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March 30, 2006

Anniversary of the Reagan shooting

The Washington Post has a piece about the events of March 30, 1981, 25 years ago, the day on which John Hinckley Jr., shot President Reagan and three others. It's actually a rather unsatisfying piece, missing the big issue of what might have happened differently in history had Reagan been killed. (Perhaps that's why it's relegated to the Metro section.)

Here's what easily might have been different: The single most significant event of the second half of the 20th century -- the collapse of the Soviet Union -- might not have occurred. There isn't time for me to flesh out the reasons I think this. All I will say for now is that for those of us who grew up while the Cold War was being waged, the fact that there's no Soviet Union now is still something that seems miraculous 15 years later. Reagan did not accomplish that feat alone, but he was one absolutely critical part of the force that brought the Soviet Union down.

Click here to read more . . .

Sniper to represent himself in Maryland

John Muhammad, the elder statesman of the two snipers who terrorized the greater Washington area in 2002, is being tried in Maryland, after already having been convicted and sentenced to death in Virginia.

Muhammad is showing his respect for State's Attorney Doug Gansler, whose office is prosecuting the case, by insisting that he can act as his own attorney and firing his public defenders. Yesterday, the judge in the case ruled that Muhammad is competent to defend himself.

While telling Muhammad, "I don't think it's the right decision," Circuit Court Judge James L. Ryan acknowledged that the defendant had a constitutional right to be his own lawyer. He ruled that Muhammad understood the implications of that choice and had shown no sign of incompetence.

"You haven't said anything that wasn't appropriate. You laughed when it was appropriate. You got mad when it was appropriate," Ryan said. "You've convinced me you do understand how serious this is."
And today, the public defenders bowed out of the case. The judge wanted to appoint two of them as standby counsel in case Muhammad decided to change his mind, but the public defenders told the judge they have a policy against such a status: "Once you discharge us, you are out."

I am not naive about these matters, although I would admit I'm idealistic. So what I want to ask is why Muhammad, who's competent to defend himself, isn't competent to admit that he's been caught, convicted, and sentenced to death, and to plead guilty. It would be the honorable thing to do. I really don't intend any irony here. The man participated in murder and terror and is the lowest of the low. But there comes a point at which anyone, caught fair and square, should just take his punishment like a man.

Click here to read more . . .

Splitsville for the Bensons?

According to MetsBlog, Anna Benson, wife of ex-Mets pitcher Kris Benson -- and star of several posts at this address -- is filing for divorce.

UPDATE (4/4): MetsBlog now cites for the story that Anna Benson has withdrawn her divorce petition.

Click here to read more . . .

A Scalian gesture -- UPDATE

Despite all my perspicacious, witty, and stunningly erudite commentary, many readers, I'm forced to admit, will not re-read a post simply because there's an update (if they even read it at all the first time).

So after I updated my post about Justice Scalia's gesture with new and breaking information, it occurred to me that hardly anyone would actually read those updates. To spite those readers -- I mean, to help those readers -- I'm going to re-post the updates here. So now, if you want to ignore them, you'll have to close your eyes and scroll down to the next post. Hey, don't click on that little X in the upper right corner!

Here are the updates:

UPDATE (3/29): Original meaning? Or merely original intent? The author of the gesture in question writes a letter to the Boston Herald trying to set the record straight by explaining what he meant with his gesture:

To the Editor:

It has come to my attention that your newspaper published a story on Monday stating that I made an obscene gesture - inside Holy Cross Cathedral, no less. The story is false, and I ask that you publish this letter in full to set the record straight.

Your reporter, an up-and-coming “gotcha” star named Laurel J. Sweet, asked me (o-so-sweetly) what I said to those people who objected to my taking part in such public religious ceremonies as the Red Mass I had just attended. I responded, jocularly, with a gesture that consisted of fanning the fingers of my right hand under my chin. Seeing that she did not understand, I said “That’s Sicilian,” and explained its meaning - which was that I could not care less.

That this is in fact the import of the gesture was nicely explained and exemplified in a book that was very popular some years ago, Luigi Barzini’s The Italians:

“The extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin means: ‘I couldn’t care less. It’s no business of mine. Count me out.’ This is the gesture made in 1860 by the grandfather of Signor O.O. of Messina as an answer to Garibaldi. The general, who had conquered Sicily with his volunteers and was moving on to the mainland, had seen him, a robust youth at the time, dozing on a little stone wall, in the shadow of a carob tree, along a country lane. He reined in his horse and asked him: ‘Young man, will you not join us in our fight to free our brothers in Southern Italy from the bloody tyranny of the Bourbon kings? How can you sleep when your country needs you? Awake and to arms!’ The young man silently made the gesture. Garibaldi spurred his horse on.” (Page 63.)

How could your reporter leap to the conclusion (contrary to my explanation) that the gesture was obscene? Alas, the explanation is evident in the following line from her article: “ ‘That’s Sicilian,’ the Italian jurist said, interpreting for the ‘Sopranos’ challenged.” From watching too many episodes of the Sopranos, your staff seems to have acquired the belief that any Sicilian gesture is obscene - especially when made by an “Italian jurist.” (I am, by the way, an American jurist.)


Antonin Scalia
The letter is in image form here.

UPDATE (3/30): Confirm Them posts a link to the photo, supposedly the actual one taken of the gesture by Scalia.

UPDATE (3/30): Via NRO Bench Memos, we learn that you have to keep reading the Boston Herald. The Herald not only published the photo mentioned in the previous update but also published an article that begins -- and I swear I'm not making this up -- "Amid a growing national controversy about the gesture U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made Sunday at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the freelance photographer who captured the moment has come forward with the picture." A growing national controversy? Well, maybe if you include one that's made it all the way up to, oh, say, 37th place.

And as a bonus for trolling the Herald site, I found an article that discusses a disagreement about the meaning and appropriateness of Scalia's gesture among various members of the cast of "The Sopranos." (Excerpt: "'It's not that bad, but I wouldn't do it to my mother. No way. Would I do it in church? These days, maybe. It depends if the priest was giving me the hairy eyeball,' said Stoneham native John Fiore, who played Sopranos capo Gigi Cestone.")

Click here to read more . . .

One-minute seder

I've given you a one-minute shacharit. Now, here's a link to a one-minute Passover seder. (Hat tip: Bob G.) Click on the Hebrew text.

My maternal grandmother, who died 25 years ago, raised my mother in a very secular Jewish family. While my mother came to appreciate the tradition, my grandmother never really had much interest in it. Which led to one of my family's favorite remarks.

A couple of years before my grandmother died, she was with us, as always, at the seder. But she was old and sick and more than a little cranky. Not to mention hungry. And, as everyone knows, the first part of the seder can go on for quite a while longer than one minute before the meal is served. (The meal, for those who are counting, is part 10 of the 14-part order of the seder.) So for my grandmother, in her condition, this was not a very good arrangement. And finally, with the Haggadah's explanations seeming to go on interminably, she could stand it no longer and announced indignantly, "This all should have been discussed earlier!"

Click here to read more . . .

March 28, 2006

A Scalian gesture

Note: Updates below.

Recently, I had the chance to sit in on a Supreme Court argument, and I have to say that my physical proximity to the justices made me wince. Up on the bench or in the audience were several justices I had photoshopped with stupid, juvenile, or even vulgar words coming from their mouths. (Former justice Sandra Day O'Connor was in the audience, and when I looked at David Souter on the bench, I cringed when I thought of this.)

But one thing I was either too respectful or insufficiently infantile to do in any of these photoshops was to show Justice Scalia making an obscene gesture -- which is what a Boston Herald reporter now claims he did on Sunday.

Minutes after receiving the Eucharist at a special Mass for lawyers and politicians at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had a special blessing of his own for those who question his impartiality when it comes to matters of church and state.

“You know what I say to those people?” Scalia, 70, replied, making an obscene gesture, flicking his hand under his chin when asked by a Herald reporter if he fends off a lot of flak for publicly celebrating his conservative Roman Catholic beliefs.

“That’s Sicilian,” the Italian jurist said, interpreting for the “Sopranos” challenged.

“It’s none of their business,” continued Scalia, who was the keynote speaker at yesterday’s Catholic Lawyers’ Guild luncheon. “This is my spiritual life. I shall lead it the way I like.”
But could Scalia, however irritated by the question, actually have made an obscene gesture? Apparently not, at least according to a spokesman for the Supreme Court.
"It was a hand off the chin gesture that was meant to be dismissive," Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.
But considering the credibility of the press, who're ya gonna believe -- a Supreme Court spokeswoman or a newspaper reporter?

And if press sources are to be believed, there was more to it than that:
Meanwhile, a photographer from The Pilot, the Archdiocese of Boston's newspaper, caught the moment, although Scalia reportedly admonished him, "Don't publish that!" The Herald has labeled it "conduct unbecoming a 20-year veteran of the country’s highest court - and just feet from the Mother Church’s altar."
The Herald itself ran a follow-up article today, in which the Boston Archdiocese announced it wouldn't publish the photo in its newspaper, "because it won't."

The mysterious hand gesture is the subject of some scholarly debate. The blog Confirm Them provides a photo illustration and a link for further review. Wonkette has another, similar explanation. Riehl World View also weighs in.

And thanks to Stop the ACLU, we have a link to the Mudville Gazette. Scalia had recently responded to a question from a European about giving Geneva Convention rights to prisoners at Guantanamo by saying this: "If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy." The Mudville Gazette then notes that:
And regardless of whether he's a Supreme Court Justice or not, having a son in the battle gives him REAL ULTIMATE MORAL AUTHORITY. There's no arguing against that.
Take that, Maureen Dowd!

UPDATE (3/29): Original meaning? Or merely original intent? The author of the gesture in question writes a letter to the Boston Herald trying to set the record straight by explaining what he meant with his gesture:
To the Editor:

It has come to my attention that your newspaper published a story on Monday stating that I made an obscene gesture - inside Holy Cross Cathedral, no less. The story is false, and I ask that you publish this letter in full to set the record straight.

Your reporter, an up-and-coming “gotcha” star named Laurel J. Sweet, asked me (o-so-sweetly) what I said to those people who objected to my taking part in such public religious ceremonies as the Red Mass I had just attended. I responded, jocularly, with a gesture that consisted of fanning the fingers of my right hand under my chin. Seeing that she did not understand, I said “That’s Sicilian,” and explained its meaning - which was that I could not care less.

That this is in fact the import of the gesture was nicely explained and exemplified in a book that was very popular some years ago, Luigi Barzini’s The Italians:

“The extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin means: ‘I couldn’t care less. It’s no business of mine. Count me out.’ This is the gesture made in 1860 by the grandfather of Signor O.O. of Messina as an answer to Garibaldi. The general, who had conquered Sicily with his volunteers and was moving on to the mainland, had seen him, a robust youth at the time, dozing on a little stone wall, in the shadow of a carob tree, along a country lane. He reined in his horse and asked him: ‘Young man, will you not join us in our fight to free our brothers in Southern Italy from the bloody tyranny of the Bourbon kings? How can you sleep when your country needs you? Awake and to arms!’ The young man silently made the gesture. Garibaldi spurred his horse on.” (Page 63.)

How could your reporter leap to the conclusion (contrary to my explanation) that the gesture was obscene? Alas, the explanation is evident in the following line from her article: “ ‘That’s Sicilian,’ the Italian jurist said, interpreting for the ‘Sopranos’ challenged.” From watching too many episodes of the Sopranos, your staff seems to have acquired the belief that any Sicilian gesture is obscene - especially when made by an “Italian jurist.” (I am, by the way, an American jurist.)


Antonin Scalia
The letter is in image form here.

UPDATE (3/30): Confirm Them posts a link to the photo, supposedly the actual one taken of the gesture by Scalia.

UPDATE (3/30): Via NRO Bench Memos, we learn that you have to keep reading the Boston Herald. The Herald not only published the photo mentioned in the previous update but also published an article that begins -- and I swear I'm not making this up -- "Amid a growing national controversy about the gesture U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made Sunday at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the freelance photographer who captured the moment has come forward with the picture." A growing national controversy? Well, maybe if you include one that's made it all the way up to, oh, say, 37th place.

And as a bonus for trolling the Herald site, I found an article that discusses a disagreement about the meaning and appropriateness of Scalia's gesture among various members of the cast of "The Sopranos." (Excerpt: "'It's not that bad, but I wouldn't do it to my mother. No way. Would I do it in church? These days, maybe. It depends if the priest was giving me the hairy eyeball,' said Stoneham native John Fiore, who played Sopranos capo Gigi Cestone.")

Click here to read more . . .

Sharon Stone on Hillary

Sharon Stone obviously wasn't paying much attention during her trip to Israel, where a lot of the women are attractive, because she's just announced that Hillary's "sexual power" is "too threatening" for the American people to put her into the White House. Ace punctures this notion.

UPDATE (3/29): WuzzaDem lets us in on another goofy pronouncement by Sharon Stone on a sexual matter. The Hillary one is just weird; this one is nuts.

Click here to read more . . .

The "Israel Lobby" claims yet another victory

Josh Bolten -- a JOOOOOOOOOOO -- has been appointed White House Chief of Staff.

From the Republican Jewish Coalition:

RJC Applauds Josh Bolten's Appointment as
White House Chief of Staff

March 28, 2006 Washington, DC – The Republican Jewish Coalition congratulates Joshua Bolten, currently Director of the Office of Management and Budget, on his appointment this morning to replace Andrew Card as White House Chief of Staff.

"Josh is known for his tireless devotion to public service," said RJC National Chairman Sam Fox. "His broad-ranging work experience in Washington, Wall Street, and in the White House makes him a tremendous addition."

"He is an expert on the economy and has received praise from both Republicans and Democrats," added RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. "He has the necessary integrity to help implement the President’s policies that make America strong."

"The RJC thanks Andy Card for his leadership and his steadiness during times of crisis. He has been indispensable in keeping America safe and secure. We wish him success in all his future endeavors," Fox concluded.

"It gives us a special sense of pride," Brooks said, "to have Josh, a fellow Jewish Republican, in such a vitally important role, serving at the side of the President."
Next thing you know, Bush will be sporting payos and a shtreimel.

UPDATE (3/30): Further information about Bolten's nefarious plans appears in the Washington Jewish Week:
When Josh Bolten walked into his first meeting as a member of President George W. Bush's Cabinet in the summer of 2003, he was asked to lead the president and the Cabinet in prayer. He chose to pray for the welfare of the American government, both in Hebrew and English, a sign of his strong Jewish identity.

* * * * *

Colleagues and friends say Bolten has been vocal about his religion and willing to participate in Jewish events at the White House. He frequently has been seen at White House Chanukah candlelightings, and participated in a Megillah reading at the White House during Purim this year.

In 2003, he helped light the giant menorah that American Friends of the Lubavitch puts near the White House.

He has also been a quiet advocate for Jewish concerns, say Jewish organizational officials, sometimes bringing issues past the White House bureaucracy and straight to influential leaders, like Karl Rove, the president's deputy chief of staff and political adviser.

"Since the beginning of this administration, he has been a senior-level force for making sure the Jewish community had a voice at the very highest levels of the administration," said William Daroff, vice president for public policy at United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization of the North American federation system.

"Josh Bolten as chief of staff to the president will open up great opportunities for the Jewish community to make sure we are heard," Daroff added.
Nice to know, however, that some Jews are dissatisfied:
However, several Jewish groups have complained in the past about the lack of White House access for liberal organizations that do not share the Bush administration's mind-set on issues such as the Iraq war and faith-based initiatives.
Maybe it's just a ruse to throw the anti-semites off the track.

UPDATE (4/23): The official "Is Josh Bolten Jewish?" post.

Click here to read more . . .

March 27, 2006

News flash: Bush prepared for war in advance

Can anyone tell me why this article should have been on the front page of the New York Times today? "Bush Was Set on Path to War, British Memo Says" is the headline.

News flash: While Bush was presenting Saddam Hussein with the choice of disarming or facing war, he was actually preparing for war, convinced it was inevitable.

LONDON — In the weeks before the United States-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second United Nations resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush's public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war.

But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.

"Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," David Manning, Mr. Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote in the memo that summarized the discussion between Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair and six of their top aides.

"The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March," Mr. Manning wrote, paraphrasing the president. "This was when the bombing would begin."
Apparently, the Times thinks Bush should have engaged in diplomacy, threatening war if diplomacy failed, without actually getting ready for war. "If you don't disarm, I'll threaten war, and if you still don't disarm, I'll threaten war again." Bill Clinton, anyone?

Click here to read more . . .

Continental drift?

On the car radio I heard a snippet of what I think was a discussion with college basketball coaches about a program taking coaches and maybe players to visit the troops overseas, and I could swear I heard someone say this: "We're fortunate that Maryland is located right here in Washington."

Click here to read more . . .

March 26, 2006

Religious humor

As an MOT, I'm very familiar with the whole genre of Jewish humor. Much has been written on the subject, and you can get a short version of it from this Wikipedia article. I'm not totally satisfied with the explanation it gives, but here's a summary:

Jewish humor is rooted in at least two traditions. The first is the intellectual and legal methods of the Talmud, which uses elaborate legal arguments and situations often seen as so absurd as to be humorous in order to tease out the meaning of religious law. The second is an egalitarian tradition among the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe in which the powerful were often mocked subtly, rather than attacked overtly -- as Saul Bellow once put it, "oppressed people tend to be witty." Jesters known as badchens used to poke fun at prominent members of the community during weddings, creating a good-natured tradition of humor as a levelling device. (Parallels in other cultures include Tall poppy syndrome and Jante Law). Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, a scholar of Jewish humor, argued: "You have a lot of shtoch, or jab, humor, which is usually meant to deflate pomposity or ego, and to deflate people who consider themselves high and mighty. But Jewish humor was also a device for self-criticism within the community, and I think that's where it really was the most powerful. The humorist, like the prophet, would basically take people to task for their failings. The humor of Eastern Europe especially was centered around defending the poor against the exploitation of the upper classes or other authority figures, so rabbis were made fun of, authority figures were made fun of and rich people were made fun of. It really served as a social catharsis."
Jewish humor goes way, way back. In the Torah, for example, we have a wonderful play on words -- though not exactly a stand-up comic's joke -- in Genesis 21, in the story of Sarah's banishment of Hagar. Abraham gives Hagar and her son some bread and a container of water, and they depart. When the water runs out, Hagar places her son under one of the bushes and sits far from him so she doesn't have to see him die. In verse 17, God hears the boy's cry, and an angel/messenger of God calls to Hagar from heaven and says to her, "What's wrong, Hagar?" In Hebrew, the word for angel or messenger is "mahl-ACH" (where the "ach" is gutteral and pronounced as in German). The words for "what's wrong" are "mah-LACH." So the mahl-ach says mah-lach. See? (I know. It's not a side-splitter, but I smile whenever I read it.) What makes it more amusing is that mah-lach could be translated, more colloquially, as "what's up with you?" or "what's happenin', babe?"

Even in the Talmud there's humor. Again, we're not talking about side-splitters. But you can get an idea of the type of humor in this article.

Christian humor is a little harder for me to understand. But here's a good one: A Christian man calls his mother and tells her that he's very sorry. He knows how much she wanted to get together with the family over Thanksgiving, but an important business matter has come up and he won't be able to be there. She tells him it's OK; she understands.

I guess that's cheating. It's actually a Jewish joke in disguise.

What got me thinking about all of this recently is that there doesn't seem to be a lot of Muslim humor out there. In fact, to those of us in the West, it's not at all clear that Muslims have a sense of humor at all. And I don't mean like this:

Ahmed: Hey, Mohammed, is that a bomb in your turban, or are you just happy to see me? No, wait! Don't behead me!

Or even this kind of stuff, which was what got me hooked on Jeff Goldstein in the first place.

Nor do I mean this.

So my question is: Is there a kind of Muslim humor out there that I am simply not aware of? And: Is it any good?

I suppose this is a start. And this one's almost funny, because it reminds me of a certain type of Jewish humor: "Q. A horse you are riding stops to drink from a trough that you know has alcohol in it. Haram or halal? A. Haram because, if the horse sweats, the alcohol might transfer to the rider."

So if you have any good source materials for Muslim humor, please post them in the comments.

Click here to read more . . .

March 25, 2006

Get "une vie," Monsieur Chirac!

By all accounts, France is going to hell in a handcart. If the alienated "youths" (a/k/a Muslim thugs) aren't burning cars, it's people upset about a new labor law that actually might encourage work. And the French have become morose.

By almost every measure this society holds dear -- political, economic, wine exports, art auctions -- France is losing its global dynamism. The recent demonstrations by angry young people across the country are just the latest symptom of angst and fear in the national psyche.

"France is divorced from the modern world of the 21st century," said Nicolas Baverez, author of a top-selling book, "New World, Old France." It describes a country so fearful of letting go of outmoded traditions -- including a hugely expensive cradle-to-grave welfare system -- that it is being shut out of the global marketplace. "We're at a very dangerous turning point," he said.
Amid all of this, Jacques Chirac is concerned and "has urged citizens to stop the 'self-flagellation.'"

But what really has Monsieur Chirac concerned -- and angry -- is that during a meeting of EU leaders, the head of the business organization spoke in English. Sacré bleu! And he stormed out in protest.

The Financial Times has an editorial mocking him. An excerpt:
Zut alors! Ernest-Antoine Seillière, head of the European Union's business organisation, had la témérité to address Thursday night's meeting of EU leaders en anglais. Naturellement, Jacques Chirac stormed out in protest at what his French compatriot described - rightly - as the language of business.

Malheureusement, M. Chirac missed Mr Seillière's impassioned plea for Europe's leaders to resist the swelling tide of national protectionism. The French president's mentalité Maginot is a symptom of that tide, but also a complete failure to recognise that France has been a notable beneficiary of globalisation - precisely because of the language skills of its people.
But the most amusing line of the day comes from the Washington Times. One of Chirac's allies put in his two cents (deux centimes?):
"Europe has other worries and it's a waste of time to have responded to such questions," said Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who is usually a stout Francophile.

Taking a jab at Mr. Seilliere, he added: "I cannot cease to be amazed that while our French friends invite us to speak French, many of their top officials not in government are more than happy to speak in approximative English."
Have you ever heard a native English speaker use the word "approximative"? I think it may be time to storm out of the meeting.

Click here to read more . . .

March 23, 2006

Barking doorbell

This story really isn't that funny in itself. The Dutch have a dog tax, and this tax was assessed against a family that the assessor thought had a dog because when he pressed the doorbell, it played the sounds of a dog barking -- it could play 15 different dogs, to be precise.

But here's one thing I find amusing. In the Yahoo/AP version of the story, this is what the man says:

"My wife came home shortly afterward and was able to grab the inspector at the end of our street. After a lot of yipping and yapping, she was finally able to convince him," Bruintjes said.
But in the South African version of the story, this is what he said:
"She was able to catch up with the inspector at the end of the street, and after much toing and froing was able finally to convince him," Bruintjes said.
The other funny thing is that this is almost straight out of Get Smart. In a two-part episode called "The Not-so-Great Escape":
CONTROL agents keep disappearing from the airport, including the Chief. Max appoints himself Acting Chief, refuses Larabee's plea to reopen the CONTROL Deli, and discovers that the agents are being held at a KAOS Prisoner of War Camp. Max goes undercover as Major Kessler to try and free his fellow agents, but he gets caught and becomes a prisoner as well. Max then makes several escape attempts. Despite outrunning Shtarker, none of Max's plans work and the agents are forced to dig a tunnel to freedom. Siegfried, Larabee, and brilliant direction from Don Adams make this one my favorite episode as well.
This is all from memory, but at the end of the first part, Max, disguised as Major Kessler, is chatting with Siegfried at the prison camp (Camp Gitchie-Goomie-Noonie-Wahwah, "somewhere in New Jersey"). Siegfried thinks Kessler reminds him of Max and starts to say so. Max is becoming worried because his fake mustache is coming off. Siegfried says something like this: "Really, if it were not for your eyepiece and that mustache on your glass, I would say . . . On your glass?" Max tries to escape by jumping out the window but is trapped inside a pen. Siegfried tells Shtarker to release the dogs, and you hear the dogs barking.

At this point, the first part ends. At the start of the second part, though, the dogs never come out. Shtarker pulls out a tape recorder playing the barking noise. Siegfried asks Shtarker what happened to the dogs. Shtarker says that they ran away because the food was so bad. Siegfried: "What did you feed them?" Shtarker: "The same thing we served the prisoners." Siegfried yells at Shtarker. How could he have served the dogs what they served the prisoners?

Well, maybe you had to be there.

Click here to read more . . .

March 22, 2006

Whoopie chair

I've heard of whoopie cushions, but until I happened to check Dave Barry's blog tonight, I had never heard of what I would call a whoopie chair.

BRISTOL, England (AP) -- A British teacher who says a noisy chair made classroom life a misery is suing her former employer for unfair dismissal.

Sue Storer, 48, told an employment tribunal Tuesday she was subjected to sexist and bullying behavior while working as deputy head teacher at Bedminster Down Secondary School in Bristol, southwest England.

Storer said the school failed to replace her chair, which made a "farting" noise whenever anyone sat on it, although other staff received new chairs.

She said the chair was a source of embarrassment, especially at parent-teacher evenings.
The teacher claims to have suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of her treatment.

Does the story seem wrong? Does it just smell bad to you? It's got to be true because it's from CNN.

UPDATE: It's also in the London Times (via Overlawyered), and the paper liberally quotes the teacher, who seems to want to use the F-word as much as possible:
Mrs Storer, who had been an art teacher for 26 years, says that she was subjected to four years of overwork, intimidation and stress after joining the 1,000-pupil school in April 2001. She said that her "farting chair" was a regular joke.

She said: "It was very embarrassing to sit on. I asked for a chair that didn't give me a dead leg or make these very embarrassing farting sounds. It was a regular joke that my chair would make these farting sounds and I regularly had to apologise that it wasn’t me, it was my chair."

She said that when a consignment of new chairs arrived in May 2002 she was not allocated one. She said: "I had specially requested a chair under health and safety regulations and I didn't get one."
The teacher also expounds on her mental condition:
Mrs Storer, a divorced mother of two, said that Mr Frank had shown her a list of complaints about her management from other members of staff, but refused to identify who had said what. As a result, she said, she suffered a nervous breakdown and developed severe clinical depression. She said: "Basically I wanted to commit suicide and I thought about crashing my car."
I don't understand this. She should have just blamed those sounds on the dog. And this response captures the matter well:
Asked why she did not sort out the problem, she told the tribunal: "It's a health and safety issue for an employer to ensure you have a comfortable chair."
I guess that's how she made it to Overlawyered.

Click here to read more . . .


I'm sure someone has done a spoof of the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds in which the birds don't attack the people by pecking at them but instead go on strafing missions, bombing them with birdie excrement.

I know that in my years in Rockville, I've thought about making such a movie. Before the corner of Montrose Road and East Jefferson was fully developed and a lot of the trees were cut down, there were thousands upon thousands of crows that roosted every night in the tree tops. Early in the mornings, especially in the fall, the crows would head north to the farms to look for food. (The farms are mostly gone now, too, and the crows tend to eat people garbage twice a week.) On those strafing missions to the farms, the crows would fly overhead in battalions and if you were unfortunate enough to be walking under them, you would wish you had thought of bringing along an umbrella.

Something similar has happened in Orlando, according to this article helpfully linked at Drudge. The articles states that:

Signs warning of bird droppings were posted along a stretch in downtown Orlando this week after cars, benches, sidewalks, plants and even people are hit and covered by the white bird waste, according to a Local 6 News report.

The problem began when city workers removed cypress trees on "bird island" at Lake Eola in Orlando.

The trees had to be removed because the bird droppings were polluting the water, according to the report.

Now, the birds have moved into the city and are covering anything and anyone between Lake Eola and Central Avenue with droppings.
Sounds even worse than my experience in Rockville. The difference is that no one around here was justifying the bird excrement. Mad magazine once described a liberal as someone who tried to see the other guy's point of view while being mugged. In Orlando, we have some Mad-style liberals:
"I was walking the other day and got pooed on walking under these trees," Orlando resident Lisa Valentine said. "Somebody told me it was good luck."

* * * * *
Some people don't let the bird droppings bother them and continue to eat lunch around the droppings.
And, even better, we can always count on the federal government to be there to help.
Federal law prohibits the bird nests in Orlando from being disturbed.
Maybe the folks in Orlando should send the excrement to Washington.

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March 20, 2006

Stone at the Wall

I'll admit that Sharon Stone's visit to Israel last week isn't the newest news around, but there are still press accounts being written about it, and in any event, I'd rather say something about it than about the fact that another actress, Susan Sarandon, is in the news because she's going to play Cindy Sheehan in a new "biopic."

Stone is obviously breathing the ethereal air.

A peaceful co-existence between the peoples of the Middle East is but a breath away, Hollywood star Sharon Stone said after a highly publicized visit to Israel.

"It feels to me that we have an opportunity ... to choose understanding in a new way," she told a press conference in Paris when asked about her trip.
As Haaretz pointed out last week, Stone thinks peace is at hand and is unwilling to take sides.
Stone emphasizes that her visit to Israel does not reflect her support for any side (she did not visit the territories), but only for peace.
Well, that sure is reassuring! Even more important than these political views are Stone's views of life and love. We learned that you dark Jewish men have a chance, especially you artistic types.
Her connection to Israel seems authentic. Perhaps because she has been married to two Jewish men - Michael Greenberg and Phil Bronstein.

"I've always been attracted to Jews," she says. "I like dark men who are drawn to study, to art."
And, best of all, she was photographed at the Western Wall. Yes, that Western Wall. Marvin Olasky's description of the visit to the Wall is priceless.
I was there on Sunday afternoon when the actress came, flashing peace signs at Orthodox men in black hats and suits who peered into the women's section of the Wall plaza to catch a glimpse of the action.
This is sort of how I imagine it.

Sad to say, the real photo op was not as interesting. But we dark Jewish men can't have our imaginations limited.

UPDATE (3/21): Soccer Dad comments that Anna Benson once showed up at a Chabad charity event in immodest attire -- can you imagine Anna Benson dressing immodestly? -- and I found what I think is the relevant photo (see below). This is not photoshopped. I posted a link to it in the comments but found out that when you clicked on it you got a "page not found." So here she is at the Chabad event.

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March 19, 2006


I don't usually post simple links to other bloggers, because what's the point? How many people am I going to refer over there, anyway? And you come here for original stupidity, not the "me-too" kind, right?

But this post at WuzzaDem really made me laugh.

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March 18, 2006

Great moments in high school counseling

Sometimes it's useful to recall that things were just as bad 20 years ago. Here's a letter from today's "Ask Amy" advice column, pointed out to me by Mrs. Attila, who looks for these things to use with her Russian ESOL students.

Dear Amy:

In a recent column you printed the story of a young girl who was helped by her school counselor. I applaud that counselor and am glad to hear that she received the help she needed.

Early in my senior year of high school, I was summoned to my counselor's office to discuss my future. She asked me what type of job I'd like to have after college.

I had no idea. I told her that I wanted to work at night (I'm not a morning person), have fun at my job and make good money.

In what appeared to be all seriousness, she told me I was an ideal candidate to become a prostitute.

I sat there in shock.

Perhaps she was using sarcasm (lost on a 17-year-old), but after a minute of silence, she ushered me out of her office and welcomed in the next student eager for her "advice."

Twenty years have passed and I've never forgotten her words.

I am so thankful to hear that there are counselors who not only take their job seriously but who even go out of their way to help students.

Thank you for reminding those of us with less-than-stellar experiences of that.

Teacher in Virginia
Amy's answer, on behalf of us all, begins, "Oh. My. God."

Do you think that if, instead, the writer had told the counselor she wanted to work all day, the counselor would have recommended becoming a lumberjack?

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Does Karl Rove work at the NY Times?

On March 11, readers of the New York Times were treated to a splashy front-page article about Ali Shalal Qaissi, the man who was supposedly the hooded prisoner made famous in the Abu Ghraib photos. (Note to fellow bloggers: Use blog-safe Times links. It takes an extra minute, but it's worth it. Times articles are archived after seven days.)

As is now well known, everything about the Times's article was correct. Except for a minor detail: Qaissi was not actually the right man.

The Times this morning had a correction/retraction of the article on the front page and an editors' note attached to the original article.

Since our goal here is to laugh at the misfortunes of the high and mighty, let's reprint a highlighted version of the editors' note:

A front-page article last Saturday profiled Ali Shalal Qaissi, identifying him as the hooded man forced to stand on a box, attached to wires, in a photograph from the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal of 2003 and 2004. He was shown holding such a photograph. As an article on Page A1 today makes clear, Mr. Qaissi was not that man.

The Times did not adequately research Mr. Qaissi's insistence that he was the man in the photograph. Mr. Qaissi's account had already been broadcast and printed by other outlets, including PBS and Vanity Fair, without challenge. Lawyers for former prisoners at Abu Ghraib vouched for him. Human rights workers seemed to support his account. The Pentagon, asked for verification, declined to confirm or deny it.

Despite the previous reports, The Times should have been more persistent in seeking comment from the military. A more thorough examination of previous articles in The Times and other newspapers would have shown that in 2004 military investigators named another man as the one on the box, raising suspicions about Mr. Qaissi's claim.

The Times also overstated the conviction with which representatives of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International expressed their view of whether Mr. Qaissi was the man in the photograph. While they said he could well be that man, they did not say they believed he was.
My favorite part is that they try to blame the military for refusing to confirm or deny, when the military had long ago named someone else as the man in the photo.

So to add to the merriment, let me offer a revised version of the photo that ran on March 11.

UPDATE: Welcome to Michelle Malkin's readers. Oh, and if you're interested in other photoshops, I have a bunch on the sidebar under "Photo Comics," which are basically photos with voice-bubbles added. Start with John Roberts.

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Visitor of the day - 3/18

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March 17, 2006

Don't let this happen to you

Today was a pretty good day for the Drudge Report, from which both of these stories came.

First, a guy, distraught over problems with his girlfriend in Poland, did what every sensible guy would do. (Warning: Don't click here to find out. I told you not to click there.) Anyway, the police discovered it only about 10 feet away from the front porch, which suggests that the guy is now throwing like a girl.

Second, in Seguin, Texas, according to a news report, a "cow came flying out of its trailer, sent DPS and police scrambling, and left two police cars going up in flames." A police sergeant told the news reporter:

"We believe the gate of the cattle trailer came open, and the cow, for lack of a better phrase spilled out onto the Interstate. It was pretty chaotic for a while."

Several cars hit some of the cows. One cow died. DPS troopers called for backup.

That's when one officer was nearly run down by a speeding truck, carrying two illegal immigrants inside.

Seguin Police were out looking for those illegal immigrants. They parked their cars in the hot grass, burning two of them including that brand new 2006 Crown Victoria. Watson said, "Well, all of a sudden, another officer who'd arrived on the scene, alerted the sergeant that there was a fire."

Everything inside was destroyed, including tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment designed for the patrol cars.
But that description's not nearly as good as the sergeant's reaction: "'It was almost hard to believe,' said Detective Sergeant Maureen Watson." Not hard to believe, mind you, but almost hard to believe.

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March 16, 2006

Irish Jews lining up to buy armor

And I don't mean Kevlar(R).

David Kopel at the Volokh Conspiracy notes that Ireland, in an effort to repeal outdated laws, has repealed a law from 1181 that barred Jews from possessing armor.

As one commentator jokes, what would be even worse than to violate this law by buying armor would be to pay retail.

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Hot peppers

In the Mary Tyler Moore show, Rhoda picked up a piece of candy, looked at it, and said, "I don't know why I should even bother to eat this. I should just apply it directly to my hips."

That line came to mind this morning, when I read an article in the Washington Times reporting on a study that showed that hot chili peppers could kill prostate cancer cells.

As Richard Nixon might have said, "We could do that, but it would be AIYEEEEE!!!!"

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March 15, 2006

Dangerously incompetent

By internet standards, this is ancient news -- it happened yesterday. But allow me to mine the troves of history for a minute.

Posted yesterday by Kathryn Lopez at the Corner was a photo of Sen. Debbie Stabenow criticizing the Bush Administration while standing near a prop sign that read "Dangerously Incompetent."

Michelle Malkin followed up with her own post.

Soon there were caption contests and photoshop contests running wild through the blogosphere. Two that I came across were at Sobekpundit and GOP and College. Check them out. I submitted a photoshop entry to the latter. It was the first thing that came to mind.

Pretty lame, I would say. So feel free to send your own to Sobekpundit or GOP and College, with a copy to me.

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Washington Nationals' stadium plans announced

Take a virtual tour of the stadium in a one-minute video prepared by the architects and hosted at the Washington Post.

Thomas Boswell, D.C.'s Diamond In the Rough: "The new ballpark for the Nationals, for which plans, drawings, artist's renderings and a virtual computer tour were released yesterday, will either be one of the most stunning achievements in sports architecture in years, or it will be a handsome, expensive, amenity-packed, unobjectionable ballpark that falls somewhere in the middle of the major league pack."

Thomas Heath, Form Follows Bottom Line / Stadium Design Maximizes Profit: "The 41,000-seat ballpark that the city will build for the Washington Nationals along the Anacostia Waterfront in Southeast Washington is designed to exploit every cash-generating source in the modern sports stadium playbook, allowing those with the deepest pockets to purchase the best views of the game, according to stadium documents released yesterday."

Also: Here and here.

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March 14, 2006

World naked bike ride

For our latest installment of Naked News we travel to New Zealand.

One hundred cyclists of all ages and in various states of undress - some fully clothed, others naked - rode from Tarakohe to Pohara on Sunday for a cause they strongly believe in.

There was almost a carnival atmosphere at Golden Bay's third annual World Naked Bike Ride, as spectators lined part of the route, with many waving and cheering as the cyclists rode by.

The slogans painted on their bodies included "Burn fat not oil", "I'm safer on my broom" and "Blink (bike lanes nurture kids)".
Here is what motivated a few of the participants:
Some riders said they were offended by Tasman Mayor John Hurley's comments on Friday that they were "just a bunch of radicals trying to grab a headline" and that the police should arrest any nude cyclists.

"He obviously hasn't got the message that we need safe cycle lanes in Golden Bay," said partially clothed Takaka backpacker hostel operator Peter Woodward, whose dog travelled behind him in a trailer.

Wearing nothing but a thong, Golden Bay Kayaks manager Nigel Marsden said Mr Hurley's "inflammatory comments" had pushed him into taking part in the ride.

Onekaka craftsman Peter Greer joined the ride wearing just a strategically placed willow basket he had made.

"The mayor is obviously not in touch with his constituents. We have to do something about the lack of safe bike lanes. If we have to bare all to get some attention, we will do it," Mr Greer said.

One of the cyclists riding totally au naturel was Golden Bay resident John Calermbo. "It's a marvellous way of shrugging off the shackles and letting your hair down," he said.

Musicians Caitlin and Sika Rose, of Clifton, rode with their two children, seven-year-old Shemaya and toddler Jaya, in bike seats.
Here's the irony of the event. You have people riding with minimal clothing and a police officer says this:
At the start of the event, Sergeant Arthur Clarence of Takaka police told the cyclists to "have a good ride" but warned them that the police would deal with anyone not wearing a helmet.
Nudity? OK. No bicycle helmet? No way.

My final question is: Isn't anyone concerned about the perineum? I mean, without clothing there isn't much protection.

(via Fark)

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9/11 mom and Moussaoui mom share a hug

I grew up in White Plains, New York.

Down the street from White Plains High School, of which I am an alum, is a church called the Memorial United Methodist Church. I can't tell you how many I drove, or was driven, past that church, but I never realized that it was a church of moonbattery.

On Sunday, at that church, the mother of a September 11 victim and the mother of Zacarias Moussaoui shared a hug.

The mother of Zacarias Moussaoui was tearfully embraced by the mother of a World Trade Center victim at a church gathering.

Aicha el-Wafi appeared at the "welcoming gathering" on Sunday in White Plains, about 25 miles north of ground zero, before returning home to France. The event included peace workers, anti-death-penalty activists and mothers from Memorial United Methodist Church.
The story paints a fairly sympathetic portrait of Moussaoui's mom, Ms. el-Wafi, who lamented that her two sons were lost to the equivalent of a drug gang or a cult.

El-Wafi, who raised four children alone while working as a cleaning woman, said that she lost her son to an Islamist movement just as another mother might lose hers to drugs or a cult.

She said that her older son has also joined an Islamist movement, in Lebanon. "In these movements, they look for the little cracks to get into people's minds and control them," she said.
You can almost feel sorry for the woman, really. From the NY Daily News account:
El Wafi told the church members that she is angry with her son - and worried about another son who has joined a radical Islamist group in Lebanon. * * *

She told of her arranged marriage at 14 and raising four children on a cleaning woman's salary when her husband left. "She has no words to explain or express how terrible she feels," the interpreter said. "She never asked for any of this. She would love to be just a mother."
But the woman I expected to feel sorry for, the mother of the September 11 victim, leaves me cold.

At Sunday's gathering, Connie Taylor, who lost her 37-year-old son, Bradley, on Sept. 11, stepped toward el-Wafi and embraced her. Many of those who formed a circle around them also began to cry.

Taylor said she had concluded that el-Wafi's plight was greater than her own.

"She is blaming her son, in part," Taylor said. "That must be so horrible. I didn't experience that."
And if you want to know why my being left cold is turning to outright disgust, read the New York Post's story, which reports that Ms. Taylor offered some other thoughts on the subject.

Her son was a securities trader, working on the 89th floor of the World Trade Center's south tower, when the first hijacked plane struck. Taylor said that right after Sept. 11, she was asked to speak at a gathering of peace activists near the United Nations.

"I told them how grateful I was my son never had been afraid to walk down the street or get into an airplane," she said. "We can't say the same thing now."

After she spoke she was touched when "a boy from Palestine came up to me and said, 'There's never been a day in my life when I wasn't afraid.'"
Because, you see, we Americans may be afraid of attacks on our airplanes, but innocent boys from "Palestine" are afraid of attacks by the evil Israelis every day. To her, apparently, acts of Israeli self-defense are the same as al-Qaeda attacks.

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March 13, 2006

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear

Sometimes if you don't feel like driving on the wrong side of the highway, it's really easier to drive on the highway in reverse for about 25 miles. And if you're driving a rental car, you can save on mileage charges.

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Buttocks-lifting underwear

In an article (via Fark) that I find immensely troubling in any number of ways, we learn that Japanese men are almost as vain as Americans.

A new line of men’s underwear that tightens the abdominal area and lifts buttocks has become amazingly popular in Japan. Even the pilot lots were sold in a few hours.

"Nowadays men really keep an eye on fashion, they're starting to pay more attention to the contours of their body and the silhouette as a whole", - said the president of Triumph International Japan, which designed the new product.

I especially urge you NOT to click on the embedded link from the article, which takes immaturity to a level not even contemplated by the Pillage Idiot Advisory System. In fact, the whole page is littered with links that look NSFW, so click through at your own risk.

And if this isn't enough in itself, the article continues with a note about another type of corset:
The second one is made specially for wearing with low-waist jeans. Men’s groin corsets have been selling so well that the company started thinking about designing something new.
I can't even imagine a sentence that uses the words "groin" and "corset" side by side. But there it is.

All I can say is that I hope this whole site is a spoof.

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March 12, 2006

A passionate Ferrari in the bathroom

Stephen suffered him to pull out and hold up on show by its corner a dirty crumpled handkerchief. Buck Mulligan wiped the razorblade neatly. Then, gazing over the handkerchief, he said:

−− The bard's noserag! A new art colour for our Irish poets: snotgreen. You can almost taste it, can't you?

James Joyce, Ulysses

Renova, a Portuguese company is offering toilet paper in non-standard colors: black and red. The black toilet paper came out last year and sold well, and the company has decided to launch red toilet paper "for those wanting to inject more passion into their bathrooms."

Now, I don't know about you, but when I think of passion, I don't think of bathrooms, and when I think of bathrooms, I don't think about passion. But then again, I'm not in marketing, a field in which one thinks of passion everywhere.

"We are trying to create a niche market for value-added household products in nations with a high purchasing power," he said.
Doesn't that sound . . . passionate? And if you doubt that, listen to this:
"It is a red that makes a huge impact, like a Ferrari," Renova international brand manager Jose Manuel Pinheiro told AFP.

So now we have a passionate Ferrari in our bathroom. Watch out when you use the stuff. Vroom, vroom!

UPDATE (3/13): Sensible Mom thinks the marketers are nuts: "It makes me wonder if they test marketed the concept with women since it won't work for us for obvious reasons." Wish I had thought of that.

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I sometimes say that I have Adult ADD. This is not meant as a clinical diagnosis. It's just that I've looked back at my life and realized that I've been fighting serious distractability problems going back at least to college. I've actually managed to be moderately successful in what I do, and my job requires careful thinking, but I still have to fight it when my mind wanders, which is, oh, approximately all the time.

It wanders when I'm working, when I'm watching a movie, when I'm writing this, pretty much whenever I'm awake. For some reason, my mind always wants to think about something other than what I want it to think about.

I've been thinking about this during daily minyan, which I suppose makes this a form of mind-wandering in itself. I'm constantly fighting to pay attention to the prayers. Sometimes my mind wanders to something about the prayers, or something else reasonably connected to what I'm doing, but sometimes it has nothing to do with the matter before me.

And reciting something from memory is an open invitation for my mind to wander. After two months of saying kaddish for my father, I'm now able to recite the kaddish from memory, even the longer kaddish d'rabbanan, which has a whole extra paragraph in it, one that no one ever says except mourners. If I'm vigilant, I can get all the way through the kaddish from memory, which strikes me as an appropriate way to recite it, even more so with eyes closed. But if I relax too much, I trip up on the words.

And there are other times when my memory plays tricks on me and wanders off into something else. For example, there's a line from the evening service "bokea yam lifnei moshe" -- who split the sea before Moses. The first two times I led the davening I inadvertently added a word -- "bokea yam suf" -- who split the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds). My addition made sense, but it wasn't there in the text. And I think I've finally figured out how it happened. Elsewhere, there's a line "yam suf bakata" -- You split the Red Sea -- which I transposed into the other text.

I've always wondered how people can recite the entire amidah from memory, even if they've davened every day for 30 or 40 years. If it were me, I'd probably start out reciting the amidah and end up reciting the periodic table. Perhaps it's harder for me because with my knowledge of Hebrew (and Aramaic) I know the meaning of only about half the text. It's not that the rest is nonsense syllables to me; it's not. I recognize the words as words, even if I can't translate them. But still, it must be a lot easier to memorize what you fully understand. Like actors who not only have to remember 2 hours' worth of lines but also have to be able to speak them with feeling and give them appropriate meaning.

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Visitor of the day

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Jimmy Carter rears his ugly head

When I say Carter's rearing his ugly head, I don't mean that Carter personally is ugly, although he certainly is not attractive, but rather that what he says is ugly.

In a column in the Pakistani Daily Times on Friday (via Ace), Carter blames the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians on "Israel's colonisation of Palestine." You needn't waste your time reading the piece, but let me clue you in on his conclusions:

[W]e need not give up hope for permanent peace for Israelis and freedom and justice for Palestinians if three basic premises are honoured:

1. Israel’s right to exist — and to live in peace — must be recognised and accepted by Palestinians and all other neighbours;

2. The killing of innocent people by suicide bombs or other acts of violence cannot be condoned; and

3. Palestinians must live in peace and dignity, and permanent Israeli settlements on their land are a major obstacle to this goal.
Let's get rid of the uninteresting ones first. The Palestinians must recognize Israel's "right to exist." Now, I suppose that's a big concession on Carter's part, but it seems to me that no party to a dispute should get any credit for simply recognizing that there is another party to the dispute that he's not allowed to destroy. (Marriage counselor: Bob, I understand you and Judy are having problems with your marriage, and I can help you, but first you'll need to recognize that Judy exists. Bob: OK, but only if she drops all her claims about me and lets me do whatever the hell I want to do, and I can beat the crap out of her any time I want.)

Next, contrary to Carter, Palestinians can live in peace and dignity with absolutely no help from the Israelis. It's totally an internal matter. All they have to do is to stop trying to murder Israelis and instead work on developing their economy.

But the best of Carter's three points is the second one, which we need to "unpack." Carter says: "The killing of innocent people by suicide bombs or other acts of violence cannot be condoned." Is this a big concession on his part -- that Palestinians must stop killing innocent Israelis? I doubt it. All it says is that the "killing of innocent people by suicide bombs" can't be condoned, which leaves open to interpretation who is "innocent" and whether other means than suicide bombs are permissible. But the key language is "other acts of violence." If Carter's phrase were a statute, a court would interpret the "other acts of violence" in the context of the prohibition on suicide bombings and would probably conclude that it barred similar acts of violence by Palestinians against innocent people. But Carter obviously doesn't mean that. He can't criticize the Palestinians without also criticizing the Israelis, so there's no doubt in my mind that "other acts of violence" means Israeli military actions against Palestinians, no matter whether they're in response to Palestinian violence or even specifically in response to the very suicide bombings that Carter criticizes in the first half of the sentence.

So at the end, what do we have? Israel has the right to exist but not to defend itself or to allow Jews to live among Palestinians. Not a heck of a lot of comfort for the Israelis. And, contrary to Carter, not much of a recipe for peace.

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Editor needed at NY Times

Whatever my views of the New York Times and its editorial line, I've always respected the paper for the quality of its writing. Sure, I've sometimes had beefs with ungrammatical nonsense, like "neither A, B, or C," when "neither" necessarily poses a choice between two things and requires a "nor," not an "or." But by and large, the writing is sophisticated and polished.

So yesterday, when I read in a Times article about Dr. Wafa Sultan, a Muslim woman who attacked the clerics in an Al-Jazeera interview a few weeks ago, that she "compares [Muslims] unfavorably with the Jews," I had to finish the article to see what she had said.

Because, to me, and I think to most sentient beings, comparing A unfavorably with B means that you have a poor opinion of B and are trying to say that A is even worse. You don't say that "she loves chocolate cake and compares fried eels unfavorably with it." Instead, you say "he compares the late Slobodan Milosevic unfavorably with Saddam Hussein, whom he would garrotte if he were to meet him."

But when you read further in the article, you read this:

Speaking of the Holocaust, [Dr. Sultan] said, "The Jews have come from the tragedy and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror; with their work, not with their crying and yelling."

She went on, "We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people."

She concluded, "Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them."
So while she literally compared Muslims unfavorably with Jews, in the sense that she said that Jews had acted well and Muslims had not, it is simply poor writing to say that she "compares [Muslims] unfavorably with the Jews."

But it's not inaccurate to say that I am comparing the writing in this Times article unfavorably with the writing in the Washington Post.

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March 09, 2006

Negative perceptions

Today's "yawn" story of the day on the front page of the Washington Post is headlined "Negative Perception Of Islam Increasing/Poll Numbers in U.S. Higher Than in 2001."

The writers can't figure out why Americans increasingly view Islam as violent and hostile to the West, except perhaps for a misleading emphasis in the press.

Conservative and liberal experts said Americans' attitudes about Islam are fueled in part by political statements and media reports that focus almost solely on the actions of Muslim extremists.
Well, gosh, you don't have to be Ann Coulter to notice that virtually all the terrorist attacks on us over the past 20 years have been committed in the name of Islam; to see Palestinian children being indoctrinated with a desire for martyrdom, which involves killing others; or to know that Saudi-funded Wahhabi schools teach a brand of Islam that calls for violence against the West. Apart from a few honorable and courageous Muslims, there is virtually no one who publicly condemns this behavior. Americans largely hear silence.

The article then falls back on the standard accusations of bigotry.
James J. Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute, said he is not surprised by the poll's results. Politicians, authors and media commentators have demonized the Arab world since 2001, he said.
And the inimitable Juan Cole weighs in, too.
Juan Cole, a professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, agreed, saying Americans "have been given the message to respond this way by the American political elite, mass media and by select special interests."

Cole said he was shocked when a radio talk show host asked him if Islamic extremists would set off a nuclear bomb in the United States in the next six months. "It was ridiculous. I think anti-Arab racism and profiling has become respectable," he said.
Yeah, I can't imagine that Islamic extremists might set off a nuclear bomb in the United States. I'd be shocked too if someone asked me about that. But then, I haven't read the 9-11 Commission report, which says:
The greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the world's most dangerous terrorists acquire the world's most dangerous weapons. As we note in chapter 2, al Qaeda has tried to acquire or make nuclear weapons for at least ten years. In chapter 4, we mentioned officials worriedly discussing, in 1998, reports that Bin Ladin's associates thought their leader was intent on carrying out a "Hiroshima."

These ambitions continue. In the public portion of his February 2004 worldwide threat assessment to Congress, DCI Tenet noted that Bin Ladin considered the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction to be a "religious obligation." He warned that al Qaeda "continues to pursue its strategic goal of obtaining a nuclear capability." Tenet added that "more than two dozen other terrorist groups are pursuing CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear] materials."28
And here's another guy who can't figure it all out. Or maybe he can.
Ronald Stockton, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan at Dearborn who helped conduct a study of Arabs in the Detroit area and on views of them held by non-Arabs, said an exceptionally high percentage of non-Muslims feels the media depicts Arabs unfairly, yet still holds negative opinions.

"You're getting a constant drumbeat of negative information about Islam," he said.
A drumbeat of negative information about Islam? It's got to be totally fabricated! Who are you going to believe? Me or your own eyes?

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March 08, 2006

Justice O'Connor loosens up

WARNING: Crude language alert. Even more infantile than usual. Click here to skip this post.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
For more photo comics, check the "Photo Comics" section of the sidebar.

UPDATE (3/27): To be fair to Justice O'Connor -- although there's no "fairness doctrine" in doing juvenile photo comics -- her former colleagues announced this morning the text of a smoochie letter they wrote to her last summer, when she announced her retirement from the Court. An article on the subject is here.

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Still dating a transsexual?

Last year, I noted a very strange conversation I overheard at one of our local Starbuckses. It had to do with the woman's 19-year-old cousin who was "dating a transsexual." Only it turned out that I had misheard. It wasn't really a transsexual; it was a 26-year-old.

Today, at the same Starbucks, I saw that "26-year-old." The guy came into Starbucks wearing a white baseball cap, a white waist-length coat with boa-like feathery white collar, a pink miniskirt, and platform shoes. This ain't Manhattan, where he would have been met with silent shrugs. It's Rockville frickin' Maryland, and I will report that there were many sidelong glances and whispers, even from the funky Starbucks staff. The guy went into the rest room -- now I know Starbucks needs a "transgendered" restroom -- emerged to some more glances and whispers, and left the store.

He rode off on a bicycle. Seriously.

UPDATE: Yeah, I know. He wasn't a transsexual at all, just a transvestite. Don't ruin my story.

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March 07, 2006

Where the time is going

If you're wondering why there's less content here than usual, I have an explanation.

Since my father died in early January, I've been saying kaddish three times a day. I figured out that, including transportation time, I spend about 15 hours a week at shul, not including on shabbat, when I wouldn't be working on Pillage Idiot, anyway. My job still requires full-time output; my family still requires my attention; my mother's finances need attending to; and, always, there's kaddish. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I'm committed to it. He was my father, after all.

A typical weekday evening: I get home from work between 7 and 7:30. Shovel down some food. Go to shul for maariv at 8, get home around 8:25, spend some time with wife and kids, and figure out what I can do between then and bedtime, which (by the way) is somewhat earlier than before, since I get up around 5:10 a.m. to be able to get to shacharit by 6:30, or earlier, depending on the day of the week.

So (1) I read the news and blogs less; (2) I have less time to think; and (3) I have less time to write.

If I didn't enjoy writing about stupid things, I'd probably close down Pillage Idiot. But I really want to try to keep it going if possible. I'll still have stuff up here often, but not always every day.

I just thought you might be interested in what's happening.

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March 06, 2006

Naked news goes telecommuting

The California-based internet security company SonicWALL did a survey of telecommuters and came up with interesting results.

76% of employees surveyed believe that working remotely is an aid to productivity and 61% are also convinced that their managers agree with them. Security came low on the list of priorities, however, with 88% of the individuals surveyed admitting to storing passwords in easily-discovered locations, and only 12% employing encrypted files to store and manage their login data.

OK, so that's not the interesting part of it. The company's survey asked about personal hygiene and behavior.
All respondents were relaxed about their personal habits when working remotely. While about 39% of respondents of both sexes said they wear sweats while working from home, 12% of males and 7% of females wear nothing at all. In matters of cleanliness, the difference between the sexes was more pointed: 44% of women surveyed said they showered on work-at-home days, as opposed to men, who were slightly more likely to shave (33%) than wash (30%). 18% of men regularly break off to do household tasks such as laundry, dishwashing or dusting whereas many more women -- over 38% -- found their attention claimed by chores.
Did we get your attention? That's what I thought. And the UPI article on the survey (via BOTWT) focused on exactly those points.

For the record, when I telecommute one day a week, I shower, shave, and wear a loin cloth. Under my tuxedo.

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More on "peace studies"

During last week's discussion of the fracas over Colman McCarthy's "peace studies" class at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Avishak Panth, one of the two students who argued that the class was biased, arrived here and left a comment, which he expressed far more cogently than one would expect, given stereotypes of today's students.

So when I was contacted by the other student, Andrew Saraf, who asked me to let him make a guest post to explain his views, I was intrigued. Ultimately, however, I advised him that Pillage Idiot wasn't going to get him the exposure he deserved, and I urged him to try to place his essay in the Washington Post's op-ed page.

I don't know for sure whether he took my advice, but he did reach Michelle Malkin, who has posted Andrew's and Avishak's essays at her blog. I urge you to read them and to keep them in mind when you hear foolish stereotypes of ignorant high school students.

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March 02, 2006

"The creeps"

You remember the little e-mail spat between William Korman, an attorney in Boston, and Dianna Abdala, a young lawyer he thought he had hired? I wrote about it here, and it was a big deal elsewhere, with millions of people having a few laughs at their expense. It even resulted in a news story on CNN.

Well, one of the dubious benefits of running a low-traffic site is that you get to see who's visiting your site individually and not just in gross (through referrer logs, search terms, etc.).

And this visit, earlier today, is very troubling. Someone from Mr. Korman's firm got here through a Google search for this: "dianna abdala" naked. Here's the relevant portion of my screen capture:

Whoever did this search either has a prurient interest in Ms. Abdala or, more likely, wants to make use of any compromising photos of the woman. It seems to me there are only three realistic possibilities: A) Mr. Korman's doing this himself (hard to believe); B) Someone at his firm is doing it with Mr. Korman's knowledge (still hard to believe); or C) Someone at his firm is doing it without his knowledge.

I sure hope it's C. Considering the man was an assistant district attorney for 2 or 3 years, according to Martindale-Hubbell, I can't believe he's personally behind this. Undoubtedly, someone else at his firm came up with this harebrained idea, and if he happens to hear about this, I sure hope he'll take action against that person.

Now, I get hits all the time looking for naked photos of people. I don't ever post that kind of smut, but I do run an occasional series called "naked news," describing in words only weird news stories involving naked people. (Yes, it's very immature. Sue me.) So it didn't surprise me in the least to get hits recently from people looking for naked photos of William Donald Schaefer's "little girl," whom I won't name again so I don't get even more. And it didn't surprise me to get a visit looking for photos of Ms. Abdala, either. The IP address, however, was a shock.

I could have just said, "bla bla bla," and ignored it. But it really gives me the creeps.

UPDATE (3/14): Whoever this is isn't giving up. I got a visit today from the same source using the same search terms but a different search engine. What's truly weird is that this person got to my site through this search and almost certainly saw this post -- and yet spent 20 minutes looking at a bunch of other posts here.

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Police flashing

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Germany.....

Some police officers have been flashing their, uh, not their lights but, well, here's the story:

BERLIN (Reuters) - Three German police officers face disciplinary action after lifting their kilts at a fancy dress party while wearing nothing underneath, police said on Thursday.

"The three were drunk, wore kilts and then started a squabble with some colleagues," said Berlin police spokesman Klaus Schubert. "One thing led to another and they started lifting their kilts over and over again to show their all -- back and front. Some decent people thought this wasn't decent and complained to the police."

The three have been transferred to other police stations and face disciplinary action for wrongdoing out of duty hours.

Germany's carnival season ended on Wednesday after several days of raucous partying and drinking across the nation.
So what are Germans doing in kilts? Who knows, but at least it was "out of duty hours."

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Navigation systems for guys?

Guys don't ask for directions, so it would violate the Guys' Code of Ethics for one of us to buy a navigation system for our car. Right?

Not so, says this item, which claims that guys buy the systems precisely because they won't ask for directions. But that's asinine. If you won't ask a human, why would you ask a machine?

Maybe there's a partial answer here: "Despite advertising targeted at women, the big majority of TomTom's customers are men, Goddijn said at the summit in Paris. 'It is still very much a guy thing, but also a bit of a girl thing where the guy buys it for the girl,' he said." I wonder if the guys have to guess her size.

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March 01, 2006

Music manuscripts donated to Juilliard

A few months ago, I wrote about a discovery of a Beethoven manuscript, in the composer's hand, of a transcription for piano four hands of the Grosse Fuge, originally written for string quartet. We later learned (see update to my earlier post) that the manuscript was sold at auction for $1.72 million to an anonymous buyer.

We now know who that anonymous buyer was: Bruce Kovner, a "publicity-shy billionaire and hedge fund manager," who according to the usual political identifications in the New York Times, "is known for his financial support of conservative publications and groups," most prominently the American Enterprise Institute, which the Times refers to as "a conservative research group." Not that it isn't, mind you; it's just that the Times has to identify people and groups who differ from the Times's norm.

Anyway, the Grosse Fuge transcription is only one of a collection of 139 manuscripts amassed by Mr. Kovner over an 11-year period, which he has donated to the Juilliard School in Manhattan. The other manuscripts include major compositions like "the printer's manuscript of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Mozart's autograph of the wind parts of the final scene of 'The Marriage of Figaro,' Schumann's working draft of his Symphony No. 2 and manuscripts of Brahms's Symphony No. 2 and Piano Concerto No. 2." Also included are Stravinsky's Petrouchka, Mahler's Ninth Symphony, and Dvorak's Eighth Symphony.

Mr. Kovner explained what he had done:

Mr. Kovner said he began collecting after noticing a raft of manuscripts on the auction market at relatively low prices — low being relative, in that winning bids often exceeded $1 million.

"Clearly in some sense it was almost a primitive reverence for the thing that was created by a composer," he said, in explaining the urge to collect. "It's kind of like an icon."

But, he said, "I realized it was better to make them available to the world rather than to keep them under the mattress." He said he hoped the donation would not only inspire students and aid scholars but also help push more works hidden in dusty archives toward the light of day.
Now, the musicologists will have to overcome their antipathy toward the musicians.
"It's breathtaking," said Neal Zaslaw, a professor of music at Cornell University, when shown a partial list. "Any one of these would be a big deal." Mr. Zaslaw said it was unusual for the manuscripts to go to a performance school not known for musicology rather than to a research university. "But the main thing," he added, "is that these are in a safe place and available for scholars to consult."
Juilliard -- the "performance school" -- is trying to act magnanimous:
Joseph W. Polisi, Juilliard's president, said the collection's presence at the school would help break down the "artificial wall" between scholarship and performance.
The Times article has more about Mr. Kovner, the man, but it's particularly clear that he hasn't let his wealth get to his head.
In a marked departure from most philanthropy in New York, Mr. Kovner said he would not attach his name to the trove of documents, which will be called simply the Juilliard Manuscript Collection.

"I'm happy to participate in ways that promote public discourse and public institutions," he said. "I don't particularly like the cult of names. It's a personal preference."
UPDATE: More here, from the music critic of The New Yorker, with images of some pages of the manuscripts, and a PDF list of all the manuscripts.

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