Maryland Blogger Alliance

Alliance FAQs

Latest MBA Posts

July 30, 2008

Another day, another environmentalist rabbi

I'm not going to say much about this Torah commentary from the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative Judaism's rabbinical academy), because it's really a self-parody. The commentary was written by Rabbi Abigail Treu, described as the director of Donor Relations and Planned Giving for the Sem. That is, she's a fundraiser, but a rabbi at the same time.

To give you the flavor of the commentary, in case you don't want to click on the link, here's the opening paragraph:

Golda Meir famously quipped: “Let me tell you the one thing I have against Moses. He took us forty years into the desert in order to bring us to the one place in the Middle East that has no oil!” Well, the folks living atop the Marcellus Shale have the opposite gripe. Underneath this formation, which stretches from the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York through Pennsylvania and Ohio to Virginia, there is oil. And with the price of oil being what it is, the oil companies have new incentive to drill there and have come calling. Which presents the farmers and landowners in this four-state stretch with a dilemma: what is more important, the beauty and health of their land or their economic security?
I know! Call on me! The farmers should preserve the beauty of their land, despite their relative poverty, so that rich liberals can enjoy the natural beauty.

Oy, vey! Rabbi Treu's commentary goes on to discuss what she sees as environmentalism in this week's Torah portion, culminating in her tribute to the idealism of Jewish law (about which see my discussion of the prosbul).

Most of us curmudgeons are strong believers in conservation, but that's not what we're talking about here. In case you were still doubting that the great project of environmentalism is to destroy the economy and reduce our standard of living, consider the way Rabbi Treu closes her commentary. We should learn, she says, from the mistakes of the Children of Israel in the wilderness, adding:
We too are poised on a threshold, contemplating how to react to our own scary reports of an uncertain future. We would do well to take the mantle of tikkun ‘olam onto our own shoulders, so that our children may be blessed to recite one hundred blessings a day, and live in a world in which the lack of oil is a source of celebration, not regret.
What's really scary is that the head of fundraising for the Sem is so clueless about why donors have money in the first place: They have money because they engage in commerce. Of course, if she had her way, there would far less commerce. I wonder whether she would then declare that the ensuing drop in donations to the Sem was a source of celebration, not regret.

Click here to read more . . .

Karnei farah and yerach ben yomo

This is a little inside baseball for the relatively small fraternity of Torah readers and the even smaller fraternity of Torah readers who read mattot-mas'ei (or this year masei alone).

Three years ago, I wrote about reading mattot-mas'ei, and since that time, I've had quite a few visitors go to that post. I suspect some are Torah readers looking for help in reading the karnei farah and yerach ben yomo, two rare notes that are read exactly once a year, in the same verse of mas'ei. (Numbers 35:5) Another, slightly less rare note is the mercha ch'fulah, which occurs something like six times, including once in mattot.

For those of you who are looking for last-minute help before this shabbat, when we read mas'ei (and for those of you looking to prepare for next year), I've created a WAV file of chapter 35, verses 4 and 5. I've included verse 4, which doesn't have any of these rare notes, for the following reason: There are numerous traditions about how all the notes are sung. While the traditions have many similarities, there are also differences, and it might help you to hear my particular tradition so you know what I'm starting from. I learned the yerach ben yomo from a sheet music version I found some years ago. And from that sheet music, I learned that the karnei farah is, just as it appears, simply a t'lisha k'tanah followed by a t'lisha g'dolah. I've applied my own tradition for those two notes. If there's interest, maybe I'll include the mercha ch'fulah next year.

So feel free to click here for the WAV file.

And if you think I'm wrong about how these notes are sung, call me pisher.

Meanwhile, I'll simply quote a friend who says: Don't worry; 98% of the congregation won't realize it's a mistake.

Click here to read more . . .

July 29, 2008

Tuesday evening linkfest

Here are a few links I've been collecting:

1. You know you're having a bad day at the gym when the exercise machine shoots you out like a slingshot.

2. I had a visitor looking for information about flatulence in Beethoven's Second Symphony. (It's not as strange as it sounds; listen to the fourth movement.) So I followed his search link and discovered that it's really the choral movement of the Ninth that's flatulent. So says an op-ed in the NY Times from last December. I'm serious. Check it out.

3. In light of that, scientists have strapped plastic bags to Beethoven's back to measure the effect of his flatulence on global warming. Sorry, it's Argentinian cows who have to suffer this indignity. Photo at link. (Hat tip: fee simple)

4. The headline says it all: "Gummy Bears That Fight Plaque" (via HotAir)

5. The Snickers ad: How to be retro and edgy at the same time.

6. As a follow-up to my post from last September on the same subject and the same "scientist," I'm giving you this article on "breast biomechanics." (via Ace)

7. The Maryland Death Penalty Abolition Dog And Pony Show (MDPADAPS) is now underway. I'm on the edge of my seat wondering what the commission's conclusion will be.

8. Soccer Dad deals with Obamoid stupidity so you don't have to. Or is "stupidity" the new "uppity"?

9. If the carnivores can do it, so can the vegetarians. A veggie "hot dog" eating contest, I mean. Except for the fact that Tofurky sucks major eggs. And don't neglect to click to read the waiver required of participants. (On The Red Line)

10. Mark Newgent takes on more left-wing economic idiocy. (See here for my own post from last week.)

11. Mightily pissed off (and more dubious language) because an editor removed the indefinite article formerly the penultimate word in his column. (via Three Sources)

Click here to read more . . .

July 28, 2008

The car mileage Olympics

Maybe some of you recall the Shell Mileage Test commercials from, oh, about a couple of centuries ago?

There was another commercial I remember even better, in which the winning car (the one with Shell with Platformate) drove through a sheet marking where the car without Platformate had stopped.

With the current price of gas more than 10 times its price when these commercials ran, the whole subject of mileage is back at the fore. I have a mileage gauge on my 2006 Toyota Avalon, and I'll confess that it's somewhat affected my driving style. For example, I've taken to accelerating slowly and consistently from a stop; I use cruise control a lot, including the cool "laser cruise control" that adjusts your speed based on your distance from the guy in front of you; and I try to avoid unnecessary downshifting when I go up a hill (this is an automatic transmission, by the way). The car is rated something like 22/31 EPA, and I get about 18/31, which I think is pretty good. I pay a lot of attention to the mileage, but I'm not kooky about it.

So I have to tell you this story. A few weeks ago, we were having dinner at the house of a couple we're friends with. My friend -- call him "C" -- was poking fun at himself for being extremely concerned with the mileage gauge on his hybrid Camry to the point that he would turn off the air conditioning in the summer and leave the windows open even in scorching heat. C told us he also took an alternate route in his neighborhood to avoid a slight hill that might cut into his mileage. And on the highway, he'd get into the right lane and drive 55. We were all laughing about this, including C himself, because he realized it sounded silly. He doesn't do this so much to save the money. I mean, he's a serious lawyer at a serious law firm. It's more like he's playing a video game with the mileage gauge and trying to beat the top score. Mrs. C said at dinner that she was convinced that if the government required all cars to have mileage gauges, the guys of this country would all compete in an attempt to increase their mileage, and we'd save a lot of money on gas.

That was probably the funniest line of the evening. But I had to re-evaluate my reaction after having a conversation this weekend with another friend of mine -- call him "P." A few weeks ago, my daughter and I came up beside P and his son at a traffic light, and they waved to us. But within a few seconds after the light changed, P's car was nowhere to be seen. My daughter wasn't driving particularly fast, so we were baffled. I asked P about it this weekend, and he said, "I must have been driving the hybrid." And then he told me all the things he does to try to get the highest possible number on that mileage gauge. The punchline was that his son once drove home from out of town and got in late. P asked his son why he was late, and his son grumbled that he was "stuck behind some guy in a hybrid."

So if any of you drive a hybrid or otherwise have a gas mileage gauge on your dashboard, I'd like to hear from you. And even if you don't, what's your opinion of this business?

Click here to read more . . .

July 27, 2008

Acknowledging a debt

About four years ago, I fell in love with Jeff Goldstein's writing at protein wisdom. I think it started with the "Overheard inside a Fallujah bunker" series, one example of which is here.

A couple of years ago, Jeff bought a house, and while he was taking care of things, he opened pw up to guest-bloggers -- pretty much anyone who volunteered, which included me. I lasted only a week or so, because the pressure of writing for a large readership was too great, and because my abilities were too limited. I did post a couple of wry dialogues involving the guy who's now the Republican nominee for President: "Senator McCain goes to the public library" and "Senator McCain goes to the public library -- ALTERNATE VERSION."

Jeff later had problems with an online stalker, and he was also busy as a work-at-home dad for his son, so he didn't appear as much as pw as his readers might have liked. Fortunately, Dan Collins and later Karl (not to mention Darleen Click and a couple of others) have kept the joint open. Jeff has occasionally appeared, leading to huge excitement among the fans.

Sadly, Jeff announced this weekend that he's giving it up. Blogging isn't forever, and there's a time to call things to a close. But it makes me sad, for a rather selfish reason. And I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge a debt I owe Jeff.

Jeff opened me up to a new way of thinking about humor. Jeff's mind took him places that the rest of us can only marvel at. I was very much influenced by him. At first, I was doing imitations of him -- the McCain posts are examples of that. After a while, having assimilated some of Jeff's approach, I went off on my own. But I realize now that I never really left his orbit.

On Friday, before Jeff announced his goodby, he wrote a post called "what it might sound like were Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to carry on a conversation with a Swingline stapler." Brilliant. Classic Goldstein.

But it left me with the feeling that not only do I owe him a debt but I've actually been channeling him -- yet doing a lousy job of it. Case in point: My series of posts called "Ron Paul chats with his cocker spaniel." Click on the link and work backwards. I feel like the kid who tries to paint a Rembrandt with finger paint.

My all-time favorite Goldstein post is his interview with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi the day after the Zark was killed by American pilots: "The protein wisdom interview: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." What I learned from this is that it's not enough to have the raw idea -- here, an interview with a dead guy who says nothing. I actually did a similar post the night before Jeff, and I stole the idea not from Jeff but from an old National Lampoon interview. Still, Jeff's was so many times better than mine that I said to myself, "Holy crap! This is how it has to be done!" His version was like the arc of a great breaking ball -- sort of like the one that ended the Mets' season later in 2006, when Carlos Beltran froze on a called third strike on Adam Wainwright's monster curve -- and you watch it arcing, dropping in over the plate, and you say to yourself, "How the hell did he do that?"

Thanks, Jeff, for teaching me so much.

Click here to read more . . .

Carnival of Maryland -- 38th edition

The 38th edition of the Carnival of Maryland is up at ROTUS, a blog run by Clark, of Maryland Blogger Alliance member blog Clark's Picks. Clark's done a really nice job -- and love that photo!

The 39th edition is scheduled for Sunday, August 10, to be hosted at Inside Charm City.

Send in your submissions by using the Blog Carnival form.

And I haven't mentioned this in a long time, so let me give credit again to Charlie Dowd for the terrific logo he created for us.

Click here to read more . . .

July 24, 2008

Barack Obama wins the Super Bowl

Obama: . . . and people keep asking whether I can break the tackle or hit the receiver, and I've addressed that often before, but in terms of my abilities, you don't have to just look at my words. You can look at my deeds. Just last January, the New York Giants, who are my team, the team I quarterback for, won the Super Bowl. And I think that will ratchet up the pressure on Iran, which has been trying to develop the Bomb to overcome the running advantage of its neighbors . . . .


Click here to read more . . .

Barack Obama wields his veto pen

Obama: The Republicans' energy plan would allow off-shore drilling, which would threaten our delicate environmental balance and distract us from the priority of lessening our demand for oil. If that plan comes before me, I will veto it.

Reporter: But Senator, you're not the President.

Obama: Veto possimus.

Story. See also here and "Speak it into being."

Click here to read more . . .

July 23, 2008

That man must be carded

Professor Steven Calabresi writes that Obama doesn't meet the constitutional age requirement, because 35 years of age in 1789 has to be adjusted for inflation, so to speak.

Barack Obama is too young to be president. Yes I know he is 46 and the Constitution sets the presidential age qualification at 35 or higher, but Obama has said that we ought not to interpret the Constitution woodenly and formalistically. Perhaps we should look deeper at the presidential age limit. If we do, we will find that Obama really is too young to be president.

Many on the legal left these days advocate purposive, pragmatic interpretation of the Constitution. The idea is you look behind the text to see what function it played for the framers and you then translate the text so it will play that same function for us today. What does this mean for the presidential age qualification?

In 1789, the average life expectancy of a newborn was about 40 years, compared with about 78 today. A lot of this was because of infant mortality, but in 1789, even the average life expectancy of every man who reached age 18 was only about 47. This suggests that at best a 35-year-old age limit in 1789 might have functioned then about the way a 55- or 60-year-old age qualification would function today. On this account Obama may be old enough to drive and buy a glass of white wine, but he has a way to go before he can run for president.
He's obviously poking fun at the judges who argue in favor of a pragmatic interpretation of the Constitution that doesn't feel bound by the original meaning of the text.

I got this link through the Volokh Conspiracy, where commenters are ripping Calabresi for his effrontery. To be fair, some of them say they see the point but think it just isn't funny.

So I pose this question to you: (a) clever and amusing satire; (b) point noted but not funny; or (c) insulting crap from a McCain hack?

Click here to read more . . .

Visitor of the day -- 7/23

Well, it took only about 10 hours after I posted my piece last night called "Harvard misunderstands America" before I got a visitor looking for "stupid rich people at harvard." The visitor was from Cornell, where, of course, there are no stupid rich people.

Turns out I was fourth on that Google search. I didn't check who was first, second, and third, but I'll bet the visitor didn't get his answer there.

Click here to read more . . .

July 22, 2008

Harvard misunderstands America

My father used to say that you had to be really smart to be really stupid. This article about a bunch of Harvard professors would have confirmed him in that wisdom.

The thrust of the article is that there is a wide and growing gap in income in the United States between rich and poor. This is what keeps professors at the nation's richest university awake at night.

Disparities in health tend to fall along income lines everywhere: the poor generally get sicker and die sooner than the rich. But in the United States, the gap between the rich and the poor is far wider than in most other developed democracies, and it is getting wider. That is true both before and after taxes: the United States also does less than most other rich democracies to redistribute income from the rich to the poor.
There we go: redistribution of income. I guess it's time for poorer universities to start grabbing some of Harvard's endowment.

Our failure to redistribute income adequately is a huge problem, according to the folks at Harvard:
The level of inequality we allow represents our answer to “a very important question,” says Nancy Krieger, professor of society, human development, and health at HSPH: “What kind of society do we want to live in?”
Obviously, a society that rewards economic risk-taking and hard work with confiscatory taxes. Far better than what Professor Lawrence Katz fears we're creating -- "something like a caste society." That must be why so many Indian engineers have moved here.

But what kind of inequality do we really have in this country if there is so little true poverty? It turns out that it's not so much actual poverty that's important but "relative deprivation."
The idea is that, even when we have enough money to cover basic needs, it may harm us psychologically to see that other people have more. When British economist Peter Townsend developed his relative deprivation index in 1979, the concept was not new. Seneca wrote that to be poor in the midst of riches is the worst of poverties; Karl Marx wrote, “A house may be large or small; as long as the neighboring houses are likewise small, it satisfies all social requirement for a residence. But let there arise next to the little house a palace, and the little house shrinks to a hut.”
Ah, yes, Karl Marx. That worked out well, didn't it?

As most non-academics understand, the United States is both the most prosperous country in the world and the one with the smallest amount of serious poverty -- certainly when you consider countries with large populations. The explanation is also pretty obvious outside of academia: We have a generally capitalistic economic system; we have an economic and social system that encourages entrepreneurialism; we have a relatively low level of discrimination in the economic realm; and we have a general attitude (again, outside of academia) that people can reach for the stars. We have some redistribution of income, but we don't see government solutions to every problem. Americans are notoriously generous with their own money. ("The United States is 'a land of charity,' says Arthur Brooks, an expert on philanthropy and a professor at Syracuse University's Maxwell School, who sees charitable giving and volunteerism as the signal characteristic of Americans.")

The Harvard professors don't seem to get it. The article cites "Americans’ unique attitudes toward inequality," but it immediately proceeds to caricature those attitudes:
It makes intuitive sense that those who view poverty as a personal failing don’t feel compelled to redistribute money from the rich to the poor. Indeed, Ropes professor of political economy Alberto Alesina and Glimp professor of economics Edward L. Glaeser find a strong link between beliefs and tax policy: they find that a 10-percent increase in the share of the population that believes luck determines income is associated with a 3.5-percent increase in the share of GDP a given nation’s government spends on redistribution (see “Down and Out in Paris and Boston,” January-February 2005, page 14).
These professors also caricature Americans as racist: "Those U.S. states with the largest black populations have the least generous welfare systems." Another professor agrees:
And in a nationwide study of people’s preferences for redistribution, Erzo F.P. Luttmer, associate professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), found strong evidence for racial loyalty: people who lived near poor people of the same race were likely to support redistribution, and people who lived near poor people of a different race were less likely to do so. Differences in skin color seem to encourage the wealthy to view the poor as fundamentally different, serving as a visual cue against thinking, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
But my personal favorite caricature is this one:
The Constitution is structured in such a way that it is harder to change than the constitutions of Europe’s welfare states, where left-leaning groups have succeeded at writing in change. By and large, Alesina and Glaeser write, the U.S. Constitution “is still the same document approved by a minority of wealthy white men in 1776.”
In case you missed their point, let me explain: The Constitution protects property and is difficult to amend. This was done because the Constitution was written by a minority (in the bad sense of the term) of "wealthy white men" who favored their own interests over those of non-wealthy white men, as well as wealthy white women, and wealthy non-white men, all of whom were too busy watching reruns of 18th-century sitcoms to rise up against the protection of private property. What's worse, this system unfortunately prevents "left-leaning groups" from solving poverty through redistributive schemes.

So why haven't Americans risen up against this staggering inequality? First, apparently, non-rich Americans suffer from false consciousness: "The prospect of upward mobility forms the very bedrock of the American dream." Unfortunately, says the article, this bedrock is based on quicksand.
In fact, a recent Brookings Institution report cites findings that intergenerational mobility is actually significantly higher in Norway, Finland, and Denmark—low-inequality countries where birth should be destiny if inequality, as some argue, fuels mobility.

In the United States, the correlation between parents’ income and children’s income is higher than chance: 42 percent of children born to parents in the bottom income quintile were still in the bottom quintile as adults, and 39 percent of children born to parents in the top quintile remained in the top quintile as adults, according to the Brookings analysis.
This is really the wrong question, though. The right question is whether individuals themselves remain in the same quintiles through their working careers. That is, is there economic mobility in the United States? The answer is that there is substantial mobility, as the data in this analysis show. Pay attention, in particular, to the discussion of mobility out of the bottom two quintiles and the information on these charts from pages 17 and 18:

The second reason the article offers for Americans' failure to rebel is that the political deck is unfairly stacked against the poor. Sure, we no longer have property ownership as a qualification for the vote. Sure, everyone's vote is equal, regardless of income. Sure, there are a lot more non-rich than rich. But money's still a big factor in politics.
More than half of households make less money than average, so, broadly speaking, more than half of voters should favor policies that redistribute income from the top down. Instead, though, nations—and individual states—with high inequality levels tend to favor policies that allow the affluent to hang onto their money.

Filipe R. Campante, an assistant professor of public policy at HKS and a former student of Alesina’s, thinks he’s discovered why. After investigating what drives candidates’ platforms and policy decisions, Campante has concluded that donations are at least as influential a mode of political participation as votes are.
You might think that some below-average-income voters would accept that everyone is entitled to his own money and not demand redistribution. But let's indulge the Harvard academics their assumptions. The theory is this:
Candidates, naturally, target voters with money because they need funds for their campaigns. And since the poor gravitate toward parties that favor redistribution and the wealthy align themselves with parties that do not, campaign contributions end up benefiting primarily parties and candidates whose platforms do not include redistribution. By the time the election comes around, the only candidates left in the race are those who’ve shaped their platforms to maximize fundraising; poor voters, says Campante, have already been left out.
I think my father would have been shaking his head and grumbling at this explanation. The wealthy in the current electoral cycle are actually favoring the Democrats, whose pitch is far more redistributionist than the Republicans'.

In any event, Campante's explanation makes little sense. Both of the major political parties are awash in campaign contributions, so how can it be that "campaign contributions end up benefiting primarily parties and candidates whose platforms do not include redistribution"? Is Campante saying that the poor are harmed because no one's contributing to socialist third parties?

I have a radical suggestion that might actually explain things: Americans, by and large, think the system is fair. They like a system that lets poor people get rich and rich people become poor. They like the freedom. They know the system is imperfect, but they also doubt that the government knows better who deserves to keep his money and who deserves to have it taken from him.

Maybe I'm way too optimistic about this, but I think I have a stronger sense of reality than the Harvard professors interviewed in that article.

Click here to read more . . .

July 21, 2008

More like a "large"

If you were a normal kid, when someone told you that the dead look down upon us, you asked yourself whether they could see you in the bathroom. You wondered whether, when you were there doing number two, Grandpa was watching you.

Apparently, the answer is "yes," at least according to a "medium" (or possibly a "large") named Concetta Bertoldi.

Do dead people watch us shower? Does Grandma know I like to do that in bed?

Sure they can! And Grandma certainly does … They see us in the bathroom and they see us in the bedroom! But who cares? They’re dead! Who’re they gonna tell anything?
So now, you're thinking, "That totally misses the point!" And you're right. You don't care if Grandpa tells his buddies at the pool hall that you just did number two or even that you like to play a little pocket billiards yourself from time to time. You don't even care if Grandma tells her friends that you like to do that thing in bed. You just don't want them to see you doin' that stuff.

As Bill Cosby pointed out, that's why they put doors on bathrooms, so no one knows whether you're one-in' it or two-in' it in there.

I'll leave you with this:
What do the dead wear?

Just remember that. When Grandpa's watching you do number two, he's naked as a jay bird.

UPDATE (7/22): "Fortuneteller suing to overturn Montgomery ban on forecasting." They allow predictions of global warming, after all.

Click here to read more . . .

July 20, 2008

Best of Pillage Idiot - VI

Mrs. Attila and I are off celebrating our upcoming 25th anniversary. Here are some blasts from the past. I hope you'll enjoy them a second time.

Today is plastic surgery day, because, you know, you always want to be on the frontiers of plastic surgery by reading Pillage Idiot. And because, when we get home later today, I doubt I'll have time to check in.

Frontiers of plastic surgery

Frontiers of plastic surgery

More frontiers in plastic surgery

Frontiers of plastic surgery

Frontiers of plastic surgery

New hobby for Thai women

Click here to read more . . .

July 18, 2008

Report from the secure, undisclosed location

I mentioned when I left on vacation that I would possibly post photos from our secure, undisclosed location. So I'm trying to make good on that aspiration.

We've been enjoying the natural beauty. (Click to enlarge photos.)

I couldn't resist this last one. It's the best mailbox ever. If you don't know what's covering it, you've never had the pleasure of repairing or upgrading your computer. Or building it, I guess I should add. I've uploaded an even larger click-to-enlarge version of this photo (1024 x 768), to give you some of the detail.

Click here to read more . . .

Best of Pillage Idiot - V

Mrs. Attila and I are off celebrating our upcoming 25th anniversary. Here are some blasts from the past. I hope you'll enjoy them a second time.

I certainly hope that President McCain will appoint justices like John Roberts and Samuel Alito, so I can do some more photo comics like these:

Anatomy of a nomination

Alito talks about Roe

Click here to read more . . .

July 17, 2008

Best of Pillage Idiot - IV

Mrs. Attila and I are off celebrating our upcoming 25th anniversary. Here are some blasts from the past. I hope you'll enjoy them a second time.

Today's Obama day. I really guessed wrong about him. A year ago, I assumed he was running to be Hillary's VP. So I didn't have a lot to say about him.

Last winter, I started out with a series called "If Barack Obama were Jewish, instead of the Second Coming of Jesus." Here's Part 4.

And some miscellaneous posts:

Barack Obama shows he's human

Top ten Obama bumper stickers

Barack Obama responds to the Gettysburg Address

Barack Obama's newest text on national security

My strange post about Barack and Michelle going on a blind date is very recent and should still be on the front page. Go there or click here.

Click here to read more . . .

July 16, 2008

Best of Pillage Idiot - III

Mrs. Attila and I are off celebrating our upcoming 25th anniversary. Here are some blasts from the past. I hope you'll enjoy them a second time.

I haven't found much to laugh about with John McCain, but I did get a chuckle when he tried to make nice to conservatives at the CPAC convention after having won the nomination without any significant conservative support. Here's my photo comic, which I think describes his thinking pretty accurately.

John McCain reaches out to conservatives

Click here to read more . . .

July 15, 2008

Soccer Dad: Public enema #1

This is just weird:

Alexander Kharchenko, director of the Russian spa says the world's first monument to enema treatments has been unveiled at the spa in the southern city of Zheleznovodsk. The bronze syringe bulb, weighs 800 pounds and is held by three angels.
I just had to post it so I could use the title.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

Click here to read more . . .

Best of Pillage Idiot - II

Mrs. Attila and I are off celebrating our upcoming 25th anniversary. Here are some blasts from the past. I hope you'll enjoy them a second time.

Bill Clinton started out in the campaign as a guy that Hillary wanted nowhere near her, but he ended up upending her, attracting media attention away from her in a negative way.

I guess you can see a little of the trajectory in these photo comics:

Bill Clinton grabs some contributions for Hillary

Bill Clinton supports Hillary's cleavage

Bill Clinton evaluates HillaryCare II

Bill Clinton gives an interview

Bill Clinton responds to the New York Times

Click here to read more . . .

July 14, 2008

Soccer Dad: You can't handle the naked truth

Posted by Soccer Dad.

For those Pillage Idiot connoisseurs out there, you must know that one of the most common search terms that googlers use to find Pillage Idiot is "naked."

It is in that spirit I recommend today's Best of the Web Today that observes that there's a one naked man crime spree going on nationally. Go check it out.

But I find the first crime particularly curious:
Naked Man Breaks In, Flees in Woman's Clothes

If he fled in a woman's clothes, he wasn't naked anymore. Was he?

Anyway, if some of you are wondering how we became such good friends, it goes back to a story that he covered 3+ years ago about a group of naked bison who played tennis not too far from where I live.

Anyway, in the meantime enjoy the best of Pillage Idiot while he enjoys his anniversary and check out the latest Haveil Havalim (the Jewish/Israel blogging carnival) that includes a link to Attila's post on Sen. Obama's Minyan.

Click here to read more . . .

Best of Pillage Idiot - I

Mrs. Attila and I are off celebrating our upcoming 25th anniversary. Here are some blasts from the past. I hope you'll enjoy them a second time.

Remember Hillary Clinton? I do.

Some photo comics:

Hillary begins a conversation (my personal favorite)

Hillary responds to Kate Michelman

Hillary engages in some racial healing

I also thought this spoof turned out pretty well. I was poking fun at Hillary's fantasy of evading sniper fire in Tuzla.

Hillary returns from the Chappaqua 7-Eleven

Click here to read more . . .

July 13, 2008

Scheduling note

A note about the upcoming schedule at Pillage Idiot for the benefit of my small but devoted following:

This coming week, starting later today, I'll be celebrating my 25th anniversary with Mrs. Attila at a secure, undisclosed location. Our anniversary is actually in a couple of months, but I'm a proponent of partying early.

There might be some guest-blogging here in my absence, but I've pre-scheduled a bunch of "Best of Pillage Idiot" posts to make sure there's something here for you to read. These are re-posts of things you may have seen before, but I hope you'll enjoy seeing them again. It's possible, though I make no promises, that I may be able to post a few photos from from my secure, undisclosed location. (If I do, don't expect to see me or Mrs. A in any of them.)

A 25th anniversary, if you're as lucky as I am, is a time for celebration, but it's also a time for reflection. Basically, I'm still trying to figure out what Mrs. A saw in me. I think I know what she sees in me now, but I'm puzzling over what she saw 26 years ago.

The odds against a socially defective human being like me finding the woman of his dreams and having her think he's worthy of marriage are astronomical. The odds are even longer when you consider that the coincidences by which I found my wife were, well, flukish, as so many coincidences are.

I met my wife when she was sharing an apartment with a woman I went on a couple of dates (literally, two) with one summer. I'll call her X. The woman, X, was a year behind me in law school, and the year after I graduated, when she was a third-year student, I returned to the school for a few days to visit some friends. I accidentally bumped into X, and we had lunch. When she heard where I was living, she told me my wife was living only a few blocks away and advised me to ask her out. I already knew from having met my wife briefly when I picked X up at her apartment that my wife was smart and attractive and laughed politely at my jokes, so I didn't pooh-pooh the idea. But a socially defective guy doesn't just ask a woman out. He is tormented over the prospect for about six weeks before calling. Fortunately, in my case, my wife was expecting my call.

Now, it might sound odd in this day and age, but 25 or more years ago, when I was in my 20s, I had a pretty good idea of what I was looking for in a wife. I still think that when you're in your 20s, you should be evaluating relationships with an eye to whether they can lead to marriage, and not waste your time with ones that obviously cannot, but that's a topic for another time. My wife and I, in any event, had two long phone conversations before we even went out on a date, and by the end of the second conversation, I decided I was going to marry her. This is a true story. I don't recommend this strategy in general, because love at first sight, or second phone call, is usually a mirage. But in my case, my wife was way off the charts.

In the first month or two, there were a couple of missed signals that almost ruined my string of luck, but a year later to the day after our first phone call, we decided -- I should say she agreed -- to get married. And my life has been wonderful ever since.

I'm totally serious about that.

Click here to read more . . .

Carnival of Maryland -- 37th edition

The 37th edition of the Carnival of Maryland is up at monoblogue. Michael, at monoblogue, has been our host for every 10th edition of the Carnival, starting with the 7th. Check back in 20 weeks. He's promised to host the 47th edition, too.

The 38th edition of the Carnival is scheduled for Sunday, July 27, to be hosted at ROTUS, a blog run by Clark of Clark's Picks.

Send in your submissions by using the Blog Carnival form.

Click here to read more . . .

July 12, 2008

"It was Microsoft"

I have to report a totally true conversation I had at shul with a member of our congregation who is a computer consultant. I'm leaving nothing out between my question and his answer.

Me: Do you use ZoneAlarm for your firewall?

Him: It was Microsoft that did it.

To explain: This past week, Microsoft pushed an update to Windows XP that apparently "broke" ZoneAlarm in the sense that internet traffic was blocked. I figured out ZA was broken by eliminating about 10 other possible causes of our inability to reach the internet. The workaround was to go from High to Medium on the internet zone, which seems to unstealth one port but otherwise leaves things alone.

The guy I was chatting with said that many of his clients had called him this week to solve the problem -- which is why he knew what I was going to ask. Incidentally, he didn't blame Microsoft. He said these updates can't be tested on every software (although I would think major firewalls would be in the top 10 to test), and he thinks ZA could have alerted its registered customers with the solution and later with the upgrade. He's right, and I still don't have the upgrade.

But the idea that a Microsoft fix could be harmful was an amusing turn of events. And really not so surprising.

Click here to read more . . .

July 10, 2008

We can believe in it

Via Ace, another do-it-yourself Obama poster maker site.

Oh, and here's mine. Not funny, just odd.

Click here to read more . . .

Stacking the deck against the death penalty

Governor O'Malley has firm views on what's wrong with the death penalty, but he apparently lacks the guts (and the votes) to push for its abolition.

So instead, he's set up a commission to "study" it, and has stacked the deck with a chairman who's on record against it. Another day in Maryland politics.

Benjamin Civiletti, a prominent Baltimore lawyer and former U.S. attorney general who once called for a national moratorium on capital punishment, will head a state commission studying the death penalty in Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced Thursday.

The commission begins its deliberations as O'Malley, a staunch death-penalty opponent, has moved toward ending Maryland's de facto moratorium on executions by ordering the drafting of procedures for the use of lethal injection. O'Malley, a Democrat, made that decision on the advice of legal counsel after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Kentucky's use of lethal injection protocols that are virtually identical to Maryland's.

Established this year by the General Assembly, the commission is charged with examining a number of issues including disparities in the application of the death penalty, the cost differential between litigating prolonged capital punishment cases and life imprisonment, and the impact of DNA evidence.

O'Malley appointed 13 of the 23 commission members, and death penalty proponents had raised concerns that the governor would stack the panel with like-minded opponents. Civiletti, who was attorney general during the Carter administration and now focuses on commercial litigation and white-collar crime, said he hasn't represented anyone charged with a capital offense. He declined to share his personal opinion on the subject Thursday.
Oh, sure, there are members who support the death penalty, like the Baltimore County state's attorney, but we all know where this is headed. Why go through this elaborate ruse of impartial inquiry?

Click here to read more . . .

Who's minding the mint?

At first, this sounds like the symptoms of watching a presidential debate, but in all seriousness, it is truly scary.

When Satnam Singh's Indian American relatives gathered for dinner Tuesday night in Gaithersburg, they shared a typical meal, including a potato stew flavored with mint.

What happened later was far from typical. Singh woke to find six members of his extended family in medical distress: nauseated, disoriented and worsening quickly.

* * * * *

The six became lethargic, and as the night wore on, they experienced a variety of symptoms, including heart palpitations, vomiting, sweating and loss of consciousness.
Authorities suspect that the mint may have been sprayed with a pesticide and not properly washed. On the other hand, six other family members were not sick, so who knows?

When I was young, we used to drink homemade iced tea with homegrown mint. I guess we didn't spray it with pesticides. That wouldn't have done anything to stop the neighborhood dogs, anyway.

UPDATE (7/11): Probably, it wasn't mint, after all, but rather "a potential deadly weed that apparently was mistakenly used as a cooking ingredient."

Click here to read more . . .

July 09, 2008

Up to mediocrity

As I've told you before, I'm an eternal pessimist when it comes to my team, the Mets. Last fall, when the Mets collapsed, I saw it coming. It wasn't a collapse, after all; it was a return to where the Mets should have been all year long: at mediocrity.

You would think that signing Johan Santana in the off-season would have changed things, but you would have failed to take into account the general aging of the otherwise already aged squad.

With this weekend's 3 wins out of 4 against the first-place Phillies and last night's shutout of the Giants, some people are starting to get excited. The Mets are only 1-1/2 games out of first.

Wake up! The Mets are also only two games over .500, at 46-44. That's called mediocrity. You don't strive for mediocrity; you want to be good, if not great.

I still remember the Mets' 11-game winning streak in June 1969. It was the first time they went over .500 that late in the season. Ever. But Tom Seaver, then in his third year in the majors, said that being .500 is nothing to celebrate. The goal was to win. (I recently searched the NY Times for June 1969 and couldn't find anything resembling this quotation, but I distinctly remember it. Maybe it was reported by the Mets' announcers on TV.)

So the goal is for the Mets to win. If they can't do that, and I suspect they're a few position players and a few starters short (to say nothing of the bullpen), it's time for them to recognize as much and build their farm system. Santana was an excellent acquisition, but if it takes two or three years to develop some players in the minors, that'll have to happen. New York is a win-now kind of environment, but the Mets have been trying to win now for years, with only a rare visit to the playoffs. The time to build is coming soon, and maybe it's already here.

UPDATE (7/13): I think I'm going to have to take credit for the fact that the Mets have won four more in a row since I wrote this (at 8 in a row now). I guess I provoked them, or else they wanted to make me look like a whining jerk.

Click here to read more . . .

July 07, 2008

Barack and Michelle go on a blind date

Date Lab

Can two Ivy-educated members of the power elite hit it off without hitting each other?


Michelle: I got to the restaurant 10 minutes early, because that's the way I am, you know? He was seven minutes late.

Barack: Seven minutes? I was a minute or two late. A throng of college kids surrounded me on the street, and I had to sign autographs.

Michelle: When he arrived, I was thinking, "Light-skinned but not bad-looking." I'd heard from Date Lab that his mother was white. I know something about that subject, especially about integration or assimilation into a white cultural and social structure and about how it forces me to remain on the periphery of society, never becoming a full participant. So I was a little wary.

Barack: She's quite attractive, but I don't usually date women who wear pearls and dress like June Cleaver. I was wondering if she was trying to make some kind of statement with that 50s retro style. She had an angry scowl glued onto her face. I decided I was going to try to get her to relax and see what she looked like then.

Michelle: We started by ordering drinks. I had a Black Russian and he ordered one of those, ha, those things with the umbrella? I always knew there was a distinctive black culture very different from white culture.

Barack: It didn't have an umbrella. It was an apple-tini. She got that one wrong.

Michelle: Apple-tini, he said? Well, whatever. I've never heard of a black dude drinking an apple-tini.

Barack: She was easy to talk to. We discussed our families, our Ivy League schools, our churches. But she had a kind of chip on her shoulder.

Michelle: He was pretty defensive about his family but eventually confided that the white side of his family was a whole bunch of racists. Then he started talking about Black Liberation Theology. I figured he was just trying to impress me, but suddenly he pulled out his collection of BLT trading cards -- James Cone, Jeremiah Wright, the whole crew. I was, like, Wow! If this guy is just trying to impress me, at least he's done his homework.

Barack: Actually, I also keep a second set of trading cards with conservative church leaders, just in case.

Michelle: He said that? I am so not surprised. When I told him about a great soul-food restaurant I knew, he said his policy was to reject race-specific cuisines, but then he said he would try it out so he could have more information and possibly refine his policy.

Barack: We are the cuisine we've been waiting for.

Michelle: After we ordered dinner, he let on that he was on the mend after a big fight he'd had with an older white woman in a difficult relationship, but he wouldn't say any more than that.

Barack: It was a problematic relationship. She beat me repeatedly until my friends got together and got her to quit.

Michelle: I asked the waiter to take a photo of us, but Barack refused to be in the picture.

Barack: She asked me to wear a silly hat, and I didn't want that circulating on the internet.

Michelle: Around 10, I decided it was time to leave. He seemed a little awkward about whether he should give me a kiss or a hug or a handshake.

Barack: I offered her my phone number. Then, she gave me a little fist bump.

Michelle: Yeah, I did that. Did he tell you he tried to give me a chest bump?

Barack: What? Come on, she knew that was a joke.

Michelle: I'd give the date a 2.5 [out of five]. He made a good first impression, but the more I think about him, the more I wonder if there's anything there.

Barack: I'd give it a 4. I'll probably ask her out again.


Update: We checked in a week later. Barack had called Michelle, but she turned him down. She told us she'd decided he was an empty suit. Barack ruefully remarked, "That was not the woman I thought I knew."

Interviews conducted by Pillage Idiot.

Previous: Bill and Hillary go on a blind date.

Here are some real Date Labs: here, here, and here.

Click here to read more . . .

July 04, 2008

Fourth of July linkfest

For the Fourth of July, instead of re-posting old July 4 posts, I'm going to bring you a linkfest. OK, I'll re-post one old post, too, but here's the linkfest.

1. While we're appreciating our independence and our freedom, some of our fellow Americans are not. Two years ago, I wrote about one such individual. And this week, a peculiarly repellent column out of the City of Brudderly Lub by a dude named Chris Satullo, who wants to cancel the celebration because "we have sinned." (via Stop the ACLU, via Ace) You already know the rest. No reason to read the column.

2. From last week: At the Seattle Mariners' ballpark, love is dead. (via Baseball Crank)

3. Mars, Saturn, and Regulus are converging in the evening sky.

4. "Police suspect giraffe in circus breakout."

5. Drink to Obama's victory? The tee-shirt.

6. Speaking of Obama, Jennifer Rubin explains his problem with Jewish voters in a single word, er, number: 1973.

7. If you're a white dude in England, whatever you do, don't call a white security guard "Honky!" (via HotAir)

8. Finally: A definition of torture.

9. It's hard to believe, but Maryland is only the 19th most corrupt state in the union. Should be higher.

10. David Wissing says you are what you Google. Anyone who's read my "Visitor of the day" series would have to agree.

11. New York dude moves to Atlanta and finds that "New York style" pizza in the South exemplifies major suckitude, so he returns to New York to "reverse engineer" real New York pizza. (via Fark)

12. Last but not least, for the woman concerned about "pelvic fitness," your own spa. (via HotAir) In case you don't understand, the New York Times article explains: "And now comes the first medi spa in Manhattan wholly dedicated to strengthening and grooming a woman’s genital area."

Click here to read more . . .

July 02, 2008

Headline of the day

"Suspected gang member arrested for stealing girl's trike"

The gang member was arrested while "joyriding down Orem Boulevard on the trike."

(via Fark)

Click here to read more . . .

July 01, 2008

\/\/@t3rm3l0n, the new spam subject line?

Here's a news report that's bound to make guys eat their fruits and vegetables:

Forget the oysters. Texas A&M scientists say watermelon contains ingredients that deliver Viagra-like effects to the body's blood vessels and may even increase the libido.

* * *

Watermelon and some other fruits and vegetables contain phyto-nutrients, including lycopene, beta carotene and citrulline, which are compounds that produce healthy reactions in the body, Patil said.

Specifically, scientists believe it's the citrulline that has the ability to relax blood vessels, much like Viagra does.
(via HotAir) But here's a drawback. Most of the citrulline is found in the rind, so you can just throw out that red stuff with the seeds and eat the green, bitter rind. Mm, mmm!

Oh, yes, one other thing. "Watermelon may not be as organ-specific as Viagra," says Patil. It can do its work throughout your body.

So you should call your doctor if you can't bend your limbs after more than four hours.

Click here to read more . . .

Visitor of the day -- 7/1

Doing the jobs Americans won't do? Nah, can't possibly be.

Mild content warning, so it's going in the extended entry. If you go there, don't forget to click to, er, enlarge. The image, that is.

(In case you're wondering, shacharit is what the morning prayers are called. And there is undoubtedly an answer, as there is to virtually any question.)

Click here to read more . . .