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February 3, 2004
1:07am EST




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BY JAMES TARANTO
Friday, May 30, 2003 1:14 p.m. EDT

Crank Yankers
Just about anyone whose job touches on politics has had the experience of fielding telephone calls from kooks. Example: In the summer of 1988, we were a junior employee at a Washington policy shop when the switchboard operator inexplicably transferred to our desk a phone call from a woman distraught over the pounding Dan Quayle, Vice President Bush's running mate, was receiving in the media. We listened patiently and commiserated, but then the conversation took a really strange turn, as the woman explained to us how concerned she was that Jews were buying up all the real estate in Northern Virginia.

Fielding a call like this is awkward. One doesn't want to be rude--you're representing your organization, after all--but on the other hand one doesn't want to encourage such lunacy. We cut off the conversation as politely as we could.

The folks at the National Rifle Association have been dealing with a persistent kook of late, or at any rate so says the kook, a guy who bizarrely calls himself "Chatterbox" and refers to himself in the third person but whose actual name appears to be Timothy Noah:

Chatterbox has been phoning the NRA press office for a week, seeking comment on the weapons ban in Iraq. Every time he calls, a cheerful NRA employee promises a response. Every time, Chatterbox never gets one. Starting today, Chatterbox inaugurates the NRA Weasel Watch, which will document the NRA's ongoing efforts to duck Chatterbox's simple question. Today is Day 7.

Oh dear, the Internet is a mixed blessing, isn't it? If our caller 15 years ago had had a Web site on which to hold forth, we imagine this would only have fueled the flames of her craziness.

One wonders how far things will go with this poor confused "Chatterbox" fellow, who thinks it odd that the National Rifle Association, which advocates Americans' gun rights under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, would demur from taking a position on the confiscation of firearms in a foreign war zone. Will he start calling the American Civil Liberties Union every day to ask if they think de-Baathification is a violation of the First Amendment, or if they're campaigning against school prayer in Iraq?

On second thought, forget we said anything. We'd hate to give him any ideas.

Eponymous Dowdification
We must admit, we'd never heard of the Lufkin (Texas) Daily News before yesterday. We had to look at a map to find out where Lufkin is (in the eastern part of the state, about 100 miles from Houston and 150 miles from Dallas). But we know one thing about the Lufkin Daily News: It has higher standards than the New York Times.

"The New York Times' considerable credibility problem is now our problem, as well," writes editor Marc Masferrer:

But unlike the Times, which has been engaged in a torturous exercise of naval [sic] gazing and self-flagellation, with its accustomed arrogance, since it was revealed that one of its younger reporters had committed all sorts of journalistic sins, we are doing something about it, and fast.

Until she explains to our satisfaction her own ethical transgression--an apparently deliberate distortion of a comment by President Bush--you will not find the work of Times columnist Maureen Dowd on this page.

Without a Dowd, the Lufkin Daily News will be a better paper. Dowd, as we noted Wednesday, has adopted a new journalistic technique--we call it "dowdification"--that makes strategic use of ellipses to distort the meaning of a quote. Alert reader Brad Westmoreland uses this technique on Dowd herself, dowdifying her latest column to produce this insight: "The president was . . . found . . . to do the right thing . . . all of the time. . . . Bush . . . is . . . ideal." From your ellipse to God's ears, Brad.

Osama bin Larden
Amnesty International is concerned about the treatment of terrorist detainees in American custody. The hypocritical "human rights" outfit asserts that "the conditions of the detainees' . . . detention in Guantánamo Bay gave cause for serious concern." But Amnesty misses the biggest--and we mean biggest--cause for concern: These guys are porking out. (We mean that figuratively, of course; all food served at Guantanamo is strictly halal.) Writes Manny Howard in Slate:

Between April 2002 and March 2003, the Joint Task Force returned to Afghanistan 19 of the approximately 664 men (from 42 countries) who have been held in the detention camps. . . . During their 14-month stay, the detainees (nearly all of them) had each gained an average of 13 pounds.

Can an epidemic of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related ailments be far behind? Such a travesty of human rights is a heavy burden on the world's conscience.

What Would We Do Without the FBI?
"FBI Says al Qaeda Attacks Still Possible"--headline, FoxNews.com, May 28

What Would We Do Without Bush?
"Bush: Not Clear France Concerned With U.S. Security"--headline, Dow Jones Newswires, May 29

Apart from the obvious headline, this sentence in the same dispatch left us scratching our head: "Despite this, Bush insisted that France's opposition to the invasion of France 'wouldn't influence my policies.' " When has France ever opposed the invasion of France?

You Don't Say--I
"Disagreements as Sharon-Abbas Enter Talks"--headline, Jerusalem Post, May 29

Suicide Comic
When a stand-up comic has a successful performance, he'll say of his audience, "I really killed them." When his show goes over badly, he'll say, "I bombed," or "I died out there." That explains why there are so few Palestinian comedians: In comedy, you can kill or you can die, but there's no such thing as a murder-suicide.

That doesn't stop some Palestinians from trying. The Electronic Intifada Web site features a "satirical online newspaper" called Bassaleh News Network, for which one Najeeb Al-Anbarri makes a stab at humor. The topic is songstress Whitney Houston's meeting earlier this week with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Seeking inspiration for a forthcoming Christmas album, Houston was in Israel to visit the Black Hebrews, a polygamous sect that claims to be descended from the lost tribes of Israel. (Israel does not recognize them as Jews.) Anyway, Anbarri's gag is a list of song titles:

  • O Little Town of Glowing Wife Swoppers [sic]
  • Silent Night (Punctuated by Shell Fire)
  • All I Want For Christmas Is My Neighbour's Wife
  • I Saw Three Helicopter Gunships
  • I Saw My Mommies Kissing Santa Claus
  • O Come All Ye Unfaithful
  • Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (Stop Drinking From the River)
  • Whose Child Is This? (We've Lost Track With All the Shagging)
  • All I Want for Christmas Are My Two Front Teeth (Palestinian Torture Victim Mix)
  • We Wish You a Merry Checkpoint
  • Let There Be Peace on Earth (Ditch the Stupid Road Map and Make the Miserable Occupying Bastards Withdraw Unilaterally So We Can Get On With Our Lives Please)

See what we mean? No one will ever call Najeeb Al-Anbarri a homicide bomber.

Did You Find It?
"An alternative summit has opened in the south-eastern French town of Annemasse ahead of this weekend's G-8 summit of world leaders in nearby Evian," Deutsche Welle reports. The "Summit for Another World" is known by its French acronym SPAM. Among the topics on the agenda are online gambling, exciting business opportunities in multilevel marketing, and penis enlargement. After the summit, delegates will adjourn and view photos of singles in their area.

This Would Explain a Lot
"Kucinich on Medical Marijuana"--subheadline, Washington Post (second item), May 30

On Second Thought, You're Not Fired
After coming under fire for a plan to lay off 10 black employees--we noted it yesterday--the Democratic National Committee has backed away, the Washington Times reports. DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe now says he was unaware of the firings, but "a prominent Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, hinted that Mr. McAuliffe's explanation was less than genuine."

You Don't Say--II
"S.C. Democratic Voters Anxious to Replace White House Tenant"--headline, FoxNews.com, May 29

What Would Hopefuls Do Without Experts?
"Long List of Experts Advising Presidential Hopefuls"--headline, the Forward, May 30

Homer Nods
Yesterday's item on Sen. Robert Byrd (since corrected) misstated the end of his term. It is in 2007, not 2005.

You Don't Say--III
"Federal Workers Knock Job Cuts"--headline, Tri-Valley Herald (Pleasanton, Calif.), May 30

Say What?--I
"Hooker to Close Kernersville Plant"--headline, WXII-TV Web site (Winston-Salem, N.C.), May 29

Say What?--II
"Norway Death Toll Climbs to Six as Replacement From Jamaica Dies"--headline, Miami Herald, May 29

If Your Name Is Will, Get Out of Bangladesh
"Bangladesh Police Get OK to Shoot at Will"--headline, Associated Press, May 30

Who Knew?
"Study: Laziness Makes for Dangerous Fat"--headline, Reuters, May 29

Smoking Claims Another Victim
"A teenage girl plunged to her death from the 15th floor of a block of flats during a party," the Scotsman reports. "Jenna O'Keefe, 17, climbed up on a window ledge so she could get away from cigarette smoke. However, as she sat with her legs over the edge, she lost her balance and fell more than 150ft to a courtyard."

The Surgeon Who?
"Researchers tracking the health of almost 2,000 British adults found heavy smokers had poorer memories in middle age," the Associated Press reports. That explains all those plaintiffs in tobacco lawsuits who claim they didn't know smoking was bad for you. They just forgot!

(Elizabeth Crowley helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Mara Gold, Christopher Arfaa, Ralph Drury, Jim Orheim, John Harrington, Michael Siegel, Barak Moore, Joel Goldberg, Zabelle Huss, Pete Freeman, Edward Himmelfarb, Ned May, Matthew Cardin, Glenn Fogle, Charles Bier, Elliot Ganz, Judie Amsel, Tom Bemis, Stephan Oestreicher, Mike Basham, Steve Ginnings, Raghu Desikan, Bruce Goldman, Edwin Stang, Mitch Steinberger, Anne Charnock, Evan Graham, Steve Booth-Butterfield, John McNulty, Joel Margolis, Timothy Woods, Jon Hobden, Ted Gahagen, Buel Combs, Rachel Kielsky, Brian Azman, Joshua Brook, Joe Littrell, James Ogletree and Michael Segal. If you have a tip, write us at opinionjournal@wsj.com, and please include the URL.)

Today on OpinionJournal:

And on the Taste page:

  • Review & Outlook: Who'll symbolize the "new Russia," Paul McCartney or Felix Dzerzhinsky?
  • Tony & Tacky: An article on plagiarism gets plagiarized.
  • Dale Buss: Rename the dinosaurs! On second thought, don't.
  • John McWhorter: Gunfire kills another rapper. What an awful image for black America.
  • Christopher Ringwald: New Yorkers can now buy liquor on Sundays--and that's a shame.

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