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November 29, 2007

Global warming goes wild!

I'm very cautious on the subject of global warming. I think it's unsupportable to say it's a hoax, but I also don't think all the dire predictions that are being made can possibly be accurate.

We have to be careful, because as harmful as ignoring global warming would be if it turned out to be real, it would be perhaps even more harmful to spend massive amounts of money to change our way of life radically if global warming is real but less severe than the Goreites are claiming.

I would also say that any plan to combat global warming can't be taken seriously unless it first deals with the problem of China. And there aren't a lot of proponents who want to go there.

Finally, the most important thing to do about global warming is to keep making fun of the doomsayers. Because if you don't do that, the terrorists will have won.

So I was pleased to see this in the American Thinker (via Ace):

Dr. John Brignell, a British engineering professor, runs a website called numberwatch. He has compiled what has to be the most complete collection of links to media stories ascribing the cause of everything under the sun to global warming. He has already posted more than six-hundred links.
Click on the links here, and you'll see the most extensive listing I've ever seen of global warming's predicted effects.

My favorite is the following pair: hurricanes, hurricane reduction. Followed closely by these: Earth slowing down, Earth spinning out of control, Earth spins faster.

As Ace says, Global Warming Officially Causes Everyf***ingthing.

But an Ace moron found a pretty good one, too: fashion disaster.

You really must click on that last link, or else you won't be able to read an article that starts with this dire prediction:
Climate change could be about to claim a new victim – the fashion industry.

Designers and industry experts fear that the traditional seasonal collections which have formed the backbone of the business may become meaningless due to increasing unpredictability of the weather.
So fight global warming now. Do it for the Earth. Do it for gay men.

Click here to read more . . .

GMail, reimagined as a Microsoft confection

If you're a Hotmail user, like me, you're going to laugh your butt off over this one. (It's old, in internet terms, meaning it's over a week old, but it's a goodie.) Via KesherTalk.

From Google Blogoscoped comes "What If Gmail Had Been Designed by Microsoft?"

One little excerpt, because it's my absolutely favorite Hotmail idiocy: "Another security measurement we’ll add is that you won’t be able to log-in with just username anymore but are required to enter the full"

Why the hell does MS make me sign in with "pillageidiot -at-," instead of just "pillageidiot"? If I'm on a computer where I'm the only user, it doesn't matter much (because I can save my user id), but if I share access, that means I have type the whole thing out each time.

You really have to read the whole shtick, because excerpts can't do it justice.

Click here to read more . . .

November 28, 2007

Three videos

Three videos (four, really) for your viewing pleasure.

1. PSA (sick). (Check here -- scroll down -- for another one that's almost, but not quite, as sick.)

2. Barbie and Ken spend the night?

3. Like, where are the munchies, dude?

Click here to read more . . .

Visitor of the day -- 11/28

Gee, I sure hope not!

Click here to read more . . .

November 27, 2007

Harvard redefines plagiarism

Last time I mentioned 02138 magazine, I made fun of it for crowning Al Gore the number 1 of the so-called "Harvard 100" most influential graduates of that tiresome institution. Ahead of George W. Bush. And gave him a softball interview, to boot.

But I have to say I found interesting and intriguing the article in the current issue of 02138 about research assistants -- a/k/a ghostwriters -- for prominent Harvard professors: "A Million Little Writers."

That image of academia [as concerned with "the provenance of an idea"] may be idealistic, but most scholars still profess allegiance to it, and it is held up to undergraduate and graduate students as the proper way to conduct their own research and writing, reinforced by strict regulations regarding student plagiarism. As the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Student Handbook states, “Students who, for whatever reason, submit work either not their own or without clear attribution to its sources will be subject to disciplinary action, and ordinarily required to withdraw from the College.”

Students — but not professors. Because, in any number of academic offices at Harvard, the relationship between “author” and researcher(s) is a distinctly gray area. A young economics professor hires seven researchers, none yet in graduate school, several of them pulling 70-hour work-weeks; historians farm out their research to teams of graduate students, who prepare meticulously written memos that are closely assimilated into the finished work; law school professors “write” books that acknowledge dozens of research assistants without specifying their contributions. These days, it is practically the norm for tenured professors to have research and writing squads working on their publications, quietly employed at stages of co-authorship ranging from the non-controversial (photocopying) to more authorial labor, such as significant research on topics central to the final work, to what can only be called ghostwriting.
A law professor, Charles Ogletree, was somewhat embarrassed when it turned out his research assistants had included in an article published under Ogletree's name a chunk of text straight out of the work of Yale law professor Jack Balkin. But not to worry: the explanation was readily available. Here's what Ogletree said: “Material from Professor Jack Balkin’s book . . . was inserted . . . by one of my assistants for the purpose of being reviewed, researched, and summarized by another research assistant with proper attribution . . . . Unfortunately, the second assistant, under the pressure of meeting a deadline, inadvertently deleted this attribution and edited the text as though it had been written by me. The second assistant then sent a revised draft to the publisher.”

Depends on what the meaning of plagiarism is, I guess. And here's what Derek Bok, former Harvard president said about it:
“There was no deliberate wrongdoing at all . . . . He marshaled his assistants and parcelled out the work and in the process some quotation marks got lost” — a description that probably sounded flip to any author who has ever been plagiarized. Ogletree was “reprimanded,” but suffered no tangible consequences.
There's much more gossip in this article, and it's all worth reading.

But let's not leave without mentioning one more juicy bit the article reveals:
The Office of Faculty Development and Diversity — created in the wake of the controversy surrounding Lawrence Summers’ comments on women in science — employs a “research assistant” named Mae Clarke whose publicly available job description sounds strikingly like that of a ghostwriter. * * * Clarke is on sabbatical and couldn’t be reached for comment, and — through a spokesperson — Dr. Hammonds declined to comment. In other words, Hammonds used a ghost-speaker to avoid answering a question about her ghostwriter. It’s no wonder some students get cynical about the manner in which they research and write their own work.
Almost makes you feel glad your kids didn't get in, doesn't it?

Click here to read more . . .

Yet another reason to hate Verizon

Another reason to hate Verizon.

I have to assume this is true, by the way, although every version of the story tracks back to a single alleged incident: "Verizon Phone Alerts Intruders You’re Calling 911"

Here's the story at one of the original links:

Carol, who asked that her last name not be used for fear of making herself or her land a target for vandals, called for help recently when she arrived at some vacant property she owns in east Austin and found her security chain gone.

She grabbed her new Casio G’zOne phone from Verizon Wireless, which to her horror made an audible alarm when she called 911.

Fearing vandals were still on the property, she hung up and hid, then put her hand over the earpiece and dialed again to muffle the sounds.

“I was afraid the criminals were down the driveway and they would hear and they would know somebody was doing something and they would come out to stop me,” she said.

The alarm is not ear-splitting, but it is loud enough to be heard at least several yards away.
Verizon puts this "feature" on all its new phones, claiming that it's required by the FCC. The FCC says, "No one here but us chickens." In other words, Verizon is smokin' something.

A tech blogger I ran across says this by way of explanation:
According to Verizon Wireless, the audible tone is required by the Federal Communications Commission. It's another "accessibility" feature that Congress mandated. This is in regards to Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act which requires telecommunications products and services to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Since, as I stated above, the cell phone has to alert the user they have dialed 911, this is the solution for blind people. The loud alert is designed to let blind people know they've dialed 911. But by making it loud, they've created a problem.

It's been confirmed on forums on cell phone-centric websites that this occurs on other cell phones as well, so it looks like the issue is going to become more prevalent. Although Section 255 states there has to be a cue, like most of these regulations, I don't believe it specifies exactly how that cue is given (readers, correct me if I'm wrong).
What I think is that Verizon should stop trying to provide crappy products and go back to what it does best -- its core competencies, or whatever the corporate jargon is -- namely, giving crappy service.

Click here to read more . . .

November 25, 2007

Dave Barry's holiday gift guide -- 2007

Once more, Dave Barry has stopped thinking about boogers just long enough to prepare his 2007 holiday gift guide. I say "holiday" and not "Christmas," because one of the gifts seems peculiarly directed toward the yehoodim.

My personal favorites:

1. The "Pillow Pal" (TM) holster holder, which "might be used to hold your handgun, your stun gun, or a can of aerosol chemical agent." Just don't taze me, bro.

2. Tattoo sleeves so you can decorate your arms a little less painfully.

3. Watermelon-flavored Freud-head lollipops that prove either (a) that your wretched condition is your mother's fault or (b) that psychotherapy sucks. (The site mentioned in the article seems to have crashed; I linked to another vendor's site.)

4. The bra travel bag. The outerwear for underwear.

5. Tailgater hammock that attaches to your trailer hitch.

Click here to read more . . .

November 23, 2007

Heightened incompetence

Family is in from out of town, so I'm off from work today. I just had to tell this story.

My mother uses a bank branch that's within walking distance of her house. The people who work there are very nice, but they have a collective IQ of roughly 85.

I have my mother's power of attorney, and I take care of most of her banking for her. I write some of her checks. I pay most of her bills online. So it's critical to me to have online access to her account. I gave the bank her power of attorney nearly two years ago, but recently the bank was acquired by another bank, and the online access suddenly disappeared.

I asked my mother to go into the branch and get online access set up again. After going in there, she called me to tell me the bank officer wanted my driver's license number and a bunch of other information. This made no sense, so I called him directly. I told him I had my mother's power of attorney on file with them. He said he didn't know that. But he told me he had given my mother the User ID for the account. My mother, when I checked with her, had no idea what he was talking about.

So today, a few days later, I finally tracked the bank officer down again and asked him for the User ID. To understand this story, let's say my mother's name was Martha Washington and mine was George Washington, Jr. Those are anagrams of my real name. (Only kidding.)

The conversation went like this:

Me: This is George Washington, Jr. We recently spoke about getting online access for my mother Martha Washington's account. You told me you gave her the User ID, but she doesn't understand what you mean.

Bank officer: OK, let me give you the User ID directly. Do you have something to write it down on?

Me: Yes.

Bank officer: OK, it's M, as in Mary, W, as in William, A, as in Alice, S, as in . . . [here, he paused to think of a name] as in Sam . . .

Me: It's the last name, right?

Bank officer: Yes, but let me spell it out for you.

Me (impatiently): HINGTON.

Bank officer: Yeah and there's 123 at the end.

Me (gritting my teeth): Thank you very much. (Click.)


My sister asked the best question: Do you think it's safe to keep her money with those people?

Click here to read more . . .

November 22, 2007

Question of the day (yesterday)

From the Washington Post's letters to the editor yesterday:

Instead of the Maryland General Assembly giving us a $1.4 billion tax increase and a referendum on slot machines [front page, Nov. 19], why don't lawmakers just give us the slots and let us vote on the tax increase?


This question answers itself.

Click here to read more . . .

Thinking about my father

I think about my father a lot on Thanksgiving. My father used to read a psalm at the dinner table, and, as I mentioned last year, no one in the family remembers which one it was, and we've instituted a practice of reading Psalm 100 (mizmor l'todah, a psalm of Thanksgiving).

Last year, Thanksgiving was the second-to-last day of saying kaddish for my father, whose first yahrzeit fell on Christmas. (True story: When I asked the assistant rabbi at our shul, who has a dry sense of humor, whether to light the yahrzeit candle before going to mincha-maariv, or after coming home, he looked at me quizzically and asked, "Is it on Shabbat?" I said no, it's on Monday . . . Christmas. He replied, "Well, it's a custom. You can do it either way. Just don't put the candle in the window.")

This year, Thanksgiving is just Thanksgiving. I took advantage of the relatively late starting time (8 a.m.) to go to shacharit. I don't go to morning minyan very often, and this seemed like a good opportunity to become comfortable again in time for my father's yahrzeit, which comes in three weeks. The assistant rabbi, speaking at the end of shacharit, discussed briefly how we know turkey is a kosher bird, even though it's not included in the list of kosher birds in the Torah. (You can read way more than you want to know about the answer here.) Afterwards, I said that I know how we know turkey is kosher: I just bought a turkey at Kosher Mart.

Also, my father is supposed to have said: On Thanksgiving, the Jews have good reason to be thankful, because the Pilgrims arrived in America and didn't find a pig. I don't think I ever heard him say that, myself, but it's a pretty good line.

Click here to read more . . .

November 21, 2007

They eventually found some at the refreshment stand

"Students searched for alcohol at game"

Rockville Gazette, Nov. 21, 2007

Click here to read more . . .

Pre-Thanksgiving linkfest

Things I'm thankful for:

1. That mine don't itch (video).

2. That I've never had to do this while on TV (video).

3. That my wife doesn't have one of these blenders (also check out the video at the end).

Reposts from previous Thanksgivings:

1. PSA: Don't deep-fry your turkey. And you must, you absolutely must, click on the link where it says "Click here to download the movie." In fact, I've pasted it in here to make it easier for you.

2. A bunch of turkeys tried to get on a commuter train at Ramsey, New Jersey.

Click here to read more . . .

November 20, 2007

Some of what she's having

I regret to report that this story appears to be rather questionable. (Content NSFW.)

Click here to read more . . .

Flaunting it and groping it at the airports

Not long after I started Pillage Idiot, I wrote a series of posts on what I called "lawyer groping" at the airports. (Google it; I'm at the top.) A lawyer named Rhonda Gaynier had complained about having been subject to a bra-and-breast exam by TSA screeners at the airport. I concluded: "Brought to you by TSA, whose motto is: Better that 100 innocent lawyers be groped than that one suspicious Arab be inconvenienced."

It turned out that the groping was not limited to lawyers, or even to people who were mistaken for lawyers. In early 2006, a class action suit alleging illegal pat-downs and strip searches of black women at O'Hare International Airport was settled.

Today, we learn through HotAir, that if you're a Canadian newspaper columnist who's "a robust 34 FF," you might be subject to TSA screener groping, too. (Paula Simons: "If my bra is a threat to national security, we're in big trouble.")

Most people would agree that subjecting women who wear bras with underwire support to groping at the airport makes little sense. The TSA ought to be trying to figure out who's suspicious, not who's large-bosomed (which, I admit, is a lot easier). But as I argued in the first series of posts about Ms. Gaynier, we do stupid things precisely in order NOT to profile people. The lesson is that we need to change our approach to airport security through increased profiling and intelligent scrutiny of travelers.

Sadly, Paula Simons learns the wrong lesson. She says: "When we blindly follow rules, when we waste time and energy defending ourselves from imaginary enemies, we actually create the potential for real threats to overtake us." Like the imaginary enemies who flew jets into the World Trade Towers and Pentagon.

When someone is such a total fool, it's very hard to summon any sympathy. Grope away!

Click here to read more . . .

November 19, 2007

More on death and deterrence

For reasons known only to the New York Times, that paper has run major articles on the death penalty for the past two days.

Yesterday, a front-page article explained that "[a]ccording to roughly a dozen recent studies, executions save lives. For each inmate put to death, the studies say, 3 to 18 murders are prevented." This is a remarkable thing to read in the Times. Sure, people contest these studies, saying they're based on "faulty premises, insufficient data and flawed methodologies." But, there they are.

Today, an article discussed efforts in the New Jersey legislature to abolish the death penalty, which one may fairly characterize as moribund, the state having not executed anyone since 1963. The move is symbolic for supporters of abolition, who have a good deal of backing for the measure (including that of Gov. Corzine). Yet, there are those studies again: "But supporters of the death penalty have as ammunition a number of recent academic studies backing one of their principal arguments: that executions do have a deterrent effect on the murder rate."

Yesterday's article quoted an opponent who seems to have been moved by the studies:

"The evidence on whether it has a significant deterrent effect seems sufficiently plausible that the moral issue becomes a difficult one, said Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago who has frequently taken liberal positions. "I did shift from being against the death penalty to thinking that if it has a significant deterrent effect it's probably justified."
What makes this pair of articles very strange to me is that I remember writing about this same topic back in June: "Death and deterrence." And everything here is already there in my post, including good old Prof. Sunstein. Just scroll down. (The abolition proposal in New Jersey is new, but I think that's it.) I used my post in June to distinguish between moralists and practicalists on both sides of the death-penalty debate. I argued that moralists on both sides would be largely unmoved by studies on deterrence, no matter what the results.

I'm not sure what's revved up the Times' death-penalty engines, but I'm glad to see the studies on deterrence may be having an effect on others, even if, as a moralist, I don't consider them very relevant to me.

Click here to read more . . .

November 18, 2007

After the Democratic debate

Hillary Clinton laughs along with two undecided
Democratic voters who asked questions
of the candidates at Thursday's debate on CNN.
* * * * *
(See also here, here, and here.)

Click here to read more . . .

Potty mouth

In one of his routines from the 1960s, Bill Cosby asked why women go to the bathroom together. Have you ever been out on a double, triple, or fourple date, he asked, and one woman said, "Let's go to the ladies' room" and they all got up? Men would never do that, he said. If a guy stood up and said, "Let's go to the men's room," they'd say, "No, I think you'd better go by yourself." After he left, they'd say, "What's wrong with that guy, anyway?"

It turns out that if you're in Taiwan, you can go to a restaurant where this scenario never has to occur, no matter how many women are in your date group.

Because now, there are toilets right at your seat. In fact, your seat is a toilet.

And in case you don't like surprises, the restaurant's name is Modern Toilet.

I would have thought this type of themed restaurant would reach Japan first, or certainly Korea (whose toilet situation I discussed last week). But I guess Taiwan is trying hard to avoid reunification with the commies. By any means necessary.

So I'm sure you're wondering how this could have come to, uh, pass. Here's how:

The restaurant's Duty Manager, Wei Duo-Yi, explains how the idea developed:

- It was an ice shop decorated with toilets before. Most of the customers like the decorations so we tried to expand it into a restaurant -.
I remember back in the early 1980s, when I lived in Manhattan's West 70s, there was a restaurant on Broadway called Ernie's, and one of my sisters told me that if you ordered pasta, it was brought to you in a huge, white bowl. She called it "pasta in a potty."

It turns out that Modern Toilet takes this concept all but literally, serving food in toilet-shaped bowls. (Which we'll just have to assume are not real toilets.)
The seats are all made from toilet bowls, tables are glass-topped jumbo bathtubs, customers eat from mini plastic toilet bowls - and the WC themes run through the food and drinks menus.
Mmmmmmmm, appetizing!

Last, no one should finish this story without first checking out this video, at the same link, from ITN, which apparently does not stand for International Toilet News. (Mild content warning: Infantile toilet puns, and a poo-shaped chocolate dessert.)

Click here to read more . . .

Not funny, still

I've noted about professional humor writers how hard it is for them to be consistently funny:

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.)
Weingarten, whose writing appears in the Post's Sunday Magazine, adds in the "annoying jerk" factor. Even when he's funny, it's often despite the fact that he's an annoying jerk -- possibly because he is.

Fortunately for all of us, we now know why his batting average is so low: "Washington has the worst sense of humor of any big city that is not either located in Germany or currently under military siege." He was talking about Arlen Specter doing stand-up comedy, by the way, but still.

Mario Mendoza has nothing to worry about.

Click here to read more . . .

Carnival of Maryland -- 20th edition

The 20th edition of the Carnival of Maryland is up at Leviathan Montgomery.

The 21st edition, scheduled for Sunday, December 4, will be hosted here at Pillage Idiot, unless someone else volunteers.

Send your submissions in for Carnival 21 by using the Blog Carnival form.

Click here to read more . . .

Separated at birth

Musharraf and Alberto Gonzales

Click here to read more . . .

November 15, 2007

Ron Paul chats with his cocker spaniel, Part 2

"Dr. Paul": It's really very lonely running for President.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": I mean, people think that when you're running for President, it's non-stop fun, with big campaign events every day and media swarms around you at all times.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": The truth is, I've got a lot of fine human beings in my campaign, but there sure aren't any brass bands welcoming me and announcing my arrival.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": The closest we come is some goose-stepping supporters who occasionally turn up.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": Not that anyone understands.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": I raise $5 million in the blink of an eye, and no one wants to talk about that.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": They want to talk about how my campaign received a $1000 contribution from Alex Jones.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": I don't know whether Alex's ideas about 9/11 are correct, but I know you can't trust our government to tell the truth.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": And if you can't trust it to tell the truth, you can't trust it not to destroy the World Trade Towers through controlled demolition and to fire a missile into the Pentagon, in order to have a pretext for an endless, illegal war in the Middle East that's not in our national interest.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": Not that I think it actually happened that way.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": Only that we really don't know and that, if anyone raises questions about it, no matter who or what, we really should find out.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": They also can't stop talking about a $500 contribution I got from Don Black and the ads for my campaign at Stormfront.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": This is a free country, and, whatever a person chooses to believe, we have free speech here -- at least we used to.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": Does anyone pay any attention to the fact that Hillary has received contributions from a fugitive felon Chinaman?

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": No, they don't.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": Because they're the media, and they're from New York.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": But me? They want me to monitor the contributions I get from White Supremacists, neo-Nazis, and 9/11 Truthers.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": They're trying to paint me as some kind of anti-semite.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": Which is ridiculous. I mean, we even have "Jews for Ron Paul."

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": It doesn't matter to me that the "Jews" for Ron Paul tend to be Unitarian Universalists.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": Who am I to argue with how a Jew practices his own religion?

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": The Constitution calls for the free exercise of religion. Your own, or someone else's.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": What's the name of that guy who does ritual circumcisions?

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": Whatever it is, they're just like him, going right after my thingie-dingie.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": So it's going to be a long, lonely battle. But right will triumph.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul": Because it's totally unfair to blame me for my supporters.

Cocker Spaniel:

"Dr. Paul":

Cocker Spaniel: You know, there's an expression I've heard that goes, "If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas." 'Course, I suspect it was just some poofter Zionist cat that came up with that one.


Previous: Ron Paul chats with his cocker spaniel, Ron Paul goes to the post office

Related: American Thinker, Sultan Knish

Click here to read more . . .

November 14, 2007

The Dixie Chicks of bridge

(Click to enlarge.)

I was actually a two-letter man in high school. Math team and bridge team.

If that sounds incredibly dorky, you don't know the half of it. I was on the "B" team in bridge. One of the highlights of my high school career was beating the "A" team in our only match against each other. One of the lowlights was narrowly losing the final round, the veritable World Series of Bridge, to the feared X High School.

But it wasn't too long after high school that I became disillusioned with bridge. Some of it was just dealing with the morons who played in tournaments. At my name-brand college, where all the children were way above average, bridge tournaments took approximately forever, because all the Philosopher Kings (no pun intended) had to ponder the geopolitical and philosophical implications of every single card played. I, on the other hand, had played tournaments in high school under the watchful eye of a director known for her motto "Play fast and make mistakes." I couldn't stand how slow things were.

Another part of the reason I became disillusioned with bridge was the cheating. Bridge has a long history of cheating -- even at the international level. Back in 1965, Reese and Schapiro caused an international furor over accusations of cheating. Later on, the international tournaments were set up with numerous devices to prevent cheating. Reflected well on the players, didn't it?

Most of all, I didn't like the way partners treated each other. We'd see long-time married couples yelling at each other for failing to reach the right contract, or for supposedly misplaying the hand. One older woman denounced her husband, because he "bid like a fish." Another earned the nickname "Mrs. Results."

In fact, when I became engaged to Mrs. Attila, I made her promise she would never learn how to play bridge. That's a true story, by the way.

So when I read about the yahoo who held up a sign reading "We didn't vote for Bush" at an international bridge tournament, I can't say it surprised me. She was probably signaling the number of spades she was holding.

Click here to read more . . .

John Edwards spreads his charm among voters

If John Edwards were really going to be the first woman president, there is no way in hell he would have done this.

Ace captions it: "John Edwards' New Vow: Enact Universal Health Care Or I Will Cause An Epidemic By Wiping My Snot On Every Citizen In America."

The Edwards campaign responds: "Senator Edwards's snot is hypoallergenic. It's only right-wing Republican boogers -- I mean, bloggers -- who attempt to wipe their own insecurities on other people."

My grandmother used to tell a joke about the Yiddish theater. The story goes that during a performance of Othello, Othello (speaking in Yiddish-ized English) demands the handkerchief from Desdemona, getting more and more insistent: "Desdemona, da hanchika! Desdemona, da hanchika! Desdemona, da hanchika!" At this point, someone in the audience yells out, "Wipe it on your sleeve and get on with the show!"

Click here to read more . . .

November 13, 2007

Wednesday mini-linkfest

[Ed.: Technically, it was a late Tuesday mini-linkfest, not Wednesday. Sue me.]

1. True headline of the day: "Author protests ban over phrase 'generous bazoongas'" (via Fark)

2. Our newest cause for which to raise massive sums of research dollars: "The cause of vulvodynia is unknown. This is partly because there has been a lack of research on the disorder in recent years." (via HotAir, where a commenter posts this video link. Subject-matter content warning, as if the initial link could be justified in the name of Science.)

3. Runner-up true headline of the day: "China recycling used condoms as cheap hair bands" (via Fark)

4. A classic example of the "Nanny State" -- at least where the nanny is dressed in a black leather halter with studs, spiked heels, and a riding crop: "Norway's largest erotic chain store was forced to change the labelling on products such as penis pasta, candy cuffs and chocolate bodypainting, to comply with Norwegian food regulations." (Need I say: also via Fark)

5. Finally, in the category of "Things We Wish We Had Said But If We Had Actually Said Them We'd Wish We Hadn't," Tim Page, the classical music reporter for the Post, responded thus to a blast email press release from an aide to Marion "Bitch Set Me Up" Barry: "Must we hear about it every time this crack addict attempts to rehabilitate himself with some new -- and typically half-witted -- political grandstanding? I'd be grateful if you would take me off your mailing list. I cannot think of anything the useless Marion Barry could do that would interest me in the slightest, up to and including overdose."

Click here to read more . . .

Visitors of the day -- 11/13

Today, we have two visitors of the day.

I wonder what this person thought about the "Mr. Smith goes to Starbucks" post that turned up in the search.

And I've had many visitors looking for ways to get out of jury service, but this is the first time someone's tried a search from the courthouse. Must be one heck of a trial coming up.

Click here to read more . . .

November 12, 2007

Pillage Idiot goes to Hillary's town meeting

Yes, over there in the back?

As a young person, I'm worried about the long-term effects of global warming. How does your plan combat climate change?

Well, you should be worried, and I'm glad you asked that question. My energy plan stops the Bush Administration's degradation of the environment and makes it possible for us to breathe free again within seven years.

I'd like to follow up on that.

Chris, did you tell her she could do that?

What I'm wondering is . . .

Shut up and wait just a minute!

Chris, what kind of idiot are you? Didn't you tell her she should ask the question and sit down, you incompetent son of a bitch!

OK, ladies and gentlemen, I'm really sorry about that. I have time for one more question.

I'm wondering about how your experience screwing up a perfectly good health care plan will help you as president.

Uh . . . hey, Bill, that is so not funny!

UPDATE (11/13): Frankly, I'm surprised! (Video)

For other Bill and Hillary photo comics, start here and check the links at the bottom.

Click here to read more . . .

November 11, 2007

Stowing thrones

"People who live in ass houses shouldn't stow thrones." OK, I'm glad I got that one out of my system.

Perhaps if Sim Jae-duck were a Brit instead of Korean, he would have demanded the address "No. 2 Downing Street" for his new toilet-shaped house.

"Hmmm," you're thinking. "My toilet doesn't have a windowed bowl." Ha! You are so not thinking outside the box.

This project is the brainchild, if you want to call it that, of Mr. Sim, a Korean known to all -- to all, that is, who are in the know -- as "Mr. Toilet." Now there's a name I wish I had chosen!

Sim is building the two-story house set to be finished Sunday to commemorate the inaugural meeting later this month of the World Toilet Association.
In case you think this is some weird Korean humor that you just don't understand, let me set you straight. The World Toilet Association is a real group. It even has a real website. Well, it has a website. Whether it's real or not I'll leave for you to ponder.

By the way, the WTA has some goals you ought to know about:
The World Toilet Association, supported by the South Korean government, says that it aims to launch a "toilet revolution", getting people to open up about what goes on in the privacy of their bathrooms for the sake of improving worldwide hygiene.
I'm not sure I personally want to open up about what's going on in there, and I certainly don't want to tell it to some government-funded group.

Now, I hope you get an idea from the photo above how huge this house is.
Billed as the world's only toilet house, the 419-square-metre (4,508-sq-foot) concrete and glass structure rose on the site of Sim's former home in Suweon, 40 kilometres (24 miles) south of Seoul.
Naturally, a house that large could be rented out for parties and whatever for a large amount of money. (Think luxury boxes at the Washington Nationals' new stadium.) Sim says that before his family moves in -- I don't think "moves" is meant as a joke -- he'll rent out the toilet house for $50,000 a day, "with proceeds going towards providing poor countries with proper sanitary facilities."

If $50K a day seems a bit expensive for that party you were thinking of throwing, you should consider what you'll get for your money:
In the centre of the house is a glass-walled bathroom which features a device producing mist to make sure users do not feel too exposed. The loo's lid is raised automatically and music is also turned on when people enter.

The house, which has a stream and small garden in front, is nicknamed in Korean "Haewoojae," meaning "a place of sanctuary where one can solve one's worries."
But wait! There's more!
A showpiece bathroom at the centre of the 4,520-square-foot house is on display through a floor-to-ceiling window made of glass that can be turned opaque at the touch of a button.

When guests enter to do their business, a motion sensor activates classical music.

The home has a total four bathrooms, others which offer amenities such as a whirlpool bathtub, urinals and large glass showers.
If this description doesn't, er, bowl you over, you can read more details about the house and see more photos here. (I note that one commenter thinks this is miserable feng shui. About 15 years ago, there was an article in the Rockville Gazette about feng shui, and the subject advised not to locate your bathroom near the front door. He said he once had an apartment with a bathroom there, and every time he put his key in the front door, he felt he needed to use the bathroom. I remember the article, because I sent it to Dave Barry and got a real note back from him. Those were the days . . . .)

Finally, I wouldn't want to eliminate from my account of this architectural marvel the quotation of the day.
"The toilet is not merely a place for excretion — it can save humankind from diseases," [Sim] continued. "A place of relaxation and purging, the toilet is a place for introspection. The toilet is also a central living place that possesses culture."
And even better is Mr. Sim's essential philosophy:
"Toilets stand central to people's lives."
I would say this definitely ranks up there with Kant's views: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." In other words, build a toilet house only if you think everyone should live in one.

Next up: Hillary's universal toilet insurance.

Click here to read more . . .

November 08, 2007

Jimmy Carter's OTHER letter

Click to enlarge.

Original letter here.

Click here to read more . . .

November 07, 2007

How one college recruits by politics

The faculty at many colleges and universities tilts heavily leftward, as you know. But there's still a possibility that some admitted students won't share that political outlook. Here's how one college, with an excess of qualified applicants, tries to winnow out for admission those who see the world from the left.

According to this article in the New York Times's Education Life section, which Mrs. Attila pointed out to me, Tufts University offers applicants a chance to write an optional essay:

Tufts has a problem shared by most competitive universities: After it rejects the weak and admits the geniuses, too many decent applicants remain — about three for every spot. Recommendations and polished essays “all pretty much say the same things,” says Lee Coffin, dean of undergraduate admissions.

So for the second year, Tufts is inviting applicants to write an optional essay to help admissions officers pinpoint qualities the university values — practical intelligence, analytical ability, creativity and wisdom. These attributes make students intellectual leaders, according to Tufts’s dean of arts and sciences, Robert J. Sternberg, a psychologist whose work on measuring intelligence inspired the experiment. Applicants choose one of eight unlabeled questions, each designed to home in on a different attribute. Questions will change every year.
Now, just in case you're saying to yourself, "Hey, practical intelligence, analytical ability, creativity, and wisdom are all great, non-political qualities for an applicant to possess," the article disabuses you of that notion. Here's a good example of what I mean -- practicality. Note well what's a "good answer."

Tufts’s Definition Can implement an idea — gather the necessary resources, attract others to the cause and lead them to a solution.

Question Describe a moment in which you took a risk and achieved an unexpected goal. How did you persuade others to follow your lead? What lessons do you draw from this experience?

Good Answer My family owns a vacant town home, so at our weekly family meeting I suggested we offer it to a Katrina family. When my father contacted the homeowners’ association, we received a certified letter from them stating that a Katrina family was prohibited from living in our town home because the bylaws prohibit “transients.” ... I called the local newspaper and talked to a reporter about the Katrina family. ... When the board considered their racist position being printed in the newspaper, the morality of the issue was forced on them.

What Tufts Said She does not sit back and watch life go by. Academically, she is not the strongest applicant from this school, but she has very compelling personal qualities, initiative and drive.
Coincidence? I think not. Here are questions and "good answers" for analytical ability and wisdom:
Question An American adage states that “curiosity killed the cat.” If that is correct, why do we celebrate people like Galileo, Lincoln and Gandhi, individuals who imagined longstanding problems in new ways or who defied conventional thinking to achieve great results?

Good answer While we celebrate the great thinkers who challenged predominant beliefs in the past, we hypocritically criticize those who do the same today. Gay marriage advocates are criticized today as threatening the institution of marriage. ...This ironic situation emanates from the fact that human nature finds comfort in conformity.


Question A high school curriculum does not always afford much intellectual freedom. Describe one of your unsatisfied intellectual passions. How might you apply this interest to serve the common good and make a difference in society?

Good answer I love Shakespeare not only for the deliciousness of language, but for its applicability to current events. Political instability and rapidly changing leadership in the Congo? Macbeth draws shocking parallels. Race relations in South Africa causing unrest? Sounds like Othello. Since many people in India, and Africa, and Latin America can’t afford to read or attend plays, I want to take Shakespeare to them.
And I discovered again today that the kind of training that this writing reflects begins in high school.

In an article in the Rockville Gazette, entitled "B-CC students hit trail to activism," there's a description of a course given at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in which students are required to become "activists."
Danny McCarty and Mimi Ray are high school students who assumed nobody would heed their opinions — not when it came to politically divisive issues like mass transit, development and the environment.

But a class assignment in their Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School’s national, state and local government class converted them into energetic activists for a cause they barely knew about a few months ago. It tossed them into the middle of an effort to keep the Capital Crescent Trail unobstructed by Bethesda’s commercial growth and mass transit.

"It definitely has opened my eyes to take up any issue that I feel strongly about, to take initiative and do something about it," McCarty said.
Fine, and all that, but in school? For credit? As part of a class requirement?

And just why was this done? Ask the teacher: "The class’s teacher, Nathan Herchenroeder, said his motive was to convince students that citizen participation is necessary to a democracy."

It happens that I agree with their position on the Capital Crescent Trail, which remains a beauty of open space in our rapidly growing county that needs to stay open. I also oppose the Purple Line completely, which is a pet project of the anti-car left. But I hate the idea of some goofball high school teacher using class time to get kids to advocate for this.
"I said every kid had to take five public actions," like sending e-mails to local policymakers, interest groups or Gov. Martin O’Malley, Herchenroeder said. Some students interviewed walkers, joggers and bikers using the trail. Others made fliers or posters.
So for those of our kids who plan to apply to Tufts, never fear. You'll get good experience in becoming the right kind of thinker in high school.

Click here to read more . . .

Keeping an eye on the scoundrels

I just want to give a shout-out to several members of the Maryland Blogger Alliance who have been doing a great job of covering the special session of the General Assembly. I hope I'm not missing anyone here, but I'm thinking specifically of Red Maryland, Annapolis Politics, and The Main Adversary.

I also want to congratulate Mark Newgent, of The Main Adversary, for drawing 196 votes in a race for Baltimore City Council as a Republican. The Democrat incumbent received 3,356 votes in what Mark admitted was an "ass kicking," but he holds his head up high.

Click here to read more . . .

November 06, 2007

Wedgie 2.0

I once wrote "A lexicographical wedgie," describing the addition of the word "wedgie" to Webster's dictionary. But that's nothing.

Check this from Ace: "An Age of Miracles And Wonders: Kids Invent Wedgie-Proof Underwear." Go to the link and check out the video of the two 8-year-old inventors on Fox News.

And on the same subject, at Gizmodo:

The quotes by the kids are the best part of this video, laced with lament and hope deeper than we could expect from youngsters: "When someone gives you a wedgie, it hurts, and when we made wedgie proof underwear, it won't hurt anymore." Cheer up kid, you'll get fewer wedgies as you age towards your nobel peace prizes for these things.
Trouble is, as one of Ace's commenters points out:
Unfortunately once these dorks have been given a wedgie and their breakaway undies are pulled off, those undies will be shown to every other kid in the school as a trophy of their humiliation. A normally 5 minute embarrassing event will be transformed into a chapter in school pwning history.
Now, if they could only invent tear-away underwear for, uh, adult women. It's called empowerment.

Click here to read more . . .

Speeding up the game

There were two interesting newses out of the baseball circuit today, neither of which had to do with the Mets' infuriating refusal to tell Scott Boras and Alex Rodriguez to take a hike.

The newses I'm referring to are that baseball's general managers have voted to recommend the limited use of instant replay:

General managers recommended for the first time Tuesday that instant replay be used to help umpires on boundary calls -- whether potential home runs are fair or foul, whether balls go over fences or hit the tops and bounce back, and whether fans interfere with possible homers.

The proposal was approved by a 25-5 vote. There was no specific time frame on when such a system might be put in place.
Although I'm a traditionalist, I guess I can see the argument here. A ball is either fair or foul as it leaves the stadium. We're not dealing with quantum mechanics here. Checking a series of replays on a potential home run down the line makes some sense.

It's a little more problematic to use the replay on bounce-backs. Say the ball bounces back, and the umpire rules it's a home run. How does the fielding team mount a successful protest? It's too late to continue the play with the ball in play. The batter and runners have already slowed down and run the bases. You can't have a do-over. In contrast, if the umpire says it's in play, as with Todd Zeile's non-homer in the 2000 World Series, everyone finishes the play. The batting team's protest that it was a home run would work. If the replay showed the ball was a home run, everyone would be waved around the bases.

The other interesting news, found at the bottom of the same article, is that baseball is considering ways to speed up the game:
Solomon also said that to speed up games, baseball was considering limiting when a hitter could step out of the batter's box between pitches, restricting the number of times a player could visit the mound, and limiting the number of players allowed to visit the mound.
What??? I'd like to see the stats on the amount of time taken up by batters stepping out and players (not the manager or coach) visiting the mound. My guess is that it's negligible. I also think stepping out to interfere with a pitcher's rhythm is a minor but important part of the game between pitcher and batter. I still remember a duel between Al Hrabosky and Ed Kranepool in the late 70s, in which Hrabosky did his "psych up" routine before each pitch and Kranepool stepped out to rattle him. It was a classic.

Here are the two biggest sources of unnecessary wasted time in baseball (and that's not redundant):

1. TV Advertising. Reduce ads by one minute between each half inning, and you've shortened the game by nearly 20 minutes. Yeah, I know advertising pays today's high salaries. My plan won't happen. But that doesn't mean I'm not right.

2. Too much hitting. Baseball has appealed to today's ADHD crowd by focusing on home runs, bandbox hitters' parks (like the one in Philly), and other means of high scoring. High-scoring games take longer than low-scoring games. Is it worth it? Not to me. Personally, I'd be much happier watching a display of excellent fielding than sitting through a slug-fest. Top-notch pitching duels are more fun, too. Watching a Hall of Fame pitcher in his prime, like the Pedro Martinez of a few years ago, is much more enjoyable than watching some steroid-addled palooka uncork one into the ether. Restoring some balance by, for example, expanding the strike zone would help, but it won't happen.

Meanwhile, baseball will go ahead and prevent hitters from stepping out of the box and third baseman from going to the mound. And we'll all wonder why it doesn't speed up the games. Just in time for the next useless rules change.

Click here to read more . . .

November 05, 2007

Bill and Hillary go on a blind date

Date Lab

Can Two Type-A Personalities Find Common Ground In Compromise?

7:00 P.M., RED HOT & BLUE

Hillary: I arrived 5 minutes early, because Date Lab told me he was a prominent person. I sat at the bar, where I had plenty of time to discuss the presidential primary season with the bartender. Around 8:30, well into my third White Russian, Bill finally showed up. He glad-handed his way through the restaurant and stopped to speak with nearly everyone in the entire restaurant. I was very unhappy.

Bill: Late? I'd been on the phone with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the new president of Argentina, who, by the way, is smokin' hot. Makes my knees knock. I didn't have Hillary's cell phone number.

Hillary: I could see right away that Bill wasn't my type. Physically, I mean. I like men who are a lot thinner, less pudgy, and that reddish nose was a real turnoff.

Bill: Ankles. Huge ankles! Plus, every part of her appearance was fake -- the hair, the face, you name it -- everything except the stuff that I'd like to be fake. She certainly wasn't what I was hoping for.

Hillary: We were finally seated at a table. He ordered a huge rack of ribs and wolfed it down in about five minutes. It was repulsive just watching him.

Bill: Mmmmmmmm . . . huge rack . . . of ribs. Yeah, I was hungry. It was pretty late by then. She didn't have the greatest table manners, either. She kept picking at her food with her fork, taking a look at it, and putting it back on the plate.

Hillary: He spent the whole evening talking about himself.

Bill: She spent the whole evening talking about herself.

Hillary: [Was there any] chemistry? Haaaaahahahahahahahahaha!! The only chemistry that happened was when Bill let loose and it started to smell like sulfur around the table. Pretty juvenile, if you ask me. Other people in the restaurant were staring.

Bill: Is that what she said? Sulfur? Look, I'd had Mexican food for lunch. Sorry. There wasn't anything I could do to stop it.

Hillary: This obviously wasn't going anywhere, so around 10, I told him it was time for me to go home.

Bill: She was starting to get irritating with that awful laugh and that brittle feminist humorlessness. So I didn't mind. Besides, there were a couple of chicks at the bar I wanted to discuss my international relief efforts with.

Hillary: As we left the table, he put his hand on my butt. My butt!

Bill: As we left the table, I put my hand lightly on her back to guide her toward the door.

Hillary: I drove my knee into his groin.

Bill: I actually was going to mention that. Really.

Hillary: I'd give the date 1.5 [on a scale of 5].

Bill: 1.5 or 2. Maybe 2, because the chicks at the bar were niiiiiiice!


Update: Bill and Hillary haven't spoke since the date.

Interviews conducted by Pillage Idiot.

Click here to read more . . .

November 04, 2007

What he didn't say

You may have read that in an interview with Jeffrey Rosen, published in the New York Times magazine in September, Justice Stevens explained the origins of his skepticism about the death penalty:

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago in 1941, Stevens enlisted in the Navy on Dec. 6, 1941, hours before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He later won a bronze star for his service as a cryptographer, after he helped break the code that informed American officials that Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander of the Japanese Navy and architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, was about to travel to the front. Based on the code-breaking of Stevens and others, U.S. pilots, on Roosevelt’s orders, shot down Yamamoto’s plane in April 1943.

Stevens told me he was troubled by the fact that Yamamoto, a highly intelligent officer who had lived in the United States and become friends with American officers, was shot down with so little apparent deliberation or humanitarian consideration. The experience, he said, raised questions in his mind about the fairness of the death penalty. “I was on the desk, on watch, when I got word that they had shot down Yamamoto in the Solomon Islands, and I remember thinking: This is a particular individual they went out to intercept,” he said. “There is a very different notion when you’re thinking about killing an individual, as opposed to killing a soldier in the line of fire.” Stevens said that, partly as a result of his World War II experience, he has tried on the court to narrow the category of offenders who are eligible for the death penalty and to ensure that it is imposed fairly and accurately. He has been the most outspoken critic of the death penalty on the current court.
I didn't read the original article, but I read about this revelation here.

In today's New York Times Magazine, Justice Stevens has a letter about this article. (I'll have to add the link later if it becomes available, because it's not right now.)

What's interesting about the letter is that Justice Stevens feels the need to correct two matters: first, "the impression that I claim credit for helping break the Japanese naval code that enabled our forces to shoot down Admiral Yamamoto," and second, the statement that he turned down an offer to teach at Yale Law School.

He says nothing about the origins of his skepticism about the death penalty. Which is another way of confirming that the story is accurate.

Click here to read more . . .

Qs and As with John Bolton

I'm way behind on my serious reading. In fact, my end table next to my bed is stacked high with books I've started reading or should have started reading.

But it's tempting to add John Bolton's memoir "Surrender is Not an Option," to the stack, because pretty much everything he says is a breath of fresh air. (Previous posts on Bolton here and here.)

Bolton is interviewed in today's New York Times Magazine by Deborah Solomon, and we'll assume it's a fair rendition of the interview, for whatever that's worth.

My favorite question, which I'm absolutely not making up:

Why do you think Iran shouldn’t have nuclear weapons?
Here's Bolton's answer:
When you have a regime that would be happier in the afterlife than in this life, this is not a regime that is subject to classic theories of deterrence. Retaliation for them, which would obliterate their society, doesn't have the same negative connotations for their leadership.
Short and to the point.

And my second-favorite response from Bolton -- about the Nobel Peace Prize that Al Gore won: "At least they didn't give Gore the prize for economics."

Click here to read more . . .

Carnival of Maryland -- 19th edition

The 19th edition of the Carnival of Maryland is up at The Greenbelt.

The 20th edition, scheduled for Sunday, November 18, will be hosted at Leviathan Montgomery.

Send your submissions in for Carnival 20 by using the Blog Carnival form.

Click here to read more . . .

November 01, 2007

Superman is Jewish

Yeah, you know it's true, buddy.

When I was about 13, my friend and I whiled the time away in Hebrew School with the Superman is Jewish Club, making up news stories about Clark Kentsky and the others. Then, later, I read about Siegel and Schuster writing of their own fantasies of themselves -- which proved our thesis that Superman was Jewish.

Now, we learn there's a comic book exhibit in Paris that proves it further:

A Paris exhibit on comic strips shows that Superman is Jewish.

The exhibit, at the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris, makes it clear "that Superman is Jewish," Samuel Blumenfeld and Yves-Marie Labé write in the French newspaper Le Monde. And even Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels knew it.

In comments translated in the Eurotopics online newsletter, the writers say that "When the 'Iron Man' destroyed the Atlantic wall and the Siegfried line well before D-day, ...Goebbels shouted in a meeting that 'Superman is Jewish.' What was an insult is now to be taken as something quite evident."

The Superman comic strip was created in 1932 by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian artist Joe Schuster, both sons of Jewish immigrants, and sold to D.C. Comics in 1938.
There's a website about the exhibit in French. Here's a Google automated translation into English.
Then the era of superheroes, related to the process of integration of the second generation of immigrants. 1938 sees rise Superman. Batman followed in 1939, and Captain America in 1940. They also embody the dreams related to the experience and the Jewish tradition, the first superheroes are meant to the American nation. They are a fantastic and reassuring response to the difficulties caused by the crisis of 1929 and the rise of Fascisms in Europe. Infatigables vigilantes ensuring law and order in the world, they defend the human species and universal values of good and justice. It was only after the Holocaust that some people will have signs specifically Jews.
The translation is pretty funny, but I think you get the gist of it.

UPDATE (11/11): Mark Newgent sent me this link to a video clip of Superman II. Listen carefully at 2:33.

Click here to read more . . .

Visitor of the Day -- 11/1

I seriously recommend that she see a doctor, dude.

Click here to read more . . .

Rockville's bike bridge to nowhere

Q: When you run a city that has a 12-lane interstate running through it, with four roads passing over the interstate, and three of those four roads have sidewalks or bike paths so that the interstate can safely be crossed by foot or bicycle, what do you do?

A: Naturally, you decide that the fourth of those roads must have its own hiker-bike path.

Q: And if there's no obvious way such a path can be built on the existing roadway, what do you do?

A: Naturally, you build a freestanding bike bridge over the interstate adjacent to the road overpass.

On October 20, the City of Rockville officially opened what I call, in homage to our Alaskan friends, the "bike bridge to nowhere" along MD28 (West Montgomery Ave.), over I-270, at Exit 6. The City calls it the "Sister City Friendship Bridge."

Bicyclists, pedestrians and skaters now have a connection between the east and west sides of Rockville that are divided by Interstate 270.

Rockville city officials and nearly 30 adults and children on bicycles, skateboards and scooters gathered on the west side of the Rockville Sister City Friendship Bridge, located between West Montgomery Avenue [MD28] and Watts Branch Parkway, for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday morning.

"Finally, we have something to link our city and bring everybody together to one Rockville," Mayor Larry Giammo said.
If you don't read the entire article, however, you'll miss this interesting fact: The bridge cost $4.3 million to build.
The $4.3 million bridge was named in honor of the 50-year sister city relationship between Rockville and Pinneberg, Germany.

To be clear, the bulk of this funding wasn't from Rockville. The City received a federal grant for the project under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (a/k/a the "TEA-21 Act") in the amount of $3,771,190. (Scroll down at the link.)

So for all of you who live outside Rockville, I'd like to thank you for paying for our bike bridge.

I didn't realize, by the way, that the TEA-21 included funding for bike paths, which it does, but considering what a pork-barrel racket the whole transportation funding regime is, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Now, I happen to be an avid biker, and I love having places to ride. I could give you a list of places around Montgomery County that need to be improved for bike riders.

But this new bike bridge.... I mean, sure, it's over three-tenths of a mile long, all told; the grading is difficult; and construction is generally very expensive. But I still find the sheer cost of it appalling.

Let me drop for a moment my objection to the cost, however, and focus on what's wrong with the concept.

First, there are three other Rockville bridges across I-270 for use by bikes: West Gude Drive, Falls Road, and Wootton Parkway, the first and last of which are part of the City's Millennium Trail, a wide paved trail that encircles most of Rockville. The new bridge at MD28 may make it easier for some people to go from the west to the east, but it's hardly essential. If you live near the western end of the bridge, you ride down Hurley Avenue, and across the trail on Wootton Parkway. If you're going downtown, you ride the length of Watts Branch Parkway, a road that's reasonably safe for riding, and up Falls Road and Maryland Avenue, where there are sidewalks. Your trip is a couple of miles longer, but it's $4.3 million cheaper.

Second, the new bridge connects portions of the City's layout that don't really provide much that's of value to bike riders. In particular, the eastern end of the bridge is across from the intersection of MD28 and Nelson Street. The City considers Nelson Street a bike route, but it's narrow and has a decent amount of car traffic. Not great for riding. MD28 itself leads into downtown Rockville, but it's a very heavily traveled two-lane road, on which biking is near-suicidal. The road has sidewalks, but they're narrow and paved in brick, and it's very bumpy riding on them. This is not enjoyable if you're a guy of the male persuasion, if you know what I mean. As the Duke says in Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience, "I do it, but I don't like it." Mind you, there are some beautiful old houses on this route, and I recommend you explore the area next time you're in Rockville, but I don't recommend it for bike riding.

Third, there isn't much on the west end of the bridge that people would need to ride to -- a fair number of houses, but that's about it. There are some office buildings across MD28, but those are accessible by way of Gude Drive and Research Blvd. In fact, I went over to visit the new bridge yesterday morning, during the height of rush hour, which is when I took the photos displayed here. During my 20-minute leisurely stroll the length of the bridge and back, I was all alone, except for one pair of joggers chatting with each other. To be fair, when I went back during the evening rush hour with my bike to see how well the bridge worked for riders, and I saw one other biker and two adults with strollers. (The answer, by the way, is that for bikers, it's a pretty good climb to get over the bridge from west to east; not a problem at all if you're in good shape, but casual riders and children may have a little trouble.)

Last, and above all, I have to return to the cost. Sure, it's mostly the yokels in the rest of the country (i.e., you) whose tax dollars are paying for it -- though we pay for yours, so I guess it's only fair. But $4.3 million for a bike bridge of limited utility? Isn't there a better use for that funding?

I can't really blame Rockville officials for seeking the TEA-21 money and running with it when it was granted. It's Congress's fault for having appropriated it in the first place. If we hadn't snagged a grant here, some other yokels (i.e., you) would have taken it.

Still, I can't help thinking back to one of my first experiences in Rockville when I moved here 20 years ago. I've written about this before.
When I moved to Rockville in 1987, we had a mayor named Steve van Grack, a trial lawyer (the mayor being a non-partisan, part-time official) who was infected by the dread federal-government disease. On Rockville Pike, Maryland Route 355, it was sometimes hard for pedestrians to have enough time to cross at the light, as it surely still is. Van Grack, rather than seeking an adjustment in the timing of the lights, rather than being extravagant and seeking funds to build pedestrian overpasses, was trying to drum up support for an expensive study to look into a "people mover" to take pedestrians up and down the Pike and across.
I remember being shocked at this grandiose plan, clearly motivated by the prospect of federal funding. I guess some things never change.

Click here to read more . . .