He's relatively small, clumsy, and cowardly, but loved anyway. It's what dinosaur families do. But Dad's patience is tested when Arlo can't manage to do one simple thing right: kill a pesty "critter" who's been stealing corn from their farm. In the effort to "man up" Arlo, Poppa unthinkingly leads them into a dangerous situation, and before you can say "hey, they're not going to go all Lion King on us, are they?" … yeah, that's exactly what they do.

So Arlo is now small, clumsy, cowardly, and under extreme levels of guilt. This causes him to go off after the "critter", which is (well you can see from the DVD picture over there) is a cave-boy. Yes, evolution has allowed a more-or-less-human species, although they seem to have a lot of canine qualities too: howling, panting, scratching… (The critter eventually gets named "Spot".)

Arlo's critter-bashing quest quickly goes awry, and he finds himself lost, and his only option is an uneasy alliance with Spot. And… well, I'm pretty sure you can figure out the general outlines of the plot from there. It's pretty generic.

Pixar renders the dinosaurs cartoonishly, which is a little surprising. They appear to be made of the same rubbery stuff as their sold-at-WalMart action figures.

But (on the other hand) Pixar has gotten really good at environments and landscapes. Some of the scenery seems photorealistic and breathtaking.

And there are a few indications that there's still brilliant cleverness at Pixar. Arlo and Spot encounter a seemingly-wise-but-actually-confused Styracosaurus named "Pet Collector" who delivers a short but hilarious bit of dialog. (Spoilers in IMDB's "quote" section if you must, but it's almost worth sitting through a lot of the movie's sentimental dreck instead.)

The Upside of Inequality

How Good Intentions Undermine the Middle Class

[Amazon Link]

Another book obtained via UNH Interlibrary Loan, from Brandeis. Surprisingly, I'm not the first borrower! I know, because some previous borrower wrote illegibly in pencil here and there. Might be Spanish? Can't tell.

Anyway, the author, Edward Conard, was Mitt Romney's business partner at Bain Capital. His first book, Unintended Consequences, was published in 2012; there, he discussed what he saw as the underlying causes of the 2008 financial crisis. As he admits, his relationship with Romney gave the book a lot more attention and controversy that it would have otherwise received.

This book seems to be, more or less, a continuation of that debate, covering what has turned out to be a rather lackluster recovery from the Great Recession.

Specifically: although the book's title might lead you to believe that it's mainly about inequality, it's really more about the macroeconomic state of the US; inequality is just one of the manifestations of that, and not (in Conard's mind, and I'm in agreement) a very important one.

The inequality bit is also easiest to dispose of: Conard argues, convincingly, that it's a natural occurrence of today's economy that concentrates on scalable mass services. To the extent that it is a problem, it's caused by two major factors: trade imbalances and low-skilled (legal and illegal) immigration.

Other than that, the book is wide-ranging and not always "conservative". For example, most free-market economists I read aren't that concerned with the US's long-running trade deficits. Conard is; he argues that what we "get back" from other countries as a result is "risk-averse savings" (a phrase he invokes tirelessly), which we neither need or want in such volume. He proposes a statist fix: if someone wants permission to import $X dollars of goods from country Y, they'll need to arrange for Y to buy an equivalent amount of product from US. (Or some other country, Z. These licenses could be traded off.)

He's also in favor of putting the thumb on the immigration scale, getting as many high-skilled immigrants to come to the US as possible. He argues that one of the causes of our current doldrums, a constraint on economic growth, is the lack of "properly trained talent".

The book is marred by Conrad's writing style, which is coma-inducing. (The Commentary review by John Steele Gordon says it's "well-written". Lie! The National Reviewer deemed it "rousing". Wrong!) Example: Amazon's "search inside the book" feature counts 60 occurrences of the phrase (noted above) "properly trained" (usually "properly trained talent" but sometimes "properly trained workers"). This gets tedious around repetition number five or so.

That said, I'm reluctant to judge Conard's arguments and proposals on their merits. He writes authoritatively, but turgidly, and I'm pretty sure I lost the thread a number of points along the way. I won't say I gleaned nothing from the book, but I'm maybe not his audience. (It was a NYT best-seller, so I'm wondering how many of those readers feel the same way.)

URLs du Jour


■ Will Proverbs continue its relevant streak? C'mon, 28:3:

A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.

I don't think President Trump "oppresses the poor", but the description is otherwise apt, isn't it?

[Today's Getty image: driving rain! Heh, get it?]

■ We turn to Peter Suderman at Reason for his initial take on House Republicans' efforts: The GOP’s Obamacare Repeal Bill Is Here. Is This Just Obamacare Lite?

After months of confusion and secrecy, House Republicans have finally revealed their Obamacare repeal legislation. While it's useful to have House Republicans on the record with a legislative plan, the plan doesn't offer any estimate for how much it would cost, or how many people it would (or wouldn't) cover. In general, it's not clear what problems this particular bill would actually solve.

I trust Suderman when he says: "it's better than nothing. But it's not enough."

■ Suderman's better half, Megan McArdle, pens advice in her Bloomberg column: Attention, Student Protesters: Use Your Words.

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you. Or so we were told by our mothers. But events on both sides of continent in recent weeks seem to belie that old adage. A new generation of protesters has come to the conclusion that words do hurt -- and that therefore, extreme measures, up to and including physical force, are justified to keep them from being spoken.

I would only quibble with the implication that the driving force behind the recent violence is "new". As I've noted previously, it's practically Marcuse 101.

■ Those trying to keep track of the status of the horrible Export-Import Bank should check out Melissa Quinn's article at the Daily Signal: Trump’s Mixed Signals on Export-Import Bank Leave Door Open for Conservatives. Can we finally drive a stake through the heart of this undead institution of corrupt cronyism?

There is just one problem: Trump has sent mixed signals on where he stands on the Export-Import Bank, and though his budget director and advisers oppose the agency, Trump signaled early in his administration he could be swayed.

Translation: Trump operates more on whim than principle. So it's anyone's guess what will happen next.

■ The College Fix reports the sad news: Columbia sorority’s domestic violence fundraiser canned due to ‘insensitivity,’ ‘transphobia’.

Why? Well, the Alpha Chi Omega sorority's event "invited students (including males) 'to wear high heels and traverse college walk, and sends proceeds from the event to charities for survivors of domestic violence in New York.'" And so…

But according to the Columbia Spectator, some criticized the Walk as being too “comedic,” that it “frame[d] the crossing of traditional gender boundaries” as a “spectacle,” and “implie[d] that only women are targets of gender-based violence.”

So, yeah, can't have that. Fortunately, there are no doubt some Alpha Chi Omega sisters who now realize the futility in dealing with True Believers.

■ And finally, horrible news from the European Union: Makers of Blue Wine Thwarted by EU Regulations.

A group of young entrepreneurs from the Basque region of Spain who launched a new kind of blue wine in 2015 is now facing resistance from national and supranational bureaucrats. An anonymous complaint that the Spanish Wine Federation, which represents three-fourths of the country's wine producers, insists it did not file yielded a fine from Spain's agriculture ministry for violating wine regulations. The company that produces the blue wine, Gïk, has relabeled its product and added 1 percent grape must to avoid being considered a "pure wine."

Yeah, I can't parse that last sentence either. But the lesson is clear: once again we are being denied the blue food.