July 30, 2002
Stupid Arguments

PejmanPundit links to an interesting CNN story. The details are irrational and downright bizarre, but the first paragraph gives the gist:

An argument over who was going to heaven and who was going to hell ended with one Texas man shooting another to death with a shotgun, police said Monday.

Eight or ten years ago in Alabama, two men were out drinking at 2:00 or 3:00 AM and started arguing about which could quote more Bible verses. The loser shot and killed the winner.

Among other things, the second story provides a neat illustration of the fact that one can know a great deal about a subject without understanding it at all. I wouldn't be so bold as to try to draw a clear line separating what the Bible teaches from what it doesn't, but I'm quite sure that 'kill people who embarrass you by showing your ignorance' comes in the second category.

By the way, haven't 'Heaven' and 'Hell' traditionally been capitalized in English? Is CNN's failure to do so in this story some kind of subtle (not necessarily conscious) put-down, implying that they're not real places? That wouldn't make much sense, since Shangri-La and Utopia and Hades keep their capitals. Any professional editors out there who can tell us what's going on? Anyone have access to an official stylebook for CNN or any of its journalistic competitors?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 02:22 PM
July 28, 2002
Ancient Moron Jokes

In ancient Greece, the people of Kyme (and Abdera) were proverbially stupid. Here are some jokes about them from the ancient collection known as the Philogelos or 'Laughter-Lover'.

A man from Kyme was trying to sell some honey. When someone came and tasted it and said that it was very good, the seller said: "Well, yes: if a mouse hadn't fallen in it, I wouldn't be selling it!" (173)

When a distinguished man was being buried in Kyme, someone came up and asked the mourners: "Who was the dead man?" One of the Kymeans turned around and pointed and said: "That guy lying on the bier." (154)

A Kymean doctor, operating on someone who was in terrible pain and crying out, switched to a blunter scalpel. (177)

Here are a couple of non-ethnic jokes from the same collection (I quoted another on March 5th):

A professor on a sea-voyage, when there was a big storm and his slaves were weeping, said: "Don't cry. I've set you all free in my will." (25)

Returning home from a trip abroad, someone visited an incompetent prophet and asked him about his household, and he said: "They are all healthy, including your father." And when the man said, "But it's been ten years since my father died", the prophet answered "You don't know your true father." (201)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:12 PM
French And Indian Verse

I am curious as to whether any of my readers will like this poem at all. It's a close line-by-line translation of one of Horace's Odes (2.16), in the meter of the original, by Thomas Morris (1732-1806?), a British officer stationed in Canada. Morris keeps Achilles and Tithonus in the eighth stanza, but 'translates' all the other geographic, ethnographic, and historical references from the ancient Mediterranean to the modern British Empire. The poem, written in 1761 and published in 1796, is number 327 in the New Oxford Book of Eighteenth-Century Verse. Horace's subject is otium, which is both "leisure" and "peace of mind" (Morris' "ease"), the opposite of negotium, "business, trouble".

Sapphics: At the Mohawk-Castle, Canada. To Lieutenant Montgomery

Ease is the pray’r of him who, in a whaleboat
Crossing Lake Champlain, by a storm’s o’ertaken;
Not struck his blanket, not a friendly island
    Near to receive him.

Ease is the wish too of the sly Canadian;
Ease the delight of bloody Caghnawagas;
Ease, Richard, ease, not to be bought with wampum,
    Nor paper money.

Not colonel’s pay, nor yet a dapper sergeant,
Orderly waiting with recovered halberd,
Can chase the crowd of troubles still surrounding
    Laced regimentals.

That sub lives best who, with a sash in tatters
Worn by his grandsire at the fight of Blenheim,
To fear a stranger, and to wild ambition,
    Snores on a bearskin.

Why like fine-fellows are we ever scheming,
We short-lived mortals? Why so fond of climates
Warmed by new suns? O who, that runs from home, can
    Run from himself too?

Care climbs radeaux with four-and-twenty pounders,
Not quits our light troops, or our Indian warriors,
Swifter than moose-deer, or the fleeter east wind,
    Pushing the clouds on.

He, whose good humour can enjoy the present,
Scorns to look forward; with a smile of patience
Temp’ring the bitter. Bliss uninterrupted
    None can inherit.

Death instantaneous hurried off Achilles;
Age far-extended wore away Tithonus:
Who will live longer, thou or I, Montgom’ry?
    Dicky or Tommy?

Thee twenty messmates, full of noise and laughter,
Cheer with their sallies; thee the merry damsels
Please with their titt’ring; whilst thou sitt’st adorned with
    Boots, sash and gorget.

Me to Fort Hendrick, midst a savage nation,
Dull Connajohry, cruel fate has driven.
O think on Morris, in a lonely chamber,
    Dabbling in Sapphic.

As Morris says, his meter (and Horace's) is Sapphic: each stanza consists of three lines on the pattern / x / x / x x / x / x and a fourth of / x x / x. (The Latin actually uses long and short syllables rather than accented and unaccented, but the pattern works fairly well with English accentual rhythms.)

Notes: "sub" (13) is subaltern. Tithonus (30) was given eternal life but not eternal youth and eventually shriveled into a cicada. The second stanza is my favorite. Whether this, or any translation, can give even a hint of Horace's quality as a poet is a good question.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:46 PM
Mullahs Soft On Crime?

Fred Pruitt of Rantburg links a sordid story of judicial corruption in Iran:

TEHRAN, July 28 (AFP) - An Iranian revolutionary court judge has been sentenced to 10 and a half years in jail for pimping and the illegal detention of a 17-year-old girl, court sources said Sunday.

The judge in the Tehran satellite town of Karaj was found guilty of having covered up for a brothel where 17 girls were detained, many of them as young as seven.

They said the judge, whom they identified only by his first name Hadi, had confined a 17-year-old who went missing several months ago before being found by her father in a brothel.

Hadi was also sentenced to 90 lashes of the whip and barred from any post in the judiciary, and will have to return a total of 625,000 dollars in bribes received from the brothel owners.

Seventeen others were convicted in the same case and handed lesser sentences, the sources said.

What struck me was the relative mildness of the punishment, which seems roughly in line with what he would have gotten in the U.S. for the same crime. The only obvious difference is that he would have escaped the 90 lashes, but would also quite likely have had to pay a substantial fine over and above returning the money. Given the age of the victims, many Americans would consider this guy a good candidate for stoning or hanging or being sewn in a sack and thrown off a cliff. Not that that would be allowed in the U.S., but it's surprising that country that stones adulterers and amputates the hands of common thieves would let this guy off with such a relatively light punishment.

How are we to explain this uncharacteristic (can I call it unIslamic?) leniency? I can think of a number of possibilities:

  1. Are the mullahs losing their nerve, and their will to punish evildoers? This seems unlikely. They may not trust the police to shoot protesters, but they seem to be perfectly willing to have them shot by imported thugs. In any case, this kind of leniency hardly seems likely to help them stay in power.
  2. Are the members of the ruling class protecting their own, as tends to happen in every country under every system of government? If so, are they doing so out of simple fellowship with the powerful, or because so many of them are also corrupt, too, or to keep the loyalty of the ruling classes in difficult times?
  3. Did the fact that the primary victims were all female tend to partially exonerate the criminal? There is no mention of compensation for the captive girls, or even for their fathers. I suppose that, willing or (like at least one 17-year-old) unwilling, they are all 'bad girls' now and can expect no consideration.

The three possibilities are not mutually exclusive.

Parenthetical Question: Is prostitution legal in Iran? If so, what kind of theocracy is that? If not, why is the bribe money being returned to the brothel owners? This shows commendable self-restraint by the state. Most likely the story is misleadingly ambiguous, and he actually 'returned' the money to the national treasury.

Final comment: I hope when the father found his daughter in the brothel, it was because he was looking for her, not looking for a good time. That would have made for quite an awkward recognition scene.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:14 PM
I'm Back

Posting will resume shortly. I got in late last night, but driving over 2100 miles in less than 33 hours spread over less than three days left me in no condition to write -- or do much of anything else -- until now.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:43 PM
July 25, 2002

I have to go out of town again, this time driving to Michigan and back, and will not be posting until very late Saturday or (more likely) some time Sunday. Blog addicts may attempt to allay their withdrawal symptoms at any of the fine blogs listed in the right-hand column -- except those in the 'Comatose' category, of course.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:04 AM
July 23, 2002
An Ancient Legend

Many people today believe that the moon landings were faked, and many more (probably mostly the same people) believe that cars could run on water if only the oil companies or the government or both were not suppressing the scientific discoveries that would make it possible.

This kind of economic paranoia has a long pedigree. Here is a version from Petronius' Satyricon. The vulgar millionaire and ex-slave Trimalchio is talking (section 51, translated by William Arrowsmith):

'. . . there once was a workman who invented a little glass bottle that wouldn't break. Well, he got in to see the emperor with his bottle as a present. Then he asked the emperor to hand it back to him and managed to drop it on the floor on purpose. Well, the emperor just about died. But the workman picked the bottle back up from the floor and, believe it or not, it was dented just a little, as though it were made out of bronze. So he pulled a little hammer out of his pocket and tapped it back into shape. Well, by this time he thought he had Jupiter by the balls, especially when the emperor asked him if anyone else was in on the secret. But you know what happened? When the workman told him that nobody else knew, the emperor ordered his head chopped off. Said that if the secret ever got out, gold would be as cheap as dirt.'

Petronius was writing in the early 60s A.D., but we hear elsewhere that the emperor was Tiberius, which pushes the dramatic date back to 16-37 A.D. Somehow plastic has not made gold worthless, or even driven glass out of circulation.

Coming tomorrow: the Younger Seneca on Hostius Quadra, the man with the magnifying bedroom mirrors.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:46 PM
July 22, 2002
Small Town Life

Advice for anyone thinking of moving to a small town on the coast of Maine and living in an apartment right on Main Street:

It can be very nice -- until the Clam Festival came to town. The crowds are a pain, especially the people who sit on my front porch and chat up a storm (with each other, I mean) while I'm trying to read. (No air conditioning, so I can't close the front window.) Then there's the clippety-clop of the horse-drawn wagons up and down the street, mixed with occasional warning toots from the police cars, and music from a calliope or something that drove back and forth so I only heard a couple of bars of the same damned tune every five minutes or so. The main bandstand was directly across from my front window, not more than 30 yards away. The stage music was tolerable, at least until a barbershop quartet started singing "Now I Know My ABCs" and "Rubber Ducky". The oompah band's version of "American Pie" was another low point, as was the edited version of Kansas City: "goin' to Clamma City, Clamma City here I come". I never knew fireworks could be quite so loud, either: they were launched from about 50 yards outside my window.

Now the festival-goers have all departed and I'm catching up on my rest and relaxation. I never did get any clams.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:47 PM
July 21, 2002
A Stupid Joke -- Or Two

In the last couple of months, Jimmy Carter has moved on from flattering Castro and screwing over the people of Cuba to flattering Hugo Chávez and screwing over the people of Venezuela. It's time for the president to enforce the Logan Act and keep Jimmy home. Perhaps that would not be politically possible. In that case, we can at least try to shame him with ridicule. I like to think of Jimmy Carter, peanut farmer, as The ÜberGoober. Can anyone top that?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:41 PM
July 20, 2002
What Should Be Done With Our Bases In Saudi Arabia?

For months now there have been reports that U.S. military forces are moving out of Sultan Air Base and other facilities in Saudi Arabia and into bases in Qatar and other countries in the region. This is all said to be at the demand of our long-time "ally" Saudi Arabia. It seems to me that giving up our Saudi bases presents more problems than just the practical and logistical kind, severe as those may be. These are multiplied if the Saudis decide to make an open demand.

If they do, we can hardly just pack up and leave, as if Saudi Arabia were the Philippines and the year were 1991. It might not detract from our military resources, since the Saudis won't let us use them anyway. But it would please Osama (if he's still alive) and his allies (many of whom undoubtedly are). It would be a humiliation and a sign of weakness, and weakness is dangerous in the Middle East. Intangibles are a large part of warfare, perhaps never more than in this kind of war.

I haven't seen any speculation on what to do if we receive an open request to leave. None of the options is particularly attractive:

  1. We could refuse to go, but that would look bad. And our troops already have enough trouble with angry mobs in the cities and men with SAMs skulking around the runways.
  2. We could pull back to just the bases, but refuse to leave them. This would be more feasible, but would still look bad. Or would it? It's not like the Saudi armed forces are in any position to kick us out, and we might actually gain more respect for our ruthlessness than we would lose for our lack of niceness. But it's still not an entirely attractive option.
  3. We could try to foment a quick coup d' état, but that would be difficult to arrange, morally questionable, and likely to lead to worse problems in the long run. (A popular revolution leading to a peaceful democratic republic, if such a thing were possible in Saudi Arabia today, would be far more attractive.)
  4. We could refuse to leave until paid in full, with interest, for the value of our investment. This would look bad: cheap, greedy, and mercenary. There could be further complications: What to do if they refuse? If they pay? If they promise to pay and then drag their feet?
  5. We could leave, but only after thoroughly destroying the bases first. This could be the most satisfying for us psychologically, but might be inadvisable from the point of view of others' psychology. It would provide a chance to show off the power of our weaponry, e.g. what daisy cutters can do to our barracks. Don't forget to invite the press and give them good viewing-points! But that would remind the bad guys of what high explosives can do -- and have done -- to the Khobar Towers, the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, our East African embassies, and so on. Perhaps not the best sort of demonstration. We would once again be doing Osama's work for him.
  6. The Phillipine government didn't get nearly as much out of our departure in 1991 as they expected, since a volcano erupted and pretty much destroyed Clark Airfield. Too bad something similar can't be arranged in Saudi Arabia. Or can it? It would be satisfying to be able to say something along the lines of "Oops! There was a major NBC accident just as we were packing up the last pieces of equipment. You'll want to stay at least 5 miles away for the next 50 years to avoid contamination. No time to clean up: we've got a war with Iraq to fight."

I trust someone in the Pentagon is already thinking about this problem, even if it doesn't seem to have occurred to most of our pundits. Perhaps the current plan -- leaving quietly and gradually to avoid a direct request -- is the best. Or rather the least bad, since it's still not at all attractive.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:34 PM
July 19, 2002
Cruel But Not Unusual

Little Green Footballs reports:

An Iranian man convicted of raping and killing his [16-year-old] nephew will be executed by being stuffed into a sack and thrown off a cliff.

If he survives, he’ll be hanged.

Well, at least they won’t throw him off the cliff again.

This reminds me of the ancient Roman punishment for parricide (a crime which covered murder of any near relation, not just a father). The murderer was flogged, sewn up in a sack with a dog, a snake, a cock, and a monkey, and then thrown into the Tiber. Because Nero murdered his mother, stepfather, and stepbrother, among many others, the satirist Juvenal suggested that it would have taken "more than one monkey, more than one snake, and more than one sack" to punish him adequately.

Why do I mention this relatively obscure historical fact?

  • It shows that standards of civilized behavior do tend to increase slightly from century to century. Today even Iranian mullahs behave better than the Roman magistrates of two millennia ago: at least they leave the animals out of it. (I hope none of them reads this and gets any ideas.) Though progress is fitful and often imperceptible, there is some hope for the human species.
  • It illustrates what the Founding Fathers meant when they forbade "cruel and unusual punishment". They were not referring to hanging or the firing squad, still less to lethal injection, but to far more gruesome and painful punishments such as crucifixion, the iron maiden, the rack, and of course the sack.
Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:18 PM
Iran The Next Domino?

PatioPundit writes: "Perhaps the real October surprise will be that Iran will be first." Almost four months ago, I argued that putting Iran before Iraq, if that could be arranged, would have a useful psychological effect, since Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq line up like a row of dominoes pointing at Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, with Saudi Arabia a little to the left of the main axis. (Click here for the main argument, here for the map.)

The effect on other countries would be all the more striking in that the three liberations would have been accomplished by different methods:

  1. In Afghanistan, the U.S. intervened in a Civil War and tipped the scales by a combination of air support, logistical support, and special forces, with relatively little use of our own ground troops in traditional roles (or numbers).
  2. In Iran, it looks like a popular uprising is imminent, and the U.S. need only provide encouragement and stay out of the way.
  3. In Iraq, a full-scale invasion and temporary occupation with ground troops will likely be required to root out Saddam's regime.
Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:41 PM
July 18, 2002
Final Housman

As promised earlier today, here is the last long poem from A. E. Housman's light verse:

            Inhuman Henry
Cruelty to Fabulous Animals

Oh would you know why Henry sleeps,
And why his mourning Mother weeps,
And why his weeping Mother mourns?
He was unkind to unicorns.

No unicorn, with Henry's leave,
Could dance upon the lawn at eve,
Or gore the gardener's boy in spring
Or do the very slightest thing.

No unicorn could safely roar,
And dash its nose against the door,
Nor sit in peace upon the mat
To eat the dog, or drink the cat.

Henry would never in the least
Encourage the heraldic beast:
If there were unicorns about
He went and let the lion out.

The lion, leaping from its chain
And glaring through its tangled mane,
Would stand on end and bark and bound
And bite what unicorns it found.

And when the lion bit a lot
Was Henry sorry? He was not.
What did his jumps betoken? Joy.
He was a bloody-minded boy.

The Unicorn is not a Goose,
And when they saw the lion loose
They grew increasingly aware
That they had better not be there.

And oh, the unicorn is fleet
And spurns the earth with all its feet.
The lion had to snap and snatch
At tips of tails it could not catch.

Returning home in temper bad,
It met the sanguinary lad,
And clasping Henry with its claws
It took his legs between its jaws.

'Down, lion, down!' said Henry, 'cease!
My legs immediately release.'
His formidable feline pet
Made no reply, but only ate.

The last words that were ever said
By Henry's disappearing head,
In accents of indignant scorn,
Were 'I am not a unicorn'.

And now you know why Henry sleeps,
And why his Mother mourns and weeps,
And why she also weeps and mourns;
So now be kind to unicorns.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:03 PM

I never thought I would have to write these words, but . . . .

I am sincerely grateful to WarbloggerWatch for linking to this picture, which I had not seen before:

They seem to think it a devastating insult to link their pet name for me to this picture. Then again, their standards for humor are rather primitive, to put it politely. I would almost be inclined to make it part of my permanent header if I were sure the owner wouldn't sue for copyright infringement.

The boys at WarbloggerWatch also seem to think that this magazine cover was a devastating putdown of the Bush administration's foreign policy:

Of course, bloggers knew about it, and were admiring it, months ago. See, for instance, Transterrestrial Musings (February 19th). A Google search shows that it was also mentioned with approval or delight by Asparagirl, Tim Blair, the InstaPundit, and Jeff Jarvis, among others, though not all displayed it and some of their archives are currently irretrievable.

Pedantic Footnote:

I hadn't noticed before, but it looks as if there is a pun in Der Spiegel's title. The cover depicts both "Bush warriors" (fighting for George W. Bush) and "bush warriors" (backwoods or jungle fighters). Only a native speaker could say for sure, but my dictionary tells me that German 'Busch' means, among other things, 'bush' in the sense of 'backwoods, wilderness, jungle'. The spelling seems close enough to make such a pun work.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 04:37 PM
The Use And Abuse Of Toads

Here is another of A. E. Housman's light verses:

As into the garden Elizabeth ran
Pursued by the just indignation of Ann,
She trod on an object that lay in her road,
She trod on an object that looked like a toad.

It looked like a toad, and it looked so because
A toad was the actual object it was;
And after supporting Elizabeth's tread
It looked like a toad that was visibly dead.

Elizabeth, leaving her footprint behind,
Continued her flight on the wings of the wind,
And Ann in her anger was heard to arrive
At the toad that was not any longer alive.

She was heard to arrive, for the firmament rang
With the sound of a scream and the noise of a bang,
As her breath on the breezes she broadly bestowed
And fainted away on Elizabeth's toad.

Elizabeth, saved by the sole of her boot,
Escaped her insensible sister's pursuit;
And if ever hereafter she irritates Ann,
She will tread on a toad if she possibly can.

For better or worse, I have almost run out of Housman verses. After 'Inhuman Henry, or Cruelty to Fabulous Animals', to be posted later today, there is not much left of interest. Previous posts will be found here and here.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:26 AM
July 17, 2002
What's Wrong With Brendan O'Neill?

Brendan O'Neill doesn't like my objections to his now-notorious post, and adds a further sneer about bloggers with "silly names". Some of us prefer 'silly' names because they are more memorable. I have no trouble remembering the difference between Little Green Footballs and Sine Qua Non Pundit, or Protein Wisdom and The Illuminated Donkey, or Insolvent Republic of Blogistan and The Weigh In, though I do sometimes confuse the names of their proprietors, Charles Austin and Charles Johnson, Ken Goldstein and Jeff Goldstein, Justin Sodano and Justin Slotman. It would help if all bloggers had uncommon names like Den Beste or Palubicki or Yourish -- or Meryl, for that matter. Since they don't, distinctive blog-titles are a good substitute. They are not fool-proof -- a blogger recently quoted Cold Fury but attributed the words to The Sound and Fury -- but they help. Of course, another reason to choose a silly name is to irritate the people who dislike them: they generally deserve it.

Turning to the two points at issue:

1. Editing the words of Clint Eastwood to make them fit the standards of British English is inexcusable. I tried to give O'Neill an out by suggesting that his single brackets meant paraphrase rather than direct quotation, but he declined to take it and insisted that he was right to put the word 'arse-hole' in Eastwood's mouth.

Of course, there are circumstances in which such editing is perfectly proper. I have published a few articles in British journals, and all were rewritten to conform to British orthography and punctuation. Fair enough. However, I'm fairly certain that Eastwood did not submit his words to O'Neill's journal (or his web-page) for publication, and it is therefore wrong to change them.

Consider an analogy. Suppose someone in, say, Tuscaloosa were to quote "Winston Churchill" as the author of the following words:

Now this here ain't the endin'. It ain't even the beginnin' of the endin'. But it might could be the endin' of the beginnin'.

The attribution would be a lie. What Churchill said was quite different:

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

I don't suppose O'Neill understands that his rewrite of Clint Eastwood sounds just as stupid and wrong to American ears as my rewrite of Churchill will sound to just about anyone who reads it.

Finally, both O'Neill and Jak King should know that "arse" is neither "proper English" nor "English (real English, not the limited American-English subset)", it is British English -- and not all that proper, either.

2. I did not recognize O'Neill's phrase "hard graft", and the loathsome Jak King has criticized me for this at length on WarbloggerWatch and in my own comments section. I would feel more ashamed of my ignorance if it were not so widespread -- and justified. The Oxford English Dictionary lists this use of 'graft' as slang and gives only 4 quotations, none from literary sources and all from the 1890s. Dictionary.com does not know it at all, though it does list the opposite meaning: "A 'soft thing'' or 'easy thing;' a 'snap.' " (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary). I have consulted half a dozen well-educated Americans of my acquaintance, and none of them had ever heard of 'hard graft'. The usage is not only slang, but British slang, and should therefore be avoided by anyone who aims at an international audience. Readers outside the Commonwealth should not have to consult unabridged dictionaries or do a Google search just to read O'Neill's blog.

So why did O'Neill use the phrase? Did he not realize that his usage was so very parochial? Did he not care? Or did he not want Americans (and Indians, Israelis, Norwegians, and others) to understand what he said? If he writes only for his fellow Britons, why did he send e-mails to so many American bloggers (not including me) asking them to read this particular post? These are rhetorical questions: I don't really care.

As for Jak King, his statement (in my comments) that I "got it entirely wrong" is a lie. Scroll down and see for yourself. I never said that "hard graft" was not English, I said that neither of the common uses of 'graft' fit the context (true) and wondered whether it was a mistake for 'craft'. My tentative prescription was wrong, but the diagnosis still stands: language that is unintelligible to well over half the target audience is not in fact "beyond reproach".

There is one more misrepresentation to correct before I sign off for the night. O'Neill wrote:

Perhaps Weevil missed the part where I said: 'If you're a British blogger, do not use American spellings just to please American audiences....'

Neither I nor anyone else asked him to use American spellings when writing his own words, just when he is directly quoting an American. And that's 'Dr. Weevil' to you, bud.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:56 PM
July 16, 2002
I'm Back

As I warned, I haven't had much time for blogging in the last six days. If anyone was wondering, I was driving from Maine to Toronto to Baltimore and back the same way, also packing 147 boxes of books and hauling them and 9 large bookshelves from a basement in Maryland into a Ryder truck and unloading them into another basement in Toronto. There was help at both ends, but not nearly enough. And they weren't even my books. Total driven: 2408 miles in just over 49 hours. Uggh.

Anyway, I'm back, alive and (fairly) well, and will soon return to regular blogging, though probably not until tomorrow. My highest priority will be unfinished business:

  1. What's wrong with Brian O'Neill?
  2. What's wrong with WarbloggerWatch?

Stay tuned. I'm in a bad mood.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:54 PM
July 14, 2002
The Biter Bit

Brendan O'Neill's post (link may not work yet) on what's wrong with the Blogosphere has been getting some attention lately. Steven Chapman (formerly 'Daddy Warblogs') selects two paragraphs for praise:

The Blogosphere is built on opinion. But what is so great about having an opinion? As Clint Eastwood once said, 'Opinions are like arseholes - everybody's got one'. And like arseholes, we don't need to see (or indeed hear) them every minute of the day.

Opinions are ten-a-penny, and are usually little more than prejudice anyway. Research, argument and hard graft, however, can sometimes turn petty opinion into considered judgement - but research, argument and hard graft are notable by their absence in the Blogosphere.

Although O'Neill describes his writing as "sometimes error-prone and over-long", Chapman limits his disagreement to two parenthesized sentences at the very end:

(And whaddaya mean, "overlong"? This is rich indeed coming from Brendan "Why Write Two Paragraphs When Nine Will Do" O'Neill!)

I have a further objection. If you're going to criticize bloggers for bad writing and bad spelling, you should first make sure that your own prose is beyond reproach.

In the first paragraph quoted, Eastwood surely said 'ass-hole' not 'arse-hole'. Perhaps O'Neill's use of single rather than double quotation marks is meant to imply that this is a paraphrase, but why not quote exactly? Readers in any English-speaking country will understand.

In the following paragraph, what is "hard graft"? Neither of the common meanings of 'graft' makes sense here, since O'Neill is not writing about political corruption or the improvement of fruit trees. Shouldn't this be "hard craft", the strenuous labor of practicing one's chosen profession with enough skill to make it worth while? It doesn't make much sense otherwise. And it's not a simple typo, since he repeats the phrase.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:12 AM
July 13, 2002
More On Tithing And Jihad

In reply to my post of a few days ago, Roy Edroso of WarbloggerWatch objects (July 13th, 12:14 AM):

Nolo contendere. Of course, this implies that your garden variety Muslim is not even as observant of jihad as Christians are of tithing -- else America, with one million allegedly observant Mohammedians in residence, would be experiencing daily bombings.

Which was really my point. Whatever the Koran says, all followers of Islam are not automatically going to blow infidels to bits. With all the recent talk of the Crusades, it's important to remember that we're not facing a monolithic force. Catholics don't automatically hew to the Pope, and Muslims don't automatically hew to Bin Laden, who of course has much less temporal authority than John Paul II.

The implication does not follow. The other possibility is that the situations are more similar than Edroso allows. Suppose, as a guess, that 10% of Christians tithe, but unobstrusively, so non-Christians don't tend to notice. It's quite possible that 10% of Muslims practice jihad, but (for even more obvious reasons) keep it as unobtrusive as possible until it's time to strike (or perhaps until they can't stand to wait any longer and decide to strike without orders or encouragement from others).

I don't know whether this estimate is true, but neither does Edroso know that it is false. We do know that on July 3rd there was a limo driver in Southern California who didn't show any particular inclination to active jihad, only a strong aversion to Jews when talking to his Muslim employees, a 'Read Koran' sign on his door, and bitter complaints about his upstairs neighbor's flag-flying. On July 4th, he 'came out of the closet' as a jihadist, killed two people, and would surely have killed a lot more if it hadn't been for a couple of quick-thinking and well-armed El Al security guards. How many other such not-yet-active jihadists are there in the world? I don't know, but it's a safe bet that the number is not zero or three or twenty, and may be quite substantial. Even if the percentage of Muslims ready and willing to do violence for their faith is only 1% or 0.1%, that's an awful lot of people.

No one has ever denied that most Muslims in the U.S. and an awful lot of Muslims (perhaps most of them) in other countries are peaceful. The problem is the other ones. A related problem is that the peaceful ones don't seem to be willing to stick their necks out and reclaim their religion from the thugs. Why not? Are they afraid of the thugs? If so, they must think the latter too numerous or too thuggish to resist. Or do they sympathize with the goals of the thugs? Over the years quite a few Irish-Americans (to take one example) who wouldn't dream of doing violence themselves have sent money to people that they must have known would use it to finance large-scale murder.

Finally, it would have been more accurate to say "people who consider themselves Catholics don't automatically hew to the Pope". Many Catholics thinking 'hewing to the Pope' is exactly what separates Catholics from Protestants, and that there are a lot of Protestants out there who believe or pretend that they are Catholics. After all, Christians who thought the Pope was wrong on matters of faith and morals invented Protestantism.

(If Roy Edroso continues to argue like a grown-up and stops hanging around with such creeps as 'Eric A. Blair', I'll start linking to him, which would be more convenient all around. At the moment, I have a well-justified aversion to linking to WarbloggerWatch.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:02 AM
July 11, 2002
One More Thing . . .

. . . before I hit the road.

WarbloggerWatch has now updated their Enemies List to call me 'Nut Weevil' instead of 'Boll Weevil'. Wow! Sure didn't see that one coming! Too lazy to think up their own insult, and too stupid to come up with a clever one, WBW waits for me to hand one over prewrapped, with illustrations (see below). They should know that a nut weevil is not a crazy weevil, but a weevil that spends its time patiently boring holes in the nuts it finds. Sometimes it is disappointed to find that there is nothing inside. No need to check your pants, 'Eric': the nut weevil doesn't go for that kind of 'nuts'.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:23 AM

I will be out of town for the next six days, returning late Tuesday. That means no e-mails will be read until I return, and posts and comments will be infrequent. I do plan to check in now and then, if only to be able to delete any particularly offensive comments anyone might think to leave in my absence.

I may well have something to say on the general subject of WarbloggerWatch, 'Eric A. Blair', 'George Orwell', and 'Dr. Menlo' when I return. Then again, they hardly need me to discredit them when they do it so well themselves.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:18 AM
Our Greatest Living Novelist?

Marc Cooper's interview with Gore Vidal in the LA Weekly has already provoked hoots of derision in the Blogosphere. Here's one factor no one seems to have noticed. A patrician novelist should be familiar with his native language, but Vidal seems to struggle a bit. Consider this sentence:

We had planned to occupy Afghanistan in October, and Osama, or whoever it was who hit us in September, launched a pre-emptory strike.

Since when is "pre-emptory" a word? He means 'preemptive', but seems to have mixed it up with 'peremptory', which means something quite different. It could be a transcription error, but aren't interviews like this generally run by the interviewee before publication to catch just this kind of mistake?

Vidal's error is as bad as Mike Tyson's recent statement that he is planning to "fade into Bolivian". Of course, Tyson has never claimed to be a particularly competent writer, speaker, or thinker.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:10 AM
July 10, 2002
Jihad And Tithing

Since WarbloggerWatch has chosen to make me an enemy, let's try fact-checking the fact-checkers' asses. Here's an interesting comparison, from Roy Edroso (link not working as I write):

My guess is that, like most religionists, Muslims are lazy about their sacred texts, and till recently thought of jihad as some vaguely noble thing they really ought to look into sometime -- you know, like tithing.

What's wrong with this argument? Start with the fact that millions of Christians, almost certainly tens of millions in the U.S. alone, do in fact tithe, and have been doing so for years. It's a sin to brag about it, so the scale of the phenomenon tends to escape the notice of the irreligious. Sometimes the dirty little secret is revealed, for instance when government regulations or political pressures force Christians to publish their tax forms and reveal precisely how much of their income they give to charity. It appears that George W. Bush tithes, since his charitable contributions have been about 10.2% of his income two years running. (Thanks to the TurkeyBlog for first noticing this.) It would be amazing if that figure were coincidental.

If, on the average, Muslims are as serious about jihad as Christians are about tithing, and I think they are, we are in great danger, and it has nothing much to do with September 11th, which was quite obviously more a result of jihadic tendencies than our reaction has been a cause of them.

Update: (July 13th, 8:02 AM)

For further thoughts, objections and replies, see this post.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:39 PM
Facts About Weevils

I have recently achieved the high honor of inclusion on the WarbloggerWatch Enemies List. They call it 'The Watched' and give clever names to those they list. As if to show how little they know about weevils, or insults, they list me as 'Boll Weevil'.

This is a boll weevil (fortunately not to scale):

This is a pecan weevil:

This is a European nut weevil:

Until today, my background illustrated the chestnut weevil, possibly the most prodigiously endowed of all the species of nut weevils and far more impressive than the puny boll weevil. I have now moved the illustration to the header and doubled it, with the male on the left and the female on the right. Note the subtle differences between the genders: I like to think of the male as the lesser of two weevils. If you've never noticed one of these extraordinary creatures, it is most likely because they are generally half an inch long or less. At least that's what the books say: they never specify whether they are counting the snout as part of the length, and it makes a difference. Their small size and unobtrusive habits are the reason that you will generally see no weevil and hear no weevil, unless of course you go looking for them. They use their snouts to bore holes in nuts, cotton bolls, and other things. Agronomists therefore classify them as boring pests, though I find them quite fascinating.

Next week: The Boll Weevil Monument in Enterprise, Alabama.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:42 PM
A Reader Responds

Someone calling himself 'Phat Bat' writes in:

Dear Dr. Weebil,

I have to say this is the most anally retarded website I have ever had the misfortune to come across.


Mr P Bat

Why he feels that he has to say this is unclear, as is so much else in the letter. Does 'anally retarded' mean insufficiently versed in the ins and outs (as it were) of sodomy? Was 'Phat Bat' led here by a Google search on that word, hoping that I could give him some pointers? If so, it's no surprise that he was disappointed, despite a few promising sentences in these posts. Then again, perhaps he was one of those led here recently by Google searches on 'spanking' or 'Arab whores'. Who knows? He's certainly not giving a lot of clues, but then he doesn't seem to have any to spare.

Aside to Phat Bat:

Semi-literate objections like yours just encourage me to keep doing what I do. Don't let a big wad of pixels hit you in the butt on the way out. Oops, I guess if you're reading this it's too late.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 02:13 PM
July 09, 2002
Yet More Housman

As promised on June 16th, here is another one of A. E. Housman's little-known light verses:

'In the back back garden, Thomasina
   Did you recently vociferate a squeal?'
'Oh, I trod up an amphisbaena,
   And it bit me on the toe and on the heel.
      Yes, it bit me (do you know)
      With its tail upon the toe,
While it bit me with its head upon the heel!'

'How excessively distracting and confusing.
   Pray what, Thomasina, did you do?'
'Oh, I took the garden scissors I was using
   And I snipped it irretrievably in two.
      And it split with such a scrunch
      That I shall not want my lunch.
And if you had heard the noise no more would you.'

'And where, Thomasina, are the sections
   Of the foe that you courageously repressed?'
'Oh, they ran away in opposite directions,
   And they vanished in the east and in the west.
      And the way they made me squint,
      It would melt a heart of flint,
And I think that I will go upstairs and rest.'

An amphisbaena is a mythical snake with two heads and no tail. The name is Greek for 'goes both ways'.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:49 PM
Bad Pun

If today is the 40th birthday of Terry Oglesby of PossumBlog, the 70th birthday of Donald Rumsfeld, and the 55th birthday of O. J. Simpson, does that make Simpson the mean between Rumsfeld and the Possum?

Sorry, I'm just making sure that my next joke will seem relatively funny.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:32 PM
July 08, 2002
Classifying Bloggers

A week or two ago, N. Z. Bear asked for suggestions on improving the classification system of his Blogosphere Ecosystem, particularly by inserting new levels matching the established theme or expanding the size of existing categories. I sent him an e-mail, but have since had further thoughts that may be of interest to my readers. Since he's unlikely to adopt all of my suggestions, why not publish them here?

First of all, the topmost categories could certainly stand to be expanded a bit, to for instance twelve bloggers each instead of ten. (Please note that doing so would not bump me up a category: this suggestion is not at all self-serving.) Further advantages to using twelve instead of ten will appear below.

Here's my suggestion, with the new categories in red. Subdivide Higher Beings into three new categories:

Olympian Gods [twelve would be the right number here]
Minor Deities
Nymphs and Satyrs

Subdivide Mortal Humans into three new categories:

Kings Among Men
Solid Citizens
Mere Peasants
(but at least they're human)

Interleave four new animal categories with the old ones:

Large Mammals
Adorable Little Rodents
Flappy Birds
Slithering Reptiles

Crawly Amphibians
Slimy Molluscs

Lowly Insects
Crunchy Crustaceans
Wiggly Worms

Insignificant Microbes (bottom o' the food chain)

Possible variations and complications:

  1. More categories could be added at the bottom, continuing on into the Vegetable Kingdom (that's the real "bottom o' the food chain" -- except for Venus Flytraps, I guess) and perhaps even inanimate objects.
  2. If even more categories are needed, Solid Citizens could be divided into Pompous Patricians and Petulant Plebeians.
  3. Another possibility would be to insert Great Apes or Proud Primates between the humans and the mammals. The problem is that apes are mammals and humans are primates. Then again, humans are already large mammals, so maybe that's not so bad. (Though zoologically accurate, a separate category of Baboons between the Great Apes and the rest of the mammals probably wouldn't go over very well.)
  4. It's hard to say whether Slimy Molluscs should be inserted above the Insects (because they're mostly bigger) or below them (because they're more primitive -- they don't have eyes, or faces, or legs).

As for the right-hand column of the chart, expanding the top category to twelve members (no pun intended) would allow it to be called The Dirty Dozen: Ultimate Link Sluts. A second category of Penultimate Link Sluts could also be inserted (no pun intended) below. That might confuse some readers, though, those who think 'penultimate' is a fancy term for 'even better than ultimate' when it really means 'next best thing to ultimate'. (I tried to stay away from blatant pedantry for a whole post, really I did!) But coming up with further categories for the right-hand column is not as easy or fun as for the left, so I'll let the Bear handle it.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:08 PM
My SuperHero Name

Since everyone else is doing it:

Hero Guild Name

Villains fear me.
Heroes envy me.

Doctor Julius Weevil is...
The Country Western Gladiator

Results on other variations of my name were less interesting: 'Amber Samurai'? I don't think so.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:23 PM
A Fellow Blogger Hacked?

Some time in the last two or three hours, Lane McFadden's site was apparently hacked and taken over by someone called [name deleted], with a slogan that mentions "the f***ing Brazilian skill". Well, they didn't use the asterisks. Is "the Brazilian skill" anything like "the English vice" or "the Greek position"? If so, just what skill are Brazilians known for? Besides soccer, I mean.

If you click on their link to find out more about them (don't!), you get a message along the lines of 'Now you've given us what we want' and a cookie is put on your hard drive. (The wording is just a guess because I didn't stay long and have no intention of returning.) Of course I deleted the cookie immediately, but it still worries me.

Motive is unclear:

  1. Is this set up to help them steal passwords, credit card numbers, or other sensitive information? The cookie and the message suggest that it may well be.
  2. Are they just assholes who get a thrill from trashing someone else's site? If so, the cookie may just be a way of spreading fear for their own sadistic pleasure.
  3. Was it something Lane said? If other warbloggers get hacked, this hypothesis becomes much more likely.

Three more questions for people who know more about these things than I do:

  1. Other than making sure our files are all backed up and deleting the damned cookie, is there anything else we can or should do to protect ourselves?
  2. How much damage could they have done with the cookie in the 15-20 minutes it was on my hard drive?
  3. Could someone who has his e-mail address or telephone number please let Lane know, just in case he's been off-line? If he has anything to tell us about the attack that we should know, I'll be glad to post it here.

Update: (6:33 PM)

Lane's site is back up, apparently none the worse for its temporary hijacking, with no report on what happened. I've deleted the name of the hackers from this post, along with their slogan, not wanting to give them any glory -- or attract their attention, either. Readers may e-mail me if they really need the information. Otherwise, I'll let the post stand pretty much as written, on general principle.

Update: (11:22 PM)

Lane's report is up, too, also some remarks in my comments.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 04:56 PM
July 07, 2002
More Disturbing Search Requests

Nothing obscene about these, but still rather odd. My hit count for Friday was 40-50% more than usual, and most of the difference came from Google and Yahoo searches. Here are the top ten strings searched, with total hits in parentheses:

  1. what is the name of travis tritts first horse (32)
  2. travis tritts first horse (25)
  3. travis tritts horse (11)
  4. name of travis tritts first horse (8)
  5. what is the name of travis tritts first horse (6)
  6. what was the name of travis tritts first horse (5)
  7. what is the name of travis tritt first horse (5)
  8. travis tritt horses name (4)
  9. travis tritts horses name (4)
  10. dr. weevil (3)

There were several similar strings on the next page (11-20). Somewhere in the world there must have been a trivia contest in which the name of Travis Tritt's first horse (in childhood? after he made it big in country music?) was one of the questions.

Contestants were led here by this post from June 19th. I wonder how many will ever return. Not many, I would guess, since they didn't find what they were looking for.

I can only assume that the contest had a time limit, because I only had one Tritt-related equine search yesterday. A brief Google search turned up nothing likely, so I'm guessing the contest was on television or radio.

Update: (12:42 AM the next day)

If hundreds of Travis Tritt fans have easy access to the internet, does that mean that the Digital Divide is a myth, or at least a thing of the past? His fans seem likely to be more lower than upper middle class on the whole.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:14 PM
July 05, 2002
Slurs On Top Of Slurs

Two more interesting posts (aren't they all?) on Megan McArdle's Live . . . from the WTC. The dispute started with this post, which inspired accusations of anti-Polish bigotry, outlined and rebutted in this post. (Permalinks don't seem to work: the dates are 6/28 5:29 PM and 7/3 6:16 PM.) In the latter, Megan's Polish coworker Ewa provided some untranslated prose, which a helpful reader then translated in comment #10. Two particular sentences caught my eye:

It is still possible in our country to see a growing number of young, uneducated, unemployed men under a shelter with beer, who hang around having stupid conversations ‘on all fours’ and have an extraordinary knowledge of “Latin”. Lack of education in our land is equal to stupidity and poverty.

As a Latin teacher and Latin lover -- I mean lover of Latin -- I demand an apology from Ewa, Max Sawicky, and the entire Polish nation for these offensive remarks. I don't know whether "Latin" is a Polish metaphor for obscenity, slang, or gibberish, but it must be one of the three, or a combination of more than one of the three. To associate speaking Latin with "lack of education" and "stupidity" is a terrible insult, and a slander on all of the hundreds of millions of Latin-speakers. Since they are all dead, it falls to us Latin teachers to object, and perhaps to file a lawsuit on their behalf. Depending on the precise connotations of the Polish word "Laciny" ("Latin"), the inhabitants of Latin America may also want to join our class-action suit.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:25 PM
Why I Use A Pseudonym

I've been having a dispute with someone named Bruce Moomaw over on Megan McArdle's site. I thought I should say something here, since the subject may be of general interest. Besides, Megan's software told me my original comment was too long to post there, anyway.

When he found that he was losing an argument on another subject, Moomaw resorted to an ad hominem sneer:

. . . what should be said about bloggers who continually hide behind pseudonyms? All my creations are available for public inspection, Doctor. Why not bring yours out, that we may know them?

Unlike many people who post hostile remarks on other people's blogs (I am not referring to Moomaw, but to the kind of bozo who posts insults as "Nobody" at "nowhere@aol.com") I have a known location that will never change, since I have my own domain. It is very easy to see what I think about any subject.

I only use a pseudonym because I'm a high school teacher. If I put my real name on my blog, some of my students and their parents would read it, with various unpleasant consequences:

  1. I would have to keep it G-rated. I prefer to write a PG-13 blog for grownups.
  2. I would have to avoid criticizing anyone that might be a friend of my students' parents, and that includes a lot of people who deserve severe criticism. For example, I taught at a very good school in Manhattan last fall: some of my students had parents who were New York Times editorialists and the like.
  3. I like to be able to give relatively specific examples on this blog without being sued. As Dr. Weevil, I can tell stories about idiot professors or clueless bureaucrats I have known without my readers being able to identify them by checking out my curriculum vitae.
  4. I have found it best not to discuss my politics with my students. Discussing modern politics in any but the most general way tends to divide students into pro-teacher and anti-teacher factions, and that interferes with the learning of Latin. I do make appropriate parallels and contrasts between ancient and modern politics, but I generally refuse to tell them how I vote, or what I think about abortion or the death penalty. On the two or three occasions that I have broken this rule, I have regretted it. Some students turned hostile, others thought they'd found a guru. I don't need either. Otherwise, my students' success rate in guessing how I vote in presidential elections is 50%, which seems about right. I would like to keep it that way.
  5. I don't want to look like I'm 'pulling rank' on anyone by showing off my credentials. Yes, I do claim considerable expertise in Latin: it's my job. Other than that, my arguments have nothing to back them up except (I hope) logic, evidence, and whatever else makes a good argument better than a bad one. Nothing is more tiresome than someone who thinks you should believe him because he went to Harvard, or has won some award, or has been on television, or something. There are plenty of morons with impeccable credentials, and vice versa.

Of course, it all comes down to freedom of speech. If I were wealthy, or retired, or tenured, or a union member, or owned my own business, or worked at some other profession, I could use my real name. As it is, it seems inadvisable.

In any case, Google tells me that I have the same real name as at least a dozen other people in the world, so my pseudonym is actually a more distinctive identifier. I don't want to annoy a microbiologist at Berkeley, a computer programmer in Cleveland, a librarian in Georgia, a technical writer in Philadelphia, a shipping line executive in Scotland, and some other guys in Australia, Brazil, and South Africa by giving anyone the impression that my criticisms are theirs. In fact, one of the bloggers listed on the right has a name very similar to mine, so using my real name could be confusing even within the Blogosphere.

One more thing: how can Moomaw say "all my creations are available for public inspection" when he either doesn't have a website or doesn't give the URL for it? Where exactly are they available? All my political thoughts are available right here on my website, but for his I apparently have to go to the library and look through the 'letters to the editor' in twenty years worth of back issues of The American Spectator, The Atlantic, and God knows what other journals. Other than the comments sections of various blogs, those are the only places I have seen his creations.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:54 PM
July 04, 2002
Special Fourth Of July Riddle

This was originally supposed to be a Memorial Day post, but I was bogged down grading papers back then and never finished it. It's just as pertinent on the Fourth of July.

Back on Memorial Day, Diana Moon of Letter from Gotham linked to a well-known story from the Battle of the Bulge. On Christmas Day in 1944, General McAuliffe, surrounded with his 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne, Belgium, was asked to surrender. His reply: "Nuts".

A nice story, but perhaps not entirely true. I went to college (1971) with a man who had just gotten back from Vietnam, where he had served as a paratrooper in the 101st, and was spending his GI Bill money on tuition, cigarettes, and rum. He told me that he had learned from the oral tradition of his unit that General McAuliffe did not actually say "nuts", but something rather different. What precisely? That is a question of what we pedants call textual criticism.

Pedantic Excursus: Classicists who specialize in textual criticism spend their time examining the variant readings in different manuscripts of an author and trying to decide which one the author wrote. The answer is often 'none of them', in which case they either put daggers around the unintelligible †wrd ro praze† or 'emend' the text, proposing some reading that is not in any manuscript. The reading proposed must obviously be good Latin, must fit the author's style and the meter and meaning of the passage as a whole, and should if possible provide a plausible explanation for the error proposed. Here is an example from Petronius' Satyricon. A dinner guest is talking about an ex-slave who became rich and the manuscript has him saying abbas secrevit, "the abbot hid [something] away". Petronius, murdered by Nero in 66 A.D., was no Christian, and there are no abbots in the Satyricon. The manuscript reading is impossible. A scholar suggested that what he actually wrote was ab asse crevit, "he grew from a penny", and this is now generally accepted, since it makes perfect sense in the context, and would have been very easily misunderstood by a semiliterate Christian copyist hundreds of years later, when abbots were prevalent. All the more so, since ancient manuscripts tended to run all their words together like this: ABASSECREVIT. Editing an ancient author for publication is very much like editing a modern manuscript, except that there are usually multiple manuscripts that must be reconciled, the author is not available for consultation, and the editor is not a native speaker and cannot consult any, since they are all dead. The oldest Latin manuscripts that survive are anywhere from 400 (Vergil) to 1200 (Propertius) years later than the author's publication, so there is usually a great deal of accumulated error ('corruption') to correct.

To return to my subject, and my riddle, what word or phrase did General McAuliffe actually utter? Please put your emendations and explanations (if appropriate) in the comments. Hint: The first step is to think of a motive for changing the words. The rest is relatively easy.

Sorry, no prize except fame and honor. And I don't pretend to know whether my classmate was right or not, so please no angry e-mails abusing me for impugning the honor of General McAuliffe or the press of his day. I like the emended text better than the transmitted one anyway.

Update: (8:45 PM)

We have a winner in the first comment, so don't peek until you've come up with your own solution. Thanks, Susanna.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:47 PM
Another Silly Test

Digital Robotic Worker Engineered for Efficient Violence and Intensive Learning

I thought the last two words of the acronym particularly acute. Thanks to Andrea Harris of Spleenville/Ye Olde Blogge for the link.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:01 PM
July 03, 2002
Oh You Kid!

Both the Illuminated Donkey and Daddy Warblogs have blogged an interesting bit of sports news. Here's the latter's version:

An item on Italian petulance and inability to lose gracefully made me chuckle. It concerns Perugia's silly decision to sack South Korean player Ahn Jung-Hwan after he scored the goal that knocked Italy out of the World Cup. Perugia club president Alessandro Gaucci, after complaining that the player never performed for Perugia as he did for South Korea, added:

"When he arrived here, he was like a little lost goat who didn't even have the money to buy a sandwich."

Though quite why a goat would be trying to buy sandwiches is never explained. Especially at Italian prices.

Or, as the Donk notes, "there's nothing more pathetic than a goat who can't afford a sandwich".

I wonder whether the problem is in the translation. If the words were translated from English to Italian instead of the other way around, it would be obvious that the coach said "kid" and meant "child", but the translator picked the wrong meaning of "kid" and translated with "little goat" (whatever that is in Italian). Whether the same error could be made going in the opposite direction, translating from Italian to English, I do not know. Are children ever called "baby goats" in Italian slang? If so, what the Perugian said was "like a lost child who can't afford a sandwich". That would make a lot more sense. My Italian dictionary is in storage. Can any of my readers help me out? Sasha, how about you?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:53 PM
July 02, 2002
Another Blast From The Past

Solly Ezekiel of Gedänkenpundit has a fascinating post on 'latent potential' and how competition can cause companies to become so specialized that they are unable to adapt to changes in the market. This reminded me of something I read some years back, specifically about the military, where flexibility is particularly important. As with my second post on Irish neutrality last week, an article in Commentary made a particularly strong impression.

Having now looked it up on the Commentary site, which has a Search function for all articles back to their founding in 1945, I see that it was published one month after the other one. The full reference is: Edward N. Luttwak, "Why we need more 'waste, fraud & mismanagement' in the Pentagon", Commentary 73.2 (February 1982) 17-30. I find from a Google search (leading to an entry in Transterrestrial Musings) that the article became a chapter of Luttwak's book The Pentagon and the Art of War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985).

The thrust of Luttwak's argument is clear from the title. Here are two examples that I recall as particularly cogent:

  1. If one shipyard (Norfolk?) can consistently build aircraft carriers for several hundred thousand dollars less than another (Philadelphia?), bean counters and business-experienced bureaucrats would send all the construction work to the first and let the second shut down for lack of business. Of course, if a war starts, or looks imminent, it is better to have two shipyards capable of turning out aircraft carriers than one, because production could be rapidly doubled and because sabotage or enemy action could easily shut down one or the other.
  2. Similarly, if the Army needs new helicopters, it is better to have three factories producing them with single shifts rather than one with triple shifts, even if the one can produce them much more cheaply. Again, the second option provides flexibility and redundancy in case of emergency, and those are worth the extra money.

I'm sure Ezekiel is right that even private non-defense industry needs to preserve as much latent potential as possible. But it is particularly important for the Military-Industrial Complex -- what I still hope to see restored to its old name, the Arsenal of Democracy.

Miscellaneous ruminations loosely attached to the above:

  1. That's two twenty-year-old Commentary articles in a week and a half. Was early 1982 a particularly good era for them? Was I so bored at my then-job that I read these articles more carefully than hundreds of others read since? Was I just young and impressionable then? (Not all that young.) Or have I learned so little since that there was no need to reuse the particular brain cells containing this information? I certainly don't remember much else from 1982.
  2. I'm really looking forward to getting all my books and old magazines out of storage in a month or two so I can look these things up without having to drive 18 miles to a college library that's not open much in the summer. Of course, first I have to find a job for the fall semester. But when I do, this site will reach a whole new level of pedantry! Consider that a promise or a threat, whichever seems more appropriate.
  3. Bloggers and legacy journalists often wonder whether their arguments ever change anyone's mind. This one changed mine. Not that I was anti-military: just anti-waste, fraud, and mismanagement.
Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:41 PM
July 01, 2002
Another Analogy

Given the general movement from one software package to another, would it be fair to say that Blogger and Blogspot are the training wheels of the Blogosphere?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:52 PM
We Have A Winner: 'The English Vice' Explained

Three weeks ago I wrote about a linguistic and ethnological problem that has been bugging me (off and on) for more than twenty years. In the middle of a conversation about ethnic adjectives such as 'French toast' and 'the French disease' (syphilis), my professor, a young Englishman,

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.

(Sorry about quoting myself: easier for me than rewriting and easier for you than a bare link.) Quana Jones of Eristic has now e-mailed a convincing solution to the problem:

The 'English vice' is spanking on the buttocks sometimes refered to today as 'corporal punishment'. A comprehensive treatise on the history of this activity (particularly Victorian attitudes) is Ian Gibson's The English Vice: Beating, Sex and Shame in Victorian England (book reviewed here).

"The English Vice" can be confidently asserted to have been spanking the buttocks, however, 'flagellation' is another term that is sometimes used but is less specific. The Seventeenth century physician John Henry Meibomius wrote 'A Treatise on the Use of Flogging in Medicine and Venery' in an attempt to stamp out this practice which he claimed increased the "venery" of men. He goes into great detail to prove his point drawing on writers such as Juvenal, Ovid, Apuleius and Catullus (to name a few). The translated treatise can found here.

The English 'public' school system used corporal punishment for many years and and it is claimed that many an English schoolboy acquired a taste for such treatment that carried on into his adult life. You may recall Swinburne's many references to Eton's block and 'birching', claiming that his own proclivity for that particular pasttime had been cultivated by such school practices.

Of course, there is also the other opinion. That is, that the English vice is whatever the French say it is. I suppose the same could be said to be true about the "French vice".

John & Antonio of Inside Europe: Iberian Notes (now back in business) had already (in the comments to my previous post) said that "[i]n Spain they talk about 'disciplina inglesa'", but it's nice to have specific evidence and a bibliography. Of course, all this may be more than some of my readers wanted to know. I shudder to think what kind of Google hits I will get from it.

Why the confusion? I suppose the English are thought to be prone to buggery, but no more so than several other nations, and less so than the Greeks -- hence "the Greek vice", "doing Greek", and equivalent euphemisms. Apparently the English have spanking and flagellation all to themselves. (I use both terms since etymologically 'flagellation', from Latin flagellum, "whip, lash, switch", implies use of a whip rather than bare hands.) Of course, buggery and flagellation are not incompatible: was it Churchill who defined the traditions of the Royal Navy as "rum, sodomy, and the lash"?

If I lived in San Francisco, I would go down to Hard On Leather Goods and pick out some appropriate prize for the solver of this linguistic puzzle. Just kidding, Quana! Even if you're into that kind of thing, I'm sure whips are easy enough to find in Texas.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:40 PM