April 30, 2002
Nick Puts His Thumb On The Scales

Peter Pribik and Nick Denton have been arguing which is worse, European or American racism. No clear victor has emerged, and the contest will have to be decided on points. But this particular part of Denton's post (near the end) caught my eye:

Britain had an ethnically Jewish prime minister in the 19th century, France in the 1980s. And what was the US still doing in 2000: wondering whether Joe Liebermann's Jewishness would be a liability to the Democrat ticket.

If you're going to count Christianized ethnic Jews like Disraeli on the European side of the scale, you have to count them on the U.S. side as well. Thirty six years before the Democrats nominated Joe Lieberman (one N, please) for vice president, the Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater for president. He was crushed in the general election, but that had little or nothing to do with his Jewish ancestry. After all, the six states that he won (Alabama, Mississippi, Lousiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arizona) have never been thought of as hotbeds of philoSemitism.

One reason I mention this is that I'm still irritated about the many smug Democratic claims in the last election that Lieberman was the first Jew on a national ticket. First practicing Jew? Absolutely. But surely ethnicity is at least as important as practice when you're worrying about prejudice or boasting about overcoming it. Most Jew-haters these days seem to care more about ancestry than religious practice, and not at all about whether the Jewish ancestry is on the father's side (as with Goldwater) or the mother's (where it counts religiously).

Of course, I was also annoyed by the claim that Nader's running-mate in 1996 and 2000, Winona LaDuke, was "the first Native American to run for national office" -- or even the second, after La Donna Harris, Barry Commoner's running mate in 1980. In fact, the first was Charles Curtis of Kansas, who ran for Vice President, and won, as Herbert Hoover's running mate in 1928. There is an interesting biography on the U.S. Senate website, with details of his life on the Kaw reservation, career as a jockey, and much more.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:34 PM
April 29, 2002
Shoes and Virginia Postrel

Virginia Postrel is looking for facts and figures for a book (4/26, no permalink):

Does anyone know where I can get some sort of reliable count of the number of clothes in a typical American's wardrobe? (Don't suggest the Census unless you've found a specific source. As far as I can tell, they don't ask about clothes. I also struck out with ACNielsen.)

One possible source would be the moving and storage industry. Their figures might even be more reliable than those of the clothing industry, since they would have no incentive to exaggerate. I paid my way through college (early 70's) working for Mayflower as a mover, packer, and driver. I could have gathered such information then, if I'd know it would ever have come in handy, though it would have distracted me from my work and slightly lowered my productivity. Any blogreaders out there working as packers? With advancing computerization, it's possible that moving companies now have precise, detailed figures on how many wardrobe cartons, 1.5, 3.0, and 6.0 cubic foot cartons, and so on are needed to pack the average family. Of course, except for some cross-town moves, owners always pack some of their clothes to take along themselves, which would tend to skew the figures. Still, I wonder if the moving industry has ever commissioned a study of clothing ownership rates. It would be useful for them to know.

Tangential anecdote: I once moved a household in which the husband was a lieutenant commander in the Navy and the wife had over 200 pairs of shoes by actual count. (I no longer recall the precise number, but it was in the 210-220 range.) We thought we'd never finish packing that walk-in closet. She had a lot of sweaters, too. After that, I thought people were a little hard on Imelda Marcos for owning 800 pairs of shoes. After all, she was married to the dictator of a medium-sized country, and 800 for Mrs. Marcos seems less out of line than 200 for an otherwise ordinary navy wife.

And you thought I was going to discuss 'sensible shoes' libertarians . . . .

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:30 PM
April 28, 2002
Muslim Men and Infidel Women II

I feel rather like an entomologist studying dung beetles, but the idea (previous entry) that Jewish women are fair game for conquering Muslims can be viewed from another angle. Some of what Muslims are up to in the Middle East today seems to involve a regression to preMuslim (and preChristian) practices. Is two examples enough to prove a trend? If so, consider these two:

1. In ancient times, victorious pagan armies routinely slaughtered all the men they captured and enslaved the women and children, using the women as sex slaves. The mullah's exhortation would not be out of place in the Iliad, whose plot begins with a quarrel over a captive woman. In fact, there is at least one Homeric passage in which a Greek leader urges his troops into battle by promising that if they can sack Troy they will soon be sleeping with the wives of the Trojans they have killed. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find the passage at the moment. But you weren't really going to look it up, were you?

2. It's a bit of a stretch, but the willingness of Palestinian parents to send their children out to be killed reminds me of the ancient Philistine and Phoenician practice of sacrificing babies to Baal. I haven't read the Koran, but I'm fairly sure that a true Muslim would, or should, find such pagan behavior abhorrent.

Like many of the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, modern Muslims seem to do a lot of things for their religion that are actually against their religion.

Tangential Postscript: I wish I had a copy of a cartoon I saw a few years ago. Two scientists in labcoats are looking into microscopes. One says to the other: "The one thing I don't like about studying dung beetles is their shit-eating little grins." If we can just get Muslim readers to laugh at jokes like this, the battle for western civilization will be half-won.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:48 PM
Muslim Men and Infidel Women I

Muslim attitudes towards sex and women continue to raise bile, or at least eyebrows. The latest statements to cause offense (also astonishment and bitter laughter) are the suggestion that Jewish women are fair game for rape and enslavement by Muslim men, and the request that the Saudi crown prince's plane not be guided by female air traffic controllers. (Both links from Little Green Footballs.)

As I wrote a month ago:

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.

Norah Vincent (link via Instapundit) has already suggested that sexual inadequacy is rampant (perhaps not the mot juste) in the Muslim world. It seems to me that many men in today's Islamic world suffer from an unusually virulent strain of the so-called 'Madonna-whore complex', dividing all women into the virtuous asexual Madonnas and the hopelessly depraved majority. That would be bad enough, but they combine this with an equally virulent ethnic and religious bigotry. It appears that all Madonnas are Muslims and all Muslims are Madonnas: any exceptions to the latter rule are promptly stoned. At the same time, all the (unstoned) whores are infidels, and just about all the infidels are whores, the whoriest of all being Jews and Americans. Whether this is wishful thinking or actual opinion, who can tell? In their hearts they must suspect it is, shall we say, oversimplified.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:43 PM
Natural Law Economics?

When Thomas Sowell posts a column of Random Thoughts, he is very close to a blogger. Like the Impromptus at National Review Online, all this column needs to qualify as a blog is a few subtitles, some links, and not to be posted all at once. And not to be earning the author any money, I guess. (Thanks to the Banana Counting Monkey for the link to Sowell. I really should be keeping an eye out for his stuff.)

I have some further thoughts on one of today's entries:

Capitalism is not an "ism." It is closer to being the opposite of an "ism," because it is simply the freedom of ordinary people to make whatever economic transactions they can mutually agree to.

It seems to me that he could, and probably should, go further and claim that capitalism is economics. If it doesn't work, it's not capitalism.

An example should show what I mean:

Way too many people talk about 'choosing between', say, fixed exchange rates and floating exchange rates, as if they were equally valid and (dare I say it?) natural choices. A newly independent country, or a country which has just gone through a change of regime, will often switch from one to the other.

In fact, exchange rates float. A government can set up a fixed exchange rate in addition to the floating one, but that will inevitably lead to more trouble as the rates diverge. And they will inevitably diverge, since a floating rate will go up and down at least a little bit, while a fixed rate obviously won't. A government can attempt to outlaw floating exchange rates by outlawing free trade in currencies, turning the currency market into a black market (like that for drugs) and shutting it down. But it can only hope to succeed by applying North Korean or Kampuchean levels of repression. Even then, trading outside the country will continue, and the currency will still have a floating exchange rate on the world market, at least until the actual value of the currency gets so close to zero that it's not worth trading. That usually doesn't take long.

My conclusion is that exchange rates have floated, do float, will float, and should not be kept from floating. That's not just the opinion of some (capitalist) economists, contradicted by other (socialist) economists, it's observable fact.

The difference between fixed and floating exchange rates is not like the difference between Coke and Pepsi, which is merely a matter of taste. (Coke tastes far better to me, but I wouldn't want to impose my own good taste on the poor misguided fools who continue to drink Pepsi.) Nor is it like the difference between chemotherapy and radiation treatment, two methods of achieving the same goal, either of which may be more effective in a particular situation. It is more like the difference between antibiotics and magic ointment: one (usually) works, the other doesn't. One is science, the other is not. (Another possible analogy would be capitalist economics : socialist economics :: astronomy : astrology. But these do not claim to be doing the same thing.)

I hope my total lack of professional training in Economics isn't showing. And yes, I know that fixed exchange rates are far less common than they were a few years back. I'm not arguing against them, rather using them as an argument that capitalist, free-market economics is economics. I suspect that my remarks on Coke and Pepsi will attract the most comment. Try to stick to the point, guys.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:33 AM
April 27, 2002
Getting Linked

Very interesting post at U.S.S. Clueless on blog clusters, groups of blogs that link to each other and are mostly unaware of the existence of the other clusters. One point could stand a bit more discussion (mostly for the tiro blogger):

The big disadvantage of blogs is finding them, and for the writers the disadvantage is finding readers, and to some extent that's why the clusters formed. The links tended to be of the form, "If you like my site, you'll probably also like these here." Just putting a new site out there, then, becomes an exercise in futility because without links to it no-one will find or read it. And thus people who are inspired to try to join a cluster are reduced to writing to those already in them and begging for links. (I receive my share of these.)

My advice for those who want to be noticed is that there are better ways to get linked than blunt requests. Here are some possibilities:

1. Link and wait. Many (most?) bloggers autogoogle obsessively, usually every day or two. If someone links or (even better) permalinks me, I soon find out. Although I never feel obligated to reciprocate, anyone who links to me has already earned a fair measure of good will just by displaying good taste in linkage.

2. When writing to established bloggers, there are far better ways of putting it than "I have a new blog. Please please please read it, quote it, link it, permalink me!" Try something along the lines of "You may be interested in the latest entry in my new blog, which takes up something you posted and develops it further." It never hurts to show that you have read and understood the entry you link to, and that you can take the argument further, not just link it.

3. Go to a Blogger Bash, say hello, be amusing, show familiarity with the works of your elders and betters, join in the arguments and show that you have something to contribute on the issues of the day, take pictures, buy them all drinks and pizza . . . . Again, I can't promise to link every blogger I meet, but I do always look at the website. If it's any good, that should be enough.

4. The easiest and quickest method is to take advantage of the comment feature found on all the better blogs (take that, Instapundit!) and write good comments. I read all the comments on my site, sometimes reply to them, and often look at the websites of the comment-authors, if I don't already know them. I can't honestly say that I have yet read a comment, said "that's brilliant", and immediately added a permalink to the author's site, but I certainly find that clever comments on my blog (and others) help me remember people's names and make me look forward to reading more of their words, either in comments or on their sites.

One final bit of advice from someone who hasn't really earned the right to be so avuncular: You Can't Hurry Links. Be patient. Once you have a dozen or more posts up, someone who stumbles across your site is much more likely to find at least one or two of them interesting, bookmark the site for a return visit, and maybe even link to it, then or later. If everyone looks at it before it really gets rolling, they may be less likely to come back.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:29 PM
Guns : Gun Control :: Flying : Driving?

This item in the Volokhs' blog yesterday reminded me of something I've been mulling over for a year or two, but kept forgetting to write down. It would take a serious statistical study to back up (not prove) my hypothesis, but it seems worth putting on record even without numbers. I haven't seen it elsewhere, though I haven't managed to get hold of More Guns, Less Crime, which would be one obvious place to look.

Here are three well-known facts that are worth trying to fit together:

1. Crime rates have dropped in American states that passed concealed-carry or shall-issue laws.

2. Countries that have attempted complete gun control (the U.K. and Australia) have had huge increases in their gun-crime rates, increases that show no sign of stopping.

(Questions for statisticians: Has anyone calculated the trends? Are the increases accelerating or leveling off? Have enough years even passed to calculate that? If present trends in all three countries continue, when will the U.K. and Australian murder rates pass the U.S. rate?)

3. At the same time, schoolhouse massacres and other mass murders are generally considered more common in the U.S. Other countries may be catching up, and Germany seems to have set a record for a schoolhouse massacre just the other day, but this may well be true.

This paragraph added half an hour after first posting: The last point is controversial and likely untrue. Instapundit links to an article by John Lott and William Landes which argues that concealed-carry laws are the only factor that can be shown to reduce multiple-victim public shootings. They know far more about the subject than I do. Still, for those who are unconvinced, and think that America's lack of gun control encourages massacres, my argument may be useful.

What I offer is not so much a hypothesis as a possible analogy.

(I love analogies. Monday's blogger : journalist :: slut : whore analogy never really took off -- too tasteless? --, but Tuesday's set of animal analogies has been more successful: see the update for a couple of links, one of which was even Instapundited.)

To come at last to my point:

Is the difference between controlled and uncontrolled guns like the difference between driving and flying? It is notorious that driving is far more dangerous than flying, but flying seems more dangerous because plane crashes, though rare, typically kill dozens or hundreds of people at once, while car crashes kill tens of thousands per year in the U.S. alone, but only one or two or five or six at a time.

Similarly, it seems to me pretty well established now that countries with strict gun control will, all other things being equal, lose more lives to gun crime, but mostly only one or two at a time, so that they may seem safer, even if they are not. At the same time, countries with widespread legal gun ownership, such as the U.S., Switzerland, and Israel, will see fewer citizens murdered overall, but it may well be that more of them will be in large-scale massacres, so that these countries will continue to seem more dangerous, while actually being safer.

(Please note my proviso about 'other things being equal'. I am well aware that the murder rate in the U.S. is still higher than in the U.K.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:05 PM
April 26, 2002
Sieges Ancient And Modern

Steven den Beste at U.S.S. Clueless has an excellent post on sieges and how to end them, with special reference to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. I have one historical quibble, one tangential point, and one relevant point:

1. First the tangent. In conquering Gaul, Julius Caesar was once besieger and besieged simultaneously. He surrounded a large Gallic army in Alesia, building a wall to keep them in. Other Gauls gathered an army to lift the siege, so Caesar built a second wall to keep them out. For a while the Romans were occupying only a doughnut-shaped area outside Alesia and inside the second Gallic army, which built yet another wall to keep Caesar's army penned into its doughnut. Counting the walls of the town, that makes four walls in all. It was important to keep the two Gallic armies from joining, since Caesar's army was big enough to defeat either of them separately, but could not easily take on both at once, except with a defensive wall or two. Caesar tells the story at length in Book VII of his Gallic Wars.

2. Second, the quibble. There is one other way to end a siege: betrayal from inside. One of the ancient Greeks -- a successor of Alexander the Great, I think -- liked to say that there was no wall so high that a donkey loaded with gold couldn't climb it. My books are all in storage, so I can't prove it, but many ancient sieges ended when someone on the inside opened a postern gate in the middle of the night to let the besiegers in, either for money, or out of political sympathy, or because he thought it was the only way he would survive.

Of course, this has little to do with the Church of the Nativity. I do have one relatively original point on that:

3. Some people have suggested pumping gas into the church, either tear gas to flush out the Palestinians, or anesthetic gas to put them and their hostages to sleep. It seems unlikely that either of these would work. Given the size and complex shape of the building, it would surely be impossible to calculate the dosage correctly and deliver just the right concentration of any gas to every part of every room.

Anesthetic gas would almost certainly kill some of the weaker and more vulnerable hostages, if they happened to be in rooms with higher concentrations, while leaving some of the gunmen awake and alert enough to do a lot of damage to Israeli soldiers coming in the doors or windows. That sort of thing always works on Star Trek, but has it ever been done in real life? Professional anesthesiologists have enough trouble getting the dosage just right even in ideal conditions, i.e. well-equipped operating rooms, and lose quite a few patients.

As for tear gas, it would no doubt be effective in causing a stampede, but could easily kill those who were trapped behind locked doors. No problem if they're all gunmen, but having hostages choke to death in windowless rooms or hallways would not be a good way to end the siege. It didn't exactly help Janet Reno's reputation.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:02 PM
April 25, 2002
Another Unmatched American Product

Among much else of interest, Eric Olsen of Tres Producers quotes someone named Henry Jenkins who compares bloggers to cockroaches.

The commonest species found in the U.S. is the so-called 'German cockroach', Blatta (or Blattella) germanica. It is about half an inch long, and abundant in most American cities. I'm sure most of my readers have seen more specimens than they would like.

Since moving from Manhattan to small-town Maine in early February, I haven't actually seen any. My students claim they are not found in the state, but that seems unlikely: even if they can't survive outside (in fact, it's snowing right now), surely there are a few in some of the larger and dirtier buildings, at least those that are heated year round? Not that I plan to go looking for them.

There is also a midsized 'Oriental cockroach', but the largest species of cockroach in the world is the 'American cockroach', Periplaneta americana. Not only is it a good two inches long, it can also fly, though it doesn't normally do so when the lights are on. If the German cockroach is the Volkswagen of the cockroach family, the American is the Cadillac or Lincoln Continental. The fact that it is the biggest, best, and most disgusting species of cockroach is one of the many things that make me proud to be an American. My illustration, not much more than life-sized, was borrowed from Ohio State University's Fact Sheet on the American cockroach: most of the facts provided are methods for killing them. (From the 89 illustrations provided by Google, I thought I should use a line drawing rather than a color picture so as not to upset my more sensitive readers.)

By the way, since blatta is the general Latin term for cockroach, the technical name for 'killing cockroaches' is 'blatticide'. A friend has suggested on the Internet Classics list that this is onomatopoeic. In fact the Latin name looks as if it too may be: scurry scurry scurry scurry BLATT!

Update: Since OSU seems to have moved or deleted both the picture and the text, I have now (4/28, 9:15 AM) substituted a different image, from a Dutch site which shall remain nameless. I only mention that it is Dutch so I can quote the title: De Amerikaanse Kakkerlak. I hope that's not enough for them to track me down and sue me.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:06 PM
April 24, 2002
Late Thoughts On State Lotteries

This entry is a little stale, since it starts from Jeff Jarvis's post of last Tuesday (scroll down a few lines to "More lottery madness"). I agree with Jarvis that it is wrong to take from millions and give it all to one who will probably waste it anyway, and with Matt Welch, whom he quotes, that "the state should not be involved in actively promoting vice to its own citizens". However, I also think there is more to be said on the subject.

Defenders of lotteries say they’re selling dreams. Even if you never win, you can fondly imagine winning, and that makes your horrible life more livable. It’s rather like reading (perhaps not quite the right verb) Penthouse or Playboy: even if your wife or girlfriend is old or fat or ugly or all three, you can pretend, at least for a moment, that you’re sleeping with someone far more attractive. (Of course, the same goes, mutatis mutandis, for those who are female, gay, or both. There is a magazine for every taste -- usually several.)

One could conceivably make a case for a redistributive lottery if it substantially helped a lot of people without hurting anyone much. If the recent top prize of $325,000,000 had been divided into $50,000 chunks, no fewer than 6500 people could have had their financial situations substantially improved and in many (perhaps most) cases totally transformed. A working-class family could pay off its credit card debt, buy a car or two, perhaps put a down payment on a house. For many families, that could make the difference between sending a child or two to college or not. People who had never been to Europe or Asia or South America could take long vacations there. In short, distributing $50,000 each to 6500 different people would do a lot of good for a lot of people.

It would not necessarily do much harm to the losers, if it could somehow be fixed so that no one spent more than $5 or $10 per week on lottery tickets. (I don’t mean to suggest that such a restriction would be either feasible or constitutional.) On the other hand, I doubt that it would be possible to get the prize money anywhere near $325,000,000 unless a lot of chumps were spending a lot more than $5 or $10 per week on lottery tickets. Still, it could be argued that most of the non-winners would have wasted the money anyway if there were no lottery, spending their extra few dollars a week on other addictive substances such as snack foods, liquor, drugs, or porn.

I see no excuse for giving one person more money than he could possibly know what to do with. How do you spend $325 million? Given the often-demonstrated effect of enormous wealth in attracting a whole crowd of new ‘friends’ and ‘financial advisors’ and ‘investment counselors’, it is more than possible that the whole amount will disappear within 10 years (as many have predicted).

Even $50,000 is not always an unmixed blessing. In Maryland (I think it was) a few years ago, some guy who lived in a trailer won $1,000,000 in the state lottery. As usual, this meant $50,000 per year for 20 years, but he managed to drink himself to death before the second check arrived. I suppose his alcoholic tendencies had been kept in check by lack of money to indulge them. Either that, or he couldn’t think of anything else worth spending his new-found wealth on, like a car or a condo or something.

Like Welch, I have always wondered about the morality of having a government encourage, rather than merely allow, the kind of behavior that is often addictive. Defenders say that people are going to gamble anyway, but just because something should be legal doesn’t mean it should be government-controlled, still less government-encouraged. What’s next? Will state liquor stores actively encourage drunkenness and alcoholism? Possible slogans: “If you’d stocked up last night, you could already be drunk!” “Get sloshed and help balance the budget!” Will Nevada nationalize (statize?) their whorehouses and put the girls in spiffy government uniforms? Possible slogans: “Why wait ‘til the third date? Get laid tonight!” “Dinner and roses would cost you just as much, and our girls are guaranteed to deliver!” I’m sure readers can come up with more amusing slogans for the comments. If my parallels sound ridiculous, are they really any more ridiculous than state-run lotteries?

Another cautionary tale about lotteries:

Winning a lottery can be a bad thing in more ways than one.

In 1960 or thereabouts, my mother won a raffle for the first and last time in her life. The prize was a whole turkey -- quite a useful bird, no matter what the season, especially for a woman with four children under 10, married to a lieutenant (junior-grade) in the Navy who was (I think) off on a round the world cruise at the time. At least he has no part in the story.

When she went to pick up the prize from the Elks or Masons or Oddfellows or whoever it was that ran the raffle, they surprised her with smirks, giggles, and . . . a live turkey. There had been no hint of that on the advertisements or the tickets. She didn’t have the nerve, or the presence of mind, to refuse the prize: there may have been reporters present. She then drove her station wagon around Rhode Island for several hours, with four screaming children in the front and middle seats and the turkey in the back sticking its neck out the rear window, gobbling away, as she searched for someone who would kill and dress the filthy bird. People were naturally staring, pointing, and honking their horns. When she finally found the only turkey farmer in the state -- no doubt the same one who had sold the bird to the Elks (or whoever) in the first place -- he charged her $5 (I think it was) to kill and dress it. Whatever the price, it was the same as what it would have cost to buy a frozen turkey at the grocery store.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:34 PM
April 23, 2002
Beastly Bloggers

It seems to me worth thinking about an appropriate animal metaphor to explain and explore the relationship between traditional journalists and bloggers.

Traditional journalists would probably prefer something like this:

blogger : journalist :: flea : dog

Almost everyone loves dogs, and everyone hates fleas. The dog is known for loyalty and, well, doggedness in pursuing a story to the end.

Another possibility, arguably more accurate, although -- or rather because -- it is less complimentary to the journalist:

blogger : journalist :: tick : sheep

Journalists are certainly known for their habit of congregating in flocks and walking in ruts.

Given that bloggers do not actually harm journalists in any significant way, perhaps this would be better:

blogger : journalist :: remora : shark

The blogger-remora hitches a ride from story to story, picking up bits and pieces of the leftovers from the shark's bloody feasts. The shark gets nothing out of the relationship, and in fact is slowed down slightly by the extra burden.

Bloggers would probably prefer a more complimentary analogy with a good philosophical pedigree:

blogger : journalist :: gadfly : horse (and :: Socrates : Athens)

In Plato's Apology, Socrates compares the Athenian city-state to a lazy horse and himself to the gadfly that stings it and keeps it from getting sluggish and flabby.

I prefer this one:

blogger : journalist :: toothpicking bird : crocodile

You know the bird I mean: the one that hops into the crocodile's mouth and picks his teeth for him. The relationship is symbiotic: the bird gets a tasty meal, and the crocodile gets his teeth cleaned. As Thomas Moore put it:

        . . . . Not half so bold
The puny bird that dares, with teasing hum,
Within the crocodile’s stretched jaws to come.

Nominations for better analogies will be gratefully accepted. Please post them as comments.

Update: (4/25, 11:55 PM)

MicroContent News and Henry Copeland (second section) have now taken my argument further.

Update: (5/27, 4:25 PM)

If you've come here from John Hiler's Blogosphere: the emerging Media Ecosystem in MicroContent News, you may also be interested in some of my other metablogging squibs. The most pertinent to Hiler's argument is Bloggers and 'Facts' (May 6th). Others include: Sex, Money, and Blogging (April 22nd) and its sequel Journalistic Whores and Blogger Sluts (April 23rd), Juvenalian Delinquents or Why Blog? (May 6th), and A Mutant Meme Spreads (May 7th). And then there's the ever-popular Blogosphere = Borg Collective? (March 3rd). Feel free to read the non-metabloggage, too. All posts are open for comments.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:46 AM
Surrendering Palestinians

The fact that the Palestinian 'armed forces' are so willing to surrender en masse when outnumbered and out of ammunition has caused some surprise. It certainly provides an embarrassing contrast with their willingness to send teenagers out to blow themselves up with bombs. The adults save their skins as their children die.

However, the difference makes perfect (though utterly contemptible) sense. Despite the lies of the Palestinians and their foreign apologists, Israel is unlikely to execute any of their thousands of prisoners, and that means that there is always the possibility of escape or release. In the past, the Israelis have more than once traded hundreds of Arab prisoners for a handful of captured Israeli soldiers.

It seems obvious to me that the next stage in Arafat's war on Israel will include attempts at hostage-taking. Soldiers would be best, if they can catch any, otherwise civilians will have to do. Hostages have to be kept in a secure location until a trade can be negotiated, and that probably means Lebanon. This is one more reason why Israel's northern border will continue to be the most likely flashpoint for a larger war.

I'm sure the Israeli government and armed forces are already well aware of this and keeping a careful eye on the Lebanese border in particular. But journalists might also want to keep it in mind.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:58 AM
Journalistic Whores and Blogger Sluts

(My title is purely -- impurely? -- metaphorical, and not intended to refer to the sexual habits of any journalist, or blogger, of either gender or any orientation.)

Today's Microcontent News has an interesting note on how much bloggers hate traditional journalists. That reminds me of something I once wrote in a scholarly article on the satirist Juvenal:

When Beavis says of his mother (on MTV’s "Beavis and Butthead" show), "she’s not a whore, she’s a slut -- she doesn’t charge for it", he is defending her character, up to a point.

Bloggers, as I have already implied in my previous note, tend to feel much the same way. Journalists, on the other hand, seem to share the ancient Roman attitude that a slut is worse than a whore -- their actions are morally equivalent, but one of them is too stupid to make any money out of what she (or he) does.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:38 AM
April 22, 2002
Sex, Money, and Blogging

Philip Larkin thought (or at least wrote) that the Sexual Revolution could be precisely dated:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me) --
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.
        (Annus Mirabilis)

Of course, it was a more gradual process than that, though most of the change happened over a relatively few years.

It stands to reason that when large numbers of new producers enter a market and begin to offer a commodity for free, those who continue to charge for it will suffer severe downward pressure on their earnings. I suspect that the Sexual Revolution damaged the earnings of professional prostitutes and forced some of them to go into other lines of work. Of course, it would be difficult to prove this, since economic research on illicit activities is inherently imprecise.

If I am right, I wonder what the sexual professionals thought about the new competition from amateurs. Again (I imagine) nothing good. Few prostitutes write autobiographies, so it would once more be difficult to prove. Perhaps the memoirs of the more bohemian musicians, artists, and writers of the fifties and sixties would provide useful information.

One reason I think my hypothesis may well be true is that much the same thing is happening now with journalism. The professionals are worried, in some cases perhaps even terrified, that they will be left unemployed and pensionless by competition from amateurs, that is, bloggers.

They are right to be worried. It is not only that it is difficult for expensive software to compete with free software (to take one obvious parallel). Other factors are involved. As with erotic amateurs, what we bloggers lack in technical competence and elegance of presentation is outweighed by our enthusiasm for the positions we take (if you will excuse the pun). Our relative lack of experience is not much of a handicap, as we can and do learn the necessary skills on the job. The most important similarity is that we only do it as long as we enjoy doing it, and take time off whenever we don't: since we have day jobs to fall back on, there's never any need to keep on scribbling promiscuously just to put food on the table or pay the rent. (Not that there aren't a few nymphobloggers out there who just can't stop blogging and keep it up, so to speak, pretty much around the clock.) This freedom from base greed helps us preserve our self respect. In short, we're not in it for the money, and it shows: we do it for love.

(signed) Another happy blog slut, Dr. Julius Weevil

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:05 PM
I'm Back

I'm back from New York, and will have a new entry up momentarily. Stay tuned.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:57 PM
April 18, 2002

A friend who doesn't 'get' warblogging, and thinks "it must be a guy thing", sent me this. She got it from someone named Sean in (where else?) Ireland. I hope the original author (who may or may not be Sean) doesn't mind me quoting it:

Two Palestinian women are walking down Jerusalem high street dressed in the usual Arab garb.

One says to the other: "Does my bomb look big in this?"

I should have hit the road already, but I just can't drag myself away from the terminal.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 02:02 PM
April 17, 2002
Cold Turkey Time

If there's anyone out there addicted to reading this blog, you should know that I'm leaving for New York City right after work tomorrow, for a job interview, a blogger bash, and some opera-going. I'll be back late Sunday, but I can't promise that there will be any more posts at all before Monday afternoon. Expect a bunch then, since I've got plenty to say, just not enough time to write it down. I hope to bring back party pictures, too. Now back to grading tests.

P.S. If there's anyone out there addicted to reading this blog, please seek professional help. It's not too late. Really.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:07 PM
April 16, 2002
Dealing With Addiction

The Sarge has announced that he's taking a break from blogging until he thinks of something new to say. Ken Layne writes what many others are thinking and saying:

Dear Sarge:

Take a break, get some sun, come back when you're ready. I've quit this site a dozen times. I come back when it's fun again.

The second sentence is uncomfortably close to the old line "I can quit drinking any time I want. I’ve done it a thousand times".

By the way, can anyone identify the author? And did he (she?) say 'drinking' or 'smoking' or some other vice? I can't remember. Perhaps blogging has destroyed too many brain cells. Not to mention destroying my attention span and making me digress like this. Anyway, . . . .

Ken and the Sarge say they can quit any time, they say they can stay away from demon blog as long as they want. Ken doesn’t want to just yet, but Sarge is going to give it a try right now. In their hearts they both know the true nature of their addiction. They know the whole pitiful story:

You start out just reading a few blogs, to kill time when you’re waiting for your boss to give you some boring assignment or other. Or maybe you’ve always been curious about something your trendier friends have been doing for years. Next thing you know you’re checking in every day, for hours at a time, even when it's a beautiful day or you have urgent work to do, and your list of essential blogs is approaching triple digits. Then comes your first comment on someone else’s blog. Someone -- maybe even the blog-owner! -- replies to your comment, and agrees with you. You send a tip to Sullivan or the Instapundit, and he uses it! The rush is un-freakin-believable, man! Now you’re hooked. Soon you’re lying awake half the night screaming for a blog of your own. Your trendy friends give you the name of someone who can get you started on the hard stuff, a trustworthy supplier named Ev or Ben or Mena. Once you’re up and running, you can’t stop checking your hit count and referrer logs, updating and posting, uploading and reloading, over and over for hours at a stretch, like a lab monkey with a push-button cocaine-drip: it’s just too pleasant to stop. Every morning you wake up hungry for more, roll up your sleeves, plug into your keyboard, and feel the sweet sweet blog soak into your consciousness. You spend the whole day in a blissful fog. (Why do you think they call it ‘bl-og’?) And when the blog wears off at the end of a very late evening, you crawl off to bed, saying 'That’s the last time. Really. I can quit any time I want'. In your heart you know it’s a lie. You’re a slave to cruel Lady Blog. You start trying to get more friends interested. Pretty soon all your friends are serious bloggies. Now you know where to go for the good stuff, the urgent fixes. When one of the more reliable suppliers is no longer on his streetcorner, it drives you half-insane. VodkaPundit takes a whole week off: doesn’t he care about his customers? PejmanPundit goes out on a date and doesn’t come back on-line until late the next morning: you’re waiting for him when he checks in. InstaPundit belies his name by spending time with his family for almost an entire day: the lack of new posts gives you cold sweats and the shakes. And his archives have disappeared, too, so you can't link to the post that would prove it. Now the Sarge has gone silent and he won’t even tell us for how long. I can’t take it! Give me my blog! For God's sake give me my blog!

Hmmm, maybe it's not the Sarge who's the addict here . . . ?

You'll be back, Sarge, and sooner than you think.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:11 PM
More Than One Way To Fix A Vote

Little Green Footballs, among others, has been doing good work exposing the hypocrisy of CAIR. As most of my readers already know, they asked for votes on whether Ariel Sharon should be tried as a war criminal, then falsified the results after too many 'no' votes came in, most of them sent their way by LGF and Instapundit. (It probably didn't help that LGF titled his first post 'Vote Early, Vote Often'. Way to make 'em more paranoid, guys!) If you haven't already read about it, start here, then scroll up, and don't forget to read the comments.

I have another problem with the CAIR poll. To be honest and even-handed, it really should have had at least four choices:

Who should be charged with war crimes?

a. Sharon
b. Arafat
c. both
d. neither

Of course, Arafat would come first in alphabetical order, but let’s not be picky.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:19 PM
Is 'Ambling' The Right Word?

I haven't read Frank Bruni's Bush-biography Ambling Into History. But shouldn't the title have been Moseying Into History? You have to wonder how well Bruni understands his subject if he doesn't even know whether Texans amble or mosey.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 04:47 PM
April 15, 2002
Tax Day Ruminations

Doing my taxes today reminded me of a couple of things I had almost forgotten. I hope my memory is accurate, but can't guarantee the details. Here is how I remember it:

1. In 1980 or 1981, when I was living in San Francisco and Diane Feinstein was mayor, one of the local papers (Chronicle or Examiner, who cares?) printed the mayor's 1040 on the front page. She had not consented to its release, nor had her wealthy husband, and they were not happy. (There was then no legal requirement for such information to be made public.) Besides the gross invasion of privacy, what particularly impressed me was that the information appeared in the April 16th edition. Maybe Mayor Feinstein had mailed in her tax forms weeks before, but the date suggests that she had waited until the last minute, and that some IRS munchkin couldn't even wait 24 hours before illegally leaking confidential information to the press. (If the paper had had the information for weeks and was just waiting for an appropriate day to publish it, surely they would have done it on the 15th, not the 16th?)

2. A few years later I was living in the D.C. suburbs and was equally impressed by the fact that detailed eyewitness accounts of closed government hearings (Iran-Contra? I don't remember) were routinely appearing in the next day's Washington Post. What was particularly interesting is that each day's Post could be bought in the 7-11 at the end of my street in North Arlington around 11:00 PM on the night before the nominal publication date. The hearings lasted until 5:00 PM or so, which didn't seem to leave much time to get the information into a story and then print and distribute the newspaper. It appears that participants in these closed hearings were not only violating their oaths of secrecy on a daily basis, but elbowing each other out of the way as they headed for the nearest telephone booth when the hearings ended.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:56 PM
April 14, 2002
"Mediocre And Third-Rate"

The one who calls himself "Eric A. Blair" seems to think that his enemies are not only wrong on the issues but bad writers as well. Someone who aspires to be the new Orwell should probably try to write better than this (I have numbered the sentences for easy reference):

1 Looking over the bloggers Views at Fox News I see the usual suspects: Ken Layne, Will Vehrs, Rand Simberg, Tim Blair and others. 2 The first thing I'm struck by is how mediocre and third-rate the writing is. 3 That's too be expected, I suppose. 4 When a new technology is introduced, those who are associated with it often get a free ride of the coattails of the new technology's adoration. 5 As the technology integrates itself into society and loses its novel luster, a more critical examination of those who have attached itself to it naturally follows. 6 Eventually blogging will become as ubiquitious as e-mail, and when that day comes Fox Bloggers, I just hope for the sake of your children's private schooling savings fund that you didn't quit you day job.

7 I have more thoughts on how understanding the Fox News warbloggers gives you the key to understand the strange behavior of the blogging foot soldiers, the sadness that Arafat's statement brought to my bloodthirsy blogbuddies, and the curious denial of the reports of mass graves and murders commited by the IDF, but it's a beautiful Saturday, I'm alive and in too good of a mood to waste this night slogging through the RISK board game rantings of nihilistic impotent jerks.
8- until tomorrow, Eric A. Blair

My comments on each sentence:

  1. The syntax is not entirely clear, but "bloggers" looks as if it's meant to be possessive, and should therefore have an apostrophe. Perhaps I should add for the author's sake that the apostrophe will go after the S, not before. Commas after "News" and "Blair" would help. "The usual suspects" is a flabby cliché.
  2. What was the second thing the author was struck by? How does the passive voice help the meaning? And how does calling someone "mediocre and third-rate" say or imply more than just calling him either "mediocre" or "third-rate"?
  3. The author either doesn't know the difference between "too" and "to", or is too lazy to check over his work before posting it. These paragraphs have been on the web, uncorrected, for more than 24 hours now.
  4. This sentence is too long and too much in the passive voice. The phrase "free ride of the coattails" is unidiomatic and ambiguous: try "free ride on". Otherwise it's not at all clear whether the coattails are riding or being ridden. The whole metaphor is vague and pretentious. Is technology adoring or being adored? In what sense does it have coattails?
  5. Delete "novel", which adds nothing to "luster". Change "itself" to "themselves": the antecedent is plural. Does technology integrate itself into society, like some living creature? How does the integration metaphor fit with the luster metaphor? "Very awkwardly" is not an adequate answer.
  6. More misspellings: try "ubiquitous" for "ubiquitious" and "your day job" for "you day job". The latter should probably be plural, as should "fund". The evil bloggers do not all share one job and one fund. Comma placement is often a matter of judgment, but here a comma before "Fox Bloggers" is required to set off the direct address. The whole "for the sake of" phrase straggles inelegantly. The sequence of tenses would be better with "haven't" for "didn't". So far I have avoided judging the substance of Blair's argument, but will make an exception here. It seems likely that e-mail users will continue to vastly outnumber bloggers, even as both groups increase. Surely millions of computer owners will prefer to keep their thoughts for private e-mails and not blog them for the whole world to see. Many will be wise to do so.
  7. This sentence should have been split up into two or three. There is an awkward shift in addressee: "you" referred to hateful warbloggers in the previous sentence, but here with no warning refers to the reader. More misspelling and bad grammar: try "committed" for "commited" and "too good a mood" for "too good of a mood". "Blogbuddies" is an ugly coinage, and the false chumminess fails either as sincere admonition or ironic insult.
  8. Not much wrong with this, though the punctuation is odd.

No doubt a professional writer or teacher of writing could find even more errors in Pseudo-Blair's work -- and perhaps a few in mine. This is just first aid, designed to bring semiliteracy up to bare competence. In doing so, I hope I have at least demonstrated that "mediocre and third-rate" is a compliment coming from this author, since his own style is abysmal and fifth-rate, or tenth-rate, or whatever is the lowest rate.

To attack the problem from a different angle, here are Proto-Orwell's Six Rules:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Is there any of these that our Deutero-Orwell has not violated?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:57 PM
Just Wondering . . .

Would the scientific name for Blogging be 'Blagellation'?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:43 PM
April 13, 2002
What Kind Of Drunk Are You?

I often take these tests, but usually avoid reporting on the results. However, this one was too amusing (and flattering) to pass over in silence. Go to (where else?) What kind of drunk are you? to see what kind of drunk you are.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:13 PM
April 12, 2002
Does W Tithe?

Turkeyblog writes:

A compassionate conservative. The President's tax returns released today; he had income of $710K and gave $82,000 to charity, mostly churches and 9/11 funds.

No link is given, and I haven't seen the returns, but I am wondering. The charitable contributions add up to roughly 11.5% of gross income. Is it just a coincidence that that is a little more than 10%, or does W tithe? It would be characteristic of the man to do so without making any fuss, just as he built an environmentally friendly ranch without bragging about it.

Update: (4/13/02, 23:22)
If you're interested in this topic, please read the comments. (If not, why have you read this far?) In the second one, Turkeyblog corrects the numbers: apparently Fox is wrong, and the president actually gave 10.2% of his income to charity. Zonitics (link in the first comment) takes the argument one step further, pointing out that last year's figure was also 10.2%. This establishes a pattern that strongly suggests tithing. Is this a quiet signal to the Religious Right that W is one of them? Or is his silence about the particular amounts just a proper Christian humility? (The two are not mutually exclusive.) Either way, or both, should I have kept my mouth shut -- or rather my hands in my pockets -- about it, and not let the cat out of the bag?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:54 PM
April 11, 2002
Esthetics of Blogging

Mark Byron, whom I should have added to my links before now, wrote yesterday:

I don't think greater multi-media on commercial sites will doom the blog. The personal analysis of a blog doesn't improve too much with multi-media; the people who want to read a good think piece will seek it out even if there is better eye-candy elsewhere.

This seems absolutely right, and I can offer a bit of evidence from my own experience. Over the weekend, as I moved this site to its own domain, I also switched over to Movable Type 2.0. (I had previously edited HTML files with HoTMetaL.) MT provides six standard templates to choose from, so I was forced to think about how I wanted my site to look: I ended up mixing more than one and adding some stuff from my old format.

However, in looking over my favorite sites (listed on the right) for ideas, I suddenly realized that I hadn't ever really noticed their formats. The only exceptions were relatively trivial:

1. I had of course observed that many sites used the same templates. If I'm not mistaken, Amygdala and Daimnation! use exactly the same format as, as do Cut On The Bias and Mark Byron. There are something like a dozen just on my list that look exactly like Instapundit, except that some have blue instead of red in the title block.

2. Some sites look better than others, but I hardly objected to any except when the print was too small (thanks for fixing that, PejmanPundit) or when the background is dark and the text light, which I find a bit of a strain on the eyes (Pejman again, Andrew Sullivan, RiShawn Biddle, one or two more).

3. I had of course noticed that some sites feature original artwork, which is generally a plus. I've always particularly liked the pictures on Lileks and The Brothers Judd, though I also like the latters' Latin motto. But I would not have gone back for a second look at either if the words had not made it worthwhile.

Conclusion: As Byron said, audiovisual bells and whistles (sorry about the partially mixed metaphor) are essentially irrelevant. I read these sites for the words, and the links, and I suspect most others do the same. In any case, it should become easier and easier for individuals to add fancy audiovisual effects to their sites, if that's what it takes to compete.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:54 PM
April 10, 2002
Why I Will Never Buy A Millenia

I'm sure the Mazda Millenia is a fine automobile, but the name really bugs me.

Lots of people have made fun of Mazda for not knowing how to spell 'millennia', and a Google search shows that lots of other people now spell the word for 'thousands of years' with one 'n' instead of the traditional two.

There is a better reason than mere pedantry, or a reactionary attachment to good spelling, to despise the name Millenia. It is not an attested Latin word, but if it were it would be quite crude.

In Latin as in English, two-n millennia means 'thousands of years'. Just as media is the plural of medium and data of datum, millennia is the plural of millennium, 'a period of a thousand years'. That in turn is a compound of mille anni, where mille means 'one thousand' and anni means 'years'. Just as 'alumni' is the plural of 'alumnus', anni is the plural of annus, 'year'. All very straightforward.

Unfortunately, Latin one-n anus means just what it looks like it means. The plural is ani, and a thousand of them (not something most of us care to contemplate) would be mille ani. If there were such a Latin word as one-n millenium, its plural would be millenia, just like the car, and would almost inevitably mean 'thousands of a**holes'. Reason enough for this Latin teacher not to want to own one.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:50 PM
April 09, 2002
More Ancient Jokes

Last month I posted a joke from the ancient Greek collection called the Philogelos or Laughter Lover. Here's another one, paraphrased for readability: a pointy-headed intellectual is caught having sex with his grandmother, and beaten for his crime by his father. His reaction: "you screw my mom, why shouldn't I screw yours?"

I've just discovered that Prof. John H. Quinn of Hope College has posted translations of 45 jokes from the collection (including this one) here. Quinn translates all the jokes that have to do with women or gender roles. Since they are not chosen for quality, the average is rather low, and the minimum is abysmal. I'm particularly fond of 69, 70, 187B, 197-204, 244A, and 246.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:56 PM
Blogdex Bombing

I seem to have inadvertently stumbled across an easy way to get into the Blogdex Top 25 without actually writing any single post that very many people want to read.

Call it Blogdex BombingTM. The process is quite simple, though it does take time:

1. Start a weblog and keep it up for a few months.

2. Wait until 16-20 people have permalinked it. That's the slow part.

3. Rent a new domain name.

4. When you transfer your blog to the new address, e-mail all the bloggers with permalinks to the old URL and ask them to update them with the new URL. It is unlikely that any will refuse, and most are so obsessively attached to their keyboards that updates will start appearing within the hour. Be sure to e-mail them all on the same day for maximum effect.

It's been just over two days since I switched over to this URL, and results have been impressive. I was #2 on the Blogdex Top 25 yesterday, with a rating of 9.0 (the top site was 10.3). Today I am still #2, with a rating of 16.0, again just missing first place, which went to an actual article in the New York Times ("Google's Toughest Search is for a Business Model", 17.0). I am way ahead of "This Year's Arts Pulitzers", straight from the Pulitzer's mouth (#7, 12.0), not to mention the dork who claims bloggers are war profiteers (#8, 11.0). I will provide no link for him, or for the New York Times, which recently rejected my attempt to register and generally sucks all around anyway. Come to think of it, I don't think much of the Pulitzer Prize, either, or any other prize, for that matter, so I think I'll omit that link, too. Do people really go see movies because some committee says they should? Try your friends, or a reviewer you've found trustworthy in the past. I recommend James Bowman. And I've never understood why anyone would want to watch any kind of award ceremony, but maybe that's just me.

Anyway, here's a disquieting thought: Do I really want to appear in this company? What's so great about being on the Blogdex Top 25? Other than the fact that my hits have doubled since I moved, and roughly one-third of the total are coming from Blogdex . . . perhaps I should be more grateful.

Of course, I didn't plan to link-bomb Blogdex, though it did occur to me, as I sent out my change-of-e-address letters, that this might happen. If I had known for sure that my ruminations would attract an audience, it would obviously have been a lot less trouble for me and my readers and linkers to rent the domain name first so it wouldn't have to move. Then again, if I'd just waited to acquire a few more permalinks before moving, I could have made #1 on the Top 25.

Update: (4/14, 00:35)
I just noticed that John Hiler at MicroContent News posted further thoughts on this subject on Thursday. One line puzzled me at first: "Maybe it will happen less once Blogdex starts weighting blogs by how many people have linked to them." At first I thought, isn't that what BlogDex does, giving me a 16.0 for having 16 blogs linked to me? What he means is that those 16 should be weighted differently from each other, depending on how others many have linked to them. I'm not sure that would have defused my BlogDex Bomb: some of the blogs that link to mine are quite widely-linked themselves. I don't want to drop any names, and don't have to, since anyone who wants to know can look it up on BlogDex. But it would tend to defuse malicious premeditated BlogDex Bombers, who move from one address to another only to appear on the Top 25.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:08 PM
April 08, 2002
No Muslims on Star Trek?

I know this quotation only from today's Best of the Web:

The Whine Spectator
"The media . . . does not really accept or show Muslims . . . as part of American society. . . . You do not see us in 'Star Trek.' 'Star Trek' is set 2,000 years or so in the future. Are you telling us that when machines will be able to have feelings and half-man half-wolf will be able to have love affairs with human beings, people like me will be extinct? So that is like cultural genocide that Hollywood conducts."--Imran Anwar, "Middle East analyst," Fox News Channel, April 6

I'm not enough of a Trekkie (thank God!) to know for sure, but I believe the various shows are all set roughly 150-400 years in the future, certainly nowhere near 2000. They hardly aim to depict "American society", though there are quite a few Americans in the various crews, particularly among the higher-ranking officers. (At least there are quite a few citizens of the Federation born in what is now the U.S.A., which is not quite the same thing.) And I must have missed the one about the wolf-man having sex with a human: has our commentator somehow confused Star Trek with Teen Wolf?

However, to judge from this quotation, Imran Anwar is unaware that there is hardly any human religion of any kind on the various Star Treks. Not to sound too Christian or anything, but Jesus Christ, has this guy ever watched an episode? Captain Picard does not take communion at Catholic Mass in the Enterprise chapel every Sunday, or any Sunday: there is no such chapel, no chaplain, no vestments, no incense, no communion wine, no consecrated host. I'm sure Captain Kirk would be more than willing to take up poisonous serpents for the good of the Federation, or to protect his crew, but he wouldn't do it for his religion: he doesn't seem to have any. Captain Janeway looks like she might enjoy dressing up in her Sunday best for services in one of the more socially exclusive churches, but I've never seen her do anything like that on screen. (Nominations for her likely denomination may be posted in the Comments.)

The only humanoids depicted as seriously religious on Star Trek are the various alien races: an obvious example is the Bajoran chapel and its worshippers, who play an important role on Deep Space 9. For humans, religion is almost invariably depicted as a long-past phase of their evolution, like money, class conflict, and war -- war with other humans, I mean: there are plenty of wars with humanoid aliens and bug-eyed monsters in all the Star Treks.

It is true that there are no Muslims on Star Trek, but there are no Christians or practicing Jews, either, and no Hindus or Buddhists or anything else, with one interesting exception. On an episode of STNG (anyone who has read this far knows what that stands for), the insufferable Wesley Crusher joins up with some intergalactic American Indians, who seem, like Cmdr. Chakotay on Star Trek: Voyager, to have been caught in some kind of metaphorical (for a change) time warp, still practicing their ancestral religion when all other humans have moved on to atheism or agnosticism. Like Commander Ryker's brand of light jazz, ethnic or New Age spiritualism seems to be the one kind of human religion bland and unthreatening enough to survive into the 24th century.

As for people on Star Trek who are descended from Muslims, I give you the brilliant and handsome Dr. Bashir of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, certainly the most positive depiction of an ethnic Arab I have ever seen on television, though I don't watch a lot of different shows. His brilliance and (I think) his looks turn out to be genetically engineered, but we won’t hold that against him. And he can be irritatingly arrogant, though somehow far less gratingly so than Ensign Crusher.

However, as TV Arabs go, Dr. Bashir is infinitely less offensive than the only other recurring Arab character on television that I can think of right now: Iqbal, owner of The Jiggly Room, the strip club on Married With Children. Perhaps Imran Anwar should be thankful for small favors and save his insults for the shows that deserve them.

Now to brace myself for the assault of the real Trekkies . . .

Tangential question: Are there even any non-practicing Jews on any of the Star Treks? Surely yes, but I can't think of one whose ethnicity is at all obvious, or made a point of. Comments, anyone?

Update: (4/14, 00:25)
For those who want even more of this stuff, Asparagirl has a post that takes off from this one and has already attracted 20 comments. It's called "I Was A Teenage Trekkie".

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:56 PM
April 07, 2002
Speaking Truth To Power

Translatable puns are rare. The best one I know comes from Philoxenus of Cythera, a poet of the late 5th and early 4th centuries B.C. His birthdate, roughly 435 B.C., makes him a bit younger than Aristophanes and a bit older than Plato.

The story is told by Diodorus Siculus, in his World History (15.6). I quote it from Volume 5 of the Loeb edition of Greek Lyric, translated by D. A. Campbell (pages 140-43):

In Sicily Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, no longer embroiled in the wars against Carthage, was enjoying peace and leisure. He began writing poetry with great enthusiasm, sending for the famous poets, spending his time with them and showering honours on them, and using them as supervisors and reviewers of his poetry. His generosity led to flattery on the part of these grateful critics, and removed from reality by it he bragged more of his poetry than of his military successes. One of the poets at his court was Philoxenus, the composer of dithyrambs, who had a high reputation for his own style of composition, and at the drinking-party when the tyrant's wretched poems were read he was asked his opinion of them; he gave a rather frank reply, and the tyrant took offence, faulted him for slandering him out of envy, and told his attendants to take him off at once to the quarries. Next day his friends begged him to pardon Philoxenus, so he made it up to him and invited the same company to the drinking party. As the drinking progressed, Dionysius again began to brag of his poetry and cited some lines which he regarded as particularly successful; but when he asked Philoxenus what he thought of them, his only response was to summon the attendants and tell them to take him off to the quarries.* At the time Dionysius smiled at the wittiness of the reply and put up with his frankness: laughter took the edge off fault-finding; but soon after when the friends of each party asked Dionysius to excuse his untimely frankness, Philoxenus made the strange offer that his answer would preserve both the truth and Dionysius' reputation; and he kept his promise, because when the tyrant cited some lines which described lamentable events and asked what he thought of him, Philoxenus said, 'Tragic', using the ambiguity to preserve truth together with the tyrant's reputation: Dionysius took 'tragic' to mean 'lamentable and full of pathos', and knowing that good poets excelled in such writing accepted it as praise from Philoxenus; but the rest of the company picked up the true meaning and saw that the term 'tragic' had been used only to brand a failure.

*Campbell notes that "Take me off to the quarries" became something of a proverb, quoted four times in three different authors.

I'm not sure 'tragic' is the best translation, though Dionysius was apparently writing tragedies. The Greek word (oiktros) is more general and could just as well -- perhaps better -- be translated 'pitiful' or 'pathetic'. The pun would work just as well today: "Your tragedy / elegy is absolutely pitiful, totally pathetic, I couldn't stop crying!" What should you say if a friend writes a lame attempt at comedy or satire and asks you to judge it? "Truly ludicrous! I couldn't stop laughing!"

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:03 PM
Welcome II

The new site is now more or less complete, as I have finished copying all the archives (77 posts) from the old site. I still have to fix the occasional cross-reference from one post to another so it stays 'on-site', and add updates responding to various readers' e-mails.

Of course, what I realy need to do is start posting again. I have plenty more to say.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:17 PM

Dr. Weevil has moved to his own domain. I'm still working on the format, but this should do for now. For the moment, I've moved the weevils, which PejmanPundit found "creepy and worrisome" (3/6, though the archives seem to be missing), to the background.

I have also switched over from HoTMetaL to Movable Type 2.0. I hope this will allow more efficient posting. Not that I expect to increase the quantity of verbiage, rather I hope to decrease the time spent producing it. The new software will also allow comments. Judging by some (not all) of the e-mail I have received since I began blogging, that may be a mistake. We shall see.

I will transfer my archives to the new site over the next few days. Please note that the dates will all be correct, but the times on the pre-April 7th posts will be entirely arbitrary. I did not keep track of times while using HoTMetaL, so I would prefer to omit them as before. Unfortunately, MT will not allow me to keep that field blank, so I've put them all down as 10:00 PM or thereabouts. I do tend to post late at night.

The previous archives will be kept where they are indefinitely, so links to them will work. But any future links should be made to those here.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:52 PM
April 04, 2002
Too Busy To Come Up With Anything Better

Historians already record a Six Day War, a Seven Years War, a Thirty Years War, a Hundred Years War, and probably some others with similar names that I've forgotten. I suspect that we will some day have a parallel name for the repeated attacks on Israel by Arab nations and their homicidal NGOs. Given the simmering hostilities -- the 'phony wars' -- that have filled the intervals, the Six Day War and the other major Arab-Israeli conflicts hardly count as separate wars in any real sense.

Even rounding off to the nearest multiple of ten, the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict would have to end very soon to be called the Fifty Years War. At this point, a Sixty Years War is the best we can reasonably hope for. If everything works out as well as possible, six more years might just about suffice to turn Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine (however defined), Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia -- a depressingly long list -- into some approximation of normal countries. By that I mean countries that, however poor and corrupt, at least do not massacre or brutally oppress their neighbors' citizens or their own, or send arms, money, or recruits to those who do. I can dream, can't I?

As for the other kind of dream, Gunner20 suggests that we start calling Saudi Arabia 'Sandland'. I think we should start dropping hints about what could happen if the Arab nations ever get their wish for another regional war or an 'Arab bomb'. The Empty Quarter might easily become the 'Empty Half', or the 'Empty Three-Quarters', or worse.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
April 02, 2002
Letter to Yasser

April 2, 2002

Dear Chairman Arafat:

I keep reading how eager you are to be martyred for the Palestinian cause, and how disappointing it is to be constantly cheated of your hopes to be a "Martyr! martyr! martyr!", to quote your own words. To help you in this difficult situation, I thought perhaps I should pass on some useful advice from a very knowing American of my acquaintance.

What follows is a simple twelve-step program for the do-it-yourself martyr, adjusted to fit your particular situation. The percentages in parentheses give my estimate of the cumulative chance of successful martyrdom at each stage: for instance, there is only a 2% chance that step 1 will suffice -- Israeli troops are fiendishly well-disciplined -- but there is a 55% chance that you will not have to go past step 7 to achieve martyrdom. Here is what you must do:

  1. Leave the windowless room in which you have been living for the last several days -- it must be getting pretty rank in there -- and move to a room with windows that face the Israeli snipers. From news reports, I gather that that would be just about any window in your headquarters. (2%)
  2. Stick your head out the window. (5%)
  3. Make obscene and offensive gestures at the Israeli troops, while shouting abuse at them. I understand that your vocabulary is quite extensive when it comes to obscenity and invective. (9%)
  4. Drop your pants and 'moon' the Israeli troops. You may be bashful about this, perhaps wondering "Is my butt too big? Is it too hairy?" Don't worry: for this purpose, the bigger and hairier, the better. Yours is fine. (28%)
  5. I've noticed that you always carry a pistol, even when addressing the U.N. General Assembly. Take it out of your holster and point it out the window. (39%)
  6. Aim your pistol at any one of the IDF soldiers surrounding your headquarters and pull the trigger. (51%)
  7. Although Israeli thieves have stolen dozens of your AK-47s and Norwegian sniper rifles, I'm sure you still have a few left. Pick one up and point it out the window. (55%)
  8. Aim your Kalashnikov at the largest visible group of IDF soldiers, pull the trigger, and keep firing until you run out of bullets or achieve your primary goal. (69%)
  9. Find the most impressive weapon left in your arsenal -- perhaps an anti-tank missile? -- and point it out out the window. (76%)
  10. Aim it at an IDF tank or armored personnel carrier and pull the trigger. A helicopter would be even better. If none of these is visible, a truck or bulldozer will do. (91%)
  11. Strap on a "Killers 'R' Us" official PA prepackaged batteries-included bomb-belt, walk out the front door of your headquarters, or one of the convenient holes made by the Israeli bulldozers, and head for the largest visible group of IDF soldiers.
    In selecting a bomb belt, do not hesitate to wear one of the cute new pink "Bomber Bimbo" models, if they are the only ones left. You won't be wearing it long, and no one would ever dare question your masculinity -- at least while you are wearing it, if you see what I mean.
    In the unlikely event that you are entirely out of bomb belts, just put on an overcoat and stuff a pillow or wadded-up jacket underneath to represent the bomb. I hate to tell you this, but years of luxury and corruption have left you rather plump, so it should be a large pillow, just to make sure. Some random wires sticking out in various places, as if from Richard Reid's shoe, would add verisimilitude.
    When leaving the building, be sure to keep at least one hand deep in your pocket, either clutching the detonator or pretending to do so, as the case may be. A gun in the other hand would be a nice touch. Try to walk like Clint Eastwood, though you don't really have the figure for it. (99%)
  12. Push the button. (100%)

Your martyrdom will achieve several worthy goals:

  1. The long-suffering Palestinian people and their allies in the Arab world and among the Euroweenies will be stirred to new heights of self-righteous indignation and genocidal frenzy. If you make it to step 11 or 12, they may even gather up the bits and pieces and save them as sacred relics, or for good luck. Depending on the Israeli choice of armaments, this could also happen if a previous step turned out to be the last.
  2. If you make it to step 11 or 12, you will be able to show the world once again what shameless hypocrites the Israelis and Americans are. They claim to disapprove of suicide bombing, but trust me: they will not object to this one. In fact, they will probably even dance in the streets to celebrate it, like the pigs and monkeys they are.
  3. Seventy-two lucky virgins will be granted the honor of servicing the great Arafat himself for all eternity. They are undoubtedly looking forward to this and should not be kept waiting, though all the other virgins will be terribly jealous. Perhaps you can arrange to receive more than the statutory 72. Facilitating so many other martyrdoms should certainly entitle you to a larger share, and rank has its privileges: you are 'the Chairman'. If all the men whose martyrdom you have arranged give you 10 or 15 of their virgins, you would have hundreds, and they would still have plenty. Whether you want the female martyrs also to give you some of their virgins is a matter of taste. As the song says, "forever is a long, long time", and you may eventually find yourself hankering for a little more variety in your posthumous love-life than a strictly heterosexual harem would provide. But that is of course entirely up to you.
  4. Best of all, you will finally have a definitive answer for all those who think, and sometimes even say, that you are a coward. You know the kind of thing these terrible people say: that you lack the guts to risk your own life, that you care more about money and power than about the lives of your fellow Palestinians, that you have "always . . . been full of willingness to sacrifice – other people", but never yourself. I know it is hard to believe, but some of these people -- Jews and Americans, I'm sure -- even question your intelligence, saying that the great Arafat ought to be able to figure out how to do something that dozens of semiliterate and drug-addled Americans do every year. Even when their judgment is impaired by congenital stupidity and astonishing quantities of alcohol, those who follow the simple steps outlined above seldom have any trouble achieving what is called "suicide by cop". In fact, though American policemen are practically unarmed compared to the mighty IDF, these people rarely have to go beyond step 6. And they almost never have any access to high explosives.

I trust that you will find my advice useful, and sincerely hope that you will act upon it as soon as possible. In doing so, you will make the world a better place for everyone except a very few thoroughly evil people.

Sincerely yours,
(signed) Dr. Julius Weevil

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
Inquiring Minds

Maybe I should just ask them (him?), but why are all of the dozens of posts in the Brothers Judd Blog signed 'Orrin Judd'? The picture at the top implies that there are two brothers, one balder than the other. Are they both named Orrin? Or is this some kind of weird Penn and Teller relationship, where one of them does all the talking for both?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
April 01, 2002
Great Minds Think Alike

Instapundit calls this piece by John Hiler in Microcontent News "the best story on weblogs yet". It is quite good, but could have been better in at least one respect. Among much else, Hiler writes:

Weblogs scoop you at every turn, breaking "your" stories before you have a chance to rush your article to press.

As if to illustrate this statement, Hiler titles his story "Borg Journalism", subtitles it "We are the Blogs. Journalism will be Assimilated", mentions the Borg 11 more times, in fact, builds his whole article around the 'Blogosphere = Borg Collective' metaphor, all without noticing that the comparison had already been made in a blog entry that should not have been too hard to find. (It was linked by Instapundit, Bjørn Stærk, Sgt. Stryker, and Nick Denton.) Oops.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM