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Tuesday: August 30, 2005

More On Mercenaries

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:43 PM UTC

Legacy Media is developing a nasty habit of calling American soldiers “mercenaries”. Last month it was David M. Kennedy in The New York Times, who used the M-word and made an extended parallel between Americans in Iraq and Hessians in the American Revolution (þ Blackfive). Now Eleanor Clift has repeated the “mercenary” slur on the McLaughlin Group (þ Mean Mr. Mustard and Ace of Spades). This has naturally inspired contemptuous comments on all three of the linked blogs and a few others I’ve forgotten.

So far, the argument is all over the generosity or otherwise of military pay and benefits. This seems to me to miss the fundamental point. As the name implies — it is related to “mercantile” and “merchandise” — a mercenary is someone who fights primarily for money and not for patriotism or any other noble passion. It is easy enough to tell the difference. The question is not how much someone is paid to fight, but whether he would willingly fight for either side, and only prefers one or the other because it offers the highest pay for the lowest risk of death or dismemberment. History is filled with examples of mercenaries changing sides, singly or as entire units, because the pay was better (or the risk of death lower) on the other side. Do Kennedy and Clift believe that any significant number of American troops in Iraq would fight for the other side for 10% more money, or even for 100% or 1,000% more? If they do, they are damned fools. If they do not, in what sense can it be said that American troops are motivated primarily by money, and therefore mercenaries? Of course, the same considerations apply to private contractors in Iraq. The number of U.S. citizens who would be willing to work for the ‘insurgents’ if their pay were increased to three or ten or thirty times the current rate is probably not zero, but I suspect it’s still well under 1%.

This post is a reprise of one I wrote April 2nd of last year, replying to a filthy troll’s assertion that the Blackwater contractors murdered and mutilated in Fallujah were mercenaries because they were (allegedly) motivated entirely by money. A month later, I posted Housman’s poem “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries”, which was his reply to World War I propaganda that called British troops “mercenaries” because they were volunteers where Germany’s were draftees.

Sunday: August 28, 2005

Better Than ‘Bambi Vs. Godzilla’

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:04 AM UTC

Probably not as violent, but just as big a mismatch in a different way, and potentially just as amusing:

Dean Esmay reports that Cindy Sheehan’s demonstration is now supported by Joan Baez, Al Sharpton, David Duke, and the NeoNazis of Stormfront, all of whom are either in Crawford or heading that way. I don’t believe I’ve ever had anything positive to say about Al Sharpton before, but he has a chance to redeem himself now, at least to some small extent. He’s a big fat guy, and an extrovert, and a New Yorker. I’m guessing he’s fond of physical displays of affection. I would pay good money to see him go right up to Duke and the Stormfronters, one after the other, and give them all prolonged and tight bearhugs, with maybe a kiss on each cheek as well, just to see the looks on their faces and their body language.

My previous place of employment had four cats of various sizes and two little yappy dogs. The one thing that really pissed off the biggest and baddest of the cats is when the little wienerdog-chihuahua would run up and lick his nose. When that happened, he would hiss and smack the dog, then sulk for the rest of the day. I would expect a hug from Al Sharpton would have much the same effect on David Duke and the Stormfront Gauleiters.

Of course Sharpton is probably no more eager to hug a Nazi than a Nazi is to hug a black man, but I wonder if he might be willing to do so just this once to see the effect.

Monday: August 22, 2005

More On Comparable Worth

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:22 PM UTC

Pinch-hitting for Michelle Malkin, Betsy Newmark writes about the idiocy of comparable worth legislation. She hands over the technical argument to her husband, an economist. All this dredged up memories from a quarter-century ago.

I was living in San Francisco when I first heard of comparable worth in 1979 or 1980. One of the first studies was done by the city of San José, and I was interested enough – and dubious enough – to spend $5 and send away for my own copy. It may be in the bottom of one of the boxes I haven’t unpacked yet, but I may have discarded it: I certainly haven’t seen it in years. If it turns up, I’ll see how accurate my memories are after so many years and update this post.

The argument made a huge impression on me, and I still have vivid (though perhaps inaccurate) memories of some of the details. As I recall, thirty different city jobs were arranged in a grid or table of two columns and fifteen rows. Jobs dominated by women were in one column (the left, I think), those dominated by men in the other. The two most difficult jobs, one all-female, the other mostly male, were in the top row, two slightly less difficult jobs in the next row, and so on down to the two easiest jobs. Average salaries were given for each. The reader was supposed to be impressed by the fact that the jobs in the mostly-male column all paid quite a bit more than the ‘comparable’ jobs in the other column – 25% to 40%, as I recall. I was impressed by the fact that the study equated jobs that were clearly not equal. The two bottom jobs were Copy Machine Operator (no maintenance or repair involved) for women and Junior (or perhaps Apprentice) Painter for men. These may be equally easy in most ways, though it would be hard to prove, but the latter is far more likely to lead to premature death, what with all the time spent leaning from tall stepladders. I would expect it to pay more. The two top jobs were Senior Librarian and Senior Chemist, and I don’t suppose I have to say which was mostly male and which was all female. As with all the other jobs, the criteria for equating these two were not stated, but I imagine it was something like ‘both require a Master’s degree in the subject and 10 years full-time experience’. The fact that Chemistry is a far more difficult subject than Library Science, and that chemists often spend their days dealing with toxic, carcinogenic, and explosive substances instead of harmless books and magazines, must have been omitted from the criteria used to equate the two jobs. The other thirteen pairs of supposedly equal jobs were just as blatantly unequal, though I’ve forgotten the details. In short, the study was hogwash, baloney, nonsense – I’m trying to be polite here – an attempt to argue for equal pay for unequal work.

The other thing that struck me about the study was that the lowest paid of all thirty jobs, Copy Machine Operator, paid only $200 (less than 2%) per year less than I was making as Senior Programmer for a small company measuring air pollution, supervising one other Programmer and four Data Processors. The grossest inequality in the study was the one between the city of San José and private industry.

An Infestation Of Weevils

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:50 AM UTC

I just discovered that there are three other weevils in the Truth Laid Bear blogospheric Ecosystem, all in the top half of the 34,948 blogs listed. I am a Large Mammal, ranked 1665 — way down from a couple of years ago, when I was in the top hundred or two. However, even then I was only a mammal, so I imagine much of the drop has to do with the huge increase in the number of blogs listed. The Lesser of Two Weevils, a Catholic blog in Canada, is a Slithering Reptile (8408). the life and loves of a she weevil (her orthography, not mine), a miscellaneous blog in Plymouth, England, mostly apolitical but with some Thatcherphobia in the mix, is a Crawly Amphibian (10,825). Finally, Weevil Stepmother, also in England (so I assume from references to sixth form and toffee), a personal or family blog that hasn’t been updated since November, is a Flippery Fish (16,998). Only the last has a weevil picture, but it’s a good one. So, are weevils overrepresented in the Blogosphere, or is four out of 34,948 about what one would expect?

Update: (11:46 pm)

For more pictures of weevils, see this old post. If you prefer wombats, try this one.

Mathematics And Pasta

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:27 AM UTC

For twenty-five years I have thought that an enterprising individual with access to noodle-making technology could make money selling Alphanumeric Soup at computer conventions. The slogan writes itself: “full ASCII character set”. If any of my readers actually try this, I want a 10% cut of the gross.

The Rat links to a very long, and nicely-illustrated, list of pasta shapes, which gives me another idea. There’s at least one hypothetical pasta shape that would sell even better than Alphanumeric Soup to nerds, geeks, dweebs, and poindexters: a tiny Möbius strip. The ‘casereccia’ at the link looks close, but not quite right, and the same machine could no doubt make both. Whether tiny Klein bottles could be made of pasta I do not know: it might be difficult, but the inside-that’s-really-an-outside would help soak up the sauce.

Schopenhauer On Books II

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

According to Herodotus, Xerxes wept at the sight of his enormous army to think that, of all these men, not one would be alive in a hundred years’ time; so who cannot but weep at the sight of the thick fair catalogues to think that, of all these books, not one will be alive in ten years’ time.

Ibid.

Sunday: August 21, 2005

Schopenhauer On Books I

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:50 PM UTC

As the strata of the earth preserve in succession the living creatures of past epochs, so the shelves of libraries preserve in succession the errors of the past and their expositions, which like the former were very lively and made a great commotion in their own age but now stand petrified and stiff in a place where only the literary palaeontologist regards them.

Essay and Aphorisms, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, Penguin, 1970, page 209.

Problem Solved?

Filed under: — site admin @ 6:33 PM UTC

Apologies for my brief absence from the web and the longer period in which comments did not work. Some morons in Brazil hacked my site Friday morning and replaced it with a Gmail address: I suppose they thought I would contact them and they could demand money or just make me grovel. No thanks. I spent 10+ minutes on the Gmail site and was unable to find any means by which I could report the apparent misuse of one of their accounts by my hackers. I guess I’ll add Gmail to my list of companies I will never (or never again) voluntarily do business with. If anyone is wondering, that list already includes Bank of America and Public Storage. (I have since gotten the Gmail abuse address from someone else, but no reply from Gmail.)

The only reason I was back up Friday evening is that I copied my Index file from the Google cache, edited out the various Google additions, and uploaded it. I was mildly surprised that it looked OK, less surprised that the comments and archives didn’t work right and that new posts failed to appear. Apparently my amateur Google-cache restore did not somehow connect with MySQL correctly. A Hosting Matters restore from backup has now solved the problem, and I didn’t even have to replace the subsequent posts, since they do separate backups of the main directory and the database. Restoring the former but not the latter seems to have done the trick. I guess I should have asked HM sooner.

Thursday: August 18, 2005

Odd Juxtaposition

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:33 AM UTC

There are a lot of nouns that go well with ‘concerned’, and a lot of adjectives that go well with ‘bikers’, but the Concerned Bikers Association whose headquarters I drove by 20 or 30 miles north of here sounds odd somehow. I’m having trouble coming up with a remotely plausible mental picture of a typical member.

Depressing Thought

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:18 AM UTC

I’ve passed at least half a dozen trailer parks in my move from Baltimore to Raleigh, and have yet to see a car or truck parked in one of them that looked to be worth less than my badly-dented-on-both-sides ’95 Tercel. In fact, the average value of the cars and trucks I’ve seen in trailer parks must be at least three times the value of mine. Of course, if I moved into a trailer park, I would be able to afford a nicer car myself.

Wednesday: August 17, 2005

Hybris In Action

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:54 PM UTC

If you’re going to sneer at a New York Times reviewer for his ignorance of Nietzsche and the Greeks, it’s best not to write sentences like this one:

Many figures from antiquity–Thales, Thucydides, Socrates, Plato, Phyrro–loom large for Nietzsche (as both targets and inspirations), but as every serious student of Nietzsche knows, Aristotle is notable for his almost total absence from the corpus.

Unfortunately for Prof. Leiter, ‘Phyrro’ is notable for his complete and total absence from the works of all competent philosophers, since the great Skeptic’s name was Pyrrho, with a pi, not a phi. (Πυρρων, not Φυρρων — the English forms of names like this one are latinized and drop the final nu.)

The error is oddly common on the web: I get 10 Google hits each for ‘Nietzsche + Phyrro’ and ‘Nietzsche + Pyrrho’. Similar common errors are easily explained: ‘Xeno’ for ‘Zeno’, the name of two important ancient philosophers,* is surely encouraged by subconscious thoughts of Xena the Warrior Princess, and ‘Hesoid’ for ‘Hesiod’ makes it look like an adjective from mathematics or the hard sciences. ‘Phyrro’ for ‘Pyrrho’ is more puzzling: perhaps the writers who make this particular mistake are thinking of Furries.

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*Zeno of Citium was the founder of Stoicism, while Zeno’s Paradox, also known as Achilles and the Tortoise, is named after Zeno of Elea.

Update: (twelve hours later)

Leiter has silently corrected his error. The original is still in the Google cache: it’s a Googlewhack for ‘Leiter + Phyrro’.

Monday: August 15, 2005

Schopenhauer On Reading II

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:00 AM UTC

Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.

Ibid.

Sunday: August 14, 2005

Schopenhauer On Reading I

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:56 PM UTC

The art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time. When some political or ecclesiastical pamphlet, or novel, or poem is making a great commotion, you should remember that he who writes for fools always finds a large public. — A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.

Essay and Aphorisms, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, Penguin, 1970, page 210.

Friday: August 12, 2005

Idea For A Bumper Sticker

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:40 AM UTC

I’ve seen a lot of these on cars in various states:

If you want peace,
work for justice.

I always want to add a postscript:

If you want justice,
you may have to go to war.

Home At Last

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:26 AM UTC

Three weeks into my lease, I have finally finished moving all my stuff to Raleigh, though there’s plenty of unpacking still to do. At the worst of it, when I had hastily unloaded three truckloads and unpacked very little, the place felt rather like the burrow of a gopher or groundhog: completely full of furniture and stacks of boxes, with meandering paths, just wide enough for me to squeeze through, connecting the front door to the kitchen, the armchair, the table with the laptop, the bathroom, and the corner of the bedroom with the futon in it. As I get the books out of boxes and into the bookshelves and then flatten the boxes, it’s starting to clear out a bit and look fit for human habitation.

Following up on the last part of my previous post, not only is there a Powhite (Po’ White?) Parkway in Richmond, there’s a Pohick (Po’ Hick?) Road ninety miles further north near Alexandria. There’s also a Po River in between which does not seem to have anything to do with the Italian Po. It is one of the three tributaries of the Mattaponi, and the other two are (can you guess?) the Matta and the Ni. It’s fortunate that whoever named the rivers — presumably the local Indians — did not take their agglutinative naming convention to the next level, or the river into which the Mattaponi flows would be the Mattaponipamunkey or the Pamunkeymattaponi, after its two principal tributaries. Then again, perhaps they did, giving the colonists all the more reason to rename it the York River.

More substantive posts on politics and literature should follow shortly.