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Monday: February 20, 2006

A Surprising Parallel

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:58 PM GMT-0500

Austin BaySmall Dead Animals) has a long post on the Human Relations side of al Qaeda, that is, the generous fringe benefits and not-so-generous salaries listed in a captured document. I was as surprised as everyone else to hear that terrorists have paid vacations, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been, since I’ve read Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. In one of my favorite passages, around four-fifths of the way through Chapter II, small-time terrorist and shop-owner Adolph Verloc is meeting with his contact Mr. Vladimir at what is obviously intended to be the Russian embassy in London. Mr. Vladimir is the first speaker:

“You’ll get your screw every month, and no more until something happens. And if nothing happens very soon you won’t get even that. What’s your ostensible occupation? What are you supposed to live by?”

“I keep a shop,” answered Mr. Verloc.

“A shop! What sort of shop?”

“Stationery, newspapers. My wife—”

“Your what?” interrupted Mr. Vladimir in his guttural Central Asian tones.

“My wife.” Mr. Verloc raised his husky voice slightly. “I am married.”

“That be damned for a yarn,” exclaimed the other in unfeigned astonishment. “Married! And you a professed anarchist, too! What is this confounded nonsense? But I suppose it’s merely a manner of speaking. Anarchists don’t marry. It’s well known. They can’t. It would be apostasy.”

“My wife isn’t one,” Mr. Verloc mumbled, sulkily. “Moreover, it’s no concern of yours.”

“Oh yes, it is,” snapped Mr. Vladimir. “I am beginning to be convinced that you are not at all the man for the work you’ve been employed on. Why you must have discredited yourself completely in your own world by your marriage. Couldn’t you have managed without? This is your virtuous attachment-eh? What with one sort of attachment and another you are doing away with your usefulness.”

Mr. Vladimir seems almost as surprised by the shop as by the wife, no doubt because keeping a shop is such a stereotypically bourgeois (not to mention English) occupation. Perhaps it would have helped if Verloc had told him that he sells pornography as well as stationery and newspapers.

Petty Annoyance of the Month

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:26 PM GMT-0500

I went to the Time site a few weeks ago to look up an article I remembered from 1986. (Their coverage of Reagan’s bombing of Libya included a picture and caption so ridiculous that I’m still laughing about them almost twenty years later. I wanted to fisk them, and I couldn’t find them in the U.N.C. back issues, which are missing a few pages.) Time‘s website charged me a very reasonable $1.98 for access, but:

  1. I was looking for a picture, and the archives do not include pictures. Perhaps not surprising, but it would have been nice to have been told that up front, so I wouln’t waste my $1.98.
  2. Paying for access to the archives automatically signed me up for a four-week free trial subscription, which I emphatically did not want and turned out to be fairly difficult to cancel. When they e-mailed to ask how I liked my new subscription, I explained to them that I didn’t want it, hadn’t ever wanted it, and asked them to cancel it. Apparently no one reads these surveys, because issues of Time soon began appearing in my mailbox, disappearing immediately afterwards in the nearby dumpster. After three weeks of this, I went to their website to cancel ‘my’ subscription. Since I declined to accept their cookie, they declined to let me in. It took 20+ minutes on the telephone, mostly trying to get through to a human being, to actually cancel, and I’m not yet sure that it worked.

Some interesting conclusions can be drawn from this:

  1. It’s not surprising that traditional media are losing money: Time insists on sending multiple copies of their magazine even to someone who throws them in the dumpster unread and will never pay a penny for them. And they haven’t even gotten around to charging my credit card the $1.98 I agreed to pay.
  2. Then again, perhaps they’re not losing money. Are they counting me as part of their circulation (sort of true), or even as a paid subscriber (totally false)? If so, are they counting me for the entire year, or just for the few weeks between pseudo-subscribing and cancellation? Most important, do their circulation auditors know the answers to these questions? Do their advertisers? Are circulations declining even more precipitously than officially admitted?

Petty Annoyance of the Week

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

The North Carolina state tax site gives me an error message whenever I try to open some of their PDF files. Which files? The basic D-400 income tax form and the instructions for it, which is to say the only files I needed. They would not open on my desktop or my laptop, using either Acrobat 4.0 or 6.0 via either Firefox or Internet Explorer. I had to do my N.C. taxes at work, where Acrobat 5.1 via IE worked just fine. That was both inconvenient and potentially embarrassing, since I had to keep shooing students away from the desk where I was working and had laid out all my paperwork.

Leaving Himself Wide Open

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:50 PM GMT-0500

The Telegraph (via Roger Simon) reports on David Irving’s reaction to being sentenced to three years in jail for Holocaust denial: “I’m shocked and I will be appealing.”

Surely I’m not the only reader whose first thought was “Maybe you should have tried being appealing a long time ago, instead of a repulsive lying bigot!”