Thursday, June 28, 2007

Catching Up: Best of 2003

I'm going to start a little project here. Since August 2003, I have been posting miscellaneous items on a Yahoo! group for my friends. As time permits, I'm going to start reviewing those items, for the purpose of mining those that seem worth preserving. This posting is a start on that. * * * * * Regarding the 2003 Ford Focus PZEV, which (despite its gas-burning, internal combustion engine) meets California's Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle standard: "How clean is it? Spend an hour pushing a gas lawn mower, and you'll produce more harmful emissions than the Focus does in 6,700 miles." (Money Magazine, "Start Your Engine," July 2003, pg. 119, col. 3.) Would you believe that, of all the people who have ever reached the age of 50, nearly two-thirds (65%) are alive today? (Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2003, pg. D1, col. 3.) * * * * * George Bush and Colin Powell were sitting in a bar. A guy walked in and asked the barman, "Isn't that Bush and Powell?" The barman said, "Yep, that's them." So the guy walked over and said, "Hello. What are you guys doing?" Bush said, "We're planning World War III." The guy asked, "Really? What's going to happen?" Bush said, "Well, we're going to kill 10 million Afghans and one bicycle repairman." The guy exclaimed, "Why are you gonna kill a bicycle repairman?!" Bush turned to Powell and said, "See, I told you no one would worry about the 10 million Afghans!" * * * * * Meyer, a lonely widower, was walking home along Delancy Street one day wishing something wonderful would happen into his life, when he passed a Pet Store and heard a squawking voice shouting out in Yiddish: "Quawwwwk... vus macht du... Yeah, du... outside, standing like a putzel... eh?" Meyer rubbed his eyes and ears. Couldn't believe it. The proprietor sprang out of the door and grabbed Meyer by the sleeve. "Come in here, fella, and check out this parrot..." Meyer stood in front of an African Grey that cocked his little head and said: "Vus? Kenst reddin Yiddish?" Meyer turned excitedly to the store owner. "He speaks Yiddish?" "Vuh den? Chinese maybe?" In a matter of moments, Meyer had placed five hundred dollars down on the counter and carried the parrot in his cage away with him. All night he talked with the parrot. In Yiddish. He told the parrot about his father's adventures coming to America. About how beautiful his mother was when she was a young bride. About his family. About his years of working in the garment center. About Florida. The parrot listened and commented. They shared some walnuts. The parrot told him of living in the pet store, how he hated the weekends. They both went to sleep. Next morning, Meyer began to put on his tfillin all the while, saying his prayers. The parrot demanded to know what he was doing and when Meyer explained, the parrot wanted some too. Meyer went out and hand- made a miniature set of tfillin for the parrot. The parrot wanted to learn to daven, and learned every prayer. He wanted to learn to read Hebrew so Meyer spent weeks and months, sitting and teaching the parrot, teaching him Torah. In time, Meyer came to love and count on the parrot as a friend and a Jew. He had been saved. One morning, on Rosh Hashana, Meyer rose and got dressed and was about to leave when the parrot demanded to go with him. Meyer explained that Shul (synangogue) was not place for a bird but the parrot made a terrific argument and was carried to Shul on Meyer's shoulder. Needless to say, they made quite a spectacle, and Meyer was questioned by everyone, including the Rabbi and Cantor. They refused to allow a bird into the building on the High Holy Days but Meyer convinced them to let him in this one time, swearing that parrot could daven. Wagers were made with Meyer. Thousands of dollars were bet (even odds) that the parrot could NOT daven, could not speak Yiddish or Hebrew, etc. All eyes were on the African Grey during services. The parrot perched on Meyer's shoulder as one prayer and song passed - Meyer heard not a peep from the bird. He began to become annoyed, slapping at his shoulder and mumbling under his breath, "Daven!" Nothing. "Daven...parrot, you can daven, so daven...come on, everybody's looking at you!" Nothing. After Rosh Hashanah services were concluded, Meyer found that he owed his Shul buddies and the Rabbi over four thousand dollars. He marched home, upset as hell, saying nothing. Finally several blocks from the Temple the bird began to sing an old Yiddish song and was happy as a lark. Meyer stopped and looked at him. "You miserable bird, you cost me over four thousand dollars. Why? After I made your tfillin and taught you the morning prayers, and taught you to read Hebrew and the Torah. And after you begged me to bring you to Shul on Rosh Hashana, why? Why did you do this to me?" "Don't be an idiot," the parrot replied. "Think of the odds on Yom Kippur!" * * * * * Borowitz Report Breaking News ABSENCE OF WMD's IN PRESIDENT'S SPEECH RUINS DRINKING GAME 'Where are the Weapons?' Deflated Drinkers Ask Bar patrons in Missouri who had planned to do a shooter of tequila every time President Bush used the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" in his speech to the nation tonight were left disappointed as the President barely mentioned the deadly weapons at all. The game was the brainchild of Jake Hoving, 31, bartender at the Horny Skunk Saloon in Springfield, who invented the game earlier this year when he and his friends were watching Mr. Bush's State of the Union Address and noticed that the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" appeared in virtually every other sentence. "I was like, dude, let's do a shooter next time he says it," Mr. Hoving remembers. Mr. Hoving said that by the end of the State of the Union speech, he and his friends had drained the bar's "entire supply" of tequila. "I have never been so polluted," Mr. Hoving said. "It was bodacious." Knowing that Mr. Bush was scheduled to make a nationally televised address about Iraq tonight, Mr. Hoving gathered his friends at the bar once more to play the WMD drinking game. But the game "never really got started this time," Mr. Hoving said. "We had our shooters all racked up, but he only said 'weapons of mass destruction' like once in the entire speech," Mr. Hoving said. "We were all like 'Dude, where are the weapons?'" As disappointing as tonight's game was, Mr. Hoving remains undaunted, planning to reassemble his pals at the bar for the President's next major speech on economic policy. "We're going to do a shooter every time he says 'tax cut,'" Mr. Hoving said. * * * * * ASSOCIATED PRESS (Sept. 10) — More "golden years" do not cost the health care system more: Whether people are healthy at age 70 and live independently for many more years or are sickly and die sooner, their medical costs are about the same, federal researchers say. Parts of Shanghai are now sinking at a rate of one-and-a-half centimetres a year, largely as a result of a massive building boom there over the last 10 years. [Policymakers are now asking,] should Washington reconstruct Iraq's schools and hospitals, lawmakers are asking, or America's? Should it pay for more than 100,000 American troops to stay in Iraq, or for 40 million seniors to be offered prescription drugs through Medicare? And if it tries to do it all, should it keep cutting taxes? Americans are often shocked to learn that black Indians exist at all — and that Native Americans actually held slaves. In the mid-1990s, researchers at the University of Illinois went to Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes to interview residents about domestic violence and quality of life in one of the largest public-housing developments in the world. Within this impoverished, isolated cluster of high-rises, some people led more fulfilling, positive, and happy lives than their neighbors. Were these differences a result of advanced education? Job training? Better role models? Nope. The residents owed their good fortune to trees. Some of the development's 28 buildings were surrounded by concrete and asphalt, while others were close to common areas with trees, grass, and flowers. Of the 200 or so residents the researchers met with and observed, those who lived near the landscaped areas had better relations with their neighbors, felt a stronger sense of community, and experienced less violence in their homes. BOSTON, Oct. 2 — An Indian who spent 18 years trying to prove he was alive, researchers who showed London taxi drivers have bigger-than- average brains and the inventor of Murphy's Law won Ig Nobel prizes Thursday. ... The chemistry prize went to Yukio Hirose of Kanazawa University in Japan for his study of a bronze statue that fails to attract pigeons. ... The physics prize went to a team of Australians who conducted "An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces." The biology prize was won by Dutch researchers who documented the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck. ... The process of deinstitutionalizing people with mental illness in the United States - now a half-century in the making - has manifested itself in a dramatic decline in the populations of state and county mental hospitals: from more than half a million in 1950 to about 50,000 today. At the same time, the ranks of jails and prisons are swelling with a rising number of inmates with serious mental illness, to the point where a person with a serious mental illness is about five times more likely to find himself incarcerated rather than admitted. See * * * * * Don't Look Down By PAUL KRUGMAN Published: October 14, 2003 During the 1990's I spent much of my time focusing on economic crises around the world — in particular, on currency crises like those that struck Southeast Asia in 1997 and Argentina in 2001. The timing of such crises is hard to predict. But there are warning signs, like big trade and budget deficits and rising debt burdens. And there's one thing I can't help noticing: a third world country with America's recent numbers — its huge budget and trade deficits, its growing reliance on short-term borrowing from the rest of the world — would definitely be on the watch list. ... There is now a huge structural gap — that is, a gap that won't go away even if the economy recovers — between U.S. spending and revenue. ... The crisis won't come immediately. For a few years, America will still be able to borrow freely, simply because lenders assume that things will somehow work out. But at a certain point we'll have a Wile E. Coyote moment. For those not familiar with the Road Runner cartoons, Mr. Coyote had a habit of running off cliffs and taking several steps on thin air before noticing that there was nothing underneath his feet. Only then would he plunge. What will that plunge look like? It will certainly involve a sharp fall in the dollar and a sharp rise in interest rates. In the worst- case scenario, the government's access to borrowing will be cut off, creating a cash crisis that throws the nation into chaos. * * * * * October 20, 2003 [According to the] latest data coming out of Chicago, which is roughly representative of conditions in other major urban areas ... 22 percent of all Chicago residents between the ages of 16 and 24 are both out of school and out of work. ... [Many lead] haunted lives that recall the Great Depression. ... On a previous visit to Chicago I talked with a teenager named Audrey Roberts, who told me: "The stuff you hear on the news, that's our everyday life. I've seen girls get raped, beaten up. I saw a boy get his head blown away. That happened right in front of me. I said, `Oh my God!'" ... The recent increased federal involvement in the nation's public schools is having the perverse effect of driving up dropout rates as school administrators try to pump up their high-stakes test results by getting rid of struggling students. * * * * * October 22, 2003 As many as one in five of the 2.1 million Americans in jail and prison are seriously mentally ill, far outnumbering the number of mentally ill who are in mental hospitals, according to a comprehensive study released Tuesday. * * * * * Little Johnny was in his 4th grade class when the teacher asked the children what their fathers did for a living. All the typical answers came up -- fireman, policeman, salesman, etc... Johnny was being uncharacteristically quiet and so the teacher asked him about his father. "My father's a dancer in a gay night club and takes off all his clothes in front of other men. Sometimes, if the offer's really good, he'll go out to the alley with some guy and make love with him." The teacher, obviously shaken by this statement, hurriedly set the other children to work on some coloring, and took Johnny aside to ask him, "Is that really true about your father?" "No," said Johnny, "He's the manager of the Boston Red Sox, but I was too embarrassed to say so." * * * * * In the last 50 years, 40% of the world's wetlands have been lost. * * * * * Borowitz Report OPENLY EPISCOPAL MAN JOINS VILLAGE PEOPLE Controversy Threatens to Tear Disco Band Asunder For the first time in their three decades of existence, the disco band The Village People have inducted an openly Episcopal man, igniting a controversy that threatens to tear the fabled group asunder. Holding a press conference in New York City today, The Construction Worker, a prominent member of The Village People since its inception in the 1970's, urged "tolerance and understanding" for its latest member, The Episcopal Guy, who joined the group over the weekend. * * * * * So Few Soldiers, So Much to Do By EDWARD N. LUTTWAK Published: November 4, 2003 ... It is part of any president's job to inspire confidence under pressure, but given the true number of troops in Iraq — actual armed soldiers doing a soldier's job — President Bush might just as well have said that there is no need for any American troops in Iraq. Because zero is the exact number of soldiers actually present at many sites that should be secured 24 hours a day. Such is the arithmetic of an ultra-modern army. The support echelon is so large that out of the 133,000 American men and women in Iraq, no more than 56,000 are combat-trained troops available for security duties. ... And even the finest soldiers must sleep and eat. Thus the number of troops on patrol at any one time is no more than 28,000 .... In fact, the 28,000 American troops are now so thinly spread that they cannot reliably protect even themselves; the helicopter shot down on Sunday was taking off from an area that had not been secured, because doing so would have required hundreds of soldiers. For comparison, there are 39,000 police officers in New York City alone — and they at least know the languages of most of the inhabitants, few of whom are likely to be armed Baathist or Islamist fanatics. ... * * * * * Eleven year-olds whose mothers were depressed after giving birth are more likely to exhibit violent behaviors than children of mothers who didn't experience postpartum depression, new research indicates. * * * * * Three men died on Christmas Eve and were met by Saint Peter at the pearly gates. "In honor of this holy season," Saint Peter said, "you must each possess something that symbolizes Christmas to get into heaven." The first man fumbled through his pockets and pulled out a lighter. He flicked it on. It represents a candle, he said. You may pass through the pearly gates Saint Peter said. The second man reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He shook them and said, "They're bells." Saint Peter said you may pass through the pearly gates. The third man started searching desperately through his pockets and finally pulled out a pair of women's panties. St. Peter looked at the man with a raised eyebrow and asked, "And just what do those symbolize?" The man replied, "They're Carols." * * * * * As a child, Julian Asher had a theory about the symphony concerts he attended with his parents. "I thought they turned down the lights so you could see the colors better," he says, describing the "Fantasia"- like scenes that danced before his eyes. Asher wasn't hallucinating. He's a synesthete — a rare person for whom one type of sensory input (such as hearing music) evokes an additional one (such as seeing colors). * * * * * Franklin D. Roosevelt [who suffered from polio] spent most of the Thanksgivings of his presidency at the polio rehabilitation center he founded in Warm Springs, Ga. He carved the turkey while seated beside children in leg braces, and talked about the battle against a dreaded disease. ... The holiday menu had politically incorrect offerings like "Potato Crips," and the entertainment included girls in wheelchairs singing "I won't dance, don't ask me." * * * * * Three hundred and eighty years ago, a huddled band of Europeans set out across the Atlantic to seek a new life in wilderness America. They survived hardship, gave thanks, ate turkeys and eventually flourished. And every year at Thanksgiving we ignore them. No, I'm not talking about the Pilgrims, nor about that other sect often hailed as progenitors of America, the Puritans. ... The contribution of these settlers has been overlooked because of that truest of truisms: history is written by the winners. The two great European rivals of the 17th century, the English and Dutch, each planted colonies in America. In time, the English engulfed the Dutch colony .... It wasn't accidental that Swedes, Germans, Jews and others flocked to [New Amsterdam, i.e., New York City], for the Dutch Republic of the 17th century was itself built on a policy of tolerance that made it the melting pot of Europe. The birth of tolerance in the Low Countries changed history. It made Holland the center of publishing, where Galileo and [the Englishman Thomas] Hobbes printed their books free of censorship. The Dutch provided haven to exiled English royalty and peasants from across Europe who fled war and repression. It's often forgotten that the English Pilgrims, before taking a flyer on America, went to Holland in their search for religious freedom. They found it and then left for the same reason: they feared that amid the diversity of Holland their children would stray .... The colony centered on Manhattan was always an unruly place. Almost from the start there were 18 languages spoken in the capital's few streets. ... * * * * * TERRE HAUTE, Ind., Nov. 22 — An Auschwitz survivor has vowed to rebuild a Holocaust museum here that was destroyed by a suspicious fire early last Tuesday. ... On Saturday, Ms. Kor, a 69-year-old twin who was used in a number of painful experiments by the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, sifted through the blackened remains of the museum, which honors children who survived the Holocaust. Most of the memorabilia were ruined. ... Ms. Kor, who bears a blurred number A-7063 on her arm, said she had forgiven the Nazis and her next task was to forgive those who had destroyed the tiny museum. ... * * * * * The reality is that we [are not recovering from a mere] mild recession. Jobs-wise, we had a deep one. The government reported that annual unemployment during this recession peaked at only around 6 percent, compared with more than 7 percent in 1992 and more than 9 percent in 1982. But the unemployment rate has been low only because government programs, especially Social Security disability, have effectively been buying people off the unemployment rolls and reclassifying them as "not in the labor force." ... Congress began loosening the standards to qualify for disability payments in the late 1980's and early 1990's, [so] people who would normally be counted as unemployed started moving in record numbers into the disability system — a kind of invisible unemployment. * * * * * The outsourcing of jobs to China and India is not new, but lately it has earned a chilling new adjective: professional. Advances in communications technology have enabled white-collar jobs to be shipped from the United States and Europe as never before .... * * * * * Municipal employee George Pavlovsky stalked through his shop in April, drunk, carrying a loaded, sawed-off shotgun (sending colleagues fleeing in fear), and looking for the two supervisors who had recently passed him up for promotion. As a result, he was fired by the city (Moncton, New Brunswick) and went to jail in November, but he said through his union (Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 51) that he wants his job back when he gets out, and the union has filed a wrongful-firing grievance on his behalf. Several of his colleagues are still on stress leave from witnessing the incident. * * * * * Recently Arrested on Sex Charges: The vice chairman of a Louisville, Ky., anti-pornography group (for patronizing a prostitute, November); a retired New Jersey Superior Court judge whose job was to administer Megan's Law for Camden County (for possession of child pornography, August); and a politically conservative Richmond, Texas, radio-show host who is regularly critical of lax moral standards (for indecent exposure to a child, November). [Courier-Journal, 11-24-03] [Philadelphia Inquirer, 8-28-03] [Houston Chronicle, 11-13-03] * * * * * About 40 percent of U.S. elementary schools have eliminated recess over the last 20 years (according to a September story in New Times Broward-Palm Beach, Fla.), so that schools could squeeze in more classroom time. In addition to the problem of overweight students, Florida school psychologist Marvin Silverman referred to children's "chemical need" for recess, pointing out that even psychiatric institutions give recess to help with "mood and movement." A complicating factor is that in some schools, playground equipment has already been removed because of safety concerns and fear of lawsuits. [New Times Broward-Palm Beach, 9-18-2003] * * * * * Carson Kressley, the fashion savant of the hit series "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," today questioned Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge's choice of orange for the current terror alert, calling the color "wildly unflattering." "I don't know too many men who can pull off orange," Mr. Kressley said. "And if I were a big husky boy like Tom Ridge, I would definitely avoid it like the plague." By issuing an orange alert, Mr. Kressley argued, Mr. Ridge was putting the nation "at a greater fashion risk than ever before." "We're all running around worrying about al Qaeda, but that doesn't mean we should have to worry about looking bad, too," Mr. Kressley said. But even as he attacked Mr. Ridge's choice or orange, Mr. Kressley did not recommend that the government step back down to a yellow alert, pronouncing that color "yucky beyond Thunderdome." For his part, Mr. Kressley unveiled a new "Queer Eye" terror alert chart, featuring such colors as raspberry sherbet, scarlet and blizzard. ... * * * * * Borowitz Report Breaking News WHITE HOUSE RELEASES REDACTED VERSION OF CONSTITUTION Twenty-eight Pages Deemed 'Too Sensitive' The White House today released an edited version of the U.S. Constitution minus twenty-eight pages that were deemed "too sensitive" to be shared with the American public. The altered document was "hand-redacted" by Attorney General John Ashcroft using a Marks-a-Lot ™ magic marker, the White House said, with the goal of removing the ninety-four percent of the original document that could have adversely impacted national security. ...