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December 31, 2006

That's not funny! (Reprise)

Probably the oldest question in the relationship between men and women is whether men are funnier than women.

But after centuries of efforts to prove that they are, it turns out, much like Euclid's parallel postulate, to be incapable of proof within our logical system. It just is.

So why is it that otherwise intelligent human beings feel the need to continue trying to prove this point? Are they, in doing so, simply engaging in some kind of atavistic chest-thumping, as if to say, "Look at me! As a man, I have the kind of chest you actually can thump."? Are they responding to a perceived societal denigration of maleness, typified by the feminist motto "That's not funny."?

I, for one, don't claim to have the answer, but I see this altogether too often.

The latest intelligent human being to try to prove this postulate is Christopher Hitchens, writing in Vanity Fair. When Hitchens writes about politics, he's actually quite witty, even if I don't happen to agree with him. But there really isn't anything funny about analyzing what makes things funny and why only men can really be funny. (Shorter Hitchens: Women aren't funny, because they face horrible pain and risk death through childbirth, whereas men risk death through, uh, I don't know, dancing on the hood of a car while their friend is driving it at 60 MPH.)

But maybe Hitchens's real purpose in writing was precisely to bring out the "that's not funny" crowd, as if to prove his point. (Question: Can an argument be correct not because it proves what it sets out to but rather because it elicits a response that proves the point?)

In today's Washington Post magazine, Gene Weingarten opens up his column to the supposedly humorous responses to the Hitchens article from various women he knows. After reading it, all I can say about the Hitchens essay is "QED."

The sad fact is that the women quoted in the Weingarten column just aren't funny. A few of them have clever retorts, but those retorts are only insults, not humor. There's a big difference. Here's one response, an insult that doesn't even rate as clever:

This is obviously a man who does not know women to any real depth. If you see what I am saying.

-- Rachel Manteuffel
Here's another:
The argument that he is making, persuasively, is not that women aren't funny -- it's that we aren't stupid. Because we discriminate and do not laugh at everything this trifling little man finds funny, he concludes that we have no sense of humor. This is like concluding that women hate the outdoors because we don't like to watch bass fishing on TV.

Also, he mentions that he has undergone a sigmoidoscope procedure. Someone should tell him he may have a lawsuit, because part of that thing is obviously still lodged up there.

-- Tamara Jones
As I said, one or two responses in fact were clever, but they were still insults, not humor:
Hitchens has written what is perhaps the most forward-thinking essay of 1918.

-- Mandy Stadtmiller

Two observations:

1) Hitchens has a point he wants to make, but he can't pitch it; i.e., he throws like a girl.

2) There's not one funny line in the whole essay. Ergo, following his own logic, he also writes like a girl.

What we have here is a woman trapped in a man's body. Until he recognizes the need for surgery, he is doomed to self-loathing diatribes such as this, poor thing.

-- Jennifer Hart
By the way, I can't quite figure out why Weingarten lent his column to these folks. Maybe he was busy this week? Because it didn't help him raise his funny average. (I've often said that humor writing is extremely difficult. Even a great humor writer, like Dave Barry, is funny about 30% of the time. As in baseball, batting .300 in humor is the sign of a star. Gene Weingarten, on the other hand, is sometimes funny, but he seems to me to hover well below the Mendoza Line.)

I've tried to put myself in the shoes of the women who responded to Hitchens, and the first problem is that I don't look good in high-heeled pumps. Even when I stood barefoot, I was able to surmise that the women felt disrespected by Hitchens's essay. I can't really blame them, but they shouldn't feel bad about it. It's men who determine what's funny, as in "The Three Stooges are funny." We just do. It's an ineluctable modality of life. So women can play in a man's ballpark, but it's still his home field.

The consolation for women in all of this is that they still determine whether what's funny isn't funny at all. As Rachel Manteuffel might say, "If you see what I am saying."

Click here to read more . . .

Final fantasy 2006

I've been sitting on this for about a week and a half, but it seems appropriate for a slow year's end.

If you'd like to see the future of military technology, read this: "9 Military Technologies That We Want." Particularly cool are number 2 (powered exoskeleton, to help soldiers carry more and move faster), number 7 (gryphon flying wings, to avoid the Icarus problem), and number 8 (the cornershot, a gun that shoots around corners).

(via HotAir)

Click here to read more . . .

December 28, 2006

No f***ing Zito?

Well, Barry Zito has signed with the San Francisco Giants after a couple of months of tantalizing the Mets.

Zito is an above average, though not great, pitcher. You'd be happy to have him as a number 2 starter and ecstatic to have him as a number 3.

But $126 freakin' million over seven years? No way!

The Mets were hoping to reel him in at 5 years and $75 mil. A lot of fans think the team was putting all its eggs in the Zito basket instead of preparing a Plan B. I don't know. Losing him is a disappointment, but it's far from the end of the world. And there's still time for a deal.

By the way: The title of this post is based on one the quotations here. I'm kind of surprised no one else seems to have thought of it. [UPDATE: More context for the quotation.]

Click here to read more . . .

December 27, 2006

Talkin' nekkid

When my wife had her first job out of law school, one of the other lawyers in the office placed a business call to her from a hotel bathtub. And you wonder why she left the job within the year?

At the Sun (the Brit tabloid, not the tabloid wannabe in Baltimore), we now have the latest excuse to show a photo of a woman in her underwear: "Talk talk naked" (via Fark)

An utterly bogus survey showing that "49 per cent of 600 people questioned were happy to use the phone in their birthday suit" and that women were "more likely than men to go au naturel - 40 per cent of men bare all while chatting, compared to 57 per cent of women."

And 38 percent of statistics are entirely made up.

Here's a puzzler: Men are "more likely than women to be found speaking to friends of the opposite sex." Hmmmmmmm. To speak to a friend of the opposite sex, it requires involvement of both a man and a woman. So how are men more likely to speak to women than women are to men? Unless many men are speaking to the same woman. Which doesn't sound like a recipe for happiness.

Click here to read more . . .

"Get out of jury duty free" card

I'm not a trial lawyer, so my one experience with "voir dire" -- which means, roughly translated, "I'd rather be having a root canal" -- came when I was called for "one day/one trial" jury service in Rockville nearly 14 years ago. At the end of the day, I had dodged the bullet. All they promised me was I wouldn't be called for another 8 years, so now you know the real reason I post anonymously.

I remember being asked a boatload of questions, but no one ever asked me if I had a bumper sticker on my car not related to a political candidate. It turns out that those of you in New Jersey will have to answer that question starting very soon, according to a blog called The NJ Blog. (Thanks to Miriam for the link.)

The post at The NJ Blog cites the local legal rag for the theory behind the question -- that "there's a difference between 'Question Authority' and 'Have You Hugged a Cop Today?'" I suppose. I can imagine, can't you, that if you're a lawyer defending a major oil company, that you might be reluctant to empanel a juror whose car is plastered with "Imagine World Peace" and "I'd Rather Be Fighting Global Warming" stickers.

But what if you're a prospective juror? Do you remove your stickers before appearing in court? Or do you follow the advice of The NJ Blog and display a sticker that reads "Fry them all"?

It's called a "Get out of jury duty free" card. Someone in New Jersey will make a good buck selling them.

Click here to read more . . .

Being practical about prejudice

I'd like to think that I take a practical view of prejudice and bigotry: We can reduce it but never quite do away with it. We are, after all, men and not angels.

It is practical to try to reduce the number of bigoted people and to minimize the degree of prejudice in each of us. It is utopian, however, to try to eliminate it. The best we can realistically achieve is to encourage -- in some cases require -- people to treat each other respectfully, civilly, politely, fairly, even if, deep down, they still harbor prejudices. In other words, let's judge how people act, now how they think.

I was pleased to see that the New York Times, of all places, ran an op-ed yesterday on this same subject by Orlando Patterson, a black sociology professor at some passé institution in Massachusetts. (The article is behind the Times Select firewall, so most of you will have to be content with my description and excerpts. We don't pay for it; it's a benny of paying for a home subscription, which Mrs. Attila, who avoids the Times's political nonsense as much as she can, enjoys quite a lot.)

Patterson argues that the quest for authenticity, a term from Lionel Trilling that he defines as "finding and expressing the true inner self and judging all relationships in terms of it," has caused many problems. Patterson believes it has led to our election of people like Clinton and Bush, but he says that it is in dealing with prejudice that authenticity had been especially troublesome: "Social scientists and pollsters routinely belittle results showing growing tolerance; they argue that Americans have simply learned how to conceal their deeply ingrained prejudices." Patterson's response is:

I couldn't care less whether my neighbors and co-workers are authentically sexist, racist or ageist. What matters is that they behave with civility and tolerance, obey the rules of social interaction and are sincere about it. The criteria of sincerity are unambiguous: Will they keep their promises? Will they honor the meanings and understandings we tacitly negotiate? Are their gestures of cordiality offered in conscious good faith?
To this, I say, "Bravo!" We've always learned that actions speak louder than words. It surely follows that actions speak louder than thoughts. I don't care what your thoughts are if you don't act upon them, if you treat others with the respect they deserve as human beings and members of our society.

Patterson concludes with this:
Sincerity rests in reconciling our performance of tolerance with the people we become. And what it means for us today is that the best way of living in our diverse and contentiously free society is neither to obsess about the hidden depths of our prejudices nor to deny them, but to behave as if we had none.
To behave as if we have no prejudices, while recognizing that we do, is a challenge, but it seems plainly the right way to go.

Click here to read more . . .

December 26, 2006

Shedding it for a cause

Some of you may have noticed that we're in the waning days of 2006, and it may have suddenly occurred to you that it's about time to buy that new calendar for 2007.

Which means that you undoubtedly are thinking of buying a calendar from the Humane Society of Jefferson County (Wisconsin).

Miss December is wearing nothing but a Santa hat and a smile. Oh, and holding one strategically placed cat.

Chandra Gates decided the Humane Society of Jefferson County was a worthy enough cause for her to bare it all — well, some of it — for a nude-calendar fundraiser.

"I'm shy about the picture but definitely proud of the cause," said 39-year-old Gates, an animal caregiver there. "I was big on the fact that the cat was tame and wouldn't be running off."
I know you're dying to see the photo. The bad news is that the story linked above doesn't have it. The good news is that I tracked it down for you at the Washington Post. Seriously. You don't have to thank me.

You see how tasteful it is?

And it definitely brings to mind the apocryphal story about Zsa Zsa Gabor (I heard it was Raquel Welch) on Johnny Carson's show.

Now, while we're on our roughly annual discussion of semi-nude calendars (previous entries here and here), I have to quote for you this advisory: "Professor: Nude Calendars Don't Help Fundraising."

And this advisory, too: "One philanthropy expert says nude calendars often end up in drawers because people buy them to support the cause and not to display them."

This philanthropy expert's a moron, of course. They don't display the nude calendars, because they have nude photos. That doesn't mean they don't look at them. If the calendars are in drawers, it's to hide them from the boss. Unless he's thinking of a different kind of drawers.

Anyway, if you've been thinking about the new year, you're way ahead of me. It suddenly dawned on me that we were approaching 2007 when I got my most recent spam from some motorcycle dealer in Florida, highlighted by a photo (sort of NSFW; use some serious discretion) of four women wearing the kind of outfits Santa Claus would wear if he were a slender female model on his way to the beach. Try to wrap your mind around that!

UPDATE (12/28): And speaking of shedding it for a cause, what cause could be better than hospitalized veterans? Hence, Pin Ups for Vets. (via Iowahawk, via Ace)

Click here to read more . . .

Losing Jews

It would be very easy to make fun of a Jewish couple who decided to buy a Christmas tree and celebrate Christmas -- and then felt it appropriate to write about it for half a gazillion readers of the New York Times. And even more than simply write about it, to revel in the fact that there was absolutely no principle involved at all: "We decided we could, and proceeded to embrace the holiday in all of its materialistic glory." It would be even easier to make fun of this couple if you knew that the writer of the article was "a writer and executive producer of 'Sex and the City.'"

But as easy as that would be, it would be far, far easier to make fun of an even more insipid article in the Washington Post along the same lines.

The problem is that making fun would actually be unfair. The writers weren't rejecting Judaism. They were rejecting non-Judaism.

Seventy years ago, Jews left Judaism because of social discrimination. You wanted that job? Being an Episcopalian was the answer.

Nowadays, when social discrimination against Jews is virtually extinct in most areas of the country, people don't leave Judaism because of discrimination. They leave Judaism because they think Judaism isn't offering them anything, except a Christmas-like Hanukkah.

This is a major failing of organized Judaism in America. Much of traditional orthodoxy seems to have turned inward, more concerned about the bad influence of outsider Jews on their community than on bringing their way of life to others. Conservative Judaism seems to have become mired in a philosophy of "what you're doing already is just fine." Not terribly inspiring. Reform Judaism is so busy mucking around in politics that all it has time for on the home front is to try desperately to cling to its intermarried families for one last generation.

But I think there's hope. Chabad, despite its looney-toons messianism, really cares about outreach. Aish as well. Various JCCs hold events to attract unaffiliated Jews, though JCCs are, by their nature, not religious.

My personal favorite organization focusing on outreach is the National Jewish Outreach Program. Here is a list of its programs. If you care about Jewish assimilation -- if you care about helping Jews learn the beauty of Judaism -- make a donation.

Click here to read more . . .

December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all my Christian friends and readers. Here's my original post on the subject.

This is what I'll be doing on Christmas this year: I'll be observing the first yahrzeit for my father, who died on 4 Tevet (January 4, 2006).

Click here to read more . . .

December 21, 2006

Another feel-good Christmas story?

It depends, I suppose, on whether tampons make you feel good. I personally have no experience with that.

These tampons, however, are designed to look good, not to feel good -- as ornaments on a Christmas tree. You think I'm kidding, right?

(via Ace)

Click here to read more . . .

Chef to the homeless

In yesterday's New York Times, there was an article only the New York Times could have done, and I actually mean that in a positive sense. Whatever absurd political views the Times often brings to its news articles, you have to admit that the writing at the Times is way above what's found in other news outlets.

The article I'm speaking of, "On the Soup Line, Endive and Octopus," is one of those Christmas-season articles that make you feel good without unduly playing on your emotions. (hat tip: Mrs. Attila)

Michael Ennes didn't start out planning to be a chef to the homeless.

At one time, Mr. Ennes dreamed of being a starred chef. He was raised on the Upper West Side, and initially made money building restaurants. He turned to the kitchen, cooking in South Beach and the Florida Keys in the 1980s. In 1990, he opened a restaurant on Second Avenue and First Street in Manhattan called Orféo, hoping to attract the attention of food critics. It never did, and the restaurant closed after four years.

Things changed for Mr. Ennes on 9/11. His consulting job with a restaurant downtown vanished, and, like many others, he decided to make good on a longstanding intention to do more volunteer work. So he walked across the street from his apartment to volunteer at Broadway Community. In no time, he was the head chef, making $30,000 a year plus health benefits.
Ennes does a lot of his own shopping, but he also receives donations from top NYC restaurants. He might get buffalo meat one day, octopus the next. And unlike your typical soup kitchen, his serves every customer at the table.
At Broadway Community, everyone gets to eat. There is no humiliating food line to stand in. Volunteers set each of Mr. Ennes's courses in front of the diners.

"When you force people to queue up for food, you encourage pushiness and aggressiveness and hardness," he said. "Sitting at a table and being served encourages community."
It's a great story. Read it all.

Click here to read more . . .

December 20, 2006

Lenny Dykstra, investor

I've read things about Lenny Dykstra's career as an investor and market guru in the past, but I did like this article at Fortune, via MetsBlog.

When I mentioned to one of his former teammates that Nails was a stock guru, he laughed and said, "Would you give Lenny your money to invest?" But the Dude may have the last laugh. He claims his total net worth is close to $50 million from his businesses and investments combined.
Oddly enough, the article says investing is like hitting:
His trading philosophy is not that different from how he hit Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. "The game, whether it's baseball or stocks, is about getting into a predictable situation, a 2-0 count, when the odds are in your favor. At 2-0, the guy's gonna throw a fastball into my love zone, where I can turn and burn. I got one rule in stocks. When I make a $1,000 gain, I sell. GTC, dude. Good-till-cancel order. Buy it at $10, sell it at $11."
That's not what I remember about Dykstra hitting Carlton. From Moneyball, by Michael Lewis:
“Billy [Beane] remembers sitting with Lenny in a Mets dugout watching the opposing pitcher warm up. ‘Lenny says, “So who’s that big dumb ass out there on the hill?” And I say, “Lenny, you’re kidding me, right? That’s Steve Carlton. He’s maybe the greatest left-hander in the history of the game.” Lenny says, “Oh, yeah! I knew that!” He sits there for a minute and says, “So, what’s he got?” And I say, “Lenny, come on. Steve Carlton. He’s got heat and also maybe the nastiest slider ever.” And Lenny sits there for a while longer as if he’s taking that in. Finally he just says, “Shit, I’ll stick him.” I’m sitting there thinking, that’s a magazine cover out there on the hill and all Lenny can think is that he’ll stick him.’”
Sorry, just quibbling. I really liked Lenny when he was on the Mets in their World Champion year, 1986. I wish him well.

UPDATE (3/14/08): Over the past week, a lot of people have found this post after Dykstra's appearance on HBO. If that includes you, you really should read this excellent piece about him.

UPDATE (11/11/08): Another longish piece about Lenny and his investments, via MetsBlog.

Click here to read more . . .

December 19, 2006

Life imitates sophomoric humor

Following "the August 2006 merger of centuries-old regiments into a single Royal Regiment of Scotland," there has been a somewhat embarrassing problem: "A shortage of ceremonial kilts could leave thousands of soldiers without a stitch of plaid to wear as they parade to the skirl of the bagpipes."

In the meantime, the troops will have to share. Seriously. "Military officials said Monday that more than 5,000 Scottish soldiers are having to share their kilts because defense chiefs have not finalized a contract to buy enough of the garments to go around."

Hmmm, a Scottish regiment sharing essential items? What was that old joke again?

Click here to read more . . .

December 18, 2006

The return of B2?

I'm glad to see, over at Toner Mishap, which I consider one of the greatest blog names ever, that B2 has been posting occasionally of late. He announced in October 2005 that he was more or less giving up posting at the blog and has re-appeared only once in a while.

If you were around here back in July 2005, you may recall that B2 guest-blogged for me while I was in Israel. I want to squib a few of his new posts at Toner Mishap, so you'll understand why I'm a big fan of his.

1. The Doll That Poops In Her Pants

My wife and I rejoiced this year when our youngest made it out of diapers -- rejoiced, I say! But the joke was on us, because for Hanukkah my mother-in-law bought for her the Hasbro Baby Alive Doll -- the doll that poops in her pants. For full disclosure, I should point out that she only poops if you feed her first, which we are swearing never to do.
2. Automatic whoopee cushion
I am pleased to announce the latest prank gadget to hit the stores, something so marvelous I compare it to the original snakes-in-a-can or disappearing-ink-pen: the automatic whoopee cushion. It solves the age-old problem: how do you effectively and quickly reset your whoopee cushion for maximum fun potential?
3. Kids Love the Taste of Santa's Sack This one you'll have to see for yourself.

I've been trying to identify what it is that makes me seem immature when I do stuff like that but makes B2 seem like just a guy who enjoys life. If you can explain it, please help me out.

Click here to read more . . .

December 17, 2006

Dave Barry's holiday gift guide -- 2006

Once again, we have Dave Barry's holiday gift guide.

This year's favorites are:

1. A nasal hair trimmer, disguised as a finger, so people will think you're doing something other than trimming your nasal hair.

2. A rubber "toilet monster" that appears when you lift the toilet seat.

3. An electronic message brassiere. I could swear I already linked to this sometime in the past, but I can't find it. (UPDATE: Found it.)

4. The best gift of all is the motorized scooter cooler, a cooler that has a motor and wheels (duh!)

Click here to read more . . .

A Jimmy Carter vignette

This article has been around for nearly a month, but I just came across it again. It's a memory refresher on the delightful Jimmy Carter.

My favorite vignette is this:

Former New York mayor Ed Koch, in his 1984 bestseller Mayor, recounted a conversation he had shortly before the 1980 election with Cyrus Vance, who'd recently resigned as Carter's secretary of state. Koch told Vance that many Jews would not be voting for Carter because they feared "that if he is reelected he will sell them out."

"Vance," recalled Koch, "nodded and said, 'He will.'"
My personal favorite memory, not in this article, is that Carter's UN ambassador, Andrew Young, "contrary to US policy and statute, . . . met with a representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organization." There was great public criticism when this became known, and Carter at first did nothing, even though tremendous anger was growing among blacks at this criticism of Young, much of the anger directed at the Jews, who were thought to be responsible. At the end of about three weeks, Carter forced Young to resign and did absolutely nothing to dispel the notion that the Jews were responsible.

Click here to read more . . .

"That's not a gun"

Memo to would-be criminals: Next time you try to rob a convenience store, when you use your finger in your pocket to pretend you have a gun, make sure you don't let your thumb stick out. And whatever you do, when the clerk tells you that's not a gun, don't get into an argument about it. You're going to lose the argument.

(via Fark)

Click here to read more . . .

December 14, 2006

Our "dumb" military

James Taranto has spent the week on vacation and in place of his usual Best of the Web Today column has been posting reader responses to Kerry's "botched joke" suggesting that people in the military are dumb and Rangel's own borderline racist comment on the same subject. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'm afraid I can't help you, Mr. (or Ms.) van Winkle.

The link to today's installment contains other links to previously posted responses. One of today's responses, from Ari Steinmetz, really struck me:

I was also struck by the Doonesbury arc in which a student declares he can best serve his country at a hedge fund. My story is something of the opposite.

I tried to gain admission to the Air Force Academy but, while I received a congressional nomination, my school record wasn't strong enough. I tried to enlist after college to enter flight school, but my recruiter said competition for such slots was too stiff and my test scores weren't high enough. My fallback was the M.B.A. program at Columbia. After one semester there, my recruiter called me up to say a slot had opened for me. I jumped at the chance and dropped out of school. After three months of officer training I shipped out to flight school at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Okla. While I had a great time, once again I didn't make the cut and flunked out after nine months. I went back and finished my M.B.A. Now I am a mutual fund manager.

So, you see, I had to settle for an Ivy League M.B.A. and a Wall Street career because I wasn't good enough for the military.
If you've ever dealt with military people or if you've ever served, this story will ring true.

Click here to read more . . .

Butt is it art?

There isn't a color on the Pillage Idiot Advisory System grotesque enough to reach the immaturity level of this guy, a "butt painter." Link goes to a YouTube video, for which, need I add, a mild content warning is in order. View it at home -- and before it's taken down. The guy's website, noted at the end of the video is already non-functional.

Background to the story is here.

Click here to read more . . .

December 13, 2006

Soy, the "devil food"

For some reason, the Indians, at least in Mumbai (Bombay), are paying for home-delivered meals for their dogs:

More than 500 people have signed up for the Home-Care Dog Food service that caters to canines in Mumbai, India's booming financial and entertainment capital, said the owner of the business, Wasiff Khan.

"They tell us about their dog's likes, dislikes, allergies, and we come up with a meal plan for the month," Khan said.
This isn't really strange; it's simple capitalism. Here's Mr. Khan: "'When you eat well, so should your dogs,' said Khan, now experimenting with meat-based birthday cakes for his clients."

All well and good, so long as they serve meat and not tofu, because who can deal with millions of dogs that are gay?

I say this because Allah has linked us to an article at WorldNetDaily called "A devil food is turning our kids into homosexuals."

Here's the nub of the argument:
Estrogens are female hormones. If you're a woman, you're flooding your system with a substance it can't handle in surplus. If you're a man, you're suppressing your masculinity and stimulating your "female side," physically and mentally.

* * * * *

Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That's why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today's rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products. (Most babies are bottle-fed during some part of their infancy, and one-fourth of them are getting soy milk!)
I might believe this -- if Indian food were loaded with soy. But it's not.

I've already noted the supposed link between soy/tofu and low fertility ("Hold the tofu, I'm ovulating!") This article uses similar research to make a related argument.
In fetal development, the default is being female. All humans (even in old age) tend toward femininity. The main thing that keeps men from diverging into the female pattern is testosterone, and testosterone is suppressed by an excess of estrogen.

If you're a grownup, you're already developed, and you're able to fight off some of the damaging effects of soy. Babies aren't so fortunate. Research is now showing that when you feed your baby soy formula, you're giving him or her the equivalent of five birth control pills a day. A baby's endocrine system just can't cope with that kind of massive assault, so some damage is inevitable. At the extreme, the damage can be fatal.
Thanks also to Allah, there's a follow-up, in which the Scientific American attempts to debunk the soy-makes-you-gay theory. I'm not interested in the specifics. I'm interested in the fact that the writer made a stupid gay joke and then half-recanted by crossing it out:
Plus, there are billions of asians who are eating way more of it than most westerners every day, and you don't see them mincing about town in spotless waistcoats like Oscar Wilde now do you?
The guy apologized, sort of, in an update. But he needn't have. Oscar Wilde is a famous consumer of soy products. If you recall, the Marquess of Queensbury provoked the libel action by leaving a card for Wilde saying, "For Oscar Wilde, posing SOYdomite."

Extra: Ace says: "Maybe it'll make you gay. Maybe it won't. But face it, chances are if you're drinking soy milk and eating tofu, you're gay anyway, so what's it really matter?"

Click here to read more . . .

Smells of the holiday season

Some of our Jewish rituals seem a bit strange, even to me. For example, some of us do "the chicken thing" before Yom Kippur, and on Rosh Hashanah we throw our sins into a stream.

But even if we had Christmas trees in Judaism, I doubt we would spray them with fox urine.

That being said, if we did indeed have Christmas trees in Judaism, we'd surely have a million other rules about how to handle them. (You've probably seen this before, but it's definitely worth re-reading: Laws of Xmas.)

Click here to read more . . .

December 12, 2006

I'll shed no tears for WGMS

Supposedly, classical music fans are up in arms over the plan to sell WGMS in Washington, a classical music station, to Dan Snyder so he can broadcast even more Redskins stuff. All Redskins all the time.

I'm sorry if I can't get worked up over this. WGMS is an awful station. It's not just that it's moved to a weaker frequency. It's that WGMS programs classical music as if we were all a bunch of uneducated morons who use it as background music at work. The station regularly plays a single movement of a multi-movement piece, doesn't announce the performers, limits its programming to "safe" music, invites congressmen to program an hour of time, has advertising geared to the rich geriatric crowd, and I could go on.

My advice: Get a decent FM radio and listen to WBJC in Baltimore, which is a far better classical station. Or listen to CDs.

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If, instead of a lying, thieving bureaucrat who presided over the deaths of millions, Kofi Annan were a dried apricot

Kofi Annan: The prune always wants to go it alone. Besotted as it is, the prune thinks it can singlehandedly solve every problem and clear up all the world's blockages that have lasted for centuries. Whenever it acts, the prune risks sacrificing its ideals in the process. The prune must engage with the rest of the compote -- the apricots, peaches, and especially the raisins, who, though small in appearance, represent the majority of the fruits. And we, as fruits, must protect each other. We must act together to affirm the rule of law and, when necessary, to stop the prune from trying to dominate, all the while engaging in abuses of power, torture, and other war crimes. *

(Apologies to Jeff Goldstein)

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December 10, 2006

Down memory lane

With the announcement that William Jefferson, the Democratic congressman caught with $90,000 in cash wrapped in foil in his freezer, has won a runoff for re-election, I have to refer you back to my photo comic from last May, Bush consults the Chief of Control.

I guess there's only one change I'll need to make to update it.

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Super colossal

On one of the many days I was shirking my studies in law school, I sat in the lounge attached to the library, reading random magazines. One of the magazines I pulled out was Ms., which contained a short article suggesting that condoms should be made in different sizes, because, um, you know, men came in different sizes. Sensitive, as you would expect, to the male ego, this feminist recommended naming the new sizes the way olives were named: Jumbo, Colossal, and Super Colossal.

Fast forward about 25 years. A Reuters item this weekend has the following headline: "Speak up, sir...You need the extra small condoms?"

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Condoms designed to meet international size specifications are too big for many Indian men as their penises fall short of what manufacturers had anticipated, an Indian study has found.

The Indian Council of Medical Research, a leading state-run center, said its initial findings from a two-year study showed 60 percent of men in the financial capital Mumbai had penises about 2.4 cm (one inch) shorter than those condoms catered for.

For a further 30 percent, the difference was at least 5 cm (two inches). A poor fit meant the prophylactics often didn't do the job they were bought for, and led to some tearing or slipping off during use.
You won't be surprised to learn that this is a major news story reaching news outlets the world over. It's not just the fact that newspapers enjoy using the word "condom" in their stories, which you know they do. It's because, if half a billion Indian men got the short end of the stick, you personally just moved way up on the scale, relatively speaking.

The story is so widespread on the news that there's even a news report about this at a site named (and I'm not making this up) ""

Now, before you go snickering on to the next item, please be advised that news reports from India insist that this study was totally scientific:
Researchers surveyed about 1,400 men visiting family planning centres in cities such as Mumbai and Delhi as well as in rural areas, the Times of India reported in a story entitled "Indian men don't measure up."

The men were a cross-section of urban and rural dwellers ranging in age from 18 to 50.

The length and width of each erect penis was measured twice, and a digital photograph was taken, the newspaper reported.
The Beeb adds:

The two-year study was carried out by the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Over 1,200 volunteers from the length and breadth of the country had their penises measured precisely, down to the last millimetre.

The scientists even checked their sample was representative of India as a whole in terms of class, religion and urban and rural dwellers.
To reassure you that this study was scientific but not "hands on," if you catch my drift, I'm going to quote the lead researcher: "We had devised an automated system in which an image of the penis would be taken and the computer would interpret different dimensions," Sujoy Guha, who lead [sic] the study, told Times of India."

Understandably, officials are concerned that Indian men won't ask for the right size, and that the condom won't succeed in the function for which it was designed. As an Indian reproductive specialist explained, "Smaller condoms are on sale in India. But there is a lack of awareness that different sizes are available. There is anxiety talking about the issue. And normally one feels shy to go to a chemist's shop and ask for a smaller size condom."

Which leads me back to the Ms. magazine article. If condoms were named for size the way olives are, and if you were one of these Indian men, you could go to the "chemist" and order the "Jumbo" size, secure in the knowledge that you are a major hunk of manhood. And that whatever size those foreign beasts may have to wear, you at least are the master of your own domain.

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The Big Cheese

Suppose you were minding your own business at work and there was a knock on your door. You said, "Come in," and the door opened, and there was The Big Cheese. And I don't mean your boss. Or even your boss's boss. I mean the head of your whole freakin' organization. And The Big Cheese was there with an aide and a photographer.

This actually happened to me on Friday. It was a surprise but not a shock, because I'm on a different hallway from nearly my entire office, and The Big Cheese had already visited the rest of the people in my office.

The first thing TBC said to me was, "Do you deserve victory?" After a second of confusion, I remembered that I had a postcard next to my door with the famous poster of Churchill and the motto "Deserve Victory!" I said, "I hope so."

I was standing behind my desk -- I use a separate standing desk for my computer -- and TBC strode over toward me and we shook hands. The photographer took a picture.

I then told TBC, "We went to law school together." This made TBC appear a little nervous. After re-checking my name on the door, TBC said, "Did we know each other in law school?" I replied that we didn't -- I was a year ahead. TBC seemed relieved to confirm that I wasn't someone who should have been remembered and asked whether I'd participated in intramural sports there. I told TBC that I hadn't but that I'd helped with the law school show (which is an annual musical comedy poking fun at the law school experience).

The photographer took a second photo, and TBC said, "I want to thank you for the work you're doing." I thanked TBC, who promptly left.

I was glad I don't follow the "casual Friday" dress code. I was wearing suit pants, a white shirt, and a tie -- which just seemed more appropriate to a visit from TBC. My colleague next door was fretting that her photo was going to show her in "ratty" clothes.

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Vice Presidential greetings

Here's the holiday greeting card I received from the Cheneys. If you compare it with the Bushes' card, I think you'll understand why I like the other one better. The Cheneys quote Longfellow. The Bushes quoted Psalms. I'm partial to the Hebrew Bible.

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December 07, 2006

Bush receives a report


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December 06, 2006

James Baker corrects the record

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The 612 Club

I was brought up in a Conservative shul and, while I would fit in fairly well in one today given my practice and observance, there are very few Conservative shuls where I wouldn't be driven stark raving mad. So I've ended up in a Modern Orthodox shul instead.

I've always felt that religion should act as a brake and not as an accelerator. It's not the job of religion to keep up with the society at large. Religion exercises a restraining effect on society, and specifically on its adherents, and that's as it should be. Ismar Schorsch, who was Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary (the main rabbinical school of Conservative Judaism) until earlier this year, created a commotion when he said that the Conservative movement's decision several decades ago to allow people to drive to shul on shabbat had been a mistake. Schorsch's critics argued that allowing people to drive had ensured there was a large enough membership, because many shul members didn't live close enough and had to drive. But why shouldn't Conservative Judaism, both through its adherence to tradition and through its congregational rabbis' efforts to persuade, have encouraged those people to move closer in, so they wouldn't have had to drive? When shul members have to live within walking distance, this creates a community that helps Jewish practice survive and flourish.

Well, now Schorsch is gone, and his successor Arnold Eisen has unleashed the pent up urge to deal with a major social issue, the issue of gay rabbis. The Conservative movement's Committee on Law and Standards has now issued three separate, conflicting opinions (link goes to, in case you care):

Conservative Judaism has decided to permit the ordination of openly gay rabbis and allow congregations to hold commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples, but at the same time upheld the traditional belief that homosexuality is wrong.

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which interprets religious law for Conservative Judaism made the divided ruling at a meeting Wednesday in New York City.

The committee was considering five separate proposals on how the Conservative movement should deal with gay issues.

Two opinions upheld earlier prohibitions on homosexual activity, but the third endorsed commitment ceremonies and the ordination of gay rabbis, while retaining the biblical ban on male sodomy.

Two other opinions that were under consideration, which would have removed all restrictions on gay activity, were declared "takanot", or substantial breaks from tradition that would require an absolute majority of the committee members for adoption.
If you want some serious links on the halachic analysis, check out these sites. But if you just want to revel in the Conservative movement's tendency to engage in self-parody, consider what came before this decision (link goes to, in case you care):
The last major Conservative vote on the issue came in 1992, when the panel voted 19-3, with one abstention, that Jewish law barred openly gay students from enrolling in seminaries and prohibited rabbis from officiating at homosexual commitment ceremonies.

Four new legal opinions have been presented to the committee. Two essentially oppose any policy change, one would overturn the ban, and another, which was presented as a compromise, contends that Jewish law explicitly bars only anal sex, but includes no such prohibition on gay relationships, ordination and unions.
The reason for this multiplicity of opinions is this:
The committee's complex balloting system allows a proposal to be accepted with the support of just six of the 25 voting members of the panel -- which means more than one legal opinion can be approved. If conflicting proposals are adopted, individual rabbis and presidents of the movement's five seminaries worldwide will decide which to follow.
Gays who want to be observant Jews are in a real predicament, and, knowing some people in this situation, I have a lot of sympathy. But this decision of the Conservative movement is going to be far more divisive than the people who supported it realize.

Few congregants are as preoccupied about homosexuality as are their leaders, said Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, a professor of Talmud and interreligious studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who spends weekends at synagogues around the country as a visiting scholar.

"There are so many laws in the Torah about sexual behavior that we choose to ignore, so when we zero in on this one, I have to wonder what's really behind it," Rabbi Visotzky said.
Then again, maybe they think it's so important, they don't care how divisive it is.

As I said, I have sympathy for gays who want affirmation from their religion. We all make compromises with our observance, but it seems that for some this homosexual activity is simply too much a part of who they are to accept that it is contrary to our tradition.

Years ago, I read an article that I could swear was in the New York Times, though I haven't been able to track it down since. The article interviewed Orthodox homosexuals in New York, and one of them made a very reasonable statement about his life. He said, and of course I'm paraphrasing, that God gave us 613 commandments, and He can't be too upset if I observe 612 of them. What I liked about his statement is that he accepted the halacha as it is and recognized that his behavior was inconsistent with it; yet he tried to be as faithful as possible to the halacha in other respects.

After reading that article, I began referring Orthodox gay men as the "612 Club." It's an approach I actually admire. It's very easy, especially for something as basic as sexual orientation, for people to rationalize and to demand acceptance by the law. But it's far more honorable, I think, for people to accept that what they're doing is not permitted and to try to follow the halacha in other areas. But no one in the Conservative movement has asked me for my opinion. There are already far too many opinions as it is.

Epilogue: I received a mass email today from Arnold Eisen -- I'm on the Jewish Theological Seminary mailing list -- which contains the following (with my emphases):
First, let me emphasize that the halakhic authority for the Conservative Movement and the institutions associated with it rests with the CJLS. The Law Committee has split on the status of homosexual behavior according to Jewish law; its rules and those of the Rabbinical Assembly regard each of the opinions authorized as equally legitimate. The ball is thus in our court with regard to the question of ordination of gays and lesbians at JTS — a decision regarding admission and graduation requirements that we will treat as such and not as the matter of law that stood before the Law Committee. We at JTS are not poskim. We will not be adjudicating matters of halakhah. However, we are going to consider what we think best serves the Conservative Movement and larger American Jewish community. We know that the implications of the decision before us are immense. We fully recognize what is at stake. This is why we are determined to conduct a thoroughgoing discussion of which we can all be proud no matter what outcome is eventually reached.
Eisen's email goes on to say this, without really saying anything:
We are dedicated to thoughtful change as an essential element of tradition — which is not to say that the change proposed to us now is right or necessary, but that the process of considering it thoughtfully, whatever we eventually decide, is to us inescapable and welcome. One could say that such debate defines us — and that, well-conducted, it strengthens us. Of course debate on this and similar matters has the potential to wound us as an institution and a movement. It also, however, has the power to remind us of what we stand for, and why despite our differences — or even because of them — we choose to stand together.
All I can say about that last segment is "Oy!" And good luck, because you'll need it.

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Desperately seeking Rochel

If you've ever wondered why the super-frum have denounced the use of the internet, read this depressing piece by Ken Mondschein, "Frum Seeking Frum / What are Orthodox Jews doing on Craigslist’s Casual Encounters?" (Myself, I have trouble with an article that begins with the phrase "Horny haredim," which just gives me the heebee-jeebees.)

And if you think that only those who have a limited window on the secular world can find themselves in trouble on the internet, here's the latest installment in the case of the Conservative rabbi from Potomac, who was arrested when he showed up to meet someone he met online and thought was a teenaged boy interested in sex.

I know that a lot of people laugh at what they see as religious hypocrisy. The fact is, though, that being religious doesn't eliminate one's temptation to do wrong. And I would guess that a fair majority of these people, rationalizations aside, recognize that what they're doing is wrong.

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December 05, 2006

The cover-up is worse than the crime

The first rule of air travel is "Don't eat Indian food the night before." Actually, that's the second rule of air travel. The first rule is "Don't eat Mexican food the night before."

The corollary to that is that if you do eat Mexican food, it's just wrong to let the other passengers know about it. But in no circumstances are you allowed to light matches on the plane to try to confuse them about the source of the odor. The cover-up is worse than the crime.

I only wish that the woman who violated these corollaries, causing a plane bound from Washington to Dallas to be diverted at Nashville, had thought through the consequences of her actions. And by "actions" I mean eating whatever it was she ate.

An American Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing Monday morning after a passenger lit a match to disguise the scent of flatulence, authorities said.

The Dallas-bound flight was diverted to Nashville after several passengers reported smelling burning sulfur from the matches, said Lynne Lowrance, spokeswoman for the Nashville International Airport Authority. All 99 passengers and five crew members were taken off and screened while the plane was searched and luggage was screened.

The FBI questioned a passenger who admitted she struck the matches in an attempt to conceal a "body odor," Lowrance said. She had an unspecified medical condition, authorities said.
Yes, I'm sure she did, but we all have "unspecified medical conditions," and most of us don't act like morons. Anyway, I'm sure you're wondering what exactly happened to the offending woman. The answer is that she escaped with a slap on the derriere, I mean wrist.
The flight took off again, but the woman was not allowed back on the plane.

"American has banned her for a long time," Lowrance said.

She was not charged but could have been. While it is legal to bring as many as four books of paper safety matches onto an aircraft, it is illegal to strike a match in an airplane, Lowrance said.
As the old story about Samuel Johnson goes, a woman at a dinner party, lacking a match, tried to cover her problem by rubbing the leg of the table with her foot. Dr. Johnson declared, "Madam, we heard your first pronouncement. There's no need to make it rhyme." (I know this story can't be apocryphal, because I read a version of it on the internet, in a comment on a story about beans at Scroll to comment 34.)

And if you think I'm immature for reporting this story in the first place, consider the fact that numerous news sources used it as a pretext for inserting the word "flatulence" into their headline -- e.g., USA Today ("Flatulence leads to flight diversion") -- and one British source even used the gerund form of the f-word.

What's worse is that there's actually an online poll at this site asking the following question: "If you were being interrogated by the FBI after lighting a match in flight would you admit you tried to cover up your flatulence?" The answer "Yes" is currently polling at 73%. There is no option to choose "I wouldn't light a match while in flight."

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December 04, 2006

Writing it in

I've always felt that the ballot write-in was one of our greatest rights. If we don't like the candidates we've been offered, we can offer our own. Sure, they won't win, but we're just expressing our First Amendment right to tell it to the Man. (This is why I'm still angry at the Supreme Court for rejecting a challenge to Hawaii's law barring write-ins. It was almost 15 years ago, but I have a long memory.)

This year, I wrote in a friend for State Senate, because the Republicans in Montgomery County are so pathetic they couldn't even field a candidate. It was only fair, because he wrote me in for Congress back in the days when "Commie" Morella was our representative.

Now, it turns out, Allah over at HotAir was written in for Senator from New York under his full name "Allah Pundit." He's tied for dead last with a lot of interesting people, including Hugo Chavez. And if the fat man can't even get more than one vote, what kind of corrupt dictator is he?

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Public service announcement -- II

I've noticed that Pillage Idiot appears on a bunch of blogrolls for blogs that are not on mine. I'd like to repeat my previous offer of reciprocal blogrolling, which works like this:

If you want to be on my blogroll and you meet these two conditions -- (a) I'm on your blogroll; and (b) your blog is generally safe for work -- send me an email at pillageidiot -at- hotmail -dot- com, identifying your blog.

It's as simple as that.

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Public service announcement -- I

I've been lax in announcing the new members of the Maryland Blogger Alliance as they've joined, so let me take this moment to introduce the five newest members:

1. blogger1947, who goes by the name Stan M, and says on his blog: "If I were forced to choose only two words to describe myself, they would be 'embarrassing loudmouth.'" I think it's a joke, but go over there and judge for yourself.

2. Jousting for Justice, run by Stephanie Dray, the Alliance's most flaming lefty progressive member. She and I rarely agree on politics, but she's got a great blog, including a really spiffy design.

3. the voltage gate, an enterprise of Jeremy Bruno, "non-traditional biology/writing major working through my senior year." tvg is a science blog -- yes, science. Deal with it.

4. The Howard County Maryland Blog, which focuses, surprisingly enough, on Howard County, Maryland. It's run by David Keelan and several others, which means that you'll always find a lot of material there.

5. Last but certainly not least is The Hedgehog Report, a well known Maryland blog written by David Wissing, who really needs no introduction from me.

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December 03, 2006

Presidential historian follies

The remarkable thing is that the Washington Post found only one historian, Eric Foner, who was willing to say that George W. Bush is the WORST. PRESIDENT. EVER. (Another, Michael Lind, said he's "merely the fifth worst"; one, Douglas Brinkley, compared him to Hoover; yet another, David Greenberg said that for now, anyway, he's not as bad as Nixon.)

If we weren't talking about the Washington Post and about current academic historians, of course, we would probably find that all five of them responded something like this: "You want me to offer an opinion on Bush's place in history? Morons! The man has two years left in office. You can't possibly judge a president for at least 10 years after he's left office."

Whereas only one of the actual historians, Vincent Cannato, went to the trouble of explaining that our historical opinions of earlier presidents had changed over time and suggested it would be appropriate to wait before rendering judgment.

At this same point in Bill Clinton's tenure, right after the 6th-year elections, Clinton was about to become only the second president ever impeached by the House and the first ever impeached on charges that constitute actual crimes in real life (perjury and obstruction of justice), for which he would later lose his license to practice law. His Senate impeachment trial was around the corner.

If asked at that time to evaluate Clinton's place in history, any competent academic historian would have said, "Hey, let's wait, oh, about 10 years before we come to any judgment on the man's presidency, because if he decides to pick the day before debate on the impeachment resolution is scheduled to start to send a cruise missile into the camp where Osama bin Laden had recently been and somehow hits him, then maybe September 11 will never occur and he'll be a hero."

But who can find competent academic historians?

Instead, the Post would have found four out of five academic historians willing to say that the impeachment was "all about sex" and that Clinton was possibly the second best president ever, behind John F. Kennedy, who would have pulled us out of Vietnam if he had lived, sparing Bill Clinton the need to loathe the military and later become a "chickenhawk" on Iraq. Or at least Arthur Schlesinger Jr. would have said this, if he were still alive. *

* No disrespect intended to ASJr. if he happens to be reading this. He used to be a good historian.

UPDATE: Maryland Conservatarian has his own thoughts on the historians.

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December 01, 2006

Boom! (The Sequel)

Last time we checked in on Kimberly Lynn Dasilva, a former waitress at a strip joint in Brockton, MA, we learned that she had mailed separately packaged condoms containing Drano and gasoline to a bunch of lucky recipients. If put together, those ingredients could explode. On a note inside she had written the single word "Boom." She claimed she did this because she had been hurt by men and was unable to take it any more. As I summarized her plight last time:

Dasilva's most recent run-in with men was with a boyfriend of seven months, and the relationship apparently didn't work out. You know how that goes, right? Boy meets girl; boy mistreats girl; girl mails exploding condoms to innocent people.
Today's news concerns her sentencing. A federal judge rejected the prosecutor's recommendation that she be imprisoned for a year and sentenced her instead to "supervised release with conditions, including not contacting victims, receiving mental health counseling and treatment, performing 500 hours of community service and refraining from alcohol."

You may think this is well below the usual sentence for mailing exploding condoms, but the article assures us, "None of the condoms exploded. Dasilva told investigators she did not think they would explode."

In handing down the sentence, the judge said that "the welfare of DaSilva’s [teenaged] children weighed in his decision. DaSilva’s son and daughter told the judge in letters that their mother has been a positive influence in their young lives." (I can imagine their friends saying, "Your Mom works at a strip joint? How cool is that!")

And for you gluttons who just can't get enough of this story, we might actually have another sequel in the works:
Although avoiding a prison sentence, DaSilva’s troubles may not be over.

Prosecutor Suzanne Sullivan told U.S. District Court Judge George A. O'Toole Jr. that DaSilva is under investigation for a crime involving similar charges that could lead to her arrest.

"She is repeating the same type of behavior," Sullivan said. "We have to tell the community this will not be tolerated."

Sullivan later declined to give any details about charges DaSilva could be facing or who could be filing them.
Bonus: Here's the press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office, which prosecuted her.

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Maryland meshugas Jan. to March 2007

The cucumber people gird for battle

Maryland to offer huge wet kiss for murderers

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