DO not be misled by the current feud in Washington over trimming the nation's federal budget. What seemed to foreigners to be inconceivable - that the most powerful country's government should effectively shut down for a week - has in fact taken place numerous times in the nation's history. And on three other occasions since 1980, it was Republican presidents Bush and Reagan who found themselves on opposing sides of the bean-counting machine from Congress. And do not be shocked if the current 'crisis' has about as much effect on trimming America's national debt as putting Nick Leeson in charge of the plan to resurrect Daiwa Bank. The reason Congress will never have any moral authority on the subject of saving taxpayers' money is because they have proved themselves so cynically reckless at spending it. The practice of 'pork-barrelling' - its critics usually just call it 'pork' - refers to representatives and senators attaching clauses to often unrelated bills which earmark millions for a pet project in their home state or district. While, of course, this distinctly undemocratic creative accounting wins big praise back in the home town, no politician is foolish enough to ignore that it can make them look bad on the national stage. This is why they spend much time attacking each other for supporting 'pork' in the hope that the smell of bacon emanating from their own office is overlooked. A good example can be found in West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, who has served in the body since 1958, and who is known as an expert in the art of filibustering legislation he does not like by reciting the history of the British monarchy for hours on end. He is also undisputably the King of Pork, and boasts of the scores of often pointless projects he has brought to his otherwise unremarkable state. Senator Byrd snatched the chair of the Appropriations Committee in 1988, promising to 'appropriate' US$1 billion (HK$7.73 billion) for West Virginia. This is the committee that 'controls' government spending by allowing its members to take part in an uncontrolled frenzy of pork, so it is no surprise that Mr Byrd has actually pilfered more than 150 per cent of that figure. Such largesse included moving the FBI's fingerprinting division to the one-horse town of Clarksburg (infuriating the crimebusters into the process) and opening a coastguard facility, even though the landlocked state is 320 kilometres from the water. Pork has its privileges, not least when the state names a piece of it after the generous legislator. Thus it is that West Virginia has at least 21 monuments to the King of Pork, including the Robert C. Byrd Industrial Park, the Robert C. Byrd Hardwood Technologies Centre, and the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing. IT used to be the latest Nike trainers or Reebok jacket. Then, for a while, it was designer teeth inlaid with diamonds or rubies. Now, gun-toting thieves will kill you for your hubcaps. Police are reporting a nationwide spate of murders where the victims have been relieved not just of their lives but their gold-plated wheel trims. Custom wheel trims, which can cost US$5,000, have become ultra-trendy in recent months, not least after rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg immortalised the status symbol in a song, dubbing them 'Danas'. But their kudos has attracted the low-lifes, with Dallas police alone reporting 467 sets of wheels stolen this year, with nine of the incidents resulting in death. Los Angeles is running at around 10 wheel-trim-related homicides. One Dallas man was sentenced to death last week for killing a three-year-old girl while stealing a set of his cousin's gold-plated danas. It is difficult to know whether to sympathise with some of the victims or be in awe of their bravado in these days when even having the wrong name brand of Japanese car can earn you the unwanted attention of a carjacker. Thankfully, one can rest easy that not all traces of civilisation have departed when a set of furry dice still attracts little more than general ridicule. BEDFORD, New York, home not only to Glenn Close and hundreds of other glitzy residents, but also to a school system run by devil-worshippers? Strange though it may sound, over 1,000 residents of the well-to-do town, including the actress, packed a hall last week to discuss allegations by a parents' concern group that schools were allowing pupils to play a card game called Magic: The Gathering, which they said encourages Satanism. 'It's black magic and mind control, and uses incantations to the devil,' said one parent. However, what really appeared to be sacrificed was the truth. It emerged that the concerned parents were being egged on by right-wing Christians in a bid to stage a coup against the liberal school board. The liberal-leaning parents (Ms Close included) turned up to try to fend off the conservative assault, and some even dressed up as witches to make their point.