January 29, 2003
More Possums

Or would that be 'possa'? (Sorry, that's a Latin joke.)

The PossumBlogger quotes my brother 'Steevil' on consumption of possums, raccoons, and muskrats in Maryland. In 1979, I was working at an air-pollution measurement firm in Annapolis. One of my fellow employees was a man who had spent his spare time in high school out in the swamps with a buddy, shooting possums and raccoons (but not muskrats). They sold them to a list of regular customers, all either black or Eastern European. He told me that his buddy once shot a cat that had been hanging around annoying his mother, skinned it, cut off its head and paws, and sold it to one of their regular customers as a possum. The man called back the next day and told him it was the tastiest possum he'd ever eaten, and if he ever shot another one like it, to please call him first. So what does possum taste like? Just like cat, but not as good.

Perhaps I shouldn't have posted this, since it will most likely make me enemies among possum-lovers and cat-lovers.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:42 PM
Reinventing The Wheel

The ever-clueless 'Hesiod' proposes (1/19, 3:14:22 PM):

JUST BEING SILLY: By now, everyone is sick and tired of the warbloggers' new rhetorical toy: the "Axis of Weasels." A phrase coined by Rummy about France and Germany, among others.

In that spirit, I've come up with a clever list of my own. One sure to bring fun to any party.

In talking about the Southern/Conservative domination of the Republican party, you can sum it all up in one pithy phrase: "Axis of Weevils."

Of course, only lefties (and weasels, I guess) are sick of the phrase, which comes from Scrappleface, not Rumsfeld: it was a joke. Quite a few had used the phrase before, and commenters on Cold Fury and Little Green Footballs were already using it last November to refer to various Euroweenies.

A Google search on "Axis of Weevils" gives 25 hits, including a post on The Volokh Conspiracy last Friday, a commenter on No War Blog the same day, and a commenter on Electrolite the following day. Charles Donefer of We're Left, They're Wrong (no link for him, either) claimed to have invented the phrase later last Friday, and went on (in his next post) to abuse Republicans in general as illiterates after using the "must of" construction, using "poo-poo" to mean "belittle" (the word is "pooh-pooh": only children go poo-poo), and writing about "belli in search of a causus". (That should be "bella in search of a casus". In Latin, if belli are the subject, they are pretty boys, and have nothing to do with war. Latin jokes should be avoided by those who don't know enough Latin to get them right.) All that in one post.

A Google search on "Axis of Weevil" (singular) gives 334 hits, including Max Sawicky's attempt to claim originality for that particular phrase last October, which I blogged here (second to last paragraph).

As I said then, the one and only 'Axis of Weevil' is the list of bloggers living in, born in, or otherwise connected with the state of Alabama. (Seven years in Tuscaloosa were enough to get me in.) The benevolent despot of the Axis is Terry Oglesby of PossumBlog, who (I believe) came up with the idea, and the name, last Spring. It currently contains 28 blogs, listed on his masthead. The Application Form, as filled out by redneckin, even has its own Blogspot site. 'Hesiod' ought to be ashamed to be seen hijacking other people's jokes, but then he ought to be ashamed about a lot of things.

P.S. There is an obscure Simpsons reference is this post. Can anyone spot it?

Note: I added a few sentences at 6:35 AM.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:26 PM
January 27, 2003
Don't Give Them Any Ideas

Tim Blair writes:


Detectives investigating a plot by Islamic terrorists to carry out a chemical weapons attack in Britain have found chemical warfare protection suits at a mosque in north London.

Careful, Tim! That's almost a plausible excuse. Ordinary burkhas are not well-suited for England's soggy climate, and a waterproof rubber burkha with galoshes attached would be (a) just the thing, and (b) more than half-way to an NBC suit.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:44 PM
January 26, 2003
Quotation Of The Day

You show me a priest whose eyes twinkle all the time and I'll show you a moron.

Fr. Seamus in True Confessions

By the way, whoever thought True Confessions was a good place to put an advertisement for the Christian Children's Fund obviously either hadn't seen it or hadn't thought about it very carefully.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 02:16 PM
Hmmmm . . . .

Since I acquired this domain last April, my referral logs have listed a steady trickle of referrals from the International Atomic Energy Agency: 53 last year and 11 so far this year. There were 6 just yesterday. I wonder what that's all about.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 02:04 PM
The Perfect Philistine (Hunter, Not Hlatky)

Gregory Hlatky of A Dog's Life tells us why he despises the music of Philip Glass:

. . . classical music that's suitable only as sonic wallpaper is not good music. I want to scream whenever I see one of those "Classical Music to Relax By" compilations. You shouldn't relax when listening to classical music. You should be at the edge of your seat. You should exult, or cry, or jump up and conduct (what I call "air baton"). You should be moved to go over passages again and again to say did I really hear that right?

This reminded me of a passage from Kingsley Amis' The Anti-Death League (p. 109 of the Penguin):

'This is music, you fool,' said Hunter in his ordinary tone. 'Worthless by definition. I remember sitting down to listen to a whole piece of it once. Somebody's symphony in four movements, it was. I couldn't make out what it was supposed to do for me. It seemed to be inviting me to run about, lie down and go to sleep, rush about, and then run about again. But I didn't want to do any of that.'

'You were using it for the wrong purpose,' said Dr Best. 'Except for martial airs and such, and in a rather different way music for dancing, the art is not concerned with action. It moves us to contemplation, which assists us in resolving our various conflicts. Through harmony we progress toward harmony.'

'Well, I didn't, the time I was telling you about. I progressed in the opposite direction, thank you. That's another thing I've got against it. It introduced me to conflicts I didn't even know I had.'

'Who was this monster?' asked Ayscue. 'He sounds to me rather like Sibelius.'

'No, he began with a B. But then most of them do, don't they?' Hunter continued to disparage music in general, on grounds that became increasingly obscure, . . . .

Not that I agree in any way with Hunter, but I've always liked the passage. It's one of the few that stuck with me from reading the novel years ago, so much so that I just spent half an hour leafing through the book to find it, though I don't have time to read the whole thing any time soon.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:30 AM
January 25, 2003
Ancient Toothpaste Recipes

Cronaca quotes a story from Discovery News about a recently-found 4th-century Egyptian papyrus containing what is alleged (by DN, not Cronaca) to be "the world's oldest-known recipe for toothpaste".

The claim is demonstrably false. The Roman physician Scribonius Largus, who lived in the first half of the first century A.D., gives three recipes in chapters 59-60 of his Compositiones ('Prescriptions'). Here is the first:

A toothpaste which makes teeth shiny and strengthens them: sprinkle a pint of barley flour with vinegar that has been mixed with honey, knead it for a while, and divide it into six lumps. When these have been separated, mix in half an ounce of rock salt, then cook in the oven until they turn to charcoal. Then you should grind up these lumps and mix in enough spikenard to give them an odor. Augustus' sister Octavia used this recipe.

No, I don't know what spikenard smells like: there is useful information and a picture here. Nor can I say whether the recipe calls for half an ounce of salt for each lump or for all six combined: the Latin is ambiguous. I suppose only a taste-test would tell. Just to complicate things, a Roman pound contained only 12 ounces: whether it was larger or smaller than a modern pound I do not know.

The second recipe is too complex to translate tonight: ingredients include sun-dried radish rind and finely ground glass, so I won't be trying it out. Here's the third:

Messalina, wife of our deity Caesar, uses this recipe: one pint of deer antlers burned in a new pot and reduced to ashes, an ounce by weight of Chian mastic, an ounce and a half of sal ammoniac.

Chian mastic is an aromatic gum from (obviously) Chios. Sal ammoniac is a particular kind of rock salt from Ammon in North Africa. Messalina is the notorious wife of Claudius, who married another man in a well-attended public ceremony thinking he wouldn't notice. He was generally quite oblivious: on the evening of the day he had ordered her execution, he asked his slaves why she wasn't at dinner. The mention of Messalina as empress dates this recipe to between 41 (accidental accession of Claudius) and 48 (death of Messalina). She was a great-granddaughter of Octavia, so it looks as if an interest in toothpaste ran in the family. We know that Scribonius accompanied Claudius on his conquest of Britain in 43, which again dates him firmly in the early-to-middle first century.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:47 PM
Lost In A Brainstorm

Steven Den Beste has been blogging (most recently here and here) about possible use of anti-transistor microwave weapons to fry Iraqi communications and disable many of their vehicles and weapons:

One last comment about anti-transistor weapons, if we have them and decide to use them. They will almost certainly be used as early as possible against several major Iraqi ground formations. Not only is that a good idea anyway, to eliminate as much of their equipment as possible, but it will add major emphasis to the deal we're trying to make with them. One major focus of the buildup to this war has been to try to convince as much of the Iraqi armed forces as possible to sit it out. We've been dropping leaflets for a long time now which tell them that as long as they sit still, and don't resist us, and don't form to move against us, that we promise not to bomb them. But if they do try to fight, there can and will be no mercy and we'll slaughter them from the air.

Which is no empty threat, and they know it. The mere fact that the leaflets fall from our aircraft is itself persuasive, because the plane that delivers leaflets today can deliver bombs tomorrow. But there's also the experience they had from their last encounter with us. They know of our weapons from our bombing last time, and they know about the Highway of Death. They'll have heard about our war in Afghanistan and will know that if anything our air power has become even more formidable.

I imagine someone in the Pentagon has already thought of this, but I wonder whether it is better to cut off all communications, or to control them. Suppose all of the radios of an Iraqi unit have been fried by a microwave burst, and most of their motor vehicles won't start, either. That would cut the unit off from headquarters. What next?

Here are some possibilities that occur to me:

  1. After the microwave burst, it might be useful to drop some radios along with the leaflets SDB mentions. White flags are not very informative, semaphores have limited range, and more sophisticated communications might be necessary. I can imagine there would be some circumstances in which we would want to instruct an Iraqi unit that had not yet surrendered but was playing possum to "Move two kilometers southwest of your present position by 1900 hours" or "Keep all your troops on the east side of the Bagdhad road until instructed otherwise" or "Turn all your antiaircraft guns so the barrels are pointing at the sand dune to your north". These would be the rough equivalent of the standard police instruction "Step away from the car". The point is that there might be some units that we would want to do simple things for our convenience even if we had not yet had a chance to accept their surrender and take them into custody. Fear of daisy cutters would likely induce them to do as they were told. Having them move around at our command would be one good way to find out whether they had gotten the message and decided to sit out the war.
  2. Of course, we wouldn't want to undo the effects of the microwave burst by reestablishing Iraqi communications at our expense. So we wouldn't want to drop ordinary radios. Surely we could drop radios that could only send on frequency X and receive on frequency Y. These frequencies could also differ from unit to unit. We would then be able to communicate with each Iraqi unit separately, but they would not be able to communicate with each other, and no unit would know what we were saying to the others. Once word got around -- which could take a while -- that would also help spread paranoia among the uncooperative units. Besides fixed frequencies, some kind of coding / decoding software could no doubt be designed to prevent ordinary normal radios from communicating with these special radios. In sum, the idea is to cut off their communications with headquarters while simultaneously allowing them to signal surrender more efficiently than with white flags.
  3. An interesting twist would be to drop radios with no volume control or off switch. I guess that makes them radio-loudspeakers. Like ordinary radios, these could obviously be smashed with rifle butts or shot or run over with trucks (if any of the trucks were still running). But until then they would be telling Iraqi troops whatever we wanted them to hear, even if their officers did not want them to hear it. We could also use such devices to play loud ugly music in the middle of the night, or sounds of animals being slaughtered, or whatever was best calculated to lower their morale and make them want to surrender. Janet Reno's men in Waco had some interesting ideas along these lines. Of course, in dealing with Iraqi troops, we would have to make sure not to violate the Geneva Convention.
  4. (Added 4:30 PM) Another twist would be to drop radio-loudspeakers that would blow up if anyone tried to destroy them or even move them very far. I don't suppose this would be a violation of the Geneva Convention as long as they had clear warning labels, though it might be necessary to classify them as talking bombs or musical mines rather than exploding radios. A few of these lying around a base talking and singing away at high volume would definitely be bad for morale. What they should broadcast is an interesting puzzle: there are so many possibilities. Nominations are invited, and may be placed in the comments. Categories:
    1. Most demoralizing song. Please note that I'm not asking for your nominations for the worst song ever written, or the one you would most hate to have to listen to yourself, just the one that would be most demoralizing to an Arabic-speaking Iraqi forced to listen to it over and over, possibly at high volume.
    2. Most demoralizing verbal message. Lots of possibilities here. Friendly warnings would probably be more effective than insults.
    3. Most demoralizing miscellaneous noise. Bombs bursting in air? Howler monkeys howling? Lions roaring? Soft rustling and scuttling noises as if a thousand scorpions and centipedes were in the immediate vicinity? The ticking of a clock?

I hope someone in the Defense Department has been thinking along these lines. It's a little late to get started now.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:03 AM
An Unfortunate Ambiguity

Virginia Postrel reports (1/23) that her publisher has raised last minute objections to the title of her forthcoming book:

TITLE TK: Now the marketing powers that be have decided that Look and Feel isn't a good enough title (at least they like the contents!). So it's back to the title factory for my book . . . .

I wonder whether the publisher's objection has something to do with good taste. After all, Look and Feel could easily be misunderstood as if the two nouns were imperative verbs. If I were publishing a book with a dust jacket photo that looked like this, I wouldn't want to give it a title that could be misconstrued as if it meant Stare and Fondle:

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 AM
January 21, 2003
Told You So!

The Blogosphere is abuzz at the revelation that Scott Ritter was once arrested on a charge amounting to attempted pedophilia. Many have suggested that his sudden about-face on the dangers of Iraq can be explained by Iraqi blackmail. Here is what I wrote about Ritter in Sgt. Stryker's comment section on September 7th:

His transformation has been so complete that I've long wondered whether he's being blackmailed as well as bribed. Compromising photos, threats to his loved ones, it hardly matters which -- maybe they have both.

Advantage: Dr. Weevil!

(Not that photos would be quite the thing in an internet pedophile sting, but why sweat the details if the overall hypothesis is correct?)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:51 AM
January 20, 2003
Sly Dig, Or Unfortunate Coincidence?

Christopher Hitchens' "Some advice for my friends on the right", in Saturday's Opinion Journal, includes an interesting description of one Republican faction:

Still a fourth group, in some ways plus neocon que le roi, believes that the hinge nation in the celebrated "axis" is actually Iran, where we may even be seeing a revolution from below.

I hope the apparent bilingual pun is purely fortuitous. 'Neocon' is perfectly proper in English, but Hitchens does put the word in French, and French 'con' is very obscene. I won't use the English equivalent here, but it's anatomical, female, and shares a couple of letters with the French word.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 04:28 PM
Second Reading Required

One of the Drudge Report headlines from yesterday reads:


What with the quotation marks around 'SMOKING' and the over-the-top reaction, I naturally assumed that the Stones were smoking something a bit more illegal -- a bit Stonier -- than tobacco. Apparently not.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:10 PM
January 19, 2003
What's The Opposite Of A Vegetarian?

One of the nicest things about eating dinner in a Korean restaurant, as I did yesterday evening, is the half a dozen side dishes that come with the meal. It's possible to get four of the five major carnivore food groups without even ordering an appetizer. Last night at Kang Suh (32nd and Broadway) I had mammal (spicy pork: Je Yook Gui), bird (slivers of chicken with spinach), fish (tiny crunchy baby anchovies with big eyes), and mollusc (chewy shredded squid with hot pepper). The first was the entrée: all the rest were side dishes. If I had ordered an appetizer, I could have had crustacean, too, but with half a dozen side dishes, who needs appetizers?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:14 PM
A Bit Of Econometric Research

I don't smoke, and don't know whether New York tobacco taxes are too high, but they must be a lot higher than Pennsylvania's. Driving home from New York City to Rochester this afternoon, I happened to stop for gas at the last exit on I-81 in Pennsylvania before crossing into New York. There didn't seem to be any town, just a clump of gas stations and fast-food restaurants -- plus Indian Joe's Tobacco Shop (at least it's not 'Injun Joe's'), the Tobacco Emporium, and Smokin' Joe's: there may have been others.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:03 PM
January 17, 2003
One More Thing . . . .

It has been widely reported that the first Israeli astronaut, just now launched into space, was one of the pilots who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor twenty years ago. It's a good thing the shuttle flies too high to have to worry about SAMs and other such weapons, since he'll be flying over quite a few hostile countries. I wonder if Saddam thinks he's up there now to drop stuff on Iraq again.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:04 AM
One More Thing Before I Go

Andrew Sullivan, on the discovery of eleven nerve-gas shells in Iraq by U.N. inspectors:

There can be no further excuses. Saddam had one absolutely last chance and he lied.

Actually, he does have one more excuse, and it's a good one, because it's very probably true. It would have been easy to forget about these eleven shells if, as is more than likely, he has thousands more squirreled away in dozens of other locations. Of course, that's the kind of excuse that will not, and should not, save him.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:16 AM
January 16, 2003

I'm heading for New York City after work tomorrow for another opera-going orgy: Jenufa, Carmen, and Don Giovanni, if you're wondering. That means no more posts until late Sunday at the earliest.

My apologies for my sparse posting of late. Work has been unpleasant.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:21 PM
More Technical Assistance Needed

Thanks to all the people who responded to my previous appeal: I've acquired a cheap microphone-headset combination ($20 at Staples), but haven't had time to try it out. In the mean time, here's another question:

How can I tell whether a comment-poster's IP is dynamic or not? That may not be the right word, but what I mean is this. As I understand it, AOL users (for instance) are assigned different IPs every time they log on, since these are supplied on a first-come first-serve basis. That means that when some stupid troll posts obnoxious comments here and I want to ban him or her from further posting, I have sometimes inadvertently banned innocent bystanders, because the IP banned was not specific to the poster but a generic AOL or other IP assigned to different people on different days. I know of at least two cases where friends of this site have found themselves banned, and there may be more. Of course, the trolls never admit to using AOL. They prefer fake addresses filled with insults -- one more reason to ban them --, so I only have an IP to go by. So:

  1. Is there some easy rule of thumb to distinguish the two types of IPs, something like 'never ban any IP whose first / last digit is between [x] and [y]'? Obviously these trolls would then have to be dealt with piecemeal, but I have no problem with that.
  2. If you have tried to post a comment here and been told that you were banned, feel free to e-mail and ask why. If the ban was intentional, I will be glad to explain the reasons in detail. If not, I will attempt to unban you, and post your comment for you if that fails.
Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:18 PM
Sorry You Asked, Meryl?

Meryl Yourish asks for help on the scientific name of an alpine banana slug, Ariolimax dolichophallus:

What are those latin terms anyway? Calling Doc Weevil . . . no, wait. I'll bet they're disgusting. Never mind. Besides, if you sound the last one out, it sounds rude enough.

As she guesses, the last part, -phallus, means just what it looks like it means. Greek dolicho- means 'long', so dolichophallus would translate the first two words of 'Long Dong Silver'. As for the genus, the Ario- presumably comes from the family name, Arionidae, but whether that refers to Arion the Greek poet saved by a dolphin, Arion the horse of Adrastus (one of the Seven Against Thebes), or something entirely different is not obvious. On the other hand, limax is easy enough: it's Latin for 'slug', and is most likely related to limus, 'mud, slime'.

Among much curious lore, the Sexual Records web-site reports that Ariolimax dolichophallus has the longest phallus in relation to body size of any living creature, and that a six-inch slug has a 32.5" organ: hence the name. This must be the individual record of an unusually well-endowed specimen, since the U.C. Riverside Urban Entomology site reports that "its extremely attenuate apical phallus (copulatory organ)" is only "occasionally . . . longer than the slug itself ". I wonder if U.C. Santa Cruz knew this when they chose the name 'Fighting Banana Slugs' for their sports teams.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:15 PM
January 14, 2003
How Fragmented Is The Blogosphere?

The BlogStreet Top 100 rates blogs by the number of incoming links. It is not surprising that InstaPundit is in first place, with 794 links from other blogs. What is surprising is that that is barely 1.5% of the 50,442 blogs in BlogStreet's database. The other 98.43% (to put it precisely) do not link to him. In fact, only six blogs are linked by more than 1% of the others. As of today, the other five are Scripting News (2), Slashdot (3), Boing Boing (4), Andrew Sullivan (5), and Metafilter (6). It appears that the Blogosphere is far more fragmented than some of us might have thought.

Update: (1/16, 10:17 PM)

Of course, I'm aware that the different subgroups of blogs -- 'warbloggers', gay bloggers, Christian bloggers, tech bloggers, and personal journal bloggers -- don't interact much, and that blogs of all types don't interact much at all with those in different languages. (There are a bunch of Brazilian blogs in the BlogStreet Top 100: presumably they got there mostly by linking to each other rather than to English or Iranian or Norwegian blogs.) But I still would have thought that the top blogs in each subset would have had more than 1.57% of the total. I mean, if 'warblogs' or tech blogs or any single subgroup constitutes (e.g.) 20% of the total 55,000+ blogs, and if any one member of the group is linked by 20% of the others within the group, that's already 4% of the total. I suspect that what's going on is that personal journal blogs are more than 90% of the total, and these generally link only to their personal friends. That would mean that they would vastly increase the number of total blogs while putting none of their own into the Top 100 or even the Top 1000. I suppose a careful look at the BlogStreet database would tell.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:09 PM
January 12, 2003
Found Poetry

One of the things I like about the randomness of reading weblogs is the way they constantly jog my memory, dredging up things I'd forgotten. Emmy Chang, who calls her blog The Rat, quotes a couple of amusing overheard conversations, which reminded me of something I overheard years ago. I was dining with some other grad students in a restaurant across the street from the University of Virginia. It was hard to concentrate on what my friends were saying, since the sorority girls at the next table said at least a dozen things that I wish I'd written down. Here's the only one I remember -- be sure to use a petulant Heathers pronunciation while reading it and stretch out the italicized words in a contemptuous way:

I don't see how anyone can be expected to do any serious social climbing in a town the size of Charlottesville!

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:18 AM
January 11, 2003
Dr. Weevil's Index

Some statistics from my extensive reading of political journals and weblogs in the nearly two years since Bush was inaugurated:

  1. Approximate number of times I have read that "Republicans can't stop talking about Bill Clinton's penis" or words to that effect: 100.
  2. Approximate number of times I have seen Republicans mention said penis in any context: 3.*
  3. Precise number of times I have seen Republicans mention said penis other than when commenting on claim number 1: 0.

The assertion that Republicans in general can't stop talking about Clinton's penis is as false as the assertions that many 'warbloggers' speak German and worship Oliver North. Not that that's likely to stop some people from making them.


*I guess this makes 4. I am not referring to vague mentions of Clinton's sex life, real or imagined, but specific references to the organ itself in the last two years, either in blogs or in comments on them.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:48 PM
Technical Advice Needed

I would like to add audio to both of my websites. Can anyone give me advice on how to do it, or how not to do it? I assume an inexpensive microphone would be easy enough to find, but what about the software?

I'm not looking for particularly high-quality sound, and don't want to spend much money. What I want to do, mostly on my other web-site, is to display Latin and Greek texts (I've got plenty of them already) with a button that would allow the reader to hear how the words sound. The Greek texts would be particularly interesting, since the language has pitch accents, like Chinese. I occasionally quote bits of Latin here, and it wouldn't hurt to have an audio button next to them for interested readers. I assume they would need only speakers and an MP3 player. Is all I need a microphone and some MP3 software?

As always, the comment section is open and awaits your advice.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:58 PM
Signs And Portents

Responding to one of my New Year's Eve posts, Aaron Haspel of God of the Machine mentions another amusingly ambiguous sign, which reads:

No Soliciting
Violators Will
Be Punished

That reminds me of a sign that was once quite famous, at least in the academic world. Near the University of Chicago there is (or was) a fried chicken place -- very tasty, as I recall -- part of a small local chain called, I think, Harold's. It was take-out only, so there were no tables or chairs, just an order window and a fairly large room where customers could get out of the weather while they waited for their chicken. The owner (presumably Harold himself) wanted to keep the room clean and uncluttered, so there was a sign that read:


This was a source of amusement to Hyde Park residents until William Safire mentioned it in his language column in the New York Times. Two days later, it disappeared from the store, though I've heard that it reappeared at one of the other branches further from the university. As one of my friends said at the time (hi, Malcolm!), it's interesting to consider how many degrees of separation there were between the owner and whoever read the Safire column. The fact that it took two days suggests that there were at least one or two intermediaries.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:39 AM
Missing A Fish In A Barrel?

Tim Blair's latest post refers to someone I've never heard of as "Richard 'Sure Does' Blow". That make me wonder all the more why neither he nor any of the contestants in his Andrew Motion Poet Laureate Challenge has made the obvious joke about "Andrew 'Bowel' Motion". Too obvious and unsubtle even for the poets of the Blogosphere?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:36 AM
January 07, 2003
Bad German Alert II

James Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review writes (in his only post on 1/6)* that Ben Shapiro "proposes Palestinian-rat for Israel". In an update, he credits Shapiro for a correction: "I should have written Palestinian-rein not Palestinian-rat, and so I have corrected my error". In fact, he has not corrected his error, since he has not changed his text and even the correction in the update is (through no fault of Shapiro's) incorrect.

I won't say that he should have used the German form of 'Palestinian' and written Palästinenserrein. A hyphenated English-German hybrid could be defended in this context: it would certainly be more intelligible. But the Nazi term judenrein, "cleansed or purified of Jews" (as if they were filth or poison) is an adjective, and the sentence "proposes Palestinian-rein for Israel" is therefore nonsense. The noun form of the original term is Judenreinheit, 'the condition of having been cleansed or purified of Jews'. (Typical German: the noun can't be translated without either extreme awkwardness -- Jewcleansedness? -- or way too many words.) My own German's a little rusty, but a look at the Oxford Superlex German-English dictionary suggests that the word Capozzola wants is Palästinenserreinheit or at least Palestinian-reinheit. I trust my readers will correct me if I am wrong. He could also have written "proposes a Palestinian-rein status for Israel".

By the way, I believe that a Palestinian-rat would be a Council of Palestinians: a noun, but not at all the right one, unless you are talking about collaboration. I hope Capozzola does not mean to imply that collaboration with Israelis is as contemptible as collaboration with the Nazis. Perhaps he was misled by the spelling of the German word for 'council', which only looks like it refers to a rodent.

This is not the first time a pretentious lefty blogger has tried to use Nazi-era German to insult someone on the right and ended up shooting himself in the foot through gross ignorance of the language. (For a previous 'Bad German Alert', see this post.) It's best to avoid jokes and wordplay in a language one does not know well.

*Sorry, I have a firm policy of refusing to link to anyone who refuses to link to anyone who links to Little Green Footballs.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:54 PM
January 05, 2003
A Request Half-Fulfilled

InstaPundit quotes Brad DeLong's request for a Greek-derived word meaning "rule by those with nothing better to do", e.g. the kind of professor who has plenty of time to serve on committees. That's a toughie, but 'phaularchy' might do in a pinch: that would be "rule by the petty or trivial". It even contains a small (perhaps even trivial) pun, since 'phaul-' rhymes with 'foul' (and 'fowl', for that matter).

Posting will continue to be sparse as I try to regain control of a seventh-grade class that's openly trying to drive me to quit.

The low point of my weekend was around 6:00 PM Friday, as I watched a car slowly pass me on the New York State Thruway just north of the Tappan Zee Bridge in heavy slush and driving sleet. Nothing remarkable about that, except he only about 10 feet in front of me, passing from left to right, and travelling down the road at 40 miles an hour sideways. Fortunately, I was only going 40 myself, and he continued crosswise into the ditch at a lateral speed of about 5 mph. Everyone else had long since figured out that the fastest speed that was even close to being safe for the weather conditions was 40, and most of us were sticking to the middle lane to allow room for error. This bozo decided to pass us all on the left at 50, until he spun out. He seems to have made a relatively soft landing in the ditch on the right side of the road, which is more than he deserved, just missing another car to my right. I hope he was stuck there for a while.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:38 PM
January 02, 2003

I'm going to New York City straight from work tomorrow, to see Die Fledermaus and Dialogues des Carmélites at the Met and do a little shopping. Expect no further posts until some time Sunday.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:19 PM
January 01, 2003
Where To From Here?

Warning: this post wallows in shameless and tedious introspection, with a dollop of malice near the end.

Colby Cosh tells us how much he misses manual typewriters. I donít even miss the electric ones. If word-processors had never been invented, I would never have written anything substantial. I tend to be hopelessly obsessive about revising my work, not to mention a fairly inept typist, and could never finish anything of any size.

Since word processors were invented, Iíve published about four dozen articles on classical literature, mostly short and fairly technical. They average around 3 Ĺ pages as published, include lots of untranslated Latin and Greek, and are mostly on narrowly-defined topics -- strictly for specialists, in other words. Most took years to finish, and Iíve got dozens more in process at any one time, plus several ideas for possible books, none of which is anywhere near finishing. Of course Ďin processí can mean a two-sentence summary of an idea that would take two or twenty or two hundred pages to defend properly.

Anyway, I had been word-processing for quite a few years and was on my third computer (of four so far) when I first noticed that Microsoft Word has a ĎProperties Ė Statisticsí function which calculates a ĎRevision numberí and a ĎTotal editing timeí. This would have been around 1995 or 1996. In my usual desultory way, I had been working on an article on a couple of passages of Seneca off and on for the previous couple of years. I was still shocked when I saw the counts: I had spent just over 1000 minutes (16+ hours) on a 2000-word paper, which is not too bad, but was already up to revision 146. I tend to open a file, change a few words, then close it, open it the next day, and change some of them back. By the time this particular paper was refereed and revised for publication it was up to version 154.

Of course, my main reason for blogging is that I have plenty to say on various topics, and was sick and tired of wasting time polishing up letters to editors that are then ignored or butchered. However, I also started blogging to try to develop fluency and good (every-day) writing habits, with the idea that it might help in finishing some longer scholarly articles, perhaps even a book or two one of these years. It's somehow easier to let go of something if I know I can always go back and change it later, and the fact that Google will preserved copies of the unedited version somehow doesn't seem to damage my self-confidence.

So how am I doing so far, after just over a year of blogging, and just under a year of really prolific blogging?

There have been quite a few accomplishments:

  1. Iíve web-published around 175,000 words -- enough for a good-sized book, if they had all been on one topic.
  2. Iíve attracted plenty of visitors, and many keep coming back. Christmas has affected the counts, but before then I was getting around 1000 unique visitors on weekdays, 700 on weekends, up from 700 and 400 just a couple of months before.
  3. Iíve gotten lots of links from other blogs, enough to put me into the Top 100 on the Blogstreet and (usually) Myelin lists. Iím currently in a three-way tie for 71st place out of 43,202 blogs on Blogstreet, and a two-way tie for 98th place out of 16,132 blogs on Myelin, though I spent much of the last six weeks or so in the 100-110 range.
  4. More important, Iíve made a lot of friends, and met quite a few of them. Iíve also made some enemies, but so far only the kind of enemies any decent person would be proud to have made.
  5. I suppose Iíve amused or instructed a fair number of people, and I hope I've also succeeded in shaming some people who deserve to be shamed.

Perhaps I'm just feeling negative, but these accomplishments (for which I am very grateful) are balanced by various disappointments:

  1. I'm spending huge amounts of time on-line, and my studies are suffering: I haven't even finished Trollope's The Way We Live Now, begun several months ago, and dozens of other books are glaring at me from their shelves, demanding attention.
  2. I have a huge backlog of things I would have liked to blog about, but haven't found time for. Fluency is only relative, and I still have more in mind than I can put on paper or on screen. Not to mention that blogging cuts into time available for other work: my other writing has languished since I started blogging.
  3. I have yet to write anything that I've been totally satisfied with, and quite a few topics really demand to be revisited. I might even be able to sell an article or two to a print journal if I can find the time to polish it up.
  4. My anonymity (previously explained here) is a burden, though it seems unavoidable. If I put my real name on this blog, some of my more computer-literate middle school students would likely find it. Ruminations on clitorises and the etymology of syphilis would probably not go over very well with their parents. If anyone really wants to know my name, they can do a 'whois' on the domain, or just click here. (As long as my real name is not actually printed on this blog, I should be safe from Googling students.) Note that one small reason for anonymity is to avoid confusion with the proprietor of Cold Fury, who has nearly the same name.

The result of all this is general discontent or at least restlessness. I have no intention of shutting down this blog, but I have been considering possible new directions. Possible additions for this blog or a 'spinoff' blog:

  1. More thoughts on education. The Cranky Professor has asked for them (on his blogroll). Of course, it's difficult to be specific about educational problems without at least some risk to my day job: one more reason to stay anonymous.
  2. Classical quotation of the day. Or classical joke of the day, though it's hard to come up with 365 that are even close to funny.
  3. ĎAsk Dr. Weevilí. Iíve always wanted to be a sophist, and it might be fun to offer to answer any question on ancient life and literature, track quotations, correct bad Latin, and so on. I already do a certain amount of that. It would probably be quite time-consuming, and would also likely attract lazy students who want someone to do their homework for them. On the other hand, I could put in a tip jar, and possibly even attract significant tips.
  4. A more organized exploration of the interesting byways of the ancient world: Pliny's letters on the eruption of Vesuvius and the treatment of Christians (in one word: torture), evidence for the use of hard liquor in the ancient world, and so on. In other words, longer essays on classical topics of interest to the non-classicist.
  5. A separate literary criticism blog might be fun, like The Brothers Judd but more thematic. I've toyed with the idea of offering a weekly reading assignment, followed by specific questions in the form of posts. Discussion would then take place in the comments themselves. Possible topics would be Saki short stories like this one or the works of Caesar (in English).
  6. One particular topic gives me a guilty feeling of omission. Way back on May 12th I proposed a Chomsky blog, devoted to keeping an eye on the evil old bastard. I've been too busy to start such an Index Chomskianus, and it would take a great deal of work, as well as attracting a lot of annoyingly nasty and often (like their master) long-winded Gnoams. Perhaps it could be a joint effort.

    For one small example of what I mean, my original post has attracted two relatively recent comments from someone in Australia named Adrian Vogt. On November 20th he wrote:

    "A man who arouses so much stupid hatred and venom among you yanks must be worth his salt. My next book purchase will be a volume of Chomsky. Tell me which one you would prefer to see burned."

    How does he know our hatred and venom are stupid if he hasn't read any of the books we hate so venomously? It certainly looks as if it's our being "yanks" that makes us so stupid and hateful. On December 16th Vogt was back with a second comment:

    "Nobody wanted to advise me on the Chomsky book that s/he wanted to see burned first.Perhaps none of those guys who seem to be foaming at the mouth at the mere mentioning of his name ever read a book by him.I wouldn't be surprised.Dr.Johnson once said:'Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel'. I would like to add to that : 'and of an illiterate'."

    Of course, Mr. Vogt would look more literate himself if he put spaces between his sentences. He shares the common fantasy that Chomsky's books are so convincing that no one could read them without being utterly convinced, and therefore his enemies must not have read them. And he's apparently too stupid to know that when you comment on a six-month-old post you're lucky if even the site-owner notices: I doubt that anyone else has seen his comments until now. Feel free to advise him on his quest.

As always, only more so, suggestions are welcome.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:20 AM