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May 31, 2005

Insanity on the ground

You never know what you'll find when you examine litter on the sidewalks of Washington.

Recently, I found a copy of Cohen's Newsletter Price $0.50 dated May 27, 2005. As you can see below (click for enlargement), there's a warning of an imminent typhoid epidemic. The subheading is "Shocking Reality of President George Bush's Tenure of Office."

Some details follow. And a handwritten request for an antitrust investigation. Sounds like that would be a great idea!

Click here to read more . . .

May 30, 2005

Ewww, gross! (profits)

Capitalism comes to the New York Times magazine.

In yesterday's issue, a short article discusses a new product called the Clorox ToiletWand, a toilet brush that has disposable heads so we don't have to (ewww!) clean the brush.

Mary Jo Cook, a Clorox marketing vice president, explains that there were multiple components to what Clorox calls "the ick factor." One was that a regular, reusable toilet brush has to be cleaned after use -- which can itself create a secondary mess, and thus a potential for ick contagion.
But it's really more complex than that.
A related factor was that consumers were interested in something that would let them "start fresh every time," she says. This led to the disposable-head idea: after each cleaning, you are supposed to click a button on the "wand" (a 15-inch plastic handle, basically) that drops the head into the trash can. Preferably, I imagine, a trash can with a lid. In any case, the wand can be holstered in a little hang tab that you can stick to the side of the toilet or can be hidden away in a bathroom cabinet with the replacement heads. The final insight from the ick-factor studies was that the handle needed to be long enough to keep the cleaner physically distant from, in Cook's words, "other people's business."
The Times waxes positively philosophical:
Few objects wind up being celebrated by design fans because of their relationship to disgust. Yet disgust is powerful, probably uniquely human and almost certainly a much bigger part of our lives than we care to admit, as [William Ian] Miller makes clear in his comprehensive book ["The Anatomy of Disgust"].
But Clorox's Mary Jo Cook tops the Times:
"When something disgusts us," Miller writes, "we feel tainted, burdened by the belief that anything that comes into contact with the disgusting thing also acquires the capacity to disgust as a consequence of that contact. We thus hasten to purify ourselves."
We can purify ourselves in that deep bowl full of water, right? Ewww, gross!

Click here to read more . . .

May 27, 2005

"You can be a prosecutor" correspondence course

As part of Pillage Idiot's correspondence course to turn you into Doug Gansler, the top prosecutor for Montgomery County, the guy who wants to prosecute the two snipers, I'm offering this multiple-choice question based on a front-page story in today's Washington Post. I'll give you the link later so you can't cheat.

Your job is to pick the proper public response from the State's Attorney for the county. Here's the true hypothetical:

Antoinette C. Starks left the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup about 2:30 Tuesday afternoon after serving 16 months for malicious destruction of property.

The next night -- less than 28 hours after being freed -- she was back in police custody after more than 25 witnesses told investigators that Starks, wielding four large butcher knives, chased several women at a Nordstrom store in a Montgomery County shopping center, stabbing two of them, police said.
Now the question:

When issuing your public statement after this double stabbing attack in an upscale store in an upscale shopping mall, what do you say:

(A) "We will do everything in our power to put the offender behind bars."
(B) "I will work with the police chief and the mall owners to increase security at the mall."
(C) "The attacks were a random set of events and an absolute aberration in an otherwise safe mall and neighborhood of Bethesda."

If you picked answer (C), you're well on your way to becoming Doug Gansler, because you understand that the most important thing is not to put people in prison (answer (A)) or to provide security (answer (B)) but rather to cover your tuchis.

To be fair, answer (c) is not verbatim, but it contains key phrases quoted in the Post. In any event, my point remains. The perp is a woman with a history. She had just been released early from prison after serving 18 months of a 2-1/2 year sentence. Her release may not have been Gansler's fault -- though I wonder whether Gansler's office was consulted in advance about the early release -- but once the woman was caught, everyone in law enforcement knew who she was. (See update below.)

In fact, it turns out that I personally have a history with Ms. Sparks. The article reports that she was serving her prison time for repeated acts of vandalism:
Officials said Starks, 48, may have been living out of a storage shed before she was sent to prison. She had been in a handful of scrapes with the law and was convicted in 2003 of vandalizing vehicles, business signs, buildings, sidewalks, windows and patio furniture in Rockville with the spray-painted phrase "David is a [expletive]." Before Wednesday night's incident, she had not been accused of such a violent felony.
The "expletive" was "bitch." I have no idea what "David is a bitch" means, but Ms. Sparks spray-painted it in black on my car while it was parked in a Metro parking lot. (A press release about the vandalism arrest is here.) I reported the vandalism to the police, who almost laughed when I told them, because they'd had many previous reports of vandalism with the same phrase. But after a detective called my wife for more details two days later, I never heard from them again. I wasn't asked to testify against Ms. Sparks, either, and I have to assume my case was not one of the charges actually brought against her.

In case you think I'm making any of this up, here's a photo of my car, which my son took at the time. We got almost all the paint off ourselves, and then my service station removed the rest the next time I took the car in.

UPDATE (5/29): I noticed something relevant to whether Gansler's office was involved in the early release when I looked at the Baltimore Sun's article about the stabbings:
Starks was sentenced in January 2004, but was released early after District Judge Cornelius Vaughey reduced her sentence, said Louis Leibowitz, the public defender who represented her in that case.
I don't know much about Maryland procedure, but a little research suggests that early release is accomplished on motion of the convicted person. Rule 4-345 of the Maryland Rules of Procedure seems to allow the court to modify a sentence on motion. (Maryland lawyers should feel free to correct me on this.) If there's a motion, presumably the state can oppose the motion. Which leads back to my question about Gansler's office's role in Ms. Starks's early release. Did they oppose the early release? And even if they did, wouldn't this explain why Gansler was so defensive when she stabbed two people just over a day after her release?

UPDATE (6/19): I've been a little irritated at how the story of the stabbings has dropped off the media radar screen, so at the risk of being accused of "committing journalism," I did some follow-up on this. It seems that the early release on the vandalism charges was the result of the public defender's partially successful motion to reconsider the sentence. A portion of the sentence was lopped off. There is no indication of the prosecution's position on that motion, and Mark Felt was unavailable to help me. Maybe Woodward has some ideas.

Click here to read more . . .

Things you don't want to happen at the gym

I'm glad I've never had this conversation at the gym:

Brian Feuer, a hedge fund manager in New York, once sat next to a man in a spinning class at Equinox on the Upper East Side who "reeked," he recalled. "I said, 'Pal, you have got to wash your clothes.' He sniffed his armpit and said, 'I'm sorry, I'll come to class clean from now on.'"
Because you never know when someone is going to react like the woman in this story:
Robert Katel, a copywriter and a member at Equinox on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, had been making his way through his usual workout when it came time to use a weight machine for his back and chest. Just as he approached, a woman scooted in first. After she had finished her first set, Mr. Katel asked her if he could do a set of his own while she rested. She refused.

"After waiting while she did three sets, I asked how much longer she would be," Mr. Katel said. "She said, 'One more set,' but ordered me to go away. I did not, so she did extra sets, repeatedly telling me to leave."

When he held part of the machine to prevent her from continuing, he said, "she screamed as if she was being mugged." A manager intervened, allowing him to take his turn.
People have always been civil to me at the gym, but perhaps that's because it's in my office building and most of us know each other. The trouble is when you mix highly competitive people with the laws of supply and demand. See? I didn't even blame it on New York.

Click here to read more . . .

Must be a HS grad in Montgomery County


UNION BEACH, N.J. Monmouth County authorities say a nude banker wearing a condom jumped out of the woods and tried to sexually assault an off-duty female police officer who was out for a jog.

The woman grabbed a can of pepper spray and called police on her cell phone as she chased the man in Union Beach on Sunday.
This creep must have seen an instructional video on how to put it on.

Click here to read more . . .

May 26, 2005

Put that away!

Can you imagine being willing to be a plaintiff in this lawsuit? ("Is that a lawsuit in your pocket, or does our product actually work?") What's more, can you imagine finding John Hinderaker's law firm on the other side?


Click here to read more . . .

Do-it-yourself story line

Being a Mets fan is something like being a Republican. You know your team is just around the corner from making a boneheaded play that will lead to defeat.

Now (via Greg Prince at Faith and Fear in Flushing has developed an all-purpose, reader-written news story to describe the Mets' latest defeat in Atlanta. I love it.

Click here to read more . . .

The fight over judges

There's a lot of ink that's been spilled in the past few days -- and a lot of ones and zeroes, too -- over the agreement reached by 14 senators on the filibuster of judicial nominees. I was too busy earlier in the week to get in at the shallow point, and the water's nearly tsunami deep now. The way it appears now, conservatives generally are angry, libertarians generally unconcerned, and liberals generally split. But the interesting thing is how many conservatives seem to think the deal ultimately helps conservatives (for example, Alexander McClure, James Taranto, and David Frum), or is otherwise a good thing (Prof. Bainbridge).

As I've said, the water's too deep with arguments back and forth for me to jump in here. So I'm not going to say a thing. Uh, except for this:

1. Count me on the angry conservatives' side. How many Republican senators do we need to reach 50 votes? On anything? And if the Republicans didn't have the votes to change the rule on filibustering judges, they should at least have used the *cough* Dick Morris option of forcing the Dems to hold a real filibuster.

2. This is another example of Republicans engaging in what I call "pre-emptive surrender."

3. No one ever went bankrupt betting on Republican stupidity and Democratic duplicity. Both bode ill here. Jeff Goldstein uses appropriately inappropriate language.

4. A deal in which everyone has a different personal interpretation is a ticket to a protracted war. Just look at UN Resolution 242. I'll believe this can work when Miguel Estrada is on the bench.

5. Any time John McCain looks happy, we should all check our wallets.

6. Any time John Warner pontificates, a conservative judicial nominee bites the dust. Just ask Robert Bork.

7. Any time Arlen Specter is involved, he tries to make up to the Left for having exposed Anita Hill.

8. Conservatives who defend the filibuster on the ground that it is inherently conservative, in that it tends to prevent the federal government from acting fail to distinguish between legislative filibusters, which are at least consistent with the constitutional structure limiting legislative action, and filibusters of nominees, which are not. Or they argue that there's no significant distinction. But Senate procedures, like any legal matters, and hip-deep in distinctions, some so arcane it makes your teeth hurt.

9. Those who defend the filibuster on judicial nominees out of concern that there will be a time when Republicans will need it because they are in the minority fail to realize that Republicans will never use it when they are in the minority. Does anyone remember that Republicans were in the Senate minority for the better part of 40 years, including the first two of Clinton's first term? How many filibusters did we have then?

10. Republicans who cite some higher principle violate Attila's Second Law of Politics -- "Whoever is principled loses." (I'd better explain this before people take me too literally. Principle is good; it is admirable; it is needed. But politics is a rough business, and if one side repeatedly hits below the belt, it will win if the other side refuses to drop the Marquis of Queensbury rules out of principle.)

Finally, at least some conservatives have maintained a grim sense of humor. Check out this spoof from the Freepers:

July 3, 1776 - Philadelphia

Moderates Negotiate Deal with King George III

In a last minute deal with Parliament, a group of moderates in the Colonies have reached a compromise agreement to avert war.

The terms of the deal are still sketchy, but some details are known. An anonymous source close to the negotiations has confirmed the following:

1. Parliament agrees to allow three Colonies to become independent: Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania.

2. The signatories make no comment one way or the other regarding Maryland and Virginia.

3. Parliament agrees to not issue new taxes except in extraordinary circumstances.

4. In light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement, the signatories commit to oppose war with the Kingdom that would force independence of other Colonies.

We encourage the King and members of the Parliament to consult with members of the Colonies prior to enacting new taxes and levies.
Hat tip: fee simple.

As I said, I'm not going to say a thing.

UPDATE (5/27): Mickey Kaus refutes John McCain's assertion that this deal takes money out of the process.

Click here to read more . . .

May 24, 2005

The cucumber people go limp

Sorry about the post title, but the Montgomery County Board of Ed has voted to change its sex-ed curriculum -- by getting rid of the offending teacher resource materials that take sides in the religious dispute about homosexual behavior and by dropping the infamous condom-on-a-cucumber instructional video.

If you haven't been following this story, you probably think I'm kidding.

Montgomery County school board members voted last night to overhaul the system's disputed sex education curriculum and will begin by tossing out teacher resource materials that drew fire from two community groups and a federal court judge.

The board also said it would not use a seven-minute video for 10th-graders that showed how to put on a condom and would reconstitute a citizens advisory committee to help oversee the rewriting process. A 27-member citizen committee had helped oversee a previous rewrite.

* * * * *
The board's vote last night means that Maryland's largest school district will rethink its approach to discussing homosexuality with eighth- and 10th-graders.

According to the resolution, which member Valerie Ervin voted against, the curriculum will be rewritten by professional educators and consultants. The citizens advisory committee also will be consulted and review the changes. The board will consider the revisions next school year.
Oh, peachy! It's going to be written by professional educators and consultants! If there's anything worse than a committee of the Board of Ed, it's that.

Click here to read more . . .

Thanks for asking

I sometimes say that in my former life I was an exceptionally moral cockroach, but if I really believed in reincarnation, I would have to assume I had done something wrong.

My morning commute includes a half hour on the Metro into downtown Washington. My favorite activity on this trip is trying to take a short nap. On a good day, I can get in 5 or 10 minutes; on a bad day, I can at least zone out and reach a state of something between awake and asleep, which can be mildly refreshing. On a very bad day . . .

I have three major nemeses (that's the plural of nemesis for those of you who got here by searching Google for some perverted act) in my effort to nap on the Metro.

  • The Blaster. This is someone who insists on carrying on a loud conversation in my vicinity, usually in the seat right behind mine. This is a library, bud. Conversations are discouraged, and when they are had, they should be conducted at a hushed volume.
  • The Bumper. This is the person who sits next to me (Metro seating is two to a seat) and moves his limbs or body around so that he repeatedly bumps my arm, leg, or side. It doesn't have to be a hard bump; a soft tap will also prevent me from napping or will wake me up if I'm asleep. I've learned how to squeeze myself into the wall of the train to minimize this, but a skilled bumper merely expands to fit the available space.
  • The Flapper. This is someone who can't read a newspaper without loudly rustling the pages. Usually, this person holds the paper with his arms stretched out wide. In New York, where I commuted for a couple of years, you could be shot for this offense. The New York Times (unlike the Washington Post) is designed to be folded perpendicular to the main fold, so you can read it in a narrow space, like a subway or commuter train.
Today, I learned there's a fourth nemesis. I don't know exactly what to call him, but here's his description: he's a big oaf, probably 6' 1", 200 lbs., who plops down next to me so hard that a tremor is felt in Chicago; he immediately begins to sneeze loudly and make other ENT noises; and he's a bumper and flapper, to boot.

So, no, I didn't get a nap or anything resembling a nap on my trip in this morning. (Thanks for asking.)

And one more complaint about some Metro riders. When you're seated on the aisle, and the person on the inside seat next to you says "Excuse me" with the obvious intent of getting up to leave at the next station, don't say to that person, "I'm getting out here, too" and refuse to budge until the train has come to a complete stop in the station. The person on the inside is asking you to let him out, because he doesn't want to wait until the last minute and risk not getting out of the train before the doors close. Do you understand? Let the guy out right now, or I'll send you the URL to the Google search for the perverted act.

Click here to read more . . .

May 23, 2005

That "other" special someone

I've been hearing from my regular readers, and both of them wanted to know why I haven't posted in a few days. The answer is that we were away for the weekend with some friends at Cacapon State Park in West Virginia and when I returned, I had to meet a serious work deadline (today).

Several of our friends mentioned this article in our local paper here in Montgomery County about an intrepid Bethesda entrepreneur-ess named Cathy Gallagher, who has come up with the idea of making greeting cards for people who are in extra-marital affairs. And, no, I'm absolutely not making this up.

Bethesda resident Cathy Gallagher created the line of cards called the Secret Lover collection.

Gallagher came up with the idea for the cards after she and her husband had a conversation about how many of their friends were involved in extramarital affairs.

"There were all the different people that we knew that were involved in [affairs] and I thought that must be a really difficult situation to be in," she said.

As someone who buys a lot of greeting cards herself, she said the idea came to her and she thought there would be an enormous, untapped market for it.
The guy who's designing the cards for her apparently agrees about the business opportunity and is sufficiently non-judgmental to join in her project.
She collaborates with creative director Jim Grove, who designs and paints the images on the cards' covers.

Grove, a partner and creative director at AetherQuest Solutions, an Arlington, Va., consulting and design firm, is the husband of Gallgher's friend of 20 years. He said that Gallagher originally asked him to design the logo and Web site for her company. After she learned about his fine art background and saw some of his work, she asked him to design the cards as well.

"I was surprised by how great an idea it was," Grove said of the Secret Lover Collection. "It is definitely a unique product and as far as a business venture, I think it's an interesting concept and idea."

He said he doesn't have a problem with the cards' taboo subject matter.

"It's something that's in our society," he said. "We're not promoting it or judging it."
And here's a show manager for the greeting card industry, who sounds just as non-judgmental:
"I certainly haven't seen anything like this," said Lori Robinson, group show manager of The National Stationery Show, an industry trade show taking place in New York City from Sunday through today. "I think it's reflective of a trend that's going on in the industry. Cards are more specific and more focused to the audiences the cards are for. As a consumer, you don't have to come up with your own words anymore. It's done for you."
Gallagher herself says she's not judging (just profiting):
And while some people may disapprove of the idea of cards for people cheating on their spouses, Gallagher said her cards don't encourage or legitimize affairs.

"I'm not condemning or condoning affairs," she said. "Everybody makes a choice. Whether my cards are out there or not, people are going to get in affairs."

She expects her cards to be successful because they express the intense emotions that flare up between couples in affairs without being judgmental.

"People who are involved in affairs are not bad people," she said. "A lot of people meet the right person at the wrong time."

* * * * *
Aside from the prospect of making money through her new business, Gallagher said she's also doing a service.

"This way they have a way to express their feelings. They're in this conflicting situation. They love this other person but they may not want to break up their family," she said. "It's very taboo, but I'm not judgmental about it. I feel like I'm helping them."

Several people have expressed an interest in the cards, either because they're in affairs and would like to buy them, or as a good business idea, she said.

"Business-wise, they understand that it's an untapped market."
But there is one person who is rising up against this. A friend of ours, who was with us this weekend, announced she would tell the owner any store that sold these cards that she would never buy anything at the store again and would publicly boycott the store, just for good measure. We never agree with this friend about politics, but I give her a lot of credit for her righteous indignation.

UPDATE (5/27): Responses from Gazette readers.

Click here to read more . . .

May 19, 2005

Guys never ask for directions

Thanks to M.E. at Stand in the Trenches, who pointed to this interesting post at Instapunk.

Unless you were on another planet this week, you'll remember that Washington was almost shut down on Wednesday when two guys in a plane got within the protected space over the city. You know they were guys, because they refused to ask for directions.

Instapunk shows the aerial views, provides maps, and otherwise explains all the other facts that show just how stupid these guys had to be. Good reading.

Click here to read more . . .

NASCAR forces female drivers to wear burkas

Click here to read more . . .

May 18, 2005


Man, the guys over at Power Line really can't take a joke. They make a big deal out of the speech given by the president/CFO of Pepsi, Indra Nooyi, at a recognition ceremony for new MBAs at Columbia.

Ms. Nooyi made an analogy between our fingers and the five major continents. Needless to say, she said that North America, and specifically the United States, was the middle finger, which is "how the rest of the world looks at the U.S. right now."

So the Power Line crowd is all incensed, instead of thinking that maybe there's something to be gained by being a "Rockefeller Republican."

For example, some may recall that a proposal circulated on the internet to replace the World Trade Center with this:

So let's calm down a bit. Maybe Ms. Nooyi was on to something.

UDPATE (5/19): Still more from Power Line.

Click here to read more . . .

May 17, 2005

Let's pretend we're scientists and philosophers

Tonight, we play "Let's pretend we're scientists and philosophers" so we can talk about sex in a stupid but mock-elevated way.

Via Mickey Kaus, I notice that Arianna Huffington, at her new blog, has a post entitled "On God, Darwin, Viagra, and the Female Orgasm." (By the way, strange as this may sound, it's the real Huffington blog, not the parody site.)

Huffington is joking about a New York Times article today in the Science Section, which discusses a book written by a philosopher of science and professor of biology named Elisabeth A. Lloyd, who arges that the female orgasm has no evolutionary function. Huffington writes:

Wouldn’t it be delicious if the female orgasm were the thing that tips the scales in favor of the Intelligent Design crowd? It would make for a great closing argument: "The female orgasm is so complex and strange, it could only have come from God. The reason there is no evolutionary purpose to it is because there is no evolution! God is in the details... and the bedroom. Who needs Darwin when you have the Bible -- and the Jack Rabbit [link removed!]. Case closed. Amen."
Ha, ha, ha, ha!! Aren't we sophisticated?

But if you actually look at the New York Times article, you realize that the Times is just straining for an excuse to talk about sex.
Evolutionary scientists have never had difficulty explaining the male orgasm, closely tied as it is to reproduction.

But the Darwinian logic behind the female orgasm has remained elusive. Women can have sexual intercourse and even become pregnant - doing their part for the perpetuation of the species - without experiencing orgasm. So what is its evolutionary purpose?
The article then explores Lloyd's theory, which, boiled down to its essence is this:
The female orgasm, she said, "is for fun."
Ha, ha, ha, ha!! Aren't we sophisticated? Oh, wait. I just said that.

What is it about evolutionary biologists that they have to explain human behavior as something other than deliberate and intentional? They have to assume it's done outside the conscious control of the human for some greater "good" of the species. That makes no sense to me. I don't know anyone who goes around acting out of an instinct about the good of the human species. I personally couldn't give a hoot about the good of the species. I have enough trouble doing what's for my own good and the good of my family.

And I certainly have never, ever heard of a woman who has (or doesn't have) an orgasm in order to further the good of the species, nor have I ever seen any article suggesting as much on the cover of women's magazines at the supermarket. But an evolutionary biologist named John Alcock disagrees:
Dr. Alcock theorized that a woman might use orgasm "as an unconscious way to evaluate the quality of the male," his genetic fitness and, thus, how suitable he would be as a father for her offspring.

"Under those circumstances, you wouldn't expect her to have it every time," Dr. Alcock said.
Where do we find these people? And now consider this wack-job:
Another hypothesis, proposed in 1995 by Dr. Randy Thornhill, a professor of biology at the University of New Mexico and two colleagues, held that women were more likely to have orgasms during intercourse with men with symmetrical physical features. On the basis of earlier studies of physical attraction, Dr. Thornhill argued that symmetry might be an indicator of genetic fitness.
Then, there's an anthropology professor, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, who offers yet another theory, which I think we can all agree had better not be correct:
Dr. Hrdy said her work did not speak one way or another to the issue of female orgasm in humans. "My hypothesis is silent," she said.

One possibility, Dr. Hrdy said, is that orgasm in women may have been an adaptive trait in our prehuman ancestors.

"But we separated from our common primate ancestors about seven million years ago," she said.

"Perhaps the reason orgasm is so erratic is that it's phasing out," Dr. Hrdy said. "Our descendants on the starships may well wonder what all the fuss was about."
So at the end, with all this high-falutin' talk about sex, we've finally moved on to the subject of space travel. Please, stop! Please! This is all making me start to prefer Huffington's proof of the existence of God.

Click here to read more . . .

The Brits can't spel

I think we've all shared a few laughs at our education establishment and our standardized testing dominion -- like when an MIT professor discovered that the scoring of the writing portion of the SAT was strongly correlated with the length of the essay, and that factual errors were not counted against the student.

It turns out that it's not only dim-witted Americans who pay tribute to mediocrity. The Brits are having a cow about a standardized English test given to 14-year-olds that does not penalize the students for spelling errors. (Via

Examiners marking an English test taken by 600,000 14-year-olds have been told not to deduct marks for incorrect spelling on the main writing paper, worth nearly a third of the overall marks.

The rule, issued by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, means that pupils could spell every word wrongly in the most significant piece of writing that they are required to do and yet still receive full marks.
Some "traditionalists" think this is wrong, the yahoos.
The revelation of the "spelling free-for-all" in the hour-long paper has angered traditionalists who say that children should be penalised for poor spelling.

Nick Seaton, the chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: "Spelling and grammar are essential to good English and important in other subjects. The exam watchdog should be ensuring that proper marks are given for these. Not judging spelling on such an important paper sends the message to teacher and pupils that it does not matter, and that is certainly what employers are finding."
What's worse is that you can detect a whiff of anti-American thinking here if you look carefully at the words that were spelled wrong last year:
In last year's test, pupils gained an average of two marks for spelling. Typical spelling mistakes included beautfull, basicly, rember, favorite and occationally.
Well, I say BOLLOCKS to all that, or maybe I should spell it BOLLUX.

Click here to read more . . .

May 16, 2005

WaPo scoop: Politicians hope to benefit from sniper trial

Yeah, like, DUH!

When Virginia officials decided last week to send convicted snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo to Maryland for prosecution, they presented two of Montgomery County's most ambitious politicians with a potential opportunity to overcome a nagging problem they both share: low visibility beyond the Washington suburbs.

But for State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler and County Executive Douglas M. Duncan -- both Democrats who are widely expected to run for statewide office in Maryland next year -- the prosecution of Malvo and Muhammad in Montgomery also presents a range of possible political liabilities if the case is perceived as too costly or goes badly for the prosecution.

Gansler, who has all but declared his candidacy for Maryland attorney general, probably will be in front of television cameras for much of the lead-up to the trial. Duncan, expected to run for governor, almost certainly will have a less prominent role, but as the county's top elected official will be expected to weigh in on the trial from time to time.

But they may already have missed the boat, especially Gansler, who lobbied hard as soon as the snipers were caught to try them first in Montgomery County. (Fortunately, he lost, and they were tried and convicted in Virginia.)

And here's the best part of the Post article:
To become known outside the Washington suburbs, Duncan and Gansler will have to sell their case in parts of the state that often cast a skeptical eye on liberal, affluent Montgomery County, said Donald F. Norris, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

"I don't think anyone coming out of Montgomery County is yet seen by the rest of the state as being a true Marylander," Norris said. "There is still a good deal of tension between Montgomery County and the rest of the state because Montgomery County is quite different in many respects."
It's not just that Montgomery County is liberal; Baltimore and Prince George's County are liberal. What it is is that wonderful combination of being liberal and rich and feeling immensely guilty about it, so guilty that every year our state representatives smile as their pockets are picked in Annapolis -- or, really, I should say our pockets are picked.

Come to think of it, I wouldn't want to be governed by anyone from Montgomery County, either.

Click here to read more . . .

May 15, 2005

The cucumber people study videotapes of the game

Now that the Montgomery County Board of Education has lost the initial part of the litigation over its sex-ed curriculum, the committee that put the materials together is trying to figure out what went wrong. Should they have played hit and run or called for a straight steal? Whatever.

If I read this article correctly, the problem, in their minds, was with the teacher resource materials. But they never realized it would be a problem. Why not? Because they weren't going to let students or parents see it.

It wasn't the carefully worded curriculum the committee helped write -- curriculum reviewed at length by school system staff -- that derailed the new approach.

Rather, the program was undone by a packet of teacher resource materials that few on the committee thought would draw notice or objections and that students would not likely see.

* * *

Fishback [the chairman] said committee members had not anticipated problems with the resource materials because the documents were for teacher reference and were not likely to be distributed to students.

So, I guess they expected to show the public one thing and to instruct the teachers to teach another. And I thought Montgomery County was the center of open government.

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New blog feature

A new feature for this blog. I've collected all my posts about Maryland and Montgomery County into a category called "Maryland meshugas." Links to the posts by quarter are on the sidebar under the Maryland Blogger Alliance.

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May 13, 2005

Packin' heat

I haven't heard of any more effective means of maintaining order in the courtroom than having the judges pack heat. And apparently, that's where they're headed in Georgia, after the courtroom murders in March, according to an Associated Press report.

It ought to make for interesting trial transcripts.

HAMILTON BURGER: Your Honor, I object. That's incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial.

THE COURT (pointing gun): Say what?

HAMILTON BURGER: I withdraw my objection, your Honor.

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The direction of our culture

When I refer to the direction of our culture, I don't mean whether the culture is going NORTH or SOUTH. We all know it's headed rapidly toward Antarctica. The formerly staid New York Times will now write about absolutely anything. Yesterday's Thursday Styles section had an article on the difficulties that women with implants have in finding clothes that fit properly. And I don't mean dental implants, either. Well, maybe it'll be of relevance to the presidential wardrobe sometime soon.

What I mean by the direction is whether the culture is going EAST or WEST. This is totally impossible to figure out. In the West, we have a California real estate agent running a billboard ad in which she posed on the billboard in a bikini. And over in the Far East, we have the intrepid Japanese creating the "Post-Privatization Total Surprise Bra" (link probably SFW), supposedly designed to support privatization of the Japan Post, along with the usual stuff it supports.

I guess this is called globalization.

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May 12, 2005

Sniper fatigue

When I wrote yesterday that the snipers would be sentenced to community service if convicted in Montgomery County, I was being a cynical wiseguy.

But if the reactions of the county residents interviewed in this article in the Washington Post are typical, there's no real interest here in even prosecuting them. Now that Virginia has done the heavy lifting.

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The cucumber people bring in the big guns

The Montgomery Sentinel reports that the federal judge who issued a temporary restraining order in the challenge to the Montgomery County, Maryland, sex-ed curriculum (which I wrote about here and here) has given the parties more time to present their case on the merits and has extended the injunction until December 31.

The Sentinel notes that the Board of Education has brought in the big guns, hiring one of Washington, D.C.'s biggest law firms, Hogan & Hartson. According to the Hogan web site, the firm has over 1000 lawyers in 21 offices across the world. The site indicates that the Board is a regular client of the firm, and this is confirmed by even a cursory Google search. There is no reason to believe that the firm is handling this case pro bono. It would be fascinating to find out where the Board has budgeted the money for litigation like this or even what the total line item is for lawyers in the budget. The only legal fees in this summary amount to $400,000, which is obviously far less than the Board would spend on its litigation.

One other thing: Hogan's battle is going to be either to change the mind of the district judge, who is already on record against the Board, or to prepare a good case for appeal to the Fourth Circuit. I would ordinarily point out that the Fourth Circuit has a reputation as a conservative court, but this is not necessary, given that the district judge, a black Democrat appointed by Clinton, has already ruled against the Board.

UPDATE (5/13): If the short piece in this morning's Post is accurate, the parties agreed to extend the injunction in order to see if they can work out a resolution. That would be a sign that maybe the expensive legal advice was worth it. We'll see.

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The end of classical music

A few days ago, I was in the car and listening to a performance on the radio of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #2 on piano. It's a hokey piece, but a lot of fun in its own way. I'm a little more familiar with the orchestral arrangement, but there's something about the piano version you've got to love -- imagining Lizst writing a piece to show off his own technique knowing that nearly no one else could play it right, or at all.

And, naturally, I also started thinking of Bugs Bunny. All fans of Bugs Bunny know that the Hungarian Rhapsody #2 was used in more than one BB cartoon. There's a list of classical music used in Warner Brothers cartoons here. Which is interesting for what it says about changes in our shared culture. Sixty years ago, cartoons featured spoofs of classical music and opera. The assumption must have been that most educated people had some knowledge of those genres. I can't imagine anyone harboring that idea today.

To say classical music is in peril today is not news. My wife and I attend a series of chamber music at the JCC of Greater Washington, and we often repeat the joke that the average age of people at the concerts is deceased. My wife optimistically observes that young first-generation Asian-Americans will save the day, and she may be right, although it sure is strange that interest in classical music is so strong in a non-European subculture.

All of these thoughts led me to read Terry Teachout's essay in the April 2005 Commentary magazine (which unfortunately is no longer online) entitled "Singing the Classical-Music Blues," an article-length review of Joseph Horowitz's book Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall. I haven't read Horowitz's book, but Teachout quotes Horowitz's view that classical music in America failed because Americans, unlike Europeans, "worshipped musical masterpieces and deified their exponents" and because American musical culture was "less about music composed by Americans than about American concerts of music composed by Europeans" -- that is, it was "culture of performance." Because it was a culture of performance, by the time we began to produce our own distinctive classical music, the culture was already locked up. Orchestras were playing the same European masterpieces. It was hard to persuade them to feature American music.

I suspect this is at most a half-answer. You'd have to include some other important factors: twentieth-century composers who so completely intellectualized their music that audiences rebelled; the dominance of popular culture; the general trend in art away from a belief in greatness; the financial strains of supporting musical institutions; I could go on.

But I can console myself by realizing that as classical music audiences are going to that great concert hall in the sky, at least we have our recordings for posterity. And Bugs Bunny.

UPDATE (5/16): Here is the Teachout article, cached by Google.

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May 11, 2005

Strunkov and Stalin

In one of the very first issues of the Weekly Standard back in 1995, there was a delightful parody of My American Journey, the autobiography of Colin Powell that had just come out. The trouble was (if you call this trouble) that the parody was so good that a few people thought it was a real excerpt from the book. After that, the Weekly Standard begin, lamely, to label its parodies. I'm sure I'm being unfair; they were probably threatened with a lawsuit and decided to play it safe.

In the past 10 years, most of the parodies in the Weekly Standard have been relatively feeble, though I still have one, buried somewhere at my office, in which they wrote a brilliant spoof of Italian opera based on the goings-on in the Clinton administration.

This week, there's another good one, a spoof of Strunk and White called "Strunkov and Stalin." Unfortunately, it's available here to subscribers only. They quote a review of Robert Service's biography of Stalin in the Moscow Times, which notes that Stalin was "a compulsive and professional editor who corrected any manuscript that crossed his desk for style and grammar as well as for ideology." If that weren't funny enough, the parody offers some "Elementary Rules of Usage" and "Elementary Principles of Composition" from Strunkov and Stalin. My favorites are these rules of usage:

1. Choose your words with care.

2. Do not join independent clauses with a comma. Your late father once did that.

8. There are certain things that seem entirely fine to say but aren't at all. Try to discern some sort of pattern.

And these principles of composition:

1. Put statements in a positive form. Unless they should be negative. Or maybe just omitted. Or emphasized. It's up to you. Good luck.

5. Use definite, specific, concrete language when you feel an urge to be sent someplace else for a long period of time.

6. Write in a way that comes naturally to you, if "you" is Stalin.

8. Try not to have too many regrets.

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Name change

The name of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport has been changed to include the name of Thurgood Marshall. It will be called the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The only question is whether the airport has been renamed for the heroic civil-rights lawyer who helped bring down a decades-old and entrenched system of state-sponsored racism and oppression . . . or the angry and bitter third-rate Supreme Court justice. I sincerely hope it was the former.

Click here to read more . . .

Sniper trials, the second time as farce

According to the Washingon Times, John Muhammad and Lee Malvo, the infamous snipers of 2002, will be tried in Maryland, where six of their victims were murdered. And not just in Maryland -- they'll be tried in Montgomery County, where they can be sternly punished with community service. It's a good thing they've already been convicted in Virginia, a state with a real criminal-justice system.

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President Cleavage

In the late 1970s, when the Supreme Court realized that a woman might eventually be appointed, the court changed the way it referred to the justices from "Mr. Justice" to just "Justice."

Obviously, there are some changes that will have to be made for a woman president. Will people call her "Madam President" at press conferences? What will people call her husband? And so on. And I mean beyond the usual jokes about having her finger on the nuclear button at "that time of the month" -- jokes that were prevalent when Geraldine Ferraro ran for VP in 1984.

These questions will have to be answered. Because She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is not the only woman who could become president in the next couple of election cycles.

In fact, Drudge reports (thanks to Tom Maguire and The Anchoress) that ABC is going to air "Commander-in-Chief" this fall, a series about the challenges facing the first female president. Drudge notes that Geena Davis, a Democratic party activist, will play the president.

The Anchoress is appropriately cynical about the show, which she expects to "present a completely non-threatening, moderate, centrist character with very little to say that actually means anything." She adds:

Start showing the American people a female president. Make her likeable. Tug the heartstrings. Use the emotions. Let them make an association in their minds with WARMTH, and COMPETENCE.

Because America must be softened up to the idea, in time for Hillary to win in ‘08. Hollywood has always been at the Clintons' beck and call.
My question is aesthetic, and I don't mean that in a bad way. If this Geena Davis (the photo used by Drudge) is the president --

the question necessarily arises: Is a president allowed to show cleavage? I've re-read Article II of the Constitution, and, sad to say, it is completely silent on the issue. We need an answer somehow, and we can't get an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court.

At least half the population of the country demands to know.

Click here to read more . . .

May 10, 2005

Some serious affirmative action is needed

From a Reuters article entitled "Sex researchers shed light on unpopular sex acts" (link via Best of the Web Today):

Kim Openshaw, a psychology professor at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, who studies teenage sex offenders, said the limited amount of research so far has found that girls make up only 5 to 10 percent of all underage sex offenders.
So obviously the criminal-justice system discriminates against teenage boys in arrests and prosecutions for sex offenses, right?

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May 09, 2005

Bush's Dukakis-in-a-tank photo

Is it just me, or does this photo make Bush look as foolish as Dukakis looked sticking his head out of the tank in the 1988 campaign? I guess it's OK, because Bush doesn't have to run for re-election.

But still . . . .

By way of comparison . . . .

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Thai trans-pageant

The Iranians may have a penchant for sex-change operations, but surely they do not have beauty pageants for transvestites and transsexuals, the way the Thais do.

PATTAYA, Thailand May 8, 2005 — At the Miss Tiffany Universe pageant which boasts dozens of gorgeous, lithe, smooth-skinned contestants one thing is undeniable: Thailand turns out some of the most beautiful transvestites and transsexuals in the world.

As contestants glided across the stage in glittering ball gowns Saturday night, one might never have guessed they were all born boys. Only when they open their mouths do their vocal cords reveal the truth.

"Most people can't tell because I'm very petite, but when I talk, they know," said 21-year-old Wararat Saengchai, who started taking female hormones at 14 and underwent sex change and breast implant operations a year ago.
Of course, no article about a transvestite and transsexual beauty pageant would be complete without a photo slide show.

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Scopes trial of the Left?

I live in deepest-blue Montgomery County, Maryland (Kerry over Bush, 66%-33%). With that background, here's a puzzler for you.

A school board develops a novel curriculum to deal with a controversial issue. Its curriculum challenges conventional wisdom and announces that there are fundamental truths that are totally beyond discussion. It invokes the doctrinal views of certain religious sects in support of its position and denounces other religious sects that disagree.

Question: Topeka, Kansas, or Montgomery County, Maryland?

If you answered Topeka, Kansas, you get no credit.

A federal judge in Maryland has granted a temporary restraining order against the new Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum. The opinion, found here, in PDF format, focuses on the portion of the curriculum addressing homosexuality. Here is an example from the opinion of putting these truths beyond discussion:

The Revised Curriculum begins the discussion of sexual orientation by describing the terms heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, questioning, coming out, and intersexed. The Content Outline explains that "[t]he definitions are to be presented to students as stated below — no additional information, interpretation or examples are to be provided by the teacher."
And here, quoted in the opinion, is the invocation of religious doctrine, taking sides in the doctrinal disputes:

Myth: Homosexuality is a sin.

Facts: The Bible contains six passages which condemn homosexual behavior. The Bible also contains numerous passages condemning heterosexual behavior. Theologians and Biblical scholars continue to differ on many Biblical interpretations. They agree on one thing, however. Jesus said absolutely nothing at all about homosexuality. Among the many things deemed an abomination are adultery, incest, wearing clothing made from more than one kind of fiber, and eating shellfish, like shrimp and lobster.

Religion has often been misused to justify hatred and oppression. Less than a half a century ago, Baptist churches (among others) in this country defended racial segregation on the basis that it was condoned by the Bible. Early Christians were not hostile to homosexuals. Intolerance became the dominant attitude only after the Twelfth Century. Today, many people no longer tolerate generalizations about homosexuality as pathology or sin. Few would condemn heterosexuality as immoral — despite the high incidence of rape, incest, child abuse, adultery, family violence, promiscuity, and venereal disease among heterosexuals. Fortunately, many within organized religions are beginning to address the homophobia of the church. The National Council of Churches of Christ, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches support full civil rights for gay men and lesbians, as they do for everyone else.

I have no intention of discussing homosexuality here -- whether it's "bad," "good," or neutral. I have no intention of discussing how it should be covered in a sex-ed curriculum. My desire here is instead to point out the Maoist mentality of the well educated Left, in which the party makes decisions about the correct political position, it pronounces those decisions, and then it denounces as evil those who dissent. But in this case, it's really worse than that: The government has officially designated good and bad religions based on their views on the official political position. It's beyond belief that people who can be totally doctrinaire in their approach to church-state separation are willing, when it suits their purposes, not just to teach religious doctrine in the public schools but actually to take sides on that religious doctrine.

And who is to blame? We all know the answer, given in Saturday's Washington Post:
Maryland's largest school system has become a battleground over what students should be taught about sex and a symbol, some supporters of the new curriculum said, of the increasing influence the conservative movement is hoping to play in public school classrooms.
That's right. Pesky little critters. And if you see one termite, you'd better call the exterminator now and not wait to see more.

On the other hand, maybe we should blame the would-be Maoists who can brook no dissent. As Post columnist Marc Fisher, hardly a conservative, put it:
Only those who lack confidence in the power of truth resort to forcing one viewpoint on children. Only those who mistrust their fellow man feel compelled to exclude opposing beliefs.
If these people had spent more time putting condoms on cucumbers and other vegetables, maybe we wouldn't have this problem.

UPDATE (5/9): Eugene Volokh slowly and patiently eviscerates the curriculum. (Via Best of the Web Today.)

Click here to read more . . .

May 06, 2005

SORE feet, perhaps?

"Runaway Bride Denies Having Cold Feet"

Headline, Associated Press, on ABC News, May 6, 2005 (And from the article: "Her family pastor cautioned Friday that she still needed time to heal.")

Also, James Taranto cites a CNN news story noting that, while she apologized, she "did not specifically address" two imaginary people (the kidnapers she invented). What next, Harvey, the invisible rabbit? Speaking of feet.

Click here to read more . . .

May 04, 2005

Late-term abortion

In a major blow to women's reproductive freedom, a judge in Baltimore has sentenced a woman to 25 years in prison for aborting her fetus during the 27th month.

Mackey pleaded guilty in January to second-degree murder in the February 2004 death of 18-month-old Alicia Cureton and could have received up to 30 years in prison.
This country is plainly turning into a theocracy.

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No relief

The latest perverse trend in New York City restaurants is bathrooms that are hard to figure out and leave you without any shred of dignity.

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May 03, 2005

The Washington Post and Governor Ehrlich

I doubt I'll ever have to write again about the Baltimore Sun and Governor Ehrlich, because Soccer Dad has another great post, this time focusing on the coverage of the Governor by the Washington Post.

My only quibble is that, if anything, he's too generous to the Post.

And as we know, in eighteen months the Post will be endorsing a candidate for Governor of Maryland and we know that that candidate will not be Robert Ehrlich. Of course for that endorsement to have meaning the Post will have to demonstrate that is coverage of the governor has been fair and above board. So far it has failed miserably. It was perfectly willing to publish damaging information about the governor but has refused so far to follow up on publicly available information that might be exculpatory. It also has failed to investigate the possibility that one of its staffers carelessly released information to the staff of one Governor Ehrlich's rivals giving that rival a political boost. Until the Post comes to terms with its selective coverage of the governor, its endorsement in November 2006 will mean nothing.
In my own jaundiced view, the Post's endorsement will mean nothing, no matter what it does.

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Phone troubles

I'm having trouble with Verizon, and I need some (serious) advice. Please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments or e-mail me instead.

We have two land lines and four cell phones with Verizon. Haven't had any trouble with the cell phones, but two weeks ago, both our land lines went out on a Monday. (We suspect our next-door neighbor's landscapers cut the line underground.) To make a long story short, we were promised a repair visit that Wednesday. We needed a visit on Wednesday, because we were leaving Thursday morning to go to my parents' house. With each repeated call -- on our cell phones -- that we made to Verizon's repair number, the promise of when the tech would arrive became more squirrelly. Finally, the front-line person handed me off to a supervisor, who spent 20 minutes snowing me. Mrs. A then got on the phone with him, and she doesn't take stuff from anyone. He finally admitted to her that we were SOL (acronym for a vulgarity) that day, and he wouldn't promise anything for Thursday except that he would try to get someone to us before noon. With some more yelling and badgering (Mrs. A did the yelling and I did the badgering, or maybe she did both), we got someone earlier on Thursday. He got the job done, we thought, even though he didn't know that there was a junction box one house down and I had to show him to it.

Last week, though, one line went out on Tuesday and the other on Thursday. Verizon promised a repair visit on Friday (thanks very much), and again the promises became squirrelly. But since we now had the phone numbers of various supervisors, we started calling them. Finally, a tech arrived, fiddled around, and got things to work. But he told my wife that he didn't know what was wrong, didn't know why it was working now, and couldn't promise it wouldn't happen again. We called back the supervisors and told them the problem wasn't solved. One simply didn't return my calls, and another called back to say that Verizon considered the problem solved.

We'd love to switch our land line service, but I understand Verizon owns the lines and would end up doing the repairs no matter what. In fact, it would probably give us even worse service, since we were no longer its customer. Assuming that's right, there's got to be a better way to protest -- someone higher up at Verizon we can complain to. Or some other self-help (legal, of course) that we can take. Your suggestions are welcome. Feel free to vent if you've had similar problems.

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How to get your mother to despise you

Today's tip: How to get your mother to despise you.

You're a 30-something or 40-something. You're married, have kids, call your mother once in a while (not too infrequently). Generally, you have a good relationship with her. But you're at a loss to figure out what to do for Mothers' Day.

So you send her this e-card, courtesy of the Federal Trade Commission. And now she's not taking your calls. She's writing you out of her will. And, if she's Jewish, she's sitting in the dark (alone).

The FTC doesn't put a warning to consumers at its web site, but Lesley Fair, an FTC attorney, has provided one to a reporter for the Washington Post:

Fair cautions that the card alone may not suffice this Mother's Day. She has already sent it to her mom, Alys Fair, who promptly replied in an e-mail, "Don't think this means I don't expect flowers and candy, too."
And one other thing: Don't even joke about this with your wife.

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May 02, 2005

New York City vice

I lived in Manhattan for several years and worked there for more. If you want to know the biggest source of corruption in the City, it's not the janitors' unions, and it's not the Board of Ed. It's the whole, rotten rent-control and rent-stabilization system.

The Washington Post Style section has a fairly sympathetic portait of a man whose job it is to persuade rent-controlled tenants to move, usually by offering cash. The reason you have guys like this is that the system is corrupt.

Local rent rules are a vestige of World War II-era inflation worries, as well as fears that landlords would take advantage of the wartime slowdown in housing construction to gouge tenants. Most cities lifted those restrictions after the war ended, but not New York. Landlords say politicians have long been kowtowing to residents, and they mutter words like "central planning" and "Soviet Union" when they discuss the topic. Reps for tenants say the rules allow the poor and middle-class to live in a town that otherwise would be beyond their means.

Whatever your position, apartment dwellers here are basically divided into two categories: the fortunate and the damned. The fortunate are those in rent-regulated apartments -- generally people lucky enough to live in rental buildings with at least six units that were constructed before 1974. The damned is everyone else. You can spend $3,200 a month on a mediocre one-bedroom with a view of an alley if it's in a decent neighborhood. It's an ongoing struggle: for tenants, the endless quest for a better deal; for landlords, the endless quest to whisk the fortunate out of their apartments and add names to the list of the damned.

"In every other city landlords want to keep people in their homes as long as possible," chuckles Richard Aidekman, who owns 10 apartment buildings here. "Only in New York is the goal to get them out."
But the landlords have limited options in trying to move their tenants out.
Landlords desperate to vacate the premises have legal remedies in some cases. But what do they do when war is not an option?

They hire Mike Grabow. It's his job to talk rent-regulated tenants out the door, a feat he accomplishes with a variety of tools -- chiefly, disarming candor and great gobs of cash. Many of the buyouts he's negotiated ended with the tenant $300,000 richer. Others pocketed upwards of $2 million. All they have to do for the money is leave. Sometimes Grabow just finds a better apartment -- one with an elevator, or more space -- and negotiates a sum that covers the higher rent for, say, 10 years. That might be an appealing bargain for someone who is 75 years old and living in a fourth-floor walk-up.
Grabow succeeds by being reasonable.
"I tell them, we're going to settle this together," Grabow says, sitting in the conference room of his midtown office on Broadway. His voice is steady, low and reassuring, like a hostage negotiator. "I tell them, 'If we make a deal, you're going to be happy. You're a lucky person. Your life will be better, not worse. If it's not better, you won't sign.' "

In most cases, the initial reaction is something like "Get lost," though the choice of words is usually more colorful. Often, a single buyout will require months of phone calls, face-to-face meetings and letters. It's a process. Grabow gets to know the tenants. He wins their trust. He tells them they are under no obligation to talk to him, that they can hang up on him. And because he says things like that, they all talk to him. When they do, he finds out what they want and then he tries to give it to them.
So Grabow is a decent guy, doing a lousy job in a nice way in a corrupt system. But it makes you realize that, for the all the progress that New York has made, it's still a third-world town.

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