March 30, 2003
Weird Search Results

Every weblogger gets weird and disturbing search requests from time to time, but today I made some perfectly respectable searches on Amazon and got some very strange results. I wasn't actually planning to buy anything today. A friend and I have quite a few spare books, and I plan to sell them over the web in a sort of electronic yard sale. The idea is to cut out the middleman and get a lot more for them than a used bookstore would give. The quickest way to find out whether a book is in print, and at what price, is to look it up on Amazon.

Of course, when the search software can't find an exact match, it offers some possible 'near miss' substitutes. When I searched for 'Lexicon Spinozanum', I was offered DVDs of Legion of the Dead, Abbot and Costello in the Foreign Legion, and several other titles with 'legion' in them. Though surprising, and stupid, that was easy to figure out: the software was going by brute spelling and thought 'legion' was the next best thing for 'lexicon'.

The next search was much worse. I was searching 'Spinoza + Ethica + Concordance', and the very first result was "Magazine Subscription: Penthouse Letters". Any algorithm that can get from Spinoza's Ethics to Penthouse in a single leap obviously needs some serious tweaking.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:59 PM
March 28, 2003
Slovakia, Slovenia, Who Can Tell Which Is Which?

Several webloggers, including Jane Finch of The Daily Rant, have linked to a story about how the State Department mistakenly listed Slovenia as a U.S. ally in the war against Iraq. No one seems to have mentioned that Slovakia, unlike Slovenia, is a member of the 'Coalition of the Willing' and has sent chemical warfare troops to the Persian Gulf -- for defensive purposes only, I trust.

I hope the idiot bureaucrat who didn't know the difference between Slovakia and Slovenia never finds out that there's also a province in the same region called Slavonia: that might cause a total mental meltdown. (Hint: the K is the clue. The one that used to be part of Czechoslovakia is Slovakia, while Slovenia and Slavonia used to be part of Yugoslavia, and Slavonia is still a part of Croatia.) I wonder if 'Hesiod' works for the State Department: that would explain a lot about him, and it. I won't give him another link, but he seems to think there's a country called 'Solvenia'.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:58 PM

In his philosophical treatise On Old Age Cicero wrote (Cato Maior De Senectute 24):

Nemo . . . est tam senex qui se annum non putet posse vivere.

No one is so old that he doesn't think he can live one more year.

I've sometimes wondered how old you have to be before this expectation becomes unrealistic, but was always too lazy to look it up. I tended to assume that the age at which you have a less than even chance of making it through one more year would be somewhere in the 90s. According to John Derbyshire in The Corner, it's 105.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:38 PM
March 27, 2003
Am I Too Cynical?

Two of the Chicago Boyz (first two posts today) are disputing why Turkey did not allow the U.S. to open a northern front in the War on Iraq. Here is a hypothesis I haven't seen mentioned anywhere:

As I recall, the Turkish Parliament decided the issue by only nine votes. Given how much money Saddam Hussein has to spare for weapons and the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, I wonder if he's been spending any north of the border. It might be worth checking to see if any of the Turkish representatives who voted 'no' have since bought much nicer cars or second homes. I don't mean to imply that Turkish politicians are any more corrupt than those of other countries. I figure someone as wealthy and desperate as Saddam could buy nine or nineteen votes in most legislatures in the world, and I don't necessarily assume that the U.S. Congress is not one of them.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:47 PM
March 26, 2003
Who Is The Dickhead ChickenHawk Now?

I shouldn't pick on the mentally and morally retarded, but I can't resist noting that 'Hesiod Theogeny' has come out of the closet as a chickenhawk. He's sitting on his fat anonymous* ass somewhere in the American Midwest telling British troops in Basra to get themselves killed supporting the local insurrection. Needless to say, the spelling is his, not mine:

The course of the entire Iraq war DEPENDS on how the coalition reacts to this move by the Shi'ites.

If we do not provide immediate, and overwhelimg support for the uprising, even at the cost of Coalition lives and equiptment, it would send a very negative signal to anyone else in Iraq who may be thinking about taking up arms against the regime.

. . . .

Now, we are obviosly trying to help the uprising in Basra. But, to what extent? There are suggestions that we aren't doing enough. Or rather, that the British [who are primarily engaged there] are not doing enough.

It's time to put up or shut up. Go in there and help them. Or send a signal to the rest of Iraq that you are not really there to liberate anyone.

This would be good advice, except that (a) it's nothing the Pentagon doesn't already know, and (b) who the Hell is 'Hesiod' to give it? After months of abuse of 'chickenhawks', he fails to recognize simple irony.

Of course, this is the same 'Hesiod' who can think of only one reason why the U.S. armed forces might be pleased with news coverage of the war in Iraq so far:

MEDIAWHORES WAKEUP CALL: You know the media are completely and utterly failing to do their jobs when you get stories that start out like this:

"Pentagon officials said Friday they are pleased with the way the American media have portrayed the war . . . ."

Edward R. Murrow just did a triple backflip in his grave.

His sycophantic comment-trolls are just as clueless. It doesn't seem to have occurred to any of them that allied armed forces might think (rightly or wrongly) that the press is usually hostile, so even a neutral 'warts and all' approach is a huge improvement and a pleasant surprise. At least this time the press isn't making shit up, as they did with 'Tailwind'.

(If the precise links don't work, both posts are dated today, at 9:36 AM and 2:37 PM. If he wants to be taken seriously, 'Hesiod' should move off Blogspot, but that would force him to acquire his own domain, which would endanger his precious anonymity.)

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*If this seems hypocritical, please note that I'm pseudonymous but not anonymous: my real name is easy enough to find, and I've even given it in his comments section.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:59 PM
March 25, 2003
A Sad Story

This afternoon I took an hour-long walk to the mouth of the Genesee River and back, partly for the exercise, partly to ponder my newfound unemployment (more on that later). I found it conducive to thought as well as (I hope) weight-loss: I guess that makes me a peripatetic philologist.

Crossing the railroad tracks near my apartment reminded me of a sad story from a few years back. I was driving to the Jiffy Lube in Tuscaloosa for an oil change when I passed a little boy (8 or so) standing on the sidewalk looking very glum. His skateboard was stuck in the railroad tracks. It hadn't occurred to me before -- or to him, obviously -- but where railroad tracks cross streets and sidewalks, they have spaces beside them that are just wide enough to let the wheels of a fully-loaded skateboard in, but narrow enough to make it very difficult to get them back out. There was a lot of traffic and no place to park, so I couldn’t stop to help. Twenty minutes later, driving by again on my way home from Jiffy Lube, I saw the boy standing in the same place, looking even glummer (but not crying) and holding half a skateboard. I don't know whether the other half was shattered beyond retrieval or had somehow gone with the train -- probably the former.

Thinking about it now, I suppose there was a bit of a silver lining. He looked like he was trying to figure out how he was going to explain it to his parents. That shouldn't have been too much of a problem. If he’d lost it down a storm drain or something like that, they might have suspected that he'd sold it for cash or in hopes of an upgrade. But half a skateboard, brutally amputated by something that obviously weighed many tons, is pretty good evidence of a more thorough disaster. I wonder if he still has it, six or eight years later. It would make an interesting souvenir.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:29 AM
Putting His Worst Foot Forward

I caught some quotations from Asan Akbar's mom on Fox News. This part is paraphrased because I don't remember it exactly: "He never would have done something like this." This part is quoted exactly (I wrote it down): "He loved the army . . . . He just wanted to blow up bridges." I'm sure blowing up bridges is a lot of fun, and it's certainly part of the job description of an army engineer, but it would have helped if she had claimed that he was equally interested in building bridges.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:13 AM
Even A Blind Pig Sometimes Finds An Acorn

In today's edition of Mark's Mailbox, one of Mark Steyn's correspondents -- a Canadian, naturally -- calls supporters of war on Iraq "hedonistic hillbillies". How did he know? As I sit at my computer in a comfortable chair with a bourbon on the rocks and Dwight Yoakam on the stereo, I'm thinking that the life of the hedonistic hillbilly is a better life than most.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:00 AM
Blowing His Cover

James Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review has been hard at work helping to discredit the anti-war left from his position deep behind enemy lines -- 'boring from within', as the saying goes. Instapundit reports that anti-war demonstrations are actually turning the American public towards supporting the war, and J.C. is out there demonstrating with the "students and twentysomethings" in the cold cold rain, despite being twice their age (at least physically).

He also slyly quotes a professor who is worried about possible destruction of Iraqi antiquities and assures us that the ancient Mesopotamians were crucial to the development of the modern world:

What happened here was the establishment of civilization as we know it -- codified religion, bureaucracy, cities, writing.

Three out of four ain't bad, but someone who was truly anti-war would have omitted the part about bureaucracy.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:45 AM
Simple Misreading Or Complex Paranoia?

It's been a long day of television and blog watching, and my eyes are getting tired. I just switched on Fox News and the crawl or ticker or whatever you call it at the bottom of the screen said BLOGS WHICH HAVE BEEN HIT WITH PRECISION WEAPONS. That was disconcerting until I realized that the first O was actually a D.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:24 AM
Watch Out, Luxemburg!

Under the heading 'Weasel Watch', Best of the Web reports disquieting news:

NATO's three pro-Saddam members are considering starting a military alliance of their own, Reuters reports. "Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt announced plans for France, Germany and Belgium to meet next month to discuss integrating their armed forces more closely," Reuters reported on Friday, noting that "Germany and Belgium are among the lowest defense spenders in NATO as a proportion of gross domestic product." Charles Johnson has high hopes for what he calls "the weasel-poodle pact": "This may lead to the creation of the mightiest force for appeasement and capitulation the world has ever known."

This just begs for further comment:

  1. The phrase "weasel-poodle pact" leaves out the Belgians: surely it's the "weasel-poodle-waffle pact".
  2. Johnson may be too pessimistic about the pact's chances for military glory. Given the constraints of geography and their low military spending, this triple alliance can only be directed at the one country that borders France, Germany, and Belgium, is entirely surrounded by them, and could be conquered, though with difficulty, if they devoted most of their military resources to the effort: Luxemburg. Can we expect a replay of the partition of Poland?
Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:05 AM
March 24, 2003
Etymology Of Turkey

I'm sure most of my readers are familiar with this usage of the word "turkey" (quoted from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary):

5a A poor or unsuccessful film or theatrical production, a flop. More widely, anything disappointing or of little value; a stupid or inept person. slang (orig. N. Amer.)

I wonder if the philologists of the distant future, studying English as a long-dead language, will surmise that the behavior of the nation of Turkey in the current crisis had something to do with the development of the last third of meaning 5a, "a stupid or inept person". Of course, it was already established in the last century, but that may not be obvious far in the future.

By the way, a college classmate (hi, Tom!) had a theory I've always found plausible about how 'turkey' acquired that particular shade of meaning. It comes, he says, from high school wrestling coach slang. The second-most-inept thing a wrestler can be is a "fish", flopping helplessly back and forth on the mat as his opponent mashes him flat. The worst thing is a "turkey", lying helpless on the mat like a turkey trussed up for Thanksgiving dinner. If he's right -- I wouldn't know --, the usage has nothing to do with the stupidity of the live bird.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:21 PM
Vietnam Comparison

Some reporters seem eager to portray yesterday's small setbacks in the War on Iraq as the first steps into the quagmire of a new Vietnam War. As Bill Quick, the DailyPundit, says:

What sort of namby-pamby pantywaists are reporting on this war? I lived through Vietnam. The casualty numbers for this entire attack would rate barely a mention in the numbers for a single day of the Vietnam conflict, and most reporters, even the antiwar ones (many of them, though fewer than today, believe it or not) would have been shocked at the notion of victories expected in a few hours. In that war, it might be a week's bloody work to take a single hill, which would then be lost a week later, and have to be retaken all over again - generally at a cost much greater than we have spent in the entire Iraq attack.

That Quick is right can be demonstrated with a five-minute Google search, a PDF reader, and some simple arithmetic. This site gives "total in-theater deaths" for the U.S. military in Vietnam (1955-75) as 58,198 (not counting another 1,876 killed, missing, or captured with no remains, which I will omit, though a case could be made for including them). According to this site, over 98% of Marine deaths in Vietnam came in the six years 1965 through 1970. If the other services followed the same pattern, that means an average of 26.03 deaths per day over those six years. Perhaps casualties in the other services were a bit more spread out: let's say 25 per day as a useful estimate.

So far in Iraq, U.S. military deaths total 25 over 5 days.* To turn Iraq into a new Vietnam, we would have to quintuple the casualty rate, and keep it quintupled for another 5 years, 11 months, and 25 days. So far -- knock on wood -- the Vietnam comparison is absurd.

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*I have omitted the 14 British and unknown number of pro-U.S. Kurds killed in Iraq, but I've also omitted the Koreans, Australians, and of course the pro-U.S. Vietnamese killed in Vietnam.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:08 PM
Footnoting Lileks

Today's Bleat refers to "lumbering pseudoprole Michael Moore". Too bad he's not a real prole: then we could say he put the 'lumpen' in 'lumpenproletariat'. Of course, he is a member of America's fastest-growing class: the lumpenintelligentsia.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:55 AM
The Fog Of War

Commentators can't even agree as to whether the 3rd Infantry Division is advancing west (Flit) or east (Keegan in the Telegraph) of the Euphrates. (If the precise link doesn't work, the Flit post is dated 8:30 PM yesterday.) Given the location, perhaps we should call this the Dust-Storm of War. Which reminds me: I haven't heard any recent reports about the massive dust-storm that was supposed to be striking Iraq some time today. Has it been canceled, or just shoved out of the headlines by more gripping events?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:47 AM
March 23, 2003
Historical Illiteracy Watch

The Rottweiler quoted a bit of a Robert Fisk article that was so ignorant I had to go and look up the whole thing. Here is the part that struck me (and the nice doggie) most, from Fisk's pseudo-profound peroration:

In the early hours of yesterday morning, I looked across the Tigris at the funeral pyre of the Republican Palace and the colonnaded ministry beside it. There were beacons of fire across Baghdad and the sky was lowering with smoke, the buttressed, rampart-like palace – sheets of flame soaring from its walls – looked like a medieval castle ablaze; Tsesiphon destroyed, Mesopotamia at the moment of its destruction as it has been seen for many times over so many thousands of years.

Xenophon struck south of here, Alexander to the north. The Mongols sacked Baghdad. The caliphs came. And then the Ottomans and then the British. All departed. Now come the Americans. It's not about legitimacy. It's about something much more seductive, something Saddam himself understands all too well, a special kind of power, the same power that every conqueror of Iraq wished to demonstrate as he smashed his way into the land of this ancient civilisation.

There are at least three problems with this:

  1. There is no such city as 'Tsesiphon'. The Parthian city on the Euphrates near modern Baghdad, burned by the Romans in A.D. 165 and again in 198, is 'Ctesiphon'. (I get two Google hits for 'Tsesiphon', both from an Indonesian site with 'Islam' in its URL. I can't read Indonesian. It's possible that 'Tsesiphon' is the proper Indonesian spelling of the Parthian city: initial CT is a difficult combination in just about any language except Greek. It's also possible that the resemblance is coincidental and the word refers to something else entirely.)
  2. Alexander did not merely 'strike north of Baghdad', he captured all of Mesopotamia, and much more besides.
  3. It is highly misleading to say that "Xenophon struck south of here" and imply that he was a conqueror of Iraq. He was just one of 10,000 Greek mercenaries in the army of Cyrus, younger son of Darius II. Cyrus invaded the Persian Empire to overthrow his elder brother Artaxerxes II, but was defeated and killed at the battle of Cunaxa, which is indeed near Baghdad. Even as the rest of his army was being slaughtered, the Greeks on his right flank were victorious, and eventually fought there way north through what is now Kurdistan to the Black Sea and passage home. But Xenophon was not one of their leaders until after the battle, when Artaxerxes had treacherously murdered all the original Greek generals.

I suspect that there are more inaccuracies in the non-classical parts, but I hope I have shown that Fisk is as ignorant of ancient history as of contemporary politics. I suppose we should all be grateful that he didn't mention the fall of Troy.

One more fiskable bit of Fisk: "there has been no attempt by the US to destroy the television facilities because they presumably want to use them on arrival". Apparently it hasn't occurred to him that we might also be leaving Iraqi television on the air so Iraqis can count the hours and days that go by without any untaped appearances by Saddam, Uday, Qusay, and the rest. Totalitarian television tends to discredit itself.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 04:20 PM
How Ignorant Is The Press?

Fox News keeps reporting that the American soldiers captured near Al Nasiriyah are members of the "507th Maintenance Division". Once or twice they have said "507th Maintenance Company", but they've called it a division at least a dozen times. None of the on-air talent shows any sign of awareness that a division is roughly 100 times larger than a company, or that the U.S. army is unlikely (to see the least) to devote an entire division (10,000-15,000 soldiers) to maintenance. I think we can assume it's a company. Perhaps Fox News employees should be taken off the air until they read this site (found on Winds of Change), just so they'll know the really basic facts of the events they're trying to cover.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:56 AM
Questions Of Fact

Two questions for those with military expertise:

1. Do we know for a fact that the two or three missiles reported to have landed in southwestern Iran were American cruise missiles? Are the Iraqis using SAMs in Basra? What goes up must come down, and it seems plausible to me that if (for example) an Iraqi battery 3 miles from the Iranian border fired a SAM at a coalition plane flying 1 mile from the border, and missed, the missile would fall in Iran. Of course, it's quite possible that a few of our hundreds of cruise missiles have gone astray. But it's odd that such long-range weapons would only go astry so close to the border. A brain-dead cruise missile should be able to go hundreds of miles and land in any one of a dozen countries.

2. Coalition forces are reported to be within 100 miles of Baghdad. How close do they have to get before residents are directly aware of their presence? The area is very flat, but there are a lot of fairly tall buildings to block the view. Would they be audible 10, 20, or 30 miles out? (Only in bombing pauses, of course.) Would smoke from battles in the suburbs be visible at those distances?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:06 AM
Questions Of Interpretation

1. So far, Iraqi troops have failed to blow up the oil terminals in the Gulf, failed to set more than a dozen or so of their hundreds of oil wells on fire, failed to blow numerous strategic bridges over the Euphrates, failed to fire more than half a dozen missiles at Kuwait, failed to shoot down any coalition aircraft, failed to achieve any large-scale ambush or fake-surrender suicide attack, and (most notably) failed to use any chemical or biological weapons. It this because they are:

  1. Militarily incompetent?
  2. Cut off from headquarters (or receiving no orders from headquarters) and unable to make decisions themselves?
  3. Eager to end the war and escape Saddam's tyranny, but not (for the most part) willing to surrender as long as their families are in his hands?

2. There have been numerous accounts of Iraqis greeting American and British troops with effusive welcomes. Is this because they are:

  1. Habituated to sucking up to their rulers by years of doing so with Saddam?
  2. Hoping to get our troops to drop their guard so they can start picking them off in terrorist attacks?
  3. Genuinely glad to be liberated?

3. Finally, there have been quite a few accounts of of sullen Iraqis greeting American and British troops with hostility and complaints. Is this because they are:

  1. Genuinely fond of Saddam's régime?
  2. Clinging to the familiar, however unpleasant, and fearful about the future?
  3. Afraid to show their true feelings as long as they fear an Iraqi counterattack, or a coalition withdrawal, or reprisals by Mukhabarat agents still lurking among them?

In each case, I hope the answer is 'C', but fear that it's a mixture of all three.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:01 AM
Silly Pun Break

What would be a good name for a blog devoted to high-level analysis of issues raised by the Man Without Qualities (the blog, not the novel)? I mean something like InstaPunditWatch, only intelligent.

Highlight this paragraph to see the answer: MetaMusil. Sorry, that was terrible. I'll try not to do it again.

P.S. I was going to make a 'Hoosier Daddy' joke (that would be a paterfamilias blog like Lileks' Bleat or the PossumBlog, but based in Indiana), but Google tells me hundreds of other sites beat me to it.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:51 AM
The Importance Of Good Spelling

Poor 'Hesiod Theogeny' gets tired of the criticism of his spelling, but here's a case where bad spelling makes for nonsense (yesterday's last post, if the precise link doesn't work):

SPEAKING OF LEBANON: Iraqi opposition sources reported to the Lebanon Daily Star, that Saddam's son Usay was wounded in coalition attacks, and that not as many high level aides to Saddam have defected as has been implied by Coalition sources.

Transliterations differ, but the names of Saddam's two sons are most often spelled 'Uday' and 'Qusay'. Which does 'Hesiod' mean by 'Usay'? It's impossible to tell, since it's one letter off from both. Perhaps he meant to write 'Uday' but his finger slipped and hit S instead of D (the letters are next to each other on the keyboard). Perhaps he meant to write 'Qusay', but skipped over the first letter in his haste. The former error looks more likely, and Uday is the one most often reported to have been killed or wounded in the first day of bombing. But no, if we follow the link to the Lebanon Star, we find that it's Qusay (or Qusai, as they spell it) who's supposed to have been wounded.

So what's Hesiod's problem? Fat fingers like Comic Book Man? A neurological disorder like the emperor Claudius? A habit of posting while drunk or drugged? Contempt for his readers leading to gross carelessness? The last seems most likely, and contempt for many of his readers would be quite justified. For instance, his flying monkey 'panyspoo' comments on this post without showing any awareness of its incoherence.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:11 AM
Who Hates Bush More, Saddam or Sawicky?

Transterrestrial Musings quotes a BBC interview with an Arabic language expert:

It starts with a tape of Saddam in his nightgown, in which he calls the President, among other things, a donkey.

Lead question to Mr Arabic expert: "So, is this bad?"

. . . .

"Oh, yes, yes, it is the greatest of insults. There is no lower animal that one can compare an opponent with. It is worse even than a pig. Clearly Saddam is very angry at Mr. Bush."

It appears that Saddam lacks imagination when it comes to ranking the lower animals -- either that or he's not as angry at Bush as some Americans are. After toying with chimp parallels for a few days, Max Sawicky has sunk to comparing Bush to a dung beetle. I expect him to start writing for WarBloggerWatch any day now.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:02 AM
March 22, 2003
Unshocked And Unawed

Clayton Cramer of The Volokh Conspiracy (9:23 AM if the precise link doesn't work) notes news reports that some Baghdadis are standing around in the streets watching the bombing of government buildings, apparently entirely confident that no bombs will fall on them. Television news reports that many Baghdad shops reopened today.

I'm very glad we're not terrorizing ordinary Iraqi citizens, but it's possible to go too far in that direction. This morning Fox News showed a brief clip of an Iraqi flatbed truck carrying a SCUD on a multi-lane highway in Baghdad. What surprised me was that two subcompacts and a pickup truck were driving along with it or slowly passing it. (Anna the Belligerent Bunny has a picture of the truck, but the other vehicles are not visible.) They didn't seem to be part of a convoy, and none were painted military colors, but they also showed no particular hurry to get away from it. I would have thought that civilian drivers would want to stay as far as possible from such an obvious military target. Shouldn't they be at least a little bit worried that a bomb or missile could suddenly fall on it and splatter it all over the highway? Apparently not. Or perhaps they're afraid to look afraid, and prefer to edge away from the truck without being too obvious?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:32 PM

After a three-day bout of general sloth and employment worries, I'm back on-line and will be posting regularly until further notice.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:22 PM
March 19, 2003
Worst. Argument. Ever.

My candidate for stupidest argument of the week (at least so far):

Max Sawicky, "thinking aloud", lists the political issues he thinks will be important in coming weeks. Here is the last of his five points:

War finance. The bill for this venture is being deliberately suppressed by the Bushies until Congress votes out a budget resolution (proposed tax and spending cuts, in broad aggregate terms) that does not include this item. War finance is a weapon against bad tax cuts. Unfortunately it provides no scope for altering the way the war is fought, nor for undoing the damage from other spending cuts. It may provide some ways to affect the aftermath.

Think about that sentence right in the middle: "War finance is a weapon against bad tax cuts." Sawicky seems to be saying that the one good thing about a bad war is that it allows the government to keep taxes high and spend money that would otherwise be left in the hands of the people who earned it. Apparently spending money on useless or even harmful things (he thinks war on Iraq is a bad idea) is better than not spending it at all: anything to keep it out of the hands of taxpayers, I suppose. I don't know why he doesn't propose a massive federal program to dig holes and then fill them up again. Depending on the number of holes dug and how many times they were refilled, that could be just as expensive as war on Iraq, without the casualties and the blowback and the hatred and the disgruntled Frenchmen and all the other Frinkian consequences of out and out war.

Of course, Max Sawicky would be a little easier to take seriously if he hadn't spent most of the last week displaying 'matching' pictures of Bush and a chimpanzee on his masthead. The 'Bush or Chimp' site was hot three and a half years ago -- that's twenty-four and a half in blog years -- when even my Nader-voting, Bush-hating office-mate thought it a bit much. As he said (hi, Jim P.!), chimps and humans are similar enough that just about any expression on any human being can be matched up with some chimp picture.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:08 PM
March 18, 2003
What Caesar Really Said

My subtitle promises pedantry, so here goes:

Every educated person knows that Caesar said alea iacta est, "the die is cast", when he crossed the Rubicon. 'Jane Galt' (Asymmetrical Information), PejmanPundit, and Colby Cosh have all quoted it recently in reference to Bush's speech yesterday.

The source of the famous quotation is Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Book I (Divus Iulius), chapter 32. The last I heard, no one had been able to determine which of several small rivers south of Ravenna is the ancient Rubicon, but whichever it was was the border between Italy and the provinces: the Po Valley was still considered part of Gaul. Caesar could not legally bring his army into Italy, but he did not feel safe returning to Rome from the conquest of Gaul without it. Crossing the river with his army constituted a declaration of civil war.

In fact, he almost certainly said alea iacta esto, "let the die have been cast", not a statement of fact but a command, specifically a perfect imperative. Something very like a perfect imperative in English would be "have this done by Monday". It's a command, but with the idea of completion in it. In Caesar's case, completion means irrevocability.

The emendation was made by Erasmus, and was reargued by Robert Renehan in 1969 (Greek Textual Criticism: A Reader, 54-55). As he says, "the rare perfect imperative corrupted to a familiar perfect indicative" is "a trivialization of the commonest sort". (He also says "the general reluctance of editors of Suetonius to this day to print esto is incomprehensible to me". To me, too.) The main point in favor of esto is that Caesar was quoting a well-known Greek proverb which uses a perfect imperative. He most likely said it in Greek, anyway. Plutarch reports (Life of Pompey 60, Life of Caesar 32) that he said it before he crossed the river, and the proverb was a favorite of those about to embark on a risky undertaking. If anyone is wondering, the Greek is anerrhíphthw kúbos (with the W representing long O, that is, omega).

Of course, as I write in the two-day interval between Bush's speech and (we all assume) Gulf War II, alea iacta esto is the more appropriate reading: let's get this over with.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:51 PM
March 16, 2003
Impossible Quiz

Which two blogs on my blogroll are inaccessible from the terminals at the Lincoln Center YMCA? I got this message for both:

As requested by the establishment, this website cannot be displayed due to its content.

Hint: The two are next to each other on my blogroll, and neither strikes me as at all offensive.

To see the answer, just select this paragraph: Dean's World and Deinonychus Antirrhopus. I've only tried about two dozen, so others may also be blocked.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:23 PM
Post Mortem Bestiarum

I couldn't get to a Korean restaurant for International Eat An Animal For PETA Day -- not enough time between operas -- and therefore missed out on getting the five major meat groups in one meal. With the help of a local blogger, I did manage the next best thing at an Italian restaurant on W. 73rd: carpaccio for the appetizer, a fried shrimp, squid, and zucchini platter for the entrée. Not the best-balanced meal, but it included three different phyla of the kingdom Animalia: Chordata (subphylum Vertebrata, order Mammalia), Arthropoda (subphylum Crustacea), and Mollusca (class Cephalopoda). I think I deserve extra credit since the bovine was raw.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:07 PM
March 14, 2003

There will be no more posts until Sunday night at the earliest. I'm heading for New York City right after work to celebrate my 50th birthday with three operas and dinner with one of my favorite bloggers, including lots of meat for International Eat An Animal For PETA Day, which happens to be my birthday. The blogger will remain nameless (though I don't suppose I can stop her from posting about our dinner), but the operas are Otello tonight (best opera I haven't seen yet by my favorite operatic composer), Traviata tomorrow afternoon (favorite opera so far), and Les Troyens tomorrow evening (a 5-hour non-Wagner extravaganza on the founding of Rome -- just the thing for a Latin teacher on holiday).

Those who've seen the Met's production of La Traviata will know what I mean when I say that I wish I could play one of the five dancing bulls. I used to think the great disappointment of my life was not having had a college job driving the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, but I was wrong.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:21 AM
Birth Of A Meme?

I don't have time to work this out fully now -- see next entry -- but I think I glimpse an interesting historical analogy. Has anyone else argued on these lines before?

I believe it is generally agreed that socialists and communists in the Thirties, particularly in Germany, encouraged Hitler's rise to power because they thought they could use him to trash their common enemies and then discard him. Many of them paid for this mistake with their lives. Are today's French and Germans doing something similarly shortsighted, allying themselves, however gingerly, with Islamofascism to fight the U.S.? If so, they are surely making just as big a mistake. The characters haven't even changed much:

Thirties : Now :: Socialists and Communists : Tranzi Eurosocialists :: Nazis : Islamofascists

In each case, the chosen ally is a murderous gang of antisemitic thugs, and the chosen enemy liberal democracy of the capitalistic variety.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:12 AM
What's Going On? All Moab, All The Time

My statistics package tells me that total visitors on Wednesday were 2,557, more than twice the usual weekday total of 1100 or so. I thought I had an Instalanche until I found that all of the increase was from search engines and checked the referral logs. Here are the top twenty search strings, with total referrals for each:

  1. moab bomb (494)
  2. moab bomb pictures (70)
  3. massive ordnance air-burst bomb (57)
  4. bomb moab (40) -- this one could too easily be misunderstood
  5. moabbomb (24)
  6. massive ordnance air burst (19)
  7. moab 21000 (17)
  8. french product boycott (15)
  9. other (12)
  10. moab bomb picture (11)
  11. m.o.a.b. bomb (11)
  12. moab bomb (11)
  13. massive ordnance air burst pictures (10)
  14. massive ordnance air- burst bomb (9)
  15. pictures of moab bomb (8)
  16. massive ordnance air burst (8)
  17. massive ordnance air burst bomb (8)
  18. massive ordnance air-burst bomb moab (8)
  19. boycott france (8)
  20. massive ordnance air-burst bomb (7)

Sixteen of the next 20 search strings also involve MOAB, or Moab, or both, though there are the usual hits for "weevil", "bathtub cheese", and the perennial favorite "wwe wrestlers nude". I don't know why I keep getting that last one: there's nothing on this site about that.

If all the MOAB hits used the same search-string, I would think that some Googlebot had gone berserk and done the same search over and over without being asked to. But the variety of phrasing suggests that thousands of people in the world are interested in MOAB, perhaps also in Moab and the Moabites (ancient and modern). Who would have guessed that this would would be my most-referred post? I would have thought the wombats more interesting.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:03 AM
March 13, 2003
Emending Lileks

Today's Bleat includes the following passage:

Wake me when the masks drop and the gloves come off, I thought - but today I glanced at the TV and saw a list of suggestions for a new resolution, and it made me sit up and pay attention anew. One of the conditions: Saddam would make a televised appearance in which he would renounce weapons of mass destruction.

It beggars belief. Perhaps a requirement of participating in these discussions is a note from your doctor verifying that he pulled out 75% of your brain tissue through your nose with a hooked stick.

When I first read the second paragraph, I thought he wrote "It buggers belief". I still prefer my misreading: beggary is a totally inadequate metaphor for the effect of news on my psyche.

Tangential language note:
While I was checking to make sure 'beggary' is a word, a pop-up window popped up and then shrank down to a button at the bottom of the screen. The button read 'Are you a ho'. I was quite offended until I opened it up and found it was just a truncated 'Are you a homeowner?'.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:12 PM
March 12, 2003
A Cheap Shot

I shouldn't pick on Colby Cosh when he's feeling sick, but this sentence, which opens one of yesterday's posts, needs an editor's pencil:

The Edmonton Oilers have gutted themselves like a trout at the trading deadline.

It looks as if he's saying that trout gut themselves, and also implying that they do so at the trading deadline. This may be so in the Land of Cockayne, but not in the real world, unless advanced genetic engineering has introduced previously unimagined efficiencies to the Canadian fishing industry.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:23 PM
Sour Grapes?

This story seems to deserve more comment than Tim Blair gives it. I quote his entire entry:

A 73-YEAR-OLD disarmament campaigner is calling for a sex strike to stop the disarmament of Saddam Hussein:

Michael Denborough, who's leading an anti-war vigil outside Parliament House, said today the sex strike was a way to highlight the horrors that Iraqi women and children would face when war came.

Not having sex highlights fiery death for all the children? Makes sense to me, Mr. Logic Man.

Sex is one of a number of strikes being urged by Dr Denborough. He wants a driving strike - "abandon your car at an intersection and throw away the keys" - and a shopping strike - "war is about corporate greed" - as well as a conventional strike.

I want an air strike.

Where to begin?

  1. Denborough wants us all to go on strike, but he's 73 years old, which means he's unlikely to be working a full-time job himself. I suspect his only employment is part-time work-at-your-own-pace activism.
  2. He wants us to abandon our cars, but there's no indication that he has done so himself. Most likely he's either a shameless hypocrite, driving around in his own car while encouraging others to do what he will not do himself, or he has no car to abandon, in which case he is encouraging others to do what he cannot do himself. He may indeed have already lost his license from the effects of advancing age or long-term accumulation of driving offenses.
  3. He wants us to quit shopping, which must mean shopping for inessential items. (I take it he's not a member of the Voluntary Human Extinction movement. If he is, all I can say is "After you".) Most old folks spend far more on necessities such as medicine and far less on entertainment than youngsters, anyway, so he is again urging much greater sacrifices on others than on himself.
  4. And of course Mr. Denborough wants us all to give up sex. Why do I suspect that he has already done so himself, involuntarily? (I wonder if he thinks we should all eat poached eggs and cream of wheat, if his stomach can't handle anything stronger?)

The envy and spite that motivate so many on the left have rarely been more obvious.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:57 AM
March 09, 2003
Prisoners Dilemma

Eugene Volokh asks (a) whether British paratroopers in Kuwait were right to send back the dozen Iraqi soldiers who crossed the border to surrender, thinking the war had already started, and (b) what happened to the Iraqis when they got back to their unit. His tentative answers are (a) no, and (b) horrible things.

He's probably right, but the situation seems a bit more complicated. Given the reported low morale of Iraqi troops, it's quite possible that they were able to slip back as easily as they slipped out, or that others who knew where they had gone were willing to cover for them, since they planned (and still plan) to follow them as soon as possible.

If they had been allowed to stay in British custody in Kuwait, that would certainly have saved their lives, but quite possibly put their families in greater danger. In more built-up areas, I imagine deserters are quite common, but that close to the border their officers would surely have been able to figure out in a day or two exactly which soldiers had surrendered. At that point their relatives back home would presumably be doomed. Of course, it's impossible to tell: if they were all executed as soon as they got back to base, their families might well be treated just as brutally.

There is also a problem with the Geneva Convention. Given that there is (as I understand it) already a state of war between Iraq and Britain, continuing from Gulf War I, wouldn't the captors be obligated to give the captives' names to the Iraqi government, perhaps via the Red Cross/Red Crescent? If so, they would be forced to do part of Saddam's dirty work (the identification part) for him.

All in all, the dozen Iraqis and their families are quite likely to be screwed either way. One more reason (or twelve more reasons) to get the war over with as soon as possible.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:01 PM
Shall Moab Be A Derision? Why Not?

Tim Blair reports that the mayor of Moab, Utah, is upset because the Air Force has named its new 21,000-pound even-bigger-than-a-daisy-cutter bomb 'MOAB', for "massive ordnance air burst" bomb.

THE MAYOR OF MOAB, Utah, doesn't understand the first thing about marketing:

Mr Sakrison said: "We strongly believe that our town's name could be severely damaged by naming the bomb after Moab, thereby negating years and dollars spent in marketing and promoting our town."

Hey, Sakrison - your town is getting huge press worldwide, for free, thanks to that bomb. Apologise to the bomb!

Besides the fact that the bomb is not being named after the town, Mayor Sakrison seems to be unaware that 'Moab' and 'Moabites' already have quite a few negative connotations. The town in Utah is named after a Biblical nation, now the part of Jordan east of the southern half of the Dead Sea. Here is just a brief selection from what the Old Testament says about Moab and Moabites:

We have heard of the pride of Moab; he is very proud:
Even of his haughtiness, and his pride, and his wrath:
But his lies shall not be so.
Therefore shall Moab howl for Moab, every one shall howl.
    (Isaiah 16:6-7)

There shall be lamentation generally upon all the housetops of Moab, and in the streets thereof:
For I have broken Moab like a vessel wherein is no pleasure, saith the LORD.
They shall howl, saying, How is it broken down!
How hath Moab turned the back with shame!
So shall Moab be a derision and a dismaying to all them about him.
    (Jeremiah 48:38-39)

Moab shall howl over Nebo, and over Medeba:
On all their heads shall be baldness, and every beard cut off.
In their streets they shall gird themselves with sackcloth:
On the tops of their houses, and in their streets,
Every one shall howl, weeping abundantly.
    (Isaiah 15:2-3)

There are lots more unpleasant prophecies about Moab where those came from. Does Mayor Sakrison not know that? I would be surprised to see such ignorance of the Bible in small-town Utah. Or is he just pretending that the name 'Moab' had no negative connotations before the bomb came along? That may well work with most of the historically- and Biblically-illiterate younger generation, but some of us know better.

To make things worse, 'Moabit' (German for 'Moabite') was also the name of a Nazi prison. I don't know how it acquired the name, but Albrecht Haushofer wrote his 79 Moabite Sonnets there while awaiting execution.

All in all, a very large bomb is hardly the worst thing Moab, Utah has ever had associated with its name.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 04:10 PM
Classifying Bloggers II

N.Z. Bear's Blogosphere Ecosystem currently lists me near the end of the 'Marauding Marsupials', tied for 75th place with Silflay Hraka and Joanne Jacobs. I think that makes me a wombat, which is fine with me, as these pictures will illustrate (the last one looks particularly fat and happy):

I had always wondered why wombats were not as famous for their cuteness as bunnies, pandas, and koalas. Then an Australian told me the reason: they are seldom seen in their native habitat except at night, and even then they are generally only briefly glimpsed as they flee into the underbrush. I've never been to Australia myself, but with the help of his description I have made this very approximate rendition of the typical Australian view of the wombat:

Not nearly as cute from this angle . . . .

By the way, I can't find the reference, but some leftie blogger was recently whining about N.Z. Bears' category names, which he found insulting or degrading or something. It therefore gives me great pleasure to note that some of them came from me. I suggested several new categories in this entry last July and N.Z. Bear accepted some of them, as he mentions here. However, 'marauding marsupials' were his idea, and he rejected my tentative suggestion to put a category of 'Baboons' between the Primates and the rest of the Larger Mammals. Too bad: if the first ten 'Large Mammals' on today's list were promoted to baboons, one of them would be 'Hesiod Theogeny'. Perhaps it's just as well: I have nothing against the other nine.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:27 PM
March 04, 2003
Canadian Alcohol

Jane Finch of The Daily Rant quotes an amusing passive-aggressive tirade by a Canadian who, among other cross-cultural comparisons, makes fun of American beer. Somehow that reminded me of what Kingsley Amis wrote about Canadian whisky (Every Day Drinking, 1983, 86):

I can't help thinking that the Canadians are a great crowd, but are perhaps the only people who could have produced a boring whisky.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:09 PM
Hawks And Their Prey

Rodger Schultz of Curmudgeonly and Skeptical writes of watching "a Sharp Shinned Hawk . . . devour a writhing, screaming European [he he] starling":

We decided this was an omen. The Hawk being the United States naturally, and the starling being a European of your choice. We picked France.

He does not mention that the Sharp Shinned Hawk is one of several species also known as a Chickenhawk:

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:02 PM
March 03, 2003
Lysistrata Update

A few weeks ago, I blogged on The Lysistrata Project, in which various groups are giving public readings of Aristophanes' Lysistrata to protest war on Iraq.

James Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review quotes five substantial passages from the play (the first is here and the others follow without interruption). I'm guessing he didn't translate them himself, so he really should have (a) credited the translator, and (b) omitted his usual copyright notice at the end of each post, since he can hardly claim copyright on someone else's work.

As I noted in my previous post, it's odd that no one is promising to do without sex as a means of stopping war on Iraq: that's what the women do in Lysistrata, and it's the one thing every educated person knows about the play. I'm curious about after-action (after-reading?) reports, but for now I have three hypotheses to explain this curious omission:

  1. Do project participants not care enough about peace to give up sex even temporarily? At first I thought that Capozzola might be planning to do so, at least for one day. Here is what he wrote on Saturday: "I will be reading Lysistrata here, in my humble abode, out loud, to myself and to Mildred (assuming she's awake)". However, further reading makes it clear that Mildred is a dog, so I don't suppose he'd be having sex with her even if he weren't protesting the imminent liberation of Iraq.
  2. Are none of these thousands of peace activists sleeping with any of our hundreds of thousands of soldiers or sailors to start with? If so, is it because they find members of the military unattractive, or is it the other way around, or perhaps a bit of each? Do we have a 'Two Cultures' problem here?
  3. Has it never occurred to these intellectuals (or pseudo-intellectuals) to try to match their actions to their words? Is Lysistrata just a cultural fetish waved at the rest of us to intimidate us? Count me as unintimidated.

When I wrote my previous post, I hadn't thought of this third possibility, but now it seems the likeliest of the three.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:50 PM
March 02, 2003
Adventures In Misreading

Maybe I've been on-line too long -- four and a half hours, catching up on what I missed while out of town -- but I found this single-line paragraph (beginning a post by Natalie Solent) quite confusing:

Junius is one today.

My first thought was "one what?" The rest of the post didn't seem to help, so I scrolled down to the previous one. Was she saying that Junius is a Japanese singing superhero with a sauce receptacle for a head? That didn't seem likely. Still confused, I scrolled up to the following post, which is about "rotten pulpy slugs" and the effects of salting them and jumping up and down on them. Is she saying Junius is a slug? I certainly hope not. Finally, I clicked on the link in the confusing post and found that Junius is one year old, at least in blog-years.

I think I'd better log off for a while and maybe read a book or something.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:04 PM