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Monday: May 30, 2005

Military Mix and Match

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:56 PM UTC

I’m a week late on this, but it’s an appropriate subject for Memorial Day (not quite over yet), so I’ll go ahead and post it.

John Krenson, guest-posting on Donald Sensing’s One Hand Clapping, has a long and fascinating post on the State Partnership Program (SSP), which aims “to link the National Guards of the States of the United States with Ministries of Defense of the emerging democratic nations of Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia in cooperative activities of mutual benefit”. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never heard of it. The match-ups are mostly one-to-one, though in a few cases one state is linked to two countries or one country to two states. What I find intriguing is the matchup between specific states and countries:

  • Of course, there are constraints of size: larger National Guards are matched with larger armies, and vice versa. If Ukraine is matched with California, and Macedonia with Vermont, it could hardly be the other way around.
  • Some seem to have been paired up by relative proximity: Hawaii and Guam with the Phillipines, Alaska with Mongolia (a long way away, but still closer than any other country on the list), Florida with Guyana and Venezuela, Puerto Rico with the Dominican Republic (right next door) and Honduras.
  • The last also has language advantages: with so many Latin American countries on the list, it would have been silly to pair Puerto Rico with Moldova or Armenia.
  • In some cases, there are ethnic connections. I doubt it is accidental that Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are matched up with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania, respectively, though the exact pairings could have been different. Having plenty of immigrants and descendants of immigrants from the matched-up nation can’t hurt. The same may apply to Washington D.C., matched with Jamaica, and Texas and Nebraska, both matched with the Czech Republic.
  • In some cases, the climate and geography are similar. No doubt Kazakhs and Turkmens feel a bit more at home in sparsely-populated, arid mountain states like Arizona and Nevada than Thais or Panamanians would. On the other hand, I imagine Ghanaians find North Dakota a huge change from home, even in the summer (all three weeks of it).
  • Finally, one match-up was inevitable. Yes, the two Georgias (post-Soviet and post-Confederate) are matched up.

Alt-Code Charts — now with Eth and Thorn!

Filed under: — site admin @ 1:59 PM UTC

I made these up for work a few months ago, and some of you may find them useful. They are charts giving the standard Alt-codes for accented letters that are used in various software packages, for instance Alt-237 (on the number pad) for small I with an acute accent (í) or Alt-159 for capital Y with an umlaut (Ÿ). These charts put the symbols on a grid, with six columns for A, E, I, O, U, and Y, five rows for acute, grave, circumflex, umlaut, and tilde, and three more rows at the bottom for æ, ß, and other symbols that do not fit into the main grid. The letters are in 36 point type so you can hang them on the wall behind your desk and still see them.

Not clear what I mean? Just click on one of the links to see the files. The first chart (DOC or PDF) puts the first five rows in the order that seemed most natural to me, and most likely to anyone else who has taken Greek (probably not a large subset of my readers): acute, grave, circumflex, umlaut, and tilde, in that order. The second chart (DOC or PDF) puts the rows in the order implied by the numerical sequence of Alt-codes: grave, acute, circumflex, tilde, umlaut. This puts alt-192 (À), alt-193 (Á), alt-194 (Â), alt-195 (Ã), and alt-196 (Ä) in numerical order from top to bottom, and the same goes for most of the other columns.

There are gaps on both charts, since not every letter can take every accent, at least in Microsoft world. I take advantage of these gaps by putting Ç ç and Ñ ñ between à ã and Õ õ in the same row. These four symbols are used mostly in modern Romance languages — between them, Spanish and Portuguese use all four —, so they go well together, and they’re even in alphabetical order. Here and in the bottom row, the intrusive consonants are shaded to make them stand out.

As always, the comments are open for suggested additions and corrections. Comments are moderated to filter out spam, so they will not appear until I approve them.

Thursday: May 26, 2005

Eating One’s Own Dogfood, I

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:05 PM UTC

I don’t recall now where I read this interesting locution, which describes (e.g.) computer programmers who feel morally obligated to use the software they have had a part in coding, even if much better software is available. I wonder whether it has any basis in real life. Though fictional, Kingsley Amis’ account suggests that it does.

Here are some bits from chapter 28 of Ending Up (1974), in which minor character Keith visits his mother in an old-folks’ home. He has just explained that he is working on an advertising campaign for the manufacturer of Bow-Wow dogfood, Mew catfood, and Chirrup “for budgies”. Mr. Pastry is a dog.

‘And you’re making up all this man’s advertisements for him, Keith,’ said Marigold.

‘No, I’m only to do with Bow-Wow. I’m in charge of —’

‘Is it good?’ asked Adela. ‘I was thinking Mr Pastry might like it.’

‘Mr . . . ? Oh —’ Keith managed to suppress the blasphemy that sprang to his lips as he remembered who Mr Pastry was. ‘Er, yes, he probably would. I’ve had many a worse portion of tinned meat than Bow-Wow. They sell a —’

‘You mean you’ve tasted it?’ asked Marigold.

‘Yes, they have what they call quality testing sessions where it’s made, and you’re expected to join in if you happen to be there. The thing to do is keep to the Bow-Wow side of the room. Mew’s worth steering clear of unless you’re a cat. Chirrup’s not bad if you don’t mind a mouthful of seeds and gravel. Yes, they take a lot of —’

‘You’ve eaten a dog food?’ Marigold was exchanging glances of unabated shock, horror, outrage and so forth with Adela.

‘Yes,’ muttered Keith, muttered that he might not bawl at the top of his voice. ‘It’s got to be fit for human consumption, you see, which is why —’

This is as good a place as any to stop. It’s been many years since I read the book, but this is one of the passages that made me laugh out loud.

Interesting Locution

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:57 PM UTC

Responding to rumors of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s demise, Will Collier of VodkaPundit writes “I certainly hope the murderous son of a bitch is assuming room temperature in Hell”. And what temperature would that be? I suppose it depends on the room. A toasty 475° F. or so, to broil Zarqawi to a nice golden brown? Or something more thermonuclear, like 8,540° F.? (If I’ve understood it correctly, this site gives 5,000 Kelvin as the temperature of a typical nuclear explosion, and that comes to roughly 8,540° Fahrenheit.) Or would “room temperature in Hell” be icy cold, as depicted in Dante’s Inferno? As I recall (it’s been a while), what Dante and Vergil find at the bottom of Hell’s pit is three-headed Satan, encased in ice up to his waist and chewing on Judas, Brutus, and Cassius with his three mouths. Which raises an interesting question: after the events of the last hundred years, if not before, have Brutus and Cassius been demoted to ordinary lowest-circle traitors and replaced in Satan’s extra mouths by more recent arrivals? By today’s standards, they would find it difficult to make the junior varsity team of great criminals.

Wednesday: May 25, 2005

Quotations on Birth and Death

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

A few days ago, Eugene Volokh quoted some “Wisdom from the old country” (Russia), passed along by his father:

We die as we are born: without hair, without teeth, and without illusions.

This sounds rather Senecan, though I’ve been unable to find such a quotation in his works. While searching, I ran across a couple of others that are worth quoting, though only tangentially related. The first is from the rhetorician Cestius Pius, quoted in the Elder Seneca’s Controversiae (7.1.9):

Multas rerum natura mortis vias aperuit, et multis itineribus fata decurrunt, et haec est condicio miserrima humani generis, quod nascimur uno modo, multis morimur: laqueus, gladius, praeceps locus, venenum, naufragium, mille aliae mortes insidiantur huic miserrimae animae.

Nature has opened up many paths of death, the fates arrive by many routes, and the most wretched condition of the human race is this, that we are born in only one way, but die in many: noose, sword, cliff, poison, shipwreck, a thousand other deaths lie in ambush for this most wretched life of ours.

Pedantic footnote: Just plain ‘Seneca’ is the more famous Younger Seneca, Stoic philosopher, tragic poet, adviser and later victim of Nero. This is his father, the Elder Seneca, always distinguished as such, who compiled all the best arguments and wittiest remarks of all the contemporary orators, including Cestius Pius. Before running across this quotation on the web, I had known Cestius only as the target of one of the most brutal put-downs ever. Like many a professor today, he apparently went downhill intellectually as he aged, and the Elder Seneca records that his former student Marcus Argentarius, Latin orator and Greek epigrammatist, used to go around swearing per manes magistri mei Cestii, “by the [dead] soul of my teacher Cestius”, when Cestius was still alive.

The second quotation is modern, and needed no web-search to find: I just had to find the book. In Doctor Drink (1950), J. V. Cunningham expands the comparison to cover three times of life, but with only one thing in common:

Epitaph for Someone or Other

Naked I came, naked I leave the scene,
And naked was my pastime in between.

Monday: May 23, 2005

What Is Love?

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

According to the alphabetized list of titles in my iTunes collection (11,160 tracks, 46.15 GB), love is:

. . . a lonely street
. . . a long road
. . . a stranger
. . . blind
. . . everything
. . . here and now you’re gone
. . . like a butterfly
. . . like a cigarette
. . . like an itching in my heart
. . . never wrong
. . . no excuse
. . . stronger

and, appropriately last,

. . . the bottom line.

At least so say Suzy Bogguss, Buzz Busby, Paulette Carlson, Carl Dobkins, Jr., Lowell Fulson, k.d. lang, the Louvin Brothers, Del McCoury, Dolly Parton, Chuck Prophet, and Diana Ross & the Supremes. Readers are welcome to try to match names to titles: two singers have more than one opinion.

Saturday: May 21, 2005

Norman Mailer’s Senile Haplography

Filed under: — site admin @ 1:00 PM UTC

Gerard Van Der Leun (American Digest) fisks a senile rant by Norman Mailer in The Huffington Post (or P.R. Huff’n’stuff, as I like to think of it). Though his criticisms are eloquent and convincing, one of them is ill-aimed:

“Lenin did leave us one valuable notion, one, at any rate.”

Only one? Surely, Norman, you can think of others. After all, Lenin actually achieved the power that eluded you in your many clown shows that sought elected office.

It was ‘Whom?’ When you cannot understand a curious matter, ask yourself, ‘Whom? Whom does this benefit?’ ”

That’s it? That’s the “one valuable notion” left by Lenin before he became an exhibit in the Soviet Wax Museum? I’m no Lenin scholar, but my aging mind is not so far gone that it can’t think of a few others beginning with “Just shoot any political opposition and keep shooting them.”

And “Whom?” Perhaps it might be the formal grammar from your schooldays kicking in, Norman, but I think that it is an odds-on certainty that Lenin probably said “Who.” After all, it is not “Whom’s Whom,” but “Who’s Who.”

In fact, “who” vs. “whom” is a false dichotomy: Lenin actually said both, in the form “Who whom?”. The meaning of this enigmatic phrase seems to be that in any political situation, the most important question is who is the subject, the “who”, the one doing things, and who is the object, the “whom”, the one having things done to him. With no verb expressed, it’s not quite as general as “Who does what to whom?”. The approximate meaning of Lenin’s omitted verb — the “what” in my longer version — is not much in doubt, and I imagine that “Who whom?” is short for “Who controls whom?”, though some might prefer a stronger verb like ‘oppress’ or ‘shoot’.

One of Anthony Powell’s early (pre-Dance to the Music of Time) novels is titled Agents and Patients. It’s been many years since I read it, but as I recall the point of the title is very similar to Lenin’s apophthegm: that the world is divided into those who do things (agents) and those who have things done to them (patients) and it’s better to be an agent than a patient. I believe Powell’s Latinate nomenclature is borrowed from Mediaeval scholastic philosophy, but would have to consult more knowledgeable friends to be sure .

Obligatory pedantic postscript: As for my title, haplography is when (e.g.) a Mediaeval scribe copying a manuscript writes a word or phrase once that he should have written twice. The repetition in the source text need not be exact, so writing “Whom?” for “Who whom?” counts. The opposite of haplography, repeating a word or phrase that occurs only once in the source text, is dittography. Haplography is much commoner in manuscripts than dittography, since a weary scribe has more incentive to lighten his load by omitting words or phrases than to increase it by repeating them.

I wonder how the mistake occurred. Did Mailer’s word processor tell him or his secretary to change “Who whom?” to “Whom?”? Grammar checkers are stupid, and this phrase looks as if it ought to trigger an objection, but I just tried it in Word and it passed without a beep. Did an ignorant amanuensis ‘correct’ the phrase? Or is Mailer’s aged and not-entirely-well-cared-for brain dropping necessary syllables without prompting?

One final question: How many pedantry points do I get for using ‘amanuensis’, ‘apophthegm’, ‘dittography’, and ‘haplography’ all in the same post?

Did You Miss Me?

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:42 AM UTC

If you are reading this, you probably already know that I have finally solved my domain-name problems, and this site can now (and for the foreseeable future) be reached at http://www.doctorweevil.org as well as Those of you who have put the latter on your blogrolls can switch back to the former, and those who have deleted me from your blogrolls after one too many uninformative error messages from my former ISP can put me back in.

More significant posts will follow shortly. I’ve got lots to say, and have been posting lots of comments on other sites, but haven’t felt like writing anything here since I knew that very few would see it. Coming attractions: Norman Mailer’s senile haplography, why the Romans thought dexiocholi (those lame in the right leg) were unlucky, squirrels playing soccer, the surprisingly obscene etymology of the word ‘butterfly’, lots more.

Saturday: May 14, 2005

Wall Collapse! (Local Blogging)

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:42 AM UTC

A retaining wall on the Henry Hudson Parkway in Manhattan collapsed Thursday night. It must have been a slow news night, since CNN covered it, even though no one was killed or even injured. I happen to be visiting friends in the area this weekend, so if anyone wants to see what the scene looked like after the bulldozers arrived, click here for a 1.5 gigabyte JPEG record of the view from about 30 yards east and 12 stories up.

Wednesday: May 11, 2005

Pedantic Mondegreen

Filed under: — site admin @ 2:37 PM UTC

A few days ago, the same friend whose book I so gravely defaced (see previous post) told me about Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words site,* which looks likely to fill many hours of my time in the next few weeks, though I didn’t actually get around to visiting it until I Googled the word ‘mondegreen’ to write this post. As Quinion puts it, a mondegreen involves “creative mishearing of lyrics”. The classic example is Jimi Hendrix’s “ ’scuse me while I kiss the sky”, which many have misheard as “ ’scuse me while I kiss this guy”. Quinion also tracks down the etymology, and it turns out that ‘mondegreen’ is itself a mondegreen:

I discovered that the name was coined by Sylvia Wright, in an article called “The Death of Lady Mondegreen”, in Harper’s Magazine in 1954. It appears she had as a child misheard the last line of a famous old Scottish ballad called The Bonny Earl o’ Murray (sometimes spelled Moray) and thought it went:

Ye Hielands and ye Lowlands,
O where hae ye been?
Thay hae slain the Earl o’ Murray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

“How romantic to have them both die together,” she thought, and was bitterly disappointed when the last line turned out to be the much more prosaic: “And hae laid him on the green”. However, she turned her disappointment to our benefit by changing her elegant-sounding mistake into a truly aristocratic name for the whole class of aural misinterpretations.

I have one small quibble: surely the version Sylvia Wright misheard was “And laid him on the green”, without the “hae” — unless she misheard that, too.

To come at last to my pedantic mondegreen, there is a bluegrass or traditional country song whose title I cannot recall, though I have heard it in several different versions. Whenever I hear someone sing that love “fades like the mornin’ do”, my immediate reaction is “hey, shouldn’t that be ‘fades as the mornin’ does’?” It always takes a second or two to realize, or remember, that love actually fades “like the mornin’ dew”.

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*If only Quinion were working at Walt Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, instead of somewhere in the U.K., he could set a world record for alliteration.