Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Accidentally accurate


Cartoonist Lisa Benson takes aim at the Democrats' opposition to the the Republican budget plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan. You know: the notion that we will save Medicare (and the nation!) by destroying it. Of course, if you're really gullible—or perhaps really dim—you might believe that converting Medicare to a voucher plan is a good idea. And good luck chasing after private insurance with those shrinking vouchers.

The only thing really missing from Benson's cartoon is an appropriate label: Step One! Tossing the GOP budget proposal over the cliff is merely a good start.

Step One!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Back away from the penis!

San Francisco on the cutting edge

The voters of the City and County of San Francisco have placed a proposed circumcision ban on the November general election ballot. It would make it illegal to remove the foreskins of minors without a showing of medical necessity. It would not, however, have any impact on adult males who wish to have their penises clipped. The rationale is simple: Baby boys cannot give informed consent.

The reaction to the ballot initiative is unsurprisingly shrill. Here's the opening paragraph of an opinion piece by Rabbi Gil Leeds, which was published on May 20, 2011, in the San Francisco Chronicle:
Freedom of religion, enshrined over two centuries ago by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, is now subject to a vote with the certification in San Francisco of the referendum on circumcision for the November ballot. The vote will empower a secular majority to impose its will, and ban one of the oldest religious traditions known to humanity. When religious belief and practice become subject to vote by the majority of a city council, government agency or referendum, it endangers all of our rights and freedoms.
The proposed legislation contains no religious exemptions, so the traditional Jewish bris ceremony could no longer be practiced in San Francisco if the circumcision ban were enacted. That is why Leeds frames it as an attack on religious freedom. This got me to thinking.

What does religious tradition protect? How far can it go? Leeds correctly points out that male circumcision is a very old religious practice, so it definitely fits under the mantle of tradition, at least for Jews. It's also long been considered normative for American males, quite apart from religious practice. As a culture, we're inured to it and most people take it in stride as expected and unexceptional. While a few circumcised men have complained about having been robbed of their foreskins, most clipped males appear to be content with their condition. It hasn't been a major controversy.

On the other hand, female circumcision is widely condemned as genital mutilation and is against the law in the United States and the target of an international campaign to suppress it. In fact, “circumcision” is rather a misnomer for the procedure(s) applied to young girls in those cultures that practice it. The term comprises a broad range of actions, from reduction or amputation of the clitoris to wholesale excision of the labia. The most extreme form involves infibulation, stitching up the vaginal passage to make it smaller and to ensure the virginity of the victim; the procedure may be reversed when she is properly married off.

Female “circumcision” is an ancient practice that is done in secret in places like the United Kingdom and the United States, nations in which it is legally banned. Members of immigrant families may go to great lengths to ensure that their daughters are genitally cut so that future suitors may be assured of their respectability. The UK and US make no allowance for the ancient tradition, deeming it a violation of basic human rights and labeling it as “female genital mutilation.”

The sponsors of the anti-circumcision measure in San Francisco took a page from the international campaign to protect girls when they titled their proposal as the “San Francisco Male Genital Mutilation” initiative. The city attorney toned that down to the “Male Circumcision” measure, but Leeds the mohel is unmollified:
The proposal's backers are trying to deceive the voters by labeling it a “ban on genital mutilation.” Honesty would have demanded they called it a ban on circumcision. By using such a toxic term as mutilation, they hope to garner support from an unsuspecting public.
My question is this: How is cutting off part of a little boy's penis not a “genital mutilation”? Because our society is inured to it? Because some people practice it as a religious rite? Because it's not as grotesque as the female version? Because there are some supposed health benefits?

What if a religious sect insisted it was their right to practice infibulation on their infant daughters? Would we be violating their freedom of religion if we refused to allow it? (We have clearly already decided that question, haven't we?)

Circumcised males can take comfort in being in the majority and having undergone a procedure that has long been considered unremarkable and of which they haven't the slightest recollection. They understandably react negatively at being told that they were “mutilated” at birth. It's a charged term. At the same time, the uncircumcised minority cringe at the thought of having their foreskins lopped off and marvel that their clipped brethren can be so complacent about having lost theirs. It's what you're used to, I suppose.

The religious aspect doesn't faze people for whom religion is just a superstitious practice that gets more respect than it deserves. Rabbi Leeds hung his argument on the right of people to clip their sons' penises in honor of a supposed covenant with Yahweh. After his article appeared in the Chronicle, San Francisco's archbishop weighed in with an angry letter in support of the rabbi:
I would like to add my “Amen” to the op-ed piece by Rabbi Gil Leeds, “Circumcision ignores our basic religious freedom” (May 20).

The proposed ban on circumcision represents an unconscionable violation of the sanctuaries of faith and family by the government of San Francisco. Although the issue does not concern Christians directly, as a religious leader I can only view with alarm the prospect that this misguided initiative would make it illegal for Jews and Muslims who practice their religion to live in San Francisco—for that is what the passage of such a law would mean.

Apart from the religious aspect, the citizens of San Francisco should be outraged at the prospect of city government dictating to parents in such a sensitive matter regarding the health and hygiene of their children.

George Niederauer, Archbishop of San Francisco
I don't know that you're helping, George. Protecting the health and hygiene of one's children these days would seem to include keeping them away from Catholic churches. May I suggest that you—ahem!—keep your hands off their penises?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

To your scattered bodies go

You complete me

In one of Innumeracy's more notorious examples, John Allen Paulos provides a back-of-the-envelope calculation for the probability that you just inhaled a molecule from Julius Caesar's dying breath: “The surprising answer is that, with probability better than 99 percent, you did just inhale such a molecule.” (If you gasped at learning that, the probability probably went up.)

It immediately follows that your body has an exceedingly high probability of containing atoms that were once part of Caesar's body. And atoms from Brutus, too, of course. While Carl Sagan liked to point out that we are made of star stuff, one must not forget that we are made of recycled star stuff.

This has amusing implications for the devout Christian, since all of humanity is supposed to stand before Jesus for final judgment in reconstituted physical bodies. When Jesus says the magic words to assemble all of the dearly departed (including those he conveniently killed by destroying the world), who gets dibs on all of those “previously owned” atoms?

Fairness suggests they should go to the original owners. Therefore Adam and Eve would appear before the throne with intact resurrection bodies (assuming for the moment for the sake of argument that the Edenic couple were real people), but subsequent generations would be increasingly challenged as one progressed along the family tree. I daresay that the most recent revenants would be likely to present a most ghastly and moth-eaten aspect. (God may want to secure the services of George Romero to act as producer-director of the Last Judgment.)

Fortunately for all of us, there are serious scholars available to answer the questions we might have about such significant matters. Such was the case in a recent installment of “Catholic Answers,” the radio call-in program that broadcasts throughout California on the stations owned by Immaculate Heart Radio. A concerned listener wanted to know what would happen on the day of judgment to people whose bodies had not been buried intact. For example, what about organ donors? Could you end up standing before Jesus with a hole in your chest if your heart had gone to another?

Father Tad Pacholczyk, director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, was equal to the task:
It seems like there might be some concerns that would come in the wake of the decision to donate a lot of organs and then sort of the whole question at the resurrection whose body will it be and so on? These are in a sense mysterious questions that we don't have all the answers to, but we know, for example, when people end up having their bodies basically destroyed—and all of us will, I mean, if we're buried in the ground. Eventually, you know, our bodies decompose completely and there's nothing left of them. And some of the elements from our bodies might be taken up into plants that grow above the grave and then those plants would be eaten by animals and then those animals would be eaten by humans. So some of our materials may even be recycled, so to speak, into other people's bodies. None of this is going to pose a problem for the infinite power of God. These are the kinds of things that, yeah, we don't know how he's going to do it, but do know that he is going to do it.

I sometimes also mention the example of St. Maxmilian Kolbe, who died in Auschwitz and his body was put into the crematoria and his ashes went up and were spread all over half of Poland. And when he resurrects, the Lord will be able to, you know, bring his entire body back through the power of God.
Okay. I guess that's all settled now. It's magic.

I knew there had to be a good answer.

Who are those guys?

The madding crowd

For many days now, my most popular blog post has been Where's my money? It's my comment on KSFO's resident morning idiot, Brian Sussman, and his ruminations about “millionaire” college professors. (Yeah, we're all wealthy!) According to Sitemeter, the hits keep coming in, creating a significant but perplexing bulge in my visitor count. Sitemeter also informs me that visitors are being directed to Where's my money? by Google's image search, not word search. There are three graphics accompanying the blog post, but I don't know which one people have been seeking out. Do they want a pin-up poster of Brian Sussman? (Seems unlikely.) The graphic of the guy strolling along with a bag of money? The guy with dollar signs in his eyes?

I don't know. And I don't know why, either.

At first I thought the spate of new visitors would quickly abate. A week later, they're still coming. It's a curiosity.


For reasons that only Google could explain (and perhaps not even then), the bag of money graphic at the end of last year's post is what pops up in a list of images that accompanies a search on the word “money.” That's a regular search, not an image search. If you specify an image search, the same image pops up, but this time from a source other than Halfway There. I have no idea how my use of the clip came to rank so high in Google's main search engine, but that is what is currently driving approximately 40% of the visits to this blog. Fame at last! (But not fortune.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pawlenty of nothing

Eye of the beholder

President Obama's campaign logo has been widely praised for its design sense and iconic effectiveness. Some of the right wing's more crazed conspiracy theorists have gone so far as to speculate on the logo's subliminal power and secret demonic message. Fortunately for these god-fearing Americans, they can take comfort in the right-thinking presidential campaign of the otherwise undistinguished Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota who brags about his prudent stewardship and frugal management of the North Star State. It's clear from Pawlenty's recent announcement of his candidacy that he has made a considered decision to write off the votes of the graphics design and art community. In the first place, those voters are probably too inclined to the left to give Pawlenty much appreciation. In the second place, it gave the former governor's 15-year-old daughter a chance to design a presidential campaign logo. I suspect all that white space represents his core constituency. (The tattered-flag element is a nice touch. Prescient and precious.)

Postscript: Joseph Hughes at Northcoast Zeitgeist is the art director at an advertising agency in Ohio. He agrees that Pawlenty's logo is the worst of the current Republican crop. I feel vindicated! (I may not know campaign art, but I know what I don't like.)

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad math problem

A boon for Lucky Larry

Teachers typically take pains to ensure that their exam problems are clearly stated and have unambiguous answers. This is especially true in math, where precision is at a premium. I try to make it clear exactly what I want and what form it should be in (such as “exact” or “rounded to the nearest hundredth”). The last thing any exam grader wants is a problem that is easily misinterpreted, because that just leads students astray. Even worse, however, is the problem where an incorrect calculation can produce the right answer. Then you're really stuck. You have to read the solution especially carefully to make certain the student didn't get the right answer by a lucky fluke.

I have put myself in that situation. It happened in a suite of problems designed to test my students' ability to compute the perimeter, area, or volume of certain standard geometric shapes. Having quizzed them on various rectilinear figures (break it up into rectangles, kids!) and circles and boxes, I began to challenge them with combinations of the basic forms.

You may be familiar with the classic Norman window, which is a semicircle mounted atop a rectangle, the semicircle's flat side coinciding with one side of the rectangle. In finding the perimeter, the student must make a judicious use of the circumference formula for a circle and the perimeter formula for the rectangle. The answer is the sum of half the circumference of the full circle and the three exterior sides of the rectangle (omitting the one adjoined to the semicircle). Not too hard. The computation of the area is even easier: half the area of the full circle plus the area of the rectangle (that length times width business beloved by all).

I wasn't surprised that the results were a mixed bag, but I felt we were making progress. Each time I quizzed them on a variant of the basic shapes, more students were picking up on the standard formulas and the tweaks required to apply them to the hybridized shapes. With an excess of confidence, I then reached a bit too far and outdid myself: I adjoined a quarter-circle and a triangle. To make matters much, much worse, I made some very bad choices for the dimensions. Can  you see my mistake(s)?

As before, I asked my students to find the perimeter and the area of the shape. You can check that the perimeter is (6π + 30) ft and the area is (36π + 30) ft2. Thanks to my carelessness, I got lots of quasi-correct solutions. First of all, the perimeter of the 5-12-13 triangle is numerically equal to the area: the perimeter is 30 ft and the area is 30 ft2. That meant students were able to get the “right” answer by employing the perimeter formula when the area formula was required. And, yes, some of my students did exactly that.

It gets better. For the area computation, they needed to compute πr2 and take one-quarter of it. A full circle of radius 12 ft would have an area of 144π ft2, so a quarter-circle's area would be 36π ft2. Several students, however, apparently reasoned thus: The arrow labeled with the “12 ft” goes all the way across, so it must be a diameter. I need to use the radius, which is half of that, so I'll use 6 ft. It's a circle, so the area is πr2. Therefore I get 36π square units.


In grading this problem, it really didn't much matter if the answer happened to be right. It was much too likely that a right answer could be obtained by accident. I corrected this exercise very carefully and very slowly.

I hope I learned my lesson.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tossing a word salad

Dressing on the side

During a recent jaunt to San Francisco, I popped into the Books Inc. branch in Opera Plaza on Van Ness. While browsing the shelves, I encountered a curious book aimed at young readers. The slender volume was A Little Book of Language by David Crystal. The book flap identified the author as “one of the world's pre-eminent language specialists.” Never heard of him, I thought.

I read further. Crystal is the author of The Stories of English. Now that rang a bell. When I got home, I checked my library. Oops! The book in my collection was actually The Story of English (by McCrum, Cran, and MacNeil). It seemed likely that the title of Crystal's later book was a wry play on the title of its predecessor. I liked him already.

I purchased A Little Book of Language with the notion of giving it to a precocious nephew, but he's going to have to wait till I acquire a second copy. Crystal's book is staying in my collection. While written specifically for a young audience, A Little Book of Language is a gentle and conversational introduction to notions of language and linguistics. Within the compass of a slender volume, Crystal ranges widely from baby talk to tech talk, touching on texting, signing, slang, and speech versus writing. He pitches his discussions at an elementary level without condescension. There's the occasional wink as he presents some of the amusing idiosyncrasies of language and deflates a few pompous over-generalizations.

To add to the fun, Crystal is a British writer and the differences between American and British usage crop up in ways that he doesn't always identify—although he does point out several instances. One amusing American-British dissonance occurs in the chapter on “Developing a style,” in which Crystal discusses one's choice of wardrobe as a metaphor for selecting a a prose style. This paragraph give a nice sample of his conversational manner as well as an unconsciously(?) wry twist at the end:
If we look inside our wardrobe, what do we see? Most of us have managed to collect quite a range of different kinds of clothes. We have posh clothes for special occasions, casual clothes for everyday, clothes to wear if it's hot, clothes to wear if it's cold, clothes for messing around in, swimming costumes, and lots more. We don't mix them up. We'd be daft if we went out in the snow wearing shorts, or went to the beach on a boiling hot day in a mac. And if we've been invited to a swish party, we dress up for it.
A “swish” party? I'm sure I don't have a thing to wear!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Countdown to nothing

Lessons unlearned

In light of the imminent “end of the world,” as predicted by the venerable Harold Camping of Family Radio, lots of people are aware that Mr. Camping is trying to redeem himself (there may be a joke in there) in the aftermath of his failed end-of-the-world prediction in 1994. What you may not know is that Camping got it wrong twice with that earlier prediction. He confidently proclaimed that his mathematical computations proved Jesus would return on September 6, 1994. On September 7, an entirely intact but chagrined Camping reported he had made a mistake (duh!) and was checking his math. (The “mathematical” computations always crack me up. It's just random-ass arithmetic with strained interpretations of numbers and phrases from the Bible.) The penitent prophet banged some more keys on his calculator and revised his prediction: Now the world would end between September 15 and 17!

On September 18, the world had another good chuckle and Harold Camping passed into a period of relatively benign neglect. Until he came out with his prediction about May 21, 2011, the world was content to ignore him. He and his minions have insisted on our renewed attention, however, plastering the countryside with expensive billboards and distributing literature about Christ's soon return. But what more is there to say about this delusional prophet and those foolish enough to follow him?


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Christian truth: same as lies

Coral Ridge slowly dies, 
but still lies

Remember D. James Kennedy? The late pastor of Coral Ridge Ministries affected a mock-scholarly manner in his televised sermons and speeches, giving comfort to his flock—a congregation of right-wing Christians who resented and envied the legions of academicians arrayed against them. In Kennedy they had their own semi-intellectual, who poured out the balm of reaffirming mock erudition. He employed all of the tools of the trade: misrepresentation (as in quote-mining), fable spinning (as in the notorious Huxley fabrication), and condescension (“The fool has said in his heart there is no God”).

In the absence of its dear leader, Coral Ridge is a shadow of its former self. Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy, however, continues to try to breathe some life into the stiffening corpse of her father's church-plus-state lobbying group. In addition to endlessly recycling the audio and video archives of the Rev. Kennedy's lectures, Kennedy Cassidy and the other members of the Coral Ridge board of directors uses the ministry's old mailing list to send out a regular stream of political alerts and contribution solicitations. The alerts are exactly what you would expect from a group aligned with the nation's extremist right wing: the horrors of “Obamacare,” the evils of Planned Parenthood, the flaws in the theory of evolution, the threat of the gay agenda, the need to “defend” marriage, and the tyranny of activist judges (but only if they're liberals).

This week's e-mail brings a typical example: “What the President says vs. what the President does.” It's another boring attack on health care reform. Nevertheless, out of habit I briefly perused its contents. (It's always good to know what the enemy is up to, even when it's as moribund an enemy as Coral Ridge.) I was struck by the message's use of a quotation from Al Sharpton, a figure seldom accorded much credence among the ranks of the Christian right:
I am asking you to pray for our President. His worldview clearly leads him toward decisions that have the effect of dragging America into Socialism. We are not the only ones who believe that his policies are socialistic—even presidential allies like Al Sharpton quipped concerning the President’s health care policy:

“The American public overwhelmingly voted for socialism when they elected President Obama ... Let’s not act as though the President didn’t tell the American people. [He] offered the American people health reform when he ran. He was overwhelmingly elected running on that and he has delivered what he promised.”
Sharpton's words are presented within quotation marks, as if they represent his actual, literal remarks. Could this really be an accurate transcript of what Sharpton said? And, if so, what's hidden behind the discreet dot-dot-dot of the ellipsis between the first two sentences?

Let's find out!

The original video from Fox News has been posted in several places. (But don't bother looking at Bill O'Reilly's judiciously edited and truncated transcript.) Geraldo Rivera was interviewing Al Sharpton live immediately after the U.S. House of Representatives passed health care reform. Rivera asked Sharpton if Nancy Pelosi deserved the real credit:
Sharpton: I think that the president and Speaker Pelosi get credit. I think that this began the transforming of the country the way he had promised. This is what he ran on.

Rivera: Some would argue to socialism.

Sharpton: Well, first of all, then we'd have to say that the American public overwhelmingly voted for socialism when they elected President Obama. That's not accurate though. The president promised the American people health reform when he ran. He was overwhelming elected running on that and he has delivered what he promised.
How interesting. Apparently the words “that's not accurate” weren't considered significant.

This is just one more depressing example of how completely Chris Rodda got it right when she titled her book “Liars for Jesus.”

Addendum: A political mondegreen

Our personal data interpreters occasionally fail us. An anonymous commenter prompted me to give Sharpton's words another listen. Did he really say “that's not accurate“ while mocking the notion that the president's health reform initiative is some grand socialistic démarche? No. I stand corrected. He actually said, “Let's not act as though the president didn't tell the American people” that he would enact health reform. There was some confusing overtalking by Rivera, but Sharpton returned to his point that Obama made national health care a key plank in his campaign. The administration's healthcare initiative was an Obama priority all along, and not a sudden departure into supposedly radical reform politics—let alone a stealthy socialistic plot (unless Medicare was, too).

The point is still made, although it's not as sharp as I first thought it was.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Border-line intelligence

Know your market

My e-mail frequently contains promotional messages from Borders. As a constant book reader and book collector, I'm a good target for the company's advertisements. Despite my general disdain for “loyalty cards” and other affinity paraphernalia that clutter up wallets and purses, I admit that I have one for Borders. I'm certain that permits the sales department to construct a detailed profile of my preferred reading.

It appears, however, that Borders does not bother to use this information. Otherwise, how do we explain this morning's e-mail? The subject line was “Coming Soon from Conservatives Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich & Ann Coulter.” (I knew the answer to the implied question: “unmitigated crap.” Having seen previous work by the troglodytic trio, I give this answer with great assurance.) That was enough to raise my eyebrows a couple of notches. The accompanying blurb, however, reduced me to helpless guffaws. (ROTFGMAO)
Glenn Beck brings his historical acumen and political savvy to a new interpretation of The Federalist Papers, the 18th-century collection of political essays that defined and shaped our constitution.
I learned the word “acumen” back when I was about twelve. It was on one of the vocabulary-builder LP records that my father used to play over and over again during his obsessive auto-didactic phase. Never would it have occurred to me that someone would try to apply a word meaning “keenness and depth of perception” to a deranged blathermeister like Beck. (Nor did I ever think my education-obsessed father would ever lose it to the extent that he would take a fake like Beck at face value.) I wonder, though: Does Beck know that The Federalist Papers were written after the constitution was already drafted (and circulating among the states for ratification)? I agree that The Federalist Papers helped to “define and shape” the constitution by putting on the record the opinions and interpretations of those involved in its framing, but it did this after the fact. Does this imply that the constitution is a “living” document that began to evolve within days of its drafting? Surely not! In any case, we can count on Beck to reject so radical a doctrine and restrict himself to a painstaking defense of originalism (whatever that is). In his hands, I daresay it will be “original.”

Fortunately, another word I learned during my precocious vocabulary-acquisition period was “facetious.” It's going to be useful.

And there's another thing I learned. And just this morning: One of the reasons that Borders went bankrupt.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Ipse dixit

Know your audience

Sometimes I can pick up KMJ on my car radio. That's the 50,000-watt station broadcasting out of Fresno on 580 kHz on the AM dial. In my youth, it was simply the powerful local NBC affiliate, part of the McClatchy media empire, which also included the Fresno Bee and Channel 24 (the NBC television station). These days KMJ is a bastion of right-wing talk radio, a Peak Broadcasting affiliate with Rush Limbaugh serving as the jewel in the protuberant belly button.

I was randomly scanning the radio band when I hit something slightly interesting. The announcer was talking about a new program from the Franchise Tax Board, the official tax-collection agency for the state of California. The FTB has apparently set up a website where taxpayers can check the status of their income-tax refunds. KMJ's morning newscaster was explaining that those who filed electronically could expect their refunds in a matter of days via direct deposit, while those who filed paper returns might have to wait six to eight weeks to get their checks. Just visit the FTB website to find out how much longer before you're in the money.

Fine. Not exactly a newsflash. I reached for the radio buttons when the KMJ announcer continued: “You can find this at the Franchise Tax Board's website, which is ftb.ca.gov.”

Not exactly a surprise there, either. Every agency of the state of California has “ca.gov” for its web address. The announcer spelled it out as he reported it: “Eff tee bee dot sea a dot gee oh vee. We know that's a long one, so we've put a link on our website.”

A “long” one? Heck, it's about the shortest URL a guy could ask for! As for KMJ, its website is kmj580.com. That's every bit as long as the Franchise Tax Board's URL. Some shortcut!

Then I realized that my scorn was misplaced. KMJ is smack in the middle of Free Republic territory. The radio station is undoubtedly at pains to serve its primary audience as best it can. Therefore its announcers must always direct the listeners to the station's own website. By constant repetition, it might succeed in getting them to remember one 10-character URL, but two would be beyond the pale. (Beyond the Palin?) It all made sense.

Later I checked in at KMJ's website, but the Franchise Tax Board information was nowhere to be found. I presume it had already scrolled off since that morning's broadcast. Short attention span, too.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

America's Next Top Target

Who is #1?

Now that Osama bin Laden has been gaffed and tossed overboard, one naturally wonders where America's counter-terrorism efforts will strike next. Attentive students of the nation's foreign policy probably have a pretty good idea. With al-Qaeda's top man out of the picture, it's time to focus on #2.

It's probably Bert, whose evil association with bin Laden has been common knowledge for years. I know that lots of people think the “Bert is evil” meme is just an Internet joke that got out of hand, but serious thinkers know better. Any half-assed conspiracy theorist (I apologize for the redundancy there) is aware that al-Qaeda supporters would not brandish posters of Bert at their rallies if he were not affiliated with the terrorist organization. It's almost certain that he's in the leadership, because no one would bother to celebrate a mere foot soldier in the jihadist cause.


It's only a matter of time before the deep thinkers of Free Republic and Atlas Shrugs have worked out Bert's position in the al-Qaeda hierarchy. I am confident that soon we will receive messages from the newly-anointed leader via his preferred media conduits (by which I obviously mean PBS and the Children's Television Workshop, whose unremitting efforts to undermine true-blue, red-blooded Americanism cannot be denied).

And then, of course, we might turn our thoughts toward the next puzzle....

Just what is Ernie's role in all of this?