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Saturday: December 31, 2005

Just Under The Wire

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:49 PM GMT-0500

What’s the best movie I’ve seen this year? Pickup on South Street (1953), which I watched this evening. It was one of the four I bought with the Border’s gift certificate my students’ parents gave me (plus 7¢ of my own money): the others were Rififi, Quai des Orfèvres, and (the only non-noir) The Browning Version. A relative also bought me the Warner Brothers “Classic Comedy Collection” from my Amazon wish list, consisting of Dinner at Eight, Libeled Lady, and The Philadelphia Story, all of which I had seen on Turner Classic Movies and liked, and Bringing Up Baby, Stage Door, and To Be or Not To Be, which I had not seen. I watched Bringing Up Baby a few days ago, and was not impressed. Further thoughts on both:

Bringing Up Baby: Katharine Hepburn’s character was far more annoying than either she (the character) or the movie-makers seemed to realize. I would have smacked her, and I’m not at all prone to smacking women — or men, or children, for that matter. Some of the minor characters were amusing, particularly the crazy psychiatrist, and I liked the idea of leopard-hunting with a croquet mallet and a butterfly net, but in general the movie seemed to be trying too hard to be funny. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood for screwball comedy. Afterwards I realized that I must have seen Bringing Up Baby once many years ago, but the only things I remembered were the leopard-loon calls and the final collapse of the brontosaurus.

Pickup on South Street: I only lived in New York for six months in the fall of 2001, but there was still a surprising amount of familiar scenery. I think the subway cars in the opening scene are still in service. The male lead’s hideout was a wonderful shack in the river with a view of (I think) the Brooklyn Bridge, the characters were interestingly complex, and the plot had sufficient twists and turns to be interesting. Interesting sidelights:

  • I know nothing of cinematography, but there seemed to be a lot of interesting things going on visually.
  • Apparently New York had a ‘four strikes and you’re out’ policy at the time, since the pickpocket assumes that one more conviction will put him away for life.
  • Escaping in the dumbwaiter is an obvious enough idea that the police have someone stationed at the bottom of the shaft. The cat hanging around in the garbage area is a nice touch.
  • In this movie, even common criminals draw the line at Communism and treason, and the police appeal to this fundamental (if minimal) decency.

Friday: December 30, 2005

More On Spam

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:42 PM GMT-0500

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 GMT-0500

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?

Wednesday: December 21, 2005

Scientific Puzzle II

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:37 PM GMT-0500

‘Peculiar’ of Odious and Peculiar reports that a tectonic fissure opened up in Ethiopia last September that is 37 miles long and 13 feet wide. Neither Peculiar nor his/her source tells us what I most want to know: how deep is it? Surely scientists have tried dangling instruments on ropes, or just dropping them in. A simple microphone or even a cellphone would give some clues: just listen to figure out how long it takes to stop falling and/or bouncing. I suppose reception would be a problem after the first few hundred feet. So why not a rock on a rope?

The picture provided was also a bit puzzling at first, since the cleft is a lot wider than 13 feet at the top. Of course, that is because the rift is deep enough that the original sharp edges fell in and were swallowed up. The area looks quite sandy. Here’s a diagram of what must have happened. Original rift (probably only existing for a second or two):

Rift after the edges fell in:

Roughly how far the debris fell is what I really want to know.

Further desultory thoughts:

I’m impressed by how close to the (new) edge the scientists are standing.

In such a sparsely-populated area, I don’t suppose anyone fell in when the rift opened up – not that it would be at all easy to tell unless someone else saw it happen. But a 37-mile bottomless canyon can’t be good for those unfortunate enough to have family or friends on the far side.

Scientific Puzzle I

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:19 PM GMT-0500

The Hamilton Spector reports that 1200-pound gorillas nearly 10 feet tall once roamed southwest China (þ Deinonychus antirrhopus). The picture is impressive, though a human figure would have helped show the size of the beast, and I wonder about the oddly Chinese facial features. One passage in the story struck me as implausible:

It was a herbivore, feasting mainly on bamboo. It is theorized it became extinct because it came into conflict with man or other animals, such as giant pandas, that lived on bamboo.

What kind of ridiculous theory is that? How could something as (relatively) small and flabby as a panda bear possibly compete with a ten-foot gorilla? Do pandas have a hitherto unsuspected proficiency in martial arts? Or did they run out and gobble up all the bamboo when Kong was asleep? I really don’t see any other way they could have been ‘fit’ enough to survive the theorized competition.

I’m 5.08% Slutty

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:04 PM GMT-0500

So says the Slut-o-MeterDustbury). When I do the same calculation through Google myself, I get a figure of 1.49%. The arithmetic is quite simple: the sluttiness quotient is just the percentage of sites found using an unrestricted Google search that are not found when those with “explicit sexual content” are filtered out.

There must be something wrong with the Slut-o-Meter’s algorithm. If I use their site to calculate the sluttiness of a Weevil in general rather than “Dr. Weevil”, I get a sluttiness quotient of -7.38%. I suppose that could mean that weevils are not only totally non-slutty, they even inspire non-slutty behavior in others, but that seems a bit of a stretch.

Monday: December 19, 2005

The Golden Mean

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:52 PM GMT-0500

Horace illustrates it in a single line of verse (dactylic hexameter):

Pastillos Rufillus olet, Gargonius hircum.

Rufillus smells like breath-mints, Gargonius like a goat.

(Satires, i.2.27)

Sunday: December 18, 2005

Civilization And Barbarism

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:47 PM GMT-0500

While we’re on the subject of wieners, I’ve always been irritated by people (not always French) who think that eating fast food is a sure sign of barbarism, particularly when Americans do it. Food is not the highest thing in life, even when accompanied by choice wines. I once spent nearly $80 on food and entertainment during an evening in New York City: $75 for a ticket to Götterdämmerung at the Met plus two dollars and change for a couple of hot dogs and a papaya juice at Grey’s Papaya (72nd and Broadway) beforehand. I would gladly have spent more on dinner, but $80 was all I had. Should I really feel less civilized and sophisticated than someone who spent $80 on dinner?

Is This A Theme?

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:32 PM GMT-0500

Three things I learned this fall, two in the last two days:

  1. That Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie is not a bad (short) movie, though The Nightmare Before Christmas is even better. I’d seen the latter before, but had somehow managed to forget most of the plot, the fact that it’s more or less a musical, and even some of the more amusing bits, such as the mayor’s two faces and the way the Boogie Man dies. (Hope I didn’t ruin it for readers who might be upset at hearing that he dies!)
  2. That Frosty Morn Wieners are also not bad, considering they sell for 99¢ for a package of ten at Food Lion. To be precise, the taste is not bad: the color is a disturbingly radioactive shade of pink.
  3. That one of the scholars mentioned in the footnotes of Anthony Grafton’s The Footnote: A Curious History bears the unfortunate designation “P. P. Wiener”. I would have been tempted to violate the usual bibliographical rule and give him more names and fewer initials.

More Disillusionment

Filed under: — site admin @ 3:37 PM GMT-0500

Natalie Solent quote a reader who tells us more than most will ever want to know about the medical meaning of the word ‘fistula’. I found out what it meant twenty years ago when I temped for a day or two as a medical transcriptionist. I convinced them that my ability to recognize and spell just about any word derived from Latin and Greek would compensate for substandard typing speed. It did, though I had to consult my colleagues about a couple of terms that turned out to be French, including ‘bruits’ (pronounced ‘brooeys’, not ‘broots’) which is some sort of sound made by the (healthy? unhealthy?) heart. Solent’s post reminded me that knowing the medical meaning of ‘fistula’ has detracted from my pleasure in reading the less scurrilous genres of Latin verse, where fistula is frequent and means a shepherd’s pipe or pan-pipe.

Seen While Indexing

Filed under: — site admin @ 3:24 PM GMT-0500

One of the most disillusioning sentences I have ever read was in a medical text I indexed a few months ago:

The breast is a modified sweat gland that consists of two components.

I didn’t write down what the two components are, but I do recall that they’re not ‘left’ and ‘right’.

Saturday: December 17, 2005


Filed under: — site admin @ 9:03 PM GMT-0500

Dear Readers:

My laptop had a total meltdown on Tuesday, leaving me with only my old 8 1/2 year old desktop. Fortunately, I still have almost two weeks until the warranty expires. Unfortunately, the problem seems to be in the hard drive, and it contains a lot of files I can’t easily do without. I’m hoping to be able to hire someone this week to try to copy the data off it before I send the machine to HP for repair. Since money is very tight at the moment, I will be extremely grateful for any contributions, as well as any suggestions for what I can do technically.

Comments are down at the moment, since WP can’t seem to recognize my password (a whole ‘nother problem), which is why I am posting this as bare text, but my e-mail and the PayPal button are working.

Since I’m in the ‘bargaining’ stage of my electronically-inspired grief, I promise more and better posts as soon as I have access again.

Update: (12/18, 1:10 pm)

I found the slip of paper on which I wrote down the WordPress passwords, and am now (obviously) able to post again. The laptop is still dead, or at least ‘resting’, so I have moved this message into this post.

The promised posts on other subjects will begin shortly, as soon as I finish moderating the 351 accumulated comments (3 genuine, 348 spam). I’ve had plenty to say, with little time to say it, but my two-week Christmas break started yesterday, which solves one problem.

Sunday: December 11, 2005

Two More Quotations

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:59 PM GMT-0500

One reason I haven’t posted much lately is that I’ve been dealing with my backlog of miscellaneous papers in boxes. The last time I moved I had seven full boxes labeled ‘Crap I’ through ‘Crap VII’, each containing a random mixture of things I should have thrown out years ago (telephone bills and checkstubs from 1979), things I will never throw out (a few of the letters), and things that may fall into either category, depending on my mood. I’ve moved them at least a dozen times, though at least 75% of what they contain is indeed crap.

One of the advantages of finally sorting through these boxes is that I occasionally run across things worth posting: quotations jotted down years ago. Here are two from one eminent classicist (R. D. Dawe) writing about another (D. L. Page). They are from page 324 of some article I didn’t have the foresight to record, most likely Dawe’s obituary of Page in (I think) the Proceedings of the British Academy. Or perhaps not, considering what the second one says.

Page was now seen to be a young man with a brilliant mind and a command of his subject. But the world is full of young men with brilliant minds and a command of their subjects, and most of them sink from sight after a few years.

. . . there are three ways into the British Academy: sodomy, papyrology, and treason.

Now I can throw away one more scrap of paper.

Update (14 seconds later): Done.

Quotation Of The Day: Ben Jonson

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:02 PM GMT-0500

Vulgi expectatio

Expectation of the Vulgar is more drawne, and held with newnesse, then goodnesse; wee see it in Fencers, in Players, in Poets, in Preachers, in all, where Fame promiseth any thing; so it be new, though never so naught, and depraved, they run to it, and are taken.

(Timber, or Discoveries, Oxford edition, viii.576)

Wednesday: December 7, 2005

Stupid Argument # 1427

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:57 PM GMT-0500

I recently put this in the comments at The Indepundit, but it seems worth saying here as well. That way, I can find it again easily.

I am really getting tired of people saying that the famous ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner meant that Bush was claiming the war was over. Anyone who knows anything at all about the military knows that a mission is not a war. A war is divided into campaigns, in each of which particular units are assigned particular missions. In other words, a mission is a part of a part of a war. In this case, the Abraham Lincoln’s mission (providing air support for the defeat of Saddam’s army) was in fact accomplished, which is why the carrier was heading back to the U.S. when Bush visited. Anyone who claims that ‘Mission Accomplished’ means ‘War is Over’ is either ignorant or dishonest. Of course, we’ve been told that thousands of times in the last couple of years. That just shows how many ignorant and dishonest people there are in the anti-Bush league.

Monday: December 5, 2005

Rangers And Nuns

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:16 PM GMT-0500

How are the Army Rangers like a bunch of nuns? According to ‘Bravo Romeo Delta’ (whose own website is even less active than mine) in a comment on Protein Wisdom, the Rangers have “adopted a policy whereby 1/3 of the unit is actively deployed, 1/3 is replenishing having just returned, and 1/3 is training up for the next deployment”. Similarly, the Vestal Virgins — the nuns of pagan Rome — divided their entire careers into three equal phases. They signed up for a thirty-year hitch, of which they spent the first ten years learning their job, the next ten years doing it, and the last ten years training their successors. There were six of them at any one time, which I assume means that the two doing the job were on alternating 12-hour shifts. Their principal task was to keep the fire at the Temple of Vesta burning, but there were no doubt prayers to be said and rituals to conduct.

So why do I make this comparison? To illustrate a wise saying of Robert Asahina, which I read 20 or 30 years and have never forgotten. He was writing about the standard academic practice of comparing and contrasting pairs of authors, and what he wrote was something like this: “Somewhere some professor is comparing Kafka to Jack London, because they both wrote animal stories.”