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Monday: March 27, 2006

Aphorism of the Day

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:20 PM UTC

El órgano del placer es la inteligencia.

The organ of pleasure is the intellect.

(Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 2.84)

Sunday: March 26, 2006

Leiter Misfires Again

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:51 PM UTC

What with my domain problems, I’m a bit late getting to this, but better late than never.

Brian Leiter has been trashing Leon Wieseltier for an insufficiently respectful review of a book by Daniel Dennett. Here’s his second post on the subject:

Dennett, Wieseltier, and the Epistemic Relevance of Origins (Leiter)

The New York Times has published a number of letters about the scandalous review of Dennett by Wieseltier, on which we commented previously. Tim Maudlin (Philosophy, Rutgers) has a pithy version of a point I had also called attention to about the relevance of the causal origin of a belief; he writes:

Leon Wieseltier writes: “You cannot disprove a belief unless you disprove its content. If you believe that you can disprove it any other way, by describing its origins or by describing its consequences, then you do not believe in reason.” Someone tells me that he believes that the core of Mars is iron. When I ask how he came by that belief, he tells me that it came to him in a dream. This does not disprove his belief, but does show that there is no reason at all to take it seriously.

This, of course, is a familiar epistemological point, though it is amazing how many folks, including some (not very good) philosophers, fail to appreciate it.

Maudlin’s example is astonishingly ill-chosen. Apparently neither he nor Leiter remembers that the solution to the problem of the structure of benzene came in a dream. Here’s what a chemistry page at Purdue has to say about it:

The structure of benzene was a recurring problem throughout most of the 19th century. The first step toward solving this problem was taken by Friedrich August Kekulé in 1865. . . . One day, while dozing before a fire, Kekulé dreamed of long rows of atoms twisting in a snakelike motion until one of the snakes seized hold of its own tail. This dream led Kekulé to propose that benzene consists of a ring of six carbon atoms with alternating C-C single bonds and C=C double bonds.

Of course, it took quite a bit of lab work to show that the hypothetical circular structure was in fact correct. But this example suffices to prove that the origin of an idea, no matter how ridiculous, does not in any way invalidate it, just as Wieseltier wrote. It is indeed amazing how many folks, including some (not very good?) philosophers, fail to appreciate the point.

What I’ve Been Watching

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:36 PM UTC

Like Eve Tushnet, I ordered “Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life” from Netflix as soon as I heard the name. It’s not bad, though no short could quite live up to that title. One of the other three shorts on the DVD, “The Deal”, contains a memorable exchange between two megalomaniac plutocrats:

What the Hell is an original cliché?

It’s a product that makes you buy it when you see it because it reminds you that you need it because it makes you feel like you forgot it so you’ve got to buy it so you’ll stop feeling guilty about forgetting it.

The rest of “The Deal”, and the rest of the disc, don’t come close to meeting that standard, though the song sung over the credits of one of them, “Shut Up Bitch (I Love You)”, was rather sweet.

Tuesday: March 21, 2006

Netflix Does Not Suck

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:24 PM UTC

I bought myself a Netflix subscription for my birthday (last Wednesday, the Ides). So far, I’m very pleased, and waiting for my second batch of three. Too bad I wasted one of my first three on something (Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex) I’d mixed up with what I really wanted (Stravinsky’s). I’ll watch the former some day, but I’m in no hurry, particularly since the disk didn’t have any next-track function and even the 20x fast forward was too slow for some scenes. I’m much more careful now in making sure I select the right disc to move to the top of the queue.

A few random thoughts, or rather questions:

  • Does liking Witness for the Prosecution better than 8 1/2 make me a bad person? Or (what some would think even worse) a Philistine?
  • Does the ‘drag & drop’ function in the queue actually work? It doesn’t for me in either Firefox or Explorer. Is there some special secret to making it work?
  • In rating movies, it’s obvious that I should give five stars to those I love and no stars to those I hate, but what about those that I love so much I already own them? I’m already sick of seeing them popping up in recommendations all the time, but if I give them no stars, will Netflix stop recommending them, while still recommending other movies that resemble them?
  • Is there some way to turn off the Roger Ebert recommendations? They’re of no use to me even as suggestions for what not to watch: if only he were always wrong.

I’m Back — And Earthlink Sucks

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:34 PM UTC

Welcome to Dr. Weevil: new URL, same old content.

If anyone is wondering how the original URL (www.doctorweevil.org — no, I will not link to it) turned into an anonymous site advertising links to abortionists, among other things, here’s what happened:

A year or so ago, I transferred both of my sites from Earthlink to Hosting Matters as part of the process of moving from Movable Type to WordPress. I was forced to move, since Earthlink couldn’t provide the MySQL required by WordPress. I decided to move my domain registration as well, to keep things simple, but left my e-mail account with Earthlink. Unfortunately, only one of the domains was transferred. Hosting Matters claims they told me this one was not completed, but I still have all of their e-mails and none of them gives any sign that anything was amiss. If I’d known they couldn’t handle a simple domain transfer, I would have used WhoIs to check up on it, but I never thought I’d have to WhoIs my own site to see who owned it. Last Friday, roughly thirteen months later, www.doctorweevil.org suddenly started displaying a set of medical links instead of my weblog. It took a couple of days to find out what happened, and a couple more to (more or less) fix it. Apparently Earthlink waited for my domain rental to expire, then let go of the domain (or didn’t let go — see below), without ever asking me to renew. They could have very easily billed me for the $20 renewal fee on my monthly statement, as they used to do, and as they still do for my e-mail account. Or they could have e-mailed me at the contact address on the upper left of this page, or snail-mailed me at the street address on my monthly bill.

So far, not too bad, and my troubles are partly from my own incompetence or (as I prefer to think of it) my overconfidence in the competence of others. So why do I think that Earthlink sucks? On Saturday, I filled out their on-line support form to see if I could find out what had happened and how to fix it. Here is the first paragraph of their reply:

We received your email on 3/18/06, however in order to better serve you EarthLink only accepts replies to outbound email messages or new messages created by completing our online email form. To ensure that your inquiry is handled by an EarthLink representative we ask that you resubmit your request using our online email form which you can access using the “support by email” link on your personal start page, or, by inserting the following URL in your web browser:

http://support.earthlink.net/email

Using this form will help us direct your email to the right department so that we can provide you with an accurate and timely response.

The page they sent me to was the very same page I had already used to submit my complaint, which was not in fact an e-mail. Since they said they would accept “replies to outbound email messages”, I tried replying to this one, and was not surprised at the total lack of response. Gross incompetence or intentional evasion of disgruntled customers? I don’t know, and don’t much care, since the effect is the same.

When I finally got hold of a human being on the telephone Sunday evening, I was told that Earthlink no longer had possession of my domain, had nothing to do with it, and I should do a WhoIs through registrar.com to find out who has it now.

When I did that, I found this information (irrelevancies omitted):

Registrant Name: Host Master
Registrant Organization: Earthlink, Inc.
Registrant Street1: 1430 W. Peachtree St. NW
Registrant Street2: Suite 400
Registrant City: Atlanta

It certainly looks as if Earthlink still has possession of my domain, even if ‘Host Master’ (person, place, or thing?) is some kind of subsidiary. Earthlink headquarters is at 1375 W. Peachtree St., so the relationship between Host Master and Earthlink looks rather cozy, even if they are legally separate entities.

So why would Earthlink say they no longer have my domain? I may be wrong, but it looks as if they may be liars and common extortionists. When I went to the register.com website, I was invited to “make an offer” for the domain name:

Here’s how we can help you get the domain name you want:
When your name is unavailable, we can help you negotiate anonymously for it.
When the registrant agrees to sell, we can help protect your money and make sure you get your name.

Start now by entering the name you want:
[www.doctorweevil.org            ]

Please enter your anonymous offer:
[            ] $200 minimum

You’ll be asked to become a member of the Exchange, which allows you unlimited use of our anonymous negotiating system and entitles you to buy and sell domain names on the aftermarket.

So I need to spend $49 to join afternic.com (“the Exchange”), then bid a minimum of $200 to get my domain back — possibly much more, since the anonymous bidding would (hypothetically) allow Host Master to pretend that there are other offers, even if there are none. All because Earthlink couldn’t be bothered to bill me for another year of domain registration with them, or even e-mail me before canceling the registration. Perhaps I’m being cynical, but it looks to me like a technically legal but morally contemptible scam designed to cheat unwary customers. Has this sort of thing happened to anyone else?

Anyway, I have now rented this domain, www.drweevil.org, and my site is now visible again to those few who know the new address. Of course, it is very inconvenient for me and others to have to write to everyone who links to me and ask them to update their links, but I’ll be damned if I’ll submit to extortion. Please delete your links to the old URL as soon as possible: I want www.doctorweevil.org off the Blogdex Top 200 as soon as possible.

The worst thing is that any link ever made to this site before last Friday is now dead, and will stay dead until the domain-thieves relinquish their booty, if they ever do. So a new URL is far from a full solution, and I will do everything I can within the bounds of American law and basic human morality (laxly interpreted) to screw Earthlink. Anyone have a recommendation for a good e-mail access company in Raleigh, NC? It won’t be convenient to have to change e-mail addresses as well as URLs, but I don’t want to send Earthlink another penny.

Tuesday: March 14, 2006

Brian Leiter’s Formulaic Inanity

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:01 PM UTC

What oft was said but ne’er so ill-expressed: just as Homer used formulae, naming the same person or thing over and over with exactly the same words, Brian Leiter repeats the same three-word formula in every one of the following quotations. Without peeking, can anyone guess what words are missing?

The Coming Military Draft in the US, Part 97, September 22, 2004:

Here’s a good summary of the facts that explain why the writing is on the wall, unless there is a dramatic change in current policy (which won’t happen if Bush & his [ * * * * ] are re-elected, and might not happen even if Kerry is elected):

How to Influence the U.S. Election . . ., October 14, 2004:

Obviously, the well-being of everyone, not just Americans, is endangered if Bush & his [ * * * * ] are re-elected.

The Republicans Who Fear Bush, November 1, 2004:

But it turns out many of the educated Republicans are scared to death of Bush & his [ * * * * ] too; they too would prefer a more prudent representative of the ruling classes.

Philosophers Thinking of Moving to Canada?, November 9, 2004:

Now that Bush & his [ * * * * ] (and fiscal mismanagers) have been re-elected, I wouldn’t be surprised to see [U.S. and Canadian currency] on a par, dollar to dollar, over the next few years.

Political Blogging, November 10, 2004:

Let us all hope Bush & his [ * * * * ] and “old connoisseurs of power” go down to defeat, without taking us all with them.

End-of-the-Year Blog Stats, and New Year Blogging “Resolutions”, January 5, 2005:

I shall have less to say about Bush & his [ * * * * ], now that the election is past, except as it pertains to the preceding themes.

The Coming Military Draft, yet again, January 12, 2005:

The only consequence of a military draft will be to enable Bush & his [ * * * * ] to expand the devastation of their global jihad, killing and maiming more people, both Americans and non-Americans.

The Texas Taliban Move to England?, January 17, 2005:

First, Blair joins cause with Bush & his [ * * * * ] in the criminal and immoral invasion of Iraq.

Bush Declares World War III, January 20, 2005:

. . . make-believe threats, or threats visible to no one other than Bush & his [ * * * * ] . . .

The Imminent Military Draft, January 31, 2005:

The right-wing Project for a New American Century–which includes various folks with close ties to Bush & his [ * * * * ]–on Friday called for reinstatement of a military draft, without, of course, using the word.

A Sharp Response to Ward Churchill . . ., February 18, 2005:

which calls him and his critics and Bush & his [ * * * * ] on their shared moral depravity.

The Curtain Comes Down, May 10, 2005:

If the curtain is to finally come down on the horrors of the last three years, then these new disclosures will have to dominate the headlines for the foreseeable future, or, at least, until Congress discharges its constitutional responsibility to impeach the President, and send his [ * * * * ] and criminal war mongers packing.

The impending horrors?, August 13, 2005:

As we know from recent, bitter experience, facts do not matter for Bush and his [ * * * * ].

Pro-Sheehan Piece in the Right-Wing NY Daily News!, August 18, 2005:

All the civilized world shares the hope that this is the “turning point,” and that Bush & his [ * * * * ] will go down in political flames and eternal disgrace.

Goebbels Had Nothing on These Guys…or the Latest in Bush Rationalizations for War and Tyranny, November 21, 2005:

The problem isn’t just that Bush & his [ * * * * ] are liars and villains; it’s that they win praise from tens of millions for being “honest” and “just.”

Chomsky Interviewed in Newsweek, January 6, 2006:

It is striking how the craven extremism of Bush & his [ * * * * ] is prompting even the mainstream media to acknowledge Chomsky’s analysis of U.S. conduct: it fits the evidence so well that even journalists can no longer ignore it.

Give up? The phrase is “bestiary of madmen”. Leiter seems peculiarly proud of this inept, inane, and incoherent phrase. He doesn’t seem to realize that a bestiary contains beasts, not men (whether mad or sane): it is not a polysyllabic synonym for ‘zoo’. Even a collection of mad dogs would not constitute a bestiary, which generally contains one each of many different species. Not to mention that a bestiary contains only pictures of animals, not the animals themselves, and that the animals depicted are often imaginary.

Of course, anyone can mix and mangle a metaphor, particular when blogging hastily on matters of the day. But to mix one so badly and then repeat it fifteen times as if it were something to be proud of is a remarkable feat.

Sunday: March 5, 2006

Paeonian Oxen

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:31 PM UTC

Laudator Temporis Acti posts a tidbit from Rabelais about the disgusting habits of the Bonasos, or Paeonian ox, with an ancient parallel from the Elder Pliny. Here is what Pseudo-Aristotle has to say on the subject in chapter 1 of his delightful work De Mirabilibus Auscultationibus, “On Marvellous Things Heard”:

Men say that in Paeonia, on the mountain called Hesaenus, which forms the boundary between the Paeonian and Maedian districts, there is found a wild beast, which is called Bolinthos, but by the Paeonians is named Monaepos. They state that this in its general nature is similar to the ox, but surpasses it in size and strength, and moreover is distinguished from it by its mane; for like the horse it has a mane hanging down very thick from the neck, and from the crown of the head as far as its eyes. It has horns, not such as oxen have, but bent downwards, the tip being low down near the ears; and these severally contain more than three pints, and very black, and shine as though they were peeled; and when the hide is stripped off it occupies a space capable of containing eight couches. When the animal is struck with a weapon it flees, and only stops when it is quite exhausted. Its flesh has an agreeable taste. It defends itself by kicking, and voiding excrement over a distance of about twenty-four feet. It easily and frequently employs this kind of defence, and the excretion burns so severely that the hair of the dogs is scraped off. They say, however, that the excrement produces this effect only when the animal is disturbed, but when it is undisturbed it does not burn. When they bring forth young, assembling in large numbers and being all gathered closely together, the full-grown ones bring forth, and void excrement as a defence round their young; for the animal discharges a large quantity of this excretion.

And here is Aristotle (?) himself, in the History of Animals, 9.45:

The bison is found in Paeonia on Mount Messapium, which separates Paeonia from Maedica; and the Paeonians call it the monapos. It is the size of a bull, but stouter in build, and not long in the body; its skin, stretched tight on a frame, would give sitting room for seven people. In general it resembles the ox in appearance, except that it has a mane that reaches down to the point of the shoulder, as that of the horse reaches down to its withers; but the hair in its mane is softer than the hair in the horse’s mane, and clings more closely. The colour of the hair is brown-yellow; the mane reaches down to the eyes, and is deep and thick. The colour of the body is half red, half ashen-grey, like that of the so-called chestnut horse, but rougher. It has an undercoat of woolly hair. The animal is not found either very black or very red. It has the bellow of a bull. Its horns are crooked, turned inwards towards each other and useless for purposes of self-defence; they are a span broad, or a little more, and in volume each horn would hold about three pints of liquid; the black colour of the horn is beautiful and bright. The tuft of hair on the forehead reaches down to the eyes, so that the animal sees objects on either flank better than objects right in front. It has no upper teeth, as is the case also with kine and all other horned animals. Its legs are hairy; it is cloven-footed, and the tail, which resembles that of the ox, seems not big enough for the size of its body. It tosses up dust and scoops out the ground with its hooves, like the bull. Its skin is impervious to blows. Owing to the savour of its flesh it is sought for in the chase. When it is wounded it runs away, and stops only when thoroughly exhausted. It defends itself against an assailant by kicking and projecting its excrement to a distance of eight yards; this device it can easily adopt over and over again, and the excrement is so pungent that the hair of hunting-dogs is burnt off by it. It is only when the animal is disturbed or alarmed that the dung has this property; when the animal is undisturbed it has no blistering effect. So much for the shape and habits of the animal. When the season comes for parturition the mothers give birth to their young in troops upon the mountains. Before dropping their young they scatter their dung in all directions, making a kind of circular rampart around them; for the animal has the faculty of ejecting excrement in most extraordinary quantities.

Is Pseudo-Aristotle a common plagiarist? I don’t have the books to say. The translations are by (1) L. D. Dowdall, from The Complete Works of Aristotle, the revised Oxford translation, edited by Jonathan Barnes, Princeton, 1984, volume 2, page 1272, 830a5ff, and (2) D’Arcy W. Thomson, on-line here. Search for ‘45’ to find the chapter. If I’ve coordinated my ancient and modern maps correctly, the habitat of the Paeonian ox is the eastern third of FYROM, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

What LTA does not mention is that Pliny’s Bonasos — Pseudo-Aristotle’s Bolinthos — is surely the bovine known as the European Bison or Wisent, Bison bonasus. It is very similar to the American bison, Bison bison, with two exceptions:

  • The European bison is big — up to nine feet long and a ton in weight — but not quite so big as the American.
  • It is less oddly-proportioned than the American bison, its shoulders (relatively) not so huge, nor its buttocks so tiny.

The best source for information I’ve found on the web was compiled by Donald Patterson for a Geography class at San Francisco state: it also has the best picture, which I will copy here to avoid link-rot:

A Google search on “European bison” will lead to more information and pictures. The description fits tolerably well: the wisent is indeed bigger than an ox, with a mane and smallish smooth black horns. There doesn’t seem to be anything on the web about voiding excrement when frightened, but frightening a wisent would be difficult, and dangerous, even if it were not illegal to annoy endangered species, so it’s possible no one has checked in the last century. Pseudo-Aristotle is often gullible (examples here), so his authority counts for nothing either way, but he does have Aristotle on his side.

Here are the most interesting bits from Patterson’s timeline (with references omitted):

1915 – 785 lowland bison survive. World War I—German troops occupy the Bialowieza area and kill close to 600 bison for meat, hides and horns. A German scientist brings to the attention of army officers animals imminent extinction. Protection set up to try to maintain herds at about 200 animals. As war comes to an end, retreating German soldiers shoot all but 9 bison.

1919 – Last wild lowland bison shot by a poacher, Nikolaj Szpakowicz.

1923 – 54 bison survive in zoos and private holdings . . . .

Breeding in the Polish nature reserve at Bialowieza has increased the herd from 35 in 1960 to several hundred today. It’s interesting what can be known or not known in different times and places: the Caucasian subspecies wasn’t even discovered until the 1830s, but we know the name of the man who shot the last wild Lowland Bison in 1919. I hope Nikolaj Szpakowicz spent the rest of his life in jail.

An interesting question for casuists: If Szpakowicz knew he was shooting the last one, and did not know that others survived in zoos, does that make it worse, or might he have argued that the real criminal was whoever shot the last one of the other gender?

Wednesday: March 1, 2006

Supreme Erudition

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:21 PM UTC

Terry Teachout quotes some words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., on his 90th birthday:

And so I end with a line from a Latin poet who uttered the message more than fifteen hundred years ago:

“Death plucks my ear and says, Live—I am coming.”

I thought it was odd that Holmes did not name the Latin poet, but it turns out that he is anonymous, or at least pseudonymous. The quoted words are a very close translation of the last line of Pseudo-Vergil’s Copa (“The Barmaid”), on-line here:

Mors aurem vellens «vivite» ait, «venio».

Holmes obviously knows that this is Pseudo-Vergil, since the original Vergil had been dead for 1950 years when he spoke. Of course, his 1500 years is just a very rough guess, and von Albrecht’s History of Roman Literature (to look no further) puts the Copa in the Augustan age.