I Try to be Amused

But those nefarious Democrats keep pulling me back toward "disgusted." Specifically, via their energy policy. Or, even more specifically, via their scapegoating excuses to explain why they don't have a sensible energy policy:

  • High energy prices are all the fault of "reckless Wall Street speculation". (Examples: NH Senate candidate Jeanne Shaheen and current NH-01 Congressperson Carol Shea-Porter.)

    A previous Pun Salad post called bullshit on this point here. Since then Sebastian Mallaby at the WaPo has written on what he called the "Nixonian Fallacy", and more recently Jeffrey Carter has debunked the notion at Pajamas Media. And this article from Fortune quotes the latest report from the CFTC: "current oil prices and the increase in oil prices between January 2003 and June 2008 are largely due to fundamental supply and demand factors."

  • Lack of domestic energy supply is due to eeeevil oil companies not drilling in areas they've already leased. (Examples: the previously-mentioned Carol Shea-Porter; the previously-mentioned Jeanne Shaheen; presidential candidate Barack Obama.)

    Even on its face, this isn't very credible. Oil companies are failing to exploit economically-viable oil? Why?

    But in case you're looking for more: the WSJ deems this notion "obviously false"; Captain Ed calls it "poppycock".

  • Drilling will not provide short-term relief. (Example: Obama, again.)

    An argument made by folks who (a) routinely deride the free-market for failing to think beyond the current fiscal year; (b) opposed drilling years ago, back when "long-term" was today's "short-term."

    In any case, it's also likely to be untrue.

These are relatively old excuses. And there are more: Newt has a list of them, and their refutations.

But there's a new one in town!

  • Why drill for more oil? You just need to inflate your tires!


    There are things you can do individually, though, to save energy. Making sure your tires are properly inflated — simple thing. But we could save all the oil that they’re talking about getting off drilling — if everybody was just inflating their tires? And getting regular tune-ups? You could actually save just as much!

    Now, nobody doubts that keeping your tires properly inflated will improve your mileage. But Obama's claim that this good idea, more widely followed, would make a significant dent in demand doesn't survive the most cursory back-of-the-envelope calculations. See the indispensible Geraghty; Captain Ed; John Hinderaker.

    Obama's "tune-up" thing is merely a charming anachronism, harkening back to the days of carburetors, distributors, and periodically-replaced sparkplugs. If you want mileage tips, listen to Popular Mechanics, not Obama.

Key points: these are the people who want—who think they deserve—more control over the government's energy policy. Their assertions and proposals range from the silly to the ignorant. To the extent that anyone takes them seriously, they're dangerous.

Coyote Blog noticed an interesting fact about Democratic energy rhetoric:

Through it all, there is this sort of cognitive dissonance where half the arguments are that the oil won't be developed, and the other half seem to be based on an assumption that a lot of oil will be developed.
That's a sure sign of either stupidity or disingenuousness. (Which would be worse?) Coyote thinks it would be "refreshing" to, just for once, hear the honest argument:
Yeah, I know that $4 gas is painful. But do you know what? Gas prices are going to have to go a LOT higher for us to achieve the CO2 abatement targets I am proposing, so suck it up. Just to give you a sense of scale, the Europeans pay nearly twice as much as we do for gas, and even at those levels, they are orders of magnitude short of the CO2 abatement I have committed us to achieve. Since late 2006, gas prices in this country have doubled, and demand has fallen by perhaps 5%. That will probably improve over time as people buy new cars and change behaviors, but it may well require gasoline prices north of $20 a gallon before we meet the CO2 goal I have adopted. So get ready.
I wouldn't agree with that, but I'd respect it. As it is now, Democrats are acting as if that's their policy, and lying shamelessly about it. Which is disgusting.

Last Modified 2008-09-12 1:08 PM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • [Cathy
Poulin] We note that Pun Salad's unoffical and (most importantly) unpaid mascot will be making an appearance in support of a new store opening in Bellingham MA (just off I-495's Exit 18, in the lonely stretch between the Mass Pike and Foxboro):
    On Saturday, August 9th, Bob's Discount Furniture TV personalities Cathy Poulin and William Newton along with the new Bob’s Discount Furniture Community Outreach Van will make a special appearance and welcome customers. Coffee mugs, balloons and T-shirts will be given away while customers can also enjoy free food and beverages at the store's Café and along with entertainment in the video arcade.
    Sounds like fun! But not enough fun to justify the gas money. As always, we ask any readers who attend this event to extend Cathy our best wishes.

  • A sample from this week's Rochester (NH) Police Log:
    Wednesday, July 16

    6:03 p.m. — Five gallons of gas have been siphoned from a Four Rod Road truck. The complainant knows who the sucker is.

  • And, finally, a quote from Iowahawk:
    Sure it's a hybrid. It burns gas and rubber!

Last Modified 2018-04-17 6:46 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • Fans of Milton Friedman and Robert Heinlein will want to check out Fred R. Shapiro's "On Language" column where he checks out the origin of many politically-relevant phrases including "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch." If I were less of a libertarian, I might support legislation requiring all candidates for public office to have that tattooed on their foreheads. Is that so wrong?

  • Drew Cline catches a recent press release from my own Congressperson, Carol Shea-Porter, that begins:
    Today, BP—one of the country’s major oil companies—announced a second-quarter profit of $9.47 billion.
    Today, Pun Salad—one of New Hampshire's minor blogs—announced its opinion that Carol Shea-Porter should be kept far, far, away from any decision-making involving energy policy.

  • But it's not just Democrat Congresscritters displaying their ignorance, it's also Republican presidential candidates. At the Freakonomics blog, Justin Wolfers notes John McCain's response to questioning on his proposed "gas tax holiday", specifically on the near-universal belief among economists that the benefits of the "holiday" would go to suppliers:
    STEPHANOPOULOS: How would you prevent that?

    MCCAIN: We would make them shamed into it. We, of course, know how to -- American public opinion. And we would penalize them, if necessary. But they wouldn't. They would pass it on.

    STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you about...

    MCCAIN: But let me just finally say, Americans need trust and confidence in their government.

    Yeesh. Comments Wolfers:
    McCain’s response — that tax incidence is a function of shame — is completely novel to me. Does shame really determine oil prices? If so, why aren’t the oil companies already feeling ashamed of high oil prices? I don’t get it.

    And if shame doesn’t work, Mr. McCain would “penalize them.” Is he suggesting price controls? Or something else? Help me.

    My opinion: McCain can win on economic issues, because if he makes clear the distinctions between his (relatively) free-market policies and Obama's socialism-with-a-smile, most Americans will go for the former. But he has to stop treating economics, and economists, as the enemy.

  • How would you respond to an invitation to dinner under the stars with Hillary Clinton? I would suggest Shawn Macomber as your role model.

URLs du Jour


  • Well, despite all those mean things conservatives said about Senator McCain in the past, we can certainly rely on his pledge not to increase Social Security taxes. Oh, wait…

    Noah Millman explains why that's a particularly bad idea.

  • Investor's Business Daily starts a series titled "The Audacity of Socialism," an analysis of the lefty policies and influences of the "even worse than McCain" candidate. Part One here.

  • Please note you shouldn't make stuff up about candidates' tax proposals. Instead, check out non-made-up stuff from Michael Boskin at the WSJ"
    What if I told you that a prominent global political figure in recent months has proposed: abrogating key features of his government's contracts with energy companies; unilaterally renegotiating his country's international economic treaties; dramatically raising marginal tax rates on the "rich" to levels not seen in his country in three decades (which would make them among the highest in the world); and changing his country's social insurance system into explicit welfare by severing the link between taxes and benefits?
    Further hint: his name rhymes with "Yo' mama."

  • UNH's front web page today celebrates our appearance on the Princeton Review's Green Rating Honor Roll this year, sharing the highest possible rating with 10 other schools.

    Not mentioned at all anywhere on UNH official websites: our appearance on the Princeton Review's other lists. We rank:

    • #3 on PR's "Lots of Beer" list;

    • #4 on the "Little Race/Class Interaction" list;

    • #5 on the "Homogeneous Student Population" list;

    • #6 on the "Town-Gown Relations are Strained" list;

    • #18 on the "Professors Get Low Marks" list;

    • #14 on the "Least Accessible Professors" list;

    • #20 on the "Reefer Madness" list;

    and, finally, we are

    • the #11 "Party School" in the US.

    That "least accessible" thing is a bad rap on the faculty, though; would you want to be accessible to a bunch of homogeneous drunken potheads who fail to interact either racially or classily? Me neither.

  • The New York Times comes in for a lot of abuse here, but they do employ John Tierney, and today he lists 10 Things to Scratch From Your Worry List.

    It made me worry that I was not aware that I was supposed to worry about any of the things Tierney said I shouldn't worry about.

Last Modified 2008-09-12 1:09 PM EDT


[Amazon Link]
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stars] [IMDb Link]

In yet another unwarranted reminder of my advanced age, it turns out to have been 20 years since the previous appearance of John Rambo, as he rescued Colonel Trautman in Afghanistan, and coincidentally destroyed a whole bunch of Commies in helping out the Mujahedeen eject the Soviets.

Now he's somehow retired to Thailand, where he ekes out an honest living catching snakes, blacksmithing, and mumbling. But, as probably even major-party presidential candidates know, Thailand is next to Burma and very bad things go on there. Rambo is persuaded to insert some peace-loving Christian missionaries into the country. When things, inevitably, go very bad for them, he's on the hook to go back and get them out.

This is not family fare. Lots of death and destruction, and perhaps more than you want to know about what happens to people hit by .50 caliber machine gun fire or who find themselves too close to a Claymore mine.

If you've seen Rambos II and III, you can pretty much predict how things play out here. To repeat: it's very, very, graphically violent, and some of the victims are children. I'm hardly a prude about movie violence; and I suppose there's an argument that if you want to be honest about depicting the nature of evil, you have to be unflinchingly honest. Still, I found it disturbing.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • The coveted Pun Salad Read the Whole Thing Award for the day goes to Andrew Ferguson at the Weekly Standard for his analysis of Obama's Berlin speech. It's impossible to excerpt fairly—that's why you should RtWT—but here's his brief description of Obama's "greeting-card simplicity and appeal":
    The effect is almost soporific: "America cannot turn inward," he says. Check. "Now is the time to build new bridges." All set to go. "We must defeat terror." True dat. "Every nation in Europe must have the chance to choose its own tomorrow free from the shadows of yesterday." Roger. "We must help answer the call for a new dawn in the Middle East." Go ahead: Argue.
    Key question: does Obama really believe in his own frothy Hallmarkian rhetoric? Ferguson will have you hoping the answer is "no".

  • On a related note, journalist Steve Chapman is beginning to entertain his own doubts:
    I came into the office the other day, wearing an "Obama 2008" cap, a "Yes We Can" button, a "Team Obama" T-shirt, carrying an "Obama for Change" tote bag filled with Obama bumper stickers, made a stop at the Obama altar in the newsroom, strewed some rose petals, chanted a few hosannas, lit a votive candle and had a sudden thought: Is the news media's love affair with Barack Obama getting out of hand?

  • And still on a related subject, Byron York's NRO article may set a record for that site in uses of the word "boner" in a single web page, and not in the "mistake" sense. Is K-Lo asleep at the switch?

  • Alex Tabarrok looks at the coverage of a recent study that examined the relative performance of males and females on math tests. He excerpts reports from the LA Times, Scientific American, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. His key observation:
    All of these reports and many more like them are false.
    Woops. Wouldn't it be nice if Scientific American changed its name to Just Another Liberal Rag You Can't Trust?

  • Adam Thierer writes, with a tinge of bitterness, about the FCC's imminent action against Comcast for its throttling of "the ability of customers to share large files online."
    And now that they have that foot in the door, I fully expect that it will be exploited for everything it’s worth to grow the scope of the FCC’s coercive bureaucratic authority over all things digital. The Left is salivating at the prospect of imposing their top-down vision of forced egalitarianism on the the Net, while the Right is figuring out how quickly they can exploit this to impose speech controls on anything they don’t want the public to see or hear.
    The usual "unintended consequences" of regulation are coming soon to an ISP near you: increased cost, poorer service, favorable treatment to politically well-connected rent-seekers at taxpayer expense.

  • Well, all that's quite depressing for a Monday. For a lift, try Cracked's "7 Movies Based on a True Story (That Are Complete Bullshit)", which isn't recent but nontheless funny. Key quote:
    The whole thing has really made us question Bob Dylan's research skills.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

[Amazon Link]
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More family fare. Like Spiderwick Chronicles, this is another demonstration of how pursuit of shared goals and stressful adventure can bring feuding family members together. While Spiderwick Chronicles was fantasy, filled with ogres, fairies, and trolls, National Treasure plays as a cross between Indiana Jones and Da Vinci Code. Spiderwick Chronicles was slightly more credible.

Ben Gates, played by Nicolas Cage, is flush off the well publicized success of his adventures in the previous movie; unfortunately, he's split up from his girlfriend in the previous movie. Also, his ancestor is being smeared as the grand conspirator in Lincoln's assassination by a mysterious figure with a spotty Southern accent, brandishing a page from John Wilkes Booth's diary [Ed Harris]. This puts Gates' old crew back on the hunt again, hoping to clear the family name and coincidentally to track down Cibola, the fabled lost city of gold. We rush through Paris, London, the White House, Mount Vernon, the Library of Congress, and Mount Rushmore on the way.

This is a sequel to a popular flick, and is very much a coldly prefabricated effort to cash in one more time on peoples' fond memories of that movie. Nothing is remotely credible. But the actors are all pretty good. Helen Mirren, the Queen herself, shows up as Mom; this is kind of a hoot, and she's great. I liked Justin Bartha as the sidekick previously, and he's funny here too. So, bottom line, this isn't a bad diversion for a rainy afternoon.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-07-27 Update

What's goin' down in Phonytown?

Query StringHit CountChange Since
"Barack Obama" phony676,000+8,000
"John McCain" phony632,000+26,000
"Bob Barr" phony12,900+1,500

  • The Phony Patrol, of course, misses John Edwards badly. A brand-new convert to the Church of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy writes at the Huffington Post:

    The truth is that I believe anyone who looks into the John Edwards / Rielle Hunter affair story will see that Edwards has, at best, acted in a very suspicious manner for over a year now.

    "And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized."

  • At the Los Angeles Times, Dana Parsons interviews one Dan Ardell of Corona del Mar, a self-proclaimed "Republican for Obama".

    Ardell thinks he's got Obama sized up pretty well, and the only thing that could dissuade him is if he senses Obama isn't who he says he is. In other words, if he turns out to be a phony who really is harboring a special-interest agenda.

    Note to Mr. Ardell: Pun Salad research shows that (a) Obama is a phony; and (b) his sole "special-interest agenda" pretty much boils down to "get Obama elected." All other special interests are always in danger of being thrown under the proverbial vehicle of mass transport the minute that convenience dictates.

  • Speaking of which: the Obama WTF website claims to maintain the canonical list of Under the Bussers. We were not previously aware of the tire marks on the back of famous lefty author E. L. Doctorow. Is no one safe?

    The website claims WTF stands for "What's The Facts?" That sounds a little phony to us, but we may be overly sensitive to that.

  • After a long period of inactivity, there's a new smear up at Obama's Fight the Smears page!

    SMEAR: Barack Obama didn't take time for the troops.

    Conservative blogs, referencing an inaccurate email from abroad, have been spreading the rumor that Barack Obama gave troops the cold shoulder on his foreign trip.

    Reading further, it develops that the "conservative blogs" echoed mail sent from one CPT Jeffrey S. Porter in Afghanistan that contained allegations that were not, er, technically, true. Pun Salad doesn't know how many "conservative blogs" picked this up and ran with it, but we read a lot of them, and—although we may have missed something—we can't recall any of them mentioning it. Could this be a phony refutation of a minor infraction designed to divert attention from …

  • The thing that is a-buzzin' at conservative blogs is Obama's barackrobatics around the cancellation of his planned visit to wounded troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. See, for example, Captain Ed, who details the Obamites' shifting rhetoric about the visit.

    The spin on this has gotten so bad that T. Boone Pickens might want Team Obama in his new wind farm.

  • In fact, this issue has now become the topic of a McCain campaign ad. We haven't done a YouTube in a while, so here it is:

    This caused Allahpundit to shake his head:

    … even under the worst assumptions, it makes no sense. If you think (and I do not) that Obama’s a sociopath who sees wounded soldiers as nothing but political chips to be played in an election card game, surely we can agree that he’s nevertheless savvy enough to grasp how horribly bad it would look to have photographers with him on a hospital visit in the middle of a campaign. If there were pictures on the wires of him shaking hands with bedridden vets while media vultures crowded around for close-ups, conservatives would have ripped him for it properly and mercilessly and he knows it. Why not stick with the “he went to the gym but not the hospital” point, which is at least factually correct? Why go here?

    Pun Salad's reflexive answer to questions like that is: Because it's more phony. If things are this bad in late July, wait three months.

  • Our regular readers will want to know that "Obamafuscation" continues to out-googlehit our word "Barackrobatics" by 1010 to 4. It's a doleful drubbing!

Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:54 AM EDT

Experimental Results


This week's test of the Sunday Basic Cable Movie Actor Theory:

  • 12:00AM on A&E: Die Hard (Bruce Willis)
  • 1:45AM on AMC: A Fistful of Dollars (Clint Eastwood)

Just two, and depending on your surfing habits you may have missed them by the time you read this. Nevertheless, the theory stands unrefuted for the past 23 weeks.

Gaffes of the Recent Past and Near Future

May 8, 2008:

"It is wonderful to be back in Oregon," Obama said. "Over the last 15 months, we’ve traveled to every corner of the United States. I’ve now been in 57 states? I think one left to go. Alaska and Hawaii, I was not allowed to go to even though I really wanted to visit, but my staff would not justify it."

July 16, 2008:
In a townhall meeting held Tuesday in Albuquerque, N.M., John McCain mistakenly referred to current events in Czechoslovakia, a country that ceased to exist in 1993 after separating into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

May 19, 2008:
Obama conceded that he has a steep challenge to get his message and background to voters in states such as Kentucky …

“What it says is that I’m not very well known in that part of the country,” Obama said. “Sen. Clinton, I think, is much better known — not only because of her time in the White House with her husband — but also coming from a nearby state of Arkansas.”

[Obama comes from Illinois, which, unlike Arkansas, shares a border with Kentucky.]

July 21, 2008:
Asked on ABC's "Good Morning America" about the situation in Afghanistan -- where both presidential candidates call for sending more US troops to take on the resurgent Taliban and root out al Qaeda, McCain replied.

"I think it's serious. . . . It's a serious situation, but there's a lot of things we need to do. We have a lot of work to do and I'm afraid it's a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border."

Iraq and Pakistan do not share a border; it is the Afghanistan/Pakistan border where intelligence officials believe remnants of al Qaeda are rebuilding.

July 26, 2008:
Barack Obama visited with Austria's Chancellor, Alfred Gusenbauer, in Vienna this afternoon to wind up his European tour. In remarks to the press afterward, Senator Obama noted that Austria had not been on his original schedule. "But I've always wanted to take the wife and kids to the Outback and see kangaroos and koalas in the wild. I'm told that it doesn't look like we'll have time for that on this trip. Maybe next year."

August 8, 2008:
At a Town Hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire, John McCain reaffirmed his recent commitment to secure America's borders. "I don't need to tell Granite Staters about that. You've been in the forefront, struggling under the burdens of tens of thousands of unwanted immigrants from Vermont every year, many of whom can't be bothered to learn even basic English. As President, I'll provide New Hampshire with the help it needs to seal off that border."

While a number of attendees appeared puzzled, most cheered enthusiastically at the proposed policy.

August 29, 2008:
Amid the whoops and applause of tens of thousands at Denver's Invesco Field, Senator Obama departed from his prepared acceptance speech to note the unexpectedly breezy weather: "Colorado really is, as they say in the song, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain." The audience lapsed into a sudden stunned silence …

September 22, 2008:
The McCain campaign denied persistent rumors that Alex Trebek and the Jeopardy "Clue Crew" had been hired to help the candidate brush up on his geographical knowledge. Speaking on conditions of anonymity, a source close to the campaign said "Mr. Trebek is acting as a consultant only on the categories of 'Potent Potables' and 'Rhyme Time'."

October 15, 2008:
[Presidential Debate Transcript, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.]

McCain: North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons in secret. As president, I will work with the leaders of the neighboring countries of Japan, Cambodia, Botswana, and Alaska to ramp up pressure on Kim Il-sung to open his facilities to inspection.

Obama: Senator, I don't think Alaska is technically a country. I'm pretty sure it's one of our states. We have a lot of them.

McCain: Right, I misspoke. I meant Albania.

Obama: No, that's a state too. Ever heard of Selma, Albania? I gave a speech there last week.

Katie Couric: Maybe Mongolia? Like in Risk?

January 20, 2009:
Constitutional scholars this afternoon debated the impact of the president-elect's failure to appear at his own inauguration ceremony. Due to a series of events his aides characterized as "an inartful misunderstanding", he found himself in the small community of Washington, Maine, about 25 miles east of the state capital of Augusta. Frantic arrangements are being made for air transportation to Washington, D. C. as soon as possible.

A spokeswoman close to the president-elect, who requested anonymity, stated: "He kept saying 'I know it's around here somewhere.' And I kept saying, why don't you just stop and ask someone for directions. But he's, like, the big know-it-all boss, Mr. Gonna-be-Commander-in-Chief, and he's driving, so what are you going to do?"

[Update: many thanks to Shawn at AmSpecBlog for the link. Please feel free to look around but keep hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times.]

Last Modified 2024-01-22 9:36 AM EDT

The Spiderwick Chronicles

[Amazon Link]
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stars] [IMDb Link]

This is billed as being for kids, and is rated PG, but I thought it was pretty scary. Nick Nolte's in it, and I think that should be an automatic PG-13 right there.

Summary: The Grace family is on the verge of breakdown: Dad's dumped Mom, who's at her wits' end, and the kids (a daughter and two twin brothers) are in nonstop bicker mode. So—naturally enough—they move into an old house, remote from anywhere, that once belonged to great-uncle Arthur Spiderwick, who mysteriously went missing eighty years back. Soon enough, noises are heard behind the walls, small items inexplicably vanish, and secret passages are discovered. It turns out they've moved into sort of a locus where the border between the fantastical world and ours is thin indeed.

Moral: being humanity's only hope against its imminent destruction by evil ogres is pretty good family therapy. Pay attention, Dr. Phil!

Everyone in this is good, especially the amazing Freddie Highmore, who plays the twins. Special effects are great, and the script is funny and scary. You don't have to actually have kids watching it with you to have a good time.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • Reports Hans Bader at OpenMarket:
    An enormously costly mortgage bailout bill passed the House 272-to-152, with strong support from liberal lawmakers. It will soon pass the Senate by an even bigger margin and become law. President Bush, following the advice of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, has wimped out and dropped his threat to veto it.

    The bill will bail out the mortgage giant Fannie Mae, which has used intimidation and deceit, and spent millions of dollars on high-priced lobbyists, to thwart efforts to rein it in, even after its management engaged in a massive accounting scandal that rivaled Enron.

    "Other than that, though, it's fine." No, actually, that's a lie, there's more, and it's worse. I just stopped quoting Hans after two paragraphs. Go read the whole thing.

    Both New Hampshire's silly congresscritters voted for this mess, and—this is really painful—our Senator Sununu has announced his support.

  • Will Wilkinson has a good response to a recent LATimes article on whether Americans are "losing faith in free markets."
    This kind of crisis of confidence occurs every time the economy temporarily heads south — which it inevitably does from time to time. What does this tell us? It tells us that people do not understand the economy very well. And what do stories like Gosselin’s tell us? That most journalists don’t either.

  • If you don't want to go through the hassle and expense of seeing The Dark Knight, you can get a pretty good picture of how our finest protect us from the slimy underbelly of society via this week's Rochester (NH) Police Log. Sample:
    Friday, July 11

    3:45 p.m. — A Cornerstone Court burglary victim is unhappy with the subsequent investigation, not having been contacted by detectives. She will call every time she finds something missing, even if this equates to 50 times a day.

    Saturday, July 12

    9:19 a.m. — On Rangeway Drive, a vehicle has been broken into and a GPS unit stolen. An abandoned beer can is no compensation.

    7:02 p.m. — On Farmington Road there is "a horrendous noise" coming from the Pink Cadillac. Dispatch has a hard time understanding the complainant due to loud musical din in the background.

    10:58 p.m. — Eight people yell obscenities at customers using the Walgreen's Drug Store drive thru.

    Much more at the link.


[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
stars] [IMDb Link]

21 is based on a thin reed of fact: an MIT-based team of students really did have a surreptitious scheme in the 90s to visit casinos and try to beat the house at blackjack. A book was written about the team by Ben Mezrich; you can read his Wired article based on the book here. However, the book was described in the Boston Globe earlier this year as being "embellished beyond recognition."

So they took this already-fictionalized version of the true story, and further gussied it up with sex and violence (although at a strictly PG-13 level). Bottom line: don't believe anything.

Worse, it's a pretty lousy movie. The main character, "Ben", is apparently supposed to be sympathetic. At the start of the movie, he's a straight-A MIT senior already accepted at Harvard Med. In short, he has advantages that 99.99% of his peers lack. And, as a result, he's … shallow and whiny. About his lack of funds. About his lack of a social life. Boo hoo. Any sane person watching the movie would want to slap him silly.

Ben's math wizardry becomes known to Professor Rosa, played by Kevin Spacey. And, after initial misgivings, he joins up with Rosa's gang. He's wildly successful, which changes him from a whiny shallow geek into a whiny shallow high-roller, who neglects his studies and treats his previous geek friends shabbily. He reneges on his previous promise to quit after winning the $300K necessary for Harvard. Of course, this turns out to be a bad call, and eventually results in a serious beatdown from seriously pudgy Laurence Fishburne, representing casino security. So Ben has another character transformation, repentant, but still whiny. And stabs Prof Rosa in the back. [Sorry, that's kind of a spoiler, but you shouldn't care.]

The movie has no detectable humor, save for lame stereotypes about Asians and geeks. Kevin Spacey delivers some of his lines with snap, but this just makes them seem slightly less stupid than they are.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • You really oughta read Paul Gigot's article about his long history of skeptically investigating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from the editorial pages of Wall Street Journal. As a reward, he was reviled by company executives and their politically powerful friends.
    At the time, Wall Street's Fannie apologists outdid themselves with their counterattack. One of the most slavish was Jonathan Gray, of Sanford C. Bernstein, who wrote to clients that the editorial was "unfounded and unsubstantiated" and "discredits the paper." My favorite point in his Feb. 20, 2002, Bernstein Research Call was this rebuttal to our point that "Taxpayers Are on The Hook: This is incorrect. The agencies' debt is not guaranteed by the U.S. Treasury or any agency of the Federal Government." Oops.
    Oops indeed. As USA Today put it yesterday:
    Congress' top budget analyst says a federal rescue of troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could cost taxpayers as much as $25 billion.
    That should give you all the motivation you need to pay attention to Gigot's conclusion:
    The abiding lesson here is what happens when you combine private profit with government power. You create political monsters that are protected both by journalists on the left and pseudo-capitalists on Wall Street, by liberal Democrats and country-club Republicans. Even now, after all of their dishonesty and failure, Fannie and Freddie could emerge from this taxpayer rescue more powerful than ever. Campaigning to spare taxpayers from that result would represent genuine "change," not that either presidential candidate seems interested.

  • And, in further imitation of Mr. Insta: they told me if George W. Bush were re-elected, newspapers would be forced to withdraw stories that angered the politically powerful, and they were right!

  • Star Wars geeks can feast their eyes on fine art that's been photoshopped to include familiar characters. For some reason David's Napoleon Crossing the Alps was a popular victim. (Via BBSpot.)

New Hampshire Republicans Can Come In Off the Ledge

If you are a NH GOPer, you might cheer yourself up a bit by checking out UNH's Granite State Poll released today. High points:

  • Jeanne Shaheen's lead over John Sununu has shrunk from 12 points in April to 4 points now. Sununu's favorable/unfavorable ratings have improved, Shaheen's have worsened.

  • Carol Shea-Porter's favorable/unfavorable ratings also continue to worsen. Jeb Bradley outpolls Congresswoman Shea-Porter by 46%-40%. The other GOP candidate, John Stephen, doesn't poll as well against Shea-Porter, losing 42%-36%.

  • But it ain't looking good for any Republican running against Congressman Paul Hodes in NH's other district. Hodes continues to outpoll Bob Clegg (44%-25%, although that's slightly better than April's 51%-24% result). Similar results obtain in a Hodes-vs-Jennifer Horn race. Hodes' favorability ratings are decent and improving.

The Granite State Poll's Monday release showed Obama with a nanotube-thin lead over McCain, 46%-43% in New Hampshire. (Unfortunately for McCain, that's a comedown from his 6-point lead in April. But we'll try to stay optimistic.)

You can check the links for margins-of-errors, etc. New Hampshire's leftward movement doesn't look to be that inexorable.

[Note: the UNH Survey Center's final poll picked Obama over Clinton in the NH Primary, 39%-30%. Clinton wound up winning 39%-36%. So: Don't take polls seriously. Don't take this article seriously. Sorry for wasting your time.]

Last Modified 2013-04-22 12:52 PM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • There was a New York Times story a couple days ago in its "Debt Trap" series. Although they could have also entitled it "Desperately Seeking Scapegoats." After detailing the financial woes of Ms Diane McLeod of Philadelphia PA, and intimating that her sad story is shared by bazillions of Americans "standing at the financial precipice":
    While the circumstances surrounding these downfalls [yes, Americans are at a "precipice", but at the same time have experienced a "downfall"] vary, one element is identical: the lucrative lending practices of America’s merchants of debt have led millions of Americans — young and old, native and immigrant, affluent and poor — to the brink. More and more, Americans can identify with miners of old: in debt to the company store with little chance of paying up.
    For Thomas Sowell, the phrase "lucrative lending practices" is a fat slow pitch in the middle of the strike zone:
    It must take either a willful determination to believe whatever they want to believe or a cynical desire to propagandize their readers for the New York Times to call "lucrative" the lending practices that have caused many lenders to lose millions of dollars, some to lose billions and some to go bankrupt themselves.
    Kip Esquire is unsympathetic to Ms. McLeod: his article on the NYT piece is titled "New York Times Devotes 3,233 Words to Defending an Idiot". Ouch.

  • I saw a pointer in the new Wired to GraphJam, billed as "Pop Culture for People in Cubicles". I resemble that! Sample:

    song chart memes

    And from that very same movie:

    song chart memes

    Those are just examples, there are plenty of others. You have to have a certain mentality to find this amusing, but … you know who you are.

  • Speaking of Wired, I was also much impressed by this brief interview with NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson describing her harrowing Soyuz re-entry last April.

    Wired: Any landing you can crawl away from is a good one, I guess.

    Whitson: Obviously it wasn't totally nominal.

    NASA astronauts: still got the Right Stuff. Dr. Whitson has logged 377 days in space during her two International Space Station Missions, more than any other American. She's from Iowa, like all decent folk.

Last Modified 2008-09-12 1:14 PM EDT

The Bank Job

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'Tis a heist movie, it is. Like Ocean's 11, except that these guys are about ten times less glamorous and fifty times less competent than Danny Ocean and his pals.

It's set in 1971. Jason Statham plays the lead crook; he's roped into a scheme to knock over the safety deposit vault in the Baker Street branch of Lloyd's by an ex-girlfriend. (That's always a sign of upcoming trouble.) He recruits a bunch of his pals to help out. Unbeknownst to him, the real target is not the cash or jewels in the boxes, but a bunch of dirty pictures of Princess Margaret.

Part of the robbers' charm is that they are small-timers way over their heads. They station a lookout on a roof, with whom they communicate via walkie-talkie; it never occurs to them that anyone can listen in on their chatter. Pretty soon, not only the police are after them, but a number of shady characters who had important items in the vault; some of their pursuers have no compunctions about using violence in their retrieval efforts.

The movie based on an actual robbery back in 1971, which is still shrouded in mystery, due to the British government's efforts to hush things up. The filmmakers built a pretty good yarn on top of the sketchy facts available.

According to this story, the Baker Street robbers spraypainted "Let Sherlock Holmes try to solve this." before they exited the vault. It's nice to know that literate criminals of the era remembered that Sherlock lived just a few blocks down. Alas, this amusing detail didn't make it into the movie.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

The Dark Knight

[Amazon Link]
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As I type, The Dark Knight is the number 1 movie on IMDB's top 250 movies of all time. That will probably come down a bit. Um, maybe.

You've almost certainly heard about the plot, so I won't bother to summarize it.

All the actors here give outstanding performances. Heath Ledger has gotten the most attention for his interpretation of the Joker, but Aaron Eckhart also deserves some major respect for his Harvey Dent; without spoiling things too much, his character undergoes the biggest transformation in the movie. And Maggie Gyllenhaal brings an intelligence to the role of Rachel Dawes that was pretty much absent with Katie Holmes in the previous movie.

And Christian Bale really is the best Batman ever.

It's all very intense and bleak and (sorry, I know this is the word everyone uses) dark. (It's PG-13, but I wouldn't take a 13-year-old.) But it's not unremittingly dark; again without spoiling things, one major plot point near the end is resolved with optimistic inspiration. But the rest of the movie's gloomy enough so that's kind of a shock in itself.

It's also 152 minutes in length, with what seems like 20 minutes of previews on the front end, so the small-bladdered should plan accordingly.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-07-20 Update

After a reality-sundering week at the number two position, Obama's back on top:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
"Barack Obama" phony668,000+10,000
"John McCain" phony606,000-106,000
"Bob Barr" phony11,400+200

We're pretty much laying off Obama today, though. Those who can't get along without a summary of Barackrobatics can check out James Lewis at the American Thinker for your weekly dose: Barack's Disgraceful Global Phony-Ops.

In other phony news:

  • Bob Barr doesn't get a lot of phony love on the web, but a gentleman named "Thirsty McWormwood" tries to correct that at the American Spectator.

    No politician in recent history has flip-flopped as spectacularly as Barr has done while at the same time managing to avoid the charges of hypocrisy, rank cynicism, or spinelessness that such transformations inevitably bring with them.

    Mr. McWormwood runs down five guidelines for other politicians who want to flip-flop with as little attention for it as Barr has received. He missed number six though: run as a Libertarian Party candidate; you'll find nobody really cares about your consistency, or anything else, really, other than your ability to be a spoiler for one of the major party's candidates.

  • Jonathan Chait rose to a sort of prominence back in 2003 when he opened a New Republic column with "I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it."

    Amazingly, he's apparently paid to, at least occasionally, lay bare his quirky gut-reactions to politicians. Pretty good gig, when thousands of bloggers do that nearly every day, for free.

    In any case, his latest article is the latest example:

    Yes, people put far too much stock in the candidates' personalities. (I'd vote for an obnoxious, pampered phony who shared my beliefs over a charming war hero who didn't.) But personality isn't completely meaningless, either. A president sets the tone for our public discourse, and McCain is pretty easy to take. His demagoguery comes with an awkward forced smile, which doesn't make it more forgivable but does make it less irritating.

    So McCain has hit Chait's sweet spot of "unforgivable, but less irritating." McCain's sloganeers should take notes. What of his substantive views?

    As for his substantive views, they do (now) closely resemble Bush's. Yet the upside to a candidate who changes his philosophical orientation as often as McCain is that he could always switch back. While I certainly wouldn't recommend that anybody go so far as to vote for him on that basis, it still offers some grounds for hope. The Bush presidency is like being married to a sociopath. A McCain presidency would be more like being married to a drug addict--however badly he behaves, he could always sober up.

    I've never been married to a sociopath or a drug addict, so I'll defer to Chait's expertise there. But what does it say about modern liberalism when one of the closest metaphors they can think of for a presidency is that of marriage?

    Chait's bottom line: McCain's a phony, but not an obnoxious and pampered one, and the phoniness means he could totally betray the people who voted for him. So, hey, not bad!

  • Over at Time, James Poniewozik writes loosely on the infamous recent New Yorker cover and the difficulty in coming up with good political jokes. Hey, he asks, what about folks like John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and (!) Keith Olbermann?

    These commentators are so effective (and more popular, among some audiences, than the straight media they've supplanted) precisely because they spray seltzer in the face of the official, inoffensive, phony public discourse. Unlike many politicians, they say what they think; unlike much of the media, they trust their audience's intelligence. That we should rely so heavily on them to do so is the biggest joke in American public life. I wish I could laugh.

    Poor glum Jamie P! Pun Salad translates his "they trust their audience's intelligence" as "they know their audience's political viewpoints, and carefully tailor their presentations so as to not seriously challenge them." You know, kind of like Time magazine.

  • For a real chuckle, the Google will also take you to a pamphlet issued by the "Internationalist Group". (Which I suspect may be more accurately called either "Three Guys Who Meet in Steve's Mom's Basement" or "Some Frat Boys Who Know Enough Left Wing Jargon to be Freelance Agents Provocateurs")

    Imperialist war can only be defeated with class war. Talk of “majorities” peacefully persuading the (ruling-class) “minority” to withdraw from Iraq by “demonstrating” that the majority is a majority, is a deception that serves the ruling class by promoting illusions in bourgeois “democracy.” So what if the capitalists and war supporters are a minority? It hasn’t stopped them before. This minority rules through the capitalist state apparatus: it has the police, the prisons, the courts and the armed forces at its disposal, as well as the capitalist media as a platform for “opinion makers.” This minority makes war to keep its heel on the necks of oppressed and exploited millions. Nothing but smashing the capitalist system will put an end to imperialist war. The “Progressive Democrats,” Greens and the phony socialists are opponents of workers revolution. Unity with them means endless war.

    The real fun is reading the Internationalists inveighing against a host of "opportunist Leftist groups", including the "League for the Revolutionary Party", the "Northeast Federation of Anarcho-Communists", the "AL (Animal Liberation) collective", and the "ex-Trotskyist Spartacist League". These guys hate themselves much more than they hate capitalism. Which is, I suppose, kind of a good thing.

  • Our regular readers will want to know that our word "Barackrobatics" is still being beaten like a Gotham City thug in Google Hits by "Obamafuscation", 947 to 3.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:55 AM EDT

Mamma Mia!

[Amazon Link]
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I've been waiting impatiently for The Dark Knight ever since the closing credits of Batman Begins. I desperately want to see The Dark Knight before inadvertant web surfing reveals plot spoilers. So, naturally, at my first opportunity on this premiere weekend, Mrs. Salad and I went to see … Mamma Mia!

Long story.

Plot: Sophie's getting married, and she wants to invite her dad to her wedding. Complication: she doesn't know who that is. So she steals her Mom's diary covering the period of her conception, and narrows the field down to three candidates, and, unbeknownst to Mom, invites all three.

That sounds like a recipe for laff-filled wacky mayhem, and it is, but wait! There's more: (a) it all happens on a romantic Greek isle; (b) Mom is played by Meryl Streep; (c) the potential dads are played by Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgård; (d) Mom's buddies show up, and they are played by Julie Walters and Christine Baranski; (e) everyone and anyone can break into a big-production ABBA song at any time.

ABBA, for you youngsters, was a pop group with music so fluffy and bland and bouncy, it made the Carpenters look like the Sex Pistols.

Now, most of these people have no musical or dancing talent any greater than you might catch at the Hackmatack Playhouse in Berwick, Maine, on any summer weekend. But that's not bad, because (like the Hackmatack), everyone's very enthusiastic and clearly having a blast. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to get roped into the fun.

I checked out the audience in our crowded theatre. I think women outnumbered men about 4-to-1. And, for the first time in perhaps decades, I may have been younger than the average attendee. It's probably a pretty good date movie, but it's an even safer bet if you take your Mom.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

Experimental Results


This week's test of the Sunday Basic Cable Movie Actor Theory:

  • 12:30AM on TNT: Space Cowboys (Clint Eastwood)
  • 3:00PM on USA: Bad Boys II (Will Smith)
  • 8:00PM on FX: Batman Begins (Morgan Freeman)

And yea verily the theory stands unrefuted for the past 22 weeks.

August Rush

[Amazon Link]
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A welcome respite from my recent streak of unfunny comedies, this movie is (instead) a very sentimental story about love and music. During the movie, I thought to myself: if Dickens were alive, and a screenwriter, this is the kind of movie he'd write. Now I've looked at some of the reviews, and it appears that a lot of critics mentioned this too.

It's the story of a young lad who has grown up in an orphanage. Via flashbacks we learn that he's the offspring of two musical talents who had an impossibly romantic hookup one evening. By a series of plot contrivances, father, mother, and child are all separated from each other for years. Will they be reunited? Son, is water wet?

This got mediocre reviews (36% on the Tomatometer), but if you're not a critic, and you're not allergic to supergooey sentiment, you might like it. There are (I thought) some pretty clever things done with the sound editing. The principal characters, played by Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Freddie Highmore are all pretty good. Robin Williams has a supporting role as Fagin, I mean "Wizard", a collector/curator/exploiter of homeless street kids.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

Go Away, Little Girl

Our local newspaper reports on yesterday's visit of Carole King to our area, where she campaigned for Barack Obama and Jeanne Shaheen (who's running against our state's incumbent Senator, John E. Sununu).

She's certainly enthusiastic. Apparently riffing off an allegedly inspirational comment from Hillary Clinton in her concession speech:

"I love what she said about there are now 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling," King said. "There are now 18 million cracks in another kind of ceiling. And when you put them together, and if we have all this cracked ceiling, maybe the ceiling will go away, and then there won't be any ceiling any more for anybody ever again."
I know what you're thinking, you sexist pig: jeez, shut up and sing, wouldya?

Be careful, you might get what you wish for:

Soon after that, King led the group in a sing-along, tweaking her music in hopes of sending Obama, a senator from Illinois, to the White House.

I feel the earth move under my feet
I feel the sky tumbling down, tumbling down
I feel my heart start to trembling
Whenever you're around

Oh, Lord. I'm squirming in embarrassment. Can it get any worse?

Why yes it can. Because Carole has lots of pre-feminist odes to slavish devotion, and she's not shy about recycling them:

And then to Barack," King said softly, "we'd say, 'Where you lead, I will follow, anywhere that you tell me to ... .'"
This doesn't really compare with Carole's trip to Cuba when she seranaded Fidel with "You've Got a Friend" at Havana's scenic Karl Marx theater.

But wouldn't even a Democrat find this unabashed sycophancy more than a little creepy?

Poulin Watch

Poulin] We note an upcoming event, possibly featuring Pun Salad's unoffical and (most importantly) unpaid mascot, Cathy Poulin:

Today, Bob's Discount Furniture, the fastest growing furniture retailer in the northeast, with stores in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, announced that its new Community Outreach Van will be visiting the Andrus Children’s Center, Yonkers, NY and joining over 150 children in an Olympics Opening Ceremony celebration with ice cream, fun and entertainment. The ceremony will include an Olympics-style parade and torch lighting ceremony along with student reports on various countries around the globe.

The Olympics Opening Ceremony celebration will take place at the Andrus Children’s Center cafeteria, 1156 North Broadway, Yonkers, New York this Friday, July 18, 2008 from 12 Noon to 2 p.m. “I’m looking forward to this wonderful, rewarding experience as the children learn more about the countries around the globe while having some fun along the way,” said Cathy Poulin, TV personality, Bob’s Discount Furniture. “The various programs of the Andrus Children’s Center have such a positive impact on the children and families in our area. We are gratified to be joining the children and their families in making this event a huge success.”

Sounds like fun. If any of our Yonkers readers can get away from their day jobs, tell Cathy we said hi.

[For new readers: we get many, many, many Googling visitors looking, inexplicably, for Ms. Poulin.]

Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:55 PM EDT

Free Fall in Crimson

[Amazon Link]
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One of my slow-motion reading projects is to go through the Travis McGee series from John D. MacDonald.

In this one, Travis is recovering from the events of the previous book, The Green Ripper, in which he lost his love Gretel. A friend asks him to check out the unsolved two-year-old murder of his tycoon father; by seeming coincidence, the timing of his death turned out to work to the financial benefit of one of the tycoon's ex-wives. Any skulduggery, there, Trav?

Well, of course there is.

Even though the book was written back in the early 80's, there's not much that seems glaringly out of date. McGee's beloved Florida is threatened by overpopulation. He encounters bikers, the drug trade, shady movie folk, and hot air balloons. We still have those things today!

But mainly one notices MacDonald's masterful way with the written word, sharp insightful observations, described well. He's been dead for over twenty years, but reading one of his books will make me miss him all over again.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

Meet the Spartans

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What was I thinking? Watching Strange Wilderness a couple days ago, and now Meet the Spartans. Maybe I should just give up watching movies. Now, Meet the Spartans is slightly funnier than Strange Wilderness. But that's like saying Britney Spears seems to have her life a little more together than does Lindsay Lohan.

Oh, yeah: since this is "one of those" spoof movies, both Lohan and Spears are targets. And American Idol. And Ellen Degeneres. And Sylvester Stallone. And the penguins in Happy Feet. And … well, the general idea seemed to be: throw in enough pop culture references to pad the movie out to 90 minutes or so, never mind if they are actually funny or not. And they're nearly all not.

It's essentially a spoof of a good movie, 300. It was written and directed by a couple of guys who also wrote and directed some of the Scary Movie series. Those weren't great, but they weren't this bad, either. I like tacky spoofs. This is just mostly stupid. I'm sorry.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

The Missing Word

Here is a transcript of Al Gore's speech today, entitled "A Generational Challenge to Repower America". And that challenge is:

Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.
One telling indicator: the speech contains zero occurrences of the word "nuclear".

It's difficult to see how a serious policy proposal about electricity generation can avoid the N-word. On the other hand, when you're simply a blowhard sermonizing to True Believers, it's easy to see why you might want to steer clear.

URLs du Jour


  • Iowahawk is very perceptive about current financial news:
    It's useful to think of our current economic situation as a spirited game of nude Twister, with Fannie Mae as an extremely fat drunk chick.
    This seems to be more honest and accurate analysis than the recent writings of Paul Krugman or J. Bradford DeLong.

  • To match some right-wing gripes about WALL·E being anti-capitalistic eco-propaganda, here is Daniel Engber in Slate griping that it buys into myths about obesity:
    Wall·E is an innovative and visually stunning film, but the "satire" it draws is simple-minded. It plays off the easy analogy between obesity and ecological catastrophe, pushing the notion that Western culture has sickened both our bodies and our planet with the same disease of affluence. According to this lazy logic, a fat body stands in for a distended culture: We gain weight and the Earth suffers. If only society could get off its big, fat ass and go on a diet!
    Whether or not you read Engber, I recommend you read the response from trivia hero Ken Jennings.

    Very slowly now, plus-sizers; it’s not hard. Wall·E says nothing about the percentage of American obesity currently caused by genetics vs. other causes. Wall·E is completely silent on whether or not high fructose corn syrup will somehow lead to environmental disaster. Wall·E doesn’t care whether or not fat people will cause health-care costs to skyrocket. Most of all, Wall·E isn’t about the kids who called you “Jabba” in ninth grade.

    You'll also want read Ken to find what WALL·E has in common with Katherine Hepburn and (soon) Clint Eastwood.

  • Shawn Macomber suggests a new Pun Salad Official Motto:
    The red light goes on and the puddles of drool start accumulating.
    Well, he's actually talking about another thing entirely, which you should check out. Nevertheless, I'm adding it to the rotation.

  • I'm probably way too late to be considered contrarian on this, but nevertheless: Cracked is consistently funnier than the slicker, trendier Onion. On their front page as I type:

    And if you're like me, you've already clicked over. You're welcome.

Strange Wilderness

[Amazon Link]
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Arrrgh. I was beguiled by a funny teaser playing on the overhead TV at the local Blockbuster. And this movie is full of people involved in pretty good past movies: Steve Zahn, Allen Covert, Jonah Hill, Justin Long. There are a few fondly remembered old-timers who, theoretically, could be pretty funny in a comedy: Harry Hamlin, Robert Patrick, Joe Don Baker. There's even an Oscar winner: Ernest Borgnine. (Yes, that was over 50 years ago, but…)

But it's awful. The plot premise is promising: the son of a famous TV wildlife show star tries to follow in Dad's footsteps, only to be continually frustrated by his own stupidity, aided by copious amounts of marijuana. This continues, until it stops.

It's a rare movie that could have been improved by giving more screen time to Ernest Borgnine. The half-star is for Mr. Borgnine. According to his IMDB bio he's 91. (And he's the only actor to star in all four 'Dirty Dozen' films.)

The funny teaser turned out to be one of the approximately three actually funny things in the movie. All indications are that nearly everyone on both sides of the camera was under the influence of one of those pharmacological agents that makes nearly anything hilarious. (Except, I hope, for Ernie.) Avoid unless you plan to put yourself in a similar state.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • I let out a soft low moan when I noticed the New York Times article where John McCain pointed to Teddy Roosevelt as his presidential idol. I consulted the index of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism: just way too many entries for Roosevelt, Theodore.

    Karl at Protein Wisdom has an excellent summary why a confessed admiration for Teddy is a red flag to anyone who supports limited government and individual liberty.

  • Speaking of Jonah, his recent column is worth reading, if only from the Barack Obama quote he pulled from The Audacity of Hope:

    I find comfort in the fact that the longer I'm in politics the less nourishing popularity becomes, that a striving for rank and fame seems to betray a poverty of ambition, and that I am answerable mainly to the steady gaze of my own conscience.

    I find myself wondering which would be worse: if he actually believes that, or if he doesn't.

    The boys at Power Line use Jonah's column as a springboard to excerpt Ryan Lizza's New Yorker article on Obama's rise. Think of it as the "scary parts" version.

    Or, in 4-blockworldese:

    full of himself

  • The Big Idea du Jour is from Kenan Malik at Butterflies and Wheels. He takes a hard look at multiculturism, and the notion that cultures must be protected against "decay", often by coercive measures:

    Modern multiculturalism seeks self-consciously to yoke people to their identity for their own good, the good of that culture and the good of society. A clear example is the attempt by the Quebecois authorities to protect French culture. The Quebec government has passed laws which forbid French speakers and immigrants to send their children to English-language schools; compel businesses with more than fifty employees to be run in French; and ban English commercial signs. So, if your ancestors were French you, too, must by government fiat speak French whatever your personal wishes may be.

    The kicker is the reminder that we've seen a similar kind of thing before:

    A century ago intellectuals worried about the degeneration of the race. Today we fear cultural decay. Is the notion of cultural decay any more coherent than that of racial degeneration? Cultures certainly change and develop. But what does it mean for a culture to decay? Or for an identity to be lost?

    Today's "progressive" multiculturists would no doubt blanch at the notion that their views are similar to KKK-like notions of racial purity. But that shoe seems to fit pretty well.

    (via Will Wilkinson.)

Last Modified 2012-10-11 4:06 PM EDT

Gentlemen of the Road

[Amazon Link]
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I've enjoyed Michael Chabon's previous novels. This one didn't quite do it for me, but your mileage may vary.

The book is set in 950AD in the Caucasus. It follows Zelikman and Amram, two adventurers and con men, as they get roped into playing nursemaid to a "stripling", who turns out to be kind of a big deal in the Kingdom of the Khazars.

There are a number of old-timey illustrations, a considerable amount of swashbuckling violence and intrigue. So what's wrong? Well, it's the old-timey writing, very flowery and ornate. An example from a random page:

Sullen-shouldered, thin at the wrists, freckled and green-eyed, wrapped in a bearskin too warm for the evening and too fine for a dusty caravansary stinking of pack animals and cheeses, the stripling had as yet no shadow on his chin or lip, but he stood nearly as tall as Zelikman, and from the rosiness of his complexion, the gloss of his close-cropped russet hair and a commingled look of shame and haughtiness in his eyes, the physician from Regensburg was able to infer 15 or 16 years of good food, clean linens and the expectation of having his wishes granted.
Yeah, it's all one sentence. And that's not unusual.

Chabon is a professional writer, and there's no question that he writes pretty much exactly the prose he wants. So it's me, not him. Maybe it would have worked better read out loud.

There's a charming afterword, where Chabon confesses that his original title for the book was Jews With Swords.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

[Amazon Link]
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stars] [IMDb Link]

Mrs. Salad is a huge Johnny Depp fan, but not much for realistic violence and gratuitous gore. So she was ambivalent about seeing this, but finally her Depp side won out.

It's a musical tragedy. As the movie opens, Sweeney Todd is returning to London, obsessed with revenge against the powerful and villainous Judge Turpin, who wrecked his happy family years ago. He finds a willing ally in Mrs. Lovett, who needs "fresh supplies" for her pie shop.

The movie doesn't seem to have any deeper point than the usual one in tragedies: obsession is bad, and can rebound on you in ways you don't expect. There are some class-oriented noises, probably inevitable in a Victorian setting; but upper-class Judge Turpin is just as much a victim of his obsession as is Sweeney. There's also a heavy layer of general people-just-suck misanthropy.

It drags a bit in the middle, and I dozed off. I used the replay-at-1.5x trick to fill in the gaps the next day.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-07-13 Update

In a stunning development, John McCain has taken the lead in the only poll that matters:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
"John McCain" phony712,000+36,000
"Barack Obama" phony658,000-94,000
"Bob Barr" phony11,200-800

So what's driving this phony hit parade?

  • Diana Rigg turns—aieeee!—70 this month. She weighs in on our election:
    She is a big Barack Obama fan and thinks John McCain is too old for the job. 'I know I should be saying the opposite because I'm the same age as him, but I do think his age will make a difference. At 70, you aren't as physically robust as you were. I don't think your mental capacities are as good as they were. The President should be a younger man with older advisers.'
    It's somehow reassuring that aging British actors can sound just as cluelessly superficial as young American actors.

    <voice imitation="dr_zoidberg">So this showed up in our Googling, why?</voice> Because:

    People still send her Avengers photos to sign, but she refuses. 'I feel such a phony. That is not me. That is another person.'
    Even if he's lost Dame Diana's vote, maybe McCain still has a shot at Emma Peel's. Because that's another person, see?

  • Morton Kondrake is the latest person to question Obama's credibility. He hits many of the usual targets: flag pin, check; Reverend Wright, check; faith-based initiatives, check; FISA, check; public campaign funding, check; NAFTA, check; Iraq withdrawal schedule, check. With respect to the latter, More-tiny-toons-on-TV concludes:
    It would convince me that he was a daring man of character if he went to Iraq, saw Gen. David Petraeus and the situation on the ground and came back saying: “This war was wrong at the start, but now we have to win it — and we can win it, politically and militarily. We will withdraw — but only under conditions of success.”

    Such a statement would finally show that he can buck the dominant attitude of the Democratic Party. If he added that he was wrong to oppose Bush’s 2007 troop surge, so much the better.

    Pending such an unlikely event, the question is open: Is this guy the real deal, or an eloquent phony? A flip-flopper, a cynic, just an ordinary pol with a gift of the gab — or a genuine center-liberal capable of tacking while steering a determined course?

    There’s time to find out before November, but the media have to help with intense, ongoing scrutiny and lots of tough questions.

    Talking about "unlikely events"…

  • The New York Times wanders out to Oregon to discover that Obama Supporters on the Far Left Cry Foul.
    “I’m disgusted with him,” said Ms. Shade, an artist. “I can’t even listen to him anymore. He had such an opportunity, but all this ‘audacity of hope’ stuff, it’s blah, blah, blah. For all the independents he’s going to gain, he’s going to lose a lot of progressives.”
    I suspect the Obama campaign has made that calculation and said "Hmm… no problem there!"

    But congrats to the Times for discovering the "far left"; usually they reserve that term for photo captions, describing someone or something on the edge of the picture.

  • A Mr. Joe Mingin of Glassboro, New Jersey, explains why he's not bothered by Barack Obama's 180 on accepting public financing of his campaign:
    Last fall, Republican John McCain's foundering presidential campaign was broke. To continue on in the primaries, he obtained $4 million in bank loans by promising to use public financing as collateral if necessary. He opted out of public financing, and its limitations, after winning the South Carolina primary improved his cash flow.

    Now, the same people who looked the other way at McCain's flip-flop are shocked -- shocked! -- because Democratic candidate Barack Obama won't accept the same public financing McCain refused. This is just another phony election campaign issue in a long line of them. It won't be the last one.

    Joe's argument seems to be that if McCain does vaguely-related thing X, it justifies an Obama flipflop on Y. Parodizing Joe: this is just another transparently lame argument justifying Barackrobatics in a long line of them. And it won't be the last one.

  • We continue our quixotic effort to promote "Barackrobatics" as the trendy and hip way to refer to the gyrations of BHO's campaign in drastically moderating positions while insisting that that the positions haven't shifted at all. Our word, however, is still being drubbed in Google Hits by "Obamafuscation", 911 to 4.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:54 AM EDT

Experimental Results


This week's test of the Sunday Basic Cable Movie Actor Theory:

  • 4:00AM on AMC: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Clint Eastwood)
  • 8:00AM on AMC: A Fistful of Dollars (Clint Eastwood)
  • 12:00PM on A&E: Lean on Me (Morgan Freeman)
  • 5:00PM on AMC: Million Dollar Baby (Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood)
  • 5:30PM on TNT: Deep Impact (Morgan Freeman)
  • 8:00PM on AMC: Mystic River (directed by Clint Eastwood)
  • 11:00PM on TNT: Deep Impact (Morgan Freeman)

I think that Morgan Freeman fella might have a new movie coming out sometime soon. So I've heard.

And so the theory stands unrefuted for the past 21 weeks.

Last Modified 2008-07-13 1:18 PM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • Rest in peace, Tony Snow. You can't read blogs today without tripping over a lot of genuine admiration for this wonderful guy. Here he is on "Cancer's Unexpected Blessings". It might be a good thing to bookmark, should you ever need to be impossibly brave.

  • Andrew Ferguson pens a funny, yet sad, essay at the Weekly Standard on a bit of tired, yet infuriating, political rhetoric that he acronymizes as CGTYOSI. ("Cause Greater Than Your Own Self-Interest.") With special attention to its use by the current presidential candidates. Read the whole thing.

  • Social commentator Barbara Ehrenreich has devoted a considerable amount of her life to studying and writing about inequality. So I'd imagine she'd be a little depressed to see a blog post from Will Wilkinson take apart her recent comments in a Time interview so convincingly. (Comments Will: "I fear she has no idea what she is talking about.") Will also provides a funny video.

  • If you watch too many movies, like I do, you might want to check out Cracked on "5 Terrible Life Lessons Hollywood Loves to Teach You". It's approximately R-rated, but funny and true:

    1. Technology is Dangerous and Will Eventually Destroy Us

    2. You Don't Have to Take Any Initiative in Your Life, Because You Have a Hidden Talent

    3. Corporations Exist Only to Create Evil

    4. Love Conquers All

    5. The Underdog Will Always Win, and Automatically Deserves To

    (Via And Rightly So!.)

Last Modified 2008-07-13 5:45 PM EDT

In Bruges

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
stars] [IMDb Link]

OK, to a first approximation, think: Pulp Fiction set in Belgium. Or: It's a noir tragic thriller crossed with screwball comedy.

Anyway: Ken and Ray are a couple of British hitmen, ordered by their boss Harry to lay low in Bruges after a killing. ("It's in Belgium," Ray tells us right at the beginning. Because he didn't know either.) Eventually their backstories are revealed, they meet a number of colorful characters who complicate the plot, and a considerable amount of violence occurs.

The funny parts of this movie are very funny. And to its credit, it doesn't shy away from the fundamental evil of Ken's and Ray's profession. (They aren't monsters, but they aren't Hollywood hitmen either.) Among all the yuks, it's clear that they're going to need to pay for their misdeeds, and they do.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • How are the presidential candidates planning on dealing with the Federal budget deficit? To summarize Stephen Chapman: one candidate offers vague promises which he won't be able to fulfill, and the other offers the same, only worse.

    As Woody Allen said, back when he was sort of funny: "More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

  • George F. Will shows how beer was necessary to the development of civilization. As I had long suspected. Is there anything it can't do?

  • Ann Althouse gets the coveted Pun Salad Read the Whole Thing award for today. She has a instaclassic rant on yesterday's New York Times tendentious article about a Florida mall art exhibit, where the works are responses to Norman Rockwell's famous "Four Freedoms" paintings. The reporter noted, disparagingly, the indifferent response of mall shoppers. Replied Ann:
    Apparently, the NYT has not heard of some of the less-frequently-invoked American freedoms: the freedom to ignore propaganda, the freedom to avert your eyes from artists who scream for attention, the freedom to shop without genuflecting at sanctimonious criticism of your country, and the freedom to loathe hideous art.
    Bolded in original. Bless Professor Althouse.

  • And also bless the unknown genius bringing us the wonderful weirdness that is the Rochester, New Hampshire, police report. A sample:
    Wednesday, June 25

    11:14 a.m. — At Daffodil Hill Lane a dirty dog is given dirty looks.

    12:30 p.m. — Neighbors keep insulting a South Main Street woman when she tries to leave her home.

    Thursday, June 26

    9:40 a.m. — Police find a wanted citizen on Haven Hill Road may be the victim of a wrongly issued warrant, as she may have been impersonated by her sister.

    2:53 p.m. — At the station a man reports getting a check for over $5,000 (supposedly) from Publisher's Clearing House, which the bank would not cash. He waits for 20 minutes and then silently departs.

    Friday, June 27

    2:52 a.m. — A man walks out of Cumberland Farms on Knight Street with a "breakfast sandwich" he did not pay for. He is wearing a gray T-shirt and khaki pants, and has a blond beard, possibly containing crumbs.

    5:38 p.m. — On Church Street, someone looks up from his dinner plate and sees a kid urinating on a house.

    Saturday, June 28

    10:45 a.m. — At Chesley Hill Farms development a cover has been stolen from a manhole. Police look into it.

    4:43 p.m. — On Rochester Hill Road someone interrupts burglars who abandon the tools of their nefarious trade. They were after the copper. Now the coppers are after them.

    Many more at the link.

The Ruins

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
stars] [IMDb Link]

I read the book before I saw the movie. I liked the book better. The book was written by Scott Smith, who also wrote the movie's screenplay. There are some major differences between the two, though. (This may have been explained in the DVD special features, although I didn't look.)

The basic idea is the same: four twenty-something American tourists on the Mexico coast befriend a German guy; he talks them into going to look for his brother, who has wandered off to a "archeological dig" in the interior. And things turn very bad, very quickly.

The movie features a bunch of young actors you may have seen before in other roles. But they could have been picked off the street; there's not a lot of acting involved here: vapidity and and drunkenness at the beginning, yelling and screaming and wide-eyed terror for the remainder.

The unrated-version DVD we watched primarily has more gore than the version released in theatres, but this site also claims an alternate ending.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • It's like blind men describing the elephant, although they don't actually have the excuse of being blind:

    • "Hooray for Obama! His shift in Iraq policy shows sensibility and that he'll be an effective commander in chief!"

    • "Hooray for Obama! He has the guts not to shift his Iraq policy!"

    It's a safe bet that we'll see this sort of thing repeated over the next few months. He's large, he contains multitudes.

  • We've been dumping a lot on Senator Obama recently, but still see indications that a McCain administration would not be particularly scrupulous about Federalism and limited government.
    Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief who is now the Republican National Committee's "Victory Chairman," was discussing consumer-driven health insurance at a breakfast with reporters when she proposed "a real, live example which I've been hearing a lot about from women: There are many health insurance plans that will cover Viagra but won't cover birth-control medication. Those women would like a choice." For effect, the woman frequently mentioned as a possible McCain running mate repeated: "Those women would like a choice."

    Silence filled the meeting room at the St. Regis Hotel. "I don't know where I go after that," said the moderator, Dave Cook of the Christian Science Monitor.

    Me neither. Bob Barr, I think. (Via The Right Coast.)

  • It's an article of faith among some that Karl Rove is a demon spawn from Hell, but I think he's an okay guy.

  • Don't say Pun Salad never points you to practical advice to improve your life: over is better. (Via BBSpot.)

Vantage Point

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
stars] [IMDb Link]

Why yes, this is the third movie I've seen with Sigourney Weaver content in the space of roughly a week. Good catch.

This thriller is about a plot to do serious harm to the President of the United States during his visit to Spain. There's a gimmick: at points, the movie "rewinds" to its beginning, and you see the same timespan following a different character. For the climax, this gimmick is dropped, but while it's in operation, it's pretty clever: each iteration shows you something different, and more information is revealed about what's really going on.

I liked it considerably better than most critics. Although I was left asking Hey, what happened to Phil?

Trivia: Although they have no scenes together here, I was almost sure that this was the first time Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt appeared in the same movie since 1981's Eyewitness, one of my alltime favorites. Nope. Thanks to IMDB magic, it turns out that they were also both in The Village, which I've seen, but almost totally forgotten. ("Let's see… it was about… a village, right?")

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

Old Man's War

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
I don't read a lot of science fiction any more, but multiple web-huzzahs for this one caused me to buy it and put it in the reading queue. It's good!

It's about John Perry, a 75-year-old man who's recently buried his beloved wife. He would ordinarily be looking at a normal old age on Earth—this still involves the prospect of depressing diseases, breakdowns, and death, sudden or slowww—but in his time there's another option: you can sign up for the Colonial Defense Forces, go offworld and be (somehow) rejuvenated for the (very) dirty work of defending human space colonies against the hosts of bugeyed monsters that desire those worlds for themselves. (A distressing number of the aliens have developed a taste for humans, even featuring recipes on the Alien Food Network. Yeesh! Alien Rachael Ray! Yummo!)

Many people have remarked on the similarity of Scalzi's work to that of Robert A. Heinlein, and that's certainly true. Scalzi even makes a note of his obvious debts to Heinlein in the acknowledgments at the end. Like RAH, while the novel is set in the far-flung future, there are still recognizable features of the present. (When all the geezers gather together for a meal during their flight out from Earth, one character remarks "It's like Wednesday morning at the world's biggest Denny's.")

Quibble: It's difficult to buy the underlying human-vs-alien conflict in the book. Given the realities of the timing of stellar and biological evolution, how likely is it that multiple species will find themselves simultaneously in competition for the same planets in the same corner of the galaxy? Think about the likelihood of your entire kindergarten class showing up by coincidence 50 years later in line for It's a Small World at Disneyland. The book's scenario is way more far-fetched than that.

So you need to do that whole suspension-of-disbelief thing, OK? No problem here. Maybe it's explained in the sequel. Or explained away. I'm cool with that too.

Is it unforgivably old-fashioned to like an author mostly because he writes like an author you revered in your younger days? Guilty as charged.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

im in ur magazine, questioning ur patriotism

Questioning someone's patriotism is a scurrilous and indecent thing to do in politics; that's what folks on the left have been telling people for years, anyway.

They're only too happy to do it themselves, though.

I don't go out of my way looking for this stuff, but caught a recent example in (of all places) National Review on page 11 of the July 14 issue. (I downloaded a PDF version of the page, which you can gander here.) It's an advertisement—I hope it was expensive—for the book The True Patriot by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer.

[I previously blogged about E. J. Dionne's adulatory column about the book, and Matt Welch's PG-13 rated reaction.]

The ad literally questions the patriotism of their opponents. Example:

Is it patriotic — or even conservative — to support an aggressive expansion of government power to eavesdrop?
I may be imagining things here, but I think they mean for you to answer "no" to that question. But two can play that game:
Is it patriotic — or even progressive — to be far more concerned with the "rights" of terrorists to converse freely with their operatives than with the lives of Americans?
See? It's easy and fun! Producing the mirror image of the remainder of the Liu/Hanauer patriotism-questioning is left as an exercise for the easily amused reader. (I'm easily amused too, so if you come up with something good let me know.)

As I said, the ad is for their book, and points you to their website, truepat.org. From there, you can buy the book (currently $8.76 at Amazon), or (recommended) read the whole 132 pages online. It's a fast read: large type, wide margins, no complex arguments. (Liu was once a speechwriter for President Clinton, and it shows.) And despite being short, it also manages to be tediously repetitive.

There are a number of pages with pictures, useful if you've forgotten what Abe Lincoln looked like. One of the nice things about reading it on-site is the comments various readers have left, some of which are perceptive and funny. Bad things: you can't search the text, and you can't cut-n-paste. My quotations may be sloppier than usual as a result.

I would dearly love to read a P. J. O'Rourke review of the book. In 'liu' of that (heh), here are some of my random impressions:

It's very, well, Obamaesque in its approach. The authors will occasionally feint to the right, paying some respect to conservative notions:

Readers should know we are progressive and Democrats. But while we are appalled by much of what we hear from the right wing of the Republican Party, we freely admit that conservatives have been correct about certain ideas: the need to tie reward to work, and punishment to crime; the importance of drawing lines between right and wrong; the dangers of a "no consequences" culture.
But—just as when Obama rhetoricizes similarly—there's not a lot of substance to head-fakes like that. Are there really a lot of non-conservatives that don't believe in tying punishment to crime? (What are you going to tie it to, then?) There's no indication that these conservative "certain ideas" actually lead the authors to advocate any policy position that would offend, say, Nancy Pelosi.

The authors claim that an "enormous amount of research" went into the book. They "immersed" themselves in "philosophy, politics, linguistics, religion, demographics, and history." Why they even deigned to talk—oops, sorry—listen "to many ordinary Americans." But after all that research and immersion and listening, there's no indication that they arrived at any significantly different opinions than the ones they held previously. And despite all the heavy-lifting homework, their arguments for those opinions are remarkably simplistic, condescending, dogmatic, and fallacious, full of question-begging and strawmen. (Lecturing to "conservatives": "You've been wrong to assume the market is always right. You've been wrong to assert that what you fear must be evil. You've been wrong …" etc.)

The authors are huge fans of aggressively annexing concepts to their side by prepending adjectives to them. You need look no further than the question-begging title: The True Patriot. One bright commenter likens this to Anthony Flew's True Scotsman fallacy.

Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again." Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing." The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing."
Another example: the authors would be foolish to forthrightly advocate increased socialistic encroachments on the free market system. So they are all in favor of capitalism—no, wait, what they're in favor of is Patriotic Capitalism. Which means, essentially, higher taxes, shared sacrifice, regulation, subsidies, etc.

The True Patriot is unabashedly and stridently moralistic. It's not adequate for the authors to brand their opponents as merely wrong on the facts, or working toward different but valid goals. Instead, those opponents are evil, in violation of civic morality. The authors admit they are attempting to cook up a "civic religion;" this makes it much easier to deem dissenters as not just misguided, but heretics ("false patriots"). America, they allege, is in a deep "spiritual crisis." And the book dives headfirst into sermonizing at times; it's easy to imagine this being part of a stemwinding, red-faced speech delivered from a bully secular pulpit:

But American today is in danger of drifting from its best traditions. We have allowed the false prophets of selfishness to obscure our vision. We have grown numb to a creeping cynicism about progress and public life. We crave human connection yet hide behind walls. We worship the money chase yet decry the toll it exacts on us. We allow the market to dominate our lives, relationships, yearnings, and aspirations. We indulge in nostalgia and irony and addictive entertainment, then purge from our hearts any true idealism or passion, any notion that being American should mean something more than "everyday low prices" or "every man for himself."
Yowza! Don't forget: we're also bitter, clinging to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like us, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain our frustrations!

And, dear friends, Eric and Nick are here to SAVE you from your spiritual crisis with Progressive GovernmentTM!

The book is also straightforwardly collectivist: note the wailing against "selfishness" above. They laud "the simple precept of country above self." They deride "self-interest" (usually proceeded by the adjective "narrow"). The authors claim to appreciate the "negative conception of freedom", which they sum up as "the right to be let alone and to make choices without regard to others"—but only "within limits." They make it clear that one element of their incessant appeals to patriotism is a relatively cold calculation: it's meant to "trump" this type of "freedom talk."

The book is broken up by occasional quotes from founding documents and famous speeches. JFK is there, as are RFK, FDR, and MLKJr. No Reagan though. The last Republican they seem to have actually liked was Teddy Roosevelt.

Which reminds me: there's a lot in this book that reminds me of Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism. Someone with time on their hands should read them in parallel, cross-referencing descriptive sections of Jonah's book with examples from Liu/Hanauer.

Last Modified 2024-06-01 5:22 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2008-07-06 Update

The Google forecast calls for continued high levels of phoniness, with occasional outbreaks of arrant hypocrisy, possibly continuing for the next four months or so.

Query StringHit CountChange Since
"Barack Obama" phony752,000-1,000
"John McCain" phony676,000+40,000
"Bob Barr" phony12,000+1,400

  • Charles Krauthammer seems to be warming to the phoniness that is Senator Obama. He runs through the week's flip-flops: flag pin, check; gun control, check; Iraq, check. Conclusion:
    As Obama assiduously obliterates all differences with McCain on national security and social issues, he remains rightly confident that Bush fatigue, the lousy economy, and his own charisma — he is easily the most dazzling political personality since John Kennedy — will carry him to the White House.

    Of course, once he gets there he will have to figure out what he really believes. The conventional liberal/populist stuff he campaigned on during the primaries? Or the reversals he is so artfully offering up now?

    I have no idea. Do you? Does he?

    A real good question.

  • Betsy Newmark details another instance of Barackrobatics that Krauthammer has (so far) missed: the abortion issue. She points to Friday's report from ABC legal analyst Jan Crawford Greenburg, who notes Obama's Strange New Respect for conservative jurisprudence on the issue:
    In a recent interview, Obama appears to back away from his long-stated positions on abortion (and a proposed federal abortion rights law he had co-sponsored), repudiate 35 years of accepted Supreme Court rulings on the issue and embrace a view on abortion restrictions that has been expressed on the Court only by Justices Thomas and Scalia.
    Obama now states that the "mental distress" of a pregnant woman shouldn't count as a "health of the mother" exception to obtaining an otherwise-prohibited late term abortion. As far as anyone can tell, this is a new position. Betsy concludes:
    Once again, Senator Obama has shifted to the center on an issue in a way that will please conservative and centrist voters. His more liberal supporters will grin and bear it because they want to win and he's [their] guy. Perhaps they are confident that he is still with them in his heart of hearts and is just pivoting for political advantage. They want to win just as conservatives want to win and are willing to talk themselves into supporting John McCain. If Obama is to win, he'll most probably be dealing with a strongly Democratic Congress and he won't have to worry about any abortion bill with an exception to the mental health exception coming out of the Congress. And, despite his statement to the Christian Magazine, Relevant, I can't see him fighting for such an exception or vetoing the Freedom of Choice Act if it should come to him from that Congress. Just words perhaps?
    Yeah. I can't see him actually nominating any judges who have a Scalia/Thomas record on the issue, either. So: "just words", definitely.

  • Things have gotten pretty bad when even the New York Times editorialists have a problem with your tergiversations. (Campaign finance, check; FISA immunity, check; faith-based initiatives, check; death penalty, check; gun control (again), check). Conclusion:
    We are not shocked when a candidate moves to the center for the general election. But Mr. Obama’s shifts are striking because he was the candidate who proposed to change the face of politics, the man of passionate convictions who did not play old political games.

    There are still vital differences between Mr. Obama and Senator John McCain on issues like the war in Iraq, taxes, health care and Supreme Court nominations. We don’t want any “redefining” on these big questions. This country needs change it can believe in.

    I will be giving a dramatic reading of these paragaphs at the dinner table tonight, with quivering chin and quavering voice, on the edge of tears.

  • Obama may be a phony, but his birth certificate isn't.

  • By the way, the Pun Salad-invented word "Barackrobatics" is still losing badly to "Obamafuscation" on the Google. Today's score is 1,190 to 3. "Obamafuscation" has even cracked its way into the Urban Dictionary. Moan.

    But while browsing through the UD, this one gave me a chuckle: "Baracknophobia." Proposed McCain campaign slogan: Baracknophobia—Catch It!

Last Modified 2014-12-01 10:55 AM EDT

Be Kind Rewind

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
stars] [IMDb Link]

I haven't been a big Michael Gondry fan in the past, not being swept up in the near-universal accolades for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But Gondry wrote and directed this movie, a screwball comedy with fantasy elements, and it really worked for me.

Jack Black and Mos Def play buddies Jerry and Mike, respectively. Mike works for Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) in the local VHS-only video rental store in lovely Passaic, New Jersey; its alleged claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Fats Waller. Jerry is delusional and paranoid, but in a nice way. Through an unlikely misadventure in the local power plant, he erases all the tapes in Mr. Fletcher's store. Even less likely, he persuades Mike and others to remake their own versions of the destroyed movies as substitutes, substituting their enthusiasm for talent, accuracy, and production values.

Mia Farrow has a small role as sweet and daffy Miss Falewicz, who starts out the whole enterprise by demanding to rent Ghostbusters. There's also a wonderful cameo from an actress who just happens to have been in one of the movies Jerry and Mike remake.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

Experimental Results


This week's test of the Sunday Basic Cable Movie Actor Theory:

  • 12:00AM on A&E: Die Hard (Bruce Willis)
  • 1:00PM on SPIKE: The Big Bounce (Morgan Freeman)
  • 8:00PM on TNT: The Fifth Element (Bruce Willis)
  • 8:30PM on FX: I, Robot (Will Smith)
  • 10:10PM on TNT: The Fifth Element (Bruce Willis)
  • 10:30PM on AMC: Look Who's Talking (Bruce Willis)
What's with all the Bruce movies? I checked, it's not his birthday.

I've never seen The Big Bounce, but I understand it's pretty bad.

The theory stands unrefuted for the past twenty weeks.

Last Modified 2008-07-12 6:45 AM EDT

The Golden Compass

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
stars] [IMDb Link]

Eh. I read the book a number of years ago, and wasn't impressed enough to make it a high priority to continue with the series. The movie's slightly less impressive than that.

It's a dark fantasy set on a parallel Earth, where a plucky young girl, Lyra, finds herself in great danger, pursued by an oppressive organization represented by the coldly beautiful, yet evil, Mrs. Coulter. There are talking animals, and the special effects seem good.

The movie brightens up the book's darkness quite a bit, notably by cutting off the grim ending. Sam Elliot shows up, looking and sounding just about exactly the same as he did in The Big Lebowski, a movie that was a lot more fun.

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

Shorter Slansky

At the Huffington Post, Paul Slansky has penned an essay under the title "A Modest Proposal for the 4th: Take Back Old Glory." Now, it's difficult to know how seriously to take something billed as "a modest proposal." Nevertheless, here's a key paragraph:

Of all the stupid things done by the anti-war crowd, the most gratuitously moronic was allowing the sanctimonious hypocrites of the right to co-opt the nation's most basic icon, its flag. The emblem of the country's highest aspirations was mindlessly ceded to the holier-than-thou zealots who used it as a bludgeon against the less fanatical.
Shorter version: Despite how well it showed our true feelings, it was not a good idea, PR-wise, to burn all those American flags.

Eventually, Slansky trots out his "proposal":

Everyone who's voting for Obama -- and especially those who are public figures (i.e. Keith Olbermann, Jack Cafferty, Rachel Maddow) must immediately procure a flag pin and not be seen without it before November 5th.
On November 5, go ahead and dump the silly things.
If you can't do it with pride, do it as an act of subversion.
I.e., just follow Obama's lead: the whole point is to fool the rubes.

URLs du Independence Day 2008

Happy Birthday to the USA!

  • We have dumped on the Google in the past for insufficient recognition of holidays, so we should take notice:

    July 4th 2008 Google

    Good on them.

  • Janice Brown at Cow Hampshire recounts a tale of a real old-fashioned Fourth, as celebrated in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 1808.

    The scene was interesting!--amid the group were seen, here and there, the aged patriot, whose locks silvered with age, reminded the beholder that they had witnessed those days of peril, when in the cause of Liberty, privations, and extreme sufferings were endured without a murmur. These venerable men forgot for a moment that age was upon them. They remembered the days of youth, the noble struggle in which they engaged, and the glorious prize they obtained. Patriotism beamed on their countenance, and the virtuous enthusiasm pervaded every bosom.

  • These days, of course, even the Live Free or Die state has its nannies. New Hampshire State Fire Marshal Bill Degnan and Chief Chris Christopoulos, President of the NH Association of Fire Chiefs, are performing that duty this year.

    Chief Christopoulos particularly urges parents not to put sparklers in the hands of small children. Many children have suffered eye and other burn injuries for these devices. "The wires of sparklers get very hot and small pieces of burning metal can fly off and hit a child in the eye, on the skin or onto their clothing, which could ignite," he said.

    Yes, even on the Fourth of July: "You'll put your eye out, kid."

    You might want to check out the official NH " APPROVED PERMISSIBLE FIREWORKS LIST (pdf)" for 2008. It's a disgracefully short 57 pages. The names are enticing, though: "Awesome Adventure"; "BAD MUTHA TRUCKER"; "Barely Legal"; "Cats in Cupboard". (Via Drew Cline.)

  • But New Hampshire can not, will not, be allowed to out-nanny the great state of Maine:

    Maine's fire marshal says investigators will be staking out fireworks stores in New Hampshire around the Fourth of July holiday and people who try to bring illegal fireworks into Maine may be arrested.

  • Mr. Lileks is also writing on the Fourth:

    If you're wondering which fireworks are permitted in Minnesota, it's quite simple. Ask yourself this question: Is it fun? Then it's not legal. Do you have fun fireworks with garish graphics and names like TERMINATOR BOUQUET or GLORIOUS BLOSSOM THUNDER? You went to Wisconsin, didn't you.

    Apparently Wisconsin is to Minnesota as New Hampshire is to Maine.

  • The New York Times makes one of its occasional visits to America, examining the phenomenon of Very Big Flags.

    The trend began nearly 25 years ago, spiked after 9/11 and now seems simply part of the cultural backdrop in American sports. Where there is a big game, there is a big flag, often the size of the playing field itself.

    Far too big for a pole, the flags raise something else — the question of whether a bigger flag is a more patriotic one, or just a bigger one.

    Next up: a Times reporter goes to a picnic, eats his first hot dog ever. "Surprisingly tasty!"

Last Modified 2012-10-11 4:21 PM EDT

Every Word They Say is a Lie, Including "And" and "The"

Here's a recent quote from Senator Obama on Social Security:

"We will not privatize Social Security, we will not raise the retirement age, and we will save Social Security for future generations by asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share."
Emphasis added. Where have we heard that before?

Well, that's why we have the Google. Remember John Edwards? Nice hair, ran for President? Here's what he said last August in Hanover, NH:

The tax code provides breaks for hedge fund managers — amazingly, even Democrats backed down from asking them to pay their fair share when Wall Street lobbyists put the pressure on.
A press release from someone named "Hillary", not quite down the memory hole yet:
As President, Hillary will restore fairness to our tax code by lowering taxes for middle-class families while asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.
Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Reed in this excerpt from their 2006 book The Plan: Big Ideas for America:
Yet when Democrats set out to restore progressivity and close those loopholes, Republicans block any action by pretending that asking the wealthy to pay their share is a tax increase on the middle class.
And here's President Bill Clinton, over 15 years ago:
But unlike the 1980's, when the rich paid less and the middle class paid more, we're asking the wealthy to pay their fair share to give the middle class a fair shake.
It's not just at the national level. Here's Minnesota ex-Senator Mark Dayton, in a Minneapolis Star-Tribune op-ed from March, opposing the Republican Governor's tax proposal:
Here's a novel alternative. For the first time in decades, let's ask the richest people in Minnesota to pay their fair share of taxes.
As Elvis said: I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused. But when I hear this phraseology, I go right back to "disgusted" again. Finding each one of these instances kicked my blood pressure up a couple of mmHg, and I don't have as much headroom in that area as I used to. It's as if there's a Democrat-brand computer keyboard that comes with that standard boilerplate bound to a hotkey, no extra charge. It must have once played very well to a focus group.

While it's short, it contains an unusual amount of rhetorical mendacity. First, there's:

  1. Rich and/or wealthy — Singling them out is pure demagogic populism, of course. Hey, this is a democracy! Why shouldn't 90% of us vote to raise taxes on the other 10%? Or 80-20? Or 51-49? The idea is that when most people hear "wealthy", they are supposed to unconciously add the subtext "not me." And hear the free-lunch implication: more goodies for me from the government that someone else will be forced to pay for.

But it gets worse:
  1. Fair share — spoken as if some unholy hybrid being, half-economist and half-ethicist, was able to derive a precise mathematical formula determining, for anyone's given situation, what a "fair" amount of taxation would be. Harvard Econ prof Greg Mankiw had the definitive take on this notion in the New York Times last year. After looking at the actual tax burden at various income levels, he debunked any effort to paint things as "fair":
    Fairness is not an economic concept. If you want to talk fairness, you have to leave the department of economics and head over to philosophy.
    The whole notion of "progressive" taxation turns any objective measure of fairness into a lame joke. This is not a new and original insight. In The Constitution of Liberty, Friedrich Hayek quoted J. R. McCullough from 1833:
    The moment you abandon the cardinal principle of exacting from all individuals the same proportion of their income or of their property, you are at sea without rudder or compass, and there is no amount of folly or injustice you may not commit.
    Hayek himself makes a similar point a few pages later:
    Progression provides no criterion whatever of what is and what is not to be regarded as just. It indicates no halting point for its application, and the "good judgment" of the people on which its defenders are usually driven to rely as the only safeguard is nothing more than the current state of opinion shaped by past policy.
But even worse than "fair share" is:
  1. Ask — No. No. No. The government does not "ask" you to pay taxes, any more than it "asks" you to not hold up convenience stores. They'll put you in jail if you don't do what they "ask". To euphemize otherwise is weasel-worded dishonesty.

I'd dearly love to see any politician advocating "asking the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes" mercilessly ridiculed until they were forced to translate to an accurate version: "compel an ill-defined but successful minority to pay more taxes, because we can get away with it in our democracy."

But I bet that won't happen soon. I'll contact my physician about upping my blood pressure meds.

Last Modified 2017-12-05 6:16 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


  • The University Diarist pens a limerick in honor of North Carolina State University's 'executive-in-residence/senior lecturer' Mary Easly. Whose husband happens to be the Governor of North Carolina. A key paragraph from the quoted news story:
    Her raise gives her a salary nearly $35,000 more than her husband’s, who makes $135,854 as the state’s top elected official.
    You can also play "spot the party affiliation" in the story if you want.

  • I'm still jazzed about WALL·E. Some of its Easter Eggs are revealed here (also some plot points, so if you haven't seen it yet, beware. Also: what the Hell do you mean you haven't seen it yet? Go, already.)

    I missed the Pizza Planet truck. I need to go again.

  • There are 30,000 stories in the Lilac City, and a good number of them are imaginatively chronicled in the latest Rochester, NH Police Log. A small sample of the sheer genius:
    Wednesday, June 18

    4:36 p.m. — There are several reports of "an elderly female that has broken down in front of the Gafney Home." Actually, it seems to be her car that has broken down.

    Thursday, June 19

    12:14 a.m. — There is venison on Old Dover Road.

    4:04 p.m. — A young man comes to the station, asking an officer to show him how to use hand signals when riding a bike. There are three important ones. Turn left. Turn right. And, hey, you cut me off.

    Tuesday, June 24

    8:03 a.m. — A dog runs loose at Skyhaven [Airport] and may become a hazard to air traffic. It is not a Sopwith Pup, but some type of husky mix.

    4:44 p.m. — There is a fight on Salmon Falls Road near Whitehall. It mostly involves two people but others seem to join in on a whim.

    Many more at the link. (In case you didn't get the Sopwith Pup reference: here.)

Last Modified 2008-07-06 7:45 AM EDT

Chasing Darkness

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
This is Robert Crais's latest Elvis Cole novel, and it's pretty good. Elvis has mostly recovered from his breakup with his true love, Lucy, and also getting seriously shot up a couple books back. So he's back to being the World's Greatest Detective. (It's not clear whether he inhabits the same universe as Spenser; in that case, he'd be the World's Greatest Detective, Except Possibly For a Tie in Boston.)

As the book begins, Elvis is getting threatening phone calls. Worse, a couple of cops show up asking about an old case where he was able to exonerate a sleazeball on a murder charge. Now, it appears very much as if the sleazeball was guilty of that murder, and a number of others. Can the World's Greatest be losing his touch?

Not likely. Elvis takes it upon himself to figure out what's going on.

A number of characters from previous books show up: the resourceful and taciturn Joe Pike, and cop Carole Starkey, who's seriously in love with Elvis. (Neat writer's trick: although Elvis is the book's narrator, and the narration makes Starkey's feelings for Elvis obvious, Elvis himself remains oblivious to it.)

Last Modified 2024-02-01 5:28 AM EDT

Patriotic Barackrobatics du Jour

  • On Monday, Senator Obama gave a "patriotism speech". Klaus Marre in The Hill brings us the good news:

    Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Monday, in a major speech on patriotism, criticized MoveOn.org for referring to Gen. David Petraeus as General Betray Us last year.

    And (phony-wise) the even better news:

    Obama did not vote last year when the Senate approved a measure condemning the controversial Petraeus ad.

    Via Viking Pundit.

  • Also from the speech:

    I remember, when living for four years in Indonesia as a child, listening to my mother reading me the first lines of the Declaration of Independence - "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.…"

    "When in the Course of human events"—thrown under the bus! Seriously, it's a pretty good speech; but I agree with Mr. Hoy: if any Republican had made that goof, it would have been Daily Show fodder for weeks.

  • For the speech, Obama's flag lapel pin was:


    At the Corner, Byron York summarizes the flag-pin issue, which appears and disappears according to its political usefulness. From last October:

    "You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin," Obama said. "Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we're talking about the Iraq War, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest."

    Apparently, Obama is now fine with substitutes for true patriotism.

    York also notes a Washington Post story that classifies as a "false rumor" the entirely accurate claim that Obama (previously) disdained wearing a pin. Because, you see, Obama has always worn the pin, and we've always been at war with Eastasia.

  • Obama's speech was given in Independence, Missouri; it followed last week's stunt appearance with Hillary Clinton in tiny Unity, New Hampshire. Hm… Oh, I get it! So:

    But most important: Will Obama have the moxie to schedule a campaign stop in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico?

Last Modified 2014-12-01 1:25 PM EDT