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January 31, 2008

A tribute to Bush

There's a tremendous amount of hostility these days toward President Bush -- much of it from the right. I understand some of the frustrations; in some cases, I share the policy disagreements; but I certainly don't share the hostility. I see the man as a very solid, decent human being and as a good but flawed president.

I wasn't going to write anything about this, but recently, Ace linked to a post by The Anchoress making a similar case for Bush. She starts by revisiting Bush's calm determination in sticking up for his Secret Service agent, who was barred from entering an official Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation dinner in Santiago, Chile in November 2004. She then reposts a lengthy post about Bush, which I didn't read at the time. I don't agree with her on every issue -- and I myself may have been one of the complainers after the Harriet Miers nomination, though I give Bush credit for getting things right in the end -- but still, I think it's a solid, decent tribute to a solid, decent person. Very much worth reading.

Click here to read more . . .

January 30, 2008

Always in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Attack me once, shame on me. Attack me ten times, it's time to move out of the area.

"Woman Grabbed From Behind In Tenth Attack in Five Months"

Or, maybe, it's just time for the Post to hire better headline writers.

Click here to read more . . .

Mission impossible

When I lived on Manhattan's Upper West Side in the early- to mid-1980s, it was the home base of frizzy leftists. Our congressman was Ted Weiss, and it would be unfair to call him a Stalinist. I think, technically, he was a Leninist, but I was never very good at taxonomy.

For me, the most infamous vote cast by Weiss in the House had nothing to do with economics or foreign policy. That vote, which was publicized by his opponent, was Weiss's lone "no" on a 400-1 vote for some bill restricting child p*rnography. True story: In 1984, if I remember correctly, I asked the guy who was handing out Weiss's literature why he'd voted against the bill, and the response was that there were "serious civil liberties issues" with it. Undoubtedly, that was why he was the only congressman to notice it. I suppose it might have had something to do with the Times Square p*rn dealers who were in the district, but who knows?

Anyway, Weiss used to win elections by roughly 85-15. If you were a Democrat, as I was at the time, that meant that you had two chances to cast a protest vote against the creep, once in the primary and once in the general election. Usually, the local Republicans, such as they were, would field some young guy who was running just for the fun of it.

A friend of mine told me a story I haven't independently verified, but it's amusing regardless of its authenticity. The story was that in one election cycle, the Republican running against Weiss got the usual 10-20 percent of the vote. Shortly thereafter, he committed suicide. They asked the local Republican chairman about it, and his response was that he should have known the candidate was mentally unstable, because he actually thought he could win.

I say this all in preface to my discussion of the Republican primary for the congressional seat in Maryland's 8th District, where I live now. The district is primarily in Montgomery County.

This is a very liberal, predominantly Democratic district. For quite a few years, we were represented by a liberal Republican named Connie ("Commie") Morella. I take credit for her nickname, which was widely used -- at least, among a small group of my friends. Morella was popular with Democrats, as well, for the most part, but finally, in 2002, after several near misses, the Democrats were able to unseat her. Most people attribute it to a gerrymandering of the district following the 2000 census. Bush Derangement Syndrome also played a part. In any case, we're in for Democrats in the 8th district for the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, there's rarely a shortage of Republicans willing to make the run for the seat. I'm sort of joking when I say this, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to make Republican candidates in this district pass a psychological test before allowing them to run in the primary.

Today, I received in the mail the voters' guide for next Tuesday's the Feb. 12 primary from the League of Leftwing Women Voters. There are five Republicans seeking the suicide mission of running against Congressman Chris Van Hollen. Each has his positions set forth on the issues in the questionnaire of the League. Most of it, you will not be surprised to learn, is generic boilerplate. On the other hand, sometimes you can learn a lot from boilerplate. Because there's boilerplate, and there's boilerplate. For example, a guy who says we must support our military as it does the hard work in Afghanistan and Iraq is different from the guy who says we must support our military by bringing our troops home as soon as possible. (Those are my made-up examples, by the way.)

The one issue on the questionnaire that intrigued me was "Civil Rights." What does that mean, you ask? Here's what the League says: "How would you balance individual liberties and national security?" Call me cynical, but if you responded that national security is the most important mission of the federal government and that, while individual liberties are essential, we have to be practical and not ideological in defining our liberties, you would be considered anti-civil rights.

The implication is that our rights have already been abridged, which I think is ludicrous. (If you disagree with me, put it in the comments, but only if you are not a Ron Paul supporter or a lefty suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome.) To me, we have done far less than we need to do to maintain our national security. In fact, every time we try, our national security secrets are disclosed on the front pages of major newspapers located in New York. (I'm not trying to provoke you. Really.)

And it goes without saying that all of the Republican congressional candidates stress the importance of our liberties, but you can learn a lot by the way they say it. One dude says, "First priority, the United States must uphold the Geneva Convention on human rights." Translation: We haven't been treating our detainees well in Guantanamo. (My heart bleeds.) Another dude says at his bare-bones website: "The result [of straying from the Constitution], as our Founding Fathers foresaw over 200 years ago, is an ever more powerful and unaccountable government trampling on individual freedoms while engaging in foreign adventurism and reckless fiscal policies." Translation: "Ron Paul is my God."

But on this psychological test, the other three guys seem basically sane, which is all you can ask for, really. Because whoever wins is going to get his butt kicked.

[2/1 Edited for typos.]

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January 29, 2008

Hillary engages in some racial healing

For previous Clinton photo comics:

Bill Clinton evaluates HillaryCare II

Bill Clinton supports Hillary's cleavage

Bill Clinton grabs some contributions for Hillary

Hillary responds to Kate Michelman

Hillary begins a conversation

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January 27, 2008

Philosophical question of the day

I was driving today on the Beltway, in the second lane from the left. A car came up on my right quickly, too quickly to continue for long, because there was another car ahead of it in that lane.

I said to Mrs. Attila: "That car is going to cut in front of me." And it did.

My question is: If I knew in advance that the car was going to cut in front of me, did the driver have free will?


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Carnival of Maryland -- 25th edition

The 25th (silver) edition of the Carnival of Maryland is up at The Greenbelt. It's an excellent collection of writing from around the state and the Maryland Blogger Alliance.

The 26th edition is scheduled for Sunday, February 10, to be hosted at The Spewker.

Send in your submissions by using the Blog Carnival form.

Click here to read more . . .

January 25, 2008

Hillary trips on the rug

Hillary, speaking to an Hispanic audience, uses an interesting line. According to ABC:

Clinton rattled through her stump speech. She told the crowd that she is going to need their help cleaning up the White House and suggested they bring their brooms and vacuum cleaners to help.

(via HotAir, where Allah thinks she's getting a bum rap for this)

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January 24, 2008

Ace kills Fred?

Hard to tell, but it might be. The article he's referring to is here.

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Mr. Methane video

You know you've raised your children well when one of them sends you a link to this video, which rates CODE RED on the Pillage Idiot Advisory System (i.e., Infantile). Consider that your immaturity warning, and if you still choose to blast this over your cubicle wall, then don't blame me.

Apparently, the key is talcum powder on the derriere. The purple and green outfit seems to have something to do with it, too. And the subtitles are clearly necessary, as well. At least, they are for me.

(By the way, posts like this are what happens when I use up my monthly quota of serious stuff too early.)

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Paulnut calls radio show

This was making the rounds yesterday, so you may well have heard it already, but here it is: An audio file of a Ron Paul supporter calling in to a radio talk show.

I urge you to follow all the way to the end. Trust me, it'll be worth your while.

One commenter at HotAir suggested this was a prank caller, and it may have been. Then again, it doesn't stretch the imagination to believe it was a real Paulnut.

Click here to read more . . .

January 23, 2008

Gov. O'Malley's to-do list

On O'Malley's To-Do List: Rebuild Public Image

Headline, Wash. Post, Jan. 23, 2008

(Click to enlarge)

Story: "Hey, sexy."

(Note: Item 5 modified shortly after original posting.)

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January 22, 2008

Site problem

If you're having trouble viewing the whole front page of Pillage Idiot tonight, I think it has to do with Haloscan, my comments service, which seems to be down at the moment. Other Blogger blogs with Blogger comments are working, as is the Maryland Blogger Alliance site, which has no comments.

My apologies. I hope it'll be straightened out soon.

UPDATE: Working again.

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Another note on the RSS feed

It's possible that if you use a feed reader, you're going to see a bunch of old posts on Bill Clinton. The reason is that I realized I didn't have a "Bill Clinton" label, and I needed one for the Obama post tonight. So I added a label to 4 or 5 old posts, and I think that makes those posts show up all over again. Personally, I'm kind of fond of them, but you might not feel like seeing them all again. Sorry about that.

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If Barack Obama were Jewish, instead of the Second Coming of Jesus, Part 3

Obama (shouting into his cell phone): . . . no, Mr. Presi-- . . . what? . . . no . . . no, Bill . . . Bill . . . no . . . don't say those . . . those things you've been saying about me . . . I know, I know . . . but you said . . . you said I'm "very skillful with money" and . . . no . . . no . . . of course . . . money skills are useful to a president, but Bill . . . Bill . . . you didn't . . . it wasn't meant as a . . . as a compliment to me, Bill . . . Bill . . . you know that . . . tuchis offen tish, Bill . . . Bill . . . 'cause you said . . . you said "his people" . . . my people . . . "have been good with money for millennia" . . . you . . . Bill . . . Bill . . . bis hundert zwanzig, Bill . . . but . . . but . . . you know . . . acting presidential doesn't . . . it doesn't mean acting like Ahmadinejad, Bill . . . so, Bill? . . . Bill? . . . Bill? . . . UCCH! hung up . . . gey kocken, schmuck!


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January 21, 2008

A dream

The real "I Have A Dream" speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bill Clinton has a dream during an MLK Day speech (screenshot and video at link).

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Unintended consequences

The Freakonomics guys, Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, take a look at well intended laws with unintended consequences. As if it is somehow an insight that such laws exist. We all know that laws can encourage behavior that is undesired and, in most cases, unexpected. It happens all the time.

One of the most famous examples (which is not in the article) is the Aid to Dependent Children program: "During the New Deal, President Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, argued against extending federal benefits to unwed mothers because she believed that subsidizing illegitimacy would lead to the breakdown of the family. Ms. Perkins was right."

Of course, people don't want to look back and see how they screwed things up. Instead, they look ahead without self-recrimination. Every mistake just creates a new need for further intervention. As I sometimes joke, being a liberal means never having to say you're sorry. But that's not my point here.

My point is that the Freakonomics article discusses three laws that had unintended results: the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Endangered Species Act -- and the rules about the sabbatical (shmita) year in the Torah. They do this to show how long this problem has existed, but, in my view, they don't quite get to the correct conclusion.

The rules in the Torah are quite relevant now, because it's generally accepted that this year is the sabbatical year. As the article notes:

As commanded in the Bible, all Jewish-owned lands in Israel were to lie fallow every seventh year, with the needy allowed to gather whatever food continued to grow. Even more significant, all loans were to be forgiven in the sabbatical.
Naturally, the result of mandated loan-forgiveness is that people won't lend as the sabbatical year approaches. And the Torah makes clear that this is what happened. So the Freakonomics guys shouldn't, strictly speaking, include this within the rubric of unintended consequences, because while the consequences were unintended, the law clearly anticipated them from the outset.

Deuteronomy explicitly recognized that people would be inclined to refuse to lend money as the sabbatical year approached, because they wanted to avoid the remission of debt. If they lent in year six, whatever wasn't repaid by the end of the sixth year was, by force of law, forgiven.

Thus, Deuteronomy 15:9-10 states:
Beware lest you harbor the base thought, "The seventh year, the year of remission, is approaching," so that you are mean to your needy kinsman and give him nothing. He will cry out to the Lord against you, and you will incur guilt. Give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return the Lord your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings.
Here, God asserts a threat (you will incur guilt) and a promise (He will bless you) in order to motivate people to overcome their natural and rational economic behavior. I call this a literal deus ex machina. This kind of economic law can't possibly work unless God commands the law and people believe in Him.

And it actually didn't work even when everyone believed in God; people still would stop lending as the seventh year approached. As the Freakonomics guys point out, it took the great rabbi Hillel to devise the solution:
His solution, known as prosbul, allowed a lender to go to court and pre-emptively declare that a specific loan would not be subject to sabbatical debt relief, transferring the debt to the court itself and thereby empowering it to collect the loan. This left the law technically intact but allowed for lenders to once again make credit available to the poor without taking on unwarranted risk for themselves.
It was the prosbul that encouraged people to engage in economic behavior that the idealistic rules of the Torah discouraged.

A similar legal fiction was established to deal with the rules requiring land to remain fallow during the sabbatical year. This legal fiction of temporary sale of the land to a non-Jew, by the way, is the cause of much consternation in Israel today, with many of the religiously right-wing orthodox declaring that food grown on land that has been temporarily sold should not be eaten. (Far be it from me to be critical, but anyone who uses a "shabbos clock" shouldn't be so concerned about legal fictions. But that is not my point here, either.)

We see something different, but analogous, in the of another economic law of the Torah, the prohibition of charging interest to fellow Jews. In Leviticus:
Do not lend him your money at advance interest, or give him your food at accrued interest. I the Lord am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God.
As moderns, we have to ask: How could people have lent money for an extended period of time without interest? Again, the answer seems to be that they did so, because God commanded them to. "I the Lord am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God."

There's a very interesting passage from Paul Johnson's wonderful book, A History of the Jews. Johnson, a Christian philo-semite, offers Jewish history from an interesting perspective, given that nearly all Jewish history has been written by Jews. What Johnson says is this:
One of the greatest contributions the Jews made to human progress was to force European culture to come to terms with money and its power. Human societies have always shown an extraordinary unwillingness to demystify money and see it for what it is – a commodity like any other, whose value is relative. * * * Men bred cattle with honour; they sowed grain and reaped it worthily. But if they made money work for them they were parasites and lived on "unearned increment," as it came to be termed.

The Jews were initially as much victims of this fallacy as anyone else. Indeed, they invented it.
So the Jews eventually understood that prohibiting interest couldn't possibly work as an economic matter and "force[d] European culture to come to terms with money and its power."

My point, finally, is that the economic laws of the Torah and the legal fictions that have been developed to get around those laws are proof that idealistic economic laws having no relationship to real economic behavior have severe limitations. They don't even work when God commands them.

As the rabbis might say, how much more so do they fail to work when imposed by humans.

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January 20, 2008

Starting with nothing

It's hard to believe it, but I've never told you this story before. It's my favorite story about going to a concert. When I was in college, my roommate and I bought tickets to a recital series with Claude Frank playing the complete Beethoven piano sonatas. This was a big deal. Frank was a well known pianist, and it wasn't that often that anyone performed the complete Beethoven sonatas -- all 32 of them, in 8 concerts.

After most of the concerts, Frank would play an encore. At one concert, Frank returned to the stage and stood there, looking very elegant in his tuxedo, left hand resting on the top of the piano. The hall fell completely silent. Frank grandly announced the encore: "Schumann's Arabesque." At that, the old woman sitting right in front of my roommate and me broke the silence in the hall with the loud remark, "THAT old thing??"

My roommate and I couldn't stop laughing, and as soon as the encore was over, we darted out of the concert hall, where we could laugh without embarrassment.

I told you that story to tell you this one.

One of Frank's endearing little practices was to start the second half of the concert with a discussion of an aspect of the music. It's all too rare these days for performers to speak to the audience, and I've never really understood why the performers don't offer the audience some insights about the composer or the specific piece or the performer's own approach to the music. But they rarely do.

In any event, during one of the concerts, Frank raised the question of what makes Beethoven great. He did it as a dialogue with himself and used the slow movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 to illustrate. (If you don't know the Seventh Symphony, you can get a video of the complete symphony here, conducted by von Karajan. A video of the second movement alone is here, conducted by Charles Latshaw. Listen closely to the theme, played softly in the low strings after the initial orchestral chord.)

What makes Beethoven great? Frank asked. Well, he said, it's his melodies, right? And he sang the opening of the theme of the slow movement of the Seventh Symphony: C, C-C, B, B, B, B-B, C, C.

Well, it's his rhythms, right? And he sang the theme: Long, short-short, long, long, long, short-short, long, long.

All right, well, maybe it's his harmonies. And he sang: Tonic, tonic-tonic, dominant, dominant, dominant, dominant-dominant, tonic, tonic.

And he had made his point -- that Beethoven was able to create the most sublime music out of the most rudimentary materials.

While I was looking around for a link to a performance of the Seventh, I stumbled on this composer's description of Beethoven's genius:

Before Beethoven, composers vied for beauty. They wrote great counterpoint. They wrote beautiful melodies.

Beethoven changed all that. He rarely relied simply on good material to write great music. His work was architectural. He was the first one to show that great music could be written with common materials. His vision went far beyond the nuts and bolts.
And again, I told you that story to tell you this.

I've been listening to the complete set of Beethoven string quartets on CD (Alban Berg Quartett). As any Beethoven aficionado will tell you, there's nothing that can top the late quartets. That said, the quartet that really blows me away whenever I listen to it after a long absence is the first of the middle quartets, the Op. 59, No. 1, especially the second movement.

I've linked the sample of that movement from Amazon so you can hear the opening. [UPDATE: The Amazon link seems dead, so here's the movement on YouTube.] As in the Seventh Symphony, Beethoven starts with the most rudimentary materials imaginable. The opening phrase, for cello unaccompanied, is a rhythmic repetition of a single note, B-flat, sort of like this: Da da dum dum, da da dum dum, da da da da da da, dah. Listen to it; that's all there is. The second violin follows, unaccompanied, with a short melodic phrase. Then, the viola enters, unaccompanied, repeating the cello's rhythmic phrase, this time on an A-flat. Last, the first violin, unaccompanied, answers the melodic phrase of the second violin.

It's hard to describe. Listen to it.

(I seem to recall reading many years ago that the cellist who was to play the premiere of the piece was so infuriated by the da da dum dum opening of the movement that he threw down his music and stormed out of rehearsal. But you never know how many of these stories are apocryphal.)

Immediately, the rhythmic, repeated notes begin to build up and, in no time, are being played fortissimo. Beethoven takes these rhythmic notes and the bits of melody offered at the beginning and creates an amazingly powerful movement out of them.

Last month, I made fun of Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony for the insipid theme in its famous slow movement and for Haydn's failure to do anything with an interesting harmonic move. If you listen to the slow movement of the Seventh Symphony or the second movement of the Op. 59, No. 1 string quartet, you'll hear how a brilliant composer makes use of very basic materials to create an incredibly complex work of genius.

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Two-run omer

Yesterday's Torah reading was Beshallach, which relates the crossing of the Red Sea and features the Song of the Sea. Heady stuff.

So, naturally, I looked at the most important verse: "An omer is a tenth of an ephah." (Exodus 16:36). The Soncino Chumash cites Rashi as saying: An omer is equivalent to 43-1/5 eggs.

43-1/5 eggs? Say what?

I did some research and found this:

one tenth of an ephah The ephah equals three se’ahs, and the se’ah equals six kavs, and the kav equals four logs, and the log equals six eggs. [Hence, an ephah equals 3 x 6 x 4 x 6 = 432 eggs. I.e., the space displaced by 432 eggs.] We find that a tenth of an ephah equals forty-three and a fifth [43.2] eggs. This is the amount for challah [the minimum amount of flour that requires the separation of challah] and for meal offerings. — [from Eruvin 38b]
So, yes, it's 43-1/5 eggs. Now, just how do you measure 1/5 of an egg?

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As knitters go, so go the mah jongg players

As Jimmy Durante might have said, "Everybody wants ta get inta da act."

I saw a bumper sticker this morning -- on a BMW, an SUV, no less -- that read "Knitters Against Bush: Don't Unravel Our Rights." Link here, if you want to buy one, you sick human being.

SOMEWHAT RELATED: Darleen Click at protein wisdom quotes some of the commenters at Huffington Post on the wedding of Jenna Bush, now scheduled for May. Speaking of sick human beings suffering from BDS.

BONUS: Click here to Ace's to see a political teeshirt that gave me a chuckle: "Pot Makes You Vote Wrong."

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The Pillage Idiot novel

I'm the kind of guy who has a cell phone but doesn't use it very much. And I've never -- repeat, never -- sent a text message.

The Japanese, on the other hand, appear to be inseparable from their cell phones. And they're now writing "novels" on them. I put the word "novels" in "scare quotes," because some Japanese, by which I mean the ones with any dignity, think there's something just a little wrong about the concept of a cell phone novel, which they fear will "hasten the decline of Japanese literature."

Now, as someone who does the very serious writing you find at Pillage Idiot, I can sympathize. And I want you to have my assurance that nothing at Pillage Idiot is likely to hasten the decline of Japanese literature.

Even my novel, which I'm going to outline here:

Our protagonist is a brilliant government lawyer who is, of course, also extremely good looking, as is his wife, in case she reads this. He decides to write his serious thoughts on serious topics unrelated to his day job. But he soon discovers that the world isn't interested in his serious thoughts. So he turns to flatulence and mutilated male members. Bill and Hillary make fairly regular appearances. As does Ron Paul's cocker spaniel. There's lots of sex, for reasons I can't fully understand, and there's even a side bit about sexlessness in Japan, which may or may not have anything to do with the Japanese attachment to cell phones.

Our protagonist spends a lot of time sending useless zeroes and ones into the ether and meets his condign punishment. He's forced to atone by writing a novel on his cell phone.


Click here to read more . . .



It's about Morgellons, the weird disease in which the victim has horrible itching and strange fibers can be seen coming out of the skin. Here's one researcher's theory:

It all boils down to this: mutant worms.

Harvey hypothesizes that a type of nematode, a wormlike parasite that lives in the soil as well as in the guts or lungs of about half the animals on the planet, mutated somewhere in the 1970s in Southeast Asia and jumped from animals to humans. The parasite is easily spread through the fecal-oral route if someone, for example, is out working in the garden, fails to wash his or her hands thoroughly and then eats an orange. Or it gets into the lungs by inhaling sputum or by kissing. The worm then takes up residence in the colon, Harvey theorizes, and the body's immune system holds it in check.

But when the immune system falters, the worms swarm in the body. That's what happens, Harvey hypothesizes, after a human is infected with a strain of bacteria first reported in 1986, Chlamydophila pneumonia. These bacteria like to live in immune cells, Harvey says, and they feast on those cells' energy. With the host's immune system compromised, the mutant nematodes begin reproducing exponentially, Harvey suspects. They burrow a hole in the wall of the colon, then usually travel at night through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system or crawl in hordes between the layers of the skin, like other species of nematodes are known to do, to the parts of the body with the most blood flow: the face, head and nose. There, a cranial nerve leads right into the brain. A pileup of worms could jam blood and oxygen flow to the brain, Harvey says. "That may explain the psychological symptoms," including the hallucinations, he says.

It may explain why Pam Winkler took herself to the emergency room recently. She said that a huge bump had appeared on the side of her skull in the middle of the night. By morning, she said, the bump was gone, but she could feel crawling all over her face. She wasn't making it up, she swore. And she put her stepsister, with whom she's been living since she got out of the state hospital, on the phone. "I can see them. They're moving down from her head to her eye," said Karen DeWeese. "They're about one and a half inches long and a half-inch wide. They look like bubbles under the skin." The ER doctor later found nothing.

The fibers, according to Harvey's theory, are really the hard shells, which he calls cuticles, that these worms shed at five stages as they grow from egg to larvae to adult. The red fibers are the males, he says. Blue fibers are female. "Using a 2,000-power microscope, you can see inside them," he says. "They look like little stovepipes to me. I can tell the blue ones are female because there's a kink in the middle for the sexual organs and some kind of pouch. And we have pictures of them laying thousands of eggs."

"If you write this theory, it's probably going to sound like someone's come from the mental institution," Harvey says. "But the fact is that this is a real disease, and it appears to be growing."
Other researchers think this theory "goes too far."

Me, I've been itching since I read this, and I know I'm going to have nightmares.

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January 17, 2008

Some advice

Some advice:

1. We're professionals; don't try this at home. Or, for that matter, on your campaign aircraft. It's not funny. Trust me.

2. And while you're at it, don't get caught making a scary face when talking to a child. People will make fun.

3. If you fall for this trick, don't admit it: "The woman had agreed to the man using a video camera to project live images of them having sex on to the bedroom wall, but did not know he was recording the action." The man was acquitted in Italy.

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Visitor of the day -- 1/17

This visit is not even funny, because you just knew that the search would somehow end up here.

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January 16, 2008

Wednesday linkfest

Some of this is old news, but I've been kind of busy and haven't had a chance to do anything with it. Hence, a linkfest.

1. I know that some people go into public service because they think they do some good. Others go into public service so they can be sued by their alma mater when they leave the government. Some are "fortunate" enough to do both. (via Instapundit)

John Yoo can be forgiven if he's having second thoughts about his career choice. A Yale Law School graduate, the Berkeley professor of law went on to serve his country at the Justice Department. Yet last week he was sued by convicted terrorist Jose Padilla and his mother, who are represented by none other than lawyers at Yale. Perhaps if Mr. Yoo had decided to pursue a life of terrorism, he too could be represented by his alma mater.
Another reason for you alumni to donate a dollar to Yale so you can tell them you'll never contribute another dollar after this.

2. You're angry with your boyfriend. Do you (a) have a "talk" with him; (b) make him sleep in the living room; (c) set his car on fire? The correct answer is (c). And then you return to your boyfriend, "telling him that he 'might want to get some marshmallows.'" (via Fark)

3. John McCain goes to a funeral home and makes the oldest joke in the book. But he says his mother is older. (via HotAir)

4. If they tried to keep away from the guy, why are they complaining? "Lawsuit says protesters kept away from Bush during N.M. visit"

5. Fill in your own joke; the commenters at HotAir certainly did: "Kokomo police say a man accidentally shot himself in the groin as he was robbing a convenience store. * * * A short time later, police found 25-year-old Derrick Kosch at a home with a gunshot wound to his right testicle and lower left leg. He was expected to have surgery at a hospital."

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January 15, 2008


A few days ago, I was fiddling around with Photoshop to create a Ron Paul bumper sticker. The slogan was going to be "You can't spell 'International Zionist Conspiracy' without J-E-W." But I wasn't satisfied with the way it looked, and I let it drop.

Today, I noticed that Michelle Malkin, in criticizing the Citroen company for apologizing to China after using a (distorted) image of Mao in a car ad, had invited submissions of photoshopped images making fun of Mao.

There are a lot of ways to go about this, most of which involve a whole heck of a lot more photoshop ability than I have. So I went a different way, moving the O in Obama to the end to make it Oba-mao and replacing the O with Mao's image. This is not a knock against Obama -- let's not exaggerate our criticisms of the man's positions by comparing him to a mass murderer -- but a knock against some of his supporters. So I picked an image of modern-day SDSers, who actually are wearing SDS shirts.

Like this:

I'm not sure I've complied with the rule that we make fun of Mao. I've just made fun of his supporters. But here it is. Take it or leave it.

Click here to read more . . .

January 13, 2008

Toilets of the Times

If I told you that the New York Times had a review of toilets on Friday, you would naturally assume I had been reading the Arts pages. You know, perhaps a review of Serrano's "Piss Christ -- Number 2."

But you would be wrong.

You would be wrong, because New York City has been trying to provide public toilets for years, perhaps centuries. Which is a very, very long time to hold it.

And the future is finally here: "Greetings, Earthlings. Your New Restroom Is Ready."

I don't want to spoil the review for you, so I will just give you some highlights:

* Indecent exposure:

What follows is possibly the longest and most awkward 20 to 30 seconds of a person’s day. The door slips open like an elevator, but then it stays open, to accommodate those who need extra time getting in. Meanwhile, men and women in suits walk past. It is very difficult to look inconspicuous in a bathroom on a sidewalk in New York with the door open. There is just nothing to do but stand there. And the delay will not please those who are in distress.
* The cost and size:
This toilet, which cost more than $100,000, is very spacious, large enough to accommodate a wheelchair. One cannot touch the side walls with arms outstretched.
* The toilet itself:
Sadly, these little surprises are forgotten with the first look at the toilet itself, an imposing, metal, cold-looking receptacle in the corner. There is no little stall around it, and so it looks exposed, like the facilities available in many prisons. It, too, is quite damp, for perfectly good reasons explained later, but the image first evokes a dungeon or a scene from one of the “Saw” pictures.
Surely, by now, if you haven't gone back to click on the link I gave you, you're thinking, "Is there a photo of this monstrosity?"

Why yes, yes there is.

With toilets like these, it's really no wonder Mayor Bloomberg has his eyes on the White House.

(hat tip: Mrs. A)

UPDATE (1/15): When you write things like what I wrote just above about Mayor Bloomberg, some people just don't pick up the ironic tone. I'm now on the Draft Bloomberg mailing list. Bwahahaha! I'm as likely to support him as Hillary. Not very.

Click here to read more . . .

Visitor of the day -- 1/11

Friday's visitor of the day falls into our "TMI" category. Really, we just don't want to know.

But the good news is: He didn't find the solution to his problem here.

Click here to read more . . .

Carnival of Maryland -- 24th edition

The 24th edition of the Carnival of Maryland is up at Annapolis Politics.

The 25th edition is scheduled for Sunday, January 27, to be hosted at The Greenbelt.

Send in your submissions by using the Blog Carnival form.

Click here to read more . . .

January 10, 2008

Another look at crime in Baltimore

I've written before about Baltimore's crime problems, usually giving credit to Gov. O'Malley, former mayor of Charm City.

But it's time to broach the subject again, because the FBI has released preliminary violent crime figures this week covering the first half of 2007, and the general trend for cities has been a decrease. Even Baltimore saw a significant drop in violent crime.

Well, except with respect to murders. Baltimore's first-half 2007 murders were 155, up 16.5% from the 133 murders in the first half of 2006.

Now, getting the first-half figures for murder at this date is a little like finding out the halftime score in a football game after the game is already over. We basically know the final totals already: "The city recorded 282 homicides in 2007, a slight increase over the previous year and the highest total since 1999, when 305 people were slain."

This means that the murder rate in Baltimore was about 44.3 per 100,000. I don't have the final figures for Washington, D.C. yet -- the total was 181 murders as of late December 31, up slightly from 2006. That would translate to 31.1 murders per 100,000 in Washington. Go, Baltimore!

Consider this: "New York's and Chicago's 2007 homicide totals were the lowest in more than 40 years, and in Philadelphia, slayings dipped slightly after reaching a nine-year high in 2006. But murders increased in several other big cities, including Atlanta, Miami and Dallas."

So am I being unfair in tarring Gov. O'Malley with this orgy of murder? Probably, although I'm a lot less unfair than the "Democratic lawmakers and police groups" referred to in the Washington Post:

If the pattern holds true for all of 2007, the overall drop would end a two-year increase in violent crime that provoked criticism of the Bush administration. Democratic lawmakers and police groups seized on the increase to highlight cuts in resources dedicated to law enforcement.
The Bush administration is responsible for violent crime? I'll give these folks the benefit of the doubt and assume they're being disingenuous rather than stupid.

Anyway, what to do?

How about increasing penalties for those convicted of gun crimes? Not bad. How about enhancing the ability to prosecute gang members? Not bad.

How about making it a misdemeanor to fail to report a missing firearm to police within three days? Surely, they're joking.

The justification for this policy is this: "'All too often we trace guns used in horrible crimes back to owners who claim their guns were stolen,' [Mayor] Dixon said." One would think that a person who knowingly or recklessly lent his gun for use in a crime could be prosecuted as an accessory. Now, I suppose prosecutors could say that it's too hard to prove intent, and that a failure to report might provide evidence of intent. At worst, the failure to report would justify some charge against the wrongdoer.

But it seems that this is more likely:
"The problem is that the people they are targeting, the people who would purposely allow it to get into the wrong hands are not going to care one way or another," Schneider said. "They're not going to report it anyway. There could be a situation where a law-abiding citizen who fails to report the gun is charged while the street hood who used the gun is never caught."
Meanwhile, Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy, who previously abolished the death penalty in Baltimore through prosecutorial discretion, wants to lessen penalties for illegal possession of a firearm by a felon or drug offender so she can get them to plead guilty and reduce the backlog of cases pending trial.

I'll bet that if I spoke to Jessamy, she'd give me some very practical reasons for her proposal -- difficulty of convicting in Baltimore, inadequate staffing at all levels of the criminal justice system, limited prison space, etc. And I might be sympathetic.

But it all boils down to one of the central reasons that government exists: to protect people from each other. If the government can't even do that, then the answer is obvious: Vote the politicians into higher office.

Click here to read more . . .

January 09, 2008

Faking it

If you're a radical carnivore, or if you've experienced fake meat only by eating Tofurky, one of the worst fake-meat products ever invented, you probably object to the concept.

In my household, though, we eat a lot of fake meat products, because keeping kosher means not eating dairy and meat at the same time. It's always nice to use fake meat so we can use real dairy products -- like "cheeseburgers" using veggie-burgers called "Grillers," or tacos with fake beef but real cheese.

I won't say we're aficionados, because we're always learning new things about fake meat products. For example, in today's Washington Post food section, there's a long article on the subject, along with taste tests of several products. (Sadly, you won't see at that link what the internal headline was in the dead-tree version, the headline on the jump page: "Is That Real Meat on Your Plate, or the Work of Seitan?")

The article distinguishes between philosophical and pragmatic vegetarians:

Of course, some vegetarians might relish the idea of eating a pig's foot made of soy protein; others, however, would rather starve than chomp on an ersatz appendage. Why, carnivores might ask, would someone who shies away from meat want to dine on a simulacrum of it? Why not just eat your veggies? It all depends on what kind of non-meat eater you are: philosophical or pragmatic.

Philosophical vegetarians, says Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, avoid meat for ethical reasons and prefer foods that taste and look like plant life. Conversely, pragmatic vegetarians love meat but not the nutritional pitfalls that come with it. "They want [vegetarian food] to taste like ground beef," Wansink said, "but without the animal fat."
Me, I find it interesting that a vegetarian, knowing that a food product is plant-based, would object simply because it looks (and perhaps tastes) like meat.

I once had a discussion about the kashrut version of this issue with a friend, who told me that a relative of his won't put non-dairy cream in his coffee with a meat meal, because it conflicts with the spirit of the rules, even though, if it's really non-dairy, there's no question that it's permissible to have it with meat.

Being something of a wiseguy, I asked him what his relative would say about this: Suppose a married couple, in intimate moments, pretended the spouse was someone else. Would they be committing adultery in spirit?

This hypothetical question really piqued his interest. He started spinning out another hypothetical that involved the husband dressing up as a cowboy, and I forget the rest, but I needed to cover his nine-year-old son's ears.

Click here to read more . . .

The progress of science and useful arts

If your nostrils are not free and clear, you basically have two choices. The first is what we might call the low-tech method: tissue for the (sort-of) liquid stuff and manual removal for the solid stuff. The second choice, through the indispensable InventorSpot, is more high-tech: a mucus-removing gun. (This invention fully warrants the "Dude" headline given to it at HotAir.)

Not to be outdone, HotAir commenter and occasional Pillage Idiot commenter "veeshir" offers this patent application: a "Toy gas fired missile and launcher assembly." You might not realize unless you click the link, or unless I tell you, that the gas it fires is man-made, if you catch my drift. "To operate the assembly, the operator places the inlet tube with its valve open adjacent his anal region from which a colonic gas is discharged." Dude.

Click here to read more . . .

January 08, 2008

From the Pillage Idiot circular file

Click to enlarge

A.A. Milne, Disobedience

Click here to read more . . .

Selling electronics and classical music

Instapundit writes: "WHEN PUSHING HD CAMERAS, it's apparently important to have women playing classical music."

And if you think his joke is only about the tenuous connection between electronics and traditional classical music, you need to click on the link above and check the photos.

But it's not just electronics shows that feature "glossies" of the women playing classical music; it's the labels themselves. The cover on virtually any CD featuring a young female classical musician will look like an ad for . . . oh, I don't know what. Here's one of my favorites. It's a great recording, too, by the way.

The moral is that sex sells, even in classical music.

Click here to read more . . .

Another reason not to vote for his wife

"Bill would ban swearing in bars"

Headline, AP story, Jan. 8, 2008

Click here to read more . . .

Adam Liptak, your readers want to know

I think some of us need a clarification from Adam Liptak.

Yesterday, Liptak's New York Times column examined the government's frequent success in fending off challenges to searches of laptop computers at airports and the borders. The idea is that searching your laptop is like searching your luggage.

Liptak discussed three cases in which the laptop that was searched contained kiddie p*rn.

Then, he closed his column with this odd statement:

There are all sorts of lessons in these cases. One is that the border seems be a privacy-free zone. A second is that encryption programs work. A third is that you should keep your password to yourself. And the most important, as my wife keeps telling me, is that you should leave your laptop at home.
And just what is on his laptop that makes his wife keep telling him to leave it at home? Your readers want to know, Mr. Liptak.

Click here to read more . . .

January 07, 2008

Classy political ad

A couple of nurses' unions are running an ad campaign that says it's too bad Dick Cheney isn't dead.

They say it a little differently, but that's the secondary message, at least.

The ad, which appeared in several newspapers today, starts with a Times clip headlined "Cheney Treated in Hospital For an Irregular Heartbeat." And the big follow-up line to that is: "If he were anyone else, he'd probably be dead by now."

To see the whole ad in PDF, click here. It's a very classy job. And by classy, I mean having no class whatsoever.

Technically, I suppose, this would be called Cheney Derangement Syndrome, but I'm putting it in the BDS category, anyway.

Click here to read more . . .

Bizarre quotation of the day

"The officers swiftly booted any troublemakers, as one fellow kept pointing out, 'Ron Paul has seen over 4,000 vaginas' - which was technically accurate I guess, but certainly not allowed."

Little Lost Robot, describing the way Ron Paul supporters dealt with hecklers in their virtual political march in World of Warcraft.

(via Ace)

Click here to read more . . .

January 06, 2008

That voice

You have to watch the video here at HotAir from Friday night, where the guests on Fox News debate whether Hillary lost the men's vote because of her nagging voice, at least up through the Hillary clips at the start.

Two words: Bella Abzug.

If you don't know who Bella Abzug was, read this.

Now, go to the website of the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute and watch the video on the main page. Or watch it directly here. All you need to watch is about a minute or so.

Done it? Good. Now tell me I'm right. Hillary with a New York accent.

Click here to read more . . .


My father died two solar-calendar years ago this past Friday. His yahrzeit was last month.

On Friday night, I had my third dream about him in which he was alive. Or to be more accurate, he was dead in the dream but physically present with us acting as if he were alive. I really don't know what to make of it. I mean, it's not exactly seven good years followed by seven bad years.

In the first dream, several family members and I were sitting on my parents' front porch, the way we did so often while my father was alive. My father was there with us. He was a few years younger than he was when he died, by which I mean he had not lost the weight and endured the disfiguring cancer treatment of the final year of his life. In my dream, my mother, my siblings, and I knew he had died, but my father seemed thoroughly unaware of this unfortunate fact.

I don't remember the second dream, but in substance it was more of the same.

The dream I had on Friday night shared much with the previous ones. I was lying in bed, and my father was sitting on a chair next to my bed, with his right foot on the chair and his knee raised in the air. He looked about the same as in the first dream. In the dream, I was thinking that this was not good, because his body should be straight for burial. My father opened his eyes, the pupils of which had the glassy look of someone who'd had cataract surgery, and he started to open his mouth, too. But he didn't speak, and I woke up. I really don't think it had anything to do with the secular anniversary of his death, because in Jewish practice, it's only the yahrzeit, based on the Jewish lunar calendar, that matters, and that occurred over 3 weeks ago. In fact, I didn't even remember the secular anniversary on Friday until the next day.

There must be a whole body of literature on this type of dream. I should do some research when I have a little time. Of course, if anyone can point me in the right direction, I'd be grateful for that.

Click here to read more . . .


"This is a bad, vain, dull, repulsive book. Don't read it. I didn't."

I'm not usually a major fan of P.J. O'Rourke, but I did like his review of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s Journals 1952-2000 in the Weekly Standard.

"In 1945, Schlesinger went back in time to retro-behind-kiss Andrew Jackson. He wrote The Age of Jackson, glorifying the ignorant backwoods thug who perpetrated genocide upon the Indians, created the spoils system in Washington, and fathered that bastard political party of rum, rebellion, and Hillary Rodham."

OK, you get the idea. Do read it. The review, that is, not the book.

Click here to read more . . .

January 05, 2008

If Barack Obama were Jewish, instead of the Second Coming of Jesus, Part 2

Obama (shouting into his cell phone): But Ma . . . Ma . . . I couldn't . . . I couldn't call you right away . . . Ma . . . I'm sorry you heard it from CBS . . . Ma . . . I couldn't help . . . I couldn't . . . I was giving . . . Ma, please . . . please don't interrupt . . . I was giving my victory speech in Iowa . . . what? . . . I was . . . yes, I liked that tie . . . and . . . and . . . but Ma . . . it didn't . . . Ma . . . it didn't go with the . . . the blue shirt I was wearing and . . . Ma . . . Ma . . . OK, Ma . . . yes, Ma . . . yeah, I'll do that . . . I'll wear it next time . . .

Click here to read more . . .

B2 goes to Legoland

When my kids were younger, my wife and I managed to avoid taking them to the major kiddie sites, like Disney World. I think my kids were the only kids in the entire U.S. of A. that never went to Disney World. Because we were mean, mean parents. Although we did take them to Universal Studios once when we were in Los Angeles, but that's not nearly as bad as Disney World must be.

B2, on the other hand, is a nice parent. He took his kids to Legoland. If you're a long-time reader, you may remember that B2 was my guest blogger in July 2005, when I was away in Israel for a couple of weeks. (Click here and scroll down to July 23 to see his guest posts in reverse chronological order.) B2 is one of the bloggers at Toner Mishap -- which I've always thought is one of the great names for a blog -- although he doesn't post nearly enough, in my opinion.

Anyway, as I was saying when I so rudely interrupted myself, B2 went to Legoland and posted photos of the visit. You are definitely going to want to see the third set of them here. Once you get there, you can easily find the first two sets. But I would definitely focus on part 3.

Click here to read more . . .

January 03, 2008

I'll have the necklace she's having

Today's movie short: "'When Harry Met Sally' met jewelry advertising."

Or: "When the director tells you to 'fake excitement while lying down, without smiling,' don't be too surprised when you're not portrayed giving a speech before a joint session of Congress."

Video at Ace's. As he says, Moderate Content Warning.

Click here to read more . . .

January 02, 2008

Do-it-yourself news story

Tonight, we're going to try to make a do-it-yourself news story.

1. Start out with a catchphrase for the story. Pick a short phrase that combines words that are funny and memorable together. Let's go with "flying bra." You can't get much better than that.

2. Next add a humorous premise for the story, like this: Some girl is in a car with three friends and decides to hoist her bra (we'll make it a red one, just for fun) up the car's antenna, and the wind lifts it off into the air. She claims she removed it because the family dog had chewed it earlier in the day and caused it to fray. But a witness says the girls were making gestures with their mouths and lifting their shirts at some men in the car behind.

3. Fold in an element that makes you not sure whether to laugh or feel awful: A couple of goobers in the car behind suddenly swerve to avoid hitting something that turns out to be a flying bra. They crash and are injured.

4. Bring in "the law": The girl who hoisted the bra is charged . . . with littering.

5. Tie it up with the obvious: Litigation ensues. And before long, after getting settlements from the girls in the car, the passenger in the car that crashed sues the driver, his buddy.

VoilĂ ! Here's your headline: "Friend sues buddy over 'flying bra' crash of '06"

And, of course, you'll need a photo showing the two unfortunate guys, with the passenger-plaintiff wearing a teeshirt that reads "The 4 Stages of Tequila."

* * * * *
For more background, check out these stories: A story in the Toledo Blade at the time of the incident, and a long writeup from shortly afterwards in something called Sports Car Market, which includes a photo of the crashed car.

(Via Patterico and Iowahawk)

Click here to read more . . .

January 01, 2008

Baseball for the Arabs

Would learning baseball help the Arab world get rid of a harmful aspect of its culture? Ocean Guy seems to think so.

His basic idea is that in baseball you're a successful team if you lose only 40% of your games. You're a successful hitter if you're out only 70% of the time. Failure is built into the game. If you fail, it doesn't mean you're humiliated; you pick yourself up and try again.

He links his own pithy statement from four years back:

If the Arabs could learn that lesson maybe they’d be less inclined to pronounce themselves humiliated at every bad break or whenever something doesn’t go entirely their way. And if they’re not humiliated quite as much… maybe they’d stop exploding themselves.
Ocean Guy's reason for revisiting this matter is that a young Bahraini blogger has posted similar thoughts -- not about baseball but about failure: "It is high time that we [Arabs] disassociate ourselves from old ideals. From this church of stagnation. And push forth with new ideas and embrace failure. Without which no success could ever come forth."

It's actually mildly encouraging to read these sentiments. And after baseball, I think self-mocking comedy should come next.

Bonus: Baseball in Iraq, Sept. 2005

Click here to read more . . .

Looking for the first runner-up

So you're an ambitious young woman, and you work out a promising career path:

* Compete in Miss Arizona pageant -- CHECK!

* Go to law school -- CHECK!

* Get a job with a federal district judge -- CHECK!

* Pose for a calendar in a bikini holding an impressive firearm -- CHECK!

* Kidnap and torture your ex-boyfriend -- er, CHECK!

ABC News describes it this way:

Kumari Fulbright, 25, is accused, along with three other men, of tying up her 24-year-old ex-boyfriend with plastic cable and duct tape, and holding him captive for hours in two different Tucson homes, the Arizona Daily Star reported, citing indictment documents in Pima County Superior Court.

Fulbright, who participated in the Miss Arizona pageant as Miss Pima County in 2005, and Miss Desert Sun in 2006, also reportedly serves as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Raner Collins. She is listed as a second-year writer on the editorial board of the Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law at the University of Arizona.

* * * * *

Prosecutors cite Fulbright in the documents. "[Fulbright] specifically bit him several times while he was bound, stuck a butcher knife in his ear ... said she was going to kill him, [and] pointed a pistol at him."
According to the Tuscon Citizen, court documents allege that she "bit his ears, hands and forearm." Not quite Bobbittesque but still pretty bizarre.

As we all know, of course, people are innocent until proven guilty, so let's let the criminal process take its course. Blah, blah, blah.

OK, if you haven't clicked on the first link, you're probably still wondering about that photo in the bikini with a gun. Click here and tell me whether this helps or hurts her at trial.

UPDATE: Stumbled on this post with an amusing title: "Looks Like Judge Collins is Going to Need a New Clerk." The blogger speculates that this woman was planning to bump the guy off: "The really scary part of this story is that she was obviously planning to kill him. You can't kidnap, rob, assault and torture someone who KNOWS YOUR NAME and then release him."

Click here to read more . . .