March 31, 2002
Making Enemies, Part III

Last Thursday I received a letter from someone who can't seem to keep straight whether his name is Alex (in the return address) or Allan (in the signature). I will call him 'A.', which can stand for Alex, or Allan, or Anonymous, or Apologist-for-Arab-Atrocities, or A**hole, whichever the reader prefers.

Of course, Dr. Weevil is not my real name, but at least I don't turn into Dr. Weeble or Mr. Dweezil or Prof. Drivel in mid-blog. Hmm . . . maybe I should change the name of my blog to 'Dr. Weevil and Mr. Snide' so I can assume different identities for praising friends and damning enemies.

Anyway, even beyond the possible deterrent effect, I think Mr. A.'s letter is worth examining -- with tweezers, of course, so none of the bile rubs off (I've got plenty of my own, thank you very much):

Dear Dr,

You write that the Palestinian(s) celebrating the 9/11 attacks changed your opinion. I suggest that you are victim to perhaps the biggest smear in the history of journalism. I would never deny that there were not those who celebrated the attacks. After all, the American-made weapons that get dropped on their population aren't winning us any friends.

However, considering the fact that there were numerous reports of celebrations all over the globe, from Tokyo (a friend witnessed this first hand) to even a Black Gay Bar later that afternoon in Lousiana (a friend swears it's true), and considering the fact that this was right in the middle of the most intense American news report of all time, the biggest media event ever, with live pictures from the scene still coming in, you have to admit it's pretty amazing that a single shot of woman and a few children laughing and clapping made it to every TV in America.

There were reports about the crisis coming from every direction, there were reporters live on the ground, there was no shortage of footage-- and somehow that clip made it on the air more than once.

It was a massive smear, and it did its job. Millions were convinced that all Palestinians are animals and hate the United States. Despite the numerous reports afterwards from Americans in Palestine who saw nothing of the kind, the damage was done. And you fell for it too.


Comment on such a sorry effort is mostly superfluous. I will confine myself to a few points:

1. The usual methods of moral equivalence are particularly threadbare here. According to A., people around the world cheered the destruction of the World Trade Center, and the Palestinians had very good reason to cheer, but (except for one woman and a few children) they were just about the only ones who didn't. The only evidence offered for celebrations in places like Japan and Lousiana is two of A.'s friends, unnamed and untraceable.

2. The flaming A. is careful not to say just who might have engineered "perhaps the biggest smear in the history of journalism". Bush? The Jews? Bush and the Jews working together? No doubt there are other possibilities -- or rather impossibilities --, but it's hard to think of an answer that would not sound stupid, so the question is slyly left unanswered.

3. Litotes, the use of a double negative for rhetorical effect, as in "I am not unaware", is a figure of speech with a distinguished pedigree. It comes in particularly handy when you're being dishonest. A. actually manages a triple negative here: "I would never deny that there were not those who celebrated the attacks." Oops: he just asserted what he claims he would never deny. Simple verbal incompetence or Freudian slip?

To get to my main point:

4. The statement "American-made weapons that get dropped on their population aren't winning us any friends" is simply false. They win us a lot of friends in Israel. I hadn't thought of it this way before (thanks for the hint, A.), but I am glad that Israel uses so many American weapons, and that they work so well. After all, if it weren't for American support for Israel, unreliable as it has proved on too many occasions, Holocaust II might already be a historical fact, rather than just a filthy dream in the twisted minds of Arafat and his homicidal thugs and their shameless supporters in the Middle Est and elsewhere. Is it time to start calling America 'the Arsenal of Democracy' again?

Profound thanks to all my other correspondents. I hope eventually to reply to you all individually.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:50 PM
Goosing the Gauls

A reader asks for more on the geese who saved Rome from the Gauls, as mentioned in a previous post. Perhaps others will also like to know more.

The main source is the Roman historian Livy (Titus Livius), who wrote under Augustus (1st century B.C.). There is a not-bad nineteenth-century translation at the University of Virginia's Electronic Text Center. Do not try to print out the text: just the five books at this URL add up to 400+ pages in book form. Livy was a voluminous historian, who wrote the history of Rome from Romulus and Remus up to his own time in 142 books, of which I-X and XXI-XLV survive. It takes him ten books -- XXI-XXX, around 800 pages in all -- to cover the 17 years of the Second Punic War, the one with Hannibal. Book I, on the seven kings of Rome, is a general favorite, but there are wonderful things in just about every book.

The story of the geese comes in Book V, chapter 47. The year is 387 or 386 B.C. A marauding army of Gauls has captured all of Rome except the citadel at the top of the Capitoline Hill, then the most important of the seven hills, which is occupied by the Senate and a vastly outnumbered Roman garrison. The rest of the Roman army has regrouped at Veii, a town roughly 7 miles NW of Rome, across the Tiber and upstream from Rome. In the previous chapter, a soldier named Pontius Cominius delivers a message from Veii to the Capitoline garrison by riding a cork float down the Tiber and then climbing the hill unnoticed by the incompetent Gauls. Livy continues:

While these proceedings were taking place at Veii, the Citadel and Capitol of Rome were in imminent danger. The Gauls had either noticed the footprints left by the messenger from Veii, or had themselves discovered a comparatively easy ascent up the cliff to the temple of Carmentis. Choosing a night when there was a faint glimmer of light, they sent an unarmed man in advance to try the road; then handing one another their arms where the path was difficult, and supporting each other or dragging each other up as the ground required, they finally reached the summit. So silent had their movements been that not only were they unnoticed by the sentinels, but they did not even wake the dogs, an animal peculiarly sensitive to nocturnal sounds. But they did not escape the notice of the geese, which were sacred to Juno and had been left untouched in spite of the extremely scanty supply of food. This proved the safety of the garrison, for their clamour and the noise of their wings aroused M. Manlius, the distinguished soldier, who had been consul three years before. He snatched up his weapons and ran to call the rest to arms, and while the rest hung back he struck with the boss of his shield a Gaul who had got a foothold on the summit and knocked him down. He fell on those behind and upset them, and Manlius slew others who had laid aside their weapons and were clinging to the rocks with their hands. By this time others had joined him, and they began to dislodge the enemy with volleys of stones and javelins till the whole body fell helplessly down to the bottom. When the uproar had died away, the remainder of the night was given to sleep, as far as was possible under such disturbing circumstances, whilst their peril, though past, still made them anxious.

At daybreak the soldiers were summoned by sound of trumpet to a council in the presence of the tribunes, when the due rewards for good conduct and for bad would be awarded. First, Manlius was commended for his bravery, and rewarded not by the tribunes alone but by the soldiers as a body, for every man brought to him at his quarters, which were in the Citadel, half a pound of meal and a quarter of a pint of wine. This does not sound much, but the scarcity made it an overwhelming proof of the affection felt for him, since each stinted himself of food and contributed in honour of that one man what had to be taken from his necessaries of life. Next, the sentinels who had been on duty at the spot where the enemy had climbed up without their noticing it were called forward. Q. Sulpicius, the consular tribune, declared that he should punish them all by martial law. He was, however, deterred from this course by the shouts of the soldiers, who all agreed in throwing the blame upon one man. As there was no doubt of his guilt, he was amidst general approval flung from the top of the cliff. A stricter watch was now kept on both sides; by the Gauls because it had become known that messengers were passing between Rome and Veii; by the Romans, who had not forgotten the danger they were in that night.

Livy is not the most reliable of historians, but he knows how to tell a story, as even this translation should reveal. The Latin text, with vocabulary help, is at Tufts University's Perseus site.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:40 PM
Another Unfortunate Name

Not quite suitable for Easter Sunday, but the continued survival of Yasser Arafat is putting me in a bad mood:

Making fun of someone's name is a cheap form of humor, but hard to resist when the someone is sufficiently loathsome. 'Clymer' has been used as a euphemism for 'a**hole' for almost two years now, and I see a lot of references to 'brutal fisking' and the like. I have yet to see 'moronic' spelled 'Mooronic', but I imagine it's only a matter of time.

Of course, some names are just asking for trouble. When Coyote at the Dog Show referred to "Harry 'Butt Weasel' Browne", it made me think maybe he should just change the spelling to 'Hairy Brown' -- a pair of adjectives suitable for butts and weasels, individually or in combination.

I'd forgotten where I'd read this, so I did a Google search on "Harry Butt Weasel Browne" (four words). The reply was "Did you mean: "Harry ButtWeasel Browne" (three words). Yes, Google, as a matter of fact I did mean that. Thank you for asking.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:30 PM
There's Pro-Choice And Then There's Pro-Choice

J. Bowen of No Watermelons Allowed writes:

The expression "pro-choice" has to be one of the most disingenuous expressions in the language. Or maybe death penalty advocates (like me) have it all wrong, and should repackage their position as "pro-justice". At least the latter would be more accurate.

I've always thought that death-penalty advocates should just go all the way and claim to be "pro-choice" on the death penalty. The arguments practically write themselves: "I'm personally opposed to the death penalty, and would never vote to impose it myself, or encourage my wife or daughter to do so, but who am I to interfere with the rights of judges and juries to follow their own consciences and decide what is best for them?"

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 PM
Unfortunate Names

In NRO's "On the Corner", Dave Kopel writes:

A businessman plans to open a Chinese restaurant in Denver named "Mao." It's too bad that naming a restaurant after a genocidal tyrant is considered chic. What's next, a German restaurant named "Adolf"?

There is a Japanese restaurant in Charlottesville named "Tokyo Rose". What's next, "Quisling's Place" for Norwegian delicacies? I hope the name "Tokyo Rose" is just an unfortunate coincidence and refers to the flower, not the traitor. (A student once came into my office, saw a copy of Apuleius' great Roman novel The Golden Ass on my desk, and said "I hope that's a donkey". It is.)

Even worse than Tokyo Rose is a used record and CD store in Tuscaloosa named "Vinyl Solutions". I had walked by at least a dozen times before I realized what that reminded me of. Perhaps the owners still haven't figured it out, and just picked the name for its vaguely portentous ring. At least I hope so.

It's been a few years since I've been to either, but according to the Yahoo Yellow Pages both are still in business.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
The Seven Deadly Sins Game

Just in time for Easter, Sneaking Suspicions has an amusing suggestion for taxing not just alcohol and tobacco, but all of the Seven Deadly Sins. Go read it, and then come right back. My comments:

1. A friend (now a priest) and I once accidentally invented an amusing game for present and former Catholics: name the Seven Deadly Sins as quickly as you can. Even after decades of church avoidance, most lapsed Catholics can name six without even slowing down, but the seventh usually takes much longer, if it comes at all. The first one named is always an obvious and admitted fault, while the last is the one you really have to worry about.

2. The wittiest alternative list of seven sins that I know comes from the Austin Lounge Lizards: "sloth and avarice, fornication, television, whiskey, beer, and wine" (title cut of "The Highway Café of the Damned", 1988). Are there others? Should there be?

3. One of my college classmates is now a therapist and coauthor of a book entitled Sex, Drugs, Gambling, & Chocolate: A Workbook for Overcoming Addictions (five stars from Amazon). I'd like to see a sequel for those who suffer from the less classy addictions. Perhaps "Gin, Porn, and Pork Rinds"? Actually, gin, though alliterative, is a fairly high-class potable these days. What would be the tackiest alcoholic beverage? MD 20/20? Not according to this website. Nachos might do for pork rinds: they were Beavis & Butt-Head's addiction -- so was porn, come to think of it. And it would be nice to work in bad television or video games somewhere. Speaking of addictions, how about "Gin, Porn, Blogging, and Pork Rinds: A Workbook for Overcoming Addictions"?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 29, 2002
Paradise For Ladies

Another young woman has blown herself up in Israel, this time a 16- or 18-year-old (depending on the source) whose name I will not record. She detonated herself in a grocery store and took two innocent people with her.

My understanding of the rewards for Islamic martyrdom is that male suicide bombers are not only rewarded with a harem of 72 virgins, but their own manhood is supernaturally enhanced to handle them, while the virginity of their partners is restored after every sexual act.

If true, this raises a couple of not-very-funny questions:

1. Does a female martyr get 72 male virgins? (I don't suppose hot Lesbian sex is a likely reward in Islamic Paradise.) And is their virginity also restored every night? If so, then our latest bomber can look forward to an eternity having sex with clumsy and incompetent men who don't know what they're doing, and whose eagerness is likely to be (shall we say) much too eager for her satisfaction -- in short a Groundhog Day of sexual ineptitude. I'm not a woman, but this sounds a lot more like Hell than Heaven to me. All the more so if her own virginity is restored every night.

2. The idealization of serial defloration as the highest pleasure for a man is disturbing. Four wives suffice for a live Muslim, but a dead one apparently needs 72. Does the martyr deflower them all every night? Or is it just that it's nice to have a choice --a few blondes on Monday, a dozen almond-eyed brunettes on Tuesday, a redhead or two on alternating Thursdays, that kind of thing? Or does he just start with three or four like a live Muslim, and move on to others as century stretches into century and he starts to get bored?

To get to my main point, these questions are not just lame attempts to lighten a horrible situation. Catholics have been putting up with jokes about patent leather shoes and vicious ruler-wielding nuns for many years. Such jokes may even have done some good, helping to loosen the Church up a bit. Perhaps one of the things that the Muslim world needs now is some cruel satire -- preferably by knowledgeable insiders -- of the creepier aspects of Islamofascist sexuality.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 27, 2002
Dominoes Of Evil, The Map

I don't have time to write anything today, but I thought some readers might like an illustration of Monday's 'Dominoes or Leapfrog' post:

If it wasn't already obvious from this site's lack of any illustrations other than line drawings of weevils, I have very little talent in the graphic arts. If I can get hold of a better outline map, I will add Egypt and Somalia and Georgia and a few other places, and not cut off most of India. Labels for the geographically challenged wouldn't hurt, either. But I think this should suffice to illustrate my idea that putting Iran before Iraq (if that can be arranged) would be psychologically effective.

I've colored countries red if they are immediate targets and present or former members of the Axis of Evil, green if they are hostile and dangerous (mostly too big to ignore or easily intimidate), but not yet named targets, blue if they are likely allies (members of the Axis of Non-Evil), and yellow if they seem likely to remain neutral or to cooperate in the war on terror without great unenthusiasm. Some colors are arguable, since it remains to be seen which way (e.g.) Jordan or the United Arab Emirates will go, but most of the smaller countries are naturally yellow. I suppose only Dick Cheney really knows. It's probably a good thing that most NATO countries are off the edge of the map, or I would have to make some difficult decisions on how to color some of them.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 25, 2002
Axis or Mélange

This is a continuation of my immediately previous post, but I'll give it a separate header in case anyone wants to link to it separately. Thanks to Google, I've managed to track down where I read the phrase "mélange of evil". The answer is Amygdala on the State of the Union (January 30th):

"Axis of evil" is a very poor way to describe Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Not because elements in their government couldn't fairly be described as "evil," of course, or at least "dangerous to us." But because unlike the "Axis" of WWII, these three powers have no treaty or anything else whatsoever linking them. There is simply no "axis" among them or between any two of them. So it seems to anal-me a weird and poor choice of term.

I suppose "mélange of evil" doesn't have the same ring, though.

Others have already pointed out that the original Axis was also rather loosely put together, that Nazism, Fascism, and whatever you want to call Tojo's political philosophy had little in common except a strong hostility to western liberal democracy (and, to be fair, to Stalinism), that military cooperation was almost nonexistent (though that was mostly a matter of geography), and that the Japanese felt no obligation to invade Russia just because their German allies had done so.

However, I agree that "axis" is not the mot juste for what we're up against now, though "mélange" isn't quite right either. It's really a loosely-knotted Network of Evil, with far more nodes than the three Bush named. As in a network of computers or, for that matter, string, each element is connected to only a few of the others, but all are connected indirectly. Thus Libya supplies guns and explosives to the IRA, which sends ambassadors (bomb instructors?) to the Colombian FARC, who are in tight with Castro, and so on around the world. If North Korea sells missiles to Iran, it is no doubt mostly for the money, but partly because they're evil and like to know that other evil countries are well-armed -- there is some safety in numbers. The list of connections could be extended, but it would be easier to ask whether there is any organized violent antiWestern force in the world today that does not give or receive help from any of the others. Perhaps the Nepali Maoists? Or is it really likely that China is not shipping arms across their long and sparsely-populated border?

Someone with more detailed and up-to-date knowledge than I could put together a fascinating diagram of the most important nodes in the Network of Evil and all their known connections. It would look a little like one of those Lyndon LaRouche diagrams of who runs the world, tracing the puppet strings from the five Rockefeller brothers through the Pope, the Queen of England, various Wall Street law firms, and so on down to Bush and Blair and the rest. Of course, one important difference is that the Network of Evil has no center, no spider controlling the web: all nodes are equal, and most are independent, but they do work together. Another fundamental difference is that the connections in the Network of Evil are not imaginary. I haven't seen one of the LaRouche diagrams in over 20 years, so I'm not at all clear on who is supposed to be running the world now that Nelson and his brothers are all dead. Younger Rockefellers, I suppose, with perhaps a few Rothschilds thrown in to help hook the more antiSemitic morons.

Of course one other advantage of 'Network of Evil' as a slogan is that it is so much more contemporary. 'Axis of Evil' sounds so industrial age, five-year-plan, smelters and turbines, battleships and trench warfare, in short, so 19th-century. Bin Laden's cell phones and e-mailed communiqués, and the lack of any real front line in this particular war are just a few of the things that make it a network, not an axis.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
Dominoes Or Leapfrog?

It is clear that the next major target in the war on terror will be either Iran or Iraq. North Korea seems to have been included in the Axis of Evil partly because it is so spectacularly evil, but mostly to show that not all evil countries are Muslim. (Showing that not all Muslim countries are evil would not be quite so easy, but that is a subject for another day.) Yemen, the Philippines, Georgia, and (coming soon?) Somalia are sideshows, and can be handled simultaneously with each other and with a major effort.

Of course, practical considerations like the supply of appropriate munitions, availability of local bases, and strength of the internal opposition will be the primary considerations in determining who's next in the crosshairs. Iran is looking distinctly fragile, and some argue that it should come before Iraq. I suggest that there is one more point in favor of such a sequence.

What I have not seen on the web is any discussion of the geographical symbolism implied by putting Iran before Iraq. Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq form a continuous row of adjacent countries extending from the periphery of the Middle East towards its center. If Iran were to be liberated next, followed by Iraq, it would look like a row of falling dominoes pointed straight at Jerusalem. That might have a particularly good (that is, unpleasant) effect on the Palestinians, Syria and the latter's Lebanese lapdog, and Egypt and Libya beyond them. A left turn at Iraq, to follow the coastline, would take the liberation juggernaut to Saudi Arabia, the headquarters of radical Islam.

On the other hand, there's a lot to be said psychologically for jumping around and attacking from different directions, the 'leapfrog' of my title. For example, invading Iraq while 'turning' Yemen and keeping Jordan and the Gulf emirates at least neutral would certainly put Saudi Arabia in the nutcracker, and Iraq alone would put Iran in the same sort of squeeze.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 24, 2002
One Bad Joke Deserves Another

Sand in the Gears' story about 'Urban Garlic' snack chips reminds me of something similar that happened to an old friend. Two female graduate students in Classics are walking across campus when one of them exclaims "you know, I really love eunuchs!". The other one is naturally surprised, and can't quite make up her mind what to ask first: 'Where would you meet one these days?' or (from a woman's viewpoint) 'What's to love about them?' It takes her a while to figure out that the subject is not eunuchs but Unix.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 PM
When A Just Cause Becomes Unjust

Instapundit's latest (link not yet working) on the Palestinians reminds me of something I started a few weeks ago, but never finished. It is unfortunately still horribly pertinent. This comment of (item 10 on March 4th) reminded me of something I've been mulling over for quite a while:

Charles at Little Green Footballs talks about a love gone sour:

I used to be much more open to the Palestinian cause. But as my knowledge of the situation has grown, I find I simply can’t empathize any longer with a society that uses its own children as pawns, sacrificing them on an altar of hate and anti-Semitism with no hope, and turns its back on every opportunity for a peaceful solution, instead pursuing a goal of purposeful, monstrous genocide.

Join the club. I used to be pro-Palestinian too. Repeated viewings of Lawrence of Arabia will do that to you. And when the best restaurant in town is run by a family of decent, friendly Palestinians, well, it sways a man. Throw in a couple of Islamophile professors, and you've got a budding student Arabist on your hands.

But then there's television. And the news. And recent history. And the sympathies I wanted do not concur with the sympathies I now have.

I don't know that I've ever been particularly pro-Palestinian. I always thought that the refugees ought to be invited to settle in the houses abandoned by the hundreds of thousands of Jews driven out of the Arab countries to Israel. That seemed a fair trade. And I can't recall ever not loathing and despising Yasser Arafat and, well, every other self-appointed leader of the Palestinian cause.

However, I was never entirely hostile to the Palestinians until September 11th. When I saw the crowds cheering on the destruction of the World Trade Center, my immediate reaction was "these people will never have a homeland of their own".

It seems to me that the Palestinians are going down the same path as the 'Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam', and that it may already be too late to turn back. The Sri Lankan Tamils were genuine victims of severe discrimination, and this would have justified quite a lot in the way of resistance, perhaps even armed rebellion. But after so many years of grinding brutality (heartily reciprocated, of course) and mass murder, so many assassinations by suicide bombers who were often young women, the Tamils seem to have lost most of the sympathy they once had from the outside world, and quite rightly.

Even if they win, it is hard to believe that a Palestinian (or Tamil) state built on a stinking heap of corpses of women and children could be anything but a hellhole for centuries to come.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
Don't Look Back

A couple of weeks ago I was reading the Instapundit and he wrote "(see above)". That was confusing: he meant 'see what I said in a previous note', which means that it was actually below, not above, the one I was reading. Of course, that's what happens when you write a lot of old-fashioned downward-scrolling articles and books, where before = above makes sense. A couple of days ago, I tried saying "below" to refer to a previous post, but that didn't look right either.

The fact that weblogs almost always go upwards while other reading matter goes downwards makes the whole above/below thing confusing and worth avoiding, at least while blogging. In fact, the whole arrangement of weblogs is confusing. If you read the entries in chronological order, you have find the first unread entry, read it downwards, and then jump up two entries to get to the top of the next unread one. If you read them downwards, half the time you don't know what they're talking about because it's something you haven't read yet. (This is especially true of NRO's "On the Corner", with its multiple participants.) All very unnatural. I wonder if we will ever switch over to having texts that scroll up the page line by line as well as paragraph by paragraph, so we can just start at the bottom and read smoothly upwards.

That would be no stranger than the ancient Greek boustrophedon writing, in which the odd-numbered lines were written left-to-right and the even-numbered ones right-to-left, reversing not only the order of the words and letters, but the way the letters were turned. The advantage was that the scribe and the reader did not have to keep jerking back from the end of one line to the beginning of the next, because they were in the same place. I've just discovered that some are trying to encourage English boustrophedon. See this advertisement for the Boustrophedon Text Reader, Version 0.14. I wonder if it will catch on.

Edging somewhat closer to my point, I am reminded of another odd confusion or asymmetry or whatever (can't think of the word) involving space and time -- not sci-fi space and time, just the ordinary everyday kind. English-speakers routinely think of the future as lying in front of them, and the past behind them. I'm pretty sure the same is true of most or all modern European languages, and probably many non-European languages as well. The idea seems to be that life is a metaphorical journey: we walk or ride or run -- given a choice, I prefer to mosey -- into the future, leaving the past behind us.

What I find interesting is that the ancient Greek and Roman metaphor was exactly the opposite. In these languages, the past is ahead and the future behind. Thus Latin ante means 'before' in time and 'in front of' in space. An 'ante bellum' mansion was built 'before the (Civil) War', while an 'anteroom' is in front of the main room. Similarly, post means both 'after' and 'behind'. I don't know when the transition occurred, and whether it left people as confused as I was by the Instapundit's "see above", mentioned above. (It's OK to say that, because it really is above.)

The ancient metaphor omits the idea of life as a journey, since humans rarely walk backwards. (Unless they work as moving men, in which case walking backwards is one of the first skills learned. Someone has to carry the front end of the couches and credenzas.) That may have something to do with the fact that ancient societies tended to distrust the idea of progress and looked to tradition for all their values. Then again, perhaps not.

To come at last to my point, the ancient metaphor makes at least as much sense as the modern, perhaps even more. After all, you can see the past and what is in front of you, while the future and what is behind are both invisible and often frightening.

Anyway, I was reminded of all this by Sgt. Stryker's latest post, Signs and Portents, particularly these two paragraphs:

Everyone seems to have some feeling or some nebulous half-realized notion that something's happening and that this "something" will have an enormous impact on the future. We can't conceptualize it, define it or point at it and say, "Aha! That's it!" But we know it's there, like some formless dark shape in the twilight wood, slowly stalking us and ready to pounce at any moment.

Since we don't know what it is or what it means, we try to visualize it, label it and explain it in terms we can understand and relate to others in some hope of gaining control over it. The problem, as I see it, is that this is futile since this "thing" is the future and it will involve things totally outside of our collective experience and defies any attempt at understanding it. But this doesn't mean we stop trying.

It all sounds very Roman and (I don't mean this as an insult) primitive. Perhaps it's time to sacrifice a bull to Mars or Mithra.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 23, 2002
Don't Leave Us, Jimmy!

PejmanPundit can think of one good reason to want Jimmy Carter around -- to keep him from screwing things up abroad:

JIMMY CARTER WANTS TO SUCK UP TO YET ANOTHER DICTATOR The former president has been given an invitation to go to Cuba to visit Fidel Castro, who no doubt will follow the tactics of Kim Il Sung and Radovan Karadzic, and make Carter his stooge, puppet and mouthpiece through charm and bluster. Given that Carter has an unerring capacity to allow himself to be used and manipulated by the slime of humanity, he will no doubt comply with Castro's efforts, and issue statements that will only serve to prop up Castro's corrupt regime, while discomfiting the Bush Administration. The Administration should slam the brakes on this visit. Pronto.

PejmanPundit doesn't suggest any particular method for slamming the brakes. I would like to see a president who would enforce the Logan Act and tell Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson and Ramsey Clark to stay the Hell out of Cuba and Libya and Iraq and all other members and supporters of the Axis of Evil. Tell them, and then arrest them if they fail to comply. If a judge in Puerto Rico can throw Al Sharpton in the slammer for trespassing, surely the president of the United States can enforce a law that's been on the books since 1799.

Of course, I'd also like to see a president who will declare and put into practice unilateral free trade, and there's not much chance of that happening either. Well, maybe totally free trade isn't quite what we need. How about no tariffs at all, and we import anything except slaves and narcotics? (Libertarians may disagree on this one -- the narcotics, I mean, not the slaves.) And we export anything except narcotics (fair is fair), plus military hardware and the kind of technology that facilitates its use (e.g. supercomputers)? Have I missed anything?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:30 PM
'Queer As A Two-Dollar Bill'

Though I no longer recall where, I ran across this phrase (Google rating: 17) a few weeks ago on some bulletin board or other. Whoever wrote it was immediately corrected by pedantic readers (not me) who pointed out that the traditional insult is 'queer as a three-dollar bill' (Google rating: 625). I don't know about Canada or Australia or Singapore, but in the U.S. the two-dollar bill is legal tender and has been for many years.

Perhaps Andrew Sullivan and his allies in the campaign to normalize homosexuality might want to adopt the erroneous version as a slogan. After all, the American two-dollar bill is:

  • Only a small percentage of the population of America's wallets, purses, and piggy banks. You can go for weeks without seeing one, but you can find them even in the smallest town if you look for them.
  • Perfectly normal. The two-dollar bill is legal tender and just as valid as any other American currency for any monetary transaction.
  • Often discriminated against. Merchants in particular dislike two-dollar bills, since there is no place for them in the standard cash register drawer. Ordinary citizens sometimes refuse to accept them, especially if they've never seen them before. But once they get to know them . . .
  • Associated with charm, wit, and intelligence. The two-dollar bill has a picture of Thomas Jefferson, not some stolidly great man like Washington ($1), or a rough-hewn or downright crude one like Lincoln ($5) or Jackson ($20) or Grant ($50).
  • Very handsome. Ben Franklin ($100) was as witty and charming as Jefferson, and may have had more substantial intellectual accomplishments, but just compare their faces -- and hairstyles. And then there's Franklin's reputation as a lady's man even in his old age . . .
  • The reverses of the other denominations depict monuments or government buildings or weird pyramids with eyes. The back of the two-dollar bill features an all-male social gathering.

Take it away, Andrew.

P.S. This is a joke. Please don't take it seriously. I think it was Robert Asahina in The American Spectator who wrote, of the old compare-and-contrast method, "no doubt somebody somewhere is right now comparing Kafka and Jack London on the grounds that they both wrote animal stories". (This is quoted from very-long-term memory, and may not be totally accurate, but the gist is right.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 PM
Dissident Blogs?

In his amusingly titled 'Who Let the Blogs Out?' (link via Amygdala), Frank Yu argues that blogs may help to penetrate the "Great Internet Firewall of China" (another good one).

One paragraph worries me a bit:

The bureaucrats and censors in China who block and monitor websites will be hard pressed to try and control the future flow of weblogs both in and out of China due to the number and diversity of this new information platform. Having met actual Internet content censors from China, they are decent people but come from a different time and different place in terms of technology. They don’t really get it yet since weblogs remain a concept difficult for them to understand for now.

All I can say is please don't try too hard to explain it to them! We want them to stay confused as long as possible.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
Dumb Question: Are We 'The Press'?

Maybe the answer to this is obvious, but I haven't seen it discussed in the Blogosphere, so I'm wondering:

Will campaign finance reform (I refuse to capitalize the words) affect bloggers in any way? Everyone says that 'the press' will become much more powerful, as they are allowed to do what they want while just about every other actor in the political arena is limited or silenced. But what about blogs? Will the new grassroots media also become relatively more powerful? Will we be able to say whatever we want, as long it's not coordinated with political parties or paid for by someone else (fat chance of that)? Or will we be threatened with jail if we express our opinions on electoral matters within 60 days of an election or 30 days of a primary?

This brings me to a related question that's been bugging me for years. Why do some people think they can call themselves 'professional journalists'? Journalism will never be a profession as long as the First Amendment survives, which means at least until next November. Professions have professional standards, and those who do not meet them can be, and often are, expelled. (Not often enough, but that's another story.) Lawyers are disbarred, priests defrocked, doctors have their medical licenses lifted, and so on. When that happens, they are compelled to go into some other line of work, at least until they can get the expulsions lifted. But freedom of the press means that no one can have his journalism license lifted, because legally enforceable journalism licenses are unconstitutional. Even if every newspaper and magazine in America refuses to hire you, you can still start your own, like I. F. Stone's Biweekly -- though more sensible, I hope. In fact, with the Internet, anyone can be I. F. Stone, going off and starting his own little journal and attracting readers without any help from the big guys. Of course, making money is still a problem.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 21, 2002
Some Consolation For Judge Pickering

At least no one will turn his surname into a verb. Democrats Bork now, have Borked in the past, and will no doubt be doing a lot of Borking in the future, but not 'Pickeringing' -- it would sound too silly.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 PM
A Useful Whom

Ken Layne (scroll down to fourth item) pronounces anathema on any American who says 'whom' in any context:

A FoxNews reader complained because I used "who" instead of "whom." I don't use the word "whom." Ever. I'm American, for chrissakes. If you hear somebody saying "whom," kill them before they breed. I write like I talk. Take it or leave it. Punk.

There are some limited circumstances in which 'whom' is still useful. A friend once had a telephone number that was easily confused with that of a local pizza parlor, and got dozens of wrong numbers every week. He couldn't just take the phone off the hook, because he was teaching Philosophy 101 to 200+ students. He had no teaching assistants and no campus office, since he was a graduate student himself (though unsupervised). That meant that students often needed to call him at home. An answering machine allowed call-screening whenever he was home, but it tended to fill up with pizza orders whenever he went out.

This was a few years ago. Oddly, I can no longer recall whether he or I ever expressed any sympathy for all the poor ham-fisted pizza lovers waiting in vain for their nonexistent pizzas.

Anyway, my friend solved the problem overnight with an answering machine message beginning "the person to whom you wish to speak is not in at the moment". After it was installed, he got a lot of no-message hangups whenever he was home, presumably from hungry pizza lovers muttering "that don't sound like Luigi's, guess I better look it up and try again". Students rather expected a philosophy teacher to say 'whom' and stayed on the line to leave a message.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM

VodkaPundit says the first day of spring was absolutely perfect. Maybe in Colorado: here in Maine, we had six inches of snow, an eight-hour power failure, and (just for me) a toothache. I'd hoped to say something about Ovid's 2044th birthday yesterday, but I'm way behind on posting.

Not to mention switching over to my new 'Dr. Weevil' domain and more efficient blogging software. This is taking way too many hours out of my day, and Spring Break ends soon.

I'm also writing a sequel to 'Endangered Gerrymanders' (just below), taking into account what Kausfiles (thanks for all the hits, kf) and others have said about it. This one may even have illustrations.

In the mean time, I'll post a couple of bite-sized morsels, just so I can say I've accomplished something today.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 19, 2002
Endangered Gerrymanders (Very Long)

Mickey Kaus has jumped on the anti-gerrymandering bandwagon. He quotes Will Vehrs, the Quasipundit, who quotes A. Barton Hinkle of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and says "That makes about three of us!". Actually, Megan McArdle, Steven Hill and Rob Richie, and John Fund have already been on the case for almost a week. There may be others. As Hill and Richie say:

It will come as no surprise that, just like computers have impacted so many other areas of modern life, new computer technologies have dramatically altered the redistricting game.

Politicians and their consultants now have at their disposal extremely sophisticated computer technology, combined with the latest Census, demographic and polling data, to precisely gerrymander their districts. The days of plastic Mylar maps, Elmer's glue, magic markers, trial and error jigsaws and cut and paste blueprints are over. The software is more accurate than ever before, and the politicians have greatly enhanced capacity to handpick their voters.

Here's my question: If we already have all the data on disc, accurate down to the individual city block, why can't computers be programmed to draw the districts themselves? It seems to me that it would only be necessary to determine the criteria in advance, and then let the machines do the rest.

Criteria would need to be well defined, and ranked in ways that the programmers and their advisory committees found sensible. These committees would have to include statisticians, geographers, demographers, political scientists, perhaps some ordinary citizens, but absolutely no incumbents, staff members of incumbents, family members of incumbents, or pollsters.

Determining and ranking the criteria would be the hard part. Typical questions to answer would be:

  1. Is it more important to keep people who live in the same county in the same district, or to keep people who live on the opposite sides of unbridged major rivers in separate districts? It doesn't matter, as long as the criteria chosen seem reasonable to the average voter and are consistently applied. A certain amount of arbitrariness is inevitable.
  2. If major rivers should divide districts, just which rivers in a given state will count as major, and how far upstream? I suspect that the Geological Survey could help decide this. They may well have official lists of major and minor rivers, and the two are certainly depicted differently on maps. All that would be needed would be to decide in advance that those which are depicted in such and such a way on the USGS maps will be major, all the rest minor. The point is to remove human prejudice from the process.
  3. Islands connected to the mainland by bridges should obviously be in the same district as whatever's across the bridge. Should other islands be in the same district as the nearest part of the mainland, or the part where the shortest ferry lands, or the part most socioeconomically similar? These could be three different places. Again, it hardly matters, as long as the criteria are clear and consistent.

There would obviously be a lot of questions like these. Examples could be multiplied, but that would be tedious, and is better left to the geographers and statisticians.

The Supreme Court has already decreed that it is more important to have equal districts than to have the boundaries follow (e.g.) county lines, so this is necessarily the primary criterion. The second and third should, I think, be contiguity and compactness, in that order. Compactness is easy enough to define unambiguously: which map has the shortest total length of district boundaries? This is a matter of more and less, one reason why it comes third rather than second. Contiguity is not much harder to define: can you get from one side of each district to the other without passing through any other districts? This is a pass-fail criterion. For example, any district which includes part or all of San Francisco and part or all of Oakland would also have to include both ends of the Bay Bridge and the inhabitants of Treasure Island and (if it has any) Yerba Buena Island, since they are in the middle of the bridge.

It would be possible to include shared ethnicity, occupation, or income levels among the criteria, so that the software would try to lump together (e.g.) Hispanics, or potato farmers, or the lower middle class. I see nothing wrong with that, as long as it is done without violating the three highest criteria. For example: A metropolitan area of around two million inhabitants must be divided into three equal districts. These could obviously look like three slices of pie, or they could look like one central doughnut hole with two half-doughnuts of suburbs around it. (To keep the numbers equal, the central district might have to include some inner suburbs, or the outer districts might have to include some outer bits of the city. But never both: that would be gerrymandering.) Given the geographic distribution of American ethnic groups, the doughnut arrangement would be more likely (all other things being equal) to increase the number of black or Hispanic congressmen. Perhaps it should therefore be preferred. Whether the suburbs of our hypothetical city should be divided east-west, or north-south, or diagonally, could also be determined by which choice would put like people together. Then again, if a major river flows through the area, it would make a more natural boundary. Again, I have no objection to putting the poorer, or whiter, or more rural suburbs together, as long as the districts are compact and contiguous, and as long as the criteria are set in advance. There is no need to go from today's ridiculously polarized districts to the opposite extreme and make them all such hodgepodges that only boring moderates could ever be elected.

One obvious objection to my proposal is that any software, and any set of criteria, would have to be tested to make sure they work, and possibly to tweak the ranking of criteria so that the results do not offend common sense and basic fair play. Since common sense and fair play are subjective concepts, there would be room for political prejudice to come in the back door, as it were. All the more reason to keep politicians off the advisory committees. It would also be important not to tell anyone on the committee where the incumbents live. Keeping incumbents out of each others' districts should be nowhere on the list of criteria. All in all, the committee might have to be sequestered while they do their work. Basically, the programmers would have to provide a list of possible criteria and examples of how they would work. The committee would rank and weight the criteria, the program would run once, and they would all go home, to reconvene ten years later. Actually, once the criteria were set, they would never have to reconvene.

In any case, I do not find this objection compelling. I doubt that it is possible to shuffle criteria of the kind I have outlined into any order or weighting that would produce anywhere near the results incumbents would want, or are used to getting. It takes the human touch to really 'fix' things.

There are also ways to combat the temptation to fiddle. One would be to allow (e.g.) Missouri redistricters to test their criteria on Maryland, and vice versa, but not on their own states. Better, the criteria could be tested using a different number of districts from the actual one. Massachusetts has 10 congressional districts. A program that could divide the state into 8, 9, 11, or 12 equal sections, each one compact and contiguous and generally reasonable looking, would presumably do the same when the target number was reset for 10 and the criteria were no longer adjustable. (I like to think of the politicians holding their breath as the software chugs along, waiting to see what district they will end up in, rather like participants in a professional sports draft. Make the bastards sweat: that's my motto.) Other safeguards could be proposed, for instance no criteria changes without a two-thirds or three-fourths vote of the advisory committee. I'm open to suggestion.

Of course, the main problem with my proposal is that it would be vehemently opposed by incumbents and their political consultants. The people who actually gather the data would still have plenty of work to do, and there would be added work for impartial advisory committees. But the consultants who spend their time plotting and scheming where to put the new district lines for maximum effect, helping their friends and harming their enemies all the way, would be out of a job. So would all the politicians unable to adjust to life without a guaranteed safe seat.

All in all, legislatures seem unlikely to take up my proposal, even if it can be proven to work. Perhaps a judge could order something like this to be done. Then again, perhaps not: a lot of judges seem to like the feeling of power they get from approving and rejecting individual redistricting plans in their states. So we can't count on them. And I'm none too comfortable with kicking legislative problems over to judges, anyway. Perhaps a referendum would be the way to go, at least in states that allow them.

In conclusion, can anyone tell me why this would not work? I don't claim my scheme is perfect, and it would certainly be politically difficult to implement, but it seems infinitely better than the current method.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:40 PM
More Embarrassing Acronyms

Unfortunate choices in nomenclature can often produce unintentinally embarrassing acronyms. An obvious example is Jimmy Carter's declaration that the struggle for energy independence was "the Moral Equivalent Of War" --MEOW.

Some acronyms are only amusing to the few who know Latin. I'll post more as I think of them, but here are two:

  1. POTUS, the Secret Service's term for President Of The United States, is also Latin for "drunk". (Masculine, appropriately enough for all presidents so far: a drunken woman is pota.) I wonder how far it goes back: perhaps to the Grant administration?
  2. The ANSER Institute for Homeland Security publishes The Journal of Homeland Security (circulation steadily increasing, I suspect). The name is short for "ANalytic SERvices", but it is also the Latin word for "goose". Perhaps this is intentional -- it was a gaggle of geese that saved the Roman citadel from sack by the Gauls in 387 B.C. or thereabouts by waking the garrison with their honking -- but I doubt it.

Of course, neither is as bad as Kingsley Amis' fictional 'Sam Houston Institute of Technology', but that was intended as a joke. Time to make up some T-shirts?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:30 PM
Acronym Contest

In yesterday's Slate, Mickey Kaus argued that Campaign Finance Reform could make Bill Clinton, with his legendary fund-raising skills, the 800-pound gorilla of the Democratic party. All he has to do is set up an ' independent' advocacy group and pretend not to coordinate its activities with the Democratic leadership.

Kaus gives 'Alliance for Opportunity, Responsibility, etc.,' as the name of Clinton's hypothetical lobbying group. It should be possible to come up with a more appropriate and memorable acronym. Any ideas? Send them in and I will report them if they are not too filthy.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 PM
Late Hit: Cowboy Diplomacy

Catching up with the Midwest Conservative Journal (just added to my links), I note a piece from March 7th on the leftist prejudice against the American west:

One can hardly make it through the turgid leftism of the Guardian or the Observer without reading sneering condemnations of President Bush's "cowboy" approach to this or "Wild West" approach to that. The EUnuchs seem to mention this constantly. Nor is this an exclusively European complaint; many eastern American liberals share it. A 1999 Salon article by Jake Tapper was subtitled, "Where never is heard a discouraging word for the goofy cowboy who would be president."

There is more along the same lines, all of it good. I suspect I was not the only reader to be reminded of an exchange in Die Hard:

Sophisticated German terrorist: "You know my name, but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he's John Wayne, Rambo, Marshall Dillon?"

Simplistic New York cop: "I was always kind of partial to Roy Rogers, actually. I really liked those sequined shirts."

Terrorist: "Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?"

Cop: "Yippee-kay-yea, motherf***er."

The last would make a good motto for painting on a bomb.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
Roman Boot Camp

While looking for something else, I ran across an interesting site, Armamentarium, devoted to "Roman Arms and Armour". It seems to be dormant, since it has not been updated in almost five years and most of the elaborately-indexed contents are only titles. (If you root around, you will find some nice illustrations of ancient weapons.) However, it does include Vegetius' fascinating (and short) account of the traditional training of Roman soldiers, in alternating Latin and English. Vegetius is known today for one line, "if you want peace, prepare for war" (si vis pacem, para bellum), but he wrote an entire treatise on military matters.

Interesting aspects of Roman training included:

  • The use of wooden stakes for sword practice. These seem to have functioned rather like punching bags.
  • The use of heavier than normal practice spears, presumably so the real ones would feel light by comparison. The same principle lies behind the lead donuts baseball players put on their bats for practice swings.
  • Learning to leap on and off a horse, first a wooden one, then presumably real one, first without armor, then fully armed. Stirrups apparently came later, brought to Europe (they say) by the Huns.
Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 18, 2002
Bookburning In America

In today's edition of NRO's On the Corner, Stanley Kurtz writes:

Josh Mercer's new CampusNonsense site is more than just a conservative campus blog. It aims to be a kind of clearing house for conservative blogs nationally, which are linked in the right-hand column. Click on Arizona State’s “Collegiate Conservative,” for example, and you’ll read the story of yet another conservative paper theft. Many of these papers were burned. (The Left seems to have entirely forgotten the terrible images of Nazi book burning.) CampusNonsense has also got a bunch of links to campus conservative papers.

There's more, and it's all good, but this is enough to hang my comments on:

1. I think the proper word for a clearinghouse of blogs is 'metablog'. Last I heard, everything else on college campuses was meta-something-or-other.

2. I'm not totally convinced that the campus Left has forgotten about Nazi book burning. They may prefer to use Nazi methods for the shock value, like the adolescent morons they are. They may have found that burning things provides a bigger thrill than other methods: Butt-Head's even stupider friend Beavis had strong pyromaniacal tendencies. Or it may be that the urge to burn conservative journals, rather than running them through a woodchipper or throwing them in an outhouse, has subconscious roots. In their hearts, these guys must know they're acting like Nazis. (Their heads are likely unaware of this, as of so much else.) I still remember when I first heard or read Yale deconstructionist Paul de Man's line "the resistance to theory is a resistance to reading". As a hopelessly retrograde atheoretical reader, my immediate reaction was "if I'm the Resistance, what are you, a f***in' Nazi?" Little did I know. Since his sordid history of collaboration back in occupied Belgium was revealed a few years later, I've often thought that maybe de Man, or his deep-buried conscience, was trying to tell us something.

3. While we're looking for subtexts, here's something else I've been wondering about. Am I the only reader of On the Corner who finds himself humming Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Down on the Corner" whenever he goes there? (Not a band I was particularly eager to be reminded of, though not as bad as some I could name.) Older readers, and those who listen to Oldies stations (assuming there is any difference), will recall who was down on CCR's corner: "Willy and the Poorboys" (lyrics here). Would the title of NRO's collective blog be an obscure allusion to patrician yachtsman William F. Buckley and his crew of ill-paid (or at least always-complaining-about-their-pay) scribblers? Or have I spent too much time in academe?

4. In looking up De Man on the web, I ran across a tedious 1996 argument on the definition of Fascism that incidentally includes the delightful coinage 'lumpenlibertarian'. Thank you, Rich Graves, whoever you are. Now I have to find someone who fits the description, so I can use it myself.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
Neutrality And Western Reporters

In today's on-line Weekly Standard, Bo Crader asks whether Western reporters in war zones should arm themselves, and concludes that:

. . . the war correspondent is caught in a potentially deadly Catch-22. Go into a war zone unarmed and get ambushed, stoned, and executed by a gang of thugs. Carry a gun and get shot as a spy.

Regardless, as this pattern of violence against the news media escalates, it may be that journalists have no choice but to arm themselves.

For the antigun side, Crader quotes Joel Simon, "deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists":

Even [if they know how to use guns], Simon explains, arming journalists might not be in their best interest. "A journalist is recognized as a civilian under the Geneva Conventions," he warns. "Our concern is that journalists should be very careful when taking any action that could compromise that perception. They could be mistaken for a spy or combatant." In theory, if hostile forces view journalists not as objective observers but as soldiers, they might become targets themselves.

There is more to be said here. Western reporters act as if they can be neutral rather than patriotic. But the whole concept of journalists as objective observers, reporting on both sides "without fear or favor", is western, and alien to any culture we are likely to be at war with in the next few decades. Soldiers or terrorists who come from countries where newspapers are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the state and journalists are state employees (for Iran, read 'church' for 'state') are unlikely to comprehend how western reporters could not be their enemies, no matter how even-handed the latter try to be.

In a way, they are right to be hostile. Honest western-style journalism, if it ever takes root in the region, will have as corrosive an effect on the current régimes of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq, as western ideas on the secret ballot, separation of powers, and the various freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights. In a sense, it makes no difference whether American journalists aim to be neutral or patriotic. Either way, they are natural enemies of the Islamonazis, and either way they will be targeted. The result, to put it somewhat cynically, is that they may as well be patriotic.

I haven't even considered the fact that honest, even-handed reporting on these vile régimes will necessarily weaken them internationally and (if the news gets through) internally as well, because the simple facts about them are so damning.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 17, 2002
Making Enemies, Part II

Having now looked over Amphetamine Logic more carefully, I have some more objections (I wouldn't want to look like one of those blogrollers):

1. In arguing against the idea that gun control has something to do with London's soaring crime rate, Pratt writes: "Although New Yorkers are now 6 times less likely to get assaulted than Londoners, they are 11 times more likely to get murdered." This is a very poor choice of example, since New York is one of the few jurisdictions in the U.S. whose citizens are not allowed to own guns and are prosecuted when they use them in self-defense, just as if they were in London. And the New York City murder rate, though less than a third what it was when Giuliani was elected, which does indeed prove that private gun ownership is not the only variable, is still quite a bit higher than the national average.

I also wonder whether the U.S. murder rates include justifiable homicide, i.e. cases of self-defense. Some of us think that justifiable homicide is a good thing, or at least the lesser of two evils: if it weren't, it wouldn't be justifiable, would it? It certainly tends to keep rates of assault, robbery, rape, and so on -- not to mention recidivism -- lower than they would otherwise be. Although the topic is complex, it is possible that Britain's rates for other crimes are high at least in part because the homicide rate is low.

2. In his latest post, Pratt is quite rightly contemptuous of Americans who treat the loathsome Gerry Adams as some kind of hero or statesman:

More Yank hypocrisy. There is apparently a "Gerry Adams Way" in Oakland, California. Very little coverage of this in the UK press, but no doubt the Americans would pick up on it soon enough if we renamed a street in Cambridge or Oxford "Mullah Omar Avenue". Don't forget, you can have a war on terrorism, unless Americans sympathise with the terrorists aims. Tossers.

The criticism would be more convincing if it were not so sweeping. Most Americans who know enough about the subject to be entitled to an opinion are just as disgusted as Pratt. Oakland is not exactly a typical American city: it's right next to Berkeley and has Jerry Brown for mayor and Barbara Lee for congresswoman. (She was the only member of congress to vote against fighting Bin Laden.) Stupid things are par for the course there. Of course, if you go to Boston and talk to the kind of Bostonians who automatically vote for anyone on the ballot named Kennedy, you'll find a lot of stupid Gerry Adams supporters there, too. Again, hardly typical. If Omaha or Tulsa renames a street after Gerry Adams, I'll start to worry that America as a whole has gone soft on Irish terrorism. In short, this isn't an American thing, it's a leftie thing (and an Irish thing), and Oakland no more represents America than the Guardian represents Britain.

And speaking of being soft on terrorism, Pratt ignores the absolutely crucial point that Britain made peace with the IRA long before Bush declared war on terrorism. This totally vitiates his Mullah Omar comparison. If Bush ever signs a peace treaty with Mullah Omar, releases all his murderous thugs from Camp X-Ray, makes him promise to hand over all his weapons and then does nothing when he fails to do so, forces Hamid Karzai to invite him into a coalition government as an equal partner, and invites him to the White House for dinner, he will deserve to be treated with loathing and contempt. All that seems unlikely, to say the least. This American would have no particular objection to dropping a daisy cutter on Gerry Adams and all his real and unreal, continuity and discontinuity IRA buddies, as long as there were no genuine civilians nearby. But it's hard to do that when Blair and Adams are so cordial. After all, it would require some sort of declaration of war or equivalent. I do wish Bush would not invite Adams to the White House for St. Patrick's Day, but he is just following the British lead. Wouldn't it be arrogantly imperialistic if he were to start telling Blair how to treat his own terrorists? I suspect Pratt is right in suggesting that if there is ever a 'Mullah Omar Avenue' in the U.K. it will be in either Cambridge or Oxford.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:40 PM
Making Enemies, Part I

On Friday I got my first really critical letter, from Martin Pratt of Amphetamine Logic. (I would have answered it sooner, but Friday was my birthday and the Ides of March, so I was too busy partying.) Pratt objects to my speculative post on The European Union, Where Will It All End? as follows:

The EU has no police powers to punish grocers who sell metric units, that is done under domestic law. Grocers are free to sell in pounds and ounces in Brussels if they label in metric units too. The grocers were arrested and tried under the (UK) Weights and Measures Act and tried in a British Magistrates court under English rules of procedure. In fact the EU has no police powers at all, except in very limited circumstances relating to breach of EU Anti-Trust laws.

Oh, and Norway was briefly a member of the EU (or EEC as it then was) but left after a referendum.

The whole "unselected bureaucrats" thing is a bit of a myth really. Largely engendered by Americans worried about their pre-eminent place in the world, or at best by ignorance and over reliance on the UK rightist press.

Since Pratt is apparently both British and a lawyer, I should probably take his word for it on the legal situation. However, his other remarks do not inspire confidence.

He is simply wrong about Norway, which has never been a member of the EEC or the EU. They have applied to join three or four times, but were either turned down or changed their minds after signing the accession treaty but before ratifying it. I am told by the Norwegian I consulted that, as in the U.S., treaties are not valid until ratified by the legislature. For such a divisive issue, the Norwegian parliament decided to hold referenda and follow the wishes of the people. The people narrowly voted against the EEC both times.

Of course, it would hardly affect my argument even if Norway has briefly been a member. An economic community is not the same as a 'union' with a legislature, currency, army (coming soon), and the other trappings of a state. The EEC was more like NAFTA than the EU, and I don't doubt that NAFTA members could leave if they wanted to. Even if countries can leave the EU now, as Lady Thatcher is urging Britain to do, they won't necessarily be able to leave later, when the panEuropean army, courts, legislature, and so on are all functional.

A historical example will illustrate the kind of thing that worries me. The Delian League was set up soon after the Persian War as a voluntary naval alliance of Greek cities against the Persians, headquartered on the island of Delos, though Athens was by far the most powerful member. It soon developed from a military alliance into an Athenian empire. Within 20 years the league was making war on members who tried to secede. Within 25 the treasury was moved from Delos to Athens. The way the change occurred is both interesting and instructive. Originally member cities had to contribute specific numbers of fully-equipped and manned ships to the League's navy, the exact number depending on each member's resources. Providing ships and crews was onerous and all except a few of the larger islands (Samos, Chios, Lesbos) soon arranged to send money instead, and let the Athenians spend it on their own ships. After that, it did not take long for the alliance to evolve into an empire. When Samos eventually revolted, the fighting was particularly bloody, because the Samians still had their own navy. (There is a detailed but execrably proofread account of the Delian League in the 1911 Britannica. Though old, it covers the main points. There is a picture of the actual stone-inscribed tribute list here.)

To return to the main subject, I still have a couple of questions:

1. If the European Parliament doesn't have the power to make laws that can be enforced, however indirectly, in member states, what do the members do all day? If they don't pass laws, they're not a parliament, and if the laws they pass are unenforceable, they are still not a parliament but some kind of model-U.N.-type pseudo-parliament for children. (Rather like the U.N. itself, come to think of it.) Perhaps I have misused the phrase 'police powers'. My point is not who does the enforcing, but whether citizens of member nations are being forced to do (or not do) things that they would not have been forced to do (or not do) if the EU had never been formed. I find it difficult to believe that the "rightist" press can be making it all up.

2. My hostility to the EU -- better suspicion of it -- has nothing to do with fear of losing American preeminence in the world (not likely, whatever the EU does), everything to do with my own familiarity with American bureaucrats, e.g. the kind who have made it impossible for Americans to buy toilets that flush properly, thus creating a cross-border traffic in bootleg Canadian toilets. Examples could be multiplied ad nauseam. It is not ill will but good will that makes me worry that Europeans are making a terrible mistake. Whether Pratt's comments about the U.S. are motivated by ill will or good will I will leave to him and possibly his confessor to sort out.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:30 PM
Who Cares? Nick Denton Goes Snipe Hunting

In his ongoing search for the elusive liberal blogger, Nick Denton (last bashed in this little squib) writes this astonishing sentence:

For the purposes of this discussion, I'm defining liberal as anyone who cares about injustice, whether in the US, or in the world at large.

If that's the criterion, there are thousands of us out here. It apparently comes as news to many who pride themselves on their liberalism and openmindedness that some of us voted for Reagan twice because we care about injustice in the U.S. and the world, and thought that a world with a stronger U.S. and a weaker U.S.S.R. would be a juster world. We may have been horribly and shamefully wrong in thinking that, but the idea that people voted for Reagan out of pure malevolence and a deep and abiding love for injustice is tripe -- or some other bovine byproduct.

In the last six months, daisycutters and special forces have done more for justice and freedom abroad than a hundred NGOs, a thousand special ambassadors, or a million protesters. For all their ostentatious caring, lefties I know are quite grudging in admitting that the War on Terror has done any good at all. It is the righties who melt with pleasure over pictures of Afghan men shaving their beards, going to the baths, going to the movies, Afghan women going back to school, back to work, back outside, Afghan children flying kites and riding makeshift ferris wheels, Afghan dervishes whirling again, and so on and on and on.

Denton goes on to qualify his statement in the next two sentences, redefining a liberal as:

Anyone who believes in the notion of enlightened self-interest. For instance, letting in Pakistani textiles - even at a cost in American jobs - because the world will be a safer place if the developing world is actually encouraged to develop.

Even here, the underlying assumptions are very odd. Some of those who have been loudest and most vehement in agreeing with Denton on this point have been libertarians and conservatives. Do Virginia Postrel and the Instapundit and Brink Lindsey and the members of Libertarian Samizdata now count as liberal bloggers? If so, why are they not on the list? Perhaps, like spotted owls, liberal bloggers will turn out to be far commoner than previously suspected. Or perhaps there is something wrong with Denton's definitions.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 PM
Piling On: Nicholas D. Kristof and M. Tullius Cicero

More unfinished business: In a New York Times op ed last Tuesday, Nicholas Kristof wrote an article boldly titled "Cicero Was Wrong". Some of it has already been trashed by the VodkaPundit and James Bowman (scroll down), but perhaps a Latin teacher can add some perspective. I was particularly struck by the following passage:

Even the Romans fretted about the issue, with Cicero offering his famous dictum: Oderint, dum metuant - Let them hate, so long as they fear.

(Actually, Cicero seems to have been no better at crediting his sources than modern historians are; he apparently stole the line from Accius's play "Atreus.")

Cicero's view seems to be gaining ground among many Americans . . .

Cicero did not "steal" the words from the tragic poet Accius, he quoted or alluded to them more than once, and every one of his ancient readers knew what he was doing, because it was Accius' most famous line. If you do a Google search on "to be or not to be", you will get "about 75,100" hits. Some attribute the phrase to Shakespeare, some to his character Hamlet, some mention both, some neither, but I think it is safe to say (without, of course, having read them all) that not one of these sites is attempting to plagiarize Shakespeare. All either quote him or allude to him by working the words into a new context.

In quoting Accius' words, Cicero sometimes mentions him by name, for instance in his First Philippic, one of the orations that got him killed. There he accuses his bitter enemy Mark Antony of following Atreus' dictum and severely criticizes him for it, offering the assassination of Julius Caesar (just a few months before) as a warning of what happens to those who prefer to be feared rather than loved. (The Latin and a not-very-good English translation are here. The translator turns Accius' three words into seventeen, which may be a world record for prolixity and expansion. As usual, all the good translations are still in copyright.)

Mythological excursus: Atreus was the father of Agamemnon and Menelaus and father-in-law of Helen of Troy. To punish his brother Thyestes, he chopped up his nephews, cooked them, and fed them to their father. At the end of the feast, he brought in their heads and hands on a covered platter, just to gloat. He had already mixed their blood into the wine. You can read the whole story in Seneca's most gruesome tragedy, the Thyestes. It's odd that Hollywood, always hungry for new plots and never squeamish about violence, hasn't jumped on this one.

Anyway, we know more about Cicero than any other ancient author, from his orations, his philosophical and rhetorical treatises, his bad verse, and over a thousand of his own letters, plus more written to him, most of them (the letters, I mean) never meant for publication. Although only about half of each of his main political works, the Republic (De Re Publica) and the Laws (De Legibus), survives, we can be quite sure that Cicero's political beliefs and practices had no resemblance to Atreus'. To simplify greatly, Cicero was a conservative, Atreus a psychopath. It was Caligula who, according to Suetonius (scroll down to section XXX), took oderint, dum metuant as his motto. Perhaps Kristof has mixed up Cicero with Caligula, or Machiavelli (especially chapter XVII).

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
The Weevil's New Domain

I have leased the name, and will be relocating as soon as the paperwork is done: most likely the middle of the coming week. About the same time, I will also add a counter and move to software (probably Movable Type) that allows comments and other neat things. An 'About Me' file is also imminent. Stay tuned.

One more thing: Like the Sarge, I have lately been mulling over the problem of quality vs. timeliness and quantity. I hate to leave posts unrevised when I've had further thoughts on style or substance, or to keep returning to a subject in new posts if I haven't completely rethought the question. At the same time, I don't much like posting on topics that are already a few days old, though I'm doing that today, and I don't suppose readers like it much either. On the new website, I'm going to try putting some of my more permanent (less volatile?) posts into an 'Essays' section. These will be revised and updated as I please, but will always have a last-edit date and a link back to the first-posted version. An awkward compromise, but we'll see how it works.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 15, 2002
The Art Of The MonoGoogle

Nick Denton reports the interesting fact that Ken Layne is the world's most popular Ken, while he is only the sixth most-popular Nick. (Results calculated by doing a single-word Google search on "Ken" and "Nick".) In a later post, he uses the high Google ranking of bloggers' names as an argument for the likely efficacy of Google-bombing.

I had never thought of searching single words this way, at least not common words like "Ken" and "Nick". (Worlds like "QuasiPundit" and "PossumBlog" are another story.) It turns out to be a lot of fun, though 'monogoogling' (like 'googlewhacking') does sound like a euphemism for self-abuse. Did you know:

  • That Andrew Sullivan is number one among Andrews and Sullivans? Take that, Prince Andrew and Sir Arthur Sullivan! (Gilbert and Sullivan sites take first and second among the Gilberts, while Gilbert and George don't even make the top ten. I find that comforting.)
  • That Mickey Kaus is first among Kauses (no surprise there) and among Mickeys, beating out Mickey Mouse (6) and Mickey Mantle (7, 8, and 10)?
  • That Sgt. Stryker is second among "Sgt."s (behind "Sgt. Mom's" and just ahead of "SGT, Inc." -- great acronym, guys), and second among Strykers?
  • That Tim Blair is third among Tims and Blairs? Particularly impressive when working with two such common names.
  • That the Instapundit is first among Reynoldses, but only fifth among Glenns? (I wouldn't have thought there were so many Glenns in the world.)
  • That Michael Kelly is the tenth most popular Michael (and third Kelly)? Michael Medved is way down at number sixteen. Michael Jordan's official website comes in second, Michael Jackson's only eighth (and falling, I would guess), three slots behind the other Michael Jackson, the one they know as Beer Hunter. Michael Moore (no link for him) is the first Michael and the second Moore.
Finally, if you're wondering, Dr. Weevil's weblog (no link, you're already there) is only seventeenth (the archives) and thirty-fourth (the blog) among "about 92,200" weevils. Most of the rest are entomological sites, but there are a couple of (I think) different bands, and even two or three weblogs rated higher than mine. I don't much mind weevil at bossanova dot com taking the second slot, but how can The Ancestral Farm of the Weevil come in at number 10 when it hasn't been updated since October? Get it together, Google guys. Then there's the Red Palm Weevil Home page (# 7), in English and Arabic, devoted to "the most dangerous and deadly pest of date, coconut, oil, sago and other palms". It seems to be purely entomological, but offers T-shirts, hats, and coffee cups with RPWs on them.

As for the "Dr.", I'm not even in the top 200, far behind Doctors Dolittle, Dre, Koop, Laura, Strangelove, Suess, and Who -- not to mention a bunch of practicing physicians.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 14, 2002
Simian Joystick?

Yesterday's Washington Post reported that a lab monkey at Brown has been trained to move a cursor around on a computer screen with the ultimate wireless mouse:

During dozens of trials over several months, the monkey moved the cursor just by thinking and used it to touch dots that appeared on the screen, earning orange juice as a reward, said John Donoghue, chairman of neuroscience at Brown.

Besides giving new hope to Christopher Reeves, this experiment opens up whole new sci-fi horror vistas. (Maybe not new to sci-fi, but new to real life.) On the up side, it looks as if someday we (well, most of us) will be able to type with both hands again, using our eyes and brains to point and click -- no more mismatch between computers designed for three-armed creatures and the primitive two-armers condemned to use them. On the down side, I suspect that some of the more superstitious scientists (they do exist) are already staying after work to play Monkey Ouija.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 13, 2002
Drunken Porno-Terrorists

is the first of the three essays I promised yesterday.

On Monday, under the heading 'An Oldie But Goodie', Pejman Yousefzadeh ('PejmanPundit') praised a piece by David Pryce-Jones from last November and quoted a paragraph on the unIslamic sinfulness of the 9/11 terrorists:

To judge by their reported conduct, the recent suicide bombers were living in an atmosphere that had nothing to do with Islam. According to Islamic teaching, whoever commits suicide is condemned to hell. Their central purpose, then, was contrary to their religion. They had shaved off their beards, they spent time in bars, they became drunk, they frequented strip clubs. They carried rolls of hundred dollar bills and spent them ostentatiously. We may suppose that at some level, consciously or unconsciously, they were enjoying the America they were planning to destroy. For it is here, in a most complex relationship of attraction and repulsion, that we must begin to understand the motivations of the terrorists, and so frame our responses.

I share Pejman's admiration for the piece, and the paragraph quoted. (The New Criterion is my favorite journal. Well, except for Classical Quarterly, but they compete in different leagues.)

However, I also have a hypothesis that I think will go far towards explaining the contradiction. Unfortunately, it would take a Mediaeval historian (and perhaps an abnormal psychologist) to prove it.

It seems to me that the best recruit for a suicide bombing mission would be someone who (a) believes in Heaven and Hell (or their Muslim equivalents), (b) knows that he has been too wicked to have much chance of getting into Heaven without special dispensation, and (c) is bold and willing to gamble. All you need then is to provide the special dispensation, the 'Get Out of Hell Free' card, to convince him that even a life of beer and bacon, lapdances and MTV, even being the worst Muslim in the world, will not keep him out of Heaven, as long as he takes some infidels with him -- to death, I mean, not Heaven.

The very enormity of the method proposed makes it more plausible. If the Mullah, or whoever recruited him, were to say that any sinner can get into Heaven by chanting some special prayer 5000 times, he wouldn't believe it. But airplane hijacking, suicide bombing, and mass murder: those are tasks for the special few.

Boldness, risk-taking, and hell-raising do tend to go together, so I imagine it's the faith that needs the most work. Even that might not be too difficult. For a weak-willed but devout Muslim who can't keep his hands off the hookers and gin but suffers intense feelings of guilt and extreme desperation afterwards, any way out would begin to look attractive. Even if he suspected in his heart that he was just heading off to oblivion, suicide bombing might well be an attractive choice. All the more so, in that he would be taking with him dozens of beer-drinking, porkchop-eating, not-even-close-to-virgins-when-they-married infidels, who are not even ashamed of their depravity, but wallow in it like, well, hogs. (Sorry, I'm getting a little carried away with the empathy for depravity here. Side-effect of a Catholic upbringing?)

The last-minute (or rather night-before) drinking and whoring is unsurprising, too, at least in retrospect, for a combination of reasons. It would help to close off the alternatives, as they steeled themselves not to turn back. It would provide a fresh and vivid reminder of what they hate (but can't resist) about the Western culture they aim to destroy. (There's nothing like a hangover to make one feel more homicidal.) Not least, it would give them a last chance to have some cheap, sleazy fun before heading for Heaven or oblivion, as the case may be.

Is there any evidence for my theory? It's been a very long time, but I think I have read that some Mediaeval Christians went on crusades for similar reasons. If you killed your brother, married his widow, and took his kingdom, like Claudius in Hamlet, and later suffered feelings of guilt and anxiety about your soul's fate, you might well think death at the hands of Saladin and his merry men an appropriate and desirable end, as long as it came with a plenary indulgence attached. (Come to think of it, Macbeth is a good example of the criminal with a conscience longing for death, though he expects no reward for dying bravely.)

My theory needs further development, with specific historical examples and psychological analysis, but I think it is sound overall.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 PM
SubLilliputian Saudis

Amygdala reports a horrible story from Saudi Arabia about a girls' school that burned down, killing 68 (or 14, or 15, depending on whom you ask) students, while members of the Commission for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice held back bystanders who "rushed to the scene carrying water buckets", since the CPVPV "did not want males to enter the school".

This reminds me of one of my favorite passages from Gulliver's Travels, the one I quoted here a month ago today. Apparently Saudi bigotry goes beyond even Swift's fertile (and for that matter bigoted) imagination. Petty as they are, his Lilliputians do at least allow Gulliver to throw buckets of water on the fire in the queen's quarters. It is only his other, less orthodox and more efficient, method of fire control that puts him in danger of his life. (Sorry about that 'fire control'. I can't resist a pun, and, to judge by the outcome, Gulliver does have a good aim.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
Accessory Before The Fact To A Capital Offense

Stanley Kurtz has a story in NRO today about the University of San Francisco's attempt to shut down a very small 'Great Books' program at Campion College, founded by refugees from a similar program at U.S.F., the Saint Ignatius Institute. (U.S.F. had already shut down S.I.I.) Among other things that will shock only those unfamiliar with academe, he reports this juicy tidbit:

Donna Davis, general counsel of the University of San Francisco has issued a letter demanding that Campion College "cease and desist" from even mentioning on the Campion College website that Campion "arose" from the Saint Ignatius Institute.

If Campion College wants to play hardball, they could always make their website refer to "a Great Books course at a certain

University in San Francisco

which shall remain nameless for legal reasons" or something along those lines. There are ways to get across the necessary information without stating it in words, and these ways have the added effect of embarrassing the side that called in the lawyers. (I've always had a soft spot for the obscene acrostic, though I have yet to insert one in this blog. No need to go looking for them.)

Around 1980 or so I saw a man picketing an office building (in downtown San Francisco, as it happens) with a sign that said something along the lines of "I hired Joe Schmoe, lawyer, and regretted it". I assume that it had a deleterious effect on Schmoe's business -- people were certainly staring and pointing -- while at the same time leaving the picketer utterly impervious to charges of libel. (Or is it slander when the words are carried around on a sign? Ask a lawyer.)

By the way, U.S.F. can hardly ask Campion College to delete their name from the curricula vitarum of their faculty, can they? Many colleges post these on their web-sites, and that would help get the message across.


What is the plural of curriculum vitae? Surely curricula vitarum ("courses of lives"), as above, if they are plural resumés of plural people, curricula vitae ("courses of life") if they are plural resumés of a single person, like the ones on my hard drive. Either sounds horribly pretentious, even to this Latin teacher, but apostrophes aren't supposed to be used to make plurals, so "c.v.'s" and "cv's" are surely wrong, while "c.v.s" and "cvs" are ugly and nearly unintelligible. Maybe I should just call them resumés. But then there's the question of whether to put an accent on the first syllable, as so many do. Language is a harsh mistress.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 12, 2002
Pedantry Alert VI: Carthage Unsalted

I should probably send this straight to the Urban Legends Reference Pages, but I need more verbiage for my own website.

Although few outside the American Philological Association know it, the Romans did not in fact sow the ruins of Carthage with salt after they conquered the city and slaughtered its inhabitants in 146 B.C. That would have been going too far. The story, most recently repeated by VodkaPundit after Nicholas Kristof, is found in dozens of textbooks and websites. It started with one of the contributors to the Cambridge Ancient History back in the Twenties or Thirties, who apparently confused the Roman sack of Carthage with some Biblical story and failed to check his references. This was demonstrated very thoroughly in an article in a classical journal a few years ago, though I can't find the reference on the web, and my copy is in storage far from where I sit.

Hmmmmm . . . That's three petty corrections in a row. Maybe I should call my site 'SmarterBlogs'. Then again, for a very low $20.00 per error, I could send these corrections off-list to previously registered customers, with legally-enforceable written promises that they would never see the light of the Blogosphere. Have I just discovered a viable business model for the personal website? I would have to have a certain number of non-customers who refused to pay, or were not asked, and were then held up here as objects of ridicule and abuse. That would help attract interested readers and give web-journalists and bloggers the incentive to sign up, pay up, and avoid being made examples. A delicate balancing act would be necessary, since winning over the entire potential market would be counterproductive in the end.

Coming later this week, maybe even tonight: original thoughts on topics of geopolitical importance:
1. Why Mohammed Atta Drank and Went to Strip Shows (not as surprising as some think).
2. Dominoes or Leapfrog? Just What Game Are We Playing in the Middle East?
3. The Horns of a Trilemma: What Should Be Done with Our Bases in Saudi Arabia?
Tune in later for these exciting blogmas.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 PM
Pedantry Alert V: Trodding Along

Someone was asleep at the editorial switch over at one of the major web-journals today (you know who you are), allowing one of their columnists to write (of an actor) "when he trods upon the board". I'll be kind and omit the link, since it was corrected within a few hours to "treads". I tread today, I trod yesterday, I have trodden on many occasions.

The error was not even original: Del McCoury sings "as on the path I trod" in the present tense. But punditry is not bluegrass, and McCoury needed a rhyme for "God". Of course, he could have said "as on the path I plod", but that would have sounded less Biblical and all around stupider.

And speaking of Del McCoury:
His latest CD, at least the last one I bought, is My Dixie Home (Rebel Records, 2001), repackaging a dozen cuts from various albums dated 1975-1985. What's odd is that the one 'previously unreleased' track, 'Call Collect on Christmas', is, in my opinion, the best thing on the album. (I hadn't heard any of them, so the competition is fair.) How often does that happen? If the answer is 'all the time', what does that tell us about the collective intelligence of the decision makers in the music industry? Not much we didn't already know, I guess.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
Pedantry Alert IV: French Uganda?

Beauty of Gray (link via VodkaPundit) prints an amusing anti-French rant, but with a few dubious points. I was particularly struck by this passage:

And don’t get me started on French foreign policy. You’d think the country responsible for 40 years of brutal civil war in Algeria would shut the hell up when it comes to Israel and Palestine, but France brings a unique measure of arrogance to the table to combine with their incompetence, and don’t let their own all too obvious failings get in the way of their strenuous efforts to tell everyone else how to run their own affairs. Of course, Algeria is not alone—there’s a strong pattern of devastation left in the wake of French and Belgian colonialism that contrasts with British and US former colonies. Algeria, the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Lebanon, Cambodia and Vietnam, all enjoyed the mismanagement, tyranny, and civil wars that were the fruits of French and Belgian mismanagement.

It's not entirely fair to put Belgium in the scale at this point, particularly since Belgium's virtues (mmmm, chocolate!) and vices are not considered in the other counts of the indictment. BoG should also have mentioned the short-lived 'Central African Empire' of Bokassa the First (and Last), with its Julio-Claudian combination of luxury and horror: a Napoleonic coach with four white horses for the inauguration of the new emperor (self-crowned, again like Napoleon), dozens of schoolchildren massacred by the army for complaining about the cost of their new uniforms, and some of them allegedly eaten by Bokassa.

However, to get to my pedantic point, Uganda should be removed from the list: it was a British colony. So were several other African disaster areas, including Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and nearly half of Somalia, though not the part around Mogadishu. On the whole, British imperialism probably was less destructive than French, but the balance is not as clearcut as BoG makes it.

So much for quibbling. Here's my twist. As BoG almost implies, it's not France but Belgium whose former colonies are without exception hellholes. Two of the three make his list: Congo (he must mean the-Congo-sometimes-known-as-Zaire rather than the other, formerly French, one) and Rwanda. Though not much in the news, Burundi wouldn't win any prizes either, whether for liberté, égalité, or fraternité. If rule by unelected bureaucrats in far-off Brussels leads inevitably to genocidal civil wars, brutal tyrannies, and total economic collapse, what does that tell us about the prospects of the European Union?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 11, 2002
Pedantry Alert III: Venusians Or . . .?

An Instapundit link just introduced me to the triply-named Andrea Harris / Ye Olde Blogge / Spleenville.Com blog. Thanks, Glenn! The whole rant, Stupid Columnist Tricks, was a delight, but I have one tiny quibble. Among much else, Harris writes:

. . . does Ms. Bunting think that enemies we had before September 11th suddenly became our friends after that day? Then who were those people dancing in the streets, burning flags, and saying we had it coming? Venusians?

Unfortunately, as any Latinist will tell you, the correct adjective for 'pertaining to Venus' is not 'Venusian' but 'Venereal' and these people are therefore presumably 'Venereans'. Doesn't that sound more sleazily appropriate? (Just as the 'Martial' in martial arts means 'pertaining to Mars, god of war', and 'Martian' means 'inhabitant of Mars', so with Venus and the other planets.)

Tangential Points:

1. 'Venereal disease' was originally a tasteful euphemism by which syphilis and gonorrhea -- remember when there were only two to worry about? -- were called 'love diseases'. As often happens with euphemisms, instead of bringing up the signified it just drags down the signifier. (Sorry about the lapse into trendy jargon: it won't happen again.) The same thing has happened to 'erotic' (from Eros), at least when applied to movies, where it usually means XXX, and 'aphrodisiac' (from Aphrodite).

2. In her previous post, Stupid Student Alert, Harris says that she is "currently a Humanities Major taking a Creative Writing Minor at the University of Central Florida". I'd love to see what she could do with a major in Inhumanities and minor in Destructive Writing. She's already a veritable Truckasaurus of the verbal arena.

3. Scrolling down to Saturday, I see that Harris predicts a fate worse than death for Ted Rall: Hollywood Squares. I wish I'd thought of that. Can we start a pool on his first appearance date? If so, I give him two years to lose his fame and a little more for desperationi to set in: April 23rd, 2004. Should we call this the Might-As-Well-Be-Dead Pool? (Harris' thoughts on why we shouldn't just try to ignore him are also good.)

4. Would it be worthwhile, or just sick, to do a version of the Dancing Hampsters website with dancing Palestinians celebrating mass murder? To remind us of what we're up against, I mean. Just sick, actually. Forget I said it. Time to go to bed. Plenty more to post in the morning, but it's late and now my toes are really sore.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:30 PM
Suetonius, Claudius, And Caligula Revisited

Last October 4th, Andrew Sullivan printed this note in his Daily Dish:

CLINTON'S REGRET: In last Friday's New York Times, an anonymous close friend of Bill Clinton's reflected on the former president's mixed emotions after the WTC Massacre: "He has said there has to be a defining moment in a presidency that really makes a great presidency. He didn't have one." A reader points out how similar these feelings are to another character in history as captured by the Roman historian, Suetonius: "He even used openly to deplore the state of his times, because they had been marked by no public disasters, saying that the rule of Augustus had been made famous by the Varus massacre, and that of Tiberius by the collapse of the amphitheatre at Fidenae, while his own was threatened with oblivion because of its prosperity, and every now and then he wished for the destruction of his armies, for famine, pestilence, fires, or a great earthquake." To whom was Suetonius referring? Caligula.

I remember it well, partly because it was quoted in 'Best of the Web', NRO, and the Weekly Standard, but mostly because I was "a reader". I mean no offence to Sullivan, one of my blogging inspirations, when I say that one reason for starting this blog was so I could sign my own name -- well, my own chosen pseudonym --to all my clever and not-so-clever remarks.

The next day, Sullivan added:

IF CLINTON IS CALIGULA...: Doesn't that make B-b-b-Bush C-c-c-c-Claudius?

(Caligula was succeeded by his uncle Claudius.) Sullivan was probably just comparing Claudius' notorious stutter to W's rather different linguistic impediment, but he may also have been thinking about their shared reputation for gross stupidity and accidental accession to power.

Why this post? I've just realized that the similarities go further. Here's what TurkeyBlog had to say in yesterday's last post, an informal book review headed Ambling Into History, IV:

Knocking heads - the right heads - for your old man is as good a way as any to get into the family business, and it has at least been suggested that W was the one who decided it was time for Sununu to go. Having seen politics as the goofy kid who wasn't worth paying attention to, Bush may have learned far more about the game than his opponents are comfortable with.

Hmmmm . . . Claudius survived the massacre of most of his relatives only because he was thought to be mentally deficient and therefore ineligible for the throne. As uncle of Caligula and nephew of Tiberius (Caligula's predecessor), he was given various low- to mid-level jobs that gave him valuable experience while keeping him out of the public eye. Not that anyone thought that he would ever need the experience, he was just too high-ranking to be totally ignored. As emperor, he did a fairly decent job, keeping taxes low and annexing Britain and Morocco (don't get any ideas, W!), among other accomplishments. At least many classicists now think of him as a relatively competent emperor. On the other hand, he did murder a lot of senators, not all of whom deserved it (again, don't get any ideas, W!). The ancient authorities, principally Tacitus (Books XI, XII, and the beginning of XIII) and Suetonius (very amusing), are uniformly hostile, perhaps because the historians were senators. The fact that Claudius shook and drooled and walked with a limp may have helped to prejudice them. He seems to have had cerebral palsy or something similar. You might think that he would make a good poster-boy for the Cerebral Palsy Association, but his reputation for stupidity, and all those murdered senators, seem to have discouraged that.

Final unpleasant thought for the superstitious: Claudius was succeeded by Nero. Would that be Hillary? John Edwards? Dick Gephardt? Hmmmmm . . . .

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 PM
Unilateralism? Not Exactly

I wish the Euroweenies (and even sometimes their opponents) would stop calling American interventions in the Philippines and formerly-Soviet Georgia 'unilateral'. Thanks to the qualms and 'complexifications' of our European allies, they're certainly not multilateral, but they're sure as Hell bilateral. It's hard to tell for sure what's going on behind the scenes, and diplomats and press secretaries are appropriately circumspect in their comments, but it appears that the Filipinos and Georgians begged us to send troops to their countries. In Yemen today, as in Pakistan and the other Stans last fall, most of the arm-twisting seems to have been the other way around. Even so, the forms of diplomatic decency have been preserved and we operate only from bases in countries that allow it (Turkey and the Stans -- good name for a band?), while not using bases in countries that refuse, even when those bases have been bought and paid for by us and are located in countries that continue to call themselves our friends and allies. (You know who you are, ungrateful bastards. Mene mene tekal upharsin: you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. If you allowed Bibles or Johnny Cash albums in your pathetic excuse for a country, maybe you'd understand the allusion.) Despite the bleats of the ignorant -- 'what gives America the right to bomb Afghanistan?' --, our troops were sent there with the express consent of the only government recognized by the U.N., the so-called Northern Alliance, correctly known as 'the government of Afghanistan' (de jure if not de facto) even before 9/11, again, according to the U.N. Not that I give a damn what the U.N. says, but people who care about international law should.

Tangential Note:

Having two Georgias is almost as confusing as having two kinds of Indians. (I once heard someone say 'not American Indians -- you know, Indian Indians'.) When teaching students in Mythology 101 about Prometheus, I used to be able to locate the scene of his punishment by calling it 'Soviet Georgia'. Now I have to call it 'formerly Soviet Georgia', as if it were 'the artist formerly known as Prince'. At least the two Galicias, the one in northwest Spain and the one in southern Poland or western Ukraine or wherever the Hell it is now, have managed to keep themselves out of the news since World War I, when the latter was the scene of heavy fighting between invading Russians and defending Austro-Hungarians.

Maybe we could call it 'Eurasian Georgia', though leftie Simpsons fans might start carrying around signs reading 'Get Eurass out of Eurasia'. At least they would if they had any sense of humor. 'European Georgia' won't do, since it's on the south slope of the Caucasus, which is the traditional continental boundary. 'Asian Georgia' may be geographically correct, but doesn't sound right, since the country is culturally more European than Asian or Middle Eastern. So maybe they should just change their damned name. (Note to patriotic Georgians: I'm kidding! This is a parody of the cliché of the ignorant American imperialist. No need for angry e-mails.)

Sorry about all the cussin': I'm in a bad mood tonight. Maybe it's because my toes are sore. (Lots more posts coming later tonight.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
Primitive Bloggers

Nick Denton complains that "Blogger has made weblogging so easy that even conservatives can do it". The Sarge replies with "Stupid evil primates can type on the web!" and then goes off in a different direction. There is more to be said on the subject, though I probably should not be revealing the arcane wisdom of my species.

The secret advantage of right-wing bloggers is superior productivity, and the secret of that is anatomical. We don't puff ourselves up like toads, not often, anyway. Our evolutionary advantage is quite different. Right now I'm sitting back -- way back -- in a comfortable armchair with a snifter full of Grand Marnier in my left hand (how's that for right-wing?), moving the mouse with my right, quickly and accurately typing these words with my prehensile toes. Like other right-wingers, though most will deny it when asked, I also have a small and elegant tail: it's the one sure sign.

P.S. to the Sarge: I love Marty Crane as much as you do, but don't knock Niles and Frasier. I'm pretty sure they have tails and prehensile toes, too.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
March 09, 2002
The Laughter Of His Enemies

The ancient Greeks thought that one of the worst things in life was to be forced to endure "the laughter of one's enemies" (Medea's words). Ted Rall should know, after the parodies by cruel Jim Treacher and Sneaking Suspicions, crueler (and slyly anonymous) Gizmosis, and cruelest of all Protein Wisdom, whose title, 'Terror Prick', will forever be Ted Rall's true name in my mind. (For those who come late to this, U.S.S. Clueless provides a link to the original offense that will not give Rall a hit, while Tim Blair quotes more damning Ralliana.) Indulging in such laughter without being subject to it was of course one of life's little pleasures for the ancient Greeks. Though rather unChristian, the attitude persists. As you will see, I am certainly not immune to it.

Protein Wisdom's diagnosis of Rall's problem is a mere guess, though an amusing one. Though the two are not mutually exclusive, I would guess that Rall's inadequacy is not so much sexual as professional. Surely it's the fact that he'll never be Jeff MacNelly, or Gary Trudeau, or even (God help us) Herblock that really enrages Rall. Whether we compare basic drawing ability, visual and verbal wit, or plausibility and decency of the political attitudes implied in each strip, Rall is not competent to shine MacNelly's metaphorical shoes. Deep in his heart, or whatever organ fills the place in his chest where normal human beings have a heart -- perhaps his spleen or an extra loop of large intestine --, Rall must know that he can't draw, that he's not funny, and that his political opinions are vicious and, wherever they can be checked against reality, demonstrably wrong. These are the inadequacies that have embittered him. Of course, he may be sexually inadequate, too: who would ever want to find out, or would be willing to admit it afterwards?

Three tangential questions:

1. Does he really have a wife? I'm dubious, especially when he assures us that if he died, his wife would certainly not appear on television to mourn him. There's only one way he could be absolutely sure.

2. What should we call the genre of the Gizmosis and Protein Wisdom parodies, in which successful cartooning requires no drawing talent at all? Visual sampling? Minimalist collage (only two parts)? How about karaoke cartooning? As with the musical kind, the performer provides only the words, and must fit them to the style and musical/pictorial background. But here the words are different.

3. Not to give Rall any ideas, but what is the legal status of a parody in which only the words are not borrowed from the target? I have graphics editing software: can I be a parody cartoonist, too? Do I have to scan the picture and reshade it, or draw a copy by hand and modify it -- do they even sell tracing paper any more? --, or will a dot-for-dot electronic copy of Rall's work with my own words inserted count as my own work? Instapundit is a lawyer: maybe he can tell us.

I certainly hope the Rall parodies are legally unimpeachable. After all, besides his other unpleasant traits, we already know that Rall's a litigious bastard. The Ted Rall-Danny Hellman lawsuit (Gizmosis provides links) reminds me of the old Lillian Hellmann-Mary McCarthy lawsuit, which ended only when one of them died. (It's odd that both should include Hellman(n)s. If they were related, we could all nod our heads sagely and say "what goes round, comes round".)

Legal clarification: In calling Ted Rall "a litigious bastard", I do not mean to say, imply, or suggest that he was born out of wedlock, nor to allude in any way to his abandonment by his father. Illegitimacy and abandonment are not the same thing, and I am merely stating that Ted Rall is prone to filing lawsuits ("litigious") and a worthless, contemptible, evil human being ("bastard"). And that, Terror Prick, is protected speech! Hahahahahahahahaha!

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 PM
Prediction: The European Union, Where Will It All End?

The European Union is finally starting to look like a country or at least some sort of country-like (patrioid?) sovereign entity. It has its own rather ugly currency and the rudiments of an army. It already has enough in the way of police powers to severely punish British grocers who sell non-metric bananas. And it seems to have found some way to tax citizens of its constituent soon-to-be-former countries to pay for all this. I think it is time to begin pondering where it will all end.

I have no professional training in astrology, augury, or extispicy (love that word!), and no Jamaican blood (though Miss Cleo may not, either), but here's my prediction:

The European Union will break up before the century is out, probably with several decades to spare. The end will most likely be bloody. Even decadent western Europeans will not tolerate central rule by unelected and mindlessly intrusive bureaucrats forever, especially when they look around the world and see other countries prospering in freedom while they wallow in centralized stagnation. (I hope that these other countries will include the U.S., though that remains to be seen. Bush's steel tariff decision is not a good sign.) Nor do I think it likely that the new rulers will ever allow any country that joins to leave the union. With the problem of paying for all those pensions, even allowing individuals to leave is not to be counted on, at least so long as they are young and productive. Thanks to gun control, among other factors, the demise of the E.U. seems likely to be as long and drawn out as that of the U.S.S.R. or Yugoslavia, and the results just as messy. My crystal ball is hazy, but I think I see French and Italian refugees fleeing to post-Mullah Iran and post-Saddam Iraq, perhaps even as far as post-Fidel Cuba. All three seem better long-term bets for political and economic success than the E.U.: if nothing else, they are likely to have learned from the mistakes (to put it politely) of their current rulers. If England stays out of the E.U., which remains to be seen, will it be Europe's Taiwan, providing a cruel example of freedom for enslaved continentals from just over the horizon? Of course, I hope I am wrong, and that the E.U. will eventually break up as smoothly and politely as Czechoslovakia. But that doesn't seem likely. That it will break up within the next generation or two seems certain.

P.S. I've been mulling over this question for several years. I suppose I should have published my prediction at the new millennium, but I didn't have a blog then.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
Ancient Roman REMFs?

The Instapundit suggests that even the Roman legions must have had REMFs (Rear Echelon Mother F---ers). Indeed they did. In Book I, chapter 39 of his Gallic Wars, Caesar has something to say about them, and their reaction when they hear that the German chieftain Ariovistus is headed their way with a large army.

(The Latin text will be found here, an awkwardly literal 19th-century translation here. All the good ones are still in copyright and therefore unwebbable. My books are all in storage 900 miles from here, so I've adapted the web version for readability.)

While Caesar is away from camp requisitioning provisions, his men hear from the local Gauls and traders

. . . that the Germans were men of huge stature, of incredible bravery and experience in arms, that when they met them, they often could not endure even the expressions on their faces and the fierceness of their gaze.

Shades of the mighty never-defeated Pashtun hordes of last October! Whether the locals are sincere or just teasing the Romans, the effect on the inexperienced junior officers is dramatic:

. . . suddenly so great a fear took hold of the entire army that it greatly disturbed all their minds and spirits. This first arose from the military tribunes, the prefects, and the others who had accompanied Caesar from the City [= Rome] out of friendship and had little experience in military affairs. Alleging various reasons which they said made it necessary for them to leave, they requested to be allowed to withdraw with his consent. Some, moved by shame, stayed behind to avoid the suspicion of cowardice. These could neither control their expressions nor even sometimes hold back their tears, but hid in their tents and either bewailed their fate or deplored with their comrades the general danger. Wills were being signed and witnessed all over the camp. By the expressions and cowardice of these men, even those who possessed great experience in the camp, the common soldiers and the centurions [roughly = sergeants] and those who were in command of the cavalry were gradually disturbed. Those who wished to be thought less cowardly said that they did not dread the enemy, but were worried about the narrowness of the roads and the vastness of the forests which lay between them and Ariovistus, or that supplies could not be brought up readily enough. Some even told Caesar that when he gave orders for the camp to be moved and the troops to advance, the soldiers would not obey his command, nor advance, because of their fear.

Comment seems superfluous.

For another eternal military type, consider the Roman centurion known as Cedo Alteram, roughly translatable as Sergeant 'Gimme Another One'. The historian Tacitus tells us about him in his account of the mutinies after the death of Augustus in 14 A.D. (Annals 1.23). The Latin is here, and a rather better 19th-century translation, which I quote, here:

[The mutinous soldiers] thrust out the tribunes [= higher officers] and the camp-prefect; they plundered the baggage of the fugitives, and they killed a centurion, Lucilius, to whom, with soldiers' humour, they had given the name "Bring another", because when he had broken one vine-stick on a man's back, he would call in a loud voice for another and another.

Not exactly 'fragging', but close. All centurions had knotty vinewood staffs as symbols of authority, and used them to beat their soldiers. What was different about 'Cedo Alteram' Lucilius is that he always had someone standing by (his 'bat boy'?) with a stack of fresh sticks, since he kept breaking them.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 08, 2002
More Ancient Jokes

My favorite ancient joke is attributed to Diogenes the Cynic, who lived in a tub and went around with a lantern looking for an honest man, just to mention the most famous stories about him. Here is the story, from Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of the Philosophers (6.40, if you want to look up the Greek):

When Plato had defined Man as a featherless biped, and was admired for it, he [= Diogenes] plucked a chicken and brought it into the lecture-room and said "Here is Plato's Man". After that, 'broad-nailed' was added to the definition.

The Greek actually specifies a male fowl, but 'chicken' sounds funnier in English than 'rooster' and less ambiguous than 'cock'. I often think of Diogenes when passing the poultry bins at the supermarket.

One of Jonah Goldberg's entries in NRO's On the Corner today reminds me of another anecdote about Diogenes (Diogenes Laërtius 6.35):

He used to say that most people are so nearly mad that a finger makes all the difference. For, if you walk around with your middle finger extended, someone will think you mad, but, if it's the little finger, he will not think so.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 07, 2002
Down The Memory Hole

Tim Blair, quoting the Instapundit, notes that various idiotic pieces savaged by bloggers have disappeared from their sites: Ted Rall's latest cartoon from the New York Times, the now-famous Alabama Olive Garden piece from the Guardian, and something by Philip Weiss on Australia from the New York Observer. This is for the most part good news, though there's something to be said for keeping them in the public pillory indefinitely. As Instapundit says, it also shows the "power of the Blogosophere in action!".

What I want to know is whether these bozos will get paid for their ephemeral offenses. I would really like to see some public unpleasantness -- maybe even a lawsuit or two -- as the writers (and one cartoonist) argue that they did all the work asked of them, while the journals argue that work so shoddy that it must be withdrawn from circulation immediately is not worth paying for. Let the carnage begin!

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
Linked Again

Thanks to PejmanPundit for the permalink. I'm sorry he finds my weevils "creepy and worrisome" and even sorrier that he didn't apply the phrase to the whole site. Then I could have put it up top as my motto, like Andrew Sullivan's "'Too vile to read' -- Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist".

It's not worth a separate header -- who would ever want to link to it? -- but my posts should be more frequent starting tomorrow when Spring Break begins. Up next: more ancient jokes, and some geopolitical thoughts on the future course of the war.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 05, 2002
A Roman Anecdote

On a more serious note, Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat might want to think about this story from the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius (Book I, Chapter 19). There is a scholarly translation at Diotima (University of Kentucky) and a Latin text at the homepage of the Later Latin Society in Tasmania. Here is an abridged summary:

An old woman visits Tarquinius Superbus, seventh and last king of Rome, and offers to sell him nine books of oracles for a very high price. He laughs at her, thinking her senile. She has brought along a small stove (a hibachi, I guess) and burns three of them in front of him, then offers the other six at the same price. Tarquinius laughs even more, she calmly burns three more, and Tarquinius panics and buys the last three for the same price she had named for all nine. The woman is never seen again. The books are later known as the Sibylline books, and are consulted by the appropriate religious authorities in emergencies.

If the Israelis can figure out how to get a similar message across, maybe the Palestinians will start negotiating in good faith. I don't see how their present methods can possibly improve the best previous Israeli offer.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 PM
An Ancient Joke

Is ancient humor still funny? Judge for yourself. Here is a typical joke from an ancient Greek joke-book, number 9 in the so-called Philogelos or Laughter-Lover:

Wishing to teach his donkey not to eat, a pedant did not offer him any food. When the donkey died of hunger, he said "I've had a great loss. Just when he had learned not to eat, he died."

The first 102 jokes are all about the scholastikos, the educated or over-educated man with no common sense. The word might be translated 'bookworm', 'egghead', 'pedant', 'professor' (or perhaps 'perfesser'), or even 'poindexter'. None is entirely satisfactory, though the stereotype persists.

If I don't get enough hits in the next 24 hours, I'll quote more ancient jokes. Threat or promise -- you be the judge!

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
'You Take That Back!'

Thanks to Bjørn Stærk for the link to my previous post. That seems to have tripled my hits just for Monday. I will soon see what the later Instapundit link and Samizdata permalink have done to my numbers -- and to this month's Earthlink bill. They don't seem to have crashed my site, which is a good sign.

By the way, if many Americans have trouble with the Ø and the Æ in Bjørn's names, that's not entirely cultural insensitivity and intellectual arrogance on our part. As far as I know, English is the only European language that has no special accented characters, just the Latin alphabet with a few basic late-Latin additions (J, V, and W). No need for Ô or Ñ or Å in English, thank God. Or for Ð and Þ (eth and thorn) any time in the last several hundred years, for that matter.

However, I must respectfully disagree with Bjørn's comments, which I quote here not such much from vanity as because I don't know any other easy and convenient way to preserve them securely in my own archives to make sense of my reply. He writes:

Dear God! Why the blogosphere is like the Borg Collective. (Dr. Weevil obviously belongs to the Borg is Good camp of trekkies - yes, they do exist.)

For better or worse, I hardly qualify as a Trekkie. Yes, I've seen every episode of Star Trex: Next Generation more than once, except for the early one where they visit 'Primitive African Tribesmen in Lionskins' planet. (I've seen the first five minutes of that one several times, but have never been able to look any further.) However, that was not entirely by choice. Living in Tuscaloosa for seven years without Cable TV inevitably gave me more than the doctor-recommended maximum of STNG and In the Heat of the Night reruns. (There was one year when whoever was in charge of scheduling STNG reruns must have been drinking on the job: they would show the second half of a two-parter without the first, then show it again three nights later. Just grab one off the shelf, slap it in the machine, and pour another glass, I guess.) And I've seen a lot of episodes of the other Star Treks, though far from all of them. And I will never attend a Star Trek convention, start a Star Trek site, wear a Star Trek uniform or Klingon suit, or do any of the other things true Trekkies do.

In fact, none of the various Star Treks makes my top-ten list of favorite TV shows, though I do think that the various series come up with some powerful myths or symbols or archetypes that any literate westerner would and should be familiar with. Most of these involve creatures who are either hyperrational, or created (and know it), or both: Mr. Spock, the holographic doctor, Cmdr. Data and his evil brother. But the Borg are up there, too. One reason for my post was to tease Libertarian friends and bloggers by pointing out the many superficial similarities between Blogworld and the ultimate soul-crushing collective monolith.

Now that I've mentioned a top-ten list, I guess I'd better come up with one. Here goes.

Shows I never tire of:

  1. Frasier -- My header is quoted from it. Less Niles-and-Daphne, more Bulldog, Lilith, and Bebe would be nice.
  2. Beavis & Butt-Head -- We need the complete oeuvre on DVD, with the music review inserts, and we need it now! (They only discuss two songs that I have ever bought, or considered buying, but that's OK. I'd like to see what they would say about some Dwight Yoakam and Highway 101 videos, but I suppose now we'll never know.)
  3. The Simpsons -- What can I say? You knew this would be on the list.
  4. Duckman -- Shouldn't four years in the 'Great Books' course at St. John's College and a later career as a Latin teacher have saved me from liking this sort of thing? Or is Duckman the most Aristophanic show ever made, as a Canadian classics professor once told me?

Worth seeing more than once, but only if enough time has passed to half-way forget them (too bad I don't know enough HTML to renumber them 5-8):

  1. Daria -- And that was before I started teaching high school.
  2. Malcolm in the Middle -- And I don't even have any kids, though I do have six nephews and no nieces (pure chance, not ancient Greek methods of family planning, which were pretty much the same as Peter Singer's).
  3. News Radio.
  4. Red Dwarf.

Shows I always look forward to seeing, but seldom want to see again:

  1. Just Shoot Me. Not that great a show, but for some reason I like it
  2. Ally McBeal.

I have the feeling that I may be forgetting something important, but that should do for now. I do often watch Sci-Fi and read detective stories (mostly John Dickson Carr, Carter Dickson, and Kinky Friedman), but never the other way around. And I was unaware that anyone had ever suggested that the Borg could be any kind of heroes. They're kidding, right? I certainly was.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 03, 2002
Blogosphere = Borg Collective?

This is probably not an original thought, but I haven't run across it elsewhere yet, so here goes:

How is Blogworld like the Borg Collective? Let me count the ways:

1. We're all linked together into one immense super-brain-like network. The whole is far more intelligent than the sum of its parts, though some of these are pretty smart to begin with.

2. Communication between the parts is near instantaneous.

3. Our self-correcting arguments resemble the self-repairing starships of the Borg. If someone who shall remain nameless thought that an old-journalism story's mention of "Mt. Arafat" in Mecca was a typo for Mt. Ararat, well it didn't take long to correct, did it?

4. If you want to know who made that mistake, who corrected it, where, and when, you can find out easily enough. There's no more privacy in the Blogosphere than in a Borg cube.

5. We're always assimilating new individuals to gain new perspectives. Droves of bellicose women, Libertarian deer-hunters from Kolkata (the city formerly known as Calcutta), newly-right-wing punksters in mourning: all are welcome.

6. In order to survive, bloggers, like Borg drones, must plug into specialized blogging terminals to regenerate at least once a day. The nourishment is purely electronic, but more vital than ordinary gastrointestinal alimentation. (A quadruple-espresso intravenous drip is obviously the next step, at least for those without regular jobs to go to. Then we'd never have to leave the keyboard.)

7. Unless I missed that episode, Borg drones don't seem to be paid any salary for their brutal and strenuous lives of exploration, information-gathering, and conquest.

8. Most important, our mighty collective empire is a threat to the very survival of puny monocephalic (single-headed) and monoencephalic (single-brained) organisms like the Chomskyites and the Fiskians. These vicious but technologically-inferior species either wander their pleasant little green planets (or campuses) in a daze, wondering what hit them, or are so oblivious that they deny that anything bad has happened to them. (By the way, do Robert Fisk's encounters with the Blogosphere remind anyone else of the Pakleds' encounters with the starship Enterprise? For those who have forgotten, Pakleds are race of slow-talking limited-vocabulary intergalactic retards who kidnap Lt. LaForge on Star Trek Next Generation, but are tricked into returning him unharmed with an impressive display of bright-colored gas. That particular episode doesn't seem to come up in the reruns as often as the others. I suppose it's considered insensitive.) In short, Resistance Is Futile. Non-blog journalists can either assimilate or die. The same goes for the music industry, but that's another story.

9. Not least, bloggers are all nerds, and nine readers out of ten knew exactly what I meant by that Pakled comparison before I explained it. The other one can always go to Pakled World for more information, including pictures and sound bites. (By the way, I figure that 'nine out of ten' is not a ratio but the actual number of my readers.)

(signed) The drone formerly known as Dr. Weevil, new designation '1,469,732 of 1,756,411', tertiary adjunct underblogger to the 4096th Bellicose Shoppers' Brigade.

Tangential Notes:

1. If the Blogosphere is the Borg, is Glenn Reynolds the Borg Queen?

2. While we're on the subject of Borg females, male viewers of Star Trek Voyager have been oohing and aahing over Seven of Nine's amazing contours since the series began. Her shape should have come as no surpise. The Borg have always been intergalactic leaders in implant technology. Mostly they go in for the complex and rather kinky metal kind, but it seems they can handle old-fashioned silicon as well.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM

I have now added permanent links to this site and established archive files. Other improvements are imminent, including a not-very-informative 'About Me' file.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
March 02, 2002
Pedantry Alert II: 'Terribles Simplificateurs'

Another pretentious phrase from the not-so-distant past is the French for 'terrible simplifiers', devised by Jacob Burkhardt in 1889 and used as a putdown by Euroweenies and their American sympathizers throughout the Reagan years to describe Reagan in particular and Americans in general. A Google search finds 104 hits. Even then I thought there ought to be an opposite to describe the Chris Pattens of the day: 'terribles complicateurs', or however one would say it in French. (I get exactly one Google hit for that phrase, and the site is in German. Does a Googlewhack count if it's inadvertent?) There are certainly plenty of people insisting that the problems of the world, and in particular the difficulties of waging war on Islamofascism, are far too complex to solve, or even to attempt to solve, so we shouldn't even bother. The need for an accurate and concise phrase to describe these awful people is even more urgent now than it was twenty years ago.

Unfortunately, it is not so simple. I have consulted expert advice, a French professor I'll call 'Dr. Johnson' in honor of his erudition. He tells me that 'terribles complicateurs' is bad French, that there is no French word for 'complicator' and that the only way to express the concept would be a very roundabout "des gens qui s'obstinent à rafistoler des explications alambiquées" or perhaps "des arguments alambiqués". That certainly explains a lot about the French! Not to mention American academics who spend too much time reading French thinkers. Perhaps the Académie Française could come up with something if we asked them nicely. After all, a language with an authoritative body in charge of it ought to be easy enough to change.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 PM
Clinton And American 'Hyperpuissance'

So Bill Clinton thinks that America's status as the world's only hyperpower will inevitably pass, and soon? Here's a report from Canberra, via Transterrestrial Musings. Scroll down to 'America Going Down' (hey, is that a dirty joke?):

Speaking at the 2002 World Congress on the Peaceful Reunification of China and World Peace in Sydney, Mr Clinton said this "brief moment in history" when the US had pre-eminent military, economic and political power, would not last.

"This is just a period, a few decades this will last, and I think that all of us who are Americans should think about this and ask ourselves how do we wish this moment to be judged 50 years from now," he said.

TM's comments on this are good, but I want to add a few points:

How can Clinton possibly know that American power will be so fleeting? The unchallenged domination of Rome in the Mediterranean lasted for centuries, not decades, despite a whole series of emperors that have became bywords for psychotic or moronic rule. From 14 to 68 A.D., Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero ruled in succession, and each has provided fodder for whole volumes of lurid lore, starting with Suetonius. Only a dozen or so years after Nero's premature departure, Domitian (81-96) came to the throne. He may not be a household name, but deserves to be, as I hope to show in a later post. Later on are Heliogabalus, the aptly-named Commodus, and several others equally bad, if not so well-known. The empire trundled along for centuries despite the abysmal quality of most of its rulers. As Adam Smith remarked, there is a lot of ruin in a nation.

Of course, nothing mortal lasts forever, but it is hard to resist the thought that Clinton finds American domination (or American domination when he is no longer president) deplorable, and therefore wishes that it would end sooner rather than later. If so, he is an even bigger fool than most of us imagined, a sociopathic Jimmy Carter. Does he think the world could live together 'in perfect harmony' without any major powers? Or does he think that any of the countries that might conceivably become superpowers in the next few decades could be trusted to do the job as well as the U.S.?

Similarly, those people who, not so long ago, used to go on (and on and on) about 'Late Capitalism', often pretentiously using the German word (Spätkapitalismus) when writing in English, were quite obviously allowing their wishes to corrupt their judgments. (I think it was The American Spectator that once described the Wall Street Journal as "the principal theoretical organ of Spätkapitalismus".) It certainly looks now as if mid- and late-twentieth-century capitalism will turn out to be Mittelkapitalismus at worst, perhaps Frühkapitalismus or even, if the sunnier conservatives and libertarians are right, Urkapitalismus.

Sorry about all the German -- I did promise pedantry. Speaking of which, what is the name for the rhetorical device by which Clinton slyly slides from the long-term indicative (American power won't last forever) to the short-term potential (it can't last long) to the implicit optative (it shouldn't last long)? I've just been introducing my second-year Latin students to the wonders of the subjunctive. Perhaps it shows.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
Pedantry Alert I: 'Hypocracy'

The subtitle of this page promises pedantry, so here goes. I've never been one to overestimate the average quality of thought and expression on the web, and it no longer surprises me to run across gross misspellings and misuses such as 'lay' for 'lie' on the most reputable sites. However, even I was surprised when a Google search on 'hypocracy', which I have been running across a lot lately, came up with "about 10,800" hits. Even worse, only one or two of the first ten sites listed seem to have been compiled by non-native speakers. (Google did ask whether I actually wanted 'hypocrisy', which was nice of them.) I do wish people would learn to spell, but have two points to contribute:

1. Since in Greek hypo means 'under' and -cracy (more or less) 'power', 'hypocracy' could almost mean 'rule of the underclass' -- paging Theodore Dalrymple!

2. If so many contemporary actors practice hypocrisy, e.g. promising to leave the country if Bush is elected and then failing to do so, they come by it honestly, as it were. 'Hypocrite' and 'hypocrisy' have nothing to do with the '-crat' and '-cracy' words, but come from the Greek word for 'actor'. Any actor is therefore necessarily a hypocrite, at least etymologically. I suppose the idea is that those who spend their working lives pretending to be who they are not and repeating lines that they do not believe would tend to develop the characteristic we now know as hypocrisy, and that it would tend to invade their 'off-duty' lives. So maybe we should cut the Baldwin clan some slack, on the grounds that they just can't help it. Then again, maybe not.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM