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Sunday: June 19, 2005


Filed under: — site admin @ 3:17 PM GMT-0500

One of the larger Spanish publishers (Espasa-Calpe) has just published a translation of twenty-three tales of “William Sidney Porter, más conocido como [= better known as] O’Henry”. The web-page includes a picture of the cover of the book: though blurry, it’s just clear enough to show the same error on the jacket. I wonder how long it will take them to figure out the problem, or if they already have and decided to sell it anyway. I also wonder whether anyone has been fired, or will be. Illiteracies like this can’t be good for sales. When I was in college, I was having trouble making up my mind which of two inexpensive paperback editions of Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion I should buy, until a classmate pointed out that one of them had different titles printed on the cover and spine. I immediately bought the other one.

Thursday: June 16, 2005

Help Needed

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:43 PM GMT-0500

Dear Readers:

This would be an excellent time to hit the tip jar on the left. Surely all my readers combined can come up with $20.00 between them so I can pay my car insurance bill? By helping me out, you will also earn a place on my Patronage page, which I just remembered to put back up. It needs a bit of editing for the anonymous contributors, but there are opportunities to qualify as an Augustus, a Maecenas, a Pollio, a Messalla, a Pliny, a Domitian, or (if you like that kind of thing) a contemptible Virro.

Would you rather get something for your money? I have added dozens of titles to my used book sale (here), including some interesting books — plus some crap, of course, for variety.

One more thing: If you sent me money last year and I failed to record your name, will you please remind me? I remember the month and amount, but your name was lost in an inadvertent e-mail purge, and it still bothers me.

Lileks on ‘Religious Fascism’

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:11 PM GMT-0500

In today’s ScreedBlog, James Lileks writes of those impute ‘religious fascism’ to American Christians:

It’s curious that this word should re-enter domestic politics at the same time we are not only fighting actual religious fascists, but are embroiled in a controversy over the mistreatment of the tome they regard as their instruction manual.

It may be curious, but it is far from surprising. Surely this is a textbook case of psychological displacement. As Psych Central puts it (with a name like that, they ought to know), displacement refers to “an unconscious defence mechanism, whereby the mind redirects emotion from a ‘dangerous’ object to a ‘safe’ object. For instance, some people punch cushions when angry at friends.” Indeed they do, and I know someone who used to smash burned-out lightbulbs on the bathroom floor and then carefully clean up the bits: she found it helped her equanimity if she took out her hostilities on a worthless inanimate object now and then. Some children feel more comfortable worrying about a monster lurking under the bed or an evil monkey who lives in the closet than an alcoholic mother or brutal step-father. And many Americans (and even more Europeans) feel more comfortable pretending that they are in grave danger from ‘religious fascists’ who will at worst reduce their access (oh no!) to pornography and liquor, or try to make their children (eek!) pledge allegiance to the flag in school, or even (the horror! the horror!) refuse to lower their tax rates when they marry someone of the same gender, all while actual religious fascists are trying to kill or enslave them and all their descendants.

Some displacements are more harmful than others. Punching a pillow instead of a friend is generally a very good idea. Redirecting childhood fears about grownups over whom you have no control onto imaginary horrors may conceivably be the best available option until you are old enough to move out of the house. But making enemies of Christians who will at worst inconvenience or annoy you, and who are your allies against the Muslims who are trying to kill you, is shortsighted, stupid, and deeply immoral.

It’s not quite the same thing, but I am reminded of something A. E. Housman wrote, explaining why so many readers prefer to believe that the manuscripts of ancient authors are better than they are:

The average man, if he meddles with criticism at all, is a conservative critic. His opinions are determined not by his reason, — ‘the bulk of mankind’ says Swift, ‘is as well qualified for flying as for thinking,’ — but by his passions; and the faintest of all human passions is the love of truth. He believes that the text of ancient authors is generally sound, not because he has acquainted himself with the elements of the problem, but because he would feel uncomfortable if he did not believe it; just as he believes, on the same cogent evidence, that he is a fine follow, and that he will rise again from the dead.

(This is from Part IV of the preface to his edition of the first book of Manilius’ Astronomica, London, 1903, on line here.) Similarly, those who believe that Christians are more of a threat to their way of life than (some) Muslims believe that not because they have investigated the problem, but because they would feel uncomfortable if they did not believe it.

Tuesday: June 14, 2005

Fooling the Gods?

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:45 PM GMT-0500

Language Hat has an interesting post on the etymology of ‘theodolite’, which he treats as some kind of exotic or obsolete scientific instrument. I have used one on the job, though not in the last quarter-century. From 1978 to 1982 I worked for a company that measured air pollution from moving trucks and airplanes, a process my boss invented, and we used theodolites to measure the winds at various altitudes. They were not carried along on the trucks and planes, but set up on the ground to track pink gas-filled balloons. As I recall, a theodolite is just a device to measure the precise direction in three-dimensional space from one’s own location to any object within sight. For instance, it may show that a neighboring hilltop or mountain peak is located at a bearing of 343°, i.e. north by northwest, and 12° above horizontal. It’s basically a small telescope on a tripod, with a plumb bob to level the platform, a compass to line it up north and south, and horizontal and vertical cranks with numbered dials to aim the sight and measure the vertical angle above (or slightly below) the plane of the earth’s surface and the horizontal angle clockwise from due north. One worker would turn the two cranks to keep the balloon in sight of the little telescope as long as she could, while another recorded the azimuth and elevation at set intervals of time. Our primitive computers (7K RAM, 40-character LED display, audio-casette storage — a bargain at $15,000 each) would then calculate the wind direction and (I think) speed at various heights, or perhaps we did that part on graph paper — it’s been a long time. As I recall, plumes emitted from power plants tended to skew clockwise as they went up, and sometimes had more complex shapes. We needed to know where the winds were blowing to decide where to send the truck or airplane.

As for the etymology, I told my fellow-workers at the time (an overeducated bunch) that ‘theo-dol-ite’ should mean ‘an instrument to fool the gods’. We looked it up, and Webster’s or Funk and Wagnall’s or whoever it was said that it means ‘an instrument for seeing clearly’. If so, the inventor messed up two of the vowels, since that should be a ‘theadelite’.

Eating One’s Own Dog Food, II

Filed under: — site admin @ 5:31 PM GMT-0500

Ann Althouse has an interesting post about raising the retirement age for Social Security. The last paragraph is an update:

In the Comments: Responses that show why politicians don’t dare to suggest the obvious, obvious solution! Make this proposal and the practically next words you hear will be “dog food.”

I have known for many years that ‘old folks forced by poverty to eat dog food’ is almost certainly an urban legend. Way back in the late Carter or early Reagan years, one of the regular columnists in The American Spectator (perhaps Tom Bethell or Ben Stein) went to the trouble of testing the basic plausibility of this already-widespread belief. He checked the price of a 2-pound can of Alpo at his local supermarket, and reported that for the same amount of money he could buy a pound of chicken and a pound of potatoes, with two cents left over. In other words, dog food ain’t cheap, and old folks who eat it, if they exist at all, need to be examined for (other) symptoms of senility, insanity, or plain old-fashioned stupidity.

I was about to hit ‘publish’ on the paragraph above when I realized that I ought to get off my butt and see whether this is still true. Perhaps dog food is a better deal than it was twenty-something years ago. I spent a few minutes this morning checking prices at my local Giant, which happens to be next door to the largest old folks’ home in Baltimore County: at 52, I was the 2nd-youngest customer in the store. In what follows, all prices are per pound, not per container or serving. I didn’t worry about the size of the packages at all, but recorded the price per pound displayed on the shelf, and assumed that the impoverished elderly could and would buy whatever portion size (up to 6 or 7 pounds) would save money. Here is what I found in the dog food aisle:

Canned Alpo or Pedigree: 83.2¢.
Giant’s house brand ‘Companion’ (cute name!): 57.5¢ to $1.43, depending on size.
Purina Moist & Meaty burgers: $1.09.
Cesar Select dinners: $3.15.
Beggin’ Strips: $6.38 to $9.04. (Why not just to buy the dog some bacon?)

What about the more standard alternatives? I’ll start with the chicken and then list some of the fruits and vegetables I found that were even cheaper, in order from most to least expensive:

Chicken: 99¢ (Purdue chicken leg quarters on sale) or $1.29 (18 piece fryer pack).
Yellow onions: 83.3¢ ($2.49 for a 3-lb bag).
Turnips: 79¢.
Green (aka ‘spring’) onions: 79¢.
Eggs: around 70¢ ($1.19 per dozen for XL, package marked “1 lb 11 oz”).
Carrots: 69.8¢ ($3.49 for a 5-lb bag).
Green beans: 63.2¢ (Del Monte, in the 6 lb 5 oz can).
Cabbage: 59¢.
Bananas: 49¢.
White potatoes: 44.6¢ ($1.88 for a 5 lb bag).

At some times of the year, apples and tomatoes would probably also drop below 99¢ per pound. Of course, Alpo is 100% edible, whereas all of the alternatives except the canned green beans have bones, shells, skins, or stems to discard, but they’re all at least mostly (80+%) edible, unlike (e.g.) artichokes or pistachio nuts, and I suspect Alpo contains more than its share of unnutricious gristle. Whether baked or boiled, potatoes with skins on are better for you anyway. So far, it looks like dog food could be slightly cheaper, if you stick to the house brand, since a diet of cabbages, bananas, and potatoes would be hard to keep up for long.

I didn’t think to check the prices of bread, rice, or hot dogs, all of which would have included some very inexpensive options, and Giant seems to be all out of 50-packs of tortillas, which I have often bought there for around $3.00, if I’m not mistaken. Nor did I look for day-old baked goods or marked-down damaged canned goods. However, I did take a look at some of the dried foods. These are much harder to evaluate accurately, since a pound of noodles or dried beans will likely turn into roughly two pounds of food when boiled into edibility, and is therefore equivalent to something like two pounds of canned dog food, where the water is already included in the purchase weight. (No, I will not get a scale and weigh a package of noodles or beans before and after boiling. It’s not like I’m getting paid to write this stuff.) Here is what I found:

Ramen noodles: 88¢ (suprisingly high, but unusually dry — perhaps they triple or quadruple in weight when boiled?).
Macaroni: 75¢ to 99¢ (a dozen varieties, some on sale).
Dried beans (half a dozen kinds: black, white, yellow, lima — like a Benetton ad!): 69¢-79¢.
Dried lentils: 55¢.

Cut those prices in half to adjust for the wet-dry comparison, and they’re even cheaper than house brand dog food. If anyone objects that some dog foods are also sold dry, I will point out that they also generally sell for $1.00 per pound or more.

Conclusion: I wouldn’t care to live on a diet including only the (human) foods mentioned, but I could certainly get used to it very quickly if the only alternative were dog food. Many healthy and (relatively) tasty human foods are in fact cheaper than dog food, and eating dog food will not save you money unless you’re too stupid to choose the cheapest non-canine foods.

Update: (half an hour later)

I don’t doubt that people have eaten dog food now and then for non-budgetary reasons, and posted on the topic a few weeks ago in Eating One’s Own Dog Food, I.

Monday: June 13, 2005


Filed under: — site admin @ 9:58 AM GMT-0500

Roger Simon wants suggestions for a more serious name for the Pajamas Media portal site. I hope they don’t get too serious: it would make them look too much like the pompous old farts they aim to replace supplement.

I suggest something short and snappy, perhaps only three letters, like an old-fashioned over-the-air network. One possibility would be NBS, which could stand for the minimalist ‘Network of Blog Sites’ or other, more complex, names. Acronyms normally omit prepositions and other tiny words, but in this case ‘NoBS’ might be a better representation of what the new online network will stand for. (‘Stand for’ in two or three different ways, come to think of it: abbreviate + represent + put up with. Sometimes I just can’t help punning.)

The new blogging network will need a logo as well as a name. Has anyone thought about that yet? Again, mockery is hard to resist. If CBS uses a creepy unblinking eye, NoBS could use an ear, or a finger, or a finger stuck in an eye. If NBC uses a garish rainbow-colored peacock, NoBS could use an elegantly monochrome peahen. The comments are open for further suggestions.

Sunday: June 12, 2005

Journalistic Malpractice

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:13 PM GMT-0500

Orin Judd (The Brothers Judd) quotes an interesting story from the Valley News about some Dartmouth students, including one named Callie Thompson. One passage in particular caught my eye:

She and a small group of classmates protested the war in Iraq during a “die-in” in November of 2002. Clad in black clothing, Thompson and the other students wore signs numbering the potential casualties in the Iraq war, and fell down on floors and tables in the food court and the Collis Center. They lay there simulating death for about an hour, until a student called campus security and reported them as a fire hazard, Thompson said.

Two omissions ought to embarrass any newspaper:

1. The first is more general: what valley does the Valley News, “the news source of the upper valley”, cover? I spent a good ten minutes on the site, and still don’t know for sure. The news is partly from Vermont, partly from New Hampshire, so I thought it must be the upper valley of the Connecticut River, which flows between the two states. (Who says Americans don’t know geography?) But the mailing address is in White River Junction, Vermont, so then I though it might be the news source of the upper valley of the White River, which I’d never heard of. I consulted an atlas, and found that the White River flows through Vermont and joins the Connecticut near White River Junction. So most likely the valley in question is the Connecticut after all. When will newspapers realize that their webpages need to provide basic information about location? When you see a newspaper box full of copies of a small-town paper, it’s not too hard to tell what area it covers — the area you’re standing in, or somewhere close by. But anyone in the world can link to a webpage, and it helps if new arrivals can tell where they are (virtually speaking) without having to click on three different subpages and then consult Rand McNally.

2. The second omission is specific to the quoted paragraph, and shameful rather than shortsighted. The Valley News’ reporter, Jessica T. Lee, does not tell us what number of “potential casualties” the protestors displayed. If they gave an estimate for the number of anticipated U.S. military casualties, I would be willing to bet that it was at least 3,000, and not at all surprised if it were 10,000 or more. Administration supporters are routinely called liars and worse when things turn out differently from their predictions; opponents are not even called mistaken.

Saturday: June 11, 2005

Two Emendations

Filed under: — site admin @ 4:10 PM GMT-0500

1. Susanna Cornett (Cut on the Bias) quotes a Mark Steyn essay unavailable to me (even free registration sucks):

. . . I wonder if the Islamists’ ability to play the Western press like a fiddle is quite so smart in the long run. The majority of Americans have a higher regard for their military than their media, and for the jihad to retain its power in the popular imagination it has to be credible. When Newsweek, CBS et al fall over themselves to shill for Islamist spin-doctors, complaining that the infidels are not handling the Koran in appropriately submissive ways, they risk turning the jihad into one huge laughing stock. In that sense, the whiners are doing far more damage to Islam than the urinators are.

“Urinators” and “whiners”? As fond as he is of puns, surely Steyn should have written “pissers” and “moaners”, respectively. (Perhaps he did, in another part of the essay.)

2. In her next post, Cornett quotes some inane remarks by a representative of the latest herd of naked protesters, and comments:

Unless the reporter cobbled that quote together from a longer, coherent argument, this young man is incoherent. But naked protests are not new; . . . .

Surely that’s mistyped, and she intended to write “Butt naked protests”?

Friday: June 10, 2005

How Stupid Do Spammers Think We Are?

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:29 PM GMT-0500

1. If Earthlink really had suspended my account for unspecified reasons, and sent me an e-mail to say so that does not contain my name but does refer me to a non-Earthlink URL to fix the problem, wouldn’t I at least not be getting all that other spam?

2. Speaking of which, I’m pretty sure I don’t have any wealthy relatives unknown to me, even more certain that if I did they wouldn’t be the sort to die in a plane crash in Togo, and absolutely certain that such a putative relative would not be named ‘Ferras Weevil’. Any (human) Weevils in Togo or elsewhere are no relation to me, since Weevil is not my real name. Not to mention that my correspondent in Togo alleges that he is the legal agent of the late Mr. Weevil, whose $14,000,000 fortune was apparently not embezzled, as it usually is in these offers, in which case surely I would have a right to more than the pathetic 40% that he offers to send me as legal heir. What kind of probate lawyer demands 60% just for tracking down the next of kin? I wonder whether this moron is actually editing each individual e-mail to mail it separately, or has a mail-merge program to tailor his scam-spams to their addressees.

Wednesday: June 8, 2005

Maybe I Should Delete This . . . .

Filed under: — site admin @ 1:39 PM GMT-0500

OxBlog and others are blogging about a new book on sperm donation by David Plotz. Call me dirty-minded, but the author’s last name sounds onomatopoeic in this context. Short of ‘Splat’ or ‘Splotz’, I really can’t think of a name more suited to the subject.

Another Silly Pun

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:22 PM GMT-0500

Turkeyblog has an interesting post about the French motto “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”. If the Huguenots had won the religious power struggle and made France a Protestant state with a Protestant ethic, would the motto be “Liberté, Frugalité, Éternité”?

Oh Well . . . .

Filed under: — site admin @ 7:22 AM GMT-0500

I spent all last Thursday afternoon with a nagging feeling that I was forgetting to do something, and only realized that I had missed the National Spelling Bee an hour or two after it ended. I guess the habit of not watching ESPN is hard to break — like the habit of not posting here. The details of this year’s contest are on this page (in PDF form), which lists every word by round and how it was spelled or misspelled. Since every contestant except winner Anurag Kashyap misspelled one word, I wonder whether recording the results for posterity is entirely wise. Might it not encourage obsessive-compulsive types to pore over their failures repeatedly? And wouldn’t a disproportionate number of National Spelling Bee finalists have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, or is that just a stereotype? Time to watch Spellbound (not the Hitchcock one) for clues.

I wonder how many found the last word in the 16th round (out of 19) particularly pertinent. As if to taunt the ignorant, the results page doesn’t provide any definitions, but ‘onychophagy’ must mean “eating one’s fingernails”.

Wednesday: June 1, 2005

Must-See TV

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:53 PM GMT-0500

Tomorrow is the one day of the year I watch ESPN: the finals of the National Spelling Bee will be on from 10:00 to 12:00 and 1:00 to 3:30 Eastern time. I probably won’t blog it, or watch the whole thing, but I’ll certainly watch parts of it. How spelling qualifies for showing on an all-sports channel I will never understand.