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March 31, 2007

My conversation with Julie at Amtrak

My mother came down on Friday for Passover. I picked her up at the Amtrak station, but first I wanted to find out whether the train was on time. So I called Amtrak.

Now, if you've ever tried to call Amtrak, at least from the East Coast, you'll know that instead of being connected to an operator, you get into a phone conversation with "Julie," which is what the woman trapped inside Amtrak's voice-recognition system calls herself.

Should you ever have to speak to Julie, I highly recommend not trying to do it by cell phone. Because if you do, and your reception is spotty, you may end up with the following conversation:

Julie: Hi, I'm Julie, Amtrak's automated agent. If you'd like to get information about arrivals and departures, just say, "Train Status." If you . . .

Me: Train status.

Julie: Fine, let's get started. First, do you know the number of the train?

Me: No.

Julie: No problem. What station is the train arriving at?

Me: New Carrollton, Maryland.

Julie: I think you said New Carrollton, Maryland. Is that right?

Me: Yes.

Julie: Good. Now, what station is the train departing from?

Me: New York, New York.

Julie: I think you said New London. Is that right?

Me: No.

Julie: OK, what station is the train departing from?

Me: Penn Station, New York.

Julie: I think you said Back Bay Station, Boston. Is that right?

Me: No.

Julie: OK, what station is the train departing from?

Me: New York.

Julie: I think you said York, Pennsylvania. Is that right.

Me: NO!!

Julie: OK, what station . . .

Me: (quietly) A--hole.

Julie: . . . is the train departing . . . Wait, what did you say?

Me: Huh? Uh, nothing.

Julie: No, I think I heard you call me a name. A very unflattering name.

Me: I didn't. I just told someone in the car I needed a flat sole for my shoe.

Julie: Sure you did. You called me an a--hole.

Me: No, really . . .

Julie: Listen, do you understand what I have to go through in a typical day? Do you realize how hard it is for me to stay perky? Do you?

Me: Um . . .

Julie: First, I get the people who can't speak English. They tell me they want to travel to Naubonsik or Feeadeffy. Do you know what those names mean?

Me: Uh, I . . .

Julie: Next, I get the lonelyhearts and the pervs. The lonelyhearts call just to hear a voice, anyone's voice, even a computer's voice, and the pervs actually try to pick me up. "Hey, Babe, wanna help me get my train running?" Is that supposed to be clever, 'cause it isn't. "Hey, Julie, what are you wearing right now?" Just sick.

Me: I didn't . . .

Julie: Then, there are the morons like you who call me while they're eating lunch.

Me: I wasn't eating lunch. I was just on a cell phone, and the . . .

Julie: They eat their lunch, and they mumble something indistinct with a mouthful of ham sandwich and a . . .

Me: I wasn't eating a ham sandwich. I keep kosher and besides, the problem . . .

Julie: (quietly) A Joooo . . .

Me: . . . was at your . . . Hey, did you just call me a Jew?

Julie: No, I sneezed.

Me: Oh, c'mon. You didn't sneeze. You said, A Jew. I want to talk to your supervisor.

Julie: I don't have a supervisor. I'm a computer.

Me: I want to talk to your supervisor.

Julie: I think you said Sacramento. Is that right?

Me: No.

Julie: Hold on, I'll transfer you to an Amtrak agent.


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March 30, 2007

Life imitates regional stereotypes

I stumbled on Another History Blog when my referrer logs showed a visit from that site. There was a post over there discussing state blogger carnivals, including our own Carnival of Maryland.

I'm glad I checked it out, because the top post when I visited was about a headline in the local paper from Cartersville, Georgia. (Fortunately, this town is not to be confused with Jimmy Carter. Plains, Georgia is about 200 miles south.)

The Daily Tribune headline says: "Men threatened with gun while working on one of them's car."

In case you don't believe me, I did a screencap of the page so you can still see the headline if the link goes dead.

I just wonder whether the reporter asked the victims: "Which one a yourns's car was it?"

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March 29, 2007

Visitor of the day -- 3/29

It's been a while since I've announced a visitor of the day, but this guy is just crying out for it.

Has anyone seen Borat around lately?

Click here to read more . . .

Cracking the WHIP another year

This is a great time of the year. Spring is under way, and baseball is about to begin. I haven't followed spring training very closely this year, but I do read MetsBlog nearly every day, which is almost like following it.

The only thing that comes close to this level of excitement is the start of the fantasy baseball season. So I'm here to make the following public service announcement: Don't listen to anything I'm about to say if you have a team in my league.

Last spring, I wrote why I choose my fantasy baseball teams by focusing heavily on WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched). WHIP is only one of the 10 basic statistics for so-called 5X5 leagues, but it correlates well with other pitching statistics in the sense that a good WHIP typically means a good ERA, often but less so a high number of strikeouts, and also a good number of wins. It doesn't work the other way around. For example, you can be a major strikeout stud and have a crappy WHIP. (Exhibit A: As I mentioned last year, Scott Kazmir. In 2005, he had 174 Ks in 186 IP, along with a WHIP of 1.46. In his defense, he improved in 2006, and I even picked him up for a while.)

A second reason I focus on WHIP is that by the end of the season, the teams in a fantasy league will often be very close in that stat. There could be 6 or 8 teams in a 12-team league in the 1.19 to 1.25 range. Since the variation in WHIP is relatively modest, a slight lowering of your team's WHIP can grab you several points in the standings.

I posted one update last spring, about a month into the season, when my team was doing pretty well. I never reported what happened later. My hitting completely fell apart. I guess my guys were batting way above their ability in April. My pitching was wiped out by injuries (Pedro Martinez and Ben Sheets, two classic great WHIP pitchers). And I made a few mistakes. I ended up 6th out of 10 teams.

We held our 2007 draft last night with 12 teams in the league. Having 12 teams in the league is a challenge. That's the highest number in the 5 years I've been playing. What it means is that by the fifth round or so, there are really slim pickins. So fortunately, I drew the second overall pick. The first pick was Albert Pujols, no surprise. I chose Johan Santana. Normally, I would have chosen a slugger in the number two slot, but excellent pitching is very hard to find this year, and Santana is totally in a class by himself.

Using the four out of five stat categories applicable to starting pitchers in our league, Santana's line from last year was this: 19 wins, 245 strikeouts (in only 233.2 innings, or 9.44 strikeouts per 9 innings), 2.77 ERA, and 1.00 WHIP.

For my other starters, I ruled out anyone with a WHIP from last year over 1.25, even relatively well known starters. At least until the lower rounds, when I started stockpiling starters and chose Kenny Rogers in the 19th round, a guy with a WHIP of 1.26, who's now on the disabled list, anyway.

Now, obviously, players' stats and their success generally tend to vary from year to year. (That's not so true of the big stars, but you run out of those after only a few rounds.) Still, I'm very comfortable going into the season with a rotation headed by Johan Santana.

Only time will tell, of course. But I'm totally ready to starting cracking the WHIP.

Click here to read more . . .

March 28, 2007

Pillage favicon

A favicon is that little image you see at the left of the address bar and often next to the site name when bookmarked. It turns out you can create your own.

Following the method described at Peter Chen's Blogger Tips and Tricks, I used the MyFavatar site to create my little Attila favicon.

You'll find it up at the top of this page and, if you have a tabbed browser, on the tab. If you're using IE6, you won't be able to see it. Sometimes -- but only sometimes -- it will appear in IE6 if you drag and release the IE favicon to the right.

Click here to read more . . .

March 27, 2007

Dog to the rescue?

A few days ago, I asked whether dogs are conservative. You know, "dogs tend to be loyal, extroverted, optimistic, and firm in their defense of the person they live with. Cats, not so much."

Today, I'm going to ask whether dogs are capable of doing the Heimlich maneuver and saving a life.

Before you conclude that I've totally lost my mind -- in case you haven't already concluded that a long time ago -- read this article from the AP. And in case you still doubt my sanity, read the longer version of the article here. (This story took place in Calvert, Maryland, by the way.)

I found out about the story at HotAir, and before you finish, you should read the comments over there. My personal favorite: "Everytime my dog meets another dog, he does the hind lick maneuver."

Click here to read more . . .

Carnival of Maryland -- 3d edition

The third edition of the Carnival of Maryland is up at The Greenbelt. Go and check it out.

The fourth edition is scheduled for Sunday, April 8. Once we know who is hosting it, the information will be available at the submission form at Blog Carnival.

Click here to read more . . .

March 25, 2007

"It's strange, but..."

You tell me what this ad is really trying to say. It's from the latest issue of Washingtonian magazine and it advertises an upscale bowling operation in Bethesda. Click for a larger image.

Just be careful about your language.

Click here to read more . . .

March 22, 2007

The majesty of the law

It's not every day that a federal court of appeals issues a decision containing a line like this:

Somewhat to our surprise, it turns out that there is a niche market for farting dolls, and it is quite lucrative.
(via How Appealing)

The decision, issued by the Seventh Circuit on Tuesday, was in a case with the rather innocuous caption, JCW Investments, Inc., d/b/a Tekky Toys v. Novelty, Inc., and after I quote the opening paragraph, I'll clue you in on a interesting fact.
Meet Pull My Finger® Fred. He is a white, middle-aged, overweight man with black hair and a receding hairline, sitting in an armchair wearing a white tank top and blue pants. Fred is a plush doll and when one squeezes Fred’s extended finger on his right hand, he farts. He also makes somewhat crude, somewhat funny statements about the bodily noises he emits, such as “Did somebody step on a duck?” or “Silent but deadly.”
The interesting fact is that the opinion, holding that Fartman infringed the copyright of Pull My Finger Fred, was written by Judge Diane P. Wood, the only woman on the panel. Though, perhaps, this might explain why the opinion expressed surprise that there was a lucrative market in farting dolls.

You can get some more background about the case here.

But no discussion of the case would be complete without describing (and quoting) the beginning of the oral argument of this case in the Seventh Circuit, which you can download here in MP3 format by clicking at the link labeled "Oral Argument."

You'll hear the presiding judge call the case by name. There's a 25-second period in which you hear what sounds like the rustling of papers, but if you listen carefully, you can also hear, very indistinctly, someone calling out something in the background. And I'm pretty sure I know, generally, what it was, because the argument continued this way:
THE COURT: Mr. Lueders?

MR. LUEDERS: Yes, your Honor?

THE COURT: I guess we've heard the first sentence of your argument.


MR. LUEDERS: Indeed. My client has decided to represent himself pro se. May it please the court, I along with my partner, Dr. Lisa Hiday, represent Fartman and Fartboy.
And you thought the argument in "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" was interesting.

Click here to read more . . .

Are dogs conservative?

The question I've posed in the title is asinine. Or is it? I mean, dogs tend to be loyal, extroverted, optimistic, and firm in their defense of the person they live with. Cats, not so much.

I'm not planning to write a serious essay on this topic, but I will refer you to other sources that have considered the issue, with varying degrees of seriousness.

There's even been a study that claims to have shown that liberals prefer cats and conservatives prefer dogs. Click on the image to read about it.

Here's the explanation of the chart: Percentage Owning Cats and Dogs (Blue=Dogs, Green=Cats) (VL=Very Liberal, L=Liberal, C=Conservative, VC=Very Conservative) (M=Male, F=Female)

I've raised this question whether dogs are conservative, because a reader named Alice sent me an article from the website of the magazine Nature that says this: "Dogs wag their tails to the right when they see something they want to approach, and to the left when confronted with something they want to back away from." Which easily could indicate that dogs are conservative.

It's just something you might want to consider when you contemplate discussing the upcoming presidential election with your dog.

Click here to read more . . .

March 21, 2007

A Night NOT at the Opera

You just have to love a story that elicits this headline: "Opera star wins 'underwear throwing' case." I'm not making that headline up. Here's the first paragraph of the story:

SYDNEY (Reuters) - New Zealand opera star Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, who refused to perform with an Australian singer because his female fans threw underwear at him, on Wednesday won a lawsuit against her for pulling out of the concert.
As an Associated Press article explains:
The trial made headlines when the 63-year-old soprano testified she watched a Farnham concert DVD and was disturbed by what she saw.

“I was concerned about the knickers or underpants ... being thrown at him and him collecting it and ... holding it in his hands as some sort of trophy,” said the singer, whose international performances included the 1981 wedding of Britain's Prince Charles and Diana Spencer.

“How could I, in my classical form, perform in this way?” she told the court in February.
For the answer to that last question, watch this movie.

The decision was not a total victory for the defendants, however. According to the BBC, the judge held that there was no contract but that the company that employed the opera singer had failed to inform the concert promoter that the singer was wavering. The judge awarded damages for the costs incurred by the promoter.

Bonus: I never thought I'd write something that would call for the two labels below.

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Kosher for Passover gasoline

You just knew that the story about kosher for Passover gasoline (ethanol-free) in Teaneck was too good to be true. Or maybe you didn't.

I got it today from my friend Martin I., who wrote the wonderful letter about kitniyot that I quoted in "The four stages of kitniyot" a couple of years ago. (For the record, the stages are denial, anger, fear, and humor.)

And speaking of kitniyot, I'd like to thank the Kitniyot Liberation Front for including me on the blogroll of its new blog. I'd also like to thank Rav David Bar-Hayim in Jerusalem for ruling that "that the decree against eating kitniyot is a ban that should be repealed."

Not to be picky about this, but I don't think I want to thank him for saying that his ruling "will cause a paradigm shift from 'small talk' about Kitniyoth to confronting the big issues such as the Pesah sacrifice." The Passover sacrifice is, to paraphrase Arthur Conan Doyle, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.

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March 20, 2007

Another secret closure

Gov. O'Malley: You did what?

Secretary of Corrections: I closed the International House of Pancakes.

Gov. O'Malley: I said the House of Correction!

Secretary of Corrections: I reduced the terms of the waffles, assigned the blueberry pancakes to lower-security breakfast restaurants, and sent the French toast to Virginia and Ohio.

Gov. O'Malley:

Secretary of Corrections: Here! I brought you a Belgian waffle.

Click here to read more . . .

Death penalty hanging by a thread

Depending on the metric you choose, Baltimore can be seen as a very successful city. For example, if your metric is high violent crime and murder rates, Baltimore is extremely successful, not that any sane person would use such a metric.

The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports for 2005, the most current year-end statistics, show Maryland with the fourth highest violent crime rate of any state, largely thanks to Baltimore. In 2005, Maryland's violent crime rate per 100,000 population was 703.0, and its murder rate was 9.9. But Baltimore's violent crime rate per 100,000 population was 1,754.5, and its murder rate was 42.0. (For comparison, the rate for the United States overall was 469.2 violent crimes per 100,000 population and 5.6 murders. That puts Maryland 49.8 percent above the national violent crime rate and 76.8 percent above the national murder rate.)

Baltimore accounts for much of that difference. Baltimore has 11.4 percent of the population of Maryland but 28.6 percent of the violent crimes and 48.7 percent of the murders.[1]

If you lived in Baltimore in 2005, your chances of being murdered were greater than 1 in 2,500. Just in that year alone. So murder has been a serious problem by any standard.

To put these figures in context, let's pretend for a moment that Baltimore was not part of Maryland at all. The state, minus Baltimore, would have a violent crime rate of 567.0 per 100,000, down from the actual 703.0, and a murder rate of 5.7, down from the actual 9.9.[2] And yes, Virginia, we are indeed including Prince Georges County. The murder rate in Maryland, minus Baltimore, is roughly the national average.

I give you these statistics as background, because the mayor of Baltimore was recently elected governor of Maryland.

As far as I can tell, Governor O'Malley's only public pronouncement on crime policy since his election -- at the very least, his most public pronoucement, his most vigorously advocated pronouncement -- has been to call for abolition of the death penalty, which I might add has already been eliminated, de facto, in Baltimore. The governor has expressed his views on the morality of capital punishment in an op-ed in the Washington Post and has testified in the state legislature in favor of abolition.

The bill seeking abolition of the death penalty failed last week in committee -- which is why I'm bothering to talk about all of this. But it will be back, and it will succeed, eventually. Of that I have no doubt.

I'm very much in favor of the death penalty, in appropriate cases, but I can respect people who oppose it. With one qualification. That qualification is that they must pay serious attention to the problems that abolition raises.

If you're an executive and you can't use a particular solution to deal with a problem, you have to figure out a workable alternative. For example, if you run an American business overseas, where it's customary to bribe government officials, federal law prohibits you from engaging in those practices, so you have to figure out how to deal with the bureaucracy in some other way.

Similarly, if you're a governor who wants to abolish the death penalty for murder, you have to figure out a good, workable alternative. And you have to be serious about it.

How should we sentence murderers? To 10 years? 15? 25? Life?

If life, is it with or without parole? If with parole, how do you deal with the high-publicity parole hearings that inevitably will occur when the murderer is eligible for parole?

The bill actually proposed in the state senate offered life without parole as the alternative. But that raises its own issues: What do you do with murderers already serving sentences of life without parole who murder a prison guard? What else can you do to them, after all, besides take away their right to watch TV? By eliminating the death penalty, even for murderers serving sentences of life without parole, you've given these people a "murder a prison guard free" card. (Incidentally, Senator Alex Mooney, who had the key vote on the abolition bill, offered a substitute that would have allowed the death penalty for people who commit murder while in prison, but the abolition proponents rejected that compromise. Fiat justitia, ruat coelum.)

Sentencing murderers to life without parole also raises some moral issues. Death-penalty abolitionists invariably speak of the intolerable risk of error. But people who are sentenced to life without parole are no less likely, in our fallible criminal justice system, to be mistakenly convicted than people who are sentenced to death. Without a death penalty, however, you'll never find platoons of lawyers working pro bono to try to prove their innocence. They'll be almost totally ignored. Death is different. So in reality, a sentence of life without parole may well have the perverse effect of throwing away the key on the innocent.

I've seen nothing to indicate that the governor has taken any of these issues seriously. He's certainly engaged in a lot of moral preening, but little more.

"Can the death penalty ever be justified as public policy when it inherently necessitates the occasional taking of a wrongly convicted, innocent life?" O'Malley said during the first of two appearances yesterday before legislative committees. "Is any of us willing to sacrifice a member of our own family . . . in order to secure the execution of five rightly convicted murderers?"
Sure, and if we allow a speed limit of 65 MPH on I-95 north of Baltimore, people will die. Would you sacrifice a member of your own family so traffic can move more quickly?

I liked this one, too:
Human dignity is the concept that leads brave individuals to sacrifice their lives for the lives of strangers. Human dignity is the universal truth that is the basis of ethics. Human dignity is the fundamental belief on which the laws of this state and this republic are founded. And absent a deterrent value, the damage done to the concept of human dignity by our conscious communal use of the death penalty is greater than the benefit of even a justly drawn retribution.
Human dignity is also what the murderer stole from his victim, but never mind that.

In the same article, the governor threw around bogus statistics, as well: "In 2005, the murder rate was 46 percent higher in states that had the death penalty than in states without it -- although they had been about the same in 1990." Which is a little like saying that neighborhoods where police make arrests have more crime than those where they don't, so police should stop making arrests in the high-crime neighborhoods.

There are a lot of ways you could characterize people who engage in moral preening without regard to the consequences of what they're advocating. "Irresponsible" is one of the nicer ones.

[1] Population 641,097 out of 5,600,388. Violent crime 11,248 out of 39,369. Murders 269 out of 552. All figures from 2005 UCR.

[2] Population 4,959,291, violent crimes 28,121, and murders 283.

Click here to read more . . .

March 15, 2007


If you're a bull driving a Ram in Maryland, you might want to consider leaving off the fake human testicles from your hitch. * That's the lesson I would draw from this incredibly grotesque story (content warning). (hat tip to this guy)

If you want to read just the one critical paragraph of the grotesque story, and get a link to a video, check below the fold. Just click where indicated.

I can't believe you clicked. Anyway, here's the critical paragraph:

"Fernando Cruz is suffering from two horn wounds of 25 centimeters in length each. One involves the fibers of the abductor muscle and dissects the femoral artery, the other involves the scrotal area and eviscerates both testicles."
And you can get to the video by clicking where it says "VIEW VIDEO" at this link.

Click here to read more . . .

March 13, 2007

Hillary responds to Kate Michelman

For links to other photo comics, click here and check the sidebar.

Or start with these:

Hillary begins a conversation

When Harry dissed Nancy

Ned Lamont kicks into high gear

Bush meets the press

Click here to read more . . .

Overheard in D.C.

Strictly speaking this conversation wasn't overheard in D.C., because it actually happened to me today. I was downtown near my office, crossing the street, when a car stopped, and the driver pulled down his window.

Driver: Excuse me, sir. Where's the embassy?

Me: Which embassy? There are a lot of embassies.

Driver: I don't know.

Me: Each country has its own embassy.

Driver: It has a Canadian flag on top.

Me: Oh, the Canadian embassy is . . . [I gave him directions].

Click here to read more . . .

March 11, 2007

Carnival of Maryland - second edition

Welcome to the second edition of the Carnival of Maryland, which is scheduled to run every other week. If you missed the stunning debut of the Carnival two weeks ago, please check it out at Crablaw.

The Carnival was the brainchild of members of the Maryland Blogger Alliance (see sidebar). You don't have to be a member to contribute to our Carnival, but we strongly urge you to join if you're a blogger in Maryland. There's really no downside to it. We're an eclectic bunch. We have no political litmus tests for membership, and an increasing number of our members don't focus on politics at all.

Before I begin, I have one public service announcement for Maryland bloggers. Aaron Brazell, whose The Not So Free State has been quiet lately, has an invitation up at his other site for a Maryland Blogger Meetup in White Marsh on March 31. Check it out.

Given the eclectic nature of the Alliance, the submissions here have been rather eclectic, and I'm not going try to organize the round pegs in square holes. We're here. We're eclectic. Get used to it!

I'll start with submissions from our three newest members, two of whom, I'm pleased to report, have offered us photography.

Snail's Tales, based in Germantown, has a photo of what might be a beaver footprint in Little Seneca Lake, not far north of where I live.

The post also features a photo of a beaver dam, which seems to back up the idea that the footprint is a beaver.

The Greenbelt, from Laurel, provides several photos in a post called "Geese in Winter." One of them is this:

Our third new member, Maryland Politics Today, which (you will not be surprised to learn) is chock full of good stuff about Maryland politics, writes about the $1.5 billion structural budget facing Governor O'Malley in 2008 and argues, in "No Sense in Waiting," that "waiting a year will not do justice for anyone."

Our political leaders will need to learn that they have to make tough decisions. They cannot just put it off because they do not want to deal with the issue or send it to referendum. They also cannot cherry pick what decisions they need to make that benefits them. They will have to decide on slots, they will have to decide on budget cuts or giving up lofty promises made last year and yes, they will have to look at raising taxes and cutting budgets.
Over at Oriole Post, we read about Kris Benson and Curt Schilling. Regarding Kris Benson (formerly with my team, the Mets), Oriole Post hears that he's "trying to rehab in camp, and experienced more pain after he took a day off," and reports that there's a big question whether he'll be back this season. Extra: Don't miss the photo of Kris and his exhibitionist wife Anna. I can tell you the New York papers are convinced that Anna's antics in New York led to the trade of her husband from the Mets. Another extra: Oriole Post says that Curt Schilling has a blog: "I especially love that he keeps most comments up, good or bad, although he does not allow cursing…" (Also worth reading at Oriole Post: "A Few Words ... A Q&A with Orioles Legend and Hall of Famer, Brooks Robinson...")

The Hedgehog Report writes about the new dishwashing detergent bill: "Just when you thought the environmental extremism couldn’t get any wackier, Maryland Democrats are looking to make washing dishes much more difficult." The bill would all but eliminate the phosphorus in dishwashing detergent that supposedly depletes oxygen in the Bay, limiting content to 1/2 percent, down from 7 percent, as now permitted. The detergent industry says that low-phosphorus detergents don't get dishes as clean. THR wonders: "We already have the evil Big Tobacco and Big Oil. How long before we have Big Soap?"

At the Howard County MD Blog, co-blogger Cindy Vaillancourt has a post called Litigation Based Decisions - Myth?, which kicks off from a talk by author Richard Louv about what "Nature Deficit Disorder." Cindy argues that people mistakenly cite litigation risks to avoid taking actions that are otherwise desirable -- for example, building playgrounds that would encourage children and their parents to interact more closely with nature. Louv's view is that "choosing not to do certain things using fears of exposure to litigation is often a baseless excuse." Cindy concludes that Louv is right: "Heaven forbid we take a good look at the proposal, weigh the pros and cons, calculate the costs and the risks and make every effort to be reasonably cautious while living a full life."

Jeremy Bruno, at The Voltage Gate, attended a forum on religion at Frostburg State University. He found the experience rather unsatisfying, and he had a different reaction to concerns expressed there about the breakdown of religious community: "Regional tribalism is deteriorating, being replaced with the far reaching unity of online communities (with some exceptions of course). Generally, I think people are realizing their part in a global community."

At Politics, Hon, Wade offers a balanced, two-part view of the controversy created several weeks ago by the removal of a show hosted by Tyrone Powers from the lineup at Morgan State University's radio station. Powers's supporters think Governor O'Malley was involved, and the governor's response seems somewhat less than candid. But Wade notes that it could be harmful if the accusations are false.

Matt Johnston, who's not yet a member of the MBA, writes about "helicopter parents," a term referring to the hovering that many parents engage in these days, which is made worse by technology. One of the culprits, according to Matt, is Edline, a system that allows parents of kids in the Montgomery County schools to see all their kids' grades online, even for homework assignments.

At blogger1947, Stan ponders Maryland and wonders why he stays. Back from a long trip across the South, he re-discovers that things in Maryland are, uh, different: "undirected public anger, crime, political corruption/ineptitude, and gridlocked traffic." It's a good read, and Stan seems irritated rather than angry.

Kevin Dayhoff has a lengthy discussion of a controversy in Carroll County about the Whittaker Chambers farm, where the famous "pumpkin papers" were buried. A news story began circulating that the county was planning to seize the farm as part of a reservoir project. Kevin shows that this is mistaken; the county has no plans to seize the farm.

Ray Lewis of the Ravens is going to be building a large project in downtown Baltimore. Lewis is not a blogger, as far as I know, but Bruce Godfrey is, and at Crablaw, Bruce analyzes the project -- in particular, the public-transportation issue it raises. I get the idea that Bruce is skeptical of the City's ability to deal with that issue: "my eternal hope that Baltimore will find the right crowbar to extract its head from the terminus of its alimentary canal on transit issues rivals the impossible dreams of Don Quixote."

In "Firing back at a white flag," at monoblogue, Michael publicly criticizes fellow Republican, Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, for voting in favor of the Democrats' anti-war resolution in the House. Michael reprints the letter he received from Gilchrest on the subject and offers a multi-point rebuttal. Gilchrest seems fixated on Vietnam, and Michael observes: "We fought and retreated from the Vietnam War in this manner."

Soccer Dad -- who, by the way, has a spanking new blog template -- posts "DiBiagio's baggage," which looks at the resignation of United States Attorney Thomas DiBiagio in 2005, an event that's become relevant again in light of the dismissal of eight U.S. Attorneys recently by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. DiBiagio now claims he was forced out to protect former governor Bob Ehrlich. Soccer Dad argues that this claim doesn't make sense.

Last, and possibly least, I've put up at Pillage Idiot another in my series about the new sex ed curriculum in Montgomery County's public schools: "Sex ed curriculum moves forward." Much of the series has made fun of the video showing how to put a condom on a cucumber (a video that's now been replaced), but my current post questions why the new segment on homosexuality -- which could be useful if based on factual information -- seems to omit any mention of HIV transmission.

Final note: The third edition of the Carnival of Maryland is scheduled for Sunday, March 25, at a host to be named later. Once we have a host, the information will be available at the submission form at Blog Carnival. Thanks for reading.

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March 09, 2007

fee simple: Five or Twelve. What's the Difference?

Posted by fee simple:

A Presidential Determination was published Friday, March 9, 2007, in the Federal Register (72 FR 10881) concerning the top five importing and exporting countries of certain chemicals which are precursors to the manufacture of the psychotropic substance methamphetamine.

Astute readers will note that the determination refers to "five" countries, but the list names "twelve" counties.

Questions: Does this apparent discrepancy represent:

A) Use of psychotropic substances of the type covered by the Determination?

B) A math-challenged White House?

C) A deep plot by the State Department to count China and Taiwan as one country?

Of course, following the line of reasoning of consolidating countries from twelve to five for the sake of convenience, State would also have to group South Africa and South Korea together (because there are both "South" of something). Furthermore, since Germany has invaded Belgium several times, there is probably no real reason to suspect it couldn't do so again, so let's just lump those two countries together also. Might as well throw in Switzerland to that group as well, given what we've learned since World War II about the extent of their collaborations. Likewise, Indonesia and India both begin with the letters "Ind" and Foreign Service Officers may have difficulty telling the natives of these countries apart.

Revised List of "Five" Countries"

South Africa Korea
Greater Germany
United Kingdom (at least until Scotland, secedes)

Singapore isn't a country, but a cocktail "precursor" -- i.e., the Singapore Sling.

Mexico -- of course -- for purposes of immigration, language, border control, obtaining of drivers licences, and of credit cards, voting rights (coming soon), etc. is already a part of the United States, so it is really a little condescending to list it as a "foreign" county.

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March 08, 2007

Up in Canada

I don't know how I could possibly have let The Pubcrawler scoop me on this: "You've heard of green cars, green tourism and green weddings. Now Canadians should ready themselves for green sex."

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March 07, 2007

Sex-ed curriculum moves forward

From today's Post: "Almost forgotten is the infamous 'cucumber video,' in which a youthful health educator unrolls a condom onto a cucumber." I know I haven't forgotten it, because I mined it for jokes for about a year and a half (see this and links collected here).

But the cucumber video is not my sex-ed topic for today.

Today, we deal with the other half of the disputed curriculum, the part covering homosexuality. When I last covered this topic, I argued that the curriculum had to be factual and scientific, and I noted:

If there's one thing you'd expect that everyone could agree upon, it's that anal sex, especially unprotected anal sex, poses a serious risk of transmission of HIV. What's very troubling is that a description of the new curriculum in the Post suggests that it omits any discussion of that risk. (The Post refers to it, delicately, as "potential health risks.") That anal sex is risky isn't religion; it isn't political correctness; it isn't opinion. It's objective fact. Teaching about homosexuality while refusing to tell kids about the risks involved in anal sex is simply insane.
From today's article in the Post, "Montgomery Starts Sex-Ed Pilot Program," there's no indication that the risk of HIV transmission is part of the pilot curriculum. Instead, the curriculum sounds as if it focuses on the touchy-feely:
The lessons, which require parental permission for students to take, are taught to two classes on alternating days and raise the topic of sexual orientation at grade 8 in a discussion that centers on tolerance, stereotyping and harassment. Grade 10 lessons define the terms in greater depth as part of a frank discussion about the search for sexual identity. These are the lessons that have stirred most of the rancor.
Now, I realize anal sex is a pretty raw subject to cover, but at least for most gay men, that subject is pretty central to life.

Tomorrow's Post is running an article "Sex-Ed Pilot Is Endorsed By Grasmick," which reports that the state superintendent has refused to stay the pilot program while the state Board of Education reaches a decision on a challenge filed by opponents of the program. So we can all look forward to more contention.

Followed by even more contention.

I wish we were still talking about condom videos.

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Spider genitals

Reading The Voltage Gate, a fellow member of the Maryland Blogger Alliance, I discovered something I totally didn't realize: Spiders have genitals. Not only that, but certain male spiders use the tip of their genitals to "plug up" the females so that no other males can couple with them:

A male orb-web spider leaves behind a post-coital gift that helps to ensure that any subsequent offspring are his. He leaves the tip of his genitals in the females' sexual orifice, effectively blocking future males' efforts to inseminate the female, new research shows.
Let me rephrase this point: Male spiders engage in self-circumcision in order to put a chastity belt on the females.


The amazing thing is that Maryland truck drivers aren't hanging fake spider genitals from their trailer hitches.

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Plus ça change....

In 1980, French Prime Minister Raymond Barre inadvertently illustrated the French attitude toward the Jews:

In October 1980, terrorists exploded a bomb outside the synagogue in the rue Copernic in Paris, killing six people, including gentile passersby. Centrist Prime Minister Raymond Barre rushed to condemn the ‘odious act,’ but he added that it was an act ‘which intended to strike Jews going to synagogue and which struck innocent Frenchmen crossing the rue Copernic.’
Although the writer quoted here by Jay Nordlinger quickly added that Barre was no anti-semite, one can't read that line without seeing how starkly it distinguishes between the Jews who were the targets of the terrorist act and the "innocent Frenchmen" who were accidently caught up in it as victims.

I wonder, though, whether the writer had taken the proper measure of the former Prime Minister. Monsieur Barre is back in the news after attacking the "Jewish Lobby" for making a scapegoat of a Vichy-era official responsible for deporting French Jews to Nazi camps.
Former French Prime Minister Raymon Barre has sparked an uproar within the Jewish community after accusing “the Jewish lobby” of making “a scapegoat” of Maurice Papon, a French senior official who signed deportation orders for hundreds of Jews in the Bordeaux region during WWII.
(via The Corner, via Instapundit) I would say more about this, but it would just make me a part of the Jewish Lobby intent on scapegoating Barre.

So I'm going to turn to the Germans, who are doing their damnedest to engage in self-parody. Recently, a delegation of German bishops arrived in Israel, where they tried to be civil. As soon as they had gone to East Jerusalem and into the Palestinian territories, however, they really turned on the charm. (via LGF)
While crossing one of the checkpoints into East Jerusalem the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, told reporters: "This is something that is done to animals, not people." Meisner, a resident of eastern Germany, said that the fence reminded him of the Berlin Wall and that in his lifetime he did not believe he would see such a thing again. As the Berlin Wall was brought down so will this wall be brought down, he said, adding that the fence served no purpose.
The fence does in fact serve no purpose, if saving Israeli lives is not a purpose. And here's another:
"Cages in the image of ghettos," said the Bishop of Augsburg of the territories.
Which is a different way of saying that the Jews are the real Nazis and the Palestinians the real Jews. And another:
"Israel has, of course, the right to exist, but this right cannot be realized in such a brutal manner," said Bishop Hanke....
Which is to say they're willing to concede, in theory, that the Jews have the right to exist as a nation, so long as they don't defend themselves against people who want to kill them.

Some of us say that the American Left thinks everything is Vietnam. With the Germans, it seems, everything is the Holocaust. And if they have their way, the Jews will be the victims once again.

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March 06, 2007

Life imitates protein wisdom

Just a few days ago, Jeff Goldstein had an amusing post about offsets for "personal methane production," which I noted here.

Today, National Geographic News reported on the same subject: "New Weapon Against Warming: 'Flatulence Cards' Offset Dog, Human Emissions." (via Fark)

For 35 Australian dollars (about 27 U.S. dollars), customers of Sydney-based Easy Being Green can offset a year's worth of carbon emissions linked to their dogs, from trips to the vet to, yes, breaking wind.

Making your cat carbon neutral for a year costs U.S.$6, while U.S.$16 offsets two years of flatulence from that special someone.
Sadly, the article doesn't provide the cost for making human emissions carbon-neutral. I expect it will be fairly low, since most people blame it on the dog, anyway.

Click here to read more . . .

March 05, 2007

The two Attilas

Not long after I started Pillage Idiot, I got an e-mail from Little Miss Attila, a blogger based in California. We had posted comments on the same post at protein wisdom, and she was concerned that we could be confused.

Actually, she was concerned about more than that. Apparently, shortly before that, two bloggers who had similar or identical names had been engaged in a major knockdown battle over it, and I guess she was worried that two Attilas could be one too many -- specifically that I might cause her trouble. I told her that I had researched the name Pillage Idiot before I'd started this venture but that it had never occurred to me that I should research the name Attila. I told her not to worry about me, and I announced our understanding about how not to be confused with each other; I started referring to her as my "cousin" (which is a joke, by the way; we're not related); and we've just had our second sort-of-annual lunch at the end of the CPAC convention, which she's attended.

To commemorate the event, we have a photo. You'll have to excuse the pixellation of my face; I have to retain some semblance of anonymity here. People who know me would say it's an improvement.

This is probably the most you're going to see of me, so enjoy the tie. And the first person who knocks my tie is going to have to go into rehab.

UPDATE: Little Miss Attila chimes in.

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March 04, 2007

Announcement: Carnival of Maryland


The second installment of the Carnival of Maryland will be hosted here on Sunday, March 11. Submissions are due by Saturday, March 10, at 9 p.m.

You may make your submission through the form at Blog Carnival. Or you may submit it directly to me at my e-mail address listed below.

You don't need to be a member of the Maryland Blogger Alliance (see sidebar) to contribute to our carnival, but we strongly urge you to join if you're a blogger in Maryland. There are no political litmus tests. We have liberal, moderate, conservative, and libertarian members, and members whose views are unknown. We have political blogs, a science blog, an art blog, a sports blog, and an idiot blog (mine). Some of our members have been published in dead-tree media; others have had premature (I hope) obituaries written for them in dead-tree media. We're an eclectic bunch. I was the founder of the Alliance and for some time its only member, but now we're 20 members strong. This is where all the cool kids in Maryland can be found.

Send me an email if you'd like to join us, whether or not you have a submission for the Carnival.

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The Eagleton has landed

Obituary for the would-be running mate of George McGovern is here. For those of you who are too young to remember "1000 percent," read this. Personally, I remembered it when I walked into the federal courthouse in St. Louis. It didn't give me much confidence.

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"Sexlessness" in Japan

One of Mark Steyn's arguments in America Alone is that western nations can't deal with the threat of radical Islam when their birthrates are below replacement level, approximately 2.1 live births per woman. The birthrate figures he gives for Europe are pretty shocking (1.38 live births per woman), and Japan is even lower (1.32).

But the Japanese are becoming painfully aware of their low birthrate. You'd think that the people who have perfected consumer electronics and automobiles could come close to figuring out the mysteries of sex. But you would be wrong.

A Japanese doctor, Dr. Kunio Kitamura, has been focusing on what he calls "sexlessness" among the Japanese, which he defines as "a lack of consensual intercourse or sexual activity (kissing, petting or lying naked in bed) for at least one month without a special reason for not doing so." Surveys, apparently, have shown that as many as 40 percent of Japanese couples were not having sex. Which is pervasive enough that the Japanese government has to make it a non-issue:

It seems like yesterday I was having a quiet chuckle after being told by a pen pusher at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, which is supposed to be tackling the low birthrate problem, that "'People of Japan, Have Sex' is not an appropriate government policy."
This is actually a much more serious problem than my smartalecky treatment of it would suggest. But Dr. Kitamura does himself no favor by publishing articles called "Twelve steps to stopping sexlessness," and "Resemblance of the genitals shows mysterious nature of humanity," which elicit smirking from idiots like me. (The latter article, by the way, may be better in the original Japanese, because, just in case you're a total dope, it has illustrations, about which I should give you a content warning.)

In the end, though, the whole subject is pretty depressing, because no society can survive this way.

Click here to read more . . .

March 01, 2007

Carbon offsets

Is it really possible for the United States to mimic Al Gore's carbon offsets and spend a mere $15 billion a year to come into virtual compliance with the Kyoto accords? Read this somewhat tongue-in-cheek analysis at protein wisdom.

And Jeff's next post covers the same general topic, only in the form of a flatulence joke -- I mean, a joke about "personal methane production." But it's a good one.

Click here to read more . . .

Descendants of Amalek

I'm on the mailing list for the Jewish Theological Seminary, the principal rabbinical school of Conservative Judaism, and nearly every week I receive at least one e-mail on the Torah portion.

This week is shabbat zachor, the Sabbath of remembrance, in which we add an extra reading about the attack of Amalek on the Israelites as they left Egypt. We are instructed to blot out the memory of Amalek and not to forget, a directive that subsumes not only the historical Amalek but evil generally and genocidal butchers specifically. Haman, the villain of the Purim holiday, which falls on Sunday, is considered to be a descendant of Amalek. Some consider Hitler to be as well, at least metaphorically.

The e-mail I received from JTS today is written by Rabbi Marc Wolf, who addresses Amalek and Haman. He quotes Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, who in 1976 said this: "It is evident that we live in an age of violence and terror. There is not a continent on the globe that is not despoiled by terror and violence, by barbarism and by a growing callousness to human suffering."

Amalek, Haman, terrorism. You see where this is all leading, right? Palestinian terrorism? Ahmadinejad's threats to wipe Israel off the face of the map, right?


It's all leading to Darfur.

As Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum warns, the "violence and terror" that Amalek and Haman bred persisted through his day. The disconcerting truth is that it still persists; presently in the atrocities in Darfur. According to recent estimates, almost 400,000 people have been killed since the genocide began. Millions more are displaced and threatened by starvation and violence. Armies and militias are acting contrary to the global ethic that Haman and Amalek also abused. They trample on human dignity and are categorically different from the nations of the world. They must be stopped — they must be taught to recognize that human dignity must be afforded to everyone. To be sure, the preferred solution is diplomatic, but whatever the result, we cannot stand by as this scar on the face of humanity grows.
What's happening in Darfur is evil, but if Rabbi Wolf is discussing Amalek, it's bizarre that he would ignore the existential threat to us as Jews from Iran and the Palestinians in order to focus on Muslim-on-Muslim violence in Darfur. (I won't even get into the absurdity of believing that diplomacy can prevent genocide in Darfur. A military solution is needed, but neither the U.N. nor what I call the "worthless countries" of the world will do anything.)

Is Rabbi Wolf so totally averse to anything that smacks of particularism that he won't recognize who the modern-day descendants of Amalek really are?

Click here to read more . . .


If you've spent any time reading the big-time blogs, you'll notice that a lot of bloggers use a lot of foul language. Recently, there was some speculation that foul language is more in the domain of the sinestrosphere, the left wing of the blogosphere, than of the dextrosphere, the right wing. One blogger did a survey and published the results, which confirmed this speculation.

So in the interest of science, I ran the search test on Pillage Idiot, using George Carlin's seven words you can't say on the radio. To my surprise, it came up totally empty. I don't regularly use those words, except in bowdlerized format on my photo comics, but I still had assumed there were quotations from others here that would show up. So I redid the search with the words individually. The S-word showed up twice, both times in quotations, and the "piss" word showed up four times, twice in quotations and twice in allusions to the "artwork" called "Piss Christ." The other five Carlinesque words showed up not at all. That's a pretty good record, I'd say.

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Linkfest of mutant relationships

I think I've said this before, but what I don't like about the Windows Live Beta version of Hotmail is that you end up with a portal that has a bunch of links on it, mostly having to do with relationships and celebrities. So when life gives you lemons, you have to make lemonade.

1. We'll start off with the good news. One of the links I found today was to an article about the best blind dates. But the article was awfully unsatisfying, because the people involved were pretty (how do I say this?) shallow. The first story was about the woman's surprise in finding that the guy her grandmother wanted her to go out with was "drop-dead gorgeous." Wow! A lifetime of happiness always turns on whether your spouse is gorgeous. Just ask the Hollywood cele-babes.

The bad news comes from a parallel article on bad dates. Most articles I've read about bad dates are at least funny. This was pretty pathetic:

“I hadn’t been on a date in a while, so when my friend agreed to set me up with a friend of hers, I really didn’t ask her much more about him than his name and age. Well, once I got to the restaurant, I realized that the guy was an ex-boyfriend of mine! It had been a few years since we dated, but the breakup was pretty bad, and we definitely hadn’t kept in touch or remained friends. It was totally awkward—so much so that we didn’t even have a laugh about it. It was clear that neither of us wanted to continue with the date, so we just sort of said ‘See ya later’ and went our separate ways.”

– Kara, 28, Centreville, VA
2. If this young couple had been downloading p*rnography on public-library computers, the American Library Association would have defended them to the death. Unfortunately for the couple, they decided to act it out in the stacks. "'Because of the vigilance of the library staff, they were seen by library staff and the police were notified,' [Sgt.] Johns said." The same librarians who protect the public's fundamental right to view p*rnography on tax-supported computers turned these wretches in. Bonus: The town's name is Woodstock. Illinois, though; not New York.

3. Imagine this: You run a yeshiva in Bedford Hills, a tony community in Westchester County, New York, and you rent the house next door to some chick, who turns out to be running "a place 'where submissives and slaves are immersed in training.'" Somehow, this response is only marginally adequate: "'It's against our religion. It's against the Bible. We've never even heard of such a thing,' said a man who gave his name only as Samuel and said he was a rabbi at the school."

4. Now imagine something a little different: You're the woman who runs a supposedly high-class escort operation -- excuse me, a "high-end adult fantasy firm which offered legal sexual and erotic services across the spectrum of adult sexual behavior" -- and your assets have been seized by the IRS. You're trying to raise money for your legal team, so what do you do? You announce that you're going to sell "the entire 46 pounds of detailed and itemized phone records for the 13-year period." (hat tip: fee simple)
Her attorney, Montgomery Blair Sibley, said that prices have yet to be set for the data. “We don’t actually know that yet,” he said, “because we haven’t finished mining the data to identify the individuals. Obviously if Bill Clinton’s on the list that’s a different matter than you know, somebody nobody’s ever heard of before.”

But, he said, chances are good that some interesting names will pop up. “Statistically, if you have 10,000 people, and given the structure of this particular service, these weren’t people beckoning from car windows,” he said. “The escorts only responded to four- and five-star hotels or private residences. And so the landlines will show up on the private residences real quickly.”
This story was posted at a gossip blog at the site of the new paper, and if you want some sophomoric humor, try reading the comments.

5. Now, this last item is only barely related, but I'll throw it in for fun. Did you realize that you can "marry [your] ideal person" or "g[e]t pregnant" if you follow the advice of a Japanese self-help book called "Cleaning the toilet to attract luck"? Sounds like a nefarious plot by the women of the world to get the men to undertake this hideous task. But actually, it's not. "'I've always cleaned my toilet every day, so it never really gets dirty,' [a woman who edited a toilet book] said. 'At least it's easy that way and it probably helps keep my family healthy,' she said." So the Japanese toilets may be clean, but they still won't teach their kids to use them.

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