Thursday, September 30, 2010

Jonathan Cohn sheds light...

...on that McDonald's story in the Journal this morning (my emphasis):

As the Journal story makes clear, the policies in question are so-called mini-med plans with very limited benefits. In the case of McDonald's, according to the Journal, there are two options: Employees who go with the minimum plan pay $14 a week for a policy that won't cover more than $2,000 in medical bills a year. Employees who opt for the "generous" option pay about $32 a week for a policy that maxes out at $10,000.

To call that "insurance" is to distort the definition, since these policies would do very little to help people with even moderately serious medical conditions. (You can blow through $10,000 in medical care with one emergency room visit.) And those are the people whom insurance is supposed to help, since they are the ones who face serious financial hardship or have serious trouble getting access to care. As Aaron Caroll, who now blogs at the Incidental Economist, wrote several months ago when the issue first came up, "There are a host of health insurance plans out there that are cheap. It’s just that the majority of those also are crappy. Sure, they’re great if you’re healthy. They only stink when you get sick; but that’s when you need them." (Actually, they're not even so great if you're healthy--but that's a story for another time.)

In the long run, McDonald's employees need policies that protect them in case of serious medical problems. And they need policies they can afford. They'll get those policies thanks to the Affordable Care Act--but not until 2014, because the administration and Congress couldn't come up with enough money to implement the full scheme sooner.

For now, some fast-food workers can take advantage of the law's early benefits, like the temporary insurance plans for people with pre-existing conditions that the administration and the states have been starting. But for the most part these people will have to wait.

They may get to keep their McDonald's brand insurance. But they still won't have insurance.

The song of the...

According to the Wall Street Journal...

...McDonald's may drop its health insurance plan:

McDonald's Corp. has warned federal regulators that it could drop its health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless regulators waive a new requirement of the U.S. health overhaul.

The move is one of the clearest indications that new rules may disrupt workers' health plans as the law ripples through the real world.

Trade groups representing restaurants and retailers say low-wage employers might halt their coverage if the government doesn't loosen a requirement for "mini-med" plans, which offer limited benefits to some 1.4 million Americans.

The requirement concerns the percentage of premiums that must be spent on benefits.

While many restaurants don't offer health coverage, McDonald's provides mini-med plans for workers at 10,500 U.S. locations, most of them franchised. A single worker can pay $14 a week for a plan that caps annual benefits at $2,000, or about $32 a week to get coverage up to $10,000 a year.

Last week, a senior McDonald's official informed the Department of Health and Human Services that the restaurant chain's insurer won't meet a 2011 requirement to spend at least 80% to 85% of its premium revenue on medical care.

McDonald's and trade groups say the percentage, called a medical loss ratio, is unrealistic for mini-med plans because of high administrative costs owing to frequent worker turnover, combined with relatively low spending on claims.

And that's why we need a public option.

Kevin Drum has a good take...

...on the tea party movement:

It supports with worshipful intensity the Constitution of the United States; it places itself on the side of the individual and of liberty in opposition to an encroaching government bureaucracy; it respects the judgment of the founding fathers who had so wisely incorporated the separation of federal powers and the rights of the states into the great national document; it defends the American right to enjoy the sweat of one's own labor and the rewards of one's ability.

Except Drum didn't write that. And it's not about the tea partiers. It was actually written in 1950 about the American Liberty League, a tea party predecessor formed in 1934 in reaction to the New Deal.

And that's Drum's point -- there's nothing new about the tea party movement:

It's what happens whenever a Democrat takes over the White House. When FDR was in office in the 1930s, conservative zealotry coalesced in the Liberty League. When JFK won the presidency in the '60s, the John Birch Society flourished. When Bill Clinton ended the Reagan Revolution in the '90s, talk radio erupted with the conspiracy theories of the Arkansas Project. And today, with Barack Obama in the Oval Office, it's the tea party's turn.

Ever since the 1930s, something very much like the tea party movement has fluoresced every time a Democrat wins the presidency, and the nature of the fluorescence always follows many of the same broad contours: a reverence for the Constitution, a supposedly spontaneous uprising of formerly nonpolitical middle-class activists, a preoccupation with socialism and the expanding tyranny of big government, a bitterness toward an underclass viewed as unwilling to work, and a weakness for outlandish conspiracy theories.

Or, as Drum says, it's just "old whine in new bottles."

(And no, that's not my dad in the Twins cap above. He wouldn't be caught dead wearing a mustache.)

Robert Truax died recently at age 93...

...and not only was he a "rocket scientist," he was:

...regarded as one of the premier rocket scientists of the 20th century. (My emphasis.)


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Remember this ad...


The New Yorker cartoon of the day...

Chris Cillizza...

...says that:

Democratic strategists are -- quietly -- growing more optimistic about their chances in the fall election, pointing to improving poll numbers in individual House races as well as an uptick in enthusiasm within the Democratic base nationally.

If the Democrats rally and somehow retain the Senate and the House (admittedly a long shot), pundits may date the turnaround to Christine O'Donnell's victory in the Republican primary in Delaware last month (above).

The tea party may have overreached with O'Donnell's candidacy. Independents could begin to focus on, and be turned off by, the more extreme elements of the movement.

Clinton Manges, oilman...

...and rancher, died at age 87:

Clinton Manges, who dropped out of grade school to pick cotton before rising to become a Texas legend by amassing a $1 billion fortune through land and oil deals, funneling millions to politicians, declaring bankruptcy and going to prison, died Thursday in a San Antonio nursing home.

And you thought your life had some ups and downs.

Mt. Carmel travels to St. Rita this Friday... what could very well be the Game of the Week in Illinois high school football. While No. 1 Wheaton Warrenville South will host No. 10 Wheaton North and No. 13 Stevenson will play at No. 4 Lake Zurich, the 88th contest between the No. 14 Caravan and the No. 3 Mustangs will determine first place in the Catholic League Blue, arguably the state's best conference.

Mt. Carmel has dominated St. Rita over the years (57-28-2), beginning with a 7-0 shutout in their first meeting in 1924. But the Mustangs have gotten the better of the Caravan in their last two contests, 54-18 last year and 35-21 in 2008.

For Mt. Carmel to win, Coach Frank Lenti's squad must find a way to stop the one-two punch of St. Rita's offense -- running backs Jahwon Akui and Travis Starks. Akui rushed for 204 yards and scored five touchdowns in last year's meeting in which the Mustangs scored their most points ever against the Caravan. This year, Starks has averaged an impressive 12.6 yards per carry in the first four games.

St. Rita's defense is also strong, notching two shutouts against Portage (Indiana) and Brother Rice.

But on Friday Coach Todd Kuska's Mustangs will have to contain Mt. Carmel running back Michael Banks (above), who averaged 16.4 yards per carry in his first four outings and may be the best athlete on either team.

The Caravan offense, led by quarterback Chris Sujka, has scored 193 points through five games, including 31 against Loyola's notoriously stingy defense.

Friday's meeting should be one for the ages. I predict a Mt. Carmel victory.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The song of the...

Christopher Hitchens...

...on Glenn Beck's rally:

In a rather curious and confused way, some white people are starting almost to think like a minority, even like a persecuted one. What does it take to believe that Christianity is an endangered religion in America or that the name of Jesus is insufficiently spoken or appreciated? Who wakes up believing that there is no appreciation for our veterans and our armed forces and that without a noisy speech from Sarah Palin, their sacrifice would be scorned? It's not unfair to say that such grievances are purely and simply imaginary, which in turn leads one to ask what the real ones can be. The clue, surely, is furnished by the remainder of the speeches, which deny racial feeling so monotonously and vehemently as to draw attention.

New Yorker cartoon of the day...

George Blanda, Hall of Fame... player (above, in Wrigley Field, circa 1954) died at 83.

Blanda began his career in 1949 with the Chicago Bears, playing for George Halas, the legendary coach and team owner who helped shape pro football in its early years.
Halas never warmed up to Blanda as a quarterback, and Blanda spent the first decade of his career mostly as a kicker. He started as a quarterback for one season, 1953, but lost the job because of an injury.

In any case, he and Halas never got along. “He was too cheap to even buy me a kicking shoe,” Blanda once said.

An incident from Blanda’s bench-warming days in Chicago, recalled by The Houston Chronicle in 2003, sums up Halas’s attitude toward Blanda: “Once, the Bears were getting crushed in the second half and the crowd started to chant, ‘We want Blanda. We want Blanda.’ Halas looked down the bench and barked, ‘Blanda.’ George jumped to his feet and ran over to his coach, buckling his helmet. Halas jerked his thumb toward the stands and said, ‘Get up there. They’re calling for you.’ ”

Yesterday, the Times ran a piece on Afghanistan...

...that I said could have been written in 2002. Today there's an article about Iraq, "Insurgent Group in Iraq, Declared Tamed, Roars," that says (my emphasis):

This summer, as if to make good on its pledge, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia embarked on a wave of terror that managed to shake even an Iraqi public inured to violence: during the past two months, Iraq has witnessed some of its highest casualty tolls in more than two years, according to the government.

The spate of bombings, assassinations and brazen daylight raids of government banks and an Iraqi military headquarters has come during a pivotal period.

It has been a long, hot summer in which public services like electricity and clean water have been in short supply; a political vacuum that has left Iraq without a government more than six months after Parliamentary elections shows no signs of being resolved; and American troops have significantly reduced their role, leaving exposed the glaring weaknesses of Iraqi security forces.

In Wasit Province, a largely rural Shiite governorate southeast of Baghdad, there had been few bombings in recent years. But this summer, the province was bombed several times, presumably by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, including an explosion last month at a police station in the capital, Kut, that killed 30 people and wounded more than 85.

Last month, Gen. Ray Odierno, then the commander of American forces in Iraq, expressed surprise at the group’s ability to coordinate attacks on a single day in 13 cities that killed more than 50 people and wounded 250.

Couldn't this have been written in 2003 or 2004?

Loyola's Malcolm Weaver...

...was mentioned as one of the Chicago Tribune's top performers of Week 5. The Rambler quarterback (above) threw four touchdown passes in the 35-0 win over St. Ignatius on Friday.

Also, running back Matt Rogers of Wheaton Warrenville South was cited for gaining 167 yards and scoring three touchdowns in a 41-13 win over then No. 17 Naperville North.

And quarterback Nick Meyer of Elk Grove accounted for 253 yards of offense and had three rushing touchdowns in a 23-7 win over Buffalo Grove.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The song of the...

While the Affordable Care Act...

...(Obamacare) has never polled well, a new poll from AP:

...finds that Americans who think the law should have done more outnumber those who think the government should stay out of health care by 2-to-1. 

The New Yorker cartoon of the day...

Murray Sayle died... age 84. He's described in the Times as a "reporter and adventurer," which is cool in and of itself. But I though his take on the Japanese surrender in World War II was particularly interesting:

One article, published in The New Yorker on July 31, 1995, six days before the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and consuming almost the entire issue, made the startling argument that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not persuade the Japanese to surrender. Rather, he asserted, it was the prospect of an invasion by the Soviet Union that ended the war in the Pacific.

“The bombs promised only to kill more Japanese,” Mr. Sayle wrote in the article, a meticulously reported account of the mounting Japanese desperation in the summer of 1945, “whereas the Soviets, possibly allied with local Communists, threatened to destroy the monarchy, which almost all Japanese, and certainly those in the government, viewed as the soul of the nation. A surrender with some guarantee for the emperor thus became the best of a gloomy range of options, and the quicker the better, because every day that passed meant more gains on the ground for the Soviets, and thus a likely bigger share of the inevitable occupation. Recognition that a surrender today will be more favorable than one tomorrow is the classic reason that wars end.”

An article in the New York Times...

 ...this morning, "American and Afghan Troops Begin Combat for Kandahar," says:

American and Afghan troops began active combat last week in an offensive to drive the Taliban out of their strongholds surrounding the city of Kandahar, military officials said Sunday.

“We expect hard fighting,” he said of the offensive, whose objective is to clear the Taliban from three districts to the west and south of the city.

Sixteen Americans have died in the push so far, including two killed by a roadside bomb on Sunday.

Couldn't that have been written in 2002?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Glenbrook South scored over 40 points...

...for the third week in a row, as the Titans (above) rolled over New Trier, 42-7, in Northfield. Meanwhile, No. 16 Loyola blanked St. Ignatius, 35-0.

Was I too quick to write off GBS a few weeks ago, or are the Trevians that bad? We'll see. After two more cupcake games, against Waukegan next Saturday and Niles West on October 8, the Titans will host Maine South on October 15. The Hawks are having an off year, despite beating Niles West Friday, 55-21. Will this be the year that GBS coach Mike Noll finally beats the Park Ridge squad?

In other games of note, No. 1 Wheaton Warrenville South kept up its winning ways, defeating No. 17 Naperville North, 41-13. No. 3 St. Rita beat Bishop McNamara, 41-21; No. 6 Carmel just got past Marist, 20-16; No. 8 Joliet Catholic thumped Nazareth, 57-0; No. 13 Stevenson beat Lake Forest, 41-20; and No. 14 Minooka was upset by Plainfield South, 41-31. No. 15 Mt. Carmel had no trouble with De La Salle, 35-14; No. 20 Elk Grove beat Buffalo Grove, 23-7; and Notre Dame fell to Marian Catholic in overtime, 21-20, in what sounds like the Game of the Night. Schaumburg got back on the winning track, beating Fremd, 17-14; Homewood-Flossmoor went down to defeat against No. 12 Lincoln-Way East 31-21; Benet beat Glenbard South, 35-14; Montini shut out Aurora Central Catholic, 48-0; and Providence notched its first victory of the season, over St. Laurence, 30-0.

Kathleen Sweetapple... for Regnery Publishing.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I'll be traveling to Minnesota this weekend... see my mother and visit my dad's grave for the first time since he was buried in April. Postings should be light or, more likely, non-existent.

So that means you're on your own for Illinois high school football, quirky obituaries and real-life Larry David-type experiences.

Paul Krugman sums up the GOP's...

...“Pledge to America,” which was unveiled yesterday:

“Deficits are a terrible thing. Let’s make them much bigger.”

The document repeatedly condemns federal debt — 16 times, by my count. But the main substantive policy proposal is to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, which independent estimates say would add about $3.7 trillion to the debt over the next decade — about $700 billion more than the Obama administration’s tax proposals.

Play in the Central Suburban South...

...Conference gets underway tonight as Glenbrook South travels to New Trier and Maine South plays at Niles West. (That's John Heles, 36, and Matt Powers, 65, above, rushing the Niles North quarterback last week.)

This should be a good test for the Titans; the outcome could determine whether they are a 6-3 or a 5-4 team.

Meanwhile, No. 16 Loyola takes on St. Ignatius at the University of Chicago.

In the DuPage Valley Conference, No. 17 Naperville North will be at No. 1 Wheaton Warrenville South in what will probably be the Game of the Week.

In other contests,

Bishop McNamara will be at No. 3 St. Rita;

No. 6 Carmel plays at Marist;

Nazareth will play at No. 8 Joliet Catholic;

No. 13 Stevenson will host Lake Forest;

No. 14 Minooka plays at Plainfield South;

De La Salle will play No. 15 Mt. Carmel at Gately;

Buffalo Grove will be at No. 20 Elk Grove;

Notre Dame is at Marian Catholic;

Fremd at Schaumburg;

Homewood-Flossmoor at No. 12 Lincoln-Way East;

Glenbard South vs. Benet at Benedictine University;

Montini at Aurora Central Catholic; and

St. Laurence at Providence.

On Sunday, Fenwick will play Leo at Gately.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Imagine getting fixed up on a blind date...

...with Delaware Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove.

Or worse, what if she has a brother?

"Hey, mind if I bring my friend Bob over to watch the game Sunday?"

"No, not at all. What's his last name?


The song of the...

Today, as Drew Altman...

...of the Kaiser Family Foundation explains (my emphasis),

Several popular provisions [of the health care reform act] take effect. They include allowing adult children up to age 26 to be on their parents' insurance; banning lifetime benefits caps and loosening annual limits on insurance coverage payouts; prohibiting insurance companies from kicking people off of their policies when they get sick; and requiring that newly purchased insurance policies cover preventive services at no cost to patients.

Still, the law polls poorly:

Public sentiment about health reform has shifted within a narrow band since the spring, with slightly more in favor in some months and slightly more against in others. For many who oppose it, the law reflects deeper discontent. When we asked people who said they were angry about the law why they were angry, the vast majority reported that, more than being upset with the law itself, they were angry about the general direction in Washington. Meanwhile, with a few notable exceptions -- such as requiring that people have insurance -- the law's major provisions appear to be very popular with the public.

So why is it so unpopular?

Confusion and misperception are rampant, with more than a third of seniors still thinking the law contains "death panels" (it does not).

Gee, I wonder why? Could it be that too many people are getting their information from the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck?

From Steven Pearlstein... the Washington Post (my emphasis):

Then this week, Skybridge Capital's Anthony Scaramucci (above) showed up at a televised "town meeting" with the president, complaining that he and his hedge fund buddies were tired of being treated as political pinatas by the administration. It shows you how thoroughly disconnected Wall Street is from the rest of the country that Scaramucci actually thought he could elicit an apology from the president or some sympathy from the public. Obama quickly turned the tables on his former Harvard law school classmate, getting the biggest applause of the session when he noted that much of the public felt that he hadn't been tough enough on Wall Street.

For Obama, however, there is no pleasing Wall Street or the business community, no matter how many banks and insurance companies and car companies are rescued from the consequences of their lousy business judgments.

Chris Cillizza...

...on Indiana Republican Mike Pence: [will] likely see him as running for president with the real intention of winding up as the vice presidential nominee -- since he won't be able to compete with the titans of the race on money and organization.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The song of the...

Steven Rattner...

...on the auto bailout (my emphasis):

Companies do fail all the time and in a normal economic and financial environment there is a mechanism for dealing with failing companies. They go through a bankruptcy process so there is private capital available to finance them in bankruptcy, called DIP financing, and then they eventually emerge restructured. In some cases they get liquidated if they’re simply, not viable, but most major companies that go through bankruptcy emerge and continue to function.

But late 2008 and early 2009, private capital markets were frozen, so there was no private capital available to finance GM in a bankruptcy. And without DIP financing, GM would have simply run out of money, closed its doors, and filed a bankruptcy petition that quickly turned into a liquidation. It would have put out of work all of its people, all of its dealers and employees—or most of them—along with many of its supplier jobs. It would have rippled through the auto sector and it’s quite possible, if not likely, that Ford and Chrysler would have been forced to shut down, too, because of the supplier problems. So this was an extraordinary problem, of a magnitude that I’ve never seen in my lifetime. I think it was appropriate for the government to step in.

The cartoon...

...of the day.

Remember, as we approach...

...the midterm elections, why we passed health care reform:

* Every other developed country on the planet -- every one -- offers universal coverage to their citizens;

* Most of those countries deliver health care that is at least as good, if not better, than the United States; and

* They all do it at less cost -- a lot less in most cases.

Paul Waldman, as usual,...

...gets it right, this time about the tea partiers:

And we'll also see whether the Tea Partiers can put the taxpayers' money where the newly elected officeholders' mouths are. Once you're in Congress, you can't just talk about "spending" in the abstract -- you have to decide where you stand on specific kinds of spending. Will they be voting against projects for their own districts? Will they be railing against things like the billions we spend on farm subsidies? Will they be rooting out waste in the Defense Department? Or will they adopt the typical Republican version of "fiscal conservatism," which is to oppose spending money only on programs you don't like anyway?

The problem is that the tea partiers -- like everyone else -- actually like government spending. Polls have shown they think Social Security, Medicare, public schools, a strong national defense, et cetera, et cetera, are worth the cost. In other words, they approve of the spending that benefits them.

You see, they like their entitlements -- they just don't like yours.

Before you get too excited...

...about the coming Republican takeover of Congress and its plans to repeal health care reform, read Jeffrey Kluger's piece in Time, "Barbarians at the Gate: The GOP's Health Reform Plan."

Since President Obama and the Democrats don't seem to want to run on this truly historic achievement, it might be left to people like Kluger to remind us of its importance:

Just last week, the U.S. Census announced that the number of uninsured Americans crossed the 50 million threshold for the first time — many of those people having lost their jobs in the economic meltdown. The new law, whose requirements are being phased in over several years, is designed to prevent the loss of a job from equaling the loss of insurance. It is also designed to prevent people from being dropped from coverage because they get sick and being denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition, and it eliminates lifetime caps. Additionally, it allows kids to stay on their parents' policies until they're 26 — especially important when young people are being hit hard by double-digit unemployment.

Add Christine O'Donnell's name... the expanding list of tea party candidates who just won't talk to the national press anymore.

First it was Sarah Palin, then it was Rand Paul, and then Sharron Angle. Now it's O'Donnell (she of witchcraft fame). Witchcraft?

Guess you can't be too careful with the "lamestream media." (Get it? Lamestream media?) Some intrepid reporter might ask you a tough one like, "Which newspapers do you read?" Or, "What do you think of the 1964 Civil Rights Act?" (You know, the one that forbids restaurant owners from denying people like, oh, I don't know -- the President of the United States! -- from ordering a cheeseburger and a chocolate malt at your dive?)

Expect the list to grow.

And don't think Palin will change her strategy if she decides to run for president in 2012. She won't have to; her followers hate the media, too. And I'll bet she doesn't debate her Republican opponents, either. Too risky; and no need. Just keep tweeting away up in Alaska and sending messages to the faithful on your Facebook page.

This is going to be interesting.

A woman in Iran has been sentenced... death by stoning, and I thought, Do they still do that?

Apparently, they do:

The lawyer for an Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned on an adultery conviction said Monday that he and her children are worried the delayed execution could be carried out soon with the end of a moratorium on death sentences for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

So, I wondered, how exactly does that work? Do they just tie the woman up and throw stones at her until she dies? Doesn't sound very efficient to me.

How many people throw stones? How big are the stones? How far away must the throwers stand? It wouldn't be fair to just walk right up to someone and bash him in the head, would it?

"Hey A******! Get back! You're too close! Can't you see we're all throwing stones here?"

"Sorry. I wasn't clear on the rules. It's my first stoning."


And how long would the whole thing last? A half-hour? An hour?

"Can we get this thing done before lunch? I'm supposed to meet a friend of mine at eleven thirty..."

Fortunately, a piece in Slate answers most of these questions:

First, you get buried. Iran's Islamic Penal Code states that men convicted of adultery are to be buried in the ground up to their waists; women, up to their chests.

Why the difference?

If the conviction is based on the prisoner's confession, the law says, the presiding judge casts the first stone. If the conviction is based on witness testimony, the witnesses throw the first stones, then the judge, then everyone else—generally other court officials and security forces.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. This could get confusing.

"All right, looks like I'll be throwing the first stone."

"Wait a minute! Her conviction was based on my testimony. Therefore I get to throw the first stone."

"I'm next."

"But you weren't even a witness!"

"Was too!"

Stones must be of medium size, according to the penal code: Not so big that one or two could kill the person, but not so small that you would call it a pebble. In other words, about the size of a tangerine.

"That's a pretty big stone you got there, Mahmoud."

"Oh, no. I checked; it's about the size of a tangerine."

"Pretty big tangerine! I'd say more like a grapefruit!"

The whole process takes less than an hour.

"Hey, we've been doing this for fifty minutes now and she's still breathing. Throw harder, you guys!"

One possible upside of getting stoned is that people who manage to escape from the hole are allowed to go free. But this applies only to those who have confessed to their crimes. (If you were sentenced to stoning on the basis of witness testimony, then digging out of the hole does you no good.) In any case, it's very difficult for anyone to escape the punishment: Prisoners are wrapped in a white cloth sack with their hands tied.

So Harry Houdini would have to be given a different sentence, I suppose.

Stonings in Iran used to be public. Between 1983 and about 2000, anyone could attend and throw rocks. After that, public outcry against the practice grew, and stonings began to be carried out in private, often at a cemetery.

"You goin' to the stoning tomorrow, Abdul?"

"I'd like to, but I can't. The ball-and-chain is dragging me to her cousin's wedding."

"That stinks. Hey, with any luck, maybe the bride will take off her veil and you can stone her."

To make matters worse, the Iranian woman sentenced to stoning has already been lashed -- by mistake!

In an unusual turn in the case, the lawyer also confirmed that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was lashed 99 times last week in a separate punishment meted out because a British newspaper ran a picture of an unveiled woman mistakenly identified as her. Under Iran's clerical rule, women must cover their hair in public. The newspaper later apologized for the error.

"We're awfully sorry. But she really did look a lot like you. You two could be twins! Tell you what -- how about a free subscription?"

And why was she lashed 99 times? Did the guy doing the lashing get tired or something? Did he have to get home in time for a Little League game? Was it supposed to be a hundred and he lost count?

"Was that 77 or 78, Ali?"

"I think it was 77."

"You're both wrong. It was 79."

"Should we start over?"

You'd never run into all this in a country like ours. We just strap the guy to a stretcher and give him a lethal injection. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom!