31 December 2008

THE worst movie of 2008?

Other than a political documentary about the campaign? Hard to say. Clemens and Carmen did not watch too many movies and those we did watch were often for the under 12 set. "Wall-E" was great, "Bolt" merely very good. I can't even think of what else we have seen this year, good or bad.

But don't stress. The Washington Post comes to our rescue with an article detailing all of the worst of the worst as compiled by Rotten Tomatoes scores. Infallible.

And the loser is ... "One Missed Call." No. I didn't see it. Apparently the critics who were paid to see it were the only ones who did. Its rating on the Tomatometer was 0. It's a remake of a Japanese horror flick about people who get creepy messages on their cellphones.

BTW, to leave no dead horse unbeaten, here is what the article had to say about one of my betes noirs, Ben Stein's "Expelled."
Here's what the Globe and Mail had to say about Stein's attack on a scientific orthodoxy that allows no room for consideration of the so-called intelligent design theory of creation. The film, which garnered a Tomatometer score of 10, is "an appallingly unscrupulous example of hack propaganda and it sucketh mightily. What's more, I didn't laugh once."

If you can't laugh at anti-science propaganda, what's the point?

but at least it earned a Tomatometer rating of 10 out of 100.

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26 December 2008

More on Robin Hood as "Gladiator"

More news is bubbling up among the medievalists. They seem fascinated, in a stunned sort of way.

Read this.

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22 December 2008

The Lost Art of Political Prognostication

Here's a little quote from one Mark Penn, who I believe was paid a lot of money for his political savvy by a Democratic candidate for president back during the primaries.
"All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light. Save it for 2050 ... I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and values. The right knows Obama is unelectable except against Attila the Hun," - Mark Penn, March 19, 2007.

Apparently the GOP did run Attila the Hun.

though I must protest the unwarranted slur on the reputation of great leader who cared deeply for his people and has never received the recognition he deserves: Attila, aka "Little Father," aka Etzel.

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Robin Hood

Another remake of the Robin Hood story, this one from the wonderful folks who brought you "Gladiator." Apparently this one plays it as a love triangle between Robin, Marion, and the Sherrif of Nottingham.

Could be fun.

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Without Comment

17 December 2008

Without Comment: Mumbai edition

14 December 2008

The Medical/Auto tie in

I had no idea that the medical business might be effected by the demise, or even the endangerment, of the automobile industry in America, but here is what one of Matt Yglesias' readers had to say in which Yglesias commented on the auto business:

“by which hundreds of thousands of jobs are now hanging isn’t very funny”

It’s not funny. I’m the medical industry, and we’re doing fine. You will always pay for medical treatment, even if you just lost your job. But many of our suppliers are tied to the auto industry. Few suppliers want to commit to the medical industry because of the high risk. What if the FDA decides you product is no good? Even worse, what if you get sued in faulty product litigation? For those reasons, our suppliers like to have some reliable auto business to keep them safe. But they sunk a lot of money into the machines needed to supply the auto industry. So what happens when those machines aren’t running? Well, they need to make up the costs by raising the price of my products. And we in the medical industry don’t take losses. We transfer the costs to you, because you’ll pay for your medical needs no matter what it costs. Are you laughing now? Didn’t think so. People rightly talk about how suppliers will be affected, but they don’t even know how far it goes.

Learn something new every day. Does anyone else out there know anything about this?

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Further Explanations about the Proto-Proto-Indo-Europeans

The ones I once speculated were pushed out into southern Russia/Ukraine when the Euxine Lake flooded c. 4500 BC. That was back in January 2007, almost two years ago! Now Bloner1 has left a recent comment:
Good theory, but how do you speculate this when there is no Proto-Indo-European reconstruction for the word 'sea'?

Interesting question. Apparently there is, though it depends on what you mean by 'sea'. A large body of water? Salt water? Many PIE words migrate in meaning to some idea merely associated with the original meaning. And there are words for sea in Indo-European vocabulary.

The hypothetical PIE word *móri is attested in Celtic (Old Irish muir, sea), Italic (Latin mare, sea), Germanic (eg our mere), and Slavic (e.g. Old Church Slavonic morje, sea). Now these all come from NW Indo-European languages, but there seems to be a possible cognate in Ossetian (last of the Alans!), an Iranian language (mal, deep standing water). So that extends it eastward. Perhaps more telling is the Hittite marmar(r)a-, a swamp, which seems to be a reduplicated form of the word. That would take us back to Proto-Indo European or even earlier if Hittite is a sister language to PIE, as I think, rather than a daughter.

Since this word only means a salt water sea in some languages, and a fresh water lake in others some experts think that *móri originally meant an "inland sea" or "lake" and was later extended to mean salt water sea.

But for my theory to work, that is exactly what it should have meant. The Euxine Lake was, after all, a fresh water lake until the Mediterranean crashed it, turning it into the salty Black Sea. So my hypothetical proto-proto-Indo-Europeans would only be expected to have a word for fresh ‘lake,' which in fact they do: *móri.

Kind of neat. But don't think I did this off the top of my head. I consulted The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World by J.P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams. Every household should have a copy.

A New Phrase

I love new words and phrases. Here's one I found in the NYT today:

"tassel-loafed failures"

As in:
As with the $700 billion bailout that Bush insisted had to be given to the very bankers, insurance companies and other tassel-loafed failures who got us into the economic meltdown ....

What an evocative term - roll it around in your mouth: tassel-loafed failure.

is it my imagination, or is contempt for the financial management class rising?



13 December 2008

The consumate blogger

in all his glory. Courtesy of the Daily Dish

Coming up: The Age of Restraint

The Age of Restraint. A phrase coined by Peggy Noonan who is famous for coining phrases. There is a certain sense of satisfaction in your faithful correspondent as he slides easily into geezerhood, striving for the coveted title of "Old Fart*" in seeing the younger generation suddenly realize that restraint rather than consumption can be a virtue. The richest society on the planet ever has suddenly discovered that there really are limits. Or as Noonan puts it:
There's something else going on, a new or renewed sense of national shame. Or communal responsibility. Or a sense of reckoning. Whatever it is it's a reaction to the excesses of the O's, a reaction against the ways of those who caused the mess on Wall Street and Main Street. It is a reassertion that there actually are rules, and that it is embarrassing to break them in a way so colorfully damaging and destructive to everyone else.

The excesses of the Os. Or the Double Zeros as I like to think of them. Apparently they topped even those of the 90s.

* though I recall that a girlfriend of mine told me after meeting my father, "Well, he certainly isn't an old fart."


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Corruption and family values

Year's ago, while discussing whether or not we should allow a textbook sales rep to buy lunch for the entire history department, the chair told me "Sure it's corruption, but it's an acceptable amount of corruption." There was more wisdom to that than I first accepted. Human beings need an acceptable amount of corruption to feel, well, human. Corruption is in fact a family value, something I try to keep in mind as I study the various societies I come across teaching world history. As Scott Simon recalls in an article on honest corruption in today's Wall Street Journal,
A Chicago alderman once complained to me about modern reform hiring laws -- the line was so good, I borrowed it, unembellished, for a novel -- "What's this world coming to when a guy can get a job for a stranger more easily than he can for his brother in law?"

Take care of your own first, starting with the family, the basic building block of all human society. Even the Spartans were not able to banish it, though Lord knows they tried. Having formulated this theory years ago when studying the decline of both the Ottomans and the Manchus, I am gratified to find Simon backing it up with some real world observations about Chicago, a place where people know corruption and can catalog its varieties.
Regulars know that regular people sometimes need a little help. Under this kind of ethic, steering rewards to friends and family becomes a virtue. As Mayor Richard J. Daley once famously exclaimed when caught trying to shovel city insurance business to one of his sons (not Richard M. or Bill Daley), "Any father who doesn't do for his son isn't a good father, and if they don't like it, kiss my ass."

One of the major engines of world history, and a real family value for people who hold Blagojevich, governor of Illinois, in the richest contempt. They know the difference between healthy corruption and simple graft.

and if you don't like it ...


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11 December 2008

The Deadenders

Apparently some members of the Bush administration have not gotten the grand gesture Bush himself is making in cooperating fully with the Obama transition team. The twit he put in at NASA for one (and let's hope only). From the Orlando Sentinel:
NASA administrator Mike Griffin is not cooperating with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, is obstructing its efforts to get information and has told its leader that she is “not qualified” to judge his rocket program, the Orlando Sentinel has learned.


In addition, Griffin is scripting NASA employees and civilian contractors on what they can tell the transition team and has warned aerospace executives not to criticize the agency’s moon program, sources said.

Griffin’s resistance is part of a no-holds-barred effort to preserve the Constellation program, the delayed and over-budget moon rocket that is his signature project.

Like a scorpion, it stings while dying.

or is it something about Florida?

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Watch this one

I am not really sure what is going on here, but I think the white mice are having some kind of religious experience. Not sure about the birds.

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10 December 2008

Why we need a stiff gas tax

It's not to be green, nor to feel good and virtuous. It is a vital issue of national defense. Why empower our worst enemies? Here is what is happening now that folks are no longer buying gas at their usual rate (due first to high gas prices, now to the fact we all fear poverty):

But Russia's budget for 2009 requires oil to sell at $95 a barrel to break even, Venezuela at $60, Iran between $55 and $60. Many producer states, it seems, have fallen into an old trap, expecting booms to last longer than they actually will. Let it be granted that those forecasts seem modest given the $147 high witnessed last summer.

it's difficult to imagine these states taking more aggressive tacks then those that which they're already on. I wonder if we might, ironically, see the opposite: domestic aggression combined with a softening toward the international society.

Or as Bill Maher once put it, "When you drive alone ... you drive with Osama!" So keep conserving that gas and support a tax on gasoline.

I'm still trying to save by not going to work, but it doesn't seem to be a viable plan.


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09 December 2008

No one's rep comes out alive!

Ah yes. The Bush years. What do we call them? The "naughts"? The Big Double Zero? At any rate, some one else has just seen his reputation hit a brick wall. Chris Bodenner filling in for Andrew Sullivan puts it best:

"I don't believe there's any cloud that hangs over me. I think there's nothing but sunshine hanging over me," - IL Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) to reporters yesterday. This morning, he was taken into federal custody.

[film at 11]

I can't think of any cute postscript for this - it's droll enough as it is.

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The high cost of American executives

I have often railed against the outsize salaries of American CEOs, both for moral reasons (I have to believe Jesus would have been against it) and practical reasons (now that they want us to save their asses it's a little difficult to convince people who make less than $70k to bailout people making $10 million on average).

Anyway, here is an article by Jonathan Macy in the Wall Street Journal that backs me up on this. Obviously he is a very smart guy. His case in point is Rick Wagoner, CEO of the failing General Motors.

When Mr. Wagoner took the helm eight years ago the stock was trading at around $60 per share. The stock had fallen to around $11 per share before the current financial crisis. It's now below $5 per share.

In 2007, Mr. Wagoner's compensation rose 64% to almost $16 million in a year when the company lost billions. The board has been a staunch backer of Mr. Wagoner despite consistent erosion of market share and losses of $10.4 billion in 2005 and $2 billion in 2006. In 2007 GM posted a loss of $68.45 a share, or $38.7 billion -- the biggest ever for any auto maker anywhere.

But Wagoner is just part of a widespread problem: huge executive salaries that have no relation to performance or worth.

The average pay for chief executives of large public companies in the United States is now well over $10 million a year. Top corporate executives in the United States get about three times more than their counterparts in Japan and more than twice as much as their counterparts in Western Europe.

Anyone want to argue that Wagoner and his ilk are worth three times what the CEO of Toyota or Honda is?

besides, whatever happened to the virtues of a free market and the creative destruction of capitalism?

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Special note of self-congratulation

With that last post Sententiae went over the 1000 post mark. Don't know why that is important other than the fact that our Proto-Indo-European ancestors noted that we had ten fingers and invented the decimal system, but there it is.

think I'll go have a cognac and think about it.


07 December 2008

And another thing about the Kindle...

I just noticed that a reader of the article I linked to in the last post left some interesting comments about the unique advantage of a Kindle. I used one once borrowed from a friend and pretty much agree.

The beauty of Kindle is that we are finally getting traction on a mobile, updatable device that is a good environment for serious readers and therefore a good environment for newspapers, whose customers have always been serious readers.

The attention-deficit-disorder environment of a Web site (and the iPhone) is not a good environment for serious readers and text-heavy newspaper content. (See Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic magazine cover for July/August.)*

That’s the reason, I suspect, people don’t spend as much time on newspaper Web sites as they do with the print product. Heavy reading in that environment is just not as enjoyable as it is in print.

I wouldn't mind getting one for Christmas ...

but it's too expensive for me to ask anyone for this season. And I am too cheap to keep paying for the books!

* but don't most people skim through mags and rags anyway?

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The Kindle again

We've discussed the Kindle e-book reader from Amazon before on Sententiae. Some readers won't use an e-book for any reason but I think there is a place for them - especially for extended travel. It may be other features of the Kindle that will turn out to be important , however, like being able to buy books on the fly and above all to subscribe to newspapers.

Here, via Andrew Sullivan, is a discussion of the possibility that the Kindle, with its paid subscriptions, might be the salvation of old fashioned print media. The New York Times, e.g. has 10,000 paid subscriptions from Kindle accounts. Keep in mind that there are virtually no production costs involved.
Given that the electronic Times costs $13.99 a month, that would mean the NYT Kindle edition is generating in the neighborhood of $1.68 million a year. How much of that goes to NYT Co. and how much stays with Amazon is unclear.

The author of the article seems to doubt that this is really going to work.

I’m not yet sold on that vision. I think for the Kindle to reach mainstream success, it’ll have to shift its focus from being an ebook reader with a junky mobile web browser to being a great mobile web browser with an ebook reader attached. It’ll have to become something more like the iPhone with a bigger screen and better battery life. (There are signs the iPhone might already have the ebook-reader lead over the Kindle, although without the business model attached.)

And when that shift happens, it’ll become trivially easy to read newspapers’ (free) web sites on the device — which I suspect will undercut Kindle newspaper subscriptions just as it undercuts print newspaper subscriptions.

I still haven't ordered one yet myself and may never. Amazon will not release its sales figures but there seems to be a permanent backlog of orders for it. Don't know how you measure success for a product like this but if you are selling every single one you can manufacture you've got all the success you can handle.

And why wouldn newspapers with a paid subscription base keep providing free editions on the web? Just because they are there now doesn't mean they can't go away.

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03 December 2008

Mumbai shootout

Andrew Sullivan highlights some extraordinary footage of a shoot out between police armed with one old rifle and terrorists armed with AK-47s.

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Without Comment