November 30, 2002
Escape From New Jersey

Most tollbridges and turnpikes these days charge tolls only in one direction. This makes sense, since it saves time and trouble for travelers and salaries for tolltakers. Charging half the vehicles twice as much should even out in the long run. The George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel charge only east-bound vehicles, the Delaware Memorial Bridge only south-bound vehicles, and the bridge at the Delaware Water Gap on I-80 only west-bound vehicles. It's been a while, but I'm pretty sure that an iron bridge in Trenton I once crossed while lost and the bridge that connects the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes also charge only west-bound traffic.

If I'm not mistaken, in every single case you have to pay to get out of New Jersey. Are there exceptions elsewhere in the state? There is a small bridge in the far northwest corner of the state that charges both ways, but it's privately owned. A man stands in the middle of the two lanes on the Pennsylvania side taking 75 cents from people going both ways. I wonder if the publicly-owned bridges have studied the question and determined that people are willing to pay more to get out of New Jersey than to get in.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:42 PM
Pies And Other Foodstuffs

This is not the most appropriate post for so soon after Thanksgiving, but . . . .

I was once at the annual convention of classicists (the American Philological Association, if you're wondering) when a total stranger saw my Alabama name tag and came up and asked "Do you know what a seven-course meal in Alabama is? A six-pack of Miller and a possum."

Unfortunately for him, he was wearing a University of Texas nametag, so right off the top of my head I was able to retaliate with a parallel joke about a sixpack of Lonestar and an armadillo.

I've been wondering how many other versions of this joke are possible. Pennsylvania is easy: Iron City beer and a groundhog. I'm not a big beer drinker, but my nephews tell me that the Maryland version would involve National Bohemian ('Natty Bo') and a muskrat. (Dead, skinned muskrats are on display at the Baltimore market.) Nominations, anyone? Both the brand of beer and the species of animal should be something plausibly depicted as outside the culinary experience of people in other states. Raccoons and squirrels are still available, though more than one state may be associated with each of them. Does anyone in the U.S. eat porcupines? Bears? Beavers? As far as the last goes, yes, and that reminds me of an inappropriate story.

Some years back a rather naive fellow-employee and his wife were having dinner at the boss's house in California. Besides the boss and his wife, several other employees and spouses were present, along with the boss's nine daughters, who ranged in age from six to over thirty. The boss's wife was an Alaskan Indian whose relatives had shot a beaver and shipped it to her. She baked it into a very large pie and served it as the centerpiece of the feast for the whole crowd. When it was placed on the table, my fellow-employee said "You know, I've always heard of 'eating beaver pie', but I’ve never actually done it." At that point, everyone in the room just about fell out of their chairs laughing, except for the younger daughters, who said "Daddy, daddy, what's so funny? Explain it to me." I don't know how he explained it. I actually had not heard the expression before, but I think I would have been able to figure out that it was obscene if I had. Context and tone of voice will usually tell you.

On the other hand, tone of voice doesn't always work with non-native speakers. A Hungarian immigrant once told me that a certain restaurant near American University was full of women "who look like college girls, but they are professional women". I said "You mean they look like they're 18, but they're really 30-something doctors and lawyers?" He said "No, I mean they're hoookers." Of course, I had suspected that he meant that, but didn't want to presume. With a native speaker, it would have been obvious just from the pronunciation of 'professional' which kind of working woman he meant.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:31 PM
November 27, 2002

It should surprise no one at this time of year that I am unlikely to post much of anything between now and Friday night at the earliest. If withdrawal systems are too severe, try drinking yourself into a stupor, or reading WarbloggerWatch. I'm told that the advertising slogan for Jolt Cola is "all the sugar and twice the caffeine". WBW could offer "all the stupor, without the liver damage".

Which reminds me: Is it time to start a WarbloggerWatch death lottery? (Don't worry, Philip, the 'death' risked here is purely metaphorical.) When will their last post appear? I'd say mid-January, since the site is already moribund: January 20th would be a reasonable guess. If I'm not mistaken, they still have not mentioned the results of the midterm election three weeks later, despite the major implications of the Republican victory for the war, the warbloggers, and (I would have thought) the warbloggerwatchers themselves. And most of the names on the masthead have been silent for even longer.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:39 AM
More On Berry

Beth Henary The Weekly Standard (link via Croooow Blog) reports more shocking behavior by Mary Frances Berry of the Civil Rights Commission. Can't this woman be impeached? I know there's a war on, but surely Congress could find the time to take up such an egregious case? I'm pretty sure the President can't fire her, but I would think that any member of the Executive Branch must be either fireable (like cabinet members) or impeachable.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:29 AM
November 26, 2002
The Rittenhouse Kerfuffle

I had intended to blog something on Little Green Footballs a few weeks ago during the fuss with MSNBC and Anil Dash, but never found the time. Now that Rittenhouse Review has announced that it (well, he) will not link to any blog that links to LGF, some of my unfinished comments are timely once again. (That's one of the nice things about the Blogosphere: we recycle our topics.) I made the first two points in a comment on some weblog or other, but they seem worth repeating, not least because I can't remember what weblog it was.

  1. I don't know whether the actual Klanwatch lives up to its name, but an organization that keeps an eye on the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups and reports on their filthy doings is certainly a good thing in principle, however this one has worked out in practice. (I haven't checked because the Klan is rather low on the list of current dangers to life and liberty.) Anyone who claimed that such an organization was a bad thing because it would tend to bring white Southerners into disrepute, saying only negative things about them, would run the risk of being thought either foolish, or racist, or both. Surely one can list and analyze the sins of the Ku Klux Klan without having to balance one's website with paeans to all the good things in white Southern culture: Hank Williams (Senior, of course), pulled pork, Bear Bryant -- ask the Possumblogger for a complete list. Just as vultures and dungbeetles perform a necessary role in the animal kingdom, 'Klan watchdog' is a cultural niche that needs to be filled, however distasteful it may be to look too closely at what the watchdog finds. Keeping an eye on Islamicist extremism is even more important. Charles Johnson does it very well, and those who object often sound rather Victorian: they would 'rather not know' what's going on in large parts of the Islamic world.
  2. Everyone talks about "the Arab street" and how we should listen to what it says. Some of the more intemperate comments on LGF (and Free Republic) give us information on what "the American street" is thinking. It may not be pleasant, or subtle, but that does not mean that it is not worth knowing.
  3. It is common, and not always unfair, to judge people by the company they keep, and the same applies to weblogs. I know I'm unlikely to link to a site such as The Rittenhouse Review that links to WarbloggerWatch, 'Hesiod', and 'Atrios'. (See what I mean? I just didn't.) But making a general and explicit rule out of such an opinion, and asking others to follow it, is a whole 'nother thing. Friendships are not transitive. If I very much like A, and A is a close friend of B, that does not mean that I will like B, or even be able to stand being in the same room with B. Asking A to choose between myself and B as friends is way too 'junior high' for me. The same applies to blogs. Many of those to which I link link to blogs I wouldn't be caught dead linking to. So what? Life is complicated.
  4. 'Hesiod' thinks that Den Beste's comments on the Rittenhouse style were "absolutely unnecessary stylistic cheapshots". Unnecessary to his argument, maybe, but 'Hesiod' seems to think that bloggers are not allowed to 'review' other blogs as we review books and CDs and concerts. Why ever not? Professional courtesy? Blogging is hardly a profession, and courtesy towards fellow bloggers has never been one of Hesiod's strong points.

I'm not entirely happy with these disjointed thoughts on a complex issue, but they'll have to do for now. At the end of his post, Steven Den Beste gives a long list of links to those who have commented on the issue.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:51 PM
November 25, 2002
Goat Quote

Dr. Frank of The Blogs of War writes (09:33 yesterday, if the link doesn't work):

I really hope the that the person who arrived at this site searching for "famous quotes relating to goats" was able to find what he was looking for.

If not, I think I can help. Here is how Suetonius describes Caligula (Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Cal. 50):

He was very tall and extremely pale, with an unshapely body, but very thin neck and legs. His eyes and temples were hollow, his forehead broad and grim, his hair thin and entirely gone on the top of his head, though the rest of his body was hairy. Because of this it was considered a capital offence either to look down on him from a higher place as he passed by, or to mention a goat for any reason whatever.

It may not be a famous quotation, but I think it deserves to be. The rest of Suetonius' Life of Caligula can be found here in English, here in Latin.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:48 PM
November 24, 2002
Hmmm . . . .

Like most bookstores, the one I visited in Manhattan this morning keeps half a dozen bestselling or implicitly recommended titles right by the cash register for impulse buys: Chomsky's 9-11 has occupied a place of honor there for months. Today the checkout counter titles were the usual vaguely or blatantly left-wing titles, plus a stack (well, three copies) of Orianna Falacci's The Rage and the Pride, right between Chomsky and Get Your War On. A good sign?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:47 PM
Guns And Opera

I wouldn't have thought opera would have much to do with the Second Amendment, but yesterday's shows at the Met proved me wrong:

1. In the crisis of Fidelio, the evil prison governor Don Pizarro is about to murder his prisoner Florestan with a knife, when Florestan's wife Leonore saves him by pulling a gun. Apparently Don Pizarro had never heard that he shouldn't bring a knife to a gunfight.

Leonore had infiltrated the prison by disguising herself as a young man, calling herself Fidelio, and taking a job as aide to the jailer Rocco. Rocco's daughter Marzelline falls in love with 'Fidelio', leading to much amusement and confusion in Act I. I suppose having a gun in her pocket helps Leonore convince Marzelline that she is a man, and glad to see her, neither of which is true.

2. I forgot to mention this at the time, but when I saw Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto last month, there was a warning notice on the front door of the theater that struck me as odd. I don't recall the exact text, but it advised the audience that there would be gunshots in the opera, and they should not be startled or offended when they heard them. Apparently New Yorkers are made of sterner stuff, and need no such warning. The shot that kills Manrico in Il Trovatore did rather startle me -- I already knew he was doomed, but it came sooner than I expected. I still didn't think I needed a written warning.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:31 PM
November 21, 2002

Posting will be light or nonexistent through Sunday evening. I'm driving to New York City for a couple of operas (Il Trovatore and Fidelio at the Met) and some shopping (books, CDs, and stinky French cheeses). While I'm gone, please patronize (in the good sense) the fine weblogs listed in the right-hand column.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:31 PM

Ideofact has a couple of interesting posts (here and here) on the so-called Beaker Culture of central Europe and the fact that "these people left us no name by which to call them".

That reminded me of something that happened to me in grad school. In my reading I ran across the German term 'Urdummheit' and immediately thought "'primeval stupidity', that's an amusingly un-P.C. concept". On second thought, I decided I was probably mistaken. Since English is a Germanic language, surely German 'dumm' is related to the oldest sense of English 'dumb' and means 'mute' (as in 'deaf and dumb') rather than 'stupid'. 'Primeval muteness' would be a very useful concept, referring to what Ideofact is talking about, the fact that many preliterate societies leave us a great deal of information about them, but nothing that would tell us even the names of their tribes or their kings or anything else. I had just about convinced myself that that was the meaning of 'Urdummheit' when I decided to look it up in a German dictionary, just to make sure. It means 'primeval stupidity'.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:29 PM
November 20, 2002
A 'Warm' Welcome For Jeffords?

Various bloggers have reported that turncoat senator Jeffords of Vermont is willing to come back to the Republican party if he can keep a committee chairmanship. I'm not up on all the Senate rules, but it seems to me there might be some possibilities here for a truly worthy punishment:

1. If I'm not mistaken, the Senate first votes as a whole to decide who controls the chamber, and then the parties divide up to pass out majority and minority committee assignments without any interference from the other side. Would it be possible to string Jeffords along with ambiguous promises until after the vote on control? Promises like "we'll make sure you're taken care of" or "we'll give you a committee chairmanship suited to your experience". Once he had helped vote the Republicans back into power, they could then leave him off all the committees, or all the good committees, whichever is worse. (Are there committees so low in prestige that being on them is worse than not being on any?) He would then have three possible courses of action, all humiliating: accept being stripped of power, resign from the Senate, or switch sides again and beg the Democrats to take him in again.

2. It would be even better if the Republicans could hold off organizing the majority committee assignments until after the Democrats had organized the minority side. That way, if Jeffords went back to the Democrats with hat in hand, they would not be able to give him any seats on the minority side without bumping someone else, which would irritate the loyal Democrats.

3. Of course, that might not work, since the Democrats could wait to assign the minority seats until after the Republicans had divvied up the majority seats and chairs. All the more so if they suspected something was up. But couldn't the Republicans give Jeffords a chairmanship and various committee assignments, wait until the Democrats had assigned their seats -- surely no more than a week -- then go back and reshuffle their own, leaving Jeffords with nothing at all, or nothing much worth having? Telling a few Republicans that they were going to get better than expected assignments would be much easier than telling a few Democrats that they were losing their plums.

I just hope the senate Republican leadership is ruthless enough to do something like this. It would be good for the party and good for the country, particularly encouraging the first two virtues on the official Boy Scout list. (That's "trustworthy" and "loyal", if you've forgotten.)

By the way, in college, I once attended a lecture by Mortimer Adler in which he mentioned the Boy Scouts' list of twelve virtues and implied that he was sure none of us could recite them all. None of us was rude enough to correct him on the spot, but I was certainly not the only one in the audience who had to suppress a strong urge to jump up and shout "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent". I guess the "courteous" part had stuck.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:09 PM
November 19, 2002

As Daily Pundit, Croooow Blog, and others have noted, Peter Kirsanow has been seated on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, replacing Victoria Wilson, whose term expired nearly a year ago. Chairman Mary Frances Berry kept Wilson on the commission even though President Clinton, when he appointed her, specifically said that she was only filling out the term of a deceased member, not being given a six-year term in her own right. It took nearly a year for justice to be done: today the Supreme Court settled the matter once and for all by refusing to review a unanimous appeals court decision.

Of course, it was obvious even last November that Berry was utterly and shamefully wrong. What should now happen is this:

  • Kirsanow should get full back pay for the entire period, with interest.
  • Wilson should have to return all of the salary she received for the last 11+ months, again with interest. I imagine the salaries would be the same, so that should cover Kirsanow's back pay without increasing the federal deficit.
  • Berry should have to pay all of the legal bills out of her salary, not out of the commission's budget. I imagine that could take a few years.
  • All of the commission's decisions made since last November 29th should be overturned, if Wilson provided the margin of victory. Perhaps not so much 'overturned' as canceled and put on hold pending a revote with the commission as legally constituted, that is, with Kirsanow and without Wilson: I don't suppose he would have voted differently in every case.

All this would happen if there were any justice in the world. I'm not holding my breath. If anyone finds my list a little harsh, note that I have not suggested that Berry be prosecuted.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:41 PM
November 18, 2002
Martial On Lucas And Her Critics

Rachel Lucas has been troubled by the unkindness of strangers. Here is some of what Mindles H. Dreck says in the comments:

Stating, or even contemplating most ideas will piss off somebody. In general, the nasty invective is inverserly proportionate to the commenter's ability to counter your logic and/or the degree to which they are forced to question their basic axiomatic beliefs.

In other words, it's a sign of success.

Along roughly the same lines, here is what the epigrammatist Martial says about annoying one's readers (Epigrams 6.60):

Laudat, amat, cantat nostros mea Roma libellos,
    meque sinus omnes, me manus omnis habet.
Ecce rubet quidam, pallet, stupet, oscitat, odit.
    Hoc uolo: nunc nobis carmina nostra placent.

Here is a not too free translation by James Michie:

All Rome is mad about my book:
It's praised, they hum the lines, shops stock it,
It peeps from every hand and pocket.
There's a man reading it! Just look --
He blushes, turns pale, reels, yawns, curses.
That's what I’m after. Bravo, verses!

Finally, just because I particularly like the translation, here is Dorothea Wender's version of Martial 8.76:

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

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:50 PM
Gentlemen, Start Your Photoshops

A. C. Douglas and others have linked to an offensive painting by Cong Lu entitled "Self Portrait of a Martyr". Only No Watermons Allowed has given a hint as to what can be done about it other than ranting (with Lileks) or ignoring it. (I don't mean blowing it up.) Surely some Photoshop wizardry is in order? Though I have nothing specific in mind, I imagine some interesting modifications could be made to the web copies of the painting.

Then again, perhaps what we need is a whole 'nother work of art. As Douglas argues, this is a portrait of how the suicide bomber sees himself: noble and muscular, "serene and contemplative in the face of the hideous death he's about to experience" -- not to mention what looks like a nice pair of boobs. It seems to me that what we really need is the other half of the matched pair (of paintings, I mean, not boobs): a depiction of what the suicide bomber is without his fantasy -- a combination of Woody Allen and Pee Wee Herman wallowing in dreams of manly revenge. Ideas, anyone? Pictures, even? They need not match the color scheme or even the medium: two-dimensional black-and-white cartooning is arguably appropriate for depicting the soul of a suicide bomber.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:24 PM
November 17, 2002
"Love Heals" or "Love Heels"?

Steven Den Beste of U.S.S. Clueless makes fun of an anti-war demonstrator's slogan:

Love Heals. All we have to do is reach out our hand to Saddam, try to understand him, care about him and love him, and he'll respond in kind, drop all that silliness about trying to make a nuke, and just become such a wonderful guy you'd never believe. I mean, he's not really bad down deep, is he? Deep down inside we're all the same and we all want to be good people if only we're given the chance. The only reason he's a murderous and brutal dictator is because we're forcing him to be with those nasty sanctions and stuff. If we just try to work with him, you know, try to feel his anger then that knot of anger in him which is making him do all that terrible stuff will melt away.

Some years back, a friend was waiting in a very long checkout line at a bookstore in D.C. a week or so before Christmas. He noticed that the woman in front of him was going to great lengths to cover up the title of the book she was holding. He finally managed to catch a glimpse of it: Women Who Love Men Who Hate Women. He had a slight and momentary urge to say "I couldn't help noticing the book you're buying. It just so happens that I'm a man who hates women. Are you doing anything Saturday night?" Being a decent guy despite his sick sense of humor, he of course suppressed the urge.

Though too lazy to look it up, I've sometimes wondered if the book was part of a series:

Women Who Love Men Who Love Men,

Women Who Love Women Who Love Men,

Men Who Love Women Who Hate Men But Don't Love Women Either,

Women Who Love Men Who Love Only Their Jobs,

Men Who Love Women Who Love Only Cats,

and so on -- the possibilities are endless.

Den Beste's story inspires thoughts of new titles:

Women Who Love Men Who Hate Men and Women,

Women Who Love Men Who Brutally Oppress Entire Nations.

Reader suggestions may be posted as comments.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:06 PM
Better Late Than Never

Random Jottings and others have linked to a story about Bush administration plans to open up to 850,000 federal jobs to private bids.

In some agencies, this is only half-new. I once worked for a small computer company in Washington, D.C. that had a contract with one of the larger federal agencies. On the computer side, the department had two full staffs, the government employees who were supposed to be doing the work and the private-sector employees (us) who actually did the work. One of the government 'programmers' did literally zero work in the two years I worked with alongside him. His computer skills were not the kind needed in the department, and there was no way to force him to learn how to program the not-very-exotic system we used (Unix, C, and Informix). In the short term, the only punishment for his utter sloth was that he lost his window cubicle. (Government employees normally had first dibs on the windows.) He used to stop by my cubicle once a day to look out the window for five minutes or so. Since the web hadn't got off the ground yet (this was the mid-1980s), he spent the rest of his day sitting in his windowless cubicle reading newspapers. In the long term, he was shuffled off to a supposedly better but actually worse job across town, but it took two years for his boss to arrange the transfer, that is, to fool someone into taking him. His colleagues did some work, but nothing particularly useful: we used them mostly to test the system we were building, though they were paid as programmers rather than operators.

One thing about government employees is that if you know their pay-grade and years of service, you know exactly how much money they make. My boss had a wallet card that gave the numbers, and made the mistake of sharing them with us one day. It did not help our morale. It turned out that all of the government employees in the department, not just the supposed programmers, made more money than we did, with a single exception: their lowest-paid employee, whose only duty was to sit in the computer room all day making sure no one stole the equipment, made slightly less than our highest-paid employee, the programmer/analyst responsible for designing the whole software system (something over 100,000 lines of code total) and coding some of the more intricate parts. Other than that, there was no overlap.

I wonder how many other government agencies there are in which the private contractors are already doing the work.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 03:54 PM
It Takes All Kinds

Unqualified Offerings offers some musings that run strongly against the Zeitgeist :

. . . the essential truth of WWI was that, for every Hemingway or Graves who saw it as the atrocious collapse of a corrupt order, there were other soldiers who had the time of their lives. There were, that is, soldiers who grew too fond of it even though it was hell. You know the most famous of them, Adolph Hitler.

But Hitler couldn't have done what he did without an entire movement of men behind him who had loved the order and cameraderie of barracks life and wished to bring the same ethos to society as a whole. Veteran-led movements to militarize the homefront along Marxist or anti-Marxist lines afflicted every country in postwar Europe. (Ironically, the more overseas colonies you had, like the Brits, the less you suffered, because you had some place to send your at-loose-ends veterans. . . .)

Then again, there are other reasons some men like war, or at least prefer it to peace. When I was in college (early 1970s), moving furniture for Mayflower, I once worked for one day with a man who had just gotten out of the Army and said that his year in Viet Nam had been the best year of his life. The fact that he was working for Manpower as a day laborer may have had something to do with it: his standards of comparison were obviously none too high. But his main argument was pure Epicureanism of the most brutal kind (that would be Aristippan hedonism, if I'm not mistaken). He had been in very little danger, even from mortar attacks, since he worked as a file clerk a long way from the perimeter of a very large base. The pay was low, but room and board were provided, so he could and did spend every bit of his take-home pay on drugs, music, and prostitutes. The drugs were cheap, the music was good, the prostitutes were cheap and very talented, and the food was (he said) better than his mother's. Again, his standards seem to have been fairly low. Camaraderie may have counted for something, though I don't recall that he mentioned it.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 03:24 PM
Religion Of Peace?

Sasha Volokh is the latest to post some of the more bloodthirsty and less familiar passages of the Old Testament, illustrating how easy it would be to depict Christianity and Judaism as inherently brutal religions of conquest.

There is another angle along the same lines that is worth exploring. Wasn't Samson the first suicide bomber? Explosives had not been invented, but his titanic physical strength provided an adequate substitute and produced very similar effects: a collapsed building and a lot of dead people, including himself. Though I can't back it up with quotations, since I don't have the right books, I have heard that Christian theologians have struggled with Samson for centuries, and I suspect that rabbis have also found his example troubling. If suicide is a terrible sin, how can Samson possibly be any sort of hero? Is it because he takes dozens of the Philistines with him when he kills himself? That has an unpleasant resemblance to the arguments Muslims make in defense of suicide bombers. I don't know the answer to the theological problem, but I'm very glad that there are few, if any, Christian or Jewish terrorists today who model themselves on Samson, while substituting modern explosives for his brute strength.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 03:11 PM
November 16, 2002
Scrolling Problem Solved?

Since moving to Movable Type, I have had problems with the Internet Explorer scrolling bug, which can also be seen on a lot of other MT weblogs. The symptom is that the page will not display past the bottom of the right-hand column or the bottom of the last picture illustration, whichever is lower. The only way I knew to get past it was to hit F-11 twice, as advised in the warning near the bottom of the right-hand column.

Several people have offered a fix involving adding a new first line to the template, but it never worked. Now Sean Kirby, the Pundit ex Machina, has sent me a fix that seems to work. Insert the following line near the end of your template, just above the </body> tag:

<div style="clear:both;"></div>

Please note that copying this line of HTML with a ctrl-C may not work. You need actual less-than and greater-than signs in your template. These do not display in HTML, since they are (how to put it?) special characters. I have therefore displayed simulacra of them by combining an ampersand followed by the letters 'lt' (for less than) or 'gt' (for greater than) followed by a semicolon.

Thanks, Sean! Hope you don't mind my spreading the good news.

If any readers find the scrolling problem unsolved, please let me know in the comments. If the problem is indeed entirely solved, I can delete the remarks about it from my template. And please don't ask me why this code works: I have no idea. Maybe I should sit down and learn CSS one of these days.

In unrelated news, I have also added a linking logo for those few sites, like Midwest Conservative Journal, that link with buttons where these are available. For those too lazy to scroll down the right-hand column and look at it, here it is:

I hope my lack of graphic skills is not too obvious.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:26 PM
November 14, 2002
Advantages Of A Classical Education

Tim Blair tells tells us of a new book out in Australia about

Katherine Knight, a cheery-looking lady who once worked in a meat processing plant.

One day she brought her work home with her, in a manner of speaking. Her husband was professionally carved up by sweet Katherine and served as a meal for the children. His head formed a delightful centrepiece, surrounded by vegetables.

I wonder if she had ever read Seneca's tragedy Thyestes. Towards the end, the title character is served the cooked bodies of his own children, with some excessively red wine to wash them down. His brother Atreus finishes the feast by bringing in a platter, whipping off the lid, and showing Thyestes the cooked heads and hands of his sons. He had already eaten the less recognizable parts. Of course sweet Katherine fed the father to the children rather than the other way around, but I still wonder if she had classical inspiration. Perhaps some horror movie had already borrowed this bit of plot, but if so I probably would have heard about it on the internet Classics list.

The book, by Tim's friend Sandra Lee, is called Beyond Bad. I suppose Bad to the Bone would have been too obvious.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:05 PM
November 13, 2002
Who Is The Weirdo Now?

Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Experience quotes reader Matt Bower on terrorist-sympathizing lawyer Lynne Stewart:

The frightening thing about Lynne Stewart's complaint ("It's the first time I've been censored in this way") is . . . that she's apparently gotten a pass for so long that didn't realize anyone might object to her views. What social circles must she run in?

That reminded me of something that happened to me just about twenty years ago, in the two years after Reagan was elected and before Brezhnev died. While shopping at a record store near Dupont Circle in D.C., a friend of a friend demanded to know why I wasn't joining the big demonstration against cruise missiles in Europe. I told him it was because I thought American cruise missiles in Europe were a good thing. He looked stunned, as if he couldn't believe that I would dare to say something so offensive, and thought I should be ashamed to think it, much less say it. Since he was a party-line pro-Soviet (and pro-Brezhnev) communist and I was supporting the policy of a government elected by 51% of the American people, I thought he had a lot of nerve treating me as if I were the weirdo in that particular conversation. What social circles must he have been running in?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:28 PM
More On 'Hesiod' III

'Hesiod' continues to call his enemies 'chickenbloggers' and to sneer at them if they think a 'chickenblogger' is the same thing as a 'chickenhawk'. (See for instance his own comment #8 on his post of 11/13, 02:01:22 PM.) Just to confuse us, he has never explained what he meant by this distinction except once in a comment on this post at Aaron Haspel's God of the Machine. Haspel's post was nearly six weeks old when 'Hesiod' first posted his explanation, so I imagine very few have read the latter. Here is how he defines his term:

"Chickenblogging" has NOTHING to do with the Chickenhawk concept.

Are there Chickenhawks who are ALSO Chickenbloggers? Yes. Lots of them.

Chickenblogging denotes a style of argument or rhetoric. It has nothing to do with ideology, although it seems to be practiced most frequently by those on the conservative side of the spectrum.

(When asked for examples of left-wing 'chickenbloggers', he was too chicken to provide any.)

It involves pickng out minutiae or erecting straw men, and beating them to death without addressing the most powerful or troublesome arguments of your opponent. It also denotes a belittling debate style.

It advances ad hominem attacks, and irrelevant nitpicking in place of substantive debate.

As usual with Hesiodic insults, this describes his own method of argument perfectly: he is himself the quintessential 'chickenblogger', though I prefer the much clearer term 'chickenshitblogger'. Consider for instance his habit of "[not] addressing the most powerful or troublesome arguments of [his] opponent". It's been almost two months since I offered some serious objections to Hesiod's argument that Saddam Hussein can be contained and war is therefore unnecessary. (Go to this post and scroll down to 'Skipping a bit . . . .'). The objections can be summarized as follows:

  1. How can 'Hesiod' possibly know that Saddam is not suicidally insane? As far as I can determine, he has neither the expertise nor the opportunity to form an opinion.
  2. Given the horrendous consequences if Saddam were to use a nuclear weapon, wouldn't it be worth risking a great deal to prevent him from acquiring them in the first place? After all, even a 3% or 5% chance of a war that would kill hundreds of thousands or millions of people is a frightening prospect.
  3. Saddam is an old man -- in his late sixties, as far as anyone can tell. (He must dye his famous mustache.) Unless he is removed from power, it is therefore certain that he will, some day in the not-too-distant future, leave his soon-to-be-acquired nuclear weapons to such unknown quantities as Qusay or Uday or whoever else can seize power in Iraq. Even if he is sane, are Qusay and Uday? By all accounts, no. Are all the other possible candidates insane? We don't even know all their names. Pervez Musharraf seems perfectly sane, but we still worry about Pakistan's nuclear weapons, because Musharraf will not live forever and we do not know who will come next.

'Hesiod' has never attempted to answer any of these objections, or dozens of other serious objections that have been offered (by myself and others) to various things he has written. He prefers to spend his time calling others every foul name in the book and getting all bent out of shape if anyone calls him far milder names such as 'Hayseed'. To paraphrase the South African diplomat in Lethal Weapon II, "who is the dickhead chickenblogger now?"

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:05 PM
November 12, 2002
More On 'Hesiod' II

'Hesiod' is the kind of hypocrite who calls others 'dipshit' and worse, but gets all bent out of shape (10/21, 8:00:05 PM) if someone (Jim Treacher) calls him 'Hayseed'. He seems to be unaware that the original Hesiod, the Greek poet who wrote around 700 B.C., was an agricultural poet. If you were to ask any classicist what ancient poet would most plausibly be called 'hayseed', most would say Hesiod without hesitation. The true and original Hesiod composed two epic poems, the Theogony (note spelling), on the genealogies of the gods and the origin of the cosmos, and the Works and Days, which is for the most part an agricultural manual, full of advice on when to plant your crops and how to build a wagon (the latter a horribly difficult passage -- diagrams hadn't been invented). Texts and translations of both works are available at Tufts University's invaluable Perseus project. In the Works and Days, Hesiod boasts of how he "crossed the wide sea at Aulis" (651) to go to the funeral games of Amphidamas on Euboea, where he won first prize for his poetry, most likely by singing his Theogony. The strait at Aulis is all of 70 yards across, and Hesiod must have "crossed the wide sea" by taking a ferry boat. The entire journey from the hick town of Askra to the games in Euboea was around thirty miles each way. In short, the Hesiod whose name our modern troll has borrowed was himself a total hick, a hayseed. Too bad the modern Hesiod's epithets are so much less accurate than Treacher's.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:50 PM
More On 'Hesiod' I

My brother 'Steevil' and others keep telling me to ignore the evil troll who calls himself 'Hesiod Theogeny' (sic sic sic) and runs 'Counterspin Central'. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that that would be a mistake, since he is both more and less than a common troll. Readers of this site who agree with 'Steevil' are welcome to skip this entry and the next two.

Today 'Hesiod' writes (11/12, 2:02:19 PM):

Once again, Professor Reynolds insults everyone's intelligence by totally misrepresenting and spinning the "chickenhawk" debate.

No one ever said that those who are INCAPABLE of military experience cannot pronounce an opinion on a war with Iraq. It's those who, while CAPABLE of putting ther own butts on the line for a cause they [presumably] believe in, choose not to do so, who's opinions one should take with a shovel full of salt.

This is an obvious lie. 'Hesiod' himself has repeatedly said exactly that, for instance calling me a 'chickenhawk', though it has been many years since I was eligible for service in any branch of the U.S. military. Nor did I ever evade or avoid service: the draft was canceled before anyone in my age group was called up. (People like 'Hesiod' often use weasely words like 'failed to avail himself of the opportunity to serve' to conflate non-volunteers with actual draft-dodgers. They are not the same thing at all.) He has applied the same offensive epithet to many others for whom it is equally inaccurate.

Just yesterday (11/11, 10:24:06 AM), 'Hesiod' marked Veterans Day by linking to the 'Chickenhawk Database' at the New Hampshire Gazette. (Sorry, I won't give them a link either.) Others have already pointed out that the database lists Charles Krauthammer as a 'chickenhawk', though he has been confined to a wheelchair for over 30 years, since he was 20 or so. (People have been known to cut off their trigger fingers to avoid the draft, but I don't think Krauthammer's paraplegia was intentional.) That one name is enough to utterly discredit the whole project. The post linking to it is typical 'Hesiod': he pretends to care about Veterans Day and displays a waving flag, but seems more interested in trashing Republicans than celebrating veterans.

I ask again: why do Ted Barlow, Max Sawicky, and Eric Alterman include links to 'Hesiod' on their blogrolls? Are they unaware that he is as stupid, vicious, and dishonest as the average writer for WarbloggerWatch? Do they not care? Is the left so short of bloggers that it must welcome such as 'Hesiod' to swell its ranks?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:38 PM
November 11, 2002

A little something for Veterans' Day and for our friends and allies in Australia. Here is a picture of the guided missile cruiser U.S.S. Canberra, long since broken up for scrap:

It is located at this site, which also includes a brief biography. The account doesn't say why an American cruiser was named after an Australian city. I am told that it was because in World War II the Allies had a policy of naming new ships after those that had been recently lost, mostly to confuse Axis intelligence. When the Australian cruiser Canberra was sunk off Guadalcanal, along with the U.S.S. Astoria, Vincennes, and Quincy, the Australian navy had no cruisers under construction, so the U.S. borrowed the name for one of ours. Of course it didn't hurt relations with Australia.

Why do I mention this story? Partly because my father was once navigator of the Canberra, and I still remember visiting the ship when I was in grade school. My parents have since visited Australia more than once, and found it a delightfully welcoming country, especially to Canberra veterans. So happy Veterans Day to my father and all other allied veterans, especially the Americans and Australians.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:01 PM
All Politics Are Local

Today's Best of the Web (scroll down to "An 'Antiwar' Movement of Peace") lists various comic names of those who have signed the "Not In Our Name" petition. One of them seems to be a University of Alabama student or alumnus, getting in a little dig at their cross-state rival:

Alika Myballzgood, "Student, Auburn University - War Eagle!!"

Or was this actually written by an Auburnite, as the last two words imply? I hope not, since the chosen pseudonym rather undercuts the message. Time to consult the PossumBlogger (not to be confused with 'The Possum', George Jones) about whether an Auburnite could have written these words . . . .

By the way, one of the most thoughtful presents I have ever received was a 12-pack of assorted Moon Pies from my third- and fourth-year Latin students at the University of Alabama five or six years ago.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:46 PM
An Awful Warning

Michele of A Small Victory is begging for "a huge bottle of tequila" to help her get through Day XV of not smoking. That could be a mistake. A friend of a friend once tried to wean himself from alcohol by taking up cocaine. He soon became a cocaine-addicted alcoholic. I used to wonder how anyone could possibly have thought that that was a good plan, until I mentioned the story to my (college) students one day. One of them pointed out that since he was already an alcoholic, he was no doubt drunk when he devised the plan. That must be it.

Be careful, Michele: if the liquor doesn't work, you might end up trying the same method again and turn into an alcoholic cocaine addict with a three-pack-a-day habit.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:13 PM
How High Does The Scale Go?

you have an ominosity quotient of


you are more ominous than the creators of this quiz. good god.

find out your ominosity quotient.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 04:50 PM
Whence The Anguish?

Last week 'Junius' (Chris Bertram) wrote:

I've spent some of today composing an explanation of why I think I'm on the left, why I actually am on the left and what "left" (ought to mean). This was an anguished response to being included on a list of right-wing bloggers by Ampersand, over at Alas, a Blog. It turns out that this was just a mistake and I've been restored to my leftful place, which renders the whole excercise otiose!

I find "anguished" a very odd choice of word here. If I were included on a list of left-wing weblogs, I would most likely feel irritated, amused, contemptuous, or some combination of the three.* But anguished? That is how one feels when included in a group that is utterly and obviously loathsome, and even then only if the inclusion is not entirely undeserved. If someone were to call me 'racist' or 'misogynist' (it's been known to happen) and if reflection on the charge made me think that there might be some truth in it, then, and only then, would I feel obligated to turn to anguished reflection. This would lead either to an exculpatory argument or a sincere apology and promise to reform. Does Junius really think 'right-wingers' so obviously loathsome that he fears being included among them? Is conservatism a dark temptation that appeals only to our basest urges?

*Added twenty minutes later:
Like Diana Moon, to whom this actually happened, I would ask to be removed on simple grounds of honesty and accuracy, but my first reaction would most likely be a snort or a giggle and a "Yeah, right!" -- with or without a rude epithet, depending on my mood at the time.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 03:58 PM
Not Exactly A Review

I went to see Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Médée at the Opera Atelier in Toronto yesterday. I'm not qualified to comment on the performance, though it seemed more than competent, but a couple of things caught my attention:

  • In one scene, Medea (Médée) called on spirits from the Underworld to help her poison the robe. These consisted of women in long dresses and naked men. The men were not actually naked, but wore flesh-colored tights, so they looked like a bunch of anatomically-incorrect prancing Ken dolls. I suppose a man who is surrounded by beautiful and (presumably) wicked women, but lacks genitalia, is truly in Hell. Surely hairy goat-leg pants, tails, and hoof-shaped shoes would have been more effective? Such a costume would have provided a nice conflation of Christian devils with pagan satyrs.
  • The plot was a lot closer to Euripides and Seneca than I had feared. There was a certain amount of added love interest, with Aegeus subtracted and Oronte, prince of Argos, added as disappointed rival for the love of Creusa. He also provides an additional victim, since Creon goes mad and kills him before killing himself. Medea's murder of her children is also glossed over. Also the flaming robe is not contagious, which allows Jason a tender goodbye to the dying Creusa with lots of hugs.
Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:42 AM
Saddam In Switzerland?

In the second-to-last paragraph of a long post, Cato the Youngest writes:

If Saddam were smart, he'd try to negotiate a deal where he would voluntarily surrender and take his Swiss bank accounts into exile. If such a deal included an occupation force for Iraq, to prevent Saddam being replaced by another thug, it might be worth taking. It would certainly save lives on both sides (more Iraqi than allied, to be sure). It would also save a lot of American tax dollars. It would also avoid the possibility of Saddam launching a biological attack on the US.

I would be very surprised if this happened. Saddam would have to be not only smart but trustful. I'm sure he knows what happened to Trotsky and Somoza and plenty of smaller fry. Of course, enemies of democracy can live long and comfortable lives in exile, as long as their enemies are all democrats: recent examples are 'Baby Doc' Duvalier and Idi Amin. But does Saddam know that? And would he believe it? I just can't see him being that trusting, even if such a trust were well-supported. I'm sure Steven Den Beste is right to say (in Cato's comments) that Saddam's generals may be offered such a deal if they turn on him.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:23 AM
Dr. Weevil's Assignment Desk

InstaPundit notes that Tony Pierce has turned some of his bloggage into a book. That's one way to make money on blogging. Legacy journalists do it all the time, either collecting columns and slapping them between hard covers unchanged, or using columns to explore a subject that is then written up as a book with a unified argument, or taking slices of a book in progress and publishing them in journals as a foretaste of what is to come.

I wonder which blogger will be next to hard-publish some bloggage. The topic must obviously be something of interest to large number of people, but it should also be something that is not ephemeral and has a well-defined ending point. Those two conditions argue against a book version of Charles Austin's Scourge of Richard Cohen series, now up to Chapter LXII: many of Cohen's columns and Austin's comments on them are tied to the times they were written, and there is no end in sight to the foolishness described, so no specific number of chapters could be defined, as long as Cohen is alive, and writing, and writing foolishly.

Here are three rather disparate possibilities for blog-incubated books or pamphlets:

  1. Erin O'Connor of Cant Watch has been posting large-scale and relatively systematic essays on academia for months now. Her most recent post, though now almost a month old, is Part IV of what looks like it could be a whole chapter on summer reading programs at universities. The whole thing is well on its way to being a full-scale book on what's wrong with higher education today -- sort of a down-to-earth Allan Bloom. I don't know if O'Connor has a book contract, but I would be surprised if this is not a book in progress.
  2. Greg Hlatky of A Dog's Life has just published Part 23 of his long-running series 'Dog Shows Explained'. There is an index in the left margin of his site, but the whole series looks like it would also make an excellent pamphlet. (When will it be complete? Knowing nothing about dog shows except what I've learned there, I have no idea what topics are still uncovered.) Could such a pamphlet or small book be sold in hard copy at dog shows? I imagine so. Or on the net for money? It seems possible. It could certainly be given away over the net in pamphlet form. That is easy to arrange: just combine the text into one word-processed file, format it nicely, then make a PDF file and invite visitors to print it out. Adobe Acrobat allows the author to make a file printable but not copyable, which would cut down on plagiarism, or at least make it much less efficient.
  3. On a yet smaller scale, PejmanPundit a few months ago had some interesting thoughts on law school and exams that would make a very interesting 10- or 20-page pamphlet. (See here, here, and here, and I think there was at least one more part.) A slightly more systematic version would be very handy, and might sell like hotcakes to those who are thinking of going to law school. With more anecdotes and perhaps more contributors, it could also be a full-sized book. In fact, more juicy anecdotes pretty much requires more contributors, so they can give detailed (but disguised) anecdotes about the brutal and ridiculous sides of law school and law practice without being sued.

Does anyone have any more nominations for bloggage that is already at least half way to making a well-organized book or pamphlet, and only requires light editing?

And speaking of blog books, what ever happened to the project to make a book out of post-September 11th bloggage? It's been a few months since I've heard anything about it. Are things chugging along behind the scenes?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:01 AM
November 10, 2002
Credit Where Credit Is Due

Speaking on behalf of 'warbloggers' generally, Jennie Taliaferro of The Greatest Jeneration claims some of the credit for last Tuesday's election results. If you're not already convinced, go read Tuesday's Election was a Mandate for Warbloggers.

I would only add that the election results also undoubtedly owe something to bloggers on the other side. It is impossible to say how many voters were encouraged inspired to vote Republican or discouraged from voting Democratic by the likes of Eric Alterman, Max Sawicky, 'Hesiod', 'Atrios', and the nasty boys of WarbloggerWatch, but it must have been quite a few, and I haven't even listed some even more sordid sites. The fact that all of these (except perhaps WBW) are taken seriously as voices of the left cannot have helped the Democrats win votes from centrists.

Tangential note:

Even with fourteen named (or pseudonymed) contributors, WarbloggerWatch has posted nothing at all about the results of Tuesday's election, which have certainly affected the war on terror and the 'warbloggers' they profess to be watching. Four and a half days have passed, and they have nothing intelligent to say on the subject, and nothing unintelligent, either. (Not that they ever had much of interest to say, but it never stopped them before.) I would say that the site has died and started to stink, but the stink was there from the start: only the inertness is new.

I wonder what has silenced most of the WBW contributors. Is it boredom? The hopelessness that comes from beating one's head against a wall? (That might explain the quality of the posts.) Or have some contributors belatedly developed a sense of shame and decided (consciously or not) to dissociate themselves from their more clownish evil-clownish colleagues?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:08 AM
November 09, 2002
Middle School Humor

Seen on a wall next to a sixth-grade classroom door, a piece of orange paper, 8.5" x 11", with three separate inscriptions:

1. Word-processed in large type, landscape mode:

Ms. [Name Redacted]
You have been chosen
for Staff Member of the Week!
Congratulations on a job well done!

2. Scrawled in the left margin in a large childish hand:


3. Neatly written in a grown-up hand between the printed lines and just to the right of the single word:

Darn right -- try me.

Almost a weblog comment section in miniature.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:31 PM
November 07, 2002
Who Is Learning From Whom?

The foul-tongued boy who calls himself 'Hesiod' and runs 'Counterspin Central' writes about Central Asia (10/7, 10:48:27 AM):

PRESS FREEDOM DINGS: Troubling reports that press freedom in Central Asia is under attack.

Here are some reports:

Armenia, where the enitre print run of a newpaper "mysterious[ly] dissapear[ed],"

Azerbaijan, where new, restrictive broadcast regulations are under attack from human rights and free press advocates; and...

Tajikistan has developed an interesting strategy to retaliate for unfavorable press coverage: Draft the offending journalists into the military.

I'm sure Ari Fleischer is taking notes.

Of course, it would be more plausible to claim that these governments are learning from Americans, rather than the other way around. And the Americans who have led the way in all three tactics are not Republicans but 'Hesiod' and his fellow lefties:

  1. Whole print runs of conservative campus papers have (not so) mysteriously disappeared or turned up in dumpsters at more than one American university. I have never heard of a left-wing paper being hijacked that way.
  2. It wasn't so long ago that Ted Kennedy pushed through restrictive broadcast regulations that forced Rupert Murdoch to sell either his newspapers or his television stations, because they had criticized him.
  3. 'Hesiod' himself has repeatedly insisted that webloggers who support war on Iraq must either shut up or join the armed forces. If they did the latter, they might well be silenced anyway, since military service is not particularly conducive to blogging. Too bad 'Hesiod' doesn't have the power to enforce his rule.

And too bad 'Hesiod' is too stupid to notice that he himself and his fellow lefties do many of the same things as these Central Asian and Caucasian autocrats. (Armenia is not in Central Asia.) And too bad 'Hesiod' doesn't give a damn about press freedom in Asia unless he can use it as a stick to beat Ari Fleischer with -- or rather to flail wildly at Fleischer while only hitting himself.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:13 PM
More Trollope

Having just passed the half-way point of The Way We Live Now, I thought I'd quote a couple of nice passages from chapter 50 (of 100). The subject is the loathsome baronet Sir Felix Carbury, who has convinced an heiress to elope with him, allowed her to steal the passage money from her father, then gambled it all away. He is now heading for his mother's house in Welbeck Street:

There could hardly have been a more miserable wretch than Sir Felix wandering about the streets of London that night. Though he was nearly drunk, he was not drunk enough to forget the condition of his affairs. There is an intoxication that makes merry in the midst of affliction -- and there is an intoxication that banishes affliction by producing oblivion. But again there is an intoxication which is conscious of itself though it makes the feet unsteady, and the voice thick, and the brain foolish; and which brings neither mirth nor oblivion. Sir Felix trying to make his way to Welbeck Street and losing it at every turn, feeling himself to be an object of ridicule to every wanderer, and of dangerous suspicion to every policeman, got no good at all out of his intoxication.

A bit later:

Most of my readers will not probably know how a man looks when he comes home drunk at six in the morning, but they who have seen the thing will acknowledge that a sorrier sight cannot meet a mother's eye than that of a son in such a condition.

I'd never read any Trollope before, and am now kicking myself for that shameful omission.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:09 PM
Ancient Greek Music On The Web

Lynn 'Unleashed' of Poet and Peasant links to an interesting article in the Atlantic about a Harvard scholar who is trying to reconstruct ancient Greek music. Professor William A. Johnson of the University of Cincinnati is doing similar work, and has some brief QuickTime examples on his website. You can click on any line of each papyrus to hear that line sung, or click on 'Song A' or 'Song B' or 'Melody for Aulos (?)' to hear the whole thing. (An aulos is a reed instrument something like an oboe.) My judgment: weird but nice. I would like to hear more. Johnson also gives a bibliography for further exploration, and lists four CDs against Atlantic's two. Worth a look, and a listen, if the subject interests you at all.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:52 PM
November 05, 2002
DMV Disenfranchisement

Meryl Yourish was unable to vote today because of screwups by the Virginia DMV and local election officials. Laurence Simon of Amish Tech Support is not surprised:

Never register through the DMV or any nonpartisan agency. They don't give a flying fuck if you end up getting registered or not.

I'm not surprised either. In 2000, I registered to vote in Ohio by filling out a form at the DMV when I got my license plates several months before the election. One day in mid-October I happened to be walking past the county courthouse on my way to work when it occurred to me that I'd never gotten any confirmation of my registration. I stopped by to check and was not entirely surprised to learn that they had me listed as living at 129 E. Reed when I actually lived at 129 W. Reed. The two addresses are only eight houses apart, but in different precincts, since they are on opposite sides of Main Street. If I had waited until election day, there is a good chance I would not have been able to vote at all, since I would have had to go to the wrong precinct, then the county courthouse, then the right precinct. If the lines were long at any of those places, as they likely were on election day, there would not have been time to fix the problem before the polls closed. The Amish guy is right: never trust the DMV with your voting rights. Selma and Patti Bouvier are not caricatures.

By the way, my town in Ohio used exactly the same kind of punch-card voting machines as Florida. Anyone who can't figure out how to punch out the right chads and vote for the intended candidates is a moron.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:36 PM
I Have A Twin

I just realized that Sgt. Stryker and I both started our blogs one year ago today. I only posted three entries in my first three months, and didn't tell anyone except personal friends about my rudimentary weblog until relatively regular posting began in February. You might say that my blog spent its first three months in an incubator in the Intensive Care Unit.

One question remains: Which of us is the evil twin?

Happy blog-birthday, Sarge!

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:57 PM
Latin In The News

CPO Sparkey (on Sgt. Stryker) reports that one of the huge cargo ships hauling equipment to the Persian Gulf is the USNS Bellatrix. That's Latin for 'female warrior'. The masculine would of course be bellator. I wonder how they came up with the name?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:48 PM
Election Report

I just got back from voting. The pollworkers disagreed about turnout: one said 'about average', the other 'less than usual'. I was number 72 in the book, at 11:30 or so. That total was for just one table of three at the fire station. There were three voting machines, one for each table, and three different Assembly districts represented in the one polling place. I only saw six or seven other voters the whole time (five or ten minutes) I was there. At 49, I was the youngest or second-youngest person in the room, counting pollwatchers. Of course, things may pick up later on when those with full-time jobs start showing up.

If I were a Florida Democrat, I could have filed a lawsuit already. My voter registration information told me quite specifically to go to the Lake View Fire Station on Ling Road, but the fire station at that address was clearly labeled Lake Shore, not Lake View. And you can't see Lake Ontario from it, either, except maybe from the top of a fully extended truck ladder. I'm confused! I think I may have voted a split Libertarian / Socialist Worker ticket by mistake! I demand to be allowed to vote again!

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:59 AM
How To Tell A Lie With Three Simple Words

Today's London Times has a story with this headline, also picked up by Drudge:

Attack Iran the day Iraq war ends, demands Israel

That certainly caught my attention, and I wondered whether Ariel Sharon really thinks it would be a good idea for the U.S. and its allies to send troops and aircraft across the border into Iran the day after Iraq surrenders -- or ever, for that matter. Like most supposedly bloodthirsty 'warbloggers', I certainly don't. Iran looks ripe for self-liberation with just a little help in the way of external criticism and accurate information.

Of course, I had to click on the link and read the first paragraph of the story:

ISRAEL’S Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has called on the international community to target Iran as soon as the imminent conflict with Iraq is complete.

The word "target" is a bit more ambiguous than "attack", but it still looks like an all-out military assault on Iran is planned, or at least urged. I thought I had better keep on reading. Here's the first half of the second paragraph:

In an interview with The Times, Mr Sharon insisted that Tehran — one of the “axis of evil” powers identified by President Bush — should be put under pressure “the day after” action against Baghdad ends because of its role as a “centre of world terror”.

That let all the air out of the story. It turns out that the the headline is, to put it bluntly, a lie. One of those lies that is technically true in one sense, but false on its face and therefore still a lie. The transition from "attack" to "target" to "pressure" is cleverly done, but surely too obvious to fool anyone who actually reads as far as I did. (The use of "demands" in the headline is also thoroughly dishonest.) Does the Times need readers enough to lure them in with fraudulent headlines, like the cheapest kind of bait-and-switch used car dealer? Apparently they think so.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:21 AM
November 04, 2002
Most Obscure Country

Eugene Volokh is searching for the most obscure country in the world:

MOST OBSCURE COUNTRY: Is it Mauritania? Kyrgyzstan? Belize? What is the country that even many geographically literate Americans would be least likely to have in their consciousness, even if, when prodded, they could tell you where it is?

I have no access to Lexis, and cannot therefore provide any certifiably obscure countries in accord with the rules of his contest. But I can guess who will do well.

Until recently I would have nominated Djibouti, the former French Somaliland, but there seem to be a lot of American troops there now, so it has surely impressed itself on the minds of some Americans. Nearby Puntland, formerly the pointy part at the corner of Somalia, doesn't seem to be recognized as a country by anyone else, so it probably doesn't count: it's only a country de facto, not de jure. Some of the tiniest countries, like Andorra, San Marino, and Tonga tend to attract notice as curiosities or tourist destinations. Even Niue, wherever that is, has made a tiny splash by selling .nu web-domains (to Steven Den Beste and Quana Jones, among others) to raise money. What we want is a country large enough to escape being considered cute or quaint or exotic, but small enough and bland enough not to have anything particularly striking about it -- at least to ethnocentric Americans.

My nominee is Guinea-Bissau, the former Portuguese Guinea. The fact that it is so easily confused with just plain (and formerly French) Guinea next door and Equatorial Guinea way down the coast of Africa counts for something: they have to include the name of the capital so you'll know which Guinea they mean. (We don't even want to think about the multiple Guianas or Guyanas across the Atlantic.) Equatorial Guinea is more obscure than Guinea-Bissau in most ways, but it's the original home of Snowflake the white gorilla, has been the scene of brutal oppression and fighting between the Fang tribe and the Bubis, and includes an island formerly known by the delightful name of Fernando Po or (even better) Fernando Poo. Being on the equator ought to count for something, too. I think Guinea-Bissau is more obscure. Not that I mean that as a criticism: if it were a truly horrible place to live it would surely have been in the news more.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:38 PM
November 03, 2002
Electoral Surmises

With so many close races, and polls less accurate than they have ever been, it's hard to guess how Tuesday's results will come out. Hard, but irresistible.

Sometimes a strong systematic error can be surmised in advance. In 1980, the polls said that Reagan-Carter was "too close to call", but I was quite sure Reagan was going to win. I just wish I'd thought to place some friendly bets that last week: at least one University of Chicago professor of my acquaintance took several hundred dollars off his colleagues that way.

Here is how I knew. At the time, I was working for a small company in San Francisco that measured air pollution, sometimes for private companies, sometimes for the EPA or similar state agencies. (We were the scientists, not the lawyers, and provided data for the lawyers on whichever side hired us.) In the weeks leading up to the election, all but one of my fellow employees -- 5 or 6 in all -- came up to me at one time or another and said "Don't tell Lee, but I'm voting for Reagan". Lee was the owner of the company, and a big Carter fan. The only other one who voted for Carter was our meteorologist, and his aversion to Republicans in general and Reagan in particular probably had something to do with his being gay.

I'm too lazy to look it up, but as I recall, Mrs. Thatcher's election the previous year was also supposed to be "too close to call", but she won handily. The pollsters also said that Reagan's reelection and Thatcher's first reelection were not in doubt, but would not be landslides. In fact, both were landslides. Why the consistent errors, and all in the same direction? My hypothesis at the time was that polls are particularly inaccurate when one candidate (Reagan or Thatcher) appears more competent, while the other one (Carter or Callahan) appears 'nicer'. When it comes right down to the actual decision, voters get more serious. That is also why third-party candidates tend to shrivel in the end. I've never been sure about how and when this turn to seriousness occurs:

  1. As in my San Francisco experience, some people simply lie to many of their friends and coworkers about how they plan to vote, and probably lie to pollsters as well.
  2. I suspect that some also lie to themselves, and go into the voting booth intending to vote for the trendier or nicer candidate, but end up choosing dull competence.
  3. Of course, prejudice on the part of pollsters and reporters is also a likely factor. This is not in every case prejudice towards one side of the political spectrum. An awful lot of races are said to be 'tightening up' this weekend, and reporters do have an incentive to overestimate the tightness and with it the suspense: that's what sells newspapers and keeps eyes glued to TV screens.

So how does this apply to Tuesday's election? It's seldom so clearcut as in 1980, but here are some totally unqualified off-the-cuff predictions:

I'm guessing that Jean Carnahan will lose by a fair margin. She seems nice enough, but surely Missouri voters will want someone with a little more talent (pun intended) to represent them for the next six years.

Will dull but worthy candidates like Allard in Colorado get a small bounce on Tuesday, as voters decide that worthy is more important than dull? I certainly hope so, and even a small bounce should suffice, if the polls are at all accurate.

Will Bob Smith voters in New Hampshire turn to Sununu in the end? Smith is not on the ballot, but he is in effect a third-party write-in candidate, and I expect his actual votes to be quite a bit fewer than whatever the polls are predicting.

Will Minnesota voters actually elect an old guy who can't be bothered to campaign or debate in prime time or tell us what he thinks of the issues, just to show their sympathy for the surviving Wellstones? I certainly hope not.

Will competence beat a Kennedy in Maryland? Again, I would expect a shift of a point or two away from the glamorous but flaky Kennedy.

My prediction: the Republicans take the Senate, picking up 1-5 seats. We shall soon see. I would think that the fact that there's a war on would help the Republicans.

Update: (11/4, 11:59 PM)

Last paragraph corrected to read "take the Senate" instead of "keep" it. Thanks, P.Y. and C.A. Somehow I sometimes think that the Republicans already control the Senate: probably something to do with the fact that they controlled it after the last election, and the only Senator who has died since then was a Democrat.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:05 PM
A Truly Useful Classic

Imshin / Not a Fish links to an Israeli Defense Force pamphlet on earthquakes and how to survive them. For geographic reasons, it does not say what to do in case of a volcanic eruption accompanied by earthquakes. The Younger Pliny knew. When Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., he was eighteen years old and living across the Bay of Naples at Misenum with his mother and his uncle, the Elder Pliny.

Two of his published letters (6.16 and 6.20) give a vivid account of the eruption and the death of his uncle, overcome by fumes while rescuing people and investigating the phenomenon. The Elder Pliny was admiral of the fleet, and author of numerous books, including an extant Natural History in 37 volumes. He was quite fat, which is no doubt why he died and his companions survived, though subjected to the same fumes.

Anyway, some day I hope to find time to translate both letters and put them up on the web. In the mean time, I will mention just one detail that those living near Mount Etna or Mount St. Helens may find useful. After they crossed the bay, the Elder Pliny and his crew were afraid to stay inside the houses there because frequent strong earthquakes threatened to knock them down. At the same time, they were afraid to go outside, because chunks of rock were falling from the sky. What did they do? Select the next sentence to see the answer. They tied pillows to their heads and stayed outside. I don't know if I would have thought of that.

Tangential Note: One of neatest book titles -- or rather subtitles -- I know is Stanley F. Bonner's Education in Ancient Rome: From the Elder Cato to the Younger Pliny.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:49 PM
November 01, 2002
Blast From The Past

The most curious thing about my hiring by the Rochester City School District was the last paragraph of my contract:

Oath of Allegiance

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the State of New York, and that I will faithfully discharge, according to the best of my ability, the duties of the position to which I am assigned.

I had thought loyalty oaths were as dead as the dodo and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Not that I had any objection at all to signing this one, except for a slight nagging feeling that I ought to read the state constitution before signing it (the oath, not the constitution). How common are they today?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:50 PM
Union Politics

The Rochester Teachers Association endorsements for next Tuesday appeared in my mailbox at school today. They were surprisingly balanced, at least on the local level -- also rather confusing, what with eight different parties to consider (D = Democrat, R = Republican, C = Conservative, L = Liberal, I = Independence, G = Green, W = Working Families, RTL = Right to Life):

  • For governor, no endorsement. It looks like they've given up on McCall but don't want to go Republican (Pataki) or Independence (Golisano).
  • For Comptroller and Attorney General, two Democrats, Alan Hevesi (D/L/W) and Eliot Spitzer (D/I/L/W).
  • For the five congressional districts in the area, one Democrat (D/W), one Republican (R/I/C), and three no endorsements.
  • For state senate, eight Republicans (2 R/C, 2 R, 3 R/C/I, 1 R/C/RTL) and only two Democrats, one of whom is also the Conservative nominee (1 D/I/C and 1 D/L).
  • For state assembly, seven Republicans (1 R, 3 R/C, 2 R/I/C, 1 R/I/C/RTL), five Democrats (4 D, 1 D/I), and one no endorsement.

It looks like the alliance between Democrats and unions is very weak in the Rochester area, at least among teachers. I haven't been in town long enough to know why this is so, and whether other unions are similarly ambivalent.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:41 PM