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Sunday: December 11, 2011

Ifs, Ands, and Butts

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:58 PM UTC

If they want to justify their places in the ‘About’ paragraph of About Last Night, OGIC (‘Our Girl in Chicago’) and CAAF (Carrie Frye) really need to get off their butts* and write something. It seems like months since either of them has posted, and I for one miss them.

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*Or should that be “get on their butts”, since that’s the usual posture for bloggers?

Sunday: November 6, 2011

Happy Birthday To Me

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:25 PM UTC

Ten years ago today, I began this blog. Here’s the first post, in full:

Cheney Goes Hunting
Though I’m sure it was primarily intended for relaxation, VP Cheney’s pheasant hunting expedition has some nice side-effects: implicit support for the NRA, a manly sport to symbolize homeland defense, and other things too obvious to be worth listing. On the other hand, given the stupidity of many of America’s enemies — as evidenced in the recent claim that Rudy Giuliani is the ‘Jewish, homosexual, governor of New York’, whose father named him after ‘Rudolph Hitler’ — and their often shaky grasp of English, do we really want to give Al Jazeera and the like the opportunity to claim that Cheney goes out shooting peasants for sport? Not that America has ever had any peasants to shoot, but how would the ignorant fanatics who support Osama Bin Laden — a troglodyte in more ways than one — know that? Would Michael Moore or Noam Chomsky, for that matter?

The link for the quotation about Giuliani is unfortunately dead: it’s not often that even terrorists manage to squeeze four separate easily-checked errors into a dozen or so words.

What should I do for my second decade? Post every day, or at least more often than I’ve been posting, and see if I still have any readers? That seems like a good plan.

Sunday: October 30, 2011

Who’s ‘Tasteless & Offensive’?

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:45 PM UTC

Of all the sites on my sidebar, there is only one I cannot read at work (a public school) because it is “tasteless & offensive”. No, it’s not Ace of Spades, or Protein Wisdom, or Five Feet of Fury, or Cold Fury, or Althouse. (There’s nothing particularly offensive about her posts, but her comment section is another story.) So who is it? Click on this link to go there, or hover over it to see who it is without going there.

I thought that was funny, until this site was also banned as as “tasteless & offensive” for a couple of days last week.

Saturday: May 21, 2011

Maybe I’m Too Fond of Puns . . . .

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:05 PM UTC

My local movie theater has been serving delicious hors d’oeuvres (from this restaurant) at their showings of the Metropolitan Opera HD simulcasts. What should they have served for Richard Strauss’ last opera on April 23rd? Carpaccio, of course.

Friday: September 3, 2010

Worldwide Fame?

Filed under: — site admin @ 6:19 AM UTC

I’ve just been profiled – the good kind of profiling – over at Normblog. Go over there to see what he asked and what I answered, then come back here if you have any comments on either. Comments are moderated, and I have a day job, so they may not appear for up to eight hours.

Friday: July 30, 2010

The Riddle of the Sphinx, Updated

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:25 PM UTC

What blogs on four buttocks in the morning, as many as ten buttocks in the afternoon, and two buttocks in the evening? Alas, no buttocks are left, and 2Blowhards is shutting down. It (they?) will be missed.

Saturday: July 24, 2010

Feetnotes Footnotes on a Rat Post

Filed under: — site admin @ 4:56 PM UTC

The Rat links to an elementary school with an interesting name – but not as interesting as the name of this school, which I drive past whenever I go to my favorite Thai restaurant.

Her second link tells of a wine that deserves to be bought at the liquor store mentioned in this post from almost eight years ago.

Tuesday: June 27, 2006

Eliza 2.0

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:05 PM UTC

I think I have solved the mystery of ‘actus’, one of the most insufferable trolls infesting the lush meadows of Protein Wisdom. The clue was at the end of this comment, where ‘actus’ writes: “in your grad school days you may have run across some non-gendered pronouns”. Of course, some of us learned about ‘it’ in junior high, if not before. But the resolute refusal to be pinned down as a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ suggests that ‘actus’, despite the masculine Latin name, is in fact neither. No, I do not mean that ‘actus’ is intersexed, rather that ‘actus’ is a pseudonym of Eliza 2.0.

Who — or rather what — is Eliza? To quote Wikipedia, “Eliza is a famous 1966 computer program by Joseph Weizenbaum, which parodied a Rogerian therapist, largely by rephrasing many of the patient’s statements as questions and posing them to the patient. Thus, for example, the response to ‘My head hurts’ might be ‘Why do you say your head hurts?’ The response to ‘My mother hates me’ might be ‘Who else in your family hates you?’”

It appears that forty years of progress in computer technology and linguistic analysis have now brought us Eliza 2.0, aka ‘actus’. Where Eliza 1.0 was necessarily non-directional, given the limitations of 1960s computers, Eliza 2.0 is semi-directional, giving a very good approximation of a human being who suffers from ADD or OCD and mild mental retardation. The mysterious creators of Eliza 2.0 have succeeded in building a convincing parody of a common troll, who which replies to arguments with a random assortment of inane counter-arguments, misdirected snark, and trivial diversions, and is never at a loss for a come-back. To the unwary observer, it appears almost human, with an IQ in the low 80s. I anticipate further advances in the next decade leading to a robot troll of apparent normal or even above-average intelligence, though with argumentative coherence and basic social skills still well below the human average.

Monday: May 22, 2006

Under Construction

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:47 PM UTC

I’ve decided to ditch the old format and modify one of the WordPress templates to make it my own. Step 1: The weevils are back. Step 2: The blogroll will be back tomorrow. Step 3: I haven’t decided yet. Comments are welcome.

Saturday: May 20, 2006

What’s Going On?

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:07 PM UTC

I knew I hadn’t gotten a real (non-spam) comment in a while, but Scott Chaffin (The Fat Guy) has just informed me that my comments were somehow turned off. I don’t know how that happened, but switching to one of the WordPress default themes seems to have fixed it, at least for the moment. If someone would actually leave me a test comment, just to make sure, I’d appreciate it. What to say? I’ve always liked Beavis & Butt-Head’s “Testes, testes, one, two, . . . three?!?”

The fact that the flood of spam comments was undeterred by the lack of a comment form is particularly disgusting.

Until I figure out how to fix the problem, the visual appearance of this site will be highly unstable, and sometimes quite ugly.

Speaking of ugly, the company (apparently an Earthlink subsidiary) that is holding my original domain name hostage hasn’t replied to the letter of complaint I sent them by certified mail six weeks ago. Nor have I received the delivery confirmation I paid the Post Office for. I would have thought that they would let me know if they were unable to deliver the letter in six weeks of trying, but apparently not.

Thanks, Scott!

Tuesday: April 18, 2006

Grammar Jokes

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:12 PM UTC

Sunday’s upgrade to WordPress 1.5 has made spam comments a lot easier to deal with. Lately, quite a few of the latter have contained a simple two-word message: tool die. My first thought on seeing one was that there’s a missing copulative: not that I have any intention of checking, but surely the sender is advertising “tool and die” products? My second thought was that there’s a missing comma: taking ‘tool’ as a vocative and ‘die’ as an imperative would express my thoughts about the sender with some precision. Of course, before I upgraded my spam-obliterating capabilities, these thoughts were more likely to include copulative imperatives.

Sunday: April 16, 2006

Well, This Sucks . . . .

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:14 AM UTC

I finally upgraded from WordPress 1.2 to 1.5, mostly because it was the only way to deal with the floods of spam comments (11,000 in the last week, 729 in the last 3 hours). That’s a lot easier now, but what the Hell happened to my format? It’s the same Index and CSS files, with the minimal changes required for the upgrade to work. So where did the background color go? Why is the title so small and so purple and so left-justified? And why does the blogroll have bullets that were not there before? Shouldn’t keeping the old CSS file take care of all that? Isn’t that what CSS files are for? Most important, why is the whole thing so damned ugly? (I mean, even more than before.) I suppose now I’ll have to spend all day fixing the templates. At least I can delete 729 comments with two keystrokes, instead of having to use 4-7 keystrokes for each batch of 20 as I did before.

Update: (4/16, 9:00am)

Formats will be highly variable today as I try to find the problem. If the site looks OK now, that’s only because I short-circuited WordPress’s nonfunctional stylesheet-switcher and hard-coded a link to the one on my other site.

Monday: February 6, 2006

Permanent Relief or Temporary Respite?

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:22 PM UTC

Over the last two or three months, spam comments on my two sites gradually increased from less than 200 per day, which was bad enough, to 300, then 400, then 500, and so on, peaking at around 900 per day, at which point they outnumbered genuine comments by 500:1 or more and forced me to spend half an hour or more per day deleting the filthy things. Though I have been unable to install any software solution, some time last week the flood suddenly turned into a trickle. I’m now getting a very manageable 30-40 per day, and the last two comments on this site were both genuine. It’s been months since I’ve had the pleasure of approving two in a row.

I wonder what happened. Were all the spam comments coming from a single spammer ? If so, has he been kicked off his ISP? Arrested? (I hope so.) Assassinated by rival spammers? (Even better, and there have been some hints that many of the comments were coming from Russia.) Or have his ill-gotten profits allowed him to retire to the Riviera and give up spamming entirely? Most disquieting: is my relief purely temporary? Perhaps spammers all take their vacations this time of year, or go to a spammer convention in Acapulco. Time will tell, but so far I’m enjoying the extra free time.

Sunday: January 22, 2006

Metablogging Puzzle

Filed under: — site admin @ 6:47 PM UTC

For the last month or more, whenever I check my weblog statistics to see what countries my readers represent, I have gotten a list much like today’s: in order from 1 to 25, USA, Iceland, unknown, Germany, EU, Netherlands, Australia, UK, Canada, Switzerland, Hungary, Russia, China, Japan, Spain, Malaysia, France, Brazil, Italy, Belgium, Singapore, South Africa, Lithuania, Austria, and Poland.

In general, the list is unsurprising: these are all countries with a large number (though not necessarily a large percentage) of English-fluent computer-owners. France and Italy are a bit lower than I would have expected, Malaysia and Lithuania quite a bit higher, but the huge anomaly is in second place: Iceland is the source of more hits than country outside the US, and that is also true for my non-pseudonymous Classics site. What’s that all about? Are there that many ‘Dr. Weevil’ fans in Iceland, or is it just a few obsessives (or even one?) checking in every half-hour to see what’s new? I’m not unhappy, or unwelcoming, just puzzled.

Sunday: January 15, 2006

Where To From Here?

Filed under: — site admin @ 2:44 PM UTC

Now that I have my laptop back and have found a temporary and partial fix for my spam-comment problem (more on that soon), it’s time to start posting more regularly. I will continue posting occasional footnotes on events of the day, but only where I have something original, however trivial, to add. If you want to be informed of every passing event, go to the big dogs such as Instapundit. I will mostly try to cultivate my own little garden: ancient literature, the ancient world, Latin and other languages, and whatever bits of modern culture interest me. In other words, this will be even more of a cultureblog (mostly non-contemporary) than it already is, rather than a ‘warblog’ or politics blog.

On my apolitical non-pseudonymous blog for classicists, I’ve been posting an ‘Ancient Joke of the Day’, in PDF files, since half of the jokes are Greek and I like to include the original text with all the accents. There are 75 so far, covering all of November and December and the first half of January. (I actually started the project in November of 2000, and took it up again on January 2nd after a five-year gap.) I plan to post an ‘Ancient Joke of the Day’ here as well, starting today. These will be ordinary blog-posts, with the translation first and all Greek translated so it will appear in HTML. Anyone who wishes to read the new jokes and skip the rest of this site can link to the category archive (as soon as I create it). Warning: I will recycle some of the PDF jokes on this site.

The second new feature will be a weekly ancient or modern text, to be posted (in English) every Sunday afternoon. The first few will be letters of the younger Pliny, starting today with 3.14, his account of the murder of a cruel master by his own slaves. Like many of Pliny’s letters, it raises numerous issues worth pondering. The comment feature will allow a slow-motion virtual seminar.

Finally, I will be posting miscellaneous notes on whatever I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching (on DVD, since I don’t have a cable).

Friday: December 30, 2005

More On Spam

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:42 PM UTC

Yes, my title is a pun: think two words.

How long does it take to delete 501 spam comments (all of which arrived in the last 36 hours) in WordPress? Nineteen minutes, or, going by the way I actually measured it (my stopwatch has a dead battery), one Haydn Violin Concerto and a bit of another.

One reason it took so long is that four more spam comments arrived while I was deleting the first 501, one more while I deleted those four, and yet another in the 5-6 seconds it took to kill that one. I sometimes feel like I’m trapped in some kind of virtual zombie movie, shooting down one braindead parody of a human utterance after another, as further waves arrive spouting their sinister gibberish — usually in the form “[x] is a niceblogers [sic]”. Then again, sometimes I feel that I’m illustrating the blogular lemma to Zeno’s paradox: I can never blog about non-spam topics because first I have to kill all the spam accumulated since the last time I had a spam-killing orgy, then I have to kill all the spam accumulated during that time, and so on ad nauseam, if not quite ad infinitum.

Thursday: December 29, 2005

Drowning In Spam

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:51 PM UTC

One reason for my paucity of posts:

For the last few months, I have been getting around 100 spam comments per day on this site, plus about half that on my other site for Latinists. That was annoying enough, since WordPress forces me to check a box for each individual comment before it can be deleted. The box is very small, so it takes some concentration, though I can listen to music while I delete.

A few weeks ago I noticed that spam comments were up to 200 per day. For instance, between Friday morning and Monday evening, while I was out of town, this site received 720 comments, of which 718 were spam and 2 were from some jerk who called me a “COMMIE” and a “COWARD” (his caps, of course) for having moderated comments and for not approving his first idiotic and irrelevant comment in the two minutes before he sent the second one.

In the last 24 hours, I have received 386 spam comments for this site, plus 66 for the other one, so it appears that the quantity has more or less doubled just in the last week. If spam comments continue their exponential increase I will soon be forced to turn off comments entirely or spend every waking hour deleting them. Can WordPress provide some method of deleting all comments? It would be easy enough to skim through even several hundred, individually approve those few that are genuine, and then press ‘delete all’ for the rest. Is there anything else (not too technically challenging) I can do? Is anyone else getting an increasing flood of spam?

Tuesday: November 22, 2005

But I Thought Of It, Too!

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:58 PM UTC

Laurence Simon mocks the idea that Pajamas Media ever so much as considered the name “Jellyfish Media”. He and his first commenter suggest a dozen more suitable animals: jackals, hyenas, coyotes, seagulls, vultures, remora, rats, raccoons, dung beetles, lions, catfish, and gophers.

I’m way ahead of Simon on the remora: three and a half years ago I compared bloggers to fleas, ticks, gadflies, remoras, and those little birds that step into a crocodile’s mouth to pick his teeth for him. Too bad I lost the comments when I changed to WordPress: some of them were amusing. It’s interesting that the remora is the only one Simon leaves in the singular: I suspect he couldn’t decide whether the plural should be English ‘remoras’ or Latin ‘remorae’ (either is correct) or something else entirely.

Sunday: November 20, 2005

Tragedy Of The Electronic Commons

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:21 PM UTC

Spam comments on my two sites are up from 100-200 per week to over 100 just since I deleted a bunch this morning. Have the spammers stopped to think about the side-effects of their Stakhanovite productivity? No doubt they don’t mind being loathed and despised as long as they’re making money, but how much longer can they make money? If someone had asked me just two or three years ago whether I might want to play Texas Hold’em, the answer would have been yes, as long as the stakes were small and the other players congenial and not too competent. Now the very words “Texas Hold’em” make me want to either vomit, or punch someone, or perhaps punch someone and then vomit on him, as long as he’s a spammer. These urges are relatively mild so far, but they get stronger every day. Is that really the effect the gaming sites are aiming at? Obviously not, so let me rephrase: is that a side-effect that gaming sites can survive in the long run? Making “Texas Hold’em” as unattractive a phrase as “IRS audit” or “prostate exam” or “jury duty” or “root canal” or “restraining order” can’t be good for their long-term profitability.

I need to come up with a nice Graecolatinate term for ‘spamophobia’. Unfortunately, Woodhouse’s English-Greek Dictionary has no entry for the noun ‘hash’, which I suppose is the closest ancient equivalent to Spam™.

Sunday: November 6, 2005

The Pseudo-NormBlog Profile

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:39 PM UTC

Norm Geras of NormBlog has done a series of ‘Normblog Profiles’ of other bloggers. Since I like the questions and am feeling intro retrospective, I thought I’d give my own answers here.

‘Dr. Weevil’ is the pseudonym of a classicist who teaches Greek and Latin at a small private high school in Raleigh, North Carolina. The only reason for the pseudonym is to keep his students from easily finding this site through Google, since he occasionally posts on subjects that they or their parents would find inappropriate.

Why do you blog? > Why not? I can do this as well as most people, and better than most journalists. I’m a teacher, and love to explain things. I have some specialized knowledge (mostly Latin) that may provide a different perspective.

What has been your best blogging experience? > The whole ball of wax, really. Intelligent conversations in comment sections (not just my own) are good. Being attacked with inane arguments by evil-minded morons can also be fun in a twisted way. Seeing just now that the vile Warbloggerwatch site, with thirteen names on the masthead, hasn’t had a post in over 9 months, or a post by anyone except Philip Shropshire in over 15 months, or a non-spam comment in 2-3 months, warms my cold cold heart. If you know the site, you’ll know why. No, I will not link to it.

What has been your worst blogging experience? > Not getting any comments or links at all from the most important posts. I still think this one is both true and important, and could even be turned into a book by someone more knowledgeable than I, though a book would probably inspire death threats.

What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > See this post.

What are your favourite blogs? > The ones on my blogroll, of course. Is this some kind of trick question? Particular favorites vary from month to month, as my mood changes and the various blogs shift in interests and productivity.

What are you reading at the moment? > Sophocles and Vergil. I’m working through all of Antigone and the AP selections from the Aeneid slowly with my Greek IV and Latin IV classes, while reading the other six plays and the rest of Vergil’s works quickly on the side. (Mostly rereading, since I’ve read all of Vergil before and all of Sophocles except Oedipus at Colonus and half of Electra.) One of my students keeps asking which is better, Sophocles or Vergil, and I can’t make up my mind: they’re both as good as literature gets. With a light course load and matching salary, I’m also finding time to read modern works, classical and otherwise. I recently finished Trollope’s Dr. Wortle’s School, Chekhov’s novella The Story of an Unknown Man (a.k.a. Anonymous Story), and Anthony Grafton’s The Footnote: A Curious History, and am half-way through Lionel Casson’s Libraries in the Ancient World.

What is the best novel you’ve ever read? > That depends on what you mean by “best”. Those I never tire of rereading are mostly lighter works: Lucky Jim, Robert Graves’ Antigua, Penny, Puce, Randall Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution, David Lodge’s The British Museum is Falling Down, and Nabokov’s Pnin. I haven’t read most of the big names more than once, if that: of those I’ve read recently enough to have an opinion, I suppose the best are Persuasion, Washington Square, and The Bostonians. Edith Wharton’s The Reef also made a strong impression, and I love some of her short stories: I need to find the time to read her better-known novels.

What is your favourite poem? > Propertius 2.29. The text is on my other site here and (with vocabulary and translation notes) here, and I will post my very literal translation of it here shortly.

What is your favourite movie? > At the moment, Brazil. Again, I haven’t seen many of the ‘classics’ recently or frequently enough to have an opinion. Since I bought a DVD player a few years ago, I’m gradually catching up on what I’ve missed over the years. The 1930s-style Richard III, with Ian McKellen, was great, but it’s only been 6 hours since I saw it, so my opinion is not quite settled.

What is your favourite song? > Just one? How can anyone possibly have just one? Here are a dozen or so particular favorites from my iTunes 5-star list. I could easily quadruple the number:

Buzz Busby, “This World’s No Place To Live In, But It’s Home”,
Hazel Dickens, “Tomorrow’s Already Lost”,
Holly Dunn, “There’s No Heart So Strong It Will Not Break”,
Confederate Railroad, “Bill’s Laundromat, Bar, and Grill”,
The Flying Burrito Brothers, “Wild Horses”,
Ginny Hawker, “Long Black Limousine”,
George Jones and Keith Richards, “Say It’s Not You”,
Loretta Lynn, “Fool #1”,
Del McCoury, “Cold Cheater’s Heart”,
Edith Piaf, “C’Etait Une Histoire d’Amour”,
Big Joe Turner, “The Things I Used To Do”,
Hank Williams, “Lost Highway”,
Dwight Yoakam, “I’d Avoid Me Too”, and (in some moods)
Kinky Friedman, “Asshole from El Paso”.

Who is your favourite composer? > For orchestral works, probably Haydn. For songs, definitely Schubert. For piano, at the moment Alkan. But mostly I have favorite pieces, not composers.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > Besides Wahabism and Salafism? I don’t know that it qualifies as a philosophical thesis any more than they do, but there’s a virulent combination of Nihilism, Cynicism, moral Relativism, and maybe some other ingredients that is probably more dangerous than anything Islamic fanatics can devise. As may be obvious by now, I’m no philosopher, but whatever the Hell you call what’s going on in most university humanities departments these days is certainly worth fighting.

Who are your political heroes? > I suppose it’s a generational thing, but Reagan, Thatcher, and John Paul II are hard to beat. Then again, I’ve never been one to pin all my hopes on a particular man or party: I’m more of a ‘lesser of two (or more) evils’ voter.

If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > Only one? I don’t suppose hanging politicians X, Y, and Z or banning them from politics for life counts as a “policy change”. Though the executive and judicial branches have serious problems, the preening pomposity, porculent generosity with other people’s money, and utter oafishness of most members of both houses of Congress worries me. Gerrymandering is part of the problem in the House, and I support Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Proposition 77 and similar plans in other states. (I blogged about the general topic here.) But contramandered district boundaries can’t do anything for the Senate. One thing that might help in both houses: Ban all staff members from the Capitol building and from any room in which hearings are held. That would force Senators and Congressmen to vote and do their televised hearings all by themselves, like grownups. We would soon find out which ones can think for themselves, or think at all, and perhaps that would help get more thinkers into Congress and fewer stuffed shirts. (Making them carry their own overcoats and briefcases might also help unstuff them.) Then again, many of them are already openly reading talking points they haven’t even bothered to preview, so perhaps that wouldn’t help.

What would you do with the UN? > Move the headquarters to Somalia or Sudan or Surinam, and either turn the old building into condos or knock it down. The latter might cost more, but a controlled implosion on live television would be a thrilling sight. Just to be clear, I would want to make sure they’re all out of the building first, though some of them should be stopped at the airport on the way to Somalia or wherever and taken to jail instead.

What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > In the long run, ignorance. It’s scary how little students are learning in most schools and universities in the U.S., and not only in the U.S., so far as I can tell.

Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > As always, but even more than usual, that depends on us. It could go either way, and seems likely to tip one way or the other in the next generation.

Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > I suppose it depends on what you mean by “radically different” and how rigidly held the opinions were. I wouldn’t rule it out, but it seems unlikely.

What do you consider the most important personal quality? > A strong preference for healthy disillusionment over dangerous daydreams.

What personal fault do you most dislike? > In myself, Sloth. In others, I’ll go with A. E. Housman (quoted from memory): “the worst crime is to profess an art of which one is not a master”. While not the worst of crimes, pretentious incompetence is certainly an annoying fault.

In what circumstances would you be willing to lie? > To save a life, or when the lie is trivial in itself and will save hurt feelings (“Why yes, grandma, that is the most beautiful hat I’ve ever seen”). The latter is mostly theoretical, since I’ve never been good at small-talk, dishonest or otherwise, and all my grandparents are dead.

What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Watching or talking about any sport whatsoever played by people I don’t personally know. (I do like to cheer on my own school’s teams, particularly since it’s a small school and I know them all well.) Also, playing any sport whatsoever except croquet. Amusement parks do not amuse me, and I don’t like the beach, or boats, either.

If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you’d do differently? > A lot of things: I can think of three four jobs I would have been better off not taking, one school I should not have enrolled in, and two former friends and several colleagues and acquaintances I would have been better off never having met. Positive things are much harder to define: should I have married X? Who knows how that would have worked out?

Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > A mid-sized city in the Piedmont with a major university library nearby works for me, but that’s where I am now. I’d also like to be able to go to the opera in New York and other cities on weekends or even weekdays, which is not easy to reconcile with Piedmont living. I suppose a private plane would bridge the gap, or separate homes in Manhattan and the mountains, but either would require me to win the lottery first.

What would your ideal holiday be? > Call me a nerd, but my favorite so far was when I gave a lecture (on Tacitus) at the University of Durham. Walking around a beautiful town I’d never visited, meeting scholars whose works I already knew, speaking and answering questions on a subject we were all interested in, having drinks and dinner afterwards with them and their students: that’s my (possibly pathetic) idea of a good time. The train rides to and from Durham were pleasant, too. I’ve done the same at other universities, but Durham has the edge for scenery and architecture.

What do you like doing in your spare time? > Read, watch live opera or DVDs (mostly operas and B&W movies), listen to music (classical, traditional country, bluegrass, some jazz and blues), eat, drink, and (did you have to ask?) blog. No, I’m not confined to a wheelchair: why do you ask?

What is your most treasured possession? > My books, my CDs, my DVDs, and my websites, if I can be said to ‘possess’ the latter. My car (a battered ’95 Tercel) isn’t even in the top ten.

What talent would you most like to have? > The ability to learn living languages well, or even adequately. I would also like to play a musical instrument, perhaps the pedal steel guitar, but am far too old to start now.

What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > Not much different from what I’m doing now, except that the pay and fringe benefits and job security would be much better and the students a bit older: Professor of Classics.

Who are your sporting heroes? > As already noted, I don’t give a damn about any sport with heroes whatsoever. When I was hired by the University of Alabama, my younger brother said “Wow! You can see the Crimson Tide play in Bryant-Denny Stadium!” and I said “the Crimson what in Bryant-Denny who?”. In my seven years as an adjunct instructor in Tuscaloosa, I never set foot in the stadium. (When she heard the news, my sister said “Wow! There are a lot of great caves in Alabama!”, but I’m equally uninterested in caving. By the way, do not call it ‘spelunking’ unless you want to incur the contempt of all spelunkers cavers.)

Which English Premiership football team do you support? > See previous answer. I’m not even sure whether “English Premiership” refers to what I would call soccer, or rugby, or some other sport, though I’m pretty sure it’s not the kind of football played by the Crimson Tide in Bryant-Whatsisname Stadium.

If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for? > Financial security would be nice. (For anyone who would like to help me achieve it, there’s a PayPal button in the left margin.) Writing all the books and papers I have outlined on paper or in my mind would also be good. A house where I could settle down permanently to write them would help. Perhaps the most realistic: I have a list of books I need to get hold of to write some of them.

What animal would you most like to be? > I don’t think I’d enjoy the animal life, but I suppose I would be a wombat if forced to choose. Preferably a literate wombat with a warm snug cave well-stocked with food and drink and a library much like the one I have now, but larger. (I’m guessing that the U.N.C. Chapel Hill library doesn’t admit wombats, so I would have to have my own books.) Then again, if metempsychosis is a reality, I suppose I won’t have a choice and will be reborn as a slug or a sloth. (If I ever write my memoirs, one possible title is Beastly, All Too Beastly: Memoirs of a Five-Toed Sloth. But I’m too lazy to write them.)