February 27, 2003

Posting will be sparse at best until late Saturday, since I have to go to New York City again. This time it's partly job-hunting, partly Traviata and Turandot at the Met, partly visiting friends. I've still got plenty to say, but some of it is going to be a bit stale by the time I have a chance to say it.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:38 AM
February 26, 2003
No Evidence? A Thought Experiment

Some who oppose war on Iraq like to claim that there is "no evidence" that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. For example, Guy Cabot uses the phrase three times in the comments on this Daily Rant post.

Imagine that you have a next door neighbor who:

  • Is said, by those who have known him longer than you have, to be a major drug dealer. They also say that he has a record for drug possession and drug dealing.
  • Keeps his shades closed at all times.
  • Always wears sunglasses, even after dark.
  • Drives several very nice cars, though he never goes to work and has no visible means of support.
  • Has half a dozen locks on his front door, as you discovered when you once borrowed a cup of sugar and it took a solid minute for him to open it.
  • Stood in the doorway blocking your view when you borrowed the sugar, and made you wait outside while he went and got it, closing and triple-locking the door to make sure you could not come in while he was in the kitchen.
  • Seems to spend a lot of money on fluorescent grow-lights, to judge from the brand names on his package deliveries.
  • Has frequent power failures, to judge from the way his lights often flicker and sometimes go out entirely for hours.
  • Has dozens of visitors every day, most of whom arrive after dark, many of whom come very late at night, and few of whom stay for more than 10 or 15 minutes.
  • Does not let the police in when they raid his apartment, as they occasionally do, but waits for them to batter down the door. As they do so, the toilets are always heard to flush repeatedly.

Suppose also that:

  • You have never personally seen any drugs in your neighbor's hands or in his house.
  • He always vehemently denies that he is dealing or even using drugs.
  • He nevertheless often alludes to the possibility that he could get hold of any kind of drug for you if he wanted to.

Would it be fair to say that there is "no evidence" that your neighbor is dealing drugs? Or would someone who said that be -- just a wee bit naïve? I am not asking whether this is enough evidence to convict your neighbor beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, still less whether drug laws or drug enforcement practices should be changed or abolished. (Let's stay off that contentious topic.) I am asking whether it would be honest and intelligent to say that there is "no evidence" that this hypothetical neighbor is a drug dealer.

There is a shorter and simpler version of this thought experiment:

Suppose you see one recently-shed cockroach skin in your kitchen. Should you assume that it came from a roach that was only passing through, and that your kitchen is not infested with cockroaches? Is there "no evidence" that you have a pest problem? Or is it fairer to suppose that where you see one cockroach (or a dozen empty nerve gas containers), there are hundreds more that you cannot see because they much prefer not to be seen?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:45 PM
February 25, 2003
Hint For Middle School Teachers

I get a lot of sore throats, partly because any middle school is a sewer of virulent germs, mostly from shouting to make myself heard over a babble of 7th-graders. Of course, when the students see me taking cough drops, half of them suddenly develop 'coughs' of their own and beg me to give them some. There is an easy way to prove that they are pretending: I offer them honey-licorice cough drops, which they invariably reject. Like olives and anchovies, honey-licorice cough drops seem to be an adult taste.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:51 PM
February 24, 2003
Another Stupid Pun -- This One Inadvertent

Meryl Yourish gives a picture of an interesting riverbank sign:


Hydraulics form at the base of dams. They can trap boats or tubers. Do not walk on dam when water is above ankles. 15 people have drowned here!

Perhaps I should have been more alert, but when I first read this I wondered why anyone would care if a bunch of potatoes were caught in the undertow and drowned.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:30 PM
A Musical Joke (Not Mozart's)

Ted Barlow mentions the BeeGees' "inimitable all-castrato close harmony". That reminds me of a parody of the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" that one of my college classmates used to sing thirty years ago. All I can remember is the first two lines -- there may not have been any more. Cue falsetto harmonies:

Wouldn't it be nice if we had testes,
so we wouldn't have to sing this way?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:23 PM

Mark Steyn writes:

They were a soccer-mommish crowd, the kind of women who run recycling programmes and so forth. They loved the Nineties because you never heard a thing about macho stuff like war: it was all micro-politics, new regulations for this, new entitlements for that — education, environment, ‘social justice’. Bush, Cheney and Rummy are from Mars, these demonstrators were from Venus, and they want to go back to talking about Venusian issues. I think that’s also true in Australia and much of western Europe. This war is an unwelcome intrusion on what large numbers of people had assumed to be a permanent post-Martian politics.

"Venusian"? There's an adjective to disgust anyone who knows Latin -- not that there are many of us left. It's as bad as 'genusal' for 'general' or 'tempusal' for 'temporal': would anyone write about 'corpusal punishment'?

The correctly-formed adjective for 'pertaining to Venus' is avoided today for obvious reasons. It is 'Venereal', as in Milton, Samson Agonistes 531-39:

Then, swollen with pride, into the snare I fell
Of fair fallacious looks, venereal trains,
Softened with pleasure and voluptuous life
At length to lay my head and hallowed pledge
Of all my strength in the lascivious lap
Of a deceitful Concubine, who shore me,
Like a tame wether, all my precious fleece,
Then turned me out ridiculous, despoiled,
Shaven, and disarmed among my enemies.

I doubt the part about 'laying his head in her lascivious lap' was intended to be as obscene as it sounds to modern ears.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:56 PM
Topical Joke

Erin O'Connor of Critical Mass seems to have the fullest coverage of the Harvard snow phallus (now Bobbittized) and the buxom snowlady of Kent, Ohio. Between them they reminded me of this old joke:

Q. What do snowmen have that snowladies don't have?
A. Snowballs!

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:17 PM
Michele's Dark Secret

Michele of A Small Victory has a Grammy-related confession:

Did I ever tell you about my hatred for everything Bruce Springsteen?

See, once upon a time I was married to someone else. He was - and still is - obsessed with Springsteen, to the point of it being a fetish, not an obsession.

I used to enjoy Bruce's music somewhat. Now, besides the fact that I think Bruce is an opportunistic phony, I cannot hear his voice without wanting to hurl my entire day's intake of food into the toilet bowl.

We all have those things that remind us of exes. Ugly sweaters, torn letters, raggy stuffed animals . . . I have the memory of a singer who looks like he is eternally constipated and sings like the shit is on its way out the hole.

After the ex moved out, I broke all his Springsteen records. I should have broken them over his head, but that's another story.

What's Michele's deep dark secret? She was once married to Eric Alterman. I can certainly see why she omits the ex's name.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:14 PM
February 23, 2003
Disturbing Thoughts

Trent Telenko has an interesting (and long) post on Winds of Change entitled 'Anti-Semitism Has Returned: What to Do about It'. One paragraph invites further comment:

. . . I cannot help but thinking that the American Left is committing suicide by adopting anti-Semitism as its organizing principle. The American multi-cultural left on campuses, the media, and in most secular non-government organizations view Israel as another South Africa because of its treatment of Palestinians. This left them highly vulnerable to being infected by the anti-Semitic hate campaigns of Arab regimes. And infected they most certainly are.

There are two kinds of suicide involved here. Adopting anti-semitism as an organizing principle is certainly moral suicide, and it is almost certainly electoral suicide. I wish I didn't have to include that 'almost', because there's nothing more depressing than the thought that an anti-Semitic party could survive and prosper and even win elections. I don't think it could happen here, but it's happened before in supposedly civilized countries.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:12 PM
Horsemen, Furies, . . . .

Max Sawicky calls Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, Charles Johnson, and Steven Den Beste "the Four Horsemen of the Ablogalypse". Mean Mr. Mustard provides a picture of the Four Horsemen suitable for T-shirting, and Andrea Harris provides another of the Three Furies (JoAnne Jacobs, Jane Galt, and Michele of A Small Victory) abusing an allegorical depiction of Leftism.

Some bloggers have felt left out of these two lists. Of course, if we stick with the apocalyptic theme, there are still some roles to fill:

  • Who is the Scarlet Woman, the Whore of Babylon? New York City is often called the new Babylon, which may help winnow the candidates . . . not that I have anyone in particular in mind.
  • Who is the Beast, and why is his (or her) number 666?
  • Who are the seven heads and ten horns of the beast?
  • Will the Euphrates be dried up in the near future, as foretold in Revelation 16.12? Unfortunately for Biblical literalists, it is dried up to "make way for the king from the East". U.S. forces will likely approach Baghdad from the north, west, and south, but not the east, so identification of Bush as this king will not be easy.

I'm sure those more familiar with the Bible can come up with more positions to fill.

Of course, the funniest thing about Sawicky's post is the second paragraph:

Believe it or not, I long for civility, but I have an ulterior motive. I think my arguments are so good that they will prosper in a rational debate. It also makes life more interesting. I would rather test my views against somebody sharp like Eugene Volokh than throw verbal mudballs at silly people. What the hell, I could be convinced I'm wrong. It's happened. I actually appreciate it, though I can't say it doesn't ache a little.

Long-time readers of his blog or mine will recall Sawicky's claim last October that warbloggers "hail" Oliver North "as an American hero". When I challenged this assertion, he provided 24 URLs, not one of which pointed to an actual major (Myelin Top 500) warblogger calling North a 'hero' or anything similarly adulatory, and very few of which were even all that positive, as I demonstrated in tedious detail here and summarized here.

More than a month later, Sawicky was still insisting that North is "favorite of a disputed number of warbloggers". The number is only in dispute because he continues to pretend that it is not zero. Sawicky 'appreciates being shown he is wrong' so much that he banned me from his comments for doing just that.


Macaulay once encountered a man who had found the Number of the Beast in Napoleon's name, assuring him that "if you write Napoleon Bonaparte in Arabic, leaving out only two letters, it will give 666". When challenged for a better candidate, Macaulay answered: ""'Sir,' said I, 'the House of Commons is the Beast. There are 658 members of the House; and these, with their chief officers — the three clerks, the sergeant and his deputy, the chaplain, the door-keeper, and the librarian — make 666.'" (Letter of July 1, 1834 in Life and Letters of T. B. Macaulay, ed. G. O. Trevelyan, 1876, 1.132, or Letters of T. B. Macaulay, ed. T. Pinney, Cambridge, 1974, 3.61.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:52 PM
Appropriate Handeling

I'm surprised Lynn Sislo (Reflections in D Minor) didn't beat me to this:

Today is George Frideric Handel's 318th birthday. If I have time, I'll watch the tape of his Agrippina I bought last week. Nero and his mother: should be interesting politically as well as musically.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:11 AM
Misleading Geography

In northeastern Pennsylvania, there is a highway sign that reads:

Endless Mountain Region
Next 6 Exits

Shouldn't that be 'Next 600 Exits'? I got past the supposedly endless mountains without having to change CDs.

That was Friday, coming back from seeing Turandot in New York City. The trip was otherwise uneventful, though I noticed a lot of military trucks between Scranton and Binghamton, all heading north, all empty, one stopped on an upgrade with its hood up and a couple of guys standing around looking worried. I wonder if they were returning to base after dropping off some heavy equipment in Philadelphia or some other eastern port? Or perhaps heading north to pick some up? Or both? They were obviously planning a long drive. Some of the flatbed trailers were carrying other flatbed trailers, though there were a couple of spare tractors that could have been pulling them. I suppose they double them up to save wear and tear on the tires.

My drive to New York was mildly eventful. I drove the first 86 miles with a nagging feeling that I had forgotten something (spare clothes? ID? money? CDs and player? no, no, no, and no) before I realized that it was my Turandot ticket. Having to go back for it made the round-trip 900 miles in two days instead of the usual 720.

In other boring news, I bought a bottle of Calvados in New York, one of those that comes in a cardboard box. When I got home I discovered that it had been opened: the wax seal was carefully broken off all around in ways that could not have happened from shaking or bumping. I can't think why anyone would have done that. It's the right color and the right smell, the level is just right, the chance of someone having poisoned it is one in a million, but . . . . I'll be back in town next weekend, so I guess I'll play it safe and return it. I was really looking forward to drinking the stuff.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:56 AM
Fun With Etymology

Eve Tushnet gives "Chiracnophobia" as the title or subject of a post she is still working on. The obvious meaning is 'dread of Jacques Chirac', with the N inserted to allude to 'arachnophobia', dread of spiders, and perhaps the movie Arachnophobia.

The word would actually mean something else in Greek. Chir- as in 'chiropractor' means 'hand', while akhne is the Greek source of English 'acne'. (The original meaning is 'foam', 'froth', 'chaff', and various other things that come off of surfaces.) 'Chiracnophobia' would therefore mean a dread of developing greasy skin blemishes on one's hands. Doesn't Chirac have a reputation for (allegedly) taking bribes, that is, allowing his hand to be greased?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:39 AM
February 19, 2003
Marilyn Manson And The Classics

Pseudo-Aristotle's work On Marvellous Things Heard is a collection of unconfirmed stories about natural history and other topics. It includes this fascinating bit of ancient lore (chapter 147):

It is said also that vultures die from the smell of perfumes, if anyone annoints them, or gives them something with a perfume to eat: likewise they say that dung-beetles also die from the smell of roses.

The idea was widespread in the ancient world. Here's what Malcolm Davies and Jeyaraney Kathirithamby have to say in Greek Insects (Oxford, 1986, p. 85). Note: I have omitted all the references without any ellipses (. . .) because there are so many of them:

Aristotle, Aelian, Theophrastus, . . . and Pliny say that perfumes or roses kill beetles; Clement of Alexandria says that oil of roses will work too. [Second method omitted.]

The first of these modes of killing obviously presupposes an antipathy of opposites (similar to that revealed in the notion that the carrion-loving vulture is repelled by the scent of myrrh, or Yeats' poetic fancy ('Coole Parke and Ballylee, 1931') of a swan 'So arrogantly pure, a child might think It can be murdered with a spot of ink'). Related but less extreme is the idea that dung beetles hate or are harmed by sweet smells, and will reject honey, even if it poured before them. Hence the proverb 'a beetle will produce honey sooner than you will produce anything good'.

What does all this have to do with Marilyn Manson? Note this story from four years ago. The Washington Post's archives for April 29, 1999 are unavailable, but Seems Like Salvation News quotes the whole thing:

Shock rocker Marilyn Manson cut short his concert and abruptly walked off the stage when he realized someone had stuck a large yellow smiley face on a stage prop. The resulting rowdiness ended in 23 arrests.

The crowd of 4,765 appeared stunned when Manson -- already the target of criticism this week alleging that his wild, "gothic'' style influenced the Littleton, Colo., school shooting -- became angry Wednesday and stormed off the stage early.

Some in the crowd became rowdy and swarmed Manson's tour bus. Police arrested 23 people on charges of assault on an officer, interfering with police, disorderly conduct, trespassing and failure to disperse, police Lt. Jerry Potter said.

Police and security officers at the scene said there were several scuffles between officers and the crowd. There were no reports of injuries. It was not known if Manson was in the bus at the time of the incident.

Inside the Five Seasons Center, 10 people were arrested on charges of public intoxication or possession of a controlled substance. Organizers had beefed up security at the center because of the controversy surrounding Manson.

Jennie Boddy, publicist for the band's record label, Nothing/Interscope Records, said today she would try to learn why Manson cut short his show.

Potter said Five Seasons Center personnel told him that Manson "somehow saw (the smiley face) at midpoint of the song and he became very upset.''

He said it was the face, 2 to 2 1/2 feet across, "large enough to make a presence,'' was stuck on the front of a prop that looked like a pulpit. It was visible to the audience but not, at first, to Manson.

"It struck me as very odd that it would be part of his stage presence when it was so uncharacteristic of everything else he was doing,'' Potter said.

Tammy Koolbeck, marketing director at the Five Seasons Center, said no one in the crowd or the center's staff could have gotten to the prop to attach the smiley face.

"It was probably put on by one of his people,'' she said.

So the general rule is: use a cross to repel vampires, perfume for vultures, roses or honey for dung-beetles, and a smiley face to keep Marilyn Manson away. Makes sense to me, though I'd never had much use for smiley faces before.

My brother 'Steevil' tells me that a small businessman in Baltimore County has found classical music very effective in driving away the teenage dope-smokers who used to hang around outside his 7-11s all day.

There are many other delightful passages in On Marvellous Things Heard. Here are chapter 7, 31, and 71:

Men say that in Egypt the sandpipers fly into the mouths of the crocodiles, and clean their teeth, pulling out the pieces of flesh, which stick in their snouts, while the crocodiles are pleased, and do them no harm.

It is said that a certain man in Abydos being deranged in mind, and going to the theatre on many days looked on (as though actors were performing a play), and applauded; and, when he was restored to his senses, he declared that that was the happiest time he had ever spent.

Among the Indians, in what is called the Horn, it is stated that there are little fishes, which wander about on the dry land, and run away again into the river.

(Except for chapter 147, which I've modified for clarity, all translations are by L. D. Dowdall, from Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle, Princeton, 2 volumes, 1984.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:41 AM
February 18, 2003
More Than You Want To Know About Weasels

If anyone was wondering, the Latin word for 'weasel' is mustela, with a long e. The first syllable rhymes with 'puss' or 'wuss', the second with 'fail' or 'wail', the third is a short 'ah', like the A at the end of Spanish 'casa'. The accent is on the second syllable. The word is actually broader than English 'weasel', and refers to a "weasel, polecat, or similar quadruped" (Oxford Latin Dictionary). It is feminine: the Latin names of most undomesticated animals are usually either masculine or feminine, no matter what the gender of the individual beast.

The first mention of a weasel in Latin is in Plautus, the earliest Roman author whose works survive in more than fragments. His seldom-read (even by classicists) comedy Stichus includes these lines (499-500) from the parasite Gelasimus ('Mr. Laughable'):

certum est mustelae posthac numquam credere
nam incertiorem nullam novi bestiam.

I'll never trust a weasel after this, that's settled,
for I know no beast more unreliable.

Plautus loves alliteration (lots of Ts in the first line and Ns in the second) and word-play (certum, 'settled', and incertiorem, 'unreliable' are etymologically related).

This may sound like the perfect description of certain members of the UN, EU, and NATO, but Gelasimus isn't talking about the moral character of weasels. At the beginning of the scene he saw a weasel with a mouse in its mouth and took that as an omen indicating that he would be invited to a lavish dinner by his patron. He has just been told that the other guests are far too important for him to get anywhere near them. Of course, we can always take the quotation out of context and apply it to anyone we please.

In his Natural History (29.60), Pliny the Elder reports that the gall of the wild weasel is effective against asps. He doesn't say whether it repels them, or cures their bites, or what. I'm sure it's a coincidence that the U.S. Air Force has (or had) a Wild Weasel, an "aircraft that has been modified to identify, locate and physically suppress or destroy ground-based enemy air defense systems" (more details here).

Scientifically, the weasel family (Mustelidae) includes five subfamilies, one each for skunks, otters, badgers, and honey badgers, and one (Mustelinae) for weasels, ferrets, stoats, polecats, martens, fishers, and wolverines -- also (much pleasanter, at least when they're dead) sables, ermines, and minks. I think an ermine and a stoat are the same thing, but web-sources are not entirely clear on this point.

Favorite weasel fact:

Like snakes, weasels are not found in Ireland.

Favorite non-Plautine weasel quotation:

"Stories of aggressive gangs of weasels marauding the countryside have been perpetuated by fictional tales like The Wind in the Willows." (The Mammal Society)

Books that you probably already know if you care enough about weasels and their cousins to want to read a whole book about them:

King, C. (1989) The Natural History of Weasels and Stoats. Christopher Helm, London.
Sleeman, P. (1989) Stoats and Weasels, Polecats and Martens. Whittet Books, London.

I suspect that King and Sleeman were each a bit peeved when they found that someone else had also published a whole book about weasels in the same year. It can't have helped sales for either author.

If anyone is wondering how to say 'Axis of Weasels' in Latin, that is a complex question. Axis Mustelarum won't do, because Latin axis means 'axle' or 'axis' (as in the earth's axis) or sometimes 'sky', but is not used to refer to political alliances. 'Conspiracy of Weasels' would be Coniuratio Mustelarum or Coniuratio Mustelina. I prefer the latter, which includes a slight play on words: literally it means 'Weasely Alliance', which could mean that the members are weasels, or act weaselly, or both. Perhaps best of all would be Foedus Mustelarum, a 'Pact' or 'Treaty of Weasels'. The noun foedus is related to 'federal' and 'federation'. There is also an unrelated adjective foedus that means 'foul, loathsome, ghastly, unclean, repulsive, hideous, monstrous, horrible, beastly, disgraceful, vile, coarse, foul, low, obscene', and so on (unabridged dictionaries give even more equivalents). Since the noun is neuter, a Filthy (or whatever) Treaty would be a Foedus Foedum.

There is one more possibility. The alliance of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus, and the later alliance of Mark Antony, Octavian (the later Augustus), and Lepidus, were both known as triumvirates, since each consisted of three men (tres viri). An alliance of three weasels could presumably be a 'triummustelate', but that sounds awkward. It's tempting to match up the members. France is obviously Mark Antony, too busy working on his love life to defend his half of the empire. Belgium must be Lepidus, the junior partner whose name everyone tends to forget. That would make Germany Octavian, youthful heir to Julius Caesar. Not a military genius like his great-uncle, but just as ruthless and ambitious in a cold-hearted way. In the original competition, Octavian won. See, anyone can play the game of historical parallels!

Thus endeth today's lesson.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:32 PM
February 16, 2003
The French And The Simpsons

Most of my readers probably already know this, but I'll mention it for the others:

One of the three all-new Simpsons episodes shown tonight as part of the 300th episode orgy included an interesting geographical tidbit. This is the last bit of a Kent Brockman news report -- cue portentous Brockman voice:

Paris is no more. The legendary City of Lights has been extinguished by . . . .

At that point, Marge was so bored she turned off the television, without objection from anyone else. I don't know whether this constitutes French bashing or Americans-totally-ignorant-of-what-goes-on-in-the-rest-of-the-world bashing or a bit of each. Of course, each episode takes quite a while to make, and I'm sure it has nothing directly to do with the current unpleasantness.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:11 PM
Unintentional Humor?

Lysistrata Project, "a theatrical act of dissent", claims to be "The First-Ever World-Wide Theatre Event For Peace". On March 3rd, they hope to put on productions or readings of Aristophanes' pacifist play Lysistrata around the world, to help discourage what they call "the Bush Administration's rush to war on Iraq".

Of course, the war may be over by then, but I see a larger objection. Everyone knows the basic plot of the Lysistrata: the women of Athens and Sparta get together and arrange a sex-strike to force their warrior-husbands to the bargaining table and end the Peloponnesian War. The Lysistrata Project suggests no such action (or rather lack of action). Is that because they don't care enough about peace to give up sex even temporarily? Or are none of these thousands of peace activists sleeping with soldiers or sailors to start with? Either possibility seems a bit pathetic, and I don't mean the good, theatrical, kind of pathos.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:19 AM
Free To A Good Home

I have one (1) spare ticket for Turandot at the Met on March 1st, a week from Saturday. It's for the matinee performance at 1:30, and is one of the worst seats in the house: Family Circle Box A Seat 39. That's on the left side, on the highest level, only the ninth seat back from the corner of the stage. The stage is much more below and to the right than in front of anyone sitting there. On the other hand, though the angle is terrible, the distance is not bad. And the sound is the main thing, anyway.

I will mail the ticket to whoever claims it first with a message in the comments, as long that is followed up with an e-mail giving an exact mailing address. Don't ask me about the production: I haven't seen it yet, and the Metropolitan Opera site should tell you everything you want to know.

I'll be at the performance, but in a Balcony Box (one level lower) and further back. (I've been going to the Met every two or three weeks since October. Between buying tickets far enough ahead to have a choice of good seats -- not far enough ahead in this case, obviously -- and not buying them so far ahead that I spend my paychecks before I earn them, I screwed up and bought tickets for the same show twice.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:06 AM
The Difference A Word Makes

Eve Tushnet lists favorite Valentine Day's songs, only one of which I have in my collection: Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight". Now that Valentine's Day is over, I can mention that the song provides an excellent example of the difference a single word can make. In his rather strange album "It's a White Trash Thing" (published in Tübingen, of all places), Rudy Protrudi rewrote the song by changing every instance of "walking" to "stalking". The rest of the words are essentially the same. Having a man sing the new version helps the creepy effect. Here are Protrudi's lyrics:

I'm always stalkin' after midnight, out in the moonlight
Just like I always do
I'm always stalkin' after midnight lookin' for you

I walk for miles along the highway, well that's just my way
Of sayin' I love you
I'm always stalkin' after midnight, searchin' for you

I see a weepin' willow, standin' in the meadow
Seems to be callin' your name
And when the skys are gloomy, nightwinds whisper to me
I'm lonesome and you're to blame

I'm always stalkin' after midnight, out in the moonlight
Just like I always do
I'm always stalkin' after midnight lookin' for you

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:10 AM
February 15, 2003
A Close Call?

Saddam Hussein's full name is Saddam Hussein Al-Tikriti. The last part means he's from Tikrit, and is sometimes spelled Al-Takriti. Eight or ten years ago I had a student whose last name was Altakriti. I won't give his first name here, but it was something that sounded Arabic (like Ahmed) without being distinctly Muslim (like Mohammed). Even back then, I was just a bit relieved when he happened to mention having gone to a Jesuit high school in New Orleans. He was also quite a good Latin student and earned an A or A- (I don't recall which). Call me paranoid, but I'd been idly wondering what happens to teachers who flunk Saddam's nephews and cousins.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:42 PM
Eggy Bread

Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online wants to rename all foodstuffs named after the French. Here is her latest note on the subject:

Reader Josh Mercer sends this: "OR MAYBE VICTORY FRIES: Chips might not take off as a substitute for fries, unless we re-name potato chips as potato crisps. What might work better is what we did during WWI. We renamed frankfurters to be Victory dogs, which then became hot dogs. Think about it: French bread = Victory bread, French toast = Victory toast, French fries = Victory fries, etc."

There is already a better and more accurate name for French toast. My late grandmother always said that "there's nothing French about it", that it's a Scottish invention, and that the proper name is 'eggy bread'. The first point is certainly true: I once served some excellent eggy bread to a Frenchman, who found it totally unfamiliar and mildly disgusting. (She also liked to say that marmalade made with Scotch -- yes, there is such a thing -- is "a terrible waste of good Scotch and a terrible waste of good marmalade".)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:20 PM
February 14, 2003
Hit Count Confusion

The counter at the bottom of the page turned over 100,000 hits in the last hour or two. I would be more excited if I believed the number meant anything. Earthlink's own 'Urchin' statistics package tells me that I've had 243,312 unique visitors in the same time period (just over 10 months). Hits should be more numerous than visitors. In fact, Earthlink reports 1,002,344 hits for the time period, so I guess I've passed a milestone one way or the other. But the fact that one counter reports ten times as many hits as the other makes me wonder whether either is worth anything at all.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:44 PM
Even Worse Than They Thought

Eugene Volokh links to a news report about political correctness run amok in Minnesota:

Technical High School students involved with the play "Ten Little Indians" will make some changes to tonight's opening after people complained to the school's administration about the title. . . .

The program will be printed with "And Then There Were None," the name of the Agatha Christie book on which the play is based, in large print and the title in small print. . . .

Principal Roger Ziemann said he asked for the changes after some people involved with American Indian outreach at St. Cloud State University complained. They complained because the title is based on a children's counting rhyme from the early 1900s that is derogatory toward American Indians, he said. Nationwide, other schools have changed the name, he said.

And Then There Were None was not in fact the original title of Christie's book. It was Ten Little Indians in the first American edition (1940) and Ten Little Niggers in the first English edition (1939).

Here is the pertinent part of the blurb at Rosetta Books, an eBook publisher:

A note about the title -- Christie originally called the novel Ten Little Niggers, a reference to an old nursery rhyme that she places, framed, in the guest rooms of the ten characters in the story. Each dies in the manner described in a verse of the sing-song rhyme -- e.g., "Ten little nigger boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there nine." The rhyme ends with the words, "... and then there were none." The offensive word, which carries an extra dimension of ugliness in American culture, was replaced with "Indians" for American publication. Ironically, "Indian" is now also a politically incorrect term, so the novel has officially been retitled And Then There Were None. As Charles Osborne points out in his delightful and indispensable study The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie, the shift in the old American title creates a bit of confusion. For Americans think it refers to another nursery rhyme that begins, "One little, two little, three little Indians ..." The nature of the original title reflects the time in which the novel it was written and the world in which Christie became an adult and a writer, one shaped largely by the British Empire and the racist thinking of the past. The cosmetic change of title to And Then There Were None is merely that, however. It erases a troubling shadow from an extraordinary, hugely entertaining achievement.

I've never read the book, but knew it by reputation as Ten Little Indians. (My occasional forays into mystery reading are pretty much restricted to John Dickson Carr and his alter ego Carter Dickson.) I would never have suspected the previous title change if I hadn't once run across a German paperback titled 'Agatha Christie: Zehn Kleine Negerlein'. In German, 'zehn' is 'ten', 'klein' is 'little', 'neger' means 'black' (as in African, cognate with 'negro') and '-lein' is a diminutive, and I immediately realized that Ten Little Indians was a euphemistic retitling of a far more offensive title. Apparently the Germans are not so sensitive.

By the way, many people have found that a good way to improve one's German is to read familiar works in German translation. I imagine the same is true of other languages. One college friend prefers Agatha Christie, though another recommends Luther's translation of the New Testament. In either case, familiarity helps develop fluency.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:40 PM
February 13, 2003

Oh, well. Lots of snow, but no Snow Day: the worst of both worlds.

I'm posting this entry mostly to test the function that pings weblogs.com, since the "hopelessly addicted" 'Jane Galt' (Asymmetrical Information) asked so nicely.

Update: (3 minutes later)

Apparently not: I just got an error message saying my ping attempt had "too many arguments". Overly argumentative? Moi?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:15 AM
February 12, 2003
Fingers Crossed

Today was a Snow Day, but I didn't get much done, since I spent it resting up from the rigors of teaching middle schoolers, particularly a bunch of 7th-graders who've been telling me since the first day that they're trying to force me to quit. They seem to have a fantasy that if they get rid of me, their old teacher will come back from Tennessee. Since he has a new job, hasn't called or written or e-mailed them (or me), and didn't leave any note when he left, even to say where he hid all the books, that seems unlikely.

The forecast for 6 AM is a temperature of 1o F and a wind-chill factor of -19o F. They also forecast 3 to 7 more inches of snow before dawn, with roughly a foot in all by Friday afternoon in areas near Lake Ontario.* Since my school is closer to the lake than any other in the city, that should be good enough for another Snow Day, but my fingers are crossed. I have plenty more to post here, just need to find the time and energy to post it, and another day off would really help.

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*That's not counting the 6 inches or so that fell last night and today. I believe February 1st was the only day so far this year that it has not snowed here. I may be wrong about that, since I got back from New York around sundown. It was raining then.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:56 PM
A Pair Of Birthdays

David Post of the Volokh Conspiracy notes a remarkable historical coincidence:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Today's the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin (and, as it happens, my son Sam). Are there two individuals from the 19th century who had more of an effect on human history (however one might choose to assess that) than Lincoln and Darwin? Can't think of any offhand (Marx and . . . ?). Or two individuals from any century who had more of an effect on human history and share a birthday?

It's even more remarkable than Post's post implies, since Darwin and Lincoln were born on the same day of the same month of the same year: February 12th, 1809. Happy 194th, Abe and Charlie! And happy whatever birthday, Sam Post.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:25 PM
February 08, 2003
Hesiodic Update

In reply to Wednesday's post on Rep. Howard Coble's VFW membership, 'Hesiod' (link doesn't work: it's 2/6, 9:56 AM) refuses to take back the accusation:

Many veterans of the Coast Guard are, in fact, eligible for membership in the VFW. Of course, there's little evidence that Howard Coble is one of them.

Coble's VFW membership is itself prima facie evidence of his eligibility, since the VFW presumably checks the credentials of its applicants, and I think it's fair to guess that 99% of its members are in fact qualified. If 'Hesiod' had read my post and the comments on it (especially rlbtzero's), he would know that facing enemy fire or even actual presence in a war zone are not necessarily requirements for VFW membership. It's the Veterans of Foreign Wars, not the Wounded Veterans of Overseas Combat: you don't have to be John McCain to join.

'Hesiod' thinks the ball is in Coble's court, but it is actually in his own: if you have no evidence whatever that someone else is a fraud, you need to keep your accusations to yourself until you find some. (And maybe 'Hesiod' can: it's conceivable that Coble is a fraud.) When Matt Drudge reported the rumor that Sidney Blumenthal was a wifebeater, Blumenthal didn't have to prove that he was not, all he had to do was deny it and show that Drudge had no evidence that he was, and Drudge was left facing serious legal and financial consequences.

Applying the 'Hesiodic' standard to evidence is easy, and fun. I have no evidence that 'Hesiod' himself is a registered sex offender, or a paid agent of a hostile government, or a San Quentin inmate with library privileges that include unrestricted internet access (perhaps a stoolie), or a genetically-engineered subhuman mutant, or a lot of other things. I've always assumed that he is not any of these things, since very few people are, and I prefer to give even a 'Hesiod' the benefit of the doubt.* But I have no evidence that he is not any of these things, or for that matter that he is not all of them: they are not mutually exclusive.† Should I consider the questions open? Or should 'Hesiod' withdraw his imputation that Rep. Coble has joined the VFW under false pretenses? Any honest man (or mutant) would have done so already.

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*I've always assumed that he's just a common or garden variety asshole, but that's quite a different matter, and there is a huge mound of evidence for that proposition.

†Then again, he does seem to have a lot more time to post than most of us with regular jobs, and that could be taken as a point in favor of his being an agent of a foreign power, a prison inmate, or a caged mutant with time on its hands paws.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:10 AM
Quote Of The Day

Andrea Harris recently wrote: "When I rule the world, this person will have his entrails fed to dogs while he still lives!" As threats go, this is not bad, but there's nothing like the classics for invective. Here's Catullus 108:

Si, Comini, populi arbitrio tua cana senectus
   spurcata impuris moribus intereat,
non equidem dubito quin primum inimica bonorum
   lingua execta avido sit data volturio,
effossos oculos voret atro gutture corvus,
   intestina canes, cetera membra lupi.

Here's a rather archaic but literal English version by George P. Goold:

If, Cominius, your gray old age, soiled as it is by an impure life, should be brought to an end by the choice of the people, I for my part do not doubt that first of all your tongue, the enemy of all good people, would be cut out and quickly given to the greedy vulture, your eyes torn out and swallowed down the raven's black throat, while the dogs would devour your bowels, the rest of your members the wolves.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:08 AM
February 07, 2003
Poll Psychology

Various lefties (you know who you are) have been gloating over a recent poll that showed Bush beating a generic Democrat by only 45-40, with almost two years to make up the five-point gap before the real election. I have read that asymmetric polls -- those that pit a named person against a generic candidate -- tend to overstate the latter's appeal. When you think about it, it's obvious that they must. Although a majority of voters who prefer Lieberman over Bush would also prefer Gephardt or Kerry or Dean or Hart over Bush, and vice versa, there are always some exceptions. An asymmetric poll allows all the Lieberman voters to assume that they are being asked about a Bush-Lieberman election, all the Kerry voters to assume that it will be Bush-Kerry, and so on. Republicans who prefer someone other than Bush -- and they do exist -- have no such option. The gloating is therefore ill-founded.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:58 PM
Update On Homicide Rates

In mid-December, 'Jane Galt' of Assymetrical Information posted this brief comment:

Hmmm. . .

TalkLeft links to a study arguing that the murder rate has fallen because of better access to medical care. It's one of those unobvious intuitions that make you smack yourself in the head and go "Duh!"

On the other hand, I doubt it accounts for all the variance, since other violent crime has also dropped. But I would find it interesting to know whether Britain's smaller size accounts for the difference in their crime rates, since per capita they outstrip us in everything but murder, which is also the only crime judged on the health outcome. If their victims are closer to hospitals, and thus don't die en route, that might account for it.

Two weeks later, I posted some vague but interesting information along the same lines. I haven't been able to find the TalkLeft article to which she refers, but here's something related. In the latest (February) New Criterion, Theodore Dalrymple's article "The anatomy of murder" (23-29, not on-line) includes this remark (23-24):

The murder rate has doubled since 1960, and an article in a recent issue of the learned journal Homicide Studies -- how long can it be before homicide is a university subject, study of which leads to a D. Hom.? -- suggested that, had it not been for improvements in surgical technique since 1960, the murder rate would be five times higher than it is, that is to say, ten times higher than it was in 1960: a conclusive proof, if any were needed, that technical and moral progress do not necessarily go hand in hand.

I wish he had given a precise reference. Since he's an Englishman writing in an American journal, I also wonder whether he means that the murder rate has doubled in the U.S. or the U.K. or both.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:38 PM
February 05, 2003
Crass Ignorance In 'Hesiod'

Poor 'Hesiod' thinks -- or rather opines -- that a congressman (Howard Coble of North Carolina) can't be a Coast Guard veteran and a legitimate member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars:

Incidentally, according to Coble's Bio he's a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, but curiously, the only active duty "military experience" he lists is 5-1/2 years with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Doesn't service in the Coast Guard, by definition, preclude you being a member of the VFW?

Simple answer: no. 'Hesiod' seems to assume that the Coast Guard only guards the U.S. coast and therefore "by definition" never participates in foreign wars. A Google search would have shown that this is not true. So would just following the news, for instance this week-old story in the Virginian Pilot (note the first sentence):

PORTSMOUTH -- For the first time since the Vietnam War, the Coast Guard will send a large force of ships overseas as part of the U.S. military buildup for a possible war with Iraq.

The Coast Guard is expected to deploy eight of its 110-foot cutters and more than 600 personnel to the Persian Gulf region, where they are expected to conduct surveillance and provide force protection for U.S. ships and troops.

The patrol boats, the first of which were quietly brought to Hampton Roads just before Thanksgiving, are being loaded aboard a Military Sealift Command cargo ship in Norfolk to be "piggy-backed'' to the Persian Gulf. Their crews, which have been undergoing training here, will be flown to the region.

The rest of the story is well worth reading. Personally, I'm impressed that they have the cranes and deck space to put eight fairly large ocean-going ships on one cargo vessel.

Turning back to 'Hesiod', I don't know whether Congressman Coble's 5 1/2 years of active duty service in the Coast Guard included any time in a war zone (he doesn't give the dates on his web-site), but they are likely to have overlapped with the Korean War or the Viet Nam War or both. (He was born in 1931 and also served 18 years in the Coast Guard reserves.) It's going to take a lot more than a verbal definition to show that the congressman is a fraud. In his post, 'Hesiod' links to one rather confusing VFW page that could be misread as implying that Coast Guard veterans are not eligible. However, the VFW Mail-in Membership-at-Large Application is quite clear, listing Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, in that order.

I generally don't link to 'Hesiod', but have made an exception this time, mostly to see if he's willing to correct his error.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:45 PM
Too Bad For Fiction

A Dog's Life calls Mark Morford "America's Stupidest Columnist". According to Juan Gato, Emily Jones calls him "the worst writer who gets paid", though I haven't actually found where she says it. Gato and Joanne Jacobs have both mocked his latest nonsense about how "plethoric and distressed must be the bewildered youth of America right about now". From their silence, I suspect that none of them has read his on-line mini-autobiography, About Mark Morford, which I quote here for those who do not already know it:

Mark Morford is a columnist and editor for sfgate.com. He is also a yoga teacher and fiction writer and an outstanding parallel parker and fervent wine devotee and former smoker and former LA rock-god wannabe and careful insinuator and occasional unfair mudslinger and frequent skeptic and sporadic true believer and paradoxical contrarian and tattooed love-monkey and vehement non-conservative and casual coffee drinker and ardent dog lover and medium sleeper and comparison shopper and funky subtle prurient neo-pagan gleaner of screaming delicious naked nuances.

The claim to be an "ardent dog lover" is a particularly nice touch. Does he even know what "ardent" means? It comes from the Latin participle ardens, which means "flaming", and tends to imply a passion that is more than Platonic.

Surely Morford is just another CIA deep-cover employee working to discredit the left but getting a little carried away? If he's not careful, he'll blow his cover.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:47 PM
February 04, 2003
One More Thing Before I Go

Why do so many Nigerian spam letters start out "IT WILL SURELY COME AS A GREAT SURPRISE TO YOU TO RECEIVE THIS LETTER" or words to that effect? It has been many years since anyone with an IQ over 70 has been the least bit surprised. I suppose it's the under-70s they're aiming at anyway.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:58 PM
Announcement Plus

Apologies to my readers for sparse posting over the last week or two. Grades for the first semester are due at 9:00 AM tomorrow, so I've been bogged down marking midterms and calculating averages. Quite a few of my 7th-graders are going to be unpleasantly surprised.

Posting should pick up a bit starting tomorrow. I have plenty to say, though nothing on the space shuttle that hasn't already been said more eloquently by others.

In the mean time, here's a tiny note on the sociology of bureaucracy:

Yesterday was the first day since mid-December that my middle school's copy room has had any white 8.5 x 11 copy paper. By mid-January we had used up all the 8.5 x 14 paper (giving the paper cutter a good workout along the way) and have since gone through the 8.5 x 11 pink, lavender, and 'goldenrod'. I assumed that this was just a symptom of gross bureaucratic sclerosis, but my mentor thinks it was a devious plot by the principal to force us to use up the boxes of pink, lavender, and goldenrod that had been lying around taking up storeroom space for years. I suspect she's right.

Now back to the metaphorical salt mines for an all-night shift . . . .

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:54 PM
February 02, 2003
Flag-Waving Monkeys

If we ever get tired of the eagle as a national symbol, I'd like to propose replacing it with the vervet monkey. Whether counting bananas or flinging feces, who doesn't like monkeys?

Why the vervet in particular? The PossumBlogger (him again!) recently linked to the South African monkeyland site, which mentions that vervets eat almost anything, can control their fertility, are immune to the monkey version of AIDS, and happily occupy even harsh habitats.

Best of all,

male Vervets cooperate to defend the group from predators and do their red-white-and-blue genital display towards rival males.

A Google image came up with dozens of cute pictures, but I haven't been able to find one that depicts their peculiarly patriotic display.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:29 PM