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Wednesday: July 27, 2005

What I’ve Been Up To

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:00 PM UTC

Sorry about the long silence. I’ve been moving all my stuff from Baltimore to North Carolina for a new job. I’m proud to say that at 52, I can still move everything I own with nothing more than a rented truck, a two-wheel dolly, and a gallon or two of Gatorade. That may not sound all that impressive, but:

  • I own roughly five tons of stuff, including 200 boxes of books, 18 real-wood bookshelves and CD shelves, 16 ornamental cinderblocks to make (with 1x14s) eight shelves worth of very solid two-sided bookshelves, three 4-drawer file cabinets, 2 armchairs, and a futon. It took three round trips in a cargo van, stuffed to the gills, including the front compartment, and will take two more trips in my car for the odds and ends.
  • All three truckloads were loaded in 90o+ heat with no shade, and it was 96o in Raleigh when I unloaded the first and third on Friday and Monday afternoons. (The second was mostly unloaded after dark Saturday, which helped.) And cargo vans don’t come with ramps. I did make sure to rent an apartment with only one step to get the dolly over. The gentle slope down the front walk to the front door didn’t hurt.

Can I call myself a Self-Moved Mover, or would that be too Aristotelian? I do have a slight urge (call it a demi-urge) to hire someone else to do the work next time around. On the other hand, I did all this for a total cost of $800 or so – maybe $900 with food and the gas for the car trips, which is hard to beat.

Things I learned along the way:

  1. A new route: On Sunday, since the radio warned of construction delays on I-95, I took the scenic route back to Baltimore up U.S. 15 through Farmville, Orange, Culpeper and Leesburg, then across the Potomac on White’s Ferry and on to Baltimore via various back roads. Total miles: 340, none of them on an interstate and most of them two-lane. Very scenic and relaxing, with hardly any traffic before Loudon County.
  2. Occidentalism: On the third trip, I circumnavigated the D.C. beltway, the western half in the morning, the eastern half late at night. I prefer the west: all the construction was on the east side (at least this week), and seeing the Mormon Temple always cheers me up.
  3. Penske rules: My brand-new cargo van came with a CD player and much better sound system than my car, also much less highway noise. I’ve never been able to play classical music in my car, but Monday morning’s southbound trip allowed time for a full hearing of the Matthew Passion, among other things heard going to and fro. I’ve never had a bad experience renting from Penske – unlike at least two competitors I could name.
  4. Floor mats for computer chairs are usually annoyingly stiff, but leaving one out in the sun for an hour or two while loading other stuff made mine amazingly limp and flexible. Of course, after wrapping it around a couple of bookshelves to protect them against dents and then stuffing some boxes in around it, the mat developed a couple of ugly bends that even cinderblocks won’t suppress. That should be easy enough to fix: I’ll just lay it out in the sun for another hour or two.

Irrelevant question: Do Richmonders find ‘Powhite Parkway’ as amusing as I do? I imagine it’s an Indian name, like Powhatan, but it sounds like the road to the trailer parks where all the po’ whites live.

Saturday: July 9, 2005

Another Clueless Professor

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:59 PM UTC

For all his education and high professional standing, Juan Cole can’t seem to figure out the obvious and basic difference between guerrillas, who practice irregular warfare against soldiers and are protected by the Geneva Convention, and terrorists, who target civilians and are not so protected. Here are some bits of yesterday’s news roundup on Cole’s nothing-but-bad-news blog:

Guerrillas fired 10 mortar rounds into a bustling market in central Mosul on Thursday, killing 3 and wounding 52. Then they fired more rounds later on, killing 2 and wounding 7.

Guerrillas in Baghdad killed 3 barbers on Tuesday, it was announced early Thursday. Salafi radicals consider it a crime to shave a Muslim man, who they think should wear a beard in imitation of the Prophet Muhammad.

Since the words are neither indented nor in quotation marks, they appear to be Cole’s own paraphrase of his sources. As such, they are either grossly ignorant or deeply dishonest, especially one particular word. “Guerrillas”? When you’re firing mortars at a market full of unarmed civilians, or murdering unarmed barbers, you are a not a guerrilla, or even an unlawful combatant, but a common murderer. And when you do it to terrorize the general population, as is quite obviously the case here, you are a terrorist. Why can’t Cole use that word?

Wednesday: July 6, 2005

Petronius On Kisses

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:04 PM UTC

Since today is International Kissing Day, here’s a little poem attributed to Petronius (Fragment 54 in the collections, though it doesn’t look particularly fragmentary):

Foeda est in coitu et brevis voluptas
et taedet Veneris statim peractae.
non ergo ut pecudes libidinosae
caeci protinus irruamus illuc
(nam languescit amor peritque flamma);
sed sic sic sine fine feriati
et tecum iaceamus osculantes.
hic nullus labor est ruborque nullus:
hoc iuvit, iuvat et diu iuvabit;
hoc non deficit incipitque semper.

And here is Ben Jonson’s translation (Underwood 88):

Doing, a filthy pleasure is, and short;
And done, we straight repent us of the sport:
Let us not rush blindly on unto it,
Like lustful beasts, that only know to do it:
For lust will languish, and that heat decay,
But thus, thus, keeping endless Holy-day,
Let us together closely lie, and kiss,
There is no labour, nor no shame in this;
This hath pleased, doth please and long will please; never
Can this decay, but is beginning ever.

Line 6 (“thus, thus”) seems to depict or enact the kiss itself, and is even more effectively alliterative in the Latin (sed sic sic sine fine). Jonson’s “Holy-day” is what we would call a holiday. I doubt that our author is particularly sincere in impugning “doing” (coitus) in favor of kissing.

Tuesday: July 5, 2005

Etymological Misinformation

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

From a comment by ‘LiberalGoodman’ on this post at Captain’s Quarters (the 13th, dated 7-05 at 6:42 pm):

This book is another illustration of the fact that “conservative intellectual” is an oxymoron. To be an intellectual, you have to read books, (“liber”, the Latin for book, is the root of liberal).

Both sentences are dubious, at best, and the parenthesized statement is demonstrably false. The Latin word for book has nothing to do with the English word ‘liberal’.

The noun liber, ‘book’, has a short i, and is pronounced roughly ‘lib-ehr’. The plural is libri (two syllables), and most of the forms drop the e. This liber is the root of the word ‘library’.

The adjective liber, ‘free’, has a long i, and is pronounced roughly ‘leeb-ehr’. The plural is liberi (three syllables), and the e is kept in every form. This liber is the root of ‘liberal’, ‘illiberal’, ‘liberate’, and some other words. Just to confuse things, the plural liberi is a noun meaning ‘children’ as well as an adjective meaning ‘free’, and there is another libr- word, libra, ‘balance, set of scales’ (as in the constellation), whose plural is librae. To further confuse things, in Latin books are masculine, scales are feminine, children are both (if you want to specify, you have to use a different word), and a person or thing that is free may be any gender.

Though spelled the same and therefore alphabetized together, short-i liber and long-i liber are no more related than ‘nice’ (the English adjective) and Nice (the French city) or ‘job’ (as in work) and Job (in the Bible), or ‘salamis’ (from the deli counter) and Salamis (the island facing Athens). English does usually spell or capitalize unrelated words differently when they are pronounced differently, which helps.

The seal of my alma mater, St. John’s College (Annapolis), puns on the four different meanings of the three words, long-i liber, short-i liber, and libra:

Seal of St. John's College

The motto facio liberos ex liberis libris libraque means ‘I make free people out of children with books and a scale’, with the seven books (libri) representing the seven liberal arts and the scale (libra) the sciences. Since liberi, the plural of long-i liber, has two meanings, the motto is fatally ambiguous: it could just as easily mean ‘I make children out of free people’ or ‘children out of children’ or ‘free people out of free people’, and I can think of classmates in all three categories.

Saturday: July 2, 2005

Favorite Indexable Phrases

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:01 PM UTC

I spent much of the last year indexing books on various subjects. It’s not exactly thrilling work, but has its moments. My favorite two-word phrase, “sphincter incompetence” (882 hits on Google), came up in a book on acid reflux. My favorite header-subheader combination, from the same book:

Heartburn
      in pregnancy, and hairy babies

This refers to the folk belief that women who suffer from severe heartburn during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to hairy babies. As I recall (it’s been a few months), the author was dubious, but it seems reasonable to me. All other things being equal, a hairy baby is likely to be overdue, an overdue baby is likely to be unusually hefty by the time it is born, and a larger baby will leave that much less room in its mother’s abdomen for non-reproductive organs like the stomach, making acid reflux and heartburn that much more likely. Not to mention that a woman ‘eating for two’ will be trying to squeeze more food into less stomach-space, if her baby is unusually plump.

Friday: July 1, 2005

Thought For The Day

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:48 PM UTC

Critical Mass and Our Girl in Chicago both link to an amusing attack on writers’ workshops. I couldn’t help thinking of one of Kingsley Amis’ apophthegms:

If there’s one word that sums up everything that’s gone wrong since the War, it’s Workshop.

In searching the web for the exact phrasing, I found that I had forgotten the sequel:

After Youth, that is.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with the sort of workshop that contains power tools or more primitive equivalents.