June 30, 2002
Are These Results Compatible?

Results of Test 1:

If I were a Dead Russian Composer, I would be Igor Stravinsky.

Known as a true son of the new 20th Century, my music started out melodic and folky but slowly got more dissonant and bizarre as I aged. I am a traveler and a neat freak, and very much hated those rotten eggs thrown at me after the premiere of "The Rite of Spring."

Who would you be? Dead Russian Composer Personality Test

Results of Test 2:

What Simpsons Character Are You?
Take the quiz here!

Results of Test 3 (Personality Disorder Test):

Schizotypal:Very High

-- Click Here To Take The Test --

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:53 PM
Planning Ahead

In last week's Spectator, Andrew Kenny observed that human efforts at global warming may be the only thing delaying the advent of an overdue Ice Age:

Of course, the ultimate irony might be that the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are warding off the ice age. In this case, we should give tax relief to coal power stations and factories for every ton of carbon dioxide they release.

(Link via Daleynews, whose permalink doesn't seem to be working at the moment.)

I would take Kenny's argument two steps further:

1. It seems likely that technological advances will make wholesale use of fossil fuels superfluous some time in the next century or two. Nevertheless, we had better preserve our capacity to commit global warming on a large scale, so as to be ready for the next Ice Age. Padlock the fossil-fuel power plants, but don't tear them down. Cap the oil wells and plug the coal mines, but keep the locations on file. Mothball the equipment, but do not recycle it. Better safe than sorry.

2. There are some hopeful signs that nuclear proliferation is not irreversible. If the apartheid regime of South Africa could give up its nuclear deterrent, it obviously doesn't take extreme levels of virtue or trustworthiness -- just a lack of any plausible enemy to deter. The Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are also postnuclear powers, though they had not become nuclear powers by their own efforts, which must have made it easier to give up the dubious honor. At the moment there are more, and more dangerous, countries trying to join the nuclear club than allowing their memberships to lapse, but that could easily change.

To get to my point, even in the paradisal world some of us still hope to see achieved in this century, we had better preserve some weapons of mass destruction. If every country were as peaceful and non-threatening as Denmark or Costa Rica today, even the major powers would be tempted to dismantle all their nuclear weapons and the missiles that deliver them. It would be a pity if such a delightful civilization were to be wiped out by a wandering asteroid or comet, particularly if it arrived with plenty of advance warning and a few well-aimed nuclear-tipped missiles would have sufficed to divert it.

I have a feeling that some science-fiction writer has already written up one or both of these scenarios. If so, I would appreciate knowing the author(s) and title(s). If not, I trust the first one to do so will send me 10% of the royalties.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:49 AM
June 29, 2002

Iain Murray of The Edge of England's Sword has written a piece for UPI on what he calls 'globesity', the supposed global epidemic of obesity.

It occurs to me that it should be possible to come up with a more euphonious pun, one that combines 'global' and 'globular' (though some might prefer 'blobular'). 'Global globularity' is too many words: can any of my readers come up with something better?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:39 PM
Parasites, Ancient And Modern

I'm coming to this rather late, but it's an interesting case of dueling dictionaries:

Last Tuesday, Megan McArdle ("Jane Galt") of Live . . . from the WTC quoted a remark of InstaPundit Watch from last Sunday:

[Instapundit] calls Instapundit Watcher a "parasite", which she learned in school is usually defined as a hanger-on, a toady, a sycophant. Instapundit Watcher defies anybody to call her that. That title better fits some of Instapundits warblogging friends, especially the ones with the oh so clever variations on the "-pundit" theme, aka the "I want Instapundit's traffic" crowd.

Megan replied:

I don't know what college Instapundit Watcher attended, but my dictionary defines a parasite as "something that resembles a biological parasite in dependence on something else for existence or support without making a useful or adequate return". Which I think more than adequately describes a site called Instapundit Watcher.

So far, so good, but there's more to it than that. The InstaPundit Watcher is half-right, but that's no defense. Here is the entry for 'parasite' in the American Heritage Dictionary, the first one reported by Dictionary.com:

  1. Biology. An organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host.
  2. a. One who habitually takes advantage of the generosity of others without making any useful return.
    b. One who lives off and flatters the rich; a sycophant.
  3. A professional dinner guest, especially in ancient Greece.

Meaning 3 is the oldest, but 2.a (the metaphorical use of 1) is clearly what InstaPundit meant, and what any more-than-half-educated American means when he or she says 'parasite' in a neutral (non-classical) context. Meaning 2.a could be put less pejoratively, and more accurately, as by Megan's unnamed dictionary. Webster's, which comes second on Dictionary.com, gives roughly the same meanings in the opposite order. I have no access on weekends, but I assume that the Oxford English Dictionary also puts the 'toady' meaning before the biological meaning, since it is organized on historical principles. Still, meaning depends on context, and the oldest meaning of a word is not necessarily the commonest or most standard. Meryl Yourish has had a lot on her blog about slugs lately, and we all know that a slug crawling on the lawn is likely to be a mollusc, while a slug lodged in a vending machine or a gangster's heart is likely to be made of metal. (Fewer know that a slug standing by the side of the road in Washington, D.C. is a hitchhiking commuter.) Intelligent and honorable people assume that a speaker or writer intends whichever meaning is most appropriate, and do not take offense at a meaning that was not necessarily, or even probably, intended. Then again, intelligent and honorable people do not claim to have learned in school what they are quoting without attribution from an easily-available dictionary: "a hanger-on; a toady; a sycophant" are the last words of Webster's meaning 1 on Dictionary.com. Unless she memorized Webster's when she was in school, the InstaPundit Watcher should have put those words in quotation marks, as I have. Changing the semicolons to commas is not enough to make the words her own.

Today's History Lesson: The parasite is one of the stock characters in Roman comedy. He made his living flattering and amusing the wealthy, who would invite him to dinner for the pleasure of his company, without expecting any return invitation. He was in some ways the free-lance version of the Mediaeval court jester. The closest modern parallel I can think of is Kato Kaelin, who doesn't seem to have paid any rent for his weeks at O. J. Simpson's house. He never seemed particularly amusing to me, but perhaps that is because we only got to know him after the murder. Of course, Simpson may also have low standards for humor, or Kaelin may have made up for any shortcomings on the wit side by slathering on the flattery. The characters played by David Spade on Just Shoot Me and in the Coneheads movie also share many traits with the classical parasite, though they are salaried employees.

Parasites appear in several of Plautus' comedies. As it happens, these include all three of the Roman plays I've read with students over the years. In the Miles Gloriosus or "Swaggering Soldier", one of the sources for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the parasite is named Artotrogus, which means 'Bread Muncher'. In the Curculio, the parasite is the title-character, 'Mr. Weevil', a human parasite named after an animal pest. The Curculio is one of my favorite plays: though among the shortest in the Plautine canon, it is the only one that includes all five of his stock secondary characters: besides the standard pair of thwarted young lovers, we have a sleazy pimp, a drunken old woman, a crooked banker, a boastful soldier, and of course the title parasite. Finally, in the Menaechmi or "Menaechmus Twins", the source for Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, the parasite is named Peniculus, which means 'Brush', since he sweeps the table clean wherever he is invited. At least, that's how he explains his name. There seems to be a further pun, since the name could also mean 'Small Penis'.

Today's Language Lesson: Latin penis originally meant 'tail', and was only later extended to mean 'appendage' and then restricted to one particular kind of appendage. As with the English word, Latin penis is not entirely obscene, and there are cruder equivalents such as mentula. Brushes were originally made from animal tails, so the diminutive of penis, peniculus, means 'small brush', though it could also mean, or at least imply, 'diminutive penis'. By the way, the plural of 'penis' is not 'penii', as I have seen on some websites. It's either 'penises' (English) or 'penes' (Latin). The Latin word forms its plural the same way as axis (axes), basis (bases), and analysis (analyses).

To return to my subject, it seems to me that InstaPundit Watcher must be one of three things:

  1. Someone who was a Classics major in college, or at least took Classics courses, but no Biology or Zoology. That is the only background that would make the ancient meaning more familiar than the biological one. It would still be no excuse: even a professional Latin teacher like myself, hearing the word 'parasite', tends to think of the animal kind unless the context called for the other, for instance if I'm reading an article about Plautus in Classical Philology.
  2. Someone who is not as familiar as she ought to be with standard contemporary English, and must use a dictionary to find out precisely what 'parasite' means. This has its pitfalls, since no guidance is given on which meaning best fits the situation. And neither of the on-line dictionaries will tell you that metaphorical use of the biological meaning of 'parasite' is quite common: that takes reading.
  3. Someone who is disingenuous and argues dishonestly. It certainly looks as if the InstaPundit Watcher may have gone out looking for the least flattering definition as an excuse to take offense and accuse InstaPundit of using that one and not the other, more likely, one.

If we could be sure that my first hypothesis is true, we -- by which I mean the card-carrying members of the oppressive Warblogger conspiracy, working together to suppress dissent and terrorize the dissenters -- would be one step closer to identifying the anonymous woman behind InstaPundit Watch. (Or is she a woman? That could be part of the disguise!) Which of us can find the next clue? Perhaps Megan's retort will trick her into revealing her college. The effort applied to unmasking her will be well worth the trouble. Once she is identified, reported to Tom Ridge's hypersecret Committee for the Enforcement of Homeland Security and Suppression of Dissent, arrested by these real 'Men in Black', and shipped off to Guantanamo Bay in a hood and leg-irons, the standard $10,000 check will be issued by Warblogger Central Command, backed by the full faith and credit of the Scaife Foundation, and signed by Commander Reynolds himself. A commemorative plaque will accompany the check. Let's get started, guys!

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:44 PM
I'm Back

I'm back home, and will start posting again shortly. I didn't quite make it to the National Press Club Blogarama, but neither did half the invited speakers. More in a few minutes . . . .

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 03:48 PM
June 26, 2002

I will be on the road for the next four days, interviewing for a job and attending the National Press Club blog panel. Posts will therefore be somewhere between infrequent and nonexistent from now through midnight Saturday.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:18 AM
June 25, 2002
Another Pie Post

My subtitle promises pies, so here's a pie-related posting.

A few days ago I was taking one of those on-line political polls purporting to tell me my political leanings -- as if I didn't already know -- and came to this question:

Lard shouldn't be a commodity to be bought and sold.

( ) Strongly disagree
( ) Disagree
( ) Agree
( ) Strongly Agree

My first reaction was "Damned health Nazis! How am I supposed to make pie crust without lard? If you want my lard, you'll have to pry it out of my cold, dead, greasy hands!" Then I realized it actually said "land". I still put "Strongly disagree", of course, but not quite so passionately.

I wonder how many of my readers misread my quotation to make it say what it actually said.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:36 AM
June 24, 2002
Fact-Checking My Own Ass, Twenty Years Later

I've tracked down the article on Ireland that I referred to in this post two days ago. The complete reference is: Herb Greer, "Ulster: In the Empty House of the Stare", Commentary 73.1 (January, 1982), 55-64. Here are the pertinent passages (pages 59-60):

After Britain gave up its Irish port facilities in 1938, De Valera kept his government officially neutral in the war against the Axis powers. There were accusations that he allowed the Germans to use the Irish coast as a haven for submarine action against Allied shipping, but these were never proved. Certainly he did permit the German representative in Dublin to send weather reports to the Luftwaffe, and these helped in the bombing of Britain and Ulster. Like Joseph Kennedy, the American Ambassador to Britain, De Valera did what he could to keep the United States out of the war. When his efforts failed, he protested at the presence of American troops in Ulster as an "infringement of Irish sovereignty." No such protest was made after the heavy German air attacks on Belfast.

As late as 1944, the American State Department said bluntly: "Despite the declared desire of the Irish government that its neutrality should not operate in favor of either of the belligerents, it has in fact operated and continues to operate in favor of the Axis powers." Upon learning of the death of Hitler, De Valera called upon the Nazi minister in Dublin to express sympathy, insisting loftily that this was a neutral act of protocol. As the New York Times put it: "Considering the character of the man for whom he was expressing grief [and considering that 50,000 Southern Irishmen had volunteered for service in the British forces] . . . there [was] obviously something wrong with the protocol, the neutrality, or Mr. De Valera."

(I seem to have forgotten to xerox the right page at the library, but Churchill estimated that at least 4,000 British sailors died because of the refusal of Irish bases.)

I had forgotten the weather reports, but the rest is pretty much as I recalled -- not bad for twenty years later. One thing was worse than I remembered it: De Valera didn't just send condolences to the German embassy, he delivered them himself. And I had forgotten that Britain had had naval bases on the west coast of Ireland until 1938, which makes the refusal of air bases in 1939 and 1940 that much more shameful.

Perhaps I should say that I mention all this not to trash the Irish people or the nation of Eire, which behaved no worse than other neutral countries, but (a) to back up Steven Den Beste's argument that neutrality in a war between civilization and barbarism is not an admirable thing, and (b) to illustrate how traditional hatreds and "enemy of my enemy" attitudes can push people to do incredibly stupid and short-sighted things. After all, if Britain had surrendered to the Nazis, Ireland would have received its gauleiter within a week or two.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:15 PM
June 23, 2002
'The Toys Of Peace'

Andrea Harris of Ye Olde Blogge quotes a story from the Christian Science Monitor (1998) by a silly hippie who refused to give her nephew a toy gun for Christmas. She got the URL from a comment by Moira Breen of Inappropriate Response on an entry on Horologium. How's that for incestuous blogrolling, malicious trolls? I prefer to call it giving credit where credit is due.

Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, H. H. Munro, better known as "Saki", said the last word on war toys and pacifist toys in his short story "The Toys of Peace" (1923). There is a rather ugly text at the Gutenberg site. If you want to use the search function to skip over all the legal rigamarole and get to the beginning of the story, you should know that the first word is "Harvey" (the name of the pacifist uncle). Here is a sample:

A quantity of crinkly paper shavings was the first thing that met the view when the lid was removed; the most exciting toys always began like that. Harvey pushed back the top layer and drew forth a square, rather featureless building.

"It's a fort!" exclaimed Bertie.

"It isn't, it's the palace of the Mpret of Albania," said Eric, immensely proud of his knowledge of the exotic title; "it's got no windows, you see, so that passers-by can't fire in at the Royal Family."

"It's a municipal dust-bin," said Harvey hurriedly; "you see all the refuse and litter of a town is collected there, instead of lying about and injuring the health of the citizens."

In an awful silence he disinterred a little lead figure of a man in black clothes.

"That," he said, "is a distinguished civilian, John Stuart Mill. He was an authority on political economy."

"Why?" asked Bertie.

"Well, he wanted to be; he thought it was a useful thing to be."

Bertie gave an expressive grunt, which conveyed his opinion that there was no accounting for tastes.

Now go read the whole thing. This is not even the best part.

Update: (6/24 11:20 PM)

I have reformatted the entire story for easier reading and uploaded it to this address. It seems to be out of copyright. I may add a few more favorite stories as I find the time.

If the curly brackets and long dashes come out wrong on anyone's browser, I would appreciate hearing about it. I would prefer to use the prettier typography throughout my site, but don't know whether it will work for all readers.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 PM
June 22, 2002
Bear With Me On This

Howard Bashman of How Appealing refers to the plaintiff in a recently-decided Supreme Court case as "the grammatically-challenged Ours Garage and Wrecker Service" of Columbus, Ohio. That's a little harsh. "Ours" is French for "bear" (unless the bear is female, in which case she's an "ourse") and the company is most likely named after its owner or founder. Next up: Ours vs. Bashman, a groundbreaking case alleging discrimination against Franco-Americans.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:41 PM
More On Irish Neutrality

U.S.S. Clueless has an interesting post on Ireland, in which he says (among much else) "Irish neutrality has always left a sour taste in my mouth". He talks about the refusal of the Irish government in World War II to allow British or even American submarine-chasing planes to be based in Ireland, with the result that the Battle of the Atlantic was nearly lost.

As I recall from an article a few years ago in (I think) Commentary, it was worse than that, and Ireland was not just pedantically and short-sightedly neutral. There were suspicions, never confirmed, that the Germans were using isolated inlets in the west of Ireland to refuel their submarines, with the tacit permission of the Irish government. However that may be, they certainly sent official condolences to the German embassy on the death of Hitler. They cannot have been motivated by fear at that point, since the Russians were already on the outskirts of Berlin, and everyone knew that surrender was only a week or so away. They also vehemently protested the stationing of American troops in Ulster before D-Day as a violation of Irish sovereignty, while ignoring the savage German bombing of Belfast, which killed hundreds of their fellow Irish.

Of course, it's possible that I remember the article wrong, since it's been a few years. However, I doubt it: it made a big impression. The Irish had good reason to dislike and distrust the British, but the principle that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" can be taken way too far.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:10 PM
World's Smallest Political Quiz

Yet another test, this one nice and simple for a change. Of course, it's easy enough to cheat and pick where you want to be, and answer the questions accordingly. There may also be a bit of a libertarian slant to it. On the other hand, the graph of the results is very neat and informative. Here's mine:

I think I saw this first on Armed and Dangerous. The test site is here.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:04 PM
June 21, 2002
Blasts From The Past

Some old posts of mine have gained new relevance in the last few days. All are quite short:

1. This Roman anecdote (from March 5th) illustrates what the Israelis are trying to do -- or should be trying to do -- with their new tactic of retaking pieces of land until the Palestinians stop killing babies.

2. In today's National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg does an extended comparison between contemporary Islamicism and traditional Nazism/Fascism. This fits nicely with my argument (May 5th) that calling our enemies Islamofascists is an insult to Mussolini, who was thoroughly evil, but not quite that evil.

3. In the same piece, Goldberg writes:

. . . as others have commented, there's something more than vaguely sexual to much of the rhetoric and actions of these Muslim fanatics. The way they talk about Western women, the way they talk about their own manliness, the way Mohamed Atta shuddered at the merest suggestion that a woman might touch his genitals after he died: these things seem to point to some very real insecurities about their own potency.

I had already gone one step further, arguing (April 28th) that the problem is a combination of a severe 'Madonna-Whore Complex' with gross ethno-religious bigotry, so that all the madonnas are Muslims and all the infidels are whores.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:51 PM
Ask A Stupid Question . . .

Layman's Logic and others linked to an Arab News cartoon last Sunday in which Israel is depicted as a cancer on the (humanized) face of the earth. What I want to know is how far we are supposed to 'press' this metaphor. Is the vile cartoonist recommending simple excision, or does he also have chemotherapy or radiation treatment in mind?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:59 PM
Just Another Pseudo-Caesar

While we're rapping people on the knuckles for grammatical infelicities, I have to say that Bloggus Caesari is not Latin for 'Caesar's Blog'.

Of course, 'blog', since it's a made-up word, could take just about any Latin ending you like, with one G or two: bloggus, bloggum, bloga, blogies (three syllables, pronounced "bloggy ace"), perhaps even a nice 4th-declension neuter blogu (plural blogua). There are dozens of other possibilities. I prefer blogma or blogitatio, but an explanation for my preference will have to wait for another day.

However that may be, Caesari (dative) should definitely be Caesaris (genitive), since Caesar is a third-declension noun. Bloggus Caesari means 'blog for Caesar', and that can't be right, since Caesar purports to be the author of each entry, and in fact the header says "a weblog by Julius Caesar".

I can only conclude that the mysterious power behind Bloggus Caesari is unlikely to be a Latin teacher.

Then again, he wouldn't be the first Pseudo-Caesar, or even the second or third. Book VIII, the last book, of the Gallic Wars was written by Caesar's sidekick Hirtius, since Caesar was too busy conquering Rome. The books on the Alexandrian, African, and Spanish Wars that have come down with Caesar's name on them were certainly not written by him, but by two or three different authors, one of whom may have been Hirtius. The book on the Spanish War (Bellum Hispaniense) is written in very bad Latin -- not just stylistically inept but often incorrect. Lord Macaulay suggested that it was written by "some rude old centurion who fought better than he wrote" and no one has come up with a better hypothesis.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:00 AM
June 20, 2002
Welcome To The Dark Side, Sarge

Sgt. Stryker is turning into a lit critter (though not the drunken animal kind):

I used to chafe at grammarians who felt it their mission in life to point out every grammatical error a written piece contained. I chafed, but I still took their advice.

Back in November 2001, this line (found in an email sent to InstaMan) would not have elicited a reaction:

These individuals did not know the contents of the letters nor whom the letters originally came from.

Now I'm not an expert on grammar. I don't know a gerund from a dangling participle, but this immediately jumped out at me as being odd. I thought to myself, "That should say, 'These individuals did not know the contents of the letters nor from whom they originally came.'"

I admit my hacked-up writing will never be featured on an academic test as an excerpted text, but I find it funny that I'm starting to notice this stuff.

I agree that it's a terrible sentence, but it seems to me there may be more than one way to fix it. Isn't the problem the mixing of formal and colloquial? I have no problem with either "who the letters originally came from" (more colloquial) or Sarge's "from whom the letters originally came" (more formal). But saying 'whom' and still ending the sentence with a preposition really grates on my nerves.

Similarly, I don't mind "who'd a' thunk" (very colloquial) or "who would have thought" (standard), but mixing the two with "who would have thunk" would really suck (colloquial). It would be like washing down grilled cheese sandwiches with single-malt Scotch, or making nachos with imported goat cheese, or serving chicken gizzards with caviar.

Two related jokes, both of them crude:

1. The first is from the movie Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. I'll have to quote it from memory, since it doesn't seem to be on the web:

FBI Agent: "This is the trailer those two boys were whacking off in."

FBI Supervisor: "What did I tell you about ending a sentence with a preposition?"

FBI Agent: "Uh, this is the trailer, uh, . . . off in which they were whacking."

2. My second joke is a variation on the one someone tells in Sarge's comments. I would say who (or is it whom?), but Sarge's site is down right now, and the Google cache doesn't seem to include comments. Anyway, here it is:

A clever young Alabamian arrives at Harvard as an entering Freshman. He's having trouble finding his way around campus on the first day, so he stops an upperclassman to ask for directions. (Please apply appropriate accents while reading: they're too hard to spell.)

Alabamian: "Excuse me, sir, can you tell me where the Harvard library is at?"

Upperclassman, sneering: "Here at Harvard, we do not end our sentences with prepositions."

Alabamian: "Well, sir, in that case, can you tell me where the Harvard library is at, asshole?"

I first heard this joke from a teacher in a graduate course on ancient Greek literature. Since this was in Virginia, Prof. K. may have made the young man a Virginian, not an Alabamian. He need not be a Southerner at all.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:41 PM
June 19, 2002

I've had some complaints about the look of my site, particularly the type size, which is apparently too small for 800 x 600 monitors. I am attempting to correct for that. Comments will be much appreciated. They can be delivered via the comment function or ordinary e-mail.

In the mean time, the look of the site is likely to change, and it may be totally unreadable if I screw up my templates, but not (I hope) for long.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:27 PM
A Terrible Confession

How uncool is Dr. Weevil? Looking over Eric Olsen's latest list of Cool Tunes, I found that:

  1. I only recognized the names of two of the thirty artists listed, and that's two more than on his last list.
  2. There is only one (Steve Earle) whose album(s) I have ever owned or ever considered owning.
  3. I'm fairly certain that I have never heard any of the songs listed. (Maybe I should tune in next week.)

On the other hand, of the list of 203 Worst Country Song Titles! (link from No Watermelons Allowed), I have heard at least 30, like at least 25, and own at least 20. (Exact numbers are difficult to calculate, since most of my CDs are in a rented storeroom in Ohio.) Many of the others look like jokes, possibly written down but never commercially recorded.

I can also add some missing titles, for instance:

  1. "Another Man Loved Me Last Night" (Loretta Lynn)
  2. "Bedsprings And Wedding Rings (Don't Mix)" (Rudi Protrudi)
  3. "Bill's (Honky Tonk Pickin', Line Dance Kickin', Razorback Stickin', Barbecue Chicken) Laundromat, Bar, And Grill" (Bill's is in Arkansas, naturally -- Confederate Railroad)
  4. "Black Label And White Lies" (Confederate Railroad)
  5. "Cagey Bea" (her name is Beatrice and she's a Russian agent, get it? -- Junior Brown)
  6. "Cheatin' Heart Attack" (Dale Watson)
  7. "Come Back To Us, Barbara Lewis Hare Krishna Beauregard" (John Prine)
  8. "Don't Our Love Look Natural (Lyin' There)?" (Del McCoury)
  9. "Don't Trade Your Old Fashioned Sweetheart (For A Honky Tonk Queen)" (Ernest Tubb)
  10. "Drink That Mash And Talk That Trash" (Flatt & Scruggs)
  11. "Go To Sleep, Conscience (Don't Hurt Me This Time)" (Ernest Tubb)
  12. "God Save The Queen (Of The Honky Tonks)" (Charlie Walker)
  13. "The Gold Rush Is Over (And The Bum's Rush Is On)" (Maddox Brothers & Rose)
  14. "Good Old Fashioned Saturday Night Honky Tonk Barroom Brawl" (Vernon Oxford)
  15. "(I've Got) High Friends In Places All Over Town" (Scott McQuaig)
  16. "Hold That Critter Down" (Maddox Brothers & Rose)
  17. "I Like My Chicken Fryin' Size" (Johnny Bond & his Red River Valley Boys)
  18. "I Only Meant To Borrow (Not To Steal)" (Charlie Walker)
  19. "If Hell Had A Jukebox" (it would include many of these songs . . . just kidding! -- Travis Tritt)
  20. "If I Had My Wife To Love Over" (Vernon Oxford)
  21. "If You Don't Quit Checkin' On Me (I'm Checkin' Out On You)" (Ernest Tubb)
  22. "I'm Bitin' My Finger Nails (And Thinkin', Dear, Of You)" (Ernest Tubb & Loretta Lynn)
  23. "I'm Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open From Now On" (Flatt & Scruggs)
  24. "Insured Beyond The Grave" (Louvin Brothers)
  25. "I Told You I Loved You In Thirty-Two Bars (Now You Can Buy Your Own Beer, Dear)" (Johnny Bond & his Red River Valley Boys)
  26. "Jesus And Bartenders" (they're the only ones who will always listen to your problems -- Lonesome Standard Time)
  27. "Life Goes On (I Wonder Why)" (Charlie Walker)
  28. "May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose" (Little Jimmy Dickens)
  29. "My Baby Don't Dance To Nothin' But Ernest Tubb" (Junior Brown)
  30. "My Heart Was Trampled On The Street" (Louvin Brothers)
  31. "My Wife Thinks You're Dead" (Junior Brown)
  32. "Redneck Romeo" (Confederate Railroad)
  33. "So Cold, So Dead, So Soon" (Roy Hogsed, best known as author of "Cocaine Blues", made famous by Johnny Cash)
  34. "So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed (That's My Gal)" (Johnny Bond & his Red River Valley Boys)
  35. "Stalkin' After Midnight" (changing one word in a Patsy Cline classic makes for a really sick song -- Rudi Protrudi)
  36. "Take An Old Cold Tater And Wait" (Little Jimmy Dickens)
  37. "Tell Her Lies And Feed Her Candy" (Charlie Walker)
  38. "There's A Bottle Where She Used To Be" (Carl Smith)
  39. "(Yes, I Admit, I Got A) Thinkin' Problem" (Dale Watson)
  40. "Time Off For Bad Behavior" (Confederate Railroad)
  41. "Too Old To Cut The Mustard" (Ernest Tubb)
  42. "Truck Drivin' Cat With Nine Wives" (Charlie Walker)
  43. "(She's) Venom Wearin' Denim" (Junior Brown)
  44. "Walkin', Talkin', Cryin', Barely Beatin' Broken Heart" (Highway 101)
  45. "Wine Me Up" (Ernest Tubb)
  46. "Won't You Come Home (And Talk To A Stranger)" (Ernest Tubb & Loretta Lynn)
  47. "Yes, I Guess They Oughta Name A Drink After You" (John Prine)
  48. "You Were Right From Your Side (And I Was Left From Mine)" (Joy Lynn White)
  49. Best of all: "Ya Ba Da Ba Do (So Are You)" (a much better song than the title would lead you to expect -- George Jones)

All this without even considering the Austin Lounge Lizards . . .

(Nineteen titles added 11:00 AM the same day.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:13 AM
June 18, 2002
Is It True That You Can't Find Good Help These Days?

Banana Counting Monkey tallies the advantages and disadvantages of building a Korean-style DMZ to separate Israelis from Palestinians. I have something to add on the last disadvantage listed:

There is also the loss of cheap palestinian labour that would hurt the Israeli economy (in particular the Kibbutzim). That would prove harder to replace.

My proposal is simple:

Israel should stop hiring Palestinians and bring in some Mexicans (or other Latin Americans) on long-term temporary contracts, perhaps one or two years. There's no shortage of possible candidates: given the relative sizes of the Israeli job market, the U.S. job market, and the Mexican labor supply, Israel could fill every possible job opening with a Mexican without driving up wages here or there, or even taking much of the pressure off the U.S. Border Patrol.

Disadvantages are obvious, though obvious is not the same thing as compelling when you look at the details:

  • Israel is a lot further from home. Travel should be more expensive, but in fact legal travel to Israel via chartered airliner would be almost certainly cheaper and certainly far less dangerous than crossing the desert or the Rio Grande at night with a 'coyote'. On the other hand, telephone calls home would surely be much more expensive.
  • Given the crime rate in the U.S., I'm not sure that Israel would even be more dangerous. I've read that the lowest rates in Europe for murder, rape, and mugging are in Belfast -- not surprising, given the number of armed soldiers on streetcorners. If I'm not mistaken, the decrease in apolitical murders outweighs the increase in assassinations and terror bombings. The same may be true in comparing Israel to the U.S.
  • Language would be a problem, but it already is. In any case, I believe that some Sephardic Jews still speak Ladino, which is an archaic form of Spanish, and I'm sure many American-born Israelis also know some Spanish.

There are clear advantages to my scheme:

  • A minor point is that money spent on transportation would go to above-board tax-paying airline-charter businesses, instead of sleazy tax-evading criminal coyotes.
  • The hot, dry climate of Israel would, I imagine, be more congenial to most Mexicans -- more like home -- than most parts of the U.S. Why shiver in an ill-heated apartment in Minneapolis or Omaha when you can sit outside under the olive trees, shooting the breeze with your friends, in Israel?
  • A chance to actually live in the Holy Land would be a big plus for the more religious workers. Israel is small enough that even a manual laborer working long hours for low pay would be able to visit all the Biblical sites on his days off without spending much money.

I would call the likely result of my proposal a 'win-win situation', but it's really a win-win-lose situation, with the Palestinians as the losers. After all the bombings and celebrations of bombings, many of us will consider that another plus.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 03:57 PM
Fun With Polls

The Brothers Judd link to an interesting Gallup article, which, among much else of interest, gives the following numbers:


2002 Mar 18-20
(sorted by "approve") Approve--Disapprove

John F. Kennedy: 83--7--10
Ronald Reagan: 73--22--5
elder George Bush: 69--26--5
Gerald Ford: 60--19--21
Jimmy Carter: 60--28--12
Bill Clinton: 51--47--2
Lyndon Johnson: 39--34--27
Richard Nixon: 34--54--12

I've added the third number in each row, the 'other' number, those who don't know, don't care, refuse to answer, or can't make up their minds. A lot of this is probably 'don't know' and 'don't care', since the numbers tend to be much higher for those further in the past. But some of it must be 'can't make up my mind', particularly for Ford (in office too short a time to make much difference either way) and Johnson (civil rights hero, Vietnam villain).

Sorting by approval rating looks plausible at first glance, but the huge variations in the 'other' category skew things. Isn't the difference between approval and disapproval more significant? This ranges from +76 for Kennedy to -20 for Nixon.

Of course, if you calculate the differences, Clinton (+4) drops from third-to-last down to second-to-last place, behind even Lyndon Johnson (+5). Think about that: if this poll can be trusted, Americans believe that the worst president of the last 42 years, other than Richard Nixon, is William Jefferson Clinton. (Making the time-span 70 years wouldn't help, since Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower would all rate fairly high to very high, certainly better than Johnson or Clinton.)

It could also be argued that the ratio between the approval and disapproval numbers would be a better measure than the difference. Clinton loses here, too, since a 51-47 approval-disapproval rating means that the total number of people who approve of Clinton is 8.5% larger than the number of those who disapprove, while Johnson (39-34) still has 14.7% more admirers than detractors. (That last is a little hard to believe, but I suppose Gallup knows best.)

For many years, Alabamians have had a saying, "thank God for Mississippi". The two states have traditionally ranked 49th and 50th in personal income, literacy rates, doctors per capita, and other good things, and 2nd and 1st (in that order) in incidence of venereal disease, percentage of families living in double-wides, number of individuals subsisting on roadkill, and other bad (or at least embarrassing) statistics. (The saying is now less accurate, since both states have lately gotten stiff competition from Louisiana and Arkansas. They still tend to be in the top 5 for bad things and the bottom 5 for good ones.) Former president Clinton can and should get down on his knees every night and say "thank God for Richard Nixon".

(This entry was expanded and partially rewritten at 7:08 PM.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 02:15 PM
Seen On A Bulletin Board

An advertisement on a bulletin board at a laundromat included an amusingly anthropomorphic phrase. A dog grooming establishment can handle any breed of dog, "including those with grooming issues".

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:29 AM
June 17, 2002
More Wimpy Team Names

Joanne Jacobs and others have been talking about wimpy names for high school sports teams. Here's one they seem to have missed: I'm told that the Key School in Annapolis, Maryland, calls its teams the 'Gazebos'. I can't confirm that from the school's web site, but it does use an architectural gazebo as the school symbol.

If you count college teams, there's the 'Fighting Banana Slugs' of the University of California at Santa Cruz. The SlugWeb site offers T-shirts, caps, and mugs. The slug mascot depicted on them seems to be wearing glasses, which is a little creepy, though not as bad as the fetal pig I had to dissect in college. He came from the "Happy Pig Farm", along with a waxed paper "parts bag" depicting a smiling hand-on-hip Disney-style pig in a tutu. As various ancient Greeks said, "best of all never to be born".

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:37 PM
A Worrisome Anomaly

Driving home to Maine from Blogapalooza on Saturday, I decided to stop for gas in central Connecticut. The first station I stopped at listed prices of $1.99, $2.39, and (I think) $2.99 for the three grades of unleaded. I of course kept on driving. (Note for those outside the U.S.: current prices are around $1.50 per gallon, plus or minus 10-15% depending on the grade, the station, and the state, since taxes vary.)

My first thought, which is also my current thought, is that the owner of this particular gas station is either stupid or insane or just doesn't want to sell his gasoline -- perhaps he's working on some kind of complex tax-sheltering lose-money-to-make-money strategy.

My second thought was more depressing. Since the invention of the plug-into-the-dash CD player, I have never listened to the radio on long drives. As I pulled out of the station, it occurred to me that it had been 2-3 hours since I had left New York, and that that was enough time for something really horrible to have happened in the Middle East without my hearing about it, something that would cause gasoline prices to skyrocket, and enough time for the more alert gas station owners to start raising their prices in anticipation. That's when I decided to turn on the radio for a quick and reassuring sweep through the local channels.

That reminds me of a not entirely dissimilar incident:

My father was in the Navy, and I've lived near a lot of different airbases in my life. I hardly even notice low-flying jets, unless they are very loud or their shadows are very obtrusive. This is true even since September 11th. The one exception was last fall when I was living at 144th and Broadway in Manhattan. It wasn't so much that a jet flew over very low and very loud, it was the fact that it flew over just as President Bush was about to throw the ceremonial first pitch at Game 3 of the World Series in Yankee Stadium, only three or four miles from my apartment. Of course, my immediate thought was that it was 100-1 that the noise came from a patrolling Navy or Air Force jet, but that other one percent was still quite disturbing. The fact that the television was already on and tuned to the right channel to watch events unfold didn't exactly help.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:24 AM
June 16, 2002
More Housman

A. E. Housman was a man of many talents, remembered as a poet, a scholar (one of the greatest Latinists of the last two centuries), and the subject of Tom Stoppard's recent play The Invention of Love. Besides his serious poems, he also wrote children's verse of the usual English semi-sadistic variety. They are not easily found collected in one place. Here are a couple of examples:

Amelia mixed the mustard,
She mixed it good and thick;
She put it in the custard
And made her Mother sick,
And showing satisfaction
By many a loud huzza
'Observe' said she 'the action
Of mustard on Mamma.'

On the death of a female Officer of the Salvation Army

'Hallelujah!' was the only observation
That escaped Lieutenant-Colonel Mary Jane,
When she tumbled off the platform in the station,
And was cut in little pieces by the train.
Mary Jane the train is through yer,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
We will gather up the fragments that remain.

That is about as much as the copyright laws will allow me to quote right now.

Finally, fans should know that his name was not pronounced 'Houzeman', like John the actor, but 'House-man' with a hard S.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:05 PM
Blogapalooza Pictures

Sorry about the long silence, Ravenwolf. (See first comment on previous post.) I've been formatting my party pictures. Click here to see them.

A few random details from the party:

  • Salami pizza is surprisingly tasty. Thanks, Sasha.
  • "Blogatrice" is four Italian syllables, not three French ones: "blogga-TREE-chay" not "blogga-TREECE". Sorry, Sasha.
  • There are more admirers of A. E. Housman's verse around than I would have thought. My next post, coming up shortly, will include a little something for them.
  • John Hiler looks about half as old as you would think from the professionalism and good judgment displayed in his blog. And yes, John, "disgustingly youthful" was a compliment.
  • A very low opinion of Eric Alterman is widespread, though perhaps not quite universal, among bloggers.

I should have more to say about the party, but somehow can't remember it as well as I would like. My general impression is that bloggers are universally intelligent and charming, though I do get some of them mixed up with others. Blogapalooza was certainly well worth the five-and-a-half-hour drive.

By the way, on the picture page, that's the male weevil on the left, the female on the right. Compare and see which is the proverbial "lesser of two weevils".

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:58 PM
June 13, 2002

I'm leaving for Blogapalooza first thing in the morning, so there will be no more posts until some time Sunday. If this bothers you much, or if the description in the longest paragraph of this post seems unduly familiar, please seek professional help. You can always browse my extensive archives and the many fine blogs linked on the right until I return home, laden with the spoils of empire, including many varieties of cheese unknown to the good people of Maine.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:45 PM
Sensible Violence

I'm way overdue on this, but better late than never:

Two weeks ago, Eugene Volokh posted an interesting comment from reader Jimmy Wales, with his own remarks on it. One topic that came up in passing was violence, senseless and otherwise:

[Wales] suggests, quite plausibly (though what the sociological research says about this, I don't know), that portrayals of violence with a moral -- from High Noon to Saving Private Ryan to perhaps Dirty Harry, depending on what you think of that moral -- are OK, and it's just nihilistic, immoral, or amoral portrayals are bad.

That reminded me of something I read long ago, which I have since tracked down and recommend highly: James Bowman's article "The Use and Abuse of Violence" (The New Criterion 12.1, September 1993). Here are two paragraphs to give the flavor:

My own impression from the so-called violence that I see on television is that it is neither plentiful nor glamorous. Look at the top-rated programs in any given week: Apart from movies, which are expurgated, nearly everything on the list actually produced by the poor beleaguered television industry itself is either news and documentary like "60 Minutes" and "PrimeTime Live" (even Senator Simon doesn't want to censor the news) or situation comedies like "Roseanne" and "Murphy Brown." In fact, over a period of several days as I was writing this column, I couldn't find anything violent to watch. "Murder She Wrote" looked promising, but turned out to be an old-fashioned mystery of the wholly decorous, Agatha Christie sort. The latest cop show, called "Sirens," had not a drop of blood in it. Instead it was a sensitive portrayal of a poor salesman thrown out of work by the Reagan-Bush recession who is talked out of killing himself by an attractive young policewoman. She convinces him that he can win back the love of his daughter by hugging her and telling her that he loves her. And while she is doing her good deed she learns something about improving her own marriage.

Such moralism about "relationships" is far, far more common on television these days than violence is—and probably far more harmful to people from the viewpoint of the social engineer. Think of all the bewildered children whose emotional lives are being wrecked by overdemonstrative, TV-crazed parents hugging away at them. Children who listen to the moronic theme song of Barney the purple dinosaur on (where else?) PBS—the song which goes: "I love you, you love me / We're a happy family / With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you / Won't you say you love me too?"—are sure to grow up into the sorts of people who write their own wedding ceremonies and demonstrate against the wearing of fur. How one longs for the days of "Gunsmoke" or "Wyatt Earp" or, one of my personal favorites, the World War II series called "Combat!" They may not have been much as art, but without being cute or priggish they put violence into a moral context. Most of them you can't even see in re-runs anymore. The best I can do with my cable company is "Bonanza"—which is really, I think, the one that started all this beastly hugging business in the first place. Little Joe, I could tell even then, was secretly a hugger, as he went on to show he was in "Little House on the Prairie."

I probably don't have to tell anyone who has read this far, but I'll say it anyway: go read the whole thing.

I owe belated thanks to James Bowman for confirming my hunch about his authorship and to reader William Krebs for providing the URL. The latter points out that the direct link may not work on older browsers, though you may be able to find it by following the indices to the September 1993 issue. Or try this index link.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:02 PM
Idiotarians United

VodkaPundit reports on some upcoming 'scholarship' at the 'Institute' for 'Historical' 'Review'. (He credits Midwestern Conservative Journal, but that site is down at the moment for bandwidth profligacy.) This particular paragraph of the IHR's blurb caught my eye:

Robert Faurisson, Europe's foremost Holocaust revisionist scholar, will provide another of the witty and thought-provoking presentations that never fail to delight audiences. He brings to the podium the insight and savvy of a scholar who was educated at the Paris Sorbonne, and who served for years as a professor at the University of Lyon II. He will speak on a little known fact of World War II history: punishments, including death sentences, of German soldiers, officers and government officials for killing or even mistreating Jews.

I don't doubt that Faurisson can come up with a few examples. The problem is that they would not necessarily do much, or anything at all, to exonerate the Nazis. Consider this one, from last July's Guardian.

In 1942 in Drogobych, Poland, Gestapo agent Karl Günter murdered Bruno Schulz, author of Street of Crocodiles and The Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. He did so to spite his boss, Felix Landau, Gestapo chief of Drogobych, who later served fifteen years of a life sentence for murdering or deporting 15,000 local Jews. That comes out to almost nine hours in jail for each Jew murdered or deported.

To quote The Guardian:

Landau, a junior SS officer, was a notorious sadist with a penchant for the fine arts.

A bit further down:

. . . when the Nazi looting of Drogobych was in full swing, [Landau] needed a local Jew "with perfect written and spoken German" to catalogue the art works and valuables being plundered.

Schulz fitted the bill. He survived a little longer by being given a German pass enabling him to move in and out of the ghetto.

When Landau learned that he was also a painter, he commissioned Schulz to decorate the walls of the nursery of his [five-year-old] son Wolf-Dieter.

But Landau's subordinate Günter nursed a grudge against his boss for shooting a Jewish man Günter employed as his private dentist. Günter took his revenge by killing his boss's painter.

The Guardian article does not record whether Landau punished Günter. If he did, it would prove nothing about the decency of these particular Nazis. The Guardian does mention that the Nazis killed 230 Jews that day in Drogobych, and that Günter's other two personal victims were both young women.

It is perfectly clear that, to Landau and Günter, Schulz and the unnamed dentist were no better than cows being kept back from the slaughterhouse so long as they produced plenty of milk. To put it another way, the crime itself would have been like shooting someone else's dog to punish him for shooting your own. If charges were filed against Günter, I imagine that it would have been for gross insubordination rather than murder.

Assuming for the moment that Landau did punish Günter for shooting Schulz, I wonder whether Faurisson will present the case as evidence for his disgusting and ridiculous thesis.

Finally, it is always worth remembering that this is the same Faurisson whose book of historical revisionism somehow ended up with a five- or six-page preface by Noam Chomsky.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:59 PM
June 12, 2002
Cheesy Metabloggage

Andrea Harris of Ye Olde Blogge has come up with yet another analogy illustrating the relationship between old journalists and bloggers:

. . . I'd say that blogs are like any number of musical styles, all either independent (like garage bands) or underfunded (like most symphony orchestras these days from what I hear). . . . . As for journalism, the closest musical comparison is Top 40 MOR "lite" rock.

That inspires me to come up with one more:

journalism : blogging :: processed cheese : Zabar's cheese

By 'Zabar's cheese' I mean the 200+ varieties sold at Zabar's in New York City. Other large cities will have similar sources.

Parallels are for the most part obvious:

  1. There are dozens of varieties of processed cheese and old journalism, but hundreds of varieties of Zabar's cheese and thousands of blogs.
  2. It hardly matters which processed cheese or newspaper you consume: they all taste pretty much the same.
  3. In each case there are broad overall differences in flavor and texture between the two sides. Blogs tend to be more libertarian/conservative than old journalism, while Zabar's cheeses are on the average stronger-flavored (and smellier) than Velveeta or Cheez Whiz. Zabar's cheeses also cover a much wider range of texture, from the very hard to the very squishy.
  4. Processed cheese and old journalism are full of artificial additives. A dollop of sinistric oxide here, a squirt of rallic acid there: all to "retard spoilage", as they say -- the list is endless. Like Zabar's cheese -- and perhaps even more so -- blogs are made of all natural ingredients.
  5. Journalism and processed cheese are produced in huge soulless factories by teams of cog-like humans working together to produce a lowest-common-denominator product, then shipped out to consumers on 18-wheelers. Blogs and good cheeses are cottage industries (sometimes literally so), often family businesses, and usually made from a secret recipe. The cheese recipes have often been handed down from one generation to the next for a century or more. Each cheese (or blog) is the product of one or two individual minds with strong ideas about what makes a good blog (or cheese). This means that processed cheese is inherently socialist, while Zabar's cheese is libertarian-conservative, even when (as is often the case) it's produced by Frenchmen and consumed by Upper West Side lefties.
  6. Journalism and processed cheese are huge money-makers for their parent corporations. It is possible to make a modest living from supplying a niche market with cheese or bloggage, but no one will ever get rich that way. Manufacturers are motivated less by money than by pride in their own workmanship and the praise of satisfied customers. That is what inspires them to the single-minded pursuit of the perfect cheese (or blog).
  7. Many uninformed consumers can't really tell the difference, but once you start reading blogs and eating good cheese, you will never go back. That is because . . .
  8. Old journalism, like cellophane-wrapped factory-processed homogenized cheese food, is boring.

After Friday's Blogapalooza, I intend to stop by Zabar's on Saturday and stock up on cheeses. While I'm there, I will see whether they carry Velveeta and Cheez Whiz. Somehow I doubt it.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:48 PM
The Perfect Meal

Josh Treviño of treviño@i330.org has a link to an Indonesian website "advocating a boycott of Coca-Cola on the grounds that it, er, supports Israel". (No anchor links, but it's item 6 on June 10th.) Of course, the effect on me is to confirm my already-strong preference for Coke over Pepsi.

Similarly, the War on Terror has encouraged me not only to fly a flag on my site, but also to eat more pork, drink more alcohol, listen to more unIslamic music, and generally do all the things Islamicists hate. The infidel or 'Homer Simpson' diet (porkchops, ham, bacon, and beer) may not be healthy, but it is patriotic.

Advice to Steven Den Beste: You might have gotten less grief from Eric Olsen and others if you had claimed that you only ogle young women in string bikinis to annoy Islamicist fanatics and support the war effort.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:51 AM
June 11, 2002
Culinary Advice

I will be posting a lot more now that I've handed in my grades and comments for the year. I already have a large backlog of objections and replies and additions to previous posts. In the mean time, here's some advice that may come in handy to my more adventurous or impoverished readers:

Chicken hearts are hard to find in grocery stores, but quite tasty cooked in wine sauce and served over rice -- certainly much better than gizzards. (Of course, if you believe that "you are what you eat", you will probably want to avoid them.) My advice is simple: do not microwave the leftovers! Not only is the result very messy, spreading rice and bits of meat and sauce all over the top and sides of the microwave, it sounds like a drive-by shooting in Chickentown. In fact, the resulting carnage looks like the aftermath of a drive-by shooting as seen by the emergency-room doctor: though otherwise intact, each exploded heart has a small round hole with jagged edges, as if a bullet had passed through. I suppose the microwave produces steam inside each heart faster than the valves can let it out.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:55 AM
June 10, 2002

Anyone who wants to try to pick me out of the crowd at the Big Apple Blogger Bash III on Friday should keep an eye out for this guy:

It's quite a good rendering except that I will not be wearing blue mittens or a shirt with that particular message on it. (I'm still working on the picture quality.) I think it was Ye Olde Blogge that first sent me to the South Park Studio site.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:19 PM
Who Remembers Gomorrha?

Saturday's post on the etymology of sodomy prompted reader Paul Wright to ask:

Ever wonder what the people in Gomorrah were doing to rate destruction?

I wrote an answer in the comments, but have now moved it here, partly so more readers will see it, partly so I can format it properly. (One of these days I'll learn how to enable HTML code in the comments.) Here, slightly edited and much expanded, is what I wrote six hours ago:

Not only were they obliterated by fire from heaven, the poor Gomorrhans missed out on the lexicographic immortality earned by their neighbors the Sodomites.

According to the O.E.D. (quoted from memory), some people have thought that gonorrhea is actually spelled 'gomorrhea', and named after Gomorrha, but they are wrong. The word comes from Greek gon- as in "gonads" and rhe- meaning "flow" (or "ooze" or "drip", I guess, not that I would know), the latter root also found in "rheostat", "diarrhea", and "logorrhea".

"Syphilis", on the other hand, is a made-up mythological name, and comes from a neoLatin epic poem by Girolamo Fracastoro (late XVth and early XVIth century) about a youth named Syphilus who catches the disease and is cured with magic herbs supplied by the nymph Syphilis, who is, I think, his mother. (I may be wrong on some of the details: my copy of the poem is in storage in Ohio. And no, I haven't gotten around to reading it yet.)

And speaking of ethnic slurs, the full title of Fracastoro's poem, much admired at the time for its elegant Latin, was Syphilis, sive morbus gallicus, which translates as Syphilis, or the French disease. I had always heard that it was the English who called syphilis "the French disease", while the French called it "the Italian disease" and the Italians called it "the Naples disease". (What Neapolitans called it was not recorded.) It appears that some Italians, like Fracastoro, also called it "the French disease".

The whole subject of ethnic names is interesting. Many of them are unknown in the countries after which they are named. "French toast" is not French: my grandmother always claimed it was a Scottish invention (plausible) and is properly called "eggy bread" (possible). I don't think French fries are French, either.

Twenty-some years ago, I discussed this topic with an English professor -- I mean a professor of Classics who came from England, not a professor of English literature. In the middle of the conversation, he suddenly burst out: "Maybe you can tell me. What is the English vice? Is it masturbation? Shyness? I've always wondered." As a student, I was too bashful to answer the question, not least because I was unsure (as I still am) whether 'le vice anglais' refers primarily to buggery or flagellation. I did think it was amusing how much he underestimated the hostility of those who assign names to vices. Whatever the English vice is, it's a lot worse than he had imagined.

Coming soon -- as soon as I can get my hands on the right dictionaries -- ancient names for ethnic vices. The Greek verb lesbiazein, "to act like an inhabitant of Lesbos", doesn't mean what you think it means. If I can get hold of the information, I'll make a little match-up quiz.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:37 AM
June 09, 2002
Parsing Rumsfeld

Tim Blair quotes (via the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) some puzzling words from Don Rumsfeld:

There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns - that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know but there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know.

He attempts to explain them with a brake-lining analogy. Maybe I'm explaining the obvious -- it's an occupational hazard of high school teaching --, but simpler and more pertinent examples are possible:

  • Knowns: 'Bin Laden and Mullah Omar are not in U.S. custody.'
  • Known unknowns: 'Are Bin Laden and Mullah Omar dead or alive? If alive, where are they living and are they wounded? How might we go about killing or capturing them with the least collateral damage?' These are well-defined questions to which we do not happen to have answers, though we would very much like to have them. Various steps can be (and presumably are being) taken to try to answer them.
  • Unknown unknowns: These are the answers to questions we don't even know enough to ask. Or if we do ask them, the questions are so vague that the answers can't be usefully searched for. Example: 'What horrors are being planned by what groups when and where?' If we knew the answer(s) to that question, we could do something useful with the related practical questions: 'How do we prevent this, that, and the other terrorist(s) from accomplishing this, that, and the other horror(s)?'

I still prefer the SecDef's less academic prose. This makes him sound like Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas or one of their epigones. (I seldom get a chance to say 'epigone'.) Or perhaps like Socrates, who famously knew what he did not know.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:37 PM
June 08, 2002
Nigeria: First In The World In Spam Exports

Like Richard Bennett, I also have noticed an increase in Nigerian spam. Economically, that makes perfect sense. The method must work, at least now and then. As word gets around, more Nigerians -- or people pretending to be Nigerians -- will get into it. At the same time, the number of people falling for the trick must be dropping, partly because word gets around, but mostly because so many of the fish have already been caught, and even someone stupid enough to fall for this trick once is unlikely to fall for it again. Of course, one can imagine exceptions: "No, really, I am the dictator's son, that other man was a wicked criminal impersonating me! I feel guilty for the misuse of my father's good name, and will repay you tenfold by adding your share." I've known a few people in my life that that would work on.

I figure the scam probably worked on 1 in every 5,000 victims the first time around, but that must be down to one in 50,000 or worse by now. Still, the rewards for success are high enough, and lists of e-mail addresses are cheap enough, that it's still worth doing.

I suspect that the Nigerian oil-money scam market is now an overcrowded and overfished environmental niche, due for a massive die-off. No doubt a few of the hardier predators will survive and continue to plague us for years to come. The rest will have to find other scams, or perhaps (the horror!) honest jobs.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:13 PM
More More On Jokes

Two days, and two entries, ago, I quoted a Mr. Schwink of Iowa, who wrote:

The names of most other serious crimes, such as murder and rape, are not racial epithets. Non-racial names can certainly be coined to replace vandals and vandalism.

It's a good thing he said "most other serious crimes" and not "all other crimes", since sodomy is still a crime in many states. Calling a prosecutable offense 'sodomy' certainly tends to damage the good name of the people of Sodom. They can't even defend themselves, since they are even more thoroughly extinct than the Vandals. Who will defend the good name of (capital-S) Sodomites? Mr. Schwink?

(Many years ago, Saturday Night Live had a skit in which Bill Murray played a PR man trying to help the Sodom Chamber of Commerce improve their city's image. No details on the web, but a Google search gives the date as May 20, 1978.)

Of course, states with sodomy laws could easily rename them 'buggery laws', but that would only make things worse. As I recall, the original form of the word was 'to bulgar', since, fairly or unfairly, mediaeval Bulgars had much the same sexual reputation as modern Greeks. (Ancient Greeks, too, come to think of it.) Though the Sodomites are all dead, there are millions of live Bulgarians to object. It looks as if some third term will be needed.

All in all, the life of the P.C. vocabulary watchdog is not an easy one.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:52 PM
June 07, 2002
More On Jokes

Continuing my last entry:

Today's Best of the Web updates the Vandal story:

Several readers wrote us to say they thought Schwink was only joking; Iowans, it seems, are famous for their dry wit.

I hope so, but am none too confident. Only Mr. Schwink (if that's his real name) would know for sure.

In dredging up my memories of the mid-1980s, it occurs to me that my Hungarian then-boss may have put the Poles into his joke to adapt it to an American context, where Polish jokes are common while a joke making fun of Croats or Romanians or Slovaks or whatever would not be understood at all.

I know that he once adapted a different joke that way. I can't recall the details, but he told what was supposed to be an old Hungarian joke. I asked him how such a joke could include a 'redneck' -- I don't doubt that there are peasants and hicks in Hungary, but 'redneck' is a little more specific than that. He said that the original joke was actually about a gypsy, but he had changed it since he figured an American wouldn't get it otherwise.

He also provided an example of the even-handed ethnic joke: The difference between a Hungarian and a Romanian is that either one will sell you his grandmother, but the Romanian (or maybe it was the Hungarian) will deliver. I've never been able to figure out whether it's worse to deliver on such a bargain, or not to. And once again the same joke could be adapted to dozens of other pairs of nationalities.

Finally, Murti Bing's comment on the Gepids reminds me of some supposedly serious author's claim about the Walloons, the French-speaking half of the Belgians. Supposedly, before they settled in Belgium they wandered all over Europe for decades saying "where are we going?" ("Où allons nous?").

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:50 PM
June 06, 2002
Life Imitates Fiction

During my pre-blog years, I often thought, and sometimes told friends, that a good compromise between the demands of politeness and the urges of wit would be to tell ethnic jokes only about extinct ethnic groups. That would provide all the enjoyment of trashing a whole nation without actually offending anyone in a position to be offended. Of course, groups that were direct ancestors of modern groups or occupied the same territory would not do: Etruscan jokes would probably annoy modern Tuscans, and Galatian or Cappadocian jokes might possibly annoy the Turks who now occupy Galatia and Cappadocia. We would therefore need to restrict our jokes to groups that are not only extinct but moved around a lot, so they are not clearly associated with any single modern place or people. Specific examples included jokes beginning "There was a Vandal who was so dumb . . ." and "Did you hear the one about the Ostrogoth and the Visigoth?" Not that I ever finished the jokes -- I just always gave these two prologues as examples of what could be done.

Little did I know how far the demands of Political Correctness would one day extend. Today's Best of the Web reports:

The Whine Spectator
Thomas Schwink of Indianola, Iowa, is sick of vandalism. Not the act but the word, which, in a letter to the Des Moines register, he says is insensitive:

In the May 30 Register, there is another story about the actions of "vandals," ("Chemical Mixture Dumped at Water Station").

The racial epithet "vandals" is used too often. True Vandals were exterminated in 533, so real Vandals cannot defend themselves against these racial slurs.

The names of most other serious crimes, such as murder and rape, are not racial epithets. Non-racial names can certainly be coined to replace vandals and vandalism. If a racial or nationality name is essential, you could use something like Americanism, since what you refer to as vandalism in this country is done by Americans, not by the long-extinct Vandals.

If I'm not mistaken, the Vandals were a Germanic tribe, like the Ostrogoths and Visigoths, so it may not be a coincidence that the complainant is named 'Schwink'.

On a related topic:

A Hungarian once asked me: "Do you know the one about the Hungarian who moved to Poland and raised the average IQ of both countries?" I told him: "No, but I've heard the one about the Scotsman who moved to London." I wonder how many other nations tell exactly the same joke with different names. Fifty or more, I would guess. I also wonder why the Hungarians pick on the Poles: the two countries don't even have a common border. Finally, I wonder how many other generic ethnic jokes there are, that is, jokes that just about any ethnic group can apply to one or more others. This one would work with an Ostrogoth and a Visigoth, though it would lose some (all?) of its edge.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:11 PM
Snowflake's Big Day

John & Antonio, of Inside Europe: Iberian Notes, bring us news from the animal kingdom. It's the last entry for today, but I'll quote the whole thing since they have no anchor links:

Snowflake, the albino gorilla at the Barcelona Zoo, has had a cataracts operation and is now a lot more lively as he can see much better. He's as old as John, 36 years old as of now. That's not bad for a lowland gorilla. Last time we went to the zoo we were privileged to observe Snowflake satisfying one of his lady friends right up near the glass. This was pre-operation, so now that he can see better, the Gorilla Peep Show ought to be functioning at all hours.

Maybe I'm being cynical, but the conclusion doesn't necessarily follow. What if Snowflake suddenly finds out his girlfriend's ugly? Not that humans are in any position to judge, but I imagine some lady gorillas are total babes while others are . . . less so -- at least as far as the he-gorillas are concerned. The operation could turn out to be more curse than blessing.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:10 PM
June 05, 2002
An Old Journalist Who Gets It

Note: Perhaps I should say that by 'old journalist' I mean 'practitioner of old or traditional journalism', not 'elderly practitioner of journalism'.

Already well-known as a movie reviewer and media critic, James Bowman has started to turn into a blogger in the Diary section of his site (7 entries so far). (Maybe I should move his link out of 'Miscellaneous Sites'.)

Here are some recent remarks on "the new national pastime, media criticism":

Certainly, unlike baseball, media criticism does not always reward its best players with the most money. In fact, you could almost say that at this stage of the league’s development, the best are also the most likely to be paid little or nothing for their thundering round-trippers while those who make the big bucks are usually over-the-hill and hitless in many, many at-bats.

Now go sample the rest of the site if you don't already know it. It would take a week to read it all.

Meanwhile, I have to go back to grading final exams, with "hours to go before I sleep". Further thoughts on Eric Alterman, with replies to various critics, have been pushed back at least to tomorrow, perhaps even Friday.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:56 PM
June 04, 2002
My Plans For Galactic Domination Come To Fruition

N. Z. Bear's map of the Blogosphere is very impressive. It looks like a cross between a galactic starchart and a spider web (one with lots of embalmed flies on it).

It's not clear exactly how the final layout was done. Is the idea to put those with the most links to each other closer together? Larger dots means more links, and these are for the most part closer to the center, but the chart is suspiciously symmetrical, and N. Z. Bear talks about tweaking it. I suppose I should read up on the Pajek software -- assuming the instructions aren't in Slovenian -- and see for myself.

So who is at the center of the Blogosphere? That is difficult to calculate precisely, but it appears to be a tossup between a microbe named Frank Cagle who covers Tennessee politics -- hence no doubt his proximity to InstaPundit -- and me, Dr. Weevil, roughly half way between the two largest and brightest stars, InstaPundit and VodkaPundit, though a bit closer to the latter.

Of course, if no spider is available to occupy the center of the web, a weevil (or a 'grasshoppa') is the next best thing: at least it's an arthropod. Somehow N. Z. Bear seems to think weevils are small mammals. (Update: after the latest readjustment, I'm a Large Mammal and a Penultimate Link Slut. Put those together and what do you get? A goat, I guess, or a Bonobo. Also, I probably shouldn't be ungrateful, but 'penultimate' does not mean what N. Z. Bear seems to think it means.)

Speaking of insects and small mammals (particularly rodentia and mustelids):

For an encore, how about a map of the Bogusphere, N. Z. Bear? Show us just how Media Whores Online, The Guardian, WarbloggerWatch, and all their friends and allies relate to each other.

Here are some other things I'd like to see a knowledgeable person calculate:

  1. Most shameless blogger, Part I: Who is the most Desperate Blogger, handing out links promiscuously, while getting the fewest in return?
  2. Most shameless blogger, Part II: Conversely, who is the most Selfish Blogger or (if we're feeling nice) the most aloof, handing out the least links, while getting the most in return?
  3. Who is the most Populist Blogger, getting the most traffic from the general public with the fewest links (at least relatively) from other bloggers?
  4. Who qualifies as a Bloggers' Blogger, getting the most links from fellow bloggers, along with the least traffic from the general public?
  5. Who is the Most Gracious Blogger, the one most likely to link those lower on the scale instead of those higher up? (This question and the next really only apply to those in the middle of the list. 'Higher Beings' obviously have to link mostly downwards, if they link at all. Microbes will inevitably link mostly upwards, though there could be an all-Microbe screw-the-upper-blogging-classes link list. Is there?)
  6. Conversely, who is the Snobbiest Blogger, linking for the most part only to those higher on the list and disdaining those below? (Is this the same as the Most Conventional Blogger, who links to the same blogs everyone else links to? Is there some way to distinguish the two? The same goes for the previous question: is the Most Gracious Blogger the same as the Quirkiest Blogger, the one with the least predictable or categorizable set of links, or can we distinguish those two?)
  7. Finally, we now have a means of determining who is the Most Sexist Blogger in a scientific fashion instead of using some kind of (un)popularity contest with electronic ballot stuffing. Of course, there is more than one possible definition for 'sexist'. Some might say it is whoever is most likely to link to bloggers of the same gender. Some might say it is whichever older male (or female) blogger has the most links to (usually much younger) female (or male) bloggers much lower on the scale. There may be other possibilities.

All of these should be calculable, and all are more interesting to me than unscientific 'who's the sexiest blogger?' and 'who's the sexistest blogger?' contests. Top ten in each category would suffice. Nominations for all seven categories may be placed in the Comments, but these can only be guesses until the calculations are done, preferably not by me.

Finally, speaking of comments, I will have more Altermania tomorrow, with a reply to the complaints of 'p84269317' about my last Altermanium. Right now, I have 146 pages of final exams to grade before I can go to bed.

Update: (6/5, 8:30 and 9:00 AM)

I have added three more possibilities (5-7) to the numbered list and adjusted the prose elsewhere to match.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:55 PM
June 03, 2002
Coincidences And Higher Standards

Ken Layne criticizes Larry Miller for arguing that the fire at the Israeli Embassy in Paris must have been due to arson, and therefore terrorism. As he says, accidents, and coincidences, do happen.

Consider this one, or rather these two:

In the first two months or so after September 11th, two airliners crashed, killing hundreds of people, including a few on the ground. One was Israeli, and exploded over the Black Sea on its way to Siberia. The other was American, and crashed in Far Rockaway, Queens, on its way to the Dominican Republic. Israel and the U.S. are exactly the two countries whose airliners Al Qaeda would most like to destroy. Yet terrorism seems to have had nothing to do with either crash. The Israeli plane was accidentally shot down by the Ukrainian Air Force, while the American plane had serious mechanical problems: the tail fell off before it crashed.

The abundance of random horror and destruction in the world makes Al Qaeda's job much harder than it would otherwise be. They need to do something that will make a spectacular impression. Destroying all seven buildings of the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon didn't even come close to collapsing global capitalism. How can they possibly top that? A month of anthrax mailings (by whomever) killed only six people. There are common street gangs in New York and other cities that could kill more people than that in an afternoon or less, and $10,000 would (I think) be more than enough to arrange it, no questions asked.

Some bloggers (e.g. Brink Lindsey) fear that Al Qaeda is planning something really big, and that is why they have been so quiet since September 11th. This can be put more pleasantly. They have to do something really big, since they have raised the bar so high that small things hardly make an impression. At the same time they don't have the resources to do anything big. This double bind is what is keeping them quiet.

Tangential pedantry:

For a classic (in more ways than one) example of an amazing coincidence, consider Socrates, who used to go around saying "by the dog", where other Greeks said "by the god". This actually gains in translation: it sounds wittier in English than in Greek, since "dog" is "god" spelled backwards, while the two Greek words have no resemblance. ("By the god" is mà tòn theón, "by the dog" mà tòn kúna.)

Similarly, Catullus' most famous line, "Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love" sounds wittier in English, with clever alliteration of 'live' and 'love'. What he wrote was Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus, and the two verbs have no resemblance to each other.

Finally, consider Myrsilus, tyrant of Lesbos in the time of Sappho. His name sounds exactly like "merciless" to English ears -- very appropriate for a tyrant -- though the meaning of the word is completely different. (Something to do with myrtle bushes, I believe.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:31 PM
June 02, 2002
Typographical Humor

The Weekly Standard's current index page includes this entry for last Tuesday:

Taking One for the Team
Catherine Millet's memoir closes out the age of French psuedo-intellectualism.
by David Brooks

Given that using big words one does not know how to spell (or pronounce, or both) is a common symptom of pseudo-intellectualism, misspelling that very word as "psuedo-intellectualism" is particularly unfortunate.

Of course, I only mention this because it reminds me of something else (and not just Tom Sharpe's Wilt, "the man with the grasshopper mind"). When I was in high school, some of the nerdier students liked to play around with a rhetorical trick that involved accusing someone else of something that the very form of the accusation proved the speaker guilty of. Confused? An example will show what I mean. In fact, the only example I can remember was accusing someone else of being a pseudo-intellectual, but pronouncing the first part either "puh-SOO-do" or "SWAY-do". Thanks for reminding me, Weekly Standard!

One more amusing typographical error:

On the back of the dustjacket of a good book on Petronius (Gian Biagio Conte, The Hidden Author, 1996), there is a plug for the translation of Petronius' Satyrica (better known as the Satyricon) by R. Bracht Branham and D. Kinney ("also from California") that reads in full:

"Among the earliest European 'novels' . . . the book has also become a text in the history of pronography."
    -- The Washington Post

I would like to think that the unfortunate copy editor or typesetter who came up with 'pronography' was thinking of the French term for successful courtesans ('les grandes horizontales'), but it's probably just a happy coincidence.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:21 PM
Apropos Of No One In Particular

A friend (call him 'Fr. D') claims that that there is an Islamic hadith (commentary on the Koran) that goes like this:

Our Lord Jesus said: "It was not impossible for me to raise the dead, but it was impossible for me to cure the stupid."

This sounds too good to be true. One detail is particularly suspicious: do Muslims really call Jesus 'Our Lord'?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:01 PM
Eric Alterman's PseudoBlog

Friday's entries in Eric Alterman's lame attempt at a weblog include this remark (no anchor link, but it's near the end):

. . . . quite a few (mostly conservative) bloggers are very pleased with themselves for having discovered a typo or two in this site, despite the presence of my crack editors.

As one of those picky bloggers, I can say that I'm not so much pleased with myself for noticing obvious mistakes as annoyed with Alterman for not fixing them when they were pointed out. Here's what I wrote, using his comments function, on May 23rd:

If you're going to quote 'John Hile' of MicroContent News in a paragraph bragging about your blog being edited, you might want to (a) spell his name right -- it's Hiler --, (b) link either his site's 'front page' or the particular entry you quote, instead of some random entry from two months ago on Google and the Scientologists, and (c) make both corrections in less than four days. Time to fire your editor?

Another ten days have now passed, and both errors still stand, right in the introductory blurb, Altercation Explained. I see no excuse for that, particularly since misspelled names and false links are far more misleading than bad grammar, or bad punctuation, or misspelling of common words where the intended meaning is obvious. A silent correction would have sufficed, though two errors in one sentence might also have justified a brief note including the word "Oops!" or equivalent.

Of course, no one's perfect. I myself should have said "four days", not "three", since Altercation Explained is dated May 20th and I wrote my comment on the 23rd. I somehow thought it was already Friday, though it was still Thursday. (Friday was the last day of classes, so it was a natural mistake.)

While I'm at it, here's some more good advice:

  1. How about some archives? No true blog lacks them. Alterman certainly understands the concept of archiving, since his site includes a link to his archived Nation columns. He also says (on the 29th) of a New Yorker piece that it has been "honorably maintained online in the magazine’s archives despite its embarrassing wrong-headedness". So why doesn't he archive his own blog entries, with or without corrections?
  2. How about some anchor links so others can link to specific items? Consider the logic: Andrew Sullivan has been getting a lot of grief for his own lack of functioning anchor links. Alterman despises Sullivan. If Alterman had anchor links he could help make Sullivan look bad. QED. Of course, they're only really useful if you have archives.
  3. Using the <blockquote> function to indent quoted words would help the reader distinguish between Alterman and his quoted letters. Without them, the page looks just a little too Doris-Kearns-Goodwinish for my taste. Indenting the first line of each paragraph makes things even more confusing.
  4. A comment function that displays all comments as submitted is a lot more sporting. (Including the writer's e-mail and web-page addresses instead of just the home town is also more egalitarian.) Sure, you get a lot of crap mixed in with the good stuff, but the software should allow you to delete anything that is egregiously offensive. (I haven't deleted a comment yet, and I've had some doozies.) Alterman's blog treats submitted comments way too much like old fashioned letters to the editor of a print journal: the editor is free to omit all the most cogent criticisms or edit them out of recognition, and can spend his time writing clever replies to softball questions and wallowing in the more obsequious fan letters. Alterman may say he's not doing that, but how do we know?
  5. If I looked like VodkaPundit or InstaPundit, I would put a picture of myself on my site. Since I don't, I won't. Need I say more?

Feel free to tell me I'm wrong in my comments, but keep it clean.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:32 PM
Warning: Bad Pun

Juan Gato [following Sine Qua Non Pundit, who took it from Andrew Sullivan: see comments] has taken to referring to Maureen Dowd as 'MoDo' for short. Last Thursday he noted disturbing parallels between Mary McGrory's work and Dowd's.

Reading this column, you'll wonder if Mary was running behind and decided, like a high schooler who writes a report paraphrasing the encyclopedia entry, to just rework a Mo Dowd column.

If El Gato is right, wouldn't that make McGrory a QuasiMoDo? (I've got a hunch that it would.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:49 PM
June 01, 2002
Grade Deflation?

Eugene Volokh, ringleader of The Volokh Conspiracy, has an interesting post on grading on a curve. We can start with the objection he quotes:

Reader Agim Zabeli writes: "If 20% of your students must get an A, another 60% must get a B, and the last 20% must get a C, how the hell does somebody fail your class?? Is it the policy of UCLA Law School that failure is impossible?"

After explaining that he occasionally gives a D or F, Volokh goes on to justify this rather lax-sounding policy as follows:

I've never thought hard about whether this is a good policy, but my tentative sense is that it probably is. Top 20 law schools preselect their students quite well; the median incoming GPA at UCLA is about 3.6, which is to say just below an A-. I suspect that even the worst of our students are actually pretty sharp, and that even the worst of their exams are not abysmal -- just bad compared to the other students.

. . . . my (possibly Pollyannish) guess is that virtually no students at UCLA are really D or F students in any absolute sense; and only when I see a grade that is way off the left side of the curve do I give a grade that low.

I have heard this argument before, not least when I taught at one of the best prep schools in New York City last fall. My department head told me that since all of the students at the Name-Deleted School were very good to superb, grades of B- to A+ were virtually the only ones needed. That seemed reasonable, and it certainly made my job easier: I got very few angry telephone calls from parents. However, it bothers me a bit that the same argument is never applied the other way around. An example will show what I mean.

There are said to be forty universities in the Boston area. I don't know which one is the least selective of these, and don't really want to know, but it must have quite low standards for admission, if it takes students turned down by the other 39. If Harvard and (I suppose) M.I.T. give out very few grades below a B+, shouldn't Dregs University, or Craphole College, or the College of St. Simeon the Holy Fool, or whoever is at the bottom of Boston's scholastic food chain be giving out virtually no As or Bs, on the grounds that even the best student in any given class would be only a fair-to-poor student at most of the other universities in town, and would flunk out of Harvard or M.I.T.? Shouldn't the curve at such a school include, say, 1% As, 2% Bs, and all the rest Cs, Ds, and Fs? Maybe that's how it works, but I doubt it.

As with central banks and the money supply, so with professors and the grade supply, it seems likely that inflation will always be far more popular, and far more prevalent, than deflation.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:49 PM
Still Ignorant After All These Words?

I can't find it on Lucianne.com, but Croooow Blog and Daily Pundit are quoting someone there (perhaps Lucianne herself?) making fun of David Gregory's French:

I'm shocked that, so far, no "multi-lingual media star" has stepped forward to correct the bad French used by David Gregory in his now famous question to M. Chirac. How embarrassed would he be to learn (and "learn" he should) that, despite obvious planning and rehearsal, his question was grammatically incorrect? Gregory asked, "M. le Président, pourriez-vous ajouter vos sentiments de cette question?" The French verb "ajouter" (to add) takes the preposition "a'" not "de." To the non-French speaker this may seem a small error. But, I assure you that it is, in fact, a huge error and one that no native speaker or student of French could possibly make. Seems to me that if you're a journalist bent on showing up our president in another language in another country, you ought to do your homework. Please, let's tell the English-speaking public the truth about the "Gregory Gaffe." The French already know!

This didn't seem right to me, so I've consulted expert testimony, a professor of French whom I will call 'Dr. Johnson' for his erudition. He writes:

I would say "ajouter vos sentiments sur cette question." The preposition "à" certainly would not be correct (the question is not the indirect object). "De," while frequently linking one thing to another in various ways, does not seem idiomatic to me--probably one of those cases where the speaker forgot exactly what word he had just used and filled in with the default "glue word."

In other words, if he had said "could you add your feelings to what Mr. Bush said?", the emphasized phrase would have begun with "à", equivalent to "to" in English. But he didn't say that, he tried to say "could you add your feelings on this question?" and actually said something like "could you add your feelings of this question?", which is at best unidiomatic. (It would have been better to ask Chirac for his thoughts, not his feelings, but that's another question. At least Gregory didn't address Chirac as "tu".)

Of course, it would be good to hear from an actual native speaker on (of? at? to?) this question.

Quick's final comment is apposite:

There's an old Usenet rule about the "grammar-spelling flame," to wit: whenever you try to show up your opponent with claims of ignorance, you will generally make a mistake that will reveal the same about yourself. Sort of an instant karma situation.

Bracing myself for someone to find something wrong with what I've written . . . .

Update: (4:35 PM)

DailyPundit tells me that this was one of the daily paragraphs of teaser commentary at the top of Lucianne.com, which are probably written by Lucianne herself, and that he quoted it in full because those things never go into the archives but disappear when the next day's go up. Thanks, DP!

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 04:00 PM
Thou Shalt Not Have False OmbudsGods Before Me

Tim Blair first calls for an OmbudsGod to keep an eye on puny mortal Ombudsmen and soon after greets the birth of one. So who is this new god? One thing we know is that he (or "He") has a chip on his shoulder about not saying "whom" -- just like Ken Layne, as it happens. Did "a reader" really ask Him about that? Perhaps, if reader and writer are one, or at least close friends. A new newspaper that wants to compete with entrenched legacy media might well wish to hire an Ombudsgod instead of a mere Ombudshuman.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 03:36 PM
Arafat Chips: They're The Cheesiest!

The Blogosphere has been buzzing this week about the new Arafat brand cheese-flavored potato chips. Little Green Footballs provides a picture and many amusing reader comments. My favorite slogans so far:

  1. Mister Potato Head has martyred himself for your snacking pleasure. (Laurence Simon)
  2. Try them today with new UN Observer Dip. (ditto)
  3. If you don't like 'em, you've got full right of return. ('Undertoad')
  4. Goes great with Hamas Hummus! ('Bossman')
  5. Only a collaborator would eat another brand. (J. Lichty)

Laughter is good, but low sales and zero profits for the manufacter would be even better. After all, some of the profits are supposed to go to killing Jews. Unless the manufacturer is just saying that -- a rumor that might be well worth starting.

I think we should try to spread a rumor that Arafat chips are actually pork rinds. Of course, cheesy potato chips don't taste much like pork rinds, but what Muslim would know that? Quite a few, actually, but what Muslim is going to admit knowing that?

Tangential Pedantry:

I don't have the reference, but some ancient author tells a pertinent story about an ancient tyrant, most likely Dionysius of Syracuse, last heard of on this blog on April 7th ('Take me back to the quarries!'). It seems that the tyrant had very bad breath, so bad that one of his toadies finally couldn't stand it any longer and told him, though he thought he would be executed for it. The tyrant stormed off to ask his wife of many years why she had never told him. Her reply: "I thought all men smelled like that."

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:56 AM