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January 31, 2005

Are men funnier than women?

Warren Bell raises that provocative topic at National Review Online.

I don't know. Some women are very funny, at least once they get beyond the gynecology jokes. But I'd still have to say that men are pretty much the winners here.

What Bell says about his budding career as a comedian speaks to me, even though I'm not a comedian:

Well, here's an argument against anything genetic. I know for a fact that I wasn't born funny. I learned it in my teens as a way of getting attention. I wasn't a good athlete or particularly easy on the eyes, so getting a laugh was my best shot at getting girls to notice me. A good sense of humor is never going to compete with a 90-mph fastball in terms of babe appeal, but it's a better path to alpha-male status than, oh, say, learning to program a Radio Shack TRS-80 home computer. (I did that! So lonely!)

Most funny people I know tell more or less the same story: They learned to be funny in order to be noticed, sometimes by parents, frequently by the opposite sex. (One writer I know contemplated calling his company "Look at Me! Productions.") Young girls who want attention have other weapons — they can scream, they can cry, they can grow breasts. They can be heartbreakingly beautiful and call me a nerd for imitating the Coneheads all the time. Learning to be funny would seem, for girls, to be more of a last resort.
I have to say, though, that this didn't work for me in high school. At least in getting the girls. (You actually have to be funny to have a chance at that. -- Ed.)

Anyway, Bell's jumping-off point for all of this is the recent Larry Summers flap about women's math and science abilities. I've never taken the opportunity to laugh at Summers for promptly apologizing for having accidentally raised a serious question for further study, so let me do it here. Mwahahaha. The whole thing reminded me that ol' Larry should have listened to the Tom Chapin song "Mikey Won't Say He's Sorry." Here's a sample of the lyrics:
Mikey took my truck and he broke it,
Then he turned to me and said, "So what?"
So I said,"Say you're sorry" but he won't say he's sorry,
No he won't say he's sorry,
Mike: Cause I'm not!

So I went and complained to the teacher,
And I brought her to the very spot.
Mikey won't say he's sorry.
Teacher: You won't say you're sorry?
No he won't say he's sorry,
Mike: Cause I'm not!
He's not. He's not.
Mikey won't say he's sorry,
Mike: Cause I'm not!
Ah, if only Larry hadn't said he's sorry. But he is. And he's not even as funny as the women he offended.

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January 30, 2005

Iraq elections

I've been quiet about this because I have absolutely nothing profound to say, and I don't want my remarks to rain on the parade. The joy and emotion the Iraqis have shown say it all.

Power Line has some photos.

Jeff Goldstein, meanwhile, does a mathematico-logical analysis of the naysayers' positions.

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Mets celebrity gossip

Poor Mike Piazza. He has to fend off accusations that he's gay, so he goes out and marries a former Playboy centerfold model (NY Daily News article is SFW). I dare you to look her up on Google. (Google link itself is SFW, but results are NSFW.)

Meanwhile, pitcher Kris Benson's wife Anna (link probably NSFW) won't stand for playing second fiddle. An interview with her in the New York Post (SFW) provides numerous insights. For example:

Q: With Mike Piazza getting married to a former Playboy Playmate, how does it feel vying for the crown of Baseball's Sexiest Wife?

A: Mike's fiancee is beautiful and sexy, it gives me more of a reason to work out even harder. Being that Kris and I travel to NYC so often, and have to stay in hotels - its nice to know that a place like New York Sports Clubs has opened its doors to us and I can keep up my sexy figure.
Now this is much better:
Q: One person in history you would like to meet and why?

A: Ronnie Reagan. He was my favorite president of all time. He had a very calm, soothing way about him. I had a lot of respect for the fact that he let his wife be as active as she was and that she did the things that she did.

Q: Three dinner guests?

A: I would pick Nolan Ryan for my husband; I would pick President Bush for me and I would probably pick Brad Pitt so I had my own toy boy.
But maybe this is best:
Q: Best piece of advice either your mother or father gave you?

A: Keep your legs crossed and your mouth shut. I didn't follow that, but it was good advice.
Especially the part about keeping your mouth shut.

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And what's wrong with that idea?

More on Larry Summers:

Harvard President Larry Summers has issued three increasingly lengthy explanations to quiet the clamor over his recent remarks suggesting that "innate" differences between the sexes might explain why fewer women pursue science and math careers. The flap prompted one Washingtonian with a long memory -- Ralph Nader -- to call us and point out that it's not the first time the former treasury secretary has suffered from foot-in-mouth disease.

For years the Nader-founded Multinational Monitor magazine has issued a "Lawrence Summers Memorial Award" for ill-considered statements. It references a memo that Summers, then at the World Bank, wrote in 1991. "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that," he wrote, adding, "I've always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted." The memo was leaked and Summers quickly apologized, saying it was meant to be "sardonic."
They'll get paid for it, of course.

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January 29, 2005

Scourge of customer service reps

Sad to say, Dave Barry is no longer writing his weekly column, and Gene Weingarten simply doesn't fill Barry's shoes. But Weingarten has a regular shtick of calling the toll-free customer service phone numbers on products and asking really dumb questions. Case in point:

As I see it, if God didn't want me to harass customer service reps, He wouldn't have put those toll-free numbers for "comments or questions" on product packages.

Schick Razors

Me: I have an idea for you.

Carrie: Okay.

Me: I've noticed that women's razors tend to be pastel-colored and have really girly names like the Gillette "Venus" and the "Lady ShaveMs." But I was delighted to see the Schick "Intuition" goes past all that and is celebrating a female character trait.

Carrie: Right!

Me: I was wondering if Schick has considered broadening this concept. For example, the Schick "Crying at the Drop of a Hat."


Me: Or, the Schick "If you Don't Know What You Did Wrong, I Won't Tell You."
Read the rest.

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First freedom

The freedom of religion is sometimes referred to as the "first freedom," because it appears first in the Bill of Rights.

A couple of weeks ago, James Taranto and others skewered the ACLU for insisting that freedom of speech was the first freedom. They pointed out that the ACLU had quoted the First Amendment with an ellipsis, leaving out the religion clauses. Skewering the ACLU is always fun, but it made me wonder. Why would anyone think that our rights are listed in order of importance?

Because I am something of a Hamiltonian, I have to say that none of the provisions of the Bill of Rights is our "first freedom." Our fundamental rights were protected by the original Constitution (pre-Bill of Rights) with what Madison referred to as "auxiliary precautions," such as the separation of powers with checks and balances, a grant of limited national legislative power, a strong executive, an independent judiciary, an extended republic. As Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 84, "the Constitution is itself, in every rational sense, and to every useful purpose, A BILL OF RIGHTS." (I will concede, certainly, that experience has shown the necessity of a Bill of Rights, but it's not as if we had no protection of our rights before the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution.)

Second, I suppose it would be a cheap shot to point out that the First Amendment wasn't even originally the first -- the original Bill of Rights had twelve amendments, the first two of which were not ratified (though the second was ratified 200 years later as the 27th Amendment). But it is a cheap shot that I am not above taking.

So I'd like to explore the idea that the Bill of Rights was drafted by listing the rights in order of their importance. Here are the rights (slightly paraphrased):

No laws respecting an establishment of religion.
No laws prohibit the free exercise of religion.
No laws abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.
No laws abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

The right of the people to keep and bear arms.

No quartering of soldiers in any house in peacetime without the owner's consent or in wartime except as provided by law.

No unreasonable searches and seizures.
No warrants may issue without probable cause.

Presentment or indictment of a grand jury normally required for capital or "infamous" crime.
No double jeopardy.
Right against self-incrimination.
No deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
No taking of private property for public use without just compensation.

Speedy and public trial in criminal cases.
Right to be informed of the accusation, to be confronted with the witnesses, to have compulsory process, and to have the assistance of counsel.

Right to jury trial in civil cases.

No excessive bail.
No excessive fines.
No cruel and unusual punishment.

The Ninth and Tenth Amendments state that this listing doesn't mean others don't exist and the powers not delegated to the United States are reserved to the states or the people.

Now, if the Bill of Rights lists our rights in order of importance, the right to bear arms (that bane of liberal existence) is more important that the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. The right against quartering of soldiers in peacetime is more important than the right against self-incrimination. The right to a jury trial in civil cases is more important than the right against cruel and unusual punishments.

And why wouldn't the same principles apply to the articles of the original Constitution? The Congress (Article I) is more important than the President (Article II), who is more important than the judiciary (Article III). The arrangement is more likely to reflect their closeness to the people than any comparative importance. We do speak of co-equal branches of government, after all.

When you write a shopping list, do you put the most important items at the top, or do you organize them in a way that helps you when you're looking for them in the store?

My point here is not to denigrate the freedom of religion or freedom of speech. Not at all. It is simply to poke fun at people who read way too much into the order of a list.

UPDATE (1/29): For some reason, I forgot one of the most obvious lists, the Ten Commandments, which we read in parshat Yitro in shul this morning. One can make the case, I suppose, that the first commandment, "I am the Lord your God," is the most important because all the others are based on it. I always tell my kids that the fifth, "Honor your father and mother," is the most important. But even I would admit that "You shall not murder" -- the sixth -- is more important than the fifth. So again, we're talking about a list that is not necessarily in order of importance.

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January 26, 2005


Justice Scalia: "The Constitution says what it says and does not say what it does not say."

(hat tip: Rush)

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Marion Barium?

Reader "Bob H." sends this AP article reporting that former Mayor (and current City Council member) Marion Barry will be teaching a chemistry class at Ballou High School, which "has had its share of problems."

Bob H. asks: "Should DEA raid his class now or wait until final exams?"

Good question. All we need now is a "bitch" to set him up.

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You mean it's NOT all about oil?

A fascinating anecdote in David Ignatius's column today calling for a reality check for the "neo-Wilsonians" (as if Bush & Co. were planning to invade every tyranny by COB tomorrow):

Bush's idealism astonishes even [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili. The Georgian leader recalls a meeting at the White House last year in which he tried to engage Bush by telling him of Georgia's strategic importance because of its proximity to Caspian Sea oil. The president didn't seem interested. It was only when Saakashvili began talking about freedom and liberty, he says, that Bush got excited.
This strikes me as entirely believable. But then again, I suppose Georgia's just a "red" country.

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January 25, 2005

I wouldn't let him near my bagel

In one of my favorite "Get Smart" episodes, Max tells a ship's captain he suspects one of the crew in some dastardly act. The captain, indignant, retorts that his crew is "the pick of the scum of Europe."

Well, the pick of the scum of my co-religionists has to include Al Goldstein. But today's WaPo Style Section says that Goldstein went out of business as a pornographer, went through a homeless phase, and is now shilling bagels at a place called New York City Bagels.

Thanks to the Post, you almost feel sorry for the guy.

The former owner of Milky Way Productions, home of Screw magazine and the now defunct X-rated cult show "Midnight Blue," went bankrupt more than a year ago. Screw once sold more than 140,000 copies weekly and was a cash cow, thanks to ads for call girls and prostitutes, before it fell victim to Internet porn and sagging circulation.

"The Internet made pornography available for free, and I couldn't compete," said Goldstein, who now lives on Staten Island with his fifth wife, Christine, 28.

Those he befriended in the porn business, a billion-dollar industry he helped pioneer, turned their backs to him. Even his own son, Jordan, a Harvard graduate who works for a New York-based law firm, refuses to speak to him.

"My life has turned to crap," Goldstein said. "To go from being a millionaire and then living in a homeless shelter and being rejected by 98 percent of your friends is horrendous, but I'm a survivor."
Almost sorry, but not quite. I wouldn't let this man anywhere near my bagel.

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January 24, 2005

The Iranian switcheroo

Don't look now, but the L.A. Times notes that a surprising number of Iranians are undergoing sex-change operations, with the approval of the Shiite clergy.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, gay male sex still carries the death penalty and lesbians are lashed, but hundreds of people are having their gender changed legally, bolstered by the blessings of members of the ruling Shiite clergy.
Perhaps the driving force behind the switcheroo was You-know-who.
But no Muslim society has tackled the transgender question with the open-mindedness of Shiite Iran. That's probably because the father of the revolution himself, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, penned the groundbreaking fatwas that approved gender reassignment four decades ago.

Khomeini reasoned that if men or women wished so intensely to change sex that they believed they were trapped inside the wrong body, then they should be permitted to transform that body and relieve their misery. His opinion had more to do with what isn't in the Koran than what is. Sex changes are not mentioned in the Koran, Khomeini's thinking went, and so there are no grounds to consider them banned.
Homosexuality is still, uh, disapproved, but not sex changes.
The psychiatric team tries to sort out homosexuality from gender disorder by asking a series of telltale questions. A man hoping to become a woman, for example, is asked whether he has dreamed of removing his penis. Gay men recoil at the idea, the doctor says — but transgender men are eager at the suggestion.

"They say, 'Yes, yes, yes, I've always dreamed of it,' " Mir-Djalali says.

But the screening is the only restriction in Iran's relatively lax system. In most countries where sex-change operations are performed, doctors urge their patients to live for some time in the guise of their preferred sex before taking any drastic measures.

But in Iran, there's no waiting period. After passing the psychological screening, the patients are hustled into treatment. After all, in the interim they are considered gay, and therefore outlaws.
Perhaps all of this is the reason Iran is racing to acquire nuclear arms -- before the army, uh, melts away.

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Furniture is attractive and comfortable

"'We're not furniture,' [Senator Byron] Dorgan said."

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January 23, 2005

Rose Mary Woods begins 18-1/2 millennium gap

"Rose Mary Woods Dies; Loyal Nixon Secretary"

Headline, Wash. Post, Jan. 24, 2005

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January 20, 2005

Inaugural speech

I just read Bush's inaugural speech, and I was struck not simply by how deeply religious it was, in the very American sense, but by how there were noticeable echoes of Jewish texts.

The two that leapt out were:

1. Bush: "From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth."

Genesis 1:27: "And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him."

2. Bush: "The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it."

Pirkei Avot 2:21: "You are not required to complete the task, but you are not free to desist from it."

The first allusion was obviously intentional. I'd be curious to know whether the second was.

UPDATE (1/21): Someone else noticed the allusion to Pirkei Avot.

UPDATE (1/24): Ouch! How could I have missed "Proclaim liberty throughout the land..."? Nice catch, Mona Charen.

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Business idea

So here's my plan.

There's Tofurky, which is "turkey" made from tofu. Someone told me there's also toficken, which would be "chicken" made from tofu.

So I'll get rich by selling "duck" made from tofu. I have just the name for it . . . . And if I marketed a recipe to make this product at home, I can just add "yourself" to the product name.

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The elephant and the Jewish question

That's the punch line to an old Jewish joke, so old that a midrash says that God told it to Moshe Rabbenu (Moses) at Mount Sinai. (Pillage Idiot bonus: Click here and scroll down to read the joke as told by Jacques Derrida. Seriously. And, no, I haven't wasted my life reading the whole interview.)

What has this got to do with the inauguration taking place today? Just ask the Washington Jewish Week, which leads with an article called "Cheering, challenging/As Bush takes oath, area Jews voice mixed views." The article quotes some local Jews who seem enthusiastic about the inauguration, but it inevitably quotes the opponents. I was heartened to see that the three main opponents were wackjobs:

But for Takoma Park's Nadine Bloch, it's a day to take to the streets in protest. This educational consultant, 43, traces her activism back to the Jewish imperative of tikkun olam, "to make the world a better place for everyone."

And she differs with those who say Bush is good for the Jews.

"He has not improved the well-being of most people on the planet, including Israelis," said Bloch, pointing to heightened Mideast strife and what she sees as a lack of U.S. response to these crises during his tenure.

"He doesn't have a policy about Mideast peace; he has a policy about controlling Middle East oil and strategic positioning," she lamented.

Meanwhile, Bloch acknowledges the political split in the Jewish community, which she finds mirrored in her own family. Her father backed Bush; Bloch's mother favored his opponent.
Unfortunately, the online article doesn't have the photo in the hard copy, with the caption "A Bush caricature created by local puppeteer-activist Nadine Bloch, who aims to protest today's inauguration."

Another main opponent is this youngster:
Meanwhile, Jonathan Scolnik, 23, is among those intent on ensuring this year's inauguration ceremony carries a counter-message.

He expects to be marching and passing out fliers with friends who share his passion for economic justice and his opposition to the Iraq war.

"This is an administration that puts profits over people, that puts Puritan morality over pluralism, and undermines democracy by repealing our constitutional rights and jailing people indefinitely based solely on their perceived country of origin or religion," argued Scolnik, who works in the nonprofit health care field.

Raised in the Maryland suburbs and Rockville's Temple Beth Ami, Scolnik looks to Jewish history for some of his current views.

"As a people, I think we learned the dangers of unchecked state power, of theocracy and lack of protection for political minorities," Scolnik said.
And then there's this opponent:
For her part, District law student Rachel Moshman, 27, expects to sit inside today, within reach of a phone. As a member of the legal team for anti-inaugural protesters, she'll be fielding calls from those arrested or facing other legal problems.

Just over a year ago, in November 2003, she served as a legal observer during anti-free trade demonstrations in Miami.

"There were tanks patroling downtown Miami," recalled Moshman. "It was a militarized zone."

This week, this Iraq war foe has worries ranging beyond weaponry to First Amendment rights.

"We're more concerned about the potential for trumped-up charges, such as felony charges and charges extending from the Patriot Act," said Moshman.

Citing the focus on social justice at her hometown synagogue, Omaha's Temple Israel, Moshman said, "It really empowers me to know that there's this institution that believes in helping other people and standing up for what you believe in."
I'd be happy to donate some tinfoil hats for these folks.

And, by the way, if we didn't talk about what local Jews thought about the inauguration, would the inauguration even exist?

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Sit back down, Sir Osis of Liver!

More Bugs Bunny slapstick from the land of Warner Brothers: In the litigation over whether the Anaheim Angels' name change to the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" violates the terms of the lease with Anaheim, the City of Los Angeles has now weighed in with an amicus filing -- admittedly unorthodox in a contract dispute -- arguing that the City of Angels doesn't want these particular Angels, either:

"The Angels were here, went to Anaheim and abandoned the name," [Deputy City Atty. Edward] Jordan said. "There's no connection between the Angels and the city of Los Angeles any more."
Well, some of us think L.A. is hell, so maybe we should rename the team . . . . Oh, never mind.

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January 19, 2005

Kerry channels "Allah"

From a review of Election 2004: How Bush Won and What You Can Expect in the Future, in the Weekly Standard.

But it seems straight out of one of Allah's photoshop strips.

Take for instance that moment on February 4, 2004, when Kerry was on his way to have his picture taken for Time magazine. He had won a series of primaries the day before, which established him as the Democratic frontrunner. So Time wanted some photographs, one of which would end up on the magazine's cover. On the van ride over, Kerry asked his valet, Marvin Nicholson, for the senatorial hairbrush. Nicholson, like the senator, is an outdoorsman. Not long ago, he had met Kerry in a surf shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was employed at the time. Soon after that, Nicholson became the senator's assistant.

But he had forgotten Kerry's hairbrush.

"Sir, I don't have it," Nicholson told Kerry, according to Election 2004.

"Marvin, f--!" Kerry replied.

When Kerry's press secretary, David Wade, suggested the senator borrow his hairbrush, Kerry snapped, "I'm not using Wade's brush." Then he turned back on his assistant. "Marvin, f--," he repeated, "it's my Time photo shoot."
My only question is whether it's the Weekly Standard or the book itself that uses only two dashes after the "f--."

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California prisons haven't been crowded recently

"California Executes First Inmate in Three Years"

Headline, Reuters, Jan. 19, 2005

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Shocker from WaPo

"Rice Stays Close to Bush Policies In Hearing"

Headline, Washington Post, Jan. 19, 2005

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January 18, 2005


So I put you in your nice clothes and already you're playing in the mud?

Yes, mama, but mud isn't very dirty at 292 degrees below zero.

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It's more than just the Jews

I don't see much of a point in beating up on Prince Harry for his Nazi costume. That's been done. Well done.

But The Big Trunk at Power Line asks a question I've been wondering about, too:

Given the fact that Hitler's war of aggression resulted in the death and maiming of hundreds of thousands of the royal family's subjects, including the death of some 60,000 British civilians by bombs rained down on Great Britain, isn't there someone in the country who can work up indignation on behalf of the Brits themselves? Does the indignation have to be imputed at every turn to Jews and their supposed friends?
OK, it's really two questions. But the point is serious. Of course the Nazis had a unique plan -- the Final Solution -- for the Jews, but didn't they cause major damage and death among the Brits as a people? If I were a non-Jewish Brit, I'd be fit to be tied about Harry. Could it be that there's as much ignorance about history there as there is here?

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January 17, 2005


This is what happens when party imbalance occurs. Feeling seasick yet?

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That's no way to reduce crime

Thanks to Mickey Kaus, here's an amazing article about how the St. Louis police cut the crime rate -- by not filing crime reports. The idea is that when police suspect the complainant is not telling the truth, they write a memo and put it in the equivalent of the circular file: someone's desk drawer. The benefit for the city, of course, is that the crime rate is lower than it otherwise would be, and that's a major selling point for cities. The delightfully named Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis claims that this practice is not widespread, that it has minimal effect on the crime rate. But why should it ever be the right of the police to decide unilaterally which crimes should be reported? Certainly, this doesn't follow the FBI's crime-reporting guidelines.

When I lived in New York City in the early 1980's, it was widely understood that the police wouldn't be interested in "small" crimes, like burglary (when there was no contact with the burglar). So people simply didn't bother to report these crimes. I suppose the situation in St. Louis is better than that. At least there the citizens aren't so demoralized that they won't even bother dealing with the police.

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January 15, 2005

Tokyo toilets

I have only two infantile posts tonight, and arguably one of them isn't even infantile. So I thought I would mention that Kesher Talk, of all places, has linked to a site that gives way too much information about Tokyo toilets, including a Flash presentation explaining how to use them. (WARNING: Link contains . . . oh, you know.) Is it me, or is there something a little off about the spelling of "toilet bowel"?

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Career Day in Northern California

From the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: Bob H.):

Students at a Palo Alto middle school learned more than school officials ever expected when a recent "career day" speaker extolled the merits of stripping and expounded on the financial benefits of a larger bust.

Click here to read more . . .

Pentagon reveals rejected chemical weapons

The Pentagon was developing non-lethal chemical weapons to disrupt discipline and morale among enemy troops, according to newly declassified documents. An article at (hat tip: Bob H.) describes these weapons. My favorite is the one that the article calls "bizarre":

Most bizarre among the plans was one for the development of an "aphrodisiac" chemical weapon that would make enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other. Provoking widespread homosexual behaviour among troops would cause a "distasteful but completely non-lethal" blow to morale, the proposal says.
Lends new meaning to Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

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Gelernter on Americanism

My first-ever post at this blog was called Jew in America. I started my post by discussing what it was that made this country the most hospitable for the Jews in the entire 2000-year history of the Jewish Diaspora.

David Gelernter goes way farther with a fascinating article in the January 2005 Commentary magazine entitled "Americanism -- and its Enemies." I met Gelernter many years ago when we were both undergraduates, although I'm absolutely sure he would not remember having met me. Anyway, his article makes the case that "Americanism" (the beliefs that constitute America's essence and make Americans certain that their nation is morally superior to others and closer to God) is the "end-stage" of political Puritanism. And political Puritanism was based on the idea that Puritans were God's new chosen people who lived in God's new promised land. In other words, they were heavily influenced by the Hebrew Bible.

He writes:

I believe that Puritanism did not drop out of history. It transformed itself into Americanism. This new religion was the end-stage of Puritanism: Puritanism realized among God’s self-proclaimed "new" chosen people—or, in Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable phrase, God’s "almost chosen people."
Please read the whole thing.

And here's a tantalizing part of it, which he mentions in passing in a footnote:
One day, it seems to me, there will be a Thanksgiving Haggadah for Americans to recite at the national holiday Lincoln proclaimed. I have in mind an actual document telling the story of Puritan sufferings in England; of America’s birth; of the bloody Civil War struggle to realize the creed’s promises; of repeated re-enactments of the Exodus that make up America’s history—interspersed with passages from the English Bible. This is a project I’m at work on myself.
Who else would be as well equipped to undertake that project?

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January 12, 2005

Design advice requested

On a lark, I thought maybe I'd have some mugs made. I'm not planning to set up a shop, because I'm not interested in making money on selling stuff to people. The idea was just to buy a bunch of mugs for friends and relatives and for myself.

Here's my very basic image:

Not great, obviously. If anyone has a better idea for a logo/image, please let me know. And if you have an actual image that you're willing to let me use in exchange for a free mug, let me know that, too. Oh, yes, and it must be safe for work. Thanks.

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I'd rather . . .

I almost snorted out my bagel this morning when I read the bumper sticker on the car in front of me: "I'd rather be fighting global warming."

Well, at least it wasn't on an SUV.

The bumper sticker is produced by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network in Takoma Park, MD. Takoma Park is not quite the Berkeley of Maryland, because it's not a college town, but it certainly shares the overheated politics (which is perhaps the real reason for global warming).

My own bumper sticker would read "I'd rather be invading Iran." What would yours say?

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January 11, 2005

Robert Scheer meets the British Michael Moore

Robert Scheer, top wack-job at the L.A. Times, reviews an Adam Curtis documentary (excuse me, "historical film") shown on the BBC, the point of which, apparently, is that Al Qaeda may be a non-existent organization made up by the Bush Administration for its own nefarious purposes. Scheer's description of the film made me laugh so hard I almost lost my teeth (and they're my real ones, too).

Top question raised by the film: "If Osama bin Laden does, in fact, head a vast international terrorist organization with trained operatives in more than 40 countries, as claimed by Bush, why, despite torture of prisoners, has this administration failed to produce hard evidence of it?"

Top line from Scheer, in my opinion: "But the film, both more sober and more deeply provocative than Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' directly challenges the conventional wisdom by making a powerful case that the Bush administration, led by a tight-knit cabal of Machiavellian neoconservatives, has seized upon the false image of a unified international terrorist threat to replace the expired Soviet empire in order to push a political agenda."

Yikes! He's on to us!

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"Your call may be monitored...."

Apparently, your call actually may be monitored.

An interesting piece in the New York Times suggests that it's not a good idea to ask that perky operator for her phone number and that it's an even worse idea for her to give it out. Also, if you're cancelling your ex-wife's cable service to get back at her for having just divorced you, don't tell your friend before you hang up the phone. The monitoring is taking place even then.

Click here to read more . . .

January 10, 2005

Add Scowcroft to the mix

More evidence that, to adapt Buckley's famous remark, we'd be better off guided by the first 100 names in the Boston phone book than by esteemed foreign policy specialists: Brent Scowcroft has been going around saying that the Iraqi elections will cause a civil war.

But David Frum reports that, as a result of Scowcroft's statements during the campaign, Scowcroft, if not "Scowcroftism," has been dropped by the Bush team. He even mentions a strange rumor that Scowcroft had agreed to co-chair Kerry's transition team.

The Scowcroft realists seem to prefer stability to such an extreme that Saddam is better than the mess of creating democratic institutions in a free Iraq. Look, I'm just one of the first 100 names in somebody's phone book, but that's just wrong.

Click here to read more . . .

Catching bin Laden

And as long as we're talking about bin Laden and about my frivolous belief that he remains dead, I'd put my willful stupidity up any day against the educated stupidity of this guy:

The world may be better off if September 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden remains at large, according to the CIA's recently departed executive director.

If the world's most wanted terrorist was captured or killed, a power struggle among his al-Qaeda subordinates might trigger a wave of terror attacks, said A.B. Krongard, who stepped down six weeks ago as the CIA's third in command.

"You can make the argument that we're better off with him at large," he said.

"If something happens to bin Laden, you might find a lot of people vying for his position and demonstrating how macho they are by unleashing a stream of terror."

OK, let's review the bidding. Osama controls the world's most dangerous terrorist network, which killed 3000 Americans on September 11. Bush was bad because he "outsourced" the effort to get Osama at Tora Bora. But we shouldn't try to catch Osama, because if we do, others might attempt to commit terrorist acts against us.

Hmmmmm. Haven't they been trying that, anyway?

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OBL's thoughts on the tsunami

As long as we're talking about blaming God's wrath for the tsunami, let's speculate, along with Jerry Tundag in the Freeman (Cebu, Phillippines), about what Osama bin Laden must be thinking. Let's leave aside for the moment that we don't know whether bin Laden has access to news at all, and some of us, frivolous though we may be, steadfastly refuse to change our opinions that he is dead, all the evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

But here's what Tundag suggests:

Bin Laden has been preaching to whoever cares to listen that America and its allies are out to eliminate Muslims from the face of the earth. What happened on December 26 proved he had been lying. Worse he had been given a sign by Allah to shut up.

The earthquake and the resulting tsunamis were acts of God, no matter how He is called. To bin Laden and his fellow Muslims, God is Allah. Be that as it may, it was Allah, in His infinite wisdom that we cannot fathom, who willed the disaster to strike where and when it did.

Supposedly devout, bin Laden was silenced because he could not dispute that fact. And he will continue to be silent in face of the huge international humanitarian response to the disaster that has not seen a shadow of his own involvement.

A few days ago, I was asking seriously about how people can say that God (or Allah) is punishing the victims of the tsunami and especially about an imam who said it was because Muslims are killing Muslims. Maybe if Osama is as shrewd as people say, he will be forced to conclude that God/Allah is in fact punishing Muslims for trying to kill Americans.

Ha, ha! He's just as likely to be dead.

Click here to read more . . .

January 09, 2005

How did I let this get past?

Somehow, I missed this article (site registration required, or use about a new underwear filter. (WARNING: Link contains sophomoric cracks about a real product for a real biological problem.) The product's web site is here.

Pillage Idiot, always working hard to bring you the latest news on important subjects.

UPDATE (1/10): M.E. comments that we should check out the product testimonials. I recommend scrolling pretty far down. They get better near the bottom.

UPDATE (1/11): Now I can't even say they get better "near the bottom." Hmm. Ask me about my colonoscopy. (Maybe you shouldn't.)

Click here to read more . . .

Abbas declared winner in Ohio

"Exit poll gives Mahmoud Abbas decisive victory"

Headline, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 9, 2005

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January 06, 2005

Election protest march

I was in front of my office downtown at around noon, when a protest march passed by. There were maybe 50 people, some with signs, who appeared to be claiming that Bush had won the election through fraud. I joked loudly about them with a friend who watched with me, but unfortunately I didn't have my digital camera with me to record the moment. These guys were not impressive; here are some photos from Yahoo News. It would have been fun to try Protest Warrior-style infiltration -- you know, slip in among the marchers carrying a sign that says something like "Kerry won in Ohio. He just isn't aware of it." -- but they didn't deserve it.

And here is my personal favorite: Barbara Boxer shedding a tear. That is really more than I can stomach.

Click here to read more . . .

The eternal relevance of state taxes

Even though I've lived my whole life in two states with high income taxes, I've long been a proponent of eliminating the deduction of state income taxes on the federal return. My complaint is that residents of these states don't have to bear the full brunt of the high tax rates, because the deduction results in a de facto "subsidy" of their state taxes. Feel the pain, fellow citizens, and put the pressure on your state representatives or vote with your feet!

I was reminded of this a few days ago, when someone pointed out that Carlos Beltran could be wooed more easily to stay on the Houston Astros, because Texas has no state income tax, than to leave to join the New York Mets, who play in a high-tax state. The Astros could offer a contract considerably smaller than a Mets contract, and Beltran could have the same net income. There's an interesting analysis of some of this at (Link via MetsBlog.)

I've also always been both amused and irritated by the tax-makers' fixation on "static revenue analysis," because it makes no sense to me to assume that tax rates have no effect on private behavior. I don't know what Beltran will ultimately do, but it's obvious his agent will extract a heck of a lot more money from the Mets to make up for the state taxes.

Click here to read more . . .

January 05, 2005

North Korean civil defense

The "Detailed Wartime Guidelines," a supposedly top secret North Korean manual recently published by a South Korean newspaper, informs North Koreans how to prepare for the American attack that Kim Jung Il insists is imminent. As the Associated Press describes it:

The manual urged the military to build restaurants, wells, restrooms and air purifiers in underground bunkers, which government offices and military units will move into if war breaks out.

When North Koreans evacuate to underground facilities, they should make sure that they take the portraits, plaster busts and bronze statues of Kim and his parents so that they can "protect" them in a special room, the guidelines say.

I'd like to see them take along the guy on the left instead.

Click here to read more . . .


A website publishes a photo of a judge on the Ninth Circuit with his arm around a couple of women, and this caption: "Ninth Circuit judge proves that you're never too old to be a pimp."

According to yesterday's 2-1 decision of the Ninth Circuit, no reasonable person could think that this statement was meant literally to accuse the judge of a crime, and therefore, as a matter of law, it is not defamatory.

OK, now substitute "Evel Knievel" for "Ninth Circuit judge" and make a few other lawyerly distinctions, and you have the real case. Somehow, I suspect the judges might not have reached the outcome they reached if the statement actually had been made about them.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a summary of the case.

Click here to read more . . .

Assessing God's wrath

When Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell said, right after September 11, that God had allowed our enemies to give us "probably what we deserve" because of our libertine society, they were instantly attacked by people of almost every political and religious persuasion.

Today, the Washington Post gives us an objective and neutrally phrased report on the Muslim religious leaders in Indonesia who are saying that the tsunami is God's punishment for not adhering strictly enough to shari'a law. The article also quotes individual residents who concur in this position. There's no suggestion in the article that this is a morally problematic view of the calamity.

Is the Post racist? Is it treating the Indonesian Muslims as if they were animals in a zoo? "Look, that seal stole a fish from the other seal." You don't make moral judgments about animals.

Can the Post summon outrage only about traditionally American religions?

Is there a special rule for conservative Christians?

Please understand. I'm not defending Robertson and Falwell. Far from it. I realize there's plenty of support in biblical texts for their view that God punishes nations in real time for their sinful behavior, but if there's anything more troubling about the Bible than that, I'm at a loss to identify it. Who are Robertson and Falwell to know God's specific designs?

Then again, who are the imams of Indonesia to make the definitive interpretation of God's actions? Like Robertson and Falwell, most of the people quoted in the article focus on libertine behavior as the cause of the calamity, but one imam blames it on Muslims killing other Muslims in Indonesia. What makes him think God isn't punishing Muslims for murdering Westerners? Prove it! Prove the opposite!

I'm really not trying to get into theology here. My point is simple: Attributing disasters (natural or human) to God's wrath is wrong, whether you're an American Christian or a Southeast Asian Muslim. It seems that for the Post, only the Muslims take a pass on criticism.

Click here to read more . . .

January 04, 2005

Double talk

You would think that I could blog for a whole three months without discussing a man who speaks fluent French from his buttocks, but you would be wrong.

Thanks to the Scrapbook column in the current (but not so newly released) issue of the Weekly Standard, I have learned of an article in the Weekly World News, a frequent source for "Sixty Minutes." The article (WARNING: link contains photo with partial view of the "moon") describes a Detroit man who suddenly discovered that he can speak French out his tuchis. An expert in "Intestinal Linguistic Amplification" or ILA is quoted as distinguishing this "Type II" ILA (dual language) from the more common "Type I" or single language. The Detroit man has become a successful furniture salesman in a store that caters to French-speaking Canadians.

This article, or I should say the whole phenomenon of speaking French through one's derriere, raises some troubling questions, among which are:

  • Can he sing "La Vie en Rose"?
  • Is it possible to avoid puerile jokes about cheese?
  • Or about Pepe Le Pew?
  • What happens if his tailpipe decides to surrender?
  • Last, has anyone seen John Kerry around lately?

Click here to read more . . .

January 03, 2005

Arise, Sir Osis of Liver!

I was thinking of that Bugs Bunny line today (also Arise, Sir Loin of Beef!), because the Los Angeles Times reports (site registration required) that the Anaheim Angels have announced that henceforth their team name will be the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim." This has got to be one of the silliest professional sports teams names ever. Imagine calling my team, the Mets, the "New York Mets of Flushing." Or, better yet, calling my son's favorite football team the "New York Giants of New Jersey."

Well, it's a free country, and people can do whatever they want. And since it's America, the City of Anaheim can sue. According to the article, City officials claim that the team is contractually bound to use the name "Anaheim." But the team owner, Arte Moreno "appeared to use a contract loophole in the Angel Stadium lease agreement to change the name." As the article explains, the agreement requires "only that the team name 'include the name Anaheim therein,' apparently giving Moreno wiggle room to change the name."

Ya gotta love lawyers. Back when I was in law school, there was a student organization called the Marshall Club. That was John Marshall, not Thurgood. The Marshall Club offered funding to teams in the final rounds of the moot court program, the only catch being that you had to call your team the Marshall Team. Ostensibly, this was an effort to "buy" moot court championships. (I know it sounds ridiculous, but remember this was law school.) So the various Marshall Teams would come up with names that included Marshall, like the Marshall Arts Team. Ours, as I recall, was the John Marshall Harlan team. My proposal to name us the Marshall Law Team was voted down by my teammates as likely to alienate the sponsor.

Little did I know that I would later be mocking the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for doing the same thing.

Click here to read more . . .

January 01, 2005

WaPo's Dave Barry contest

Dave Barry announced some weeks ago that he was leaving his column to concentrate on writing children's books. To memorialize this, the Washington Post invited readers to write the opening of a famous children's book in the style of Dave Barry. I regret to say that the results were pretty poor. Maybe it can't be done, but if you're going to do it, the way to do it is this:

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. The bear, which will soon be introduced to us as Winnie-the-Pooh, was soaked in hairspray. When Christopher Robin dragged Pooh over the final carpeted step, flames shot three feet up in the air. I'm not making this up. We have a video of it and watch it frequently at parties. (Incidentally, The Flaming Bears would be a good name for a rock band.)
OK, so this one isn't so good, either. That's why I didn't submit it.

Click here to read more . . .

Maryland meshugas Oct. to Dec. 2004

Here are the Maryland meshugas posts for October to December 2004:

Kicking Charm City below the Balt, Part 1

Congressional hijinks at home

Just blame it on the Jews

Spitting back

Report from deepest "blue" America

No divine thanks on Thanksgiving in Maryland

Drudge imitates Pillage Idiot

Maryland-Israel high tech partnership

The Baltimore Sun and Governor Ehrlich

Click here to read more . . .