May 31, 2002
Pentagon Of Evil?

I'm still catching up on old business. Here's something from last week from John & Antonio of Inside Europe: Iberian Notes (no permalinks, but it's the second item for May 22nd, 16:45 PM):

Donald Rumsfeld has warned, before the Senate, that he is sure that terrorists will eventually, one day, obtain nuclear weapons. It looks like Rummy has added Syria and Libya to the axis of evil, from now on the "Pentagon of Evil", as he stated that those five states are seeking weapons of mass destruction and will not hesitate to give them to terrorist groups.

I have two petty quibbles:

  1. I like to think of a 'pentagon' as a good place, if rather grim and austere. I lived in Arlington three years ago, and always felt just a little more snug and secure when I drove by the Pentagon on either side. Perhaps John & Antonio meant to imply a Manichaean opposition between the Pentagon of Good in Virginia and the Pentagon of Evil (mostly) in the Middle East. But that doesn't work very well, since one of them is a building while the other is an assortment of thoroughly and cooperatively evil but otherwise disparate countries.
  2. In a geometric pentagon, each corner is connected to only two of the other four corners. Each member of the Axis of Evil is connected to all of the others by trade in armaments, support for terrorism, opposition to Israel and the U.S., and much more. Doesn't this make the Quintuple Alliance of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and North Korea a Pentagram of Evil?

Bracing myself for a flood of e-messages from angry Satanists and Wiccans . . . .

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:44 PM
May 30, 2002
Newfoundland and Ireland

Damian Penny of Daimnation! has an interesting post on possibilities for economic development in the Maritime provinces. One passage particularly caught my eye:

As Ireland and much of the Southern U.S. have proven, it is possible for historically poor, underdeveloped areas to break out of their rut and develop proserous economies. They've done it largely through favorable tax regimes which attract investment; high spending on education, to improve the skills of the local workforce; and, above all, shaking off the fatalistic attitude that they'll be poor forever.

I think the (possible) parallels between Newfoundland and Ireland are particularly striking. They are almost mirror images in many ways, though these ways do not (yet) include economic development. Ireland took advantage of several factors to attract lots of American and other companies:

  1. High unemployment: lots of people eager for jobs.
  2. Advantageous exchange rates. Most foreign currencies went a long way in Ireland, and still do in Canada.
  3. Low population density. There is plenty of room for inexpensive electronics factories not too far from the international airport.
  4. A population that is English-speaking and near-100% literate, with a large percentage of the population much more than just barely literate. (There are some monoglot Francophones on this side of the Atlantic, but there are a few monoglot Gaelic-speakers over there, and I imagine French is less of a barrier to international trade than Gaelic.)
  5. Convenient locations on the main transAtlantic trade route. Lots of planes stopped in Dublin even when the place was an economic basket case, so building up trade was easier than most places. The same is true for the Atlantic provinces: the trick is to convince people to stick around for more than just refueling.

Of course, lots of places have the first three, it's numbers 4 and 5 that put Ireland (and could put Newfoundland) ahead of Cameroon and Estonia and Paraguay.

As I recall -- and Penny seems to agree, at least partially --, all Ireland had to do was cut taxes and regulations, and the foreign high-tech corporations started pouring in. It seems to me that Newfoundland is the Western Hemisphere's Ireland, and fulfills all five of the conditions listed. So why can't a similar takeoff be arranged?

I'm guessing that it's because of the one big difference: Ireland is an independent country and controls its own tax rates (though the EU is trying to change that). I suppose Newfoundland could cut provincial taxes and regulations, but there would still (wouldn't there?) be ridiculously oppressive national ones to worry about.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:01 PM
Linguistic Quibble

I just ran across Kevin McGehee's BlogoSFERICS on Instapundit, and this entry from last Friday:

Crude Pun of the Week
Veni, Vidi, Vomi
("I came, I saw, I got sick to my stomach.")
Useful for much of what passes for entertainment these days.

The sentiment is unexceptionable, and witty, but the Latin needs a little work. I've seen Veni, Vidi, Vomiti on some other site, but that is also wrong. The correct form (already used by a least a few Latin teachers) is Veni, Vidi, Vomui. The pronunciation, as best I can represent it without the international phonetic alphabet, is 'Wáy-nee, Wée-dee, Wóm-oo-ee'.

By the way, if you want to say "I think I'm going to puke", that would be Puto me vomiturum esse if a man is speaking, Puto me vomituram esse if a woman is speaking. I save that comment for the very worst translations in Latin class.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:53 AM
May 29, 2002
Historical Quibble

Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy quotes reader Josh Furman:

There is a famous story (it may be apocryphal) that I've heard about [the late] Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner (the former head of the Yeshiva Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn and a famous luminary in the circles that make rabbis famous). He was asked by a student back in the 50's or 60s when to keep the Sabbath on the moon.

He replied "Here is a Quarter, call me when you get there." Well I guess that time has come.

The story may not be entirely apocryphal, but it is certainly looks embroidered and updated, at best. Telephone calls didn't cost a quarter in the 1950s and 1960s, did they?

Of course, a call from the moon would have been long distance, but wouldn't that have cost much more than a quarter, even then? If you want a learned rabbi's opinion on a difficult topic, an old-fashioned three-minute call is probably not going to be enough. So I think the reference must be to an ordinary short-distance telephone call, however illogical that may be.

A diligent search in a good reference library could find clear evidence on prices of telephone calls in different cities in different years. But that would be dull as well as laborious, so let's just stick to song lyrics. There are probably dozens of pop songs that mention the price of a telephone call. Here are the two I can think of right now:

1. Peter Rowan, "Midnight Moonlight", from the album Old And In The Way (1975):

If you ever feel lonesome, and are down in San Antone
Beg, steal or borrow two nickels or a dime and call me on the phone.

2. Travis Tritt's best-known line:

Here's a quarter (Call someone who cares)

This is the punchline and title of a song on his second album, It's All About To Change (1991).

Conclusion: If the price of a telephone call was still only a dime in 1975, it's unlikely to have been a quarter in Brooklyn or anywhere in the U.S. in the 1950s or 1960s. It has been a quarter for over ten years now, so it's an easy mistake to retroject (oops: lit-crit jargon alert!) today's price to a previous decade.

Tangential Note: In the liner notes to Tritt's album, the same song includes one of my all-time favorite typographical errors:

Call someone who'll listen, and might give a damn
Maybe one of your sorted affairs.

It sounds as if the repentant ex has so many lovers she has to keep track of them with a card file, spreadsheet, or database. It's fun to think of likely categories: 'looks, no money', 'money, no looks', and so on. The web-version of the lyrics fixes the error.

Update: (6/1, 4:50 PM)

My brother tells me that pay phones in the Baltimore area just went up from 35 to 50 cents per call. So "Here's a Quarter (Call someone who cares)" was already obsolete only eleven years after it was written -- not that the implied background of a Travis Tritt song is Maryland, of course. He also reminds me of the old saying "it's your nickel", which implies that the cost of a pay telephone call was a nickel at some point -- probably the 30's or 40's. Thanks, Steve!

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:52 PM
May 28, 2002

Of all the links listed in the right-hand column, the only one I can't get to from work is Asparagirl. I'm a high-school teacher, and I assume my school's network has some kind of filter to limit accessible sites. Such 'nanny' software is notoriously inaccurate in judging what is and is not acceptable. Is listed somewhere as a porn site? If so, why? It seems no worse than any of the others. Has anyone else had the same difficulty? Just wondering . . . .

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:26 PM
May 27, 2002
Memorial Day Poem

This is from A. E. Housman, Last Poems:

Here dead we lie because we did not choose
    To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
    But young men think it is, and we were young.

The first two lines are a close rendering of Simonides' epitaph on the Spartan dead at Thermopylae. The last two are Housman's own addition, though the thought is very pagan and very Greek.

Added 11:30 PM:

Housman was not only an excellent poet in an already old-fashioned style, he was also one of the greatest Latin scholars of the last century or two. He was known for the brilliance of his textual criticism and the cruel elegance of his invective, in book reviews and elsewhere. Most of his wit only makes sense to specialists, but here are two examples from book reviews (the first is quoted from memory, so details may be a little off):

"All of his arguments are two-edged, but both edges are quite blunt."

"Books such as the one under review are little better than interruptions to our studies."

Simonides was one of the greatest Greek poets, though little of his work survives -- just enough to show us what we're missing. He was particularly known for his elegies, epitaphs, and threnodies -- all the gloomier genres -- which were simple but moving. His epitaphs were written for the actual monuments, not just as literary exercises. I probably should not have called Housman's version close. A literal translation of what Simonides wrote would be something like this:

Stranger, tell the Lacedaemonians that we lie here, obedient to their words.

Lacedaemon is the country, Sparta the city, so 'Lacedaemonians' is essentially another name for Spartans. The epitaph appeals to the passerby to deliver the message because these men died and were buried far from Sparta: with no post offices or telephones in the ancient world, epitaphs for those who died away from home were usually in the form "If you are ever in the town of X, tell Y the son of Z that his son is buried here, far from home". The only way to send the message was to have it 'hitchhike' with someone who happened to be headed in the right direction. Different authorities quote different versions, and it is not known whether Simonides wrote 'words' or 'customs'. However, whether he said that the Spartans were "obedient to the words" (= commands) of their kings or "obedient to the customs" of their country, it means that they were willing to follow orders without question even when there was no chance of survival. The word I have translated "obedient to" also means "persuaded by" -- a nice example of small-d democracy in the very structure of the Greek language.

Long before Housman, Cicero had translated the epitaph into Latin verse:

Dic, hospes, Spartae, nos te hic vidisse iacentes
    dum sanctis patriae legibus obsequimur.

This is rather loose, as he adds some bits to the meaning:

Stranger, tell Sparta that you saw us lying here,
    as we obey the sacred laws of our fatherland.

Housman's little poem achieves an impressive degree of Simonidean simplicity. Every word but two is monosyllabic, and even the exceptions hardly count, since 'nothing' was originally 'no thing' and 'because' originally (I think) 'by cause'. It's odd that a professional Latinist should write such a thoroughly unLatin poem: just about every word is pure Anglo-Saxon. The movie Go Tell The Spartans takes its title from Simonides' epitaph, either directly or (perhaps through Cicero) indirectly.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 03:42 PM
Parade Pictures

Click here and here for large but not very competent snapshots of the Yarmouth, Maine, Memorial Day parade. They were taken from my front porch a few minutes ago. I'm sorry about the wrong date, and even sorrier that I wasn't quite quick enough to catch the mostly middle-aged veterans themselves in their well-pressed and not-much-snugger-than-they-used-to-be uniforms. They had just passed when the Cub Scouts (picture 1) arrived, followed by the Yarmouth Middle School Band (picture 2) playing the Marine Corps hymn. Playing it very well, too, though I noticed that some of the kids in the back of the band didn't seem to be actually blowing into their flutes and clarinets.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:35 AM
Disgruntled Mutts

Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy links to a Washington Post story about the increasing number of Americans who report their race and ethnicity as 'American' on their census forms. I would add three points to his statistical argument:

1. As Volokh says, an increase from 2.2% to 3.0% over ten years isn't much. At that rate, it will take four more censuses for the number to pass 10%. Of course, the rate may be increasing exponentially, but it would take more than two data points to come up with even a rough guess. I wonder how far back the data go.

2. Someone told me long ago that the Census Bureau lists anyone who refuses to answer the race question as 'white'. This seems plausible, though unlikely to be confirmed officially. Too bad it doesn't work. One of my cousins has put her race down as 'American' at least once, and the Census Bureau probably would find 'white' inaccurate for someone who is of half-Japanese and half-German/Dutch ancestry. I don't know whether she's taken advantage of the new 'mixed' category: it's not the easiest question to ask.

3. Variations are possible. Last time around, I put down my race as "All-American Mongrel", with a space or two to spare. No repercussions as yet that I know of, though I may now be on some federal craplist. I was thinking of the line from Stripes where Bill Murray says (I quote from memory): "What is an American? Someone whose ancestors were kicked out of every decent country in the world." It's something we have in common with Israelis and Australians.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:48 AM
May 26, 2002
A Puzzle For Archaeologists Of The Future

My grandfather made it for my grandmother many years ago. It was roughly cubical, a foot in each direction, perhaps a bit higher than it was wide and deep. It was hollow, made from thin sheets of metal -- probably tin --, sturdy but lightweight. Inside were three or four equally spaced shelves of the same material. There were simple handles on both sides. The front side was a door, which swung open on hinges, with a clasp to keep it shut. The top and sides were pierced with tiny holes. I only know it from my mother's description.

I've sometimes wondered what the archaeologists of the future will think if they dig it up from whatever trash heap was its final resting place and succeed in putting it back together. The form is simple, but the function could be difficult to decipher.

It was a pie box, made to take multiple fresh-baked pies to church picnics and family reunions. The holes were small enough to keep flies out, large enough to let cooling breezes in and avoid mustiness.

I hadn't thought of my grandmother's pie box for many years, but John Weidner's reply to last Wednesday's post on American pies reminded me. I had said that good pies cannot be found in stores "since they are labor-intensive and do not keep well". Actually, it's hard to say how long a traditional home-baked pie would keep if no one ate it: I've never known one to last more than 24 hours in human company, even when there were other pies to distract and confuse the predators. As for labor-intensive, I figure a good home-baked pie costs at least $20 to produce, even if the baker's actual or nominal pay scale is the federal minimum wage. I doubt that anything like them will ever be sold in stores.

Weidner quite rightly added that pies are fragile and often have a liquid core, like the earth (my comparison, not his), which "makes them impossible to serve neatly or divide equitably or transport safely". His sound gooeyer than mine, but he is right that you cannot turn them sideways or upside down, you cannot stack them, and it is inadvisable to shake them. If you need to take them somewhere in a car, you must carry them on your lap, one per person. Even for short trips, this may not be easy, particularly if the car is full of wiggly, clambering, unbelted children. A pie box allows you to stow them all (the pies, not the children) in the trunk, though you will still need to avoid speeding and potholes.

With today's much smaller families, spread out across the continent and sometimes beyond, I don't suppose there's much need for pie boxes anymore, at least outside of Amish country. I wonder if they have them. If not, perhaps I should make a few and take them to Lancaster for sale.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:56 PM
American Exceptionalism

Mark Byron's recent post on Irish soccer reminded me of something I'd been meaning to write up for months. Here is what he says:

World Cup Mania-part I-This is weird. The captain of the Irish World Cup team, Roy Keane, was kicked off the team for getting into a row with the team manager, and PM Bertie Ahern has gotten into the middle of it, trying to patch things up so that Keane can get back on the team. [Update- Manager Mick McCarthy told the Taoiseach no.]

This is how big soccer and the World Cup is to the rest of the world. There is no American analogy. I can't picture Dubya trying to talk Kobe Bryant into staying on the Olympic team.

I don't think it's a question of how big soccer is so much as a matter of limited government. Government in the U.S. could stand to be a lot more limited than it is, but I'm still very glad that we do not have so many things that so many other countries have, starting with:

a Minister of Sport,
a Minister of Tourism, and
a Minister of Culture.

Yes, I know, they'd be Secretaries here: it doesn't matter because they don't exist, and we are better off without all three. We're doing just fine on the sport and tourism, thank you very much, and it's hard to believe that we would be doing much better on culture if it were a cabinet-level position. I'm sure the heads of the National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts both dream of being promoted to cabinet rank, but they will have to continue dreaming, since it's not going to happen.

Arguments starting out "the U.S. is the only civilized country that . . ." are singularly unpersuasive. The U.S. is just about the only country in the world of any size without a national airline, and that's a good thing: if you have an unpleasant experience with (e.g.) some flight attendants who get their kicks making fun of randomly-selected bald passengers, you can take your business elsewhere. And we are only half way to having a national railroad (passengers: yes, freight: not yet) and a national police force. Again, half way is better than all the way. We also get along fine with a mixture of metric and non-metric measurements, though there are still some busybodies who would like to enforce total metrification. Not being citizens of the E.U., we can safely ignore them. Do you own two cars, one with nuts and bolts measured in sixteenths of an inch, the other in millimeters? Quit whining and buy a crescent wrench. Even if you end up buying two different sets of graduated wrenches, they'll probably cost less than one set in Europe.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something important, so I ask my readers: What else does the U.S. lack that every other civilized country has? And what -- besides a functional death penalty and widespread legal gun ownership -- do we have that every other civilized country lacks? Of course, I mean 'civilized' as defined by the New York Times, which is not quite the same as what most Americans have in mind.

As always, the comment section is open.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:13 PM
At Riper Years To Wittenberg He Went

In the last week, Eric Olsen of Tres Producers has given us two grippingly weird stories about his college years: In Fire, he tells how he burned down his dormitory with an unattended candle. In Creepier and Creepier, he tells of a near-fatal encounter with a demonic old lady and her evil eye.

All I can say is maybe he shouldn't have gone to Wittenberg University, which was, after all, Dr. Faustus' alma mater -- Hamlet's, too. Perhaps he was turned down by Transylvania U. Whatever, don't invite this guy along on a camping trip if your kids are prone to bed-wetting.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:42 AM
May 25, 2002
Instapundit's New Logo

The little jogger or capeless superhero on Instapundit's new template looks nice, in a weird sort of way, but the initials on his chest are unfortunate. Since Instantman publishes daily (and then some), "IP" makes me think of I. P. Daily and his friends Ben Dover and Seymour Butz and the rest of the gang. Then again, maybe I just have a dirty mind, or an excessive weakness for puns, or a deadly combination of the two.

A simple "I" would avoid that problem, and would also be more appropriate for such a narcissistic endeavor as a personal web-site. (My non-political non-pseudonymous site features a picture of Narcissus himself, with Echo, an equally important patron deity of the web.)

Moral: When naming blogs or babies, be sure to see what the initials will spell before it's too late. I once knew a woman who told me that her parents' choice of a first name had made her junior high years a living Hell.

Click on this paragraph and select it to see her initials: ( "E.Z." -- what did you think they were?)

I wonder if I'll ever get another Instapundit link . . . .

Update: (5/28, 11:20 PM)

Well, I got one more link, announcing that Instapundit has changed logos. I've copied the old one here: that way those who missed it will be able to judge what the fuss was about.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:10 PM
I'm Back

Now that classes are over, I'll be catching up on my blogging, and replying to a lot of things posted in the last week. Stay tuned.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:54 PM
May 22, 2002
American Pie

In the Nota Bene section of recommendations, today's National Review Online links to a Theodore Dalrymple piece on American cuisine in The New Statesman. Dalrymple is usually excellent -- I know him mostly from The New Criterion -- but seems misguided here. Richard Bennett has already objected to his aspersions on American pastry, and adduced the proverbial apple pie.

I would just add that Dalrymple needs to stay away from restaurant and (especially) grocery-store pies and find someone who can bake him a traditional mom's (or grandma's) apple pie made with

(a) a pastry cloth and a rolling pin sleeve,
(b) lard in the crust, and
(c) Jonathan apples in the filling.

For devout Jews, Muslims, or vegetarians, and when Jonathans are out of season (49 weeks of the year), you can make the pie with Crisco and Granny Smiths, but it won't be quite as good. And then there are 'Dr. Weevil's date tarts' (miniature pecan pies with dates in the filling), but that recipe will have to wait for a less busy evening. The point is that even I -- a mediocre cook at best -- can make delicious American pastries. You just won't find them in stores, since they are labor-intensive and do not keep well.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:47 PM
Apologia Pro Desidia Mea

Things have been horribly busy -- it's the last week of classes -- but I will return to Chomsky-bashing and other posting this weekend, in the blessed three-day gap between teaching and testing.

I will also answer Beth's objections in the one and only comment to my last Chomsky post. I find them unpersuasive, but am glad to meet a Chomsky fan who is not a lout or a troll like the other three that have written in so far.

In the mean time -- time I really should be devoting to putting together final exams -- I will post a short item or two for my loyal readers, whoever they are.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:24 PM
May 19, 2002
Targeted Sanctions -- For France?

There have recently been calls to boycott France for voting in large numbers for Le Pen, or for being soft on Islamic terrorism, or for just generally being annoying. The fact that Woody Allen is against a boycott is certainly a strong point in favor. However, Instapundit (here, here, and here), Perry de Havilland of Libertarian Samizdata, and TurkeyBlog all have better objections. (Some links are not working yet.) As the last puts it:

If you want a French product, for God sakes, buy it. Seeing as it's a matter of international commerce, the money will most likely land in the pockets of those slowly taking apart socialism - or even help bring one more ordinary French person to the cause as he or she tries to hang onto his or her euros.

It seems to me that the TurkeyBlogger is half right, half wrong. As everyone agrees, the problem is not Frenchmen in general, but French politicians and intellectuals. We may not be able to boycott the politicians, but we can give up Derrida, Foucault, Baudrillard, Lacan, and (especially) their epigones. If you want to read a French book, read Stendhal or Flaubert, Baudelaire or Victor Hugo, Valéry or Yourcenar -- in French, if you can handle it, otherwise in translation. For politics, there's always Raymond Aron. And any literary boycott should be extended to other countries, starting with Empire and any work authored, coauthored, or blurbed by Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Susan Sontag, or Gore Vidal. It's not as if we'd be missing much.

We definitely don't want to give up on Calvados or French cheeses. "Surrender monkey" is an insult any way you look at it, but what the Hell is wrong with "cheese-eating", Jonah? I'm particularly fond of the squishy, smelly ones. Is that unAmerican? My favorite is one called (I think) St. Felicien: the mold that covers it is the same shade of hunter's-safety-vest orange as the mold in the bathtub at my third-to-last apartment. Hmmm . . . there's bathtub gin, why not bathtub cheese?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:08 PM
More On The Bogusphere

A few thoughts I should have put in my last post before I went to bed last night:

Inhabitants of the Blogosphere have often commented on the resemblance of so many current events, and commentaries on them, to the sci-fi concept of 'Bizarro World', where everything is the opposite of our world. This is true enough, but I have a slightly different analogy.

Is the difference between the Blogosphere and the Bogusphere like the difference between matter and anti-matter? Does the general symmetry visible in the construction of the universe necessarily imply the fourth term in the analogy matter : anti-matter :: mind : anti-mind? If so, anti-mind would be a substance exactly like mind except that it is the complete opposite. As with matter and anti-matter, when mind and anti-mind meet the result is quite unpleasant. Unfortunately, there is a lot of anti-mind floating around in our particular corner of the galaxy. It sometimes seems to be raining anti-mind in most of the Middle East.

Are there elements in the anti-matter universe? If so, would the shorter, more positive, name for anti-Strontium-90 be 'Rallium', 'Sontagium', 'Fiskium', or 'Chomskium'? It depends on which sounds most virulent, I suppose. Or would Chomskium be the shorter name for anti-Americium? What would be good names for anti-arsenic and anti-lead? How about anti-Uranium 235 and 238? There's no lack of names to assign, and my comment section is open.

All this reminds me of a joke -- or rather a true story. A few years ago astronomers discovered that Saturn was not the only planet with rings, just the only one whose rings are visible from earth. The other one's rings are parallel to the plane of the earth's orbit and so cannot be seen, even with the best telescopes, except by space probes that leave the orbital plane. (I'm too lazy to look it up, but I believe they are only a few feet thick.) Anyway, at the time of the discovery I happened to be visiting relatives, sitting around with my older brother (who reads this blog: hi, Steve!) as he read Time and I read something else. At one point he looked up and said: "Have you heard? They've discovered rings around Uranus!" I said: "Rings around my what? . . . Oh, the planet."

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 03:26 PM
Martial Arts

A few years ago I read that V. S. Naipaul was reading Martial and the Old Testament -- an odd combination. It is hard to think of any two literary works more unlike.

The Roman poet Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis) was born in Bilbilis, now Calatayud, in northeastern Spain, around 40 A.D. He moved to Rome to seek his fortune around 64, late in the reign of Nero, and published most of his books in the reign of the vicious emperor Domitian (81-96). He died some time between 101 and 104.

Martial wrote nothing but epigrams, short witty poems on miscellaneous subjects. Over 1600 of them survive, in twelve numbered books of Collected Works, plus three more on particular topics. Many are obscene, and some are astonishingly filthy: there is no sexual practice known to modern man that is not mentioned somewhere in Martial. Since some of my students have found my web-site (previous comments on fudge were from them), I won't be quoting any of those.

Here are better-than-average translations of two epigrams on critics and criticism, one from each side of the aisle:

Martial 9.81, translated by A. L. Francis and H. F. Tatum:

Reader and hearer, Aulus, love my stuff;
A certain poet say's it’s rather rough.
Well, I don't care. For dinners or for books
The guest's opinion matters, not the cook's.

Martial 8.76, translated by Dorothea Wender:

"Please, Marcus, tell the truth", you say,
    "That's all I want to hear!"
If you read a poem or plead a case
    You din it in my ear:
"The truth, the honest truth!" you beg,
    It's damned hard to deny
Such a request. So here's the truth:
    You'd rather have me lie.

One of the pleasures of reading Martial is the information on everyday ancient life. Who would have thought that the author of 'Here I sit, broken hearted' had ancient forebears? The evidence:

Martial 12.61, translated by Peter Whigham:

Ligurra's fearful I'll contrive
Some pungent piece, some sprightly ditty
And longs to be considered worth it.
Longings baseless! Baseless fears!
The Libyan lion paws the Libyan bull
But does not bat the butterfly.
What people write of you you'll find
In dismal dives where sodden poets
Scrawl their rhymes on toilet walls.
Your forehead shan't disgrace my brand.

Finally, one more, defending the scabrousness (scabrosity?) of his verse:

Martial 1.67, translated by J. A. Potts:

You often say my work is coarse. It's true;
But then it must be so — it deals with you.

Martial was probably the most important influence on his younger friend Juvenal, of whom I have written before. Latinists will find the complete Latin text here and 72 of the shorter and easier epigrams, with vocabulary and notes, here. The revised Loeb facing text by D. R. Shackleton Bailey (3 volumes, Harvard, 1993) provides excellent Latin text and (prose) English translation, and is unexpurgated and uneuphemistic. (The previous two-volume Loeb translated all the dirty poems, but into Italian.) Amazon even provides sample pages, though they seem to list only two of the three volumes.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:25 AM
Whither The U.N.?

Gedänkenpundit is not the first to argue that the U.S. should leave the U.N. and then kick it out of New York. (He notes that FishInABarrel anticipatedhim on the first point.) I think I've seen at least one bumper sticker reading "US out of UN / UN out of US".

The argument in favor can even be pitched in a non-selfish way. Whenever New Yorkers complain about intrusive demonstrations and the burden on police and other services, they are told about all the financial benefits U.N. spending brings to the local economy. The international bureaucrats also tend to go on and on about how much they care about misery and poverty in the world. So shouldn't they move somewhere their wonderful economic benefits are more needed and will have more impact? Again, this is not an original idea, though I don't recall where I first read it. I'm more interested in the details.

What country needs it most? It depends on the specific criteria applied, but there are plenty of candidates, any way you look at it:

  • If we think of poverty and illiteracy, there are numerous plausible candidates: Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Haiti, Bourkina Faso, more than one of the Central Asian republics, Chad, perhaps Albania, Honduras, Arkansas (just kidding!), or somewhere in the Peruvian/Brazilian border region.
  • If we think of civil war and bloody insurrection, there are again plenty of possibilities: Colombia, Nepal, Chechnya, the Congo formerly known as Zaire, Indonesia, Algeria, lots more. Or how about the West Bank? It's not like the U.N. is particularly hospitable to Jews now. Ulster? Only if the level of violence goes back up to its previous levels: otherwise other places need the U.N. more. Afghanistan? Certainly not. Hamid Karzai and the other anti-Taliban Afghans, the U.S. and allied forces, the Turkish peacekeepers, and the refugees now returning home in large numbers have quite enough to do without having ten thousand U.N. employees to clean up after.
  • Having the U.N. around might do something for countries that suffer from generalized oppression: North Korea, Cuba, Iraq, Syria, the rest of the Arab world, Iran, Myanmar, Belgium (just kidding!), Belarus, China, Zimbabwe, lots more.
  • Then there are the countries picking themselves up after recent genocide or civil war: Rwanda, Cambodia, Lebanon, several more.

Other criteria could be applied, but I think one country stands out in the 'best all around' category: Sudan. Here's a place that really needs the money, where the U.N. delegates can show how much they truly care and do so right on the spot. Sudan has it all: dictatorship, civil war, genocide, slavery, mass starvation, Islamic law, and let's not forget the clitoridectomies. No country needs the U.N. more. Given their elegant (and expensive) tastes in dining and drinking, U.N. employees could even provide gourmet dumpster-diving opportunities for the slum-dwellers of Khartoum.

Should I make this a poll? Too much trouble: just put your nominations in the comment section.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:17 AM
Idiots Of The World, Unite!

Tim Blair first proposed that all the forms of idiocy in the world are uniting into one huge moronic mass. Now he suggests naming the collective HAMAS, for 'Humanity's Associated Movements Against Stuff'. That's not bad, but I think we need a one-word name. What could be better than the Bogusphere?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:44 AM
May 18, 2002
Attack Of The Gnoams

(This has been a busy week, what with teaching, grading tests, and job hunting. I was hoping to get to this earlier.)

Last Sunday's Chomsky post attracted 34 comments, four of them from hostile Gnoams. Each of the four shows us something of the general level of intelligence and decency found among those who worship at the shrine of St. Noam. Taking them in order:

1. 'southpaw' (= left-handed or leftist or both?) makes some points to which I will return in a later post. They would be more plausible if not mixed with sophomoric insults. Can he really think that everyone who despises Chomsky is sexually dysfunctional? He also seems to think we all spend time "trying to decide if Toohey is more evil than Taggart". This would be more effective if I knew who they are -- as he apparently does. All in all, it looks to me like what psychiatrists call 'projection'.

2. Then we have 'c', whose comment is short enough to quote in full:

"so all you people do is Insult Noam Chomsky...whatelese can we expect from people that have never read him. Typical GOP humps"

Three bits of advice:

a. Learn to spell and punctuate, dude, or people won't take you seriously. Some may even imagine that you were drunk or on drugs when you wrote this.

b. Don't tell lies, and don't make foolish assumptions. Fifteen years ago, I read several hundred pages of Chomsky, and that was quite sufficient to draw conclusions about his honesty. In fact, the experience was so unpleasant that I'd hoped never to read anything by him again. It is only his astonishing success at selling books and attracting sycophantic websites by the dozen that makes me write about him now. Ignoring him has not made him go away, and a less passive approach seems necessary.

c. If you want people to take you seriously, you should probably not use as your e-mail address. For anyone who knows anything about the history of the last century, it's as offensive as or would be. It's true that Marxist slogans and allusions do not yet give most people the same automatic, visceral shudder as Nazi ones, but they should, and in the long run they will.

3. The only remotely sympathetic Gnoam of the four is 'Beth', who quotes at length to show that Indonesia has done horrible things in East Timor, and that the Ford Administration was complicit in them. Too bad she didn't read what I said. Neither I nor anyone else defended Indonesia, or Ford, or Carter, for that matter, or said that these things did not happen. (We'll leave atrocity denial to Chomsky and his fans.) What I said was that Chomsky lies about them. The problem with Chomsky is that he doesn't appear to give a damn about East Timor except as a stick to beat his opponents with. (Has he ever done anything for East Timor except assign blame for its tragic history? Is he going to the independence celebration? Not so far as I've heard.) He systematically maximizes the (very real) horrors of East Timor and minimizes those of Cambodia, Viet Nam, Cuba, and a dozen other places, and he does so for ideological reasons.

4. Worst of all, 'Zack' gets out his scissors and paste and puts 7512 words of Chomsky into my comment section, with 26 of his own for introduction. How about some basic internet etiquette, 'Zack'? Next time, post the stuff on your own site, and put the URL here, or just give the URLs for the sites from which you copied them. It's all Chomsky's words, anyway, and that way you can preserve the original formatting.

I don't know whether 'Zack' thought he was actually going to convince me or any of my readers with this tedious pile of recycled verbiage (and yes, 'c', I've read it all long ago), or whether he thought Movable Type would choke on the huge wad of words and kill my blog, or whether he just wanted to bore my other readers to tears. Perhaps the last is most likely: there has been only one comment in 3+ days since he posted. One of Chomsky's most effective tactics is the use of monstrously long and repetitive screeds to engender tedium and disgust in the reader. Failure to respond is taken as a sign of surrender rather than recognition that there's no point in arguing with someone who will never admit to being wrong, no matter what evidence is offered. (Chomsky gives 'boring from within' a whole new meaning.) Like many acolytes, 'Zack' goes even further than his master and ends up looking stupid as well as rude. I probably should have deleted his comment, but I'll leave it up for now to illustrate the kind of thing General Pejman's anti-Chomsky brigade is up against.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother arguing with such as 'southpaw', 'c', and 'Zack': in a war of attrition, one must avoid spending too much to accomplish too little. Then again, no one ever said an anti-idiotarian's life would be an easy one. As Nietzsche put it, "against stupidity, even the gods fight in vain".

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:57 PM
May 15, 2002
What About The Greens?

I'm back from my job-hunting trip -- 967 miles in 1 1/2 days -- and will soon have something to say about the comments of four Gnoams on my previous entry. (Especially 'Zack', who thinks it reasonable to paste 7512 words of Chomsky into a single entry in my comments section, taking up more space than the previous 32 comments put together. Does he think that kind of thing convinces anyone? Or did he think he could choke Movable Type, and kill off my blog, if he fed it a sufficiently large wad of words?)

Before turning back to Chomsky-bashing, I have a question on a more timely topic:

Instapundit links to a story in the Las Vegas Sun about today's Dutch elections, and Drudge has since added a link to a more up-to-date Reuters story. Not surprisingly, Pim Fortuyn's List is doing very well, with 26 seats, as against 24 each for the outgoing Socialists (way down) and the Liberals and 41 for the Christian Democrats (of 150 total). That still leaves 35 for smaller parties.

What I want to know is how the Greens are doing. I'm guessing that vote totals for environmentalist parties will be down -- perhaps way down -- since a vegan animal-rights fanatic assassinated Fortuyn. But this is just a hunch, and I would really like to know.

So how come our professional journalists haven't asked this (rather obvious) question? Malevolent manipulation or just utter cluelessness: you be the judge. (In their defense, I suppose it may be easier to calculate the totals for the big four than for the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth parties.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:55 PM
May 13, 2002

I will be out of town for a couple of days, so updates will be sparse or nonexistent between now and Wednesday. Feel free to visit the fine blogs listed on the right -- unless you are using Netscape, in which case the link list is most likely either below all the posts or entirely invisible. I'll try to learn enough about CSS (cascading style sheets) to fix that in a few weeks. In the mean time, IE and Opera seem to work tolerably well, that is, with only one persistent bug each.

Wish me luck on my job interview in Pennsylvania. If I were a sentimental techno-geek, I would worry about missing my 10,000th visitor (since moving to this address) while I'm gone.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:01 AM
May 12, 2002
Department of Stupid Questions

The New York Press' Billboard section would be a multi-author blog if the pieces were a bit shorter. Last Thursday, one of their regulars, Jim Knipfel, wrote a mildly amusing piece about the pictures from Israel of a failed suicide bomber being poked and prodded and eventually dragged away by a bomb-disposal robot. (No virgins for him! I wonder whether his parents are celebrating his survival or mourning his failure. I also wonder whether any of the dozens of journalists in the area have thought to ask them. I doubt it.)

Anyway, Knipfel expresses appropriately apocalyptic sci-fi thoughts. However, one paragraph rather spoils the effect:

I know that for some time now, American bomb squads have employed similar robots to retrieve and detonate explosives -- but since when are they being used to hold and search people? And drag them away afterward?

I know! I know! Call on me! Since retrieving and detonating explosives has meant holding and searching the people with the explosives strapped right on their bodies? Right? Am I right? Oh, was that supposed to be a rhetorical question?

It seems to me just a little bit stupid -- willfully stupid -- to blame the Israelis for mixing bombs with people and bomb disposal with arrest and imprisonment.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:44 PM
Let's Do It

PejmanPundit wants to be the anti-Chomsky:

I really don't care what he's called.

Just as long as in the end, he is out-argued, out-proselytized, out-worked, out-thought, out-foxed, out-published, out-written, and just as long as he and his acolytes are completely, totally, and hopelessly outnumbered in the court of respectable public opinion. Let's see if the BlogBook can't pass Freud in number of citations before that physically and intellectually decrepit academic poseur displaces him.

How's that for a challenge? I'm game if you are.

I heartily agree, and wish I'd thought of it myself. Let's do it. Specifically, let's start a campaign, staffed mostly by bloggers, and centered around a single web-site. Here are my thoughts, in question-and-answer format:

What are the obstacles to making such a site?

  1. It would be a lot of work. Chomsky is a literary squid, spitting out clouds of black ink to confuse and annoy his critics. And he seems to have hundreds of loyal acolytes who will take up the fight for him. (Perhaps acolyte isn't quite the right word. Minions has a nice ring to it, but I prefer to think of them as his slave army of evil Gnoams.) On the other hand, as someone once said, though it's true that there's a sucker born every minute, that still means there are more of us than there are of them.
  2. It would be disgusting. Apparently some people -- the Gnoams -- find reading Chomsky thrilling, but most of us find it an ordeal. The hate, the spite, the monumental pride: reading Chomsky makes me want to take a shower. On the other hand . . .

What are the advantages of doing so?

  1. It could be fun in some ways: administering a good solid Fisking to one who deserves it has its attractions.
  2. More important, it needs to be done. Judging by his book sales, far too many impressionable young minds are being led into stupidity by this pied piper of the intellect.

What exactly would we be aiming to do?

  1. Spread the news that Chomsky is an intellectual fraud on the scale of Lysenko or Lyndon LaRouche.
  2. Make it impossible for any intelligent and well-informed person to quote him with a straight face. (We're already more than half-way there before we even start.)
  3. Make any TV or radio talk show host trying to find someone to cover the left side of a political debate think twice about calling Chomsky. Ditto for university lecture series.
  4. Get our site high enough on the Google hit-list for 'Noam' and 'Chomsky' to be able to convince the ignorant that Chomsky is an ass, while annoying the Hell out of the unteachable Gnoams.
  5. Cause sales of Chomsky's stupid, dishonest, and repetitious political books, pamphlets, and tapes to plummet. If they drag sales of his linguistics books with them, too bad.
  6. Maybe even work up a book of our own and make a few bucks. (Bet you saw that one coming, "Eric A. Blair"!)

How would we go about achieving those aims?

By building more than just a blog. I envision a full-scale website, perhaps even a web-journal -- not that there's much difference between the two in this case:

This would include:

  • Essays on Chomsky and his rants, all footnoted and carefully fact-checked. The interleaved blogger format would be very handy. 'The scourge of Richard Cohen' is important, but a scourge of Chomsky even more so.
  • Brief reviews of Chomsky's particular writings, possibly also his speeches, interviews, and television appearances. It would not be necessary to cover all of them, since he's so repetitious.
  • Perhaps a summary and map of his writings (he might even like the attention).
  • A blog explaining what's new on the site and trying out new topics.
  • A letters section, plus a fully-functional Comments function for the blog. If Chomsky or his minions want to write back, let 'em. It's fairer, and we might learn something, though not often. (Note to whoever arranges the disc space: rent the maximum available size.)
  • Links to other pertinent sites.
  • Perhaps some Chomsky humor.

What kind of essays would we want to print?

The categories I envision could be listed rather like the index of a book:

Noam Chomsky,
his lies,
his misrepresentations,
his sloppy use of sources,
his hypocrisy, multiple instances of,
his false predictions,
his failure to apologize for same,
his loathsome admirers, NeoNazi and otherwise,
his failure to distance himself from same,
his lies about East Timor,
his lies about Israel and the Palestinians,
his lies about Nicaragua,
his lies about Vietnam,
his lies about Cambodia,
and so on and so on and so on, ad nauseam, if not quite ad infinitum.

What exactly do we need to get started?

  1. Headquarters, in the form of a website. Blogspot is awfully wonky. An easy-to-remember domain name would be nice, but all that's really necessary is some webspace and MovableType or some competitor.
  2. An editorial staff to produce some of the papers and edit the others. I nominate Pejman Yousefzadeh as chairman of the board, and myself as voting member with membership card #2. (Can I nominate myself?)
  3. Contributors. I imagine all kinds of people would submit things. We could also commission work, too, though contributors would have to be motivated not by money but by love of their work, or contempt for Chomsky.
  4. Some basic guidelines about how far we're willing to go in cruel mockery and use of obscenity. Do we want to call it or stick to the high road?
  5. A title for the whole project, possibly with a snappy acronym. One of the "revisionist", i.e. holocaust-denial, groups that cites Chomsky's work with admiration is "L'Association des Anciens Amateurs de Récits de Guerres et d'Holocaustes". Do they know how silly it looks, at least to English-speakers, to have AAARGH in large letters at the top of their page? That certainly expresses my feelings. Their Chomsky page is in French, but the title gives the gist: "L'indéfectible solidarité de Noam Chomsky avec les révisionnistes", or "Noam Chomsky's unfailing solidarity with the revisionists". (The link labeled "see this page in English" actually leads elsewhere.)

    Here are a few possibilities off the top of my head:

    The Journal of Anti-Idiotarian Studies
    Idiot Savant: The Journal of Chomsky Studies
    Manufacturing Dissent
    No Más (= we've had enough of this crap, plus a pun on Noam Ass)

    I'm sure my readers can do much better, and there is a Comment link just below.

To conclude, by the time "9-11" rolls around again, let's make everyone who purchased Chomsky's book of that name feel deeply ashamed. Four months should be enough.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:31 AM
May 11, 2002
Another Kind Of Hit Count Madness

I don't know about other systems, but Earthlink's Urchin provides daily, weekly, and monthly statistics on the length of each reader's visit. These make for humbling reading. A distressingly high percentage of my visitors stay for less than 10 seconds. (There are always at least a few who stay for half an hour or more: if it's the same ones every day, I'm flattered, but also a bit disconcerted.) I don't even want to say what that percentage is, but it's more than half. So it looks as if my 300 visitors per day are mostly either the same few people coming back repeatedly to see if I've posted anything new, or people who arrive here inadvertently while looking for something else -- perhaps using Google to search for information on weevils and thinking that someone who calls himself 'Dr. Weevil' would have something to say about insects. I gather that The Illuminated Donkey gets a lot of visitors looking for information on more strictly asinine topics than what he provides.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:11 PM
Hit Count Madness

I'm wondering what the Hell is going on with my hit count. I had noticed that my on-page counter was ticking faster than usual yesterday and today, and my log page (Earthlink's Urchin) now tells me that my hits more than doubled yesterday, with all the new ones coming from Virginia Postrel's site. What's weird is that she doesn't seem to have mentioned me or linked to me since May 1st, more than a week before.

Here are the figures:

Total hits for the last few days: I had 300 on Sunday, May 5th, which is roughly my average since moving to my new domain a month or so ago. Back-to-back (well, 24 hours apart) Instapundit links raised my totals to 587 on Monday and 614 on Tuesday. The numbers quickly dropped down towards 'background' levels, with 452 on Wednesday and 388 on Thursday. Then on Friday, I had 813. Wow!

Total referrals from Postrel since the 1st: After she linked to my story about Imelda Marcos' shoes on May 1st, I had 44 referrals the same day and 101 the next. (That fits the usual pattern. It appears that linkers usually work late at night, while readers mostly come by the next day -- probably when they're supposed to be working.) The numbers quickly subsided to a slow trickle: 15, 5, 6, 4, 7, 3, then 13 on the 9th (huh?) and 437 (wow!) on the 10th.

So what happened? I can think of a number of possible hypotheses:

1. Did she link to me, send masses of readers my way, and then delete the original link? That seems unlikely, not least because her link would have to have been complimentary enough to send many more readers than the first time.

2. Did Postrel's own hits suddenly increase so massively that even the tiny percentage who would have read her blog all the way back to the 1st and then followed the link to mine was enough to massively increase my total? With all the attrition along the way, I would think that her hits would have had to increase by 10,000 or even 40,000 per day to do that. How likely is that?

3. A variation on the previous hypothesis: Perhaps not all that unlikely, given recent developments in the Blogosphere. Could I be getting a second-hand overflow from Kausfiles? Various bloggers (sorry, I didn't keep track) have assumed that Mickey Kaus' move to Slate would bring him a huge increase in readers. (His new page is so ugly and so disfigured by infuriatingly persistent popups that I've been visiting it a lot less often myself, but that's another story.) Is Kaus getting hundreds of thousands of new hits, sending tens of thousands of them on to Postrel, with hundreds of these then continuing on to follow even links that are half-way down her very long page? If so, Kaus' move to Slate is even more of a revolution in blogging than I had thought.

The problem with this is simple: If I recall correctly -- too late to check now --, one of the few bloggers Kaus permalinked on his old site was Postrel, but his new site doesn't seem to have any non-Slate permalinks. (Is that another kind of revolution in blogging?) So this hypothesis seems plausible, but impossible.

4. The boring hypothesis: Has Urchin just gone insane? They once reported zero hits for a day on which others must have read my blog, because more than one blogger linked to items in it, and did so before midnight. On the other hand, yesterday's numbers were otherwise quite detailed and self-consistent, with the usual trickles of hits from the usual links.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:59 PM
I Have Arrived

I hadn't checked in the last few weeks, but as of today I am the number one "weevil" on Google. Also number four. I had been stuck at number 34 for months. There are more weevils on the web than you might have thought: "about 112,000", according to Google. Numbers two and three are the Oklahoma Boll Weevil Eradication Organization and The Vine Weevil Advice Center ("dedicated to the control of the number one pest of British garderning"). There are three more boll weevil sites in the top ten.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:26 PM
May 09, 2002
Does Colin Quinn Read Dr. Weevil?

Probably not directly, but compare these two passages:

Dr. Weevil (March 29th):

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.

Colin Quinn (date unknown, but apparently recent):

And now they have female suicide bombers. With guys, they get 72 virgins when they die. But what do the women get? Seventy-two guys willing to discuss relationships and look through the J. Crew catalogue with you?

I don't know whether this is from Saturday Night Live's 'Weekend Update' or The Colin Quinn Show or some other show, since the sources do not say. I ran across the quotation on JunkYardBlog (now added to my link list). He gives no link (for shame!), so may have seen it live on television. A Google search led me to TVSpy, whatever that is: the passage is found only in the cached copy.

Of course, the two passages are not all that similar, so why do I think there is a connection? First of all, I should say that my particular academic specialty is textual criticism (mostly of Latin literature), which often involves asking which of two written passages was copied from the other -- a very handy skill for detecting cheating on student essays, by the way. In this case, two points are particularly suggestive. First, female suicide bombers were topical on March 29th, when they were a new and disturbing development in the Palestinian attempt to do a remake of the Holocaust. (Motto: "From 'Never Again' to 'One More Time!'") Now they are almost old hat. Second, I think I know where Quinn would have seen my joke, even if he is totally uninterested in weblogs. We know that celebrities search the web to see what people are saying about them. I can't find the link right now, but one of the blogs in the list to the right recently quoted some Howard Stern staffers as admitting that they are obsessive autogooglers. (Hi, Stern guys! Welcome to my site.) Is it a coincidence that Radley Balko's TheAgitator, one of the very few blogs to quote my little squib, also quotes Colin Quinn on the same archive page? I think not.

Although I have no tip jar, I wonder if the mighty Quinn might wish to send me a small check. What would be fair? Here's my calculation: take Quinn's yearly income from whatever show this was on, then prorate it by dividing the number of seconds it took to deliver the joke by the total number of working seconds per year. That should give a dollar amount with three or four digits, I imagine. To be fair, divide that figure by two, figuring half to me for the original joke, half to Quinn for editing and delivery. Of course I would have to give 10% to Radley Balko and perhaps 10% more to Tim Blair, as finder's fees. I don't know what the final amount would be, but TV salaries are so high that it seems possible that it would be more than I make from a week of teaching.

So what do you think, Mr. Quinn? This is not a rhetorical question. I know you'll read this some time in the next day or two, when you or (more likely) some network intern googles it. Feel free to make use of the comment feature if you have anything to say.

P.S. I'm kidding about the money. I couldn't cash a check made out to 'Dr. Weevil', anyway, since it's not my real name.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:51 PM
May 08, 2002
The Limits Of Tolerance

Commentary on the assassination of Pim Fortuyn has been shamefully simplistic. He was (and still is) called intolerant because he firmly objected to the intolerance of much of the Muslim immigrant community.

There is a basic paradox here that is rarely discussed, and often not even noticed. Everyone likes to claim the high ground of tolerance and look down on those less tolerant than himself. But the fact is that tolerance of all positions means tolerating some very intolerant people, which allows intolerance to flourish, while not tolerating intolerance can lead to more tolerance over all than a stubborn (or cowardly) refusal to criticize even the most intolerant.

The odd thing is that the severer critics of Fortuyn know this in some part of their minds, since they obviously think it is not necessary to tolerate his position. Nearly everyone refuses to tolerate the intolerant: some just have odd ideas on who falls into that category.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:57 PM
May 07, 2002
Crappy Clerk Or Crappy Programmer?

Random Jottings has an interesting piece about 'crap jobs' and how technology has helped provide work that even stupid people can do. However, one of his examples seems a little dubious:

Memorized procedures allow non-thinkers to do complex jobs. Any thinkers are promoted to manager, and they alone are allowed to use common sense. This can drive you crazy. There was a Blockbuster employee recently who could not rent me the movie I had in my hand, because "the computer says there are no copies in inventory."

It's quite possible that the computer program was written in such a way that it was in fact impossible to override a "no copies in stock" status. Of course, the clerk could have jotted something down on a piece of paper and rented the tape "by hand", but that would have been unwise. What if RJ didn't bring it back, or didn't bring it back while that particular clerk was on duty? Pencil and paper only work for mom-and-pop stores.

In short, while I agree with the main point, this particular example is not entirely probative, since the problem may have been an inflexible program rather than a stupid clerk. Then again, I haven't met the clerk, and there may have been other clues as to the source of the problem.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:27 PM
A Mutant Meme Spreads

Two weeks ago I wrote two little pieces exploring the analogy blogger : journalist :: slut : whore (Sex, Money, and Blogging, and Journalistic Whores and Blogger Sluts). They attracted little comment, and no one seems to have taken up my reference to 'nymphobloggers', those who just can't stop blogging all night long, despite the lack of financial remuneration. (I wouldn't want to name any names, but you know who you are, G.R., P.Y., and S.G.) Perhaps my comparison was too crude.

Then again, perhaps not. Eugene Volokh has come up with a nice variation:

I AM NOT A MEDIA WHORE: I like to talk to the media, both print reporters and radio and TV, and do a good bit of it; so a friend of mine told me that I was a media whore. And then it dawned on me: I, and most of my academic colleagues who do these things, are not media whores. We're media sluts -- whores get paid.

I wish I'd thought of that. Letter From Gotham has also used "blogslut" to refer to someone who does not reciprocate when links are offered. All in all, my nasty little meme seems to be spreading like a mutating virus. Assuming, of course, that it is mine, and that someone else didn't beat me to it.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:13 PM
May 06, 2002
A New Diet?

Protein Wisdom today has more on vegetarianism and new evidence that plants feel pain, ending with this comment:

So. Dirt, anyone? Rocks? Some nice ore, maybe?

Twenty-some years ago I had a boss who liked to say that some day scientists would prove that vegetables feel pain, too, and we would have to live on nothing but non-dairy coffee creamer. I guess that day has arrived.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:49 PM
A Disturbing Pattern

InstaPundit writes:

QUITE A FEW PEOPLE HAVE EMAILED ME to say that the Pim Fortuyn assassination feels bigger to them than it ought to. As David Carr writes on Samizdata, "I think those tectonic plates of history just juddered." Such intuitions are often true when widely felt -- but of course, when widely felt they are often self-fulfilling. We'll see. Europe is in a bad way, as I've been saying since, well, before InstaPundit even started. Because the problems have been papered over, and because there's an agreement among the elites not to talk about them, a lot of people haven't realized how bad they were. Now they're starting to.

And, you know, it's not always bad for political "tectonic plates" to move. It just depends on how they move.

I don't doubt that this is the first assassination of a Dutch politician in the modern era, as all the networks have been reporting. But it is not the first assassination of an important right-of-center person in Europe -- not even the first this year. It's only been seven weeks since the Red Brigades murdered Marco Biagi, a Berlusconi adviser "who had drawn up proposals for dramatic labour reform" in Italy (to quote the BBC account). So far as I have heard, no one's been arrested.

The U.S. has enough of a problem with various politicians, pundits, and professors demonizing conservatives by pretending that anyone to the right of Jim Jeffords is no better than Pat Buchanan or David Duke. The situation seems even worse in Europe. They certainly have their Buchanans and Dukes -- Le Pen and Haider -- but since Mrs. Thatcher was deposed there has been a severe shortage of actual conservatives, a yawning void between the me-too pseudoconservatives and the racist fringe. With the assassinations of Biagi and Fortuyn, the shortage has worsened. Cui bono? We can't assume that it was the Red Brigades or their Dutch equivalent who murdered Fortuyn. More than one political faction, none of them particularly admirable, gains from the lack of a solid but not extreme right in Europe. In sum, I don't think people are wrong to feel that Fortuyn's murder is very important, possibly some sort of turning-point, and that its importance extends far beyond the boundaries of the Netherlands.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:38 PM
Juvenalian Delinquents or Why Blog?

There's something about blogging that has seemed familiar, somehow, though I couldn't quite put my finger on it. In fact there are two somethings, and I just realized that both had to do with one of my favorite poets, the Roman satirist Juvenal, who wrote under Trajan in the early 2nd century.

The first parallel is in motivation. Surely I'm not the only blogger who has spent years reading editorials and op-eds, slapping my forehead and shouting: 'You get paid to write this crap? I could do a better job in my spare time!' And surely I'm not the only blogger who has wasted many hours over the years writing cogent and well-argued letters to the editors of newspapers and magazines that were either ignored, rejected for lame reasons, or, if published, edited (that is, butchered) to cut out all the best parts and bring my thoughts into line with what the editor thought I should be saying.

(Coming soon to this blog, a new series: 'Fact Checking Their Asses' Fifteen Years Later: What I Wrote And What They Printed.)

Here's Juvenal, translated by Peter Green, opening his first satire by telling us why he decided to become a writer, and a satirist:

Must I always be stuck in the audience, never get my own back
for all the times I’ve been bored by that ranting Theseid
of Cordus? Shall X go free after killing me with his farces
or Y with his elegies? No come-back for whole days wasted
on a bloated Telephus, or Orestes crammed in the margins,
spilling over on to the verso, and still not finished?

After noting that he too has had the standard Roman rhetorical education, Juvenal goes on:

                    When you find such hordes of scribblers
all over, it’s misplaced kindness not to write. The paper
will still be wasted.

Sound familiar? Juvenal is talking about bad poets, not bad commentators, but otherwise sounds just like a blogger. Another parallel is the self-deprecation mixed with the abuse of others. Juvenal offers us not absolute truths but his own personal 'ramblings', 'bleats', 'curmudgeonry', 'arrogant rants', perhaps even 'bunch of crap from a moron'.

A second parallel is in subject matter. Bloggers tend to comment on whatever catches their cold, cynical eyes in the daily news or everyday life. So do satirists. Later in his first satire, Juvenal pictures himself standing on a streetcorner in Rome with his notebooks (actually wax tablets), watching the crowd of celebrity criminals go by:

Don't you want to cram whole notebooks with scribbled invective
when you stand at the corner and see some forger carried past
exposed to view on all sides, in an all-but-open litter,
on the necks of six porters, lounging back with the air
of Maecenas himself? A will, a mere scrap of paper,
a counterfeit seal -- these brought him wealth and honour.
Do you see that distinguished lady? She has the perfect dose
for her husband -- old wine with a dash of parching toad's blood.
Locusta's a child to her; she trains her untutored neighbours
to bury their blackened husbands, ignore the gossip.
If you want to be someone today, dare acts that could earn you
prison or island exile.

Locusta was a famous poisoner, supposedly pardoned by Nero so that she could work for him. There are Latin texts of Juvenal on-line here and (a personal favorite) here. Unfortunately, there is no English translation on line, but Peter Green's Penguin, which I quote above, is now in its third edition, and is excellent, inexpensive, and well-annotated. (Like comedy, satire in all languages tends to be allusive and difficult, and needs notes.)

(Because of copyright laws, there is actually far more Latin literature on-line in Latin than in translation. I plan to write more on this problem later.)

Samuel Johnson's adaptations of Juvenal are well-known, especially "London" and "The Vanity of Human Wishes", which rewrite Satires 3 and 10, respectively, with modern historical examples substituted for Juvenal's ancient ones. Professor Jack Lynch of Rutgers has put very handsome texts of both on-line: here are the URLs for "London", "The Vanity of Human Wishes", and a whole mass of other interesting English texts.

Finally, here is my favorite translation -- or rather loose adaptation -- of Juvenal. It is by Catherine Davis (1924-?), reworks Satire 3, lines 40ff., and is one of a series of seven short poems called "Insights":

4. In New York

What can I do here? I could learn to lie;
Mouth Freud and Zen; rub shoulders at the "Y"
With this year's happy few; greet every hack--
The rough hyena, the young trimmer pack,
The Village idiot--with an equal eye;
And always scratch the true backscratcher's back.
All this, in second Rome, I'd learn to do;
Hate secretly and climb; get money; quit,
An absolutely stoic hypocrite.
This, but no more. New York is something new:
The toadies like the toads they toady to.

The last joke has no equivalent in the Juvenalian source passage.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:36 PM

Dear Readers:

I don't know what's wrong with my comment function, but the last three do not appear, at least on my screen at home. I can see them in editing mode, edit them, if I want, but they do not appear. They are even counted: that is, the signature line says '3 comments', but only 1 or 2 appear when you click on it. Next step: see whether I can see them from my work machine.

I added a lot of stuff to the right-hand column yesterday. I hope that's not the problem, somehow interfering with the comments. Second step: delete some of the new stuff and see if the comments reappear.

Sorry about the textual dysfunction.

Update from work, less than an hour later:

Hmmmm . . . . It works fine on this machine, all comments visible. Looks like I may need to upgrade my hardware at home. Is it just a RAM problem? If so, perhaps I should slim down the page anyway, for others with clunky old Pentium-I systems.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:32 AM
May 05, 2002
Is 'Islamofascists' Unfair?

Bloggers and others are fond of using the term 'Islamofascists' to refer to the other side in World War III (or IV, if you count the Cold War as World War III, as some do). A Google search just now gave me 599 hits for 'Islamofascist(s)' (singular and plural), many from familiar blogs, as against 17 for 'Islamonazi(s)', of which at least one disparaged the term as unfair to Muslims.

I would like to suggest that it is 'Islamofascist' that is unfair -- to Mussolini. No, I am not kidding, nor am I defending Mussolini, though "Eric A. Blair" and others will no doubt claim that I do. On a tyranny scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, the Kims of North Korea, and one or two others may fight it out for the 10.0 spot, with the rest all scoring 9.7 or above.

Did I mention that the tyranny scale is exponential, like the Richter scale? A 10.0 is ten times more tyrannical than a 9.0, which is ten times worse than an 8.0, and so on.

Mussolini would certainly score somewhere in the 7.0 to 9.0 range, but that puts him way behind the Islamonazis, as I think we must call them. He seems to have been more an old-fashioned imperialistic conqueror, modeling himself on Napoleon, Julius Caesar, and Augustus Caesar -- though rather less successfully, of course. He certainly didn't mind if a lot of people, including civilians, were killed in his mostly-fruitless attempts at glorious conquest. But I don't recall that he ever aspired to wipe out any religious or ethnic group. Until he was overthrown by a coup and the Germans took direct control of Italy, it seems to have been one of the safer countries in occupied Europe for Jews -- not that that was saying much, of course. He may have been particularly callous when it came to civilian casualties in his conquest of Ethiopia, but I don't believe he ever aspired to depopulate the country or even exterminate any particular tribe, just to rule it with an iron fist, enslave its people, and plunder its natural wealth. If he hadn't allied himself with Hitler, no one would even put him in the Top 20 of 20th-Century tyrants.

Given their fondness for Mein Kampf and their often-expressed (and more often acted-on) hope to slaughter all the Jews in the Middle East and perhaps the world, I think 'Islamonazi' is the proper term for Arafat and his more enthusiastic followers. Don't you?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:49 PM
Bloggers And 'Facts'

A common analogy for the relationship between blogging and old journalism is blogger : journalist :: parasite : host. According to this (often unconscious) paradigm, the dependence is all one-way. Newspapers and other old media provide both facts and commentary, often mixed together in unfortunate ways. Bloggers provide only commentary, and depend on the old media to feed them the facts on which they comment.

If I were a trendy professor, I would say that this dichotomy or antithesis is badly in need of deconstruction. It is certainly at best oversimple. I don't want to sound like some kind of pseudointellectual spouter of postmodern jargon (aaagh, anything but that!), but what exactly is a 'fact', and where do newspapers get theirs? I also don't want to sound like some boring old premodern professor, but it seems to me there are a number of categories of 'fact' that need to be carefully distinguished. In no case are bloggers inevitably shut out from the facts available to old journalists.

Here are some of the more obvious categories. Please put your suggested additions and refinements in the comments:

  1. Legislative debates, texts of laws and treaties, politicians' speeches. Most of these are now posted on official government websites. Even in the old days, the Congressional Record was easy enough to get hold of at the public library, even in fairly small towns. Historians have also done excellent work in making older texts available. You can read the actual texts of the treaties with the Barbary Pirates at Yale's Avalon Project site, which also includes much useful collateral information. Bloggers can use it as easily as anyone else.
  2. Interviews with politicians and other newsmakers. This is the one place where the old media still have a huge advantage, but I expect this to change. As bloggers gain influence, savvy politicians will be eager to be interviewed by them. As technology advances and bandwidth increases, it will be possible to put these interviews on blogger websites in full-color animated form.
  3. Reports from the scene of a battle, revolution, riot, election, famine, earthquake, or economic meltdown. The old media have much more money available to send people half way around the world at short notice. But this advantage is outweighed by several disadvantages: (a) The people they send are usually preening twits, who flaunt their ignorance every time they open their mouths. (b) Newspapers and networks don’t have infinite amounts of money, and have been closing their foreign bureaus right and left. (c) There are a lot more of us than of them, and we are spread (though not evenly) around the world. If something exciting or significant happens in Barcelona, John and Antonio will certainly know far more about it than a hastily-flown-in Peter Jennings or Geraldo Rivera. If Sgt. Stryker gets shipped to Afghanistan or Iraq, he will have a better (and more expert) view than the vast majority of reporters. (He may not be able to give us real time reports without being court-martialed, but that's another question.) Examples could be multiplied.
  4. Reports from exotic subcultures. Old-newspaper types love to write stories about teenage heroin addicts, illegal immigrants living in caves in Central Park, patrons of S&M and bondage clubs, or even (most alien of all) people who eat at the Olive Garden in Birmingham, Alabama. Here bloggers already have certain advantages. Particularly at the New York Times, reporters don't seem to know anyone who serves in the military or hunts for sport. Just in my own linklist, I have Sgt. Stryker and Sgt. Schultz for the former, The Kolkata Libertarian and Coyote at the Dog Show for the latter. I could very easily find more, as I could easily find homeschoolers, Trekkies, Sikhs, NASCAR fans, Orthodox Jews, accountants, Mormons, quilters, etymologists, entomologists, philatelists, philologists, long-haul truckers, a hundred other categories, and ten thousand combinations of categories (Sikh Trekkies, Orthodox Jewish NASCAR fans, and so on). Other than possibly the Amish, it's hard to think of an American subculture that does not already have a web presence, and cannot be expected to establish one soon. And bloggers are usually more open-minded, where old-media reporters too often come across like Frasier and Niles Crane at a hoedown.
  5. Professional expertise. Understanding the news often requires expertise in economics, law, medicine, various hard and social sciences, engineering, computer technology, the history of various parts of the world in various centuries, archaeology, dozens of foreign and dead languages, and other fields I’ve forgotten for the moment. Name a subject, and there's a blogger somewhere who knows a great deal about it, from the inside. When newspapers need deep expertise, they have to go outside the newsroom and ask (most often) professors at the nearest university. They are at the mercy of their Rolodexes, and often get hold of the stupid or politically-slanted professors. For simple fact-checking, they send someone down to the library or more often (I assume) onto the web. We can do that just as easily.

So what exactly is it that newspapers can do that bloggers can't?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:07 PM
May 04, 2002
Calling Arabs Names

Gunner20's Blog Carnival has a contest to "Make up a new word to describe the Arab countries, collectively". Send in your entries: less than 24 hours to go, and the prize is well worth winning.

Will an old word count? I suggest that we go back to the traditional name for the western portions of the Arab world and extend it to the whole: Barbary. Not for the cute furry barbary apes of Gibraltar, but for a reminder of the Barbary Pirates, who ruled the Barbary Coast, and were defeated by the U.S. Navy in the Barbary Wars (1801-05). The name is a bit unfair to the Berbers, after whom the Barbary Coast is said to have been named. But the fact that it includes more than a hint of 'barbarian' is what makes it attractive. Once the Arab nations stop acting like barbarians, we can come up with a more complimentary name.

Another possible name change:
I have previously suggested that "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". Why not go whole hog (with apologies for mentioning hogs in a Muslim context) and change the Empty Quarter to the Empty Whole? Or would that be Empty Hole?

I only mention that to set up for this:
The announcement a few months ago of Berkeley's new "holistic" admissions policy (meaning disguised racial quotas) reminded me of something I saw on a streetcorner in San Francisco around 1980. Someone had posted a flyer advertising some kind of "holistic" health-related program. Someone else had come along with a pen, and wherever the flyer said "holistic", "holist", or "holism" (about 20 different places), had very neatly inserted "(ass)" before the word. Ever since then I've been unable to take "holistic" and its cognates seriously. They are not etymologically related to "hole", but very often look as if they ought to be, never more so than when used to describe Berkeley's post-colorblind admissions.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:37 PM
Meaty Thoughts

Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom (not to be confused with Ken Goldstein of The Illuminated Donkey or Al Goldstein of Screw) has an interesting post and accompanying thread called Vegetarians with Blood on their Hands. It has inspired so many various thoughts in me that they won't fit in his comments section. Besides, it's kind of fun to set up a double-helix-type double-thread on two different sites. A few weeks ago, my 'No Muslims on Star Trek?' thread (20 comments, one of them just yesterday) jumped over to Asparagirl for 22 more.

Anyway, Protein Wisdom starts from the observation that vegetable farming kills animals, too, just wild ones, and suggests, among other things, that it might help ease the moral qualms of meat-eaters if domesticated animals could be genetically engineered not to feel pain. My comments:

1. One of JG's commentators, 'Tiger Lily' (not her real name, I imagine), repeats, without endorsing, a common objection to meat-eating:

Truth is, if I had to slaughter the animls I've eaten over the years, I'd have gone hungry @ 99.9% of the time. So, it seems, my illogic knows no bounds.

I can't imagine how famished I'd have to be to butcher an animal--but I'm pretty sure i'd lose my appetite in the process.

This is nearly the same as one of the common objections to the death-penalty: how can you support sending criminals to the electric chair if you wouldn't be willing to pull the switch yourself? The hidden corollary is: if you would, what kind of monster are you? I've always found this line of argument singularly unpersuasive -- as apparently, does Tiger Lily.

My counter-argument is simple: I can think of no amount of money that would ever persuade me to become a proctologist, and I'm not sure even a gun to my head would suffice. However, I would not hesitate to consult one if I were ever to suffer any medical problems pertinent to that particular field of expertise. Is that hypocrisy? Or just a recognition that careers that most of us would find revolting are somehow acceptable to some people? It continues to amaze me that there are proctologists in the world, and that they are not paid ten times as much as, say, cardiologists. I guess it's true that it takes all kinds to make a world.

The original argument is used two different ways: (a) If you are against hunting or unwilling to work in an abbatoir, you must become a vegetarian. (b) If you eat meat, you can't be opposed to hunting, since you obviously have no objection to killing animals. The second version (pushed by Dave Lonborg on Jeff's thread) may be stronger than the first.

2. A tangential topic may be worth exploring: Should we be doing more to widen the range of animals eaten? Many societies have considered locusts a tasty snack. Would it be a good thing if the current plague of locusts infesting Afghanistan were seen as an opportunity rather than a threat? After all, a sudden plague of lobsters would not frighten most of us. Quite the contrary: we would be out buying new freezers to store the ones we couldn't eat on the spot. If there were a market for fresh or frozen locusts, we could kill two birds with one stone, feeding the protein-starved and reducing the damage to crops for everyone.

3. Breeding (for instance) cows that were immune to physical pain would be a very bad idea. They would spend all day leaning on the barbed wire fences, knocking down the electric barriers, and kicking each other without fear of being kicked back. At the end of the day, we would have a lot of bleeding, stunned, or seriously injured cows wandering all over the place, and we couldn't even use cattle prods to get them back in their pens: they would have to be moved around by brute force. Though unpleasant (I guess that's the point), pain serves a very useful function for carbon-based life-forms.

What we need are stupid domesticated animals, too unobservant to notice the freedom of their wild brethren, and too unimaginative to anticipate their imminent deaths. Don't we already have those? Is it true that wild turkeys are the slyest of all North American animals, but domesticated turkeys the dumbest of all God's creatures? It may be an urban -- sorry, rural -- legend, but they say that turkeys are so dumb that they drown if left out in the rain, looking up at the sky with their mouths open.

Then again, I've been told that modern Thanksgiving turkeys have been bred to be so fat that they can only reproduce by artificial insemination. Apparently they can't get close enough together to do it the old-fashioned way. This brings me to another point. Is it better for domesticated animals to live lives so boring and tedious and (in the case of turkeys and castrated veal calves) sexless that they might as well be dead? Or should we try to give them as pleasant a time as possible before killing them? The answer is not entirely obvious. Fans of free-range livestock certainly think that a pleasanter life means a tastier death, but then we're back to the guilt involved in cutting short a happy life.

Bracing for a wave of e-mails from angry vegetarians (hi, Alison!) . . . .

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:30 PM
May 03, 2002
"Dare You Touch Me?"

Several bloggers have quoted the Arab News' report that Saudi women have been wearing abayas inscribed on the back in Arabic with the words "Dare you touch me?"

Not to give these women any ideas, but Clement of Alexandria, one of the early Church fathers, reports that in his day the prostitutes of Ephesus had "erotic messages of greeting" imprinted on the soles of their sandals. (The passage is Paedagogus 2.116, if you want to look it up.) The message they left behind as they walked (or more likely sashayed) along was apparently "follow me". Saudi Arabia has plenty of sand: the same method should work there. Of course, it must be carved mirror-style to come out right.

Perhaps I should add, to avoid misunderstanding, that I do not mean to imply that these courageous Saudi women are prostitutes or in any way resemble them. We'll leave that particular comparison to the prurient minds of the members of the Commission for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice. I'm sure they have already thought of it without any help from me or Clement.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:49 PM
Fractured Fairy Tales

Instapundit quotes a letter from military historian Kevin Hurst on Michael Bellesiles:

Most of the reviewers I read took Bellesiles to task for mistakes he committed in their respective areas of expertise. However, all seemed to think these mistakes isolated incidents in an otherwise persuasive book. I think Bellesiles correctly judged that academics loathe military and diplomatic history by and large and that he could get away with almost anything he said in that area ("In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king").

There's more, but this particular passage reminds me of a different fable, "The Blind Men and the Elephant", or rather a new variation on it, "The Over-Specialized Doctors and the Very Sick Elephant". The cardiologist says: "This elephant has an enlarged heart, but is otherwise in excellent health." The dentist says: "This elephant needs root canals on both tusks, but otherwise seems fine." The gastroenterologist says: "This elephant has a duodenal ulcer, acid reflux, and colitis, but should live for many years." The dermatologist, hematologist, pulmonologist, and all-the-rest-of-the-ologists diagnose serious but for the most part non-fatal problems, and they're all surprised when the elephant drops dead in front of them. I'm surprised that Bellesiles' career has not yet been given a decent burial. It certainly began to stink quite some time ago.

Then again, I thought the perfect fable for the Clinton Administration would be a light rewrite of "The Emperor's New Clothes" called "The Emperor's New Pants", with the little boy at the end shouting "mommy, mommy, the emperor's not wearing any pants!"

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:14 PM
May 02, 2002
How Clueless Are Educators?

The Wall Street Journal's on-line Opinion Journal has been doing good work in exposing the idiocy of 'zero tolerance' policies in American schools. This item in yesterday's Best of the Web caught my eye:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that 17-year-old Frank James Gelman Jr., a junior at Fayette County High School, has been arrested for bringing a machete to school. "His father, Frank Gelman Sr., said that his son just started a landscaping business with friends to earn extra money. The younger Gelman worked late Monday and forgot the machete and a chain saw were in his truck when he drove to school Tuesday morning."

A machete is more obviously a possible weapon than many of the things that have caused suspensions and expulsions, such as bread knives, keychains, and chicken fingers. Still, what's wrong with this picture? Here's a clue, from the linked story:

Melinda Berry-Dreisbach, spokeswoman for the school system, said the officer had no choice but to arrest Gelman Jr. under the policy, which bans anything that reasonably can be considered a weapon on school property.

Not to give Ms. Berry-Dreisbach any ideas, but they punished the kid for having a machete in his truck, and let his chain saw pass? Haven't these bozos ever seen a teen slasher movie? Or even heard of them? I've always avoided them myself, and had to ask my students today whether the maniac with the chain saw and hockey mask was (a) 'Jason', (b) 'Freddie Krueger', or (c) 'Michael Myers', and whether he appeared in (a) the Halloween series, (b) the Friday the 13th series, or (c) the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Assuming they told me the truth -- not always a safe assumption with high school students -- the answers are (a) and (b), respectively. But even I know that a chain saw is the weapon of choice for some (fictional) teenicidal maniacs. How can professional educators not know that? I believe these movies were particularly popular in the 1980's, when many of these educators were in their prime bad-movie-watching years. (Of course, the word 'educator' is often as inaccurate and misleading as a 'men at work' sign. The fact that one is being paid to educate, or to work, does not necessarily mean that one is actually earning the pay.)

Not to give young Mr. Gelman any ideas, but if he were to turn out to be some kind of psycho killer, wouldn't he find the chain saw even more useful than the machete? I'm not, but I would.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:23 PM
May 01, 2002
How Clueless Are Journalists?

Instapundit writes:

JOURNALISTS WITHOUT A CLUE: An apparently endlessly continuing series. The Dallas Morning News is threatening to sue a site called unless it quits linking to individual articles and starts linking only to the paper's front page.

Instapundit goes on to give two reasons why it's stupid not to allow deep links. He's absolutely right. But what kind of technological moron thinks you have to sue to prevent deep linkage? If that's what you want to do, it's easy and totally legal. All you have to do is move your stuff from one directory to another every now and then, updating your internal links to match. If today's stories are all in a subdirectory called '20020501', change it to '2002/05/01' tomorrow and 'May2002/01' the next day. As long as you don't screw up and give two directories the same name, and as long as you put the linked information into the new directories before uploading the files that link to them, the change will be invisible to readers who enter your site 'through the front door', but external links will be rendered useless. It's still a stupid way to alienate readers (and potential readers), but you can save a bundle on lawyer's fees, and avoid the possibility of a countersuit, by doing the alienating yourself.

Update: (5:45 PM)

Instapundit has now linked to a Slashdot discussion of methods for preventing deep linking. It appears that knowledgable users have several sophisticated methods to choose from, all way beyond my level of expertise. I think it's interesting that even a tiro like myself, who knows only HTML, and not all of that, can think of a method that the Dallas Morning News and its ace webmeisters apparently can't . Of course, my method could be evaded, since linkers could always look for changed addresses through the main DMN site and then update their links to match. But the DMN would have the advantage of (a) time (linkers would always be one step behind, losing users who tired of the intermittent linkage) and (b) numbers (moving one article would break the links from any number of linkers). Few, if any, linkers would want to bother with the extra work. To judge from the responses, it looks as if the methods proposed on Slashdot are not foolproof, either.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:08 PM