Welcome, InstaPundit readers.
I don't have an actual Ba'ath Poker game, but the cards to play it are listed in order in this file, now updated to reflect today's capture of the 15th of the 55 Most Wanted Iraqis. It can also be reached via the yellow 'Ba'ath Poker Deal' button.
Scrolling down, the same file includes a handy cross-reference chart showing how the list of 55 matches up with the 52-card deck, and (just added) a graph plotting date of capture on the X axis against rank (of 55) on the Y.
1. Too Literally For Comfort
Eugene Volokh (9:17 AM, if the link doesn't work) quotes a journalist's amusingly inept use of "quite literally" to mean "figuratively". There is an even worse misuse of "literally" in Nabokov, a line I know only because Kingsley Amis once made cruel fun of it:
And with his eyes he literally scoured the corners of the cell.
I guess the poor prisoner must have removed them first. This interesting site attributes the sentence to Invitation to a Beheading, which I've never read, and supplies lots more astonishly bad metaphors from various other authors.
2. Advice for Tiros
Yesterday (10:35 AM), the same Volokh offered detailed good advice to those trying to win readers and links for their baby blogs. The Truth Laid Bear and God of the Machine have added more, including the essential point that comments on other blogs are very helpful. 'E. Nough' was already well-known for his excellent comments on Little Green Footballs and elsewhere long before he started Thinking Meat.
Most of what I have to say about getting linked was written up a year and a day before Volokh and posted here: it's mostly common sense, and overlaps with everyone else's advice in various ways. A few (probably very few) of my blog-readers may also be amused or instructed by my advice on how to get an academic paper on classical literature published in a scholarly journal.
Fourteen of the 52 are in custody now that the former Oil Minister (and husband of 'Dr. Germ') has surrendered. He was number 47 on the list of 55, and the Six of Spades. I have updated the Ba'ath Poker deck and will update the chart below later today. I have also boldfaced the captured numbers on the cross-reference chart at the bottom of that file.
I don't know what access, if any, fugitive Iraqis have to the list of 55 and the pack of cards. If they are familiar with both, I imagine that number 50 of 55, the 6 of Diamonds, must be feeling particularly nervous, now that 47, 48, 49, the other three Sixes, have been captured.
I think it's about time Max Sawicky took some time off from blogging. The pressure of being criticized is getting to him, and he looks like he may freak out at any moment. A few days ago he repeatedly accused a mildly disputatious commenter named Leo Casey of sending him offensive email under pseudonyms, and it took quite a bit of coaxing by more sensible readers to convince him that sharing an AOL IP with a spammer or troll is not evidence of wrong-doing. Here's my favorite sentence:
I've been collecting suspicious IP #s for a while now.
A bit later in the same thread he expands on this hint:
All of Leo's comments have one of five different IP addresses. These match up with 11 other IPs that I've found with other names, some with multiple posts. Some are really disgusting messages, while others merely accuse me of being a supporter of Saddam Hussein. All of the pseudonymous posters' IP #s match one used by Leo. They all reflect the same political point of view.
Could that be a coincidence?
Why yes, yes it could. And I don't think Leo stole your strawberries, either, Max.
Then there's the end of last Thursday's post on George Galloway ("Andy" is a contemptuously familiar reference to Andrew Sullivan):
Andy is careful not to convict, and for good reason. It seems that ol' George has made a good amount of money by another means -- he's won about 250,000 pounds from libel settlements against some of those tabloid rags. Got to like that. Now he is suing the Telegraph, the paper that broke the story.
I would enjoy suing a few bloggers who have attacked me, but for the fact that they are less than gainfully employed and probably living on Krafts macaroni dinners (which I happen to like, BTW). Far be it from me to add to the oppression of the working class.
I do believe he may be talking about me here. As I have mentioned on this weblog, I'm currently unemployed, and I've had occasion to criticize Max more than once for dishonest posts, most recently just a couple of weeks ago, when he claimed that "The Ku Klux Klan voted for George Bush" and refused to offer any evidence to back up this sweeping statement when challenged. (My posts are here and here.) He had already banned me from his comments last October, when he claimed that warbloggers all worship Oliver North and I was rude enough to show that his evidence was completely bogus.
After sixteen days, he still hasn't come up with any evidence for his latest drive-by slur, just called me an idiot for expecting any. All in all, it looks to me like the Sawicky who needs a brand new blankie is big baby Max.
Three points in the latest argument may be worth revisiting:
1. Sawicky and David Perron have objected that the generalization about Klan was only a subordinate part of the former's argument: "The Ku Klux Klan voted for George Bush; should he be blamed for that support?" The fact that the second half is the primary point, and is perfectly valid if the first half is true seems irrelevant to me. An example will illustrate what I mean. Surely no one would object if I were to write "Even stupid people have the right to vote". For one thing, it's true. However, what if I were to write "Just because leftists | economists | antiwarbloggers | Poles and Polish-Americans | people named Max are all stupid, doesn't mean they shouldn’t be allowed to vote"? I assume most everyone would quite rightly object, and strongly. I would have clearly implied that I think leftists, or economists, or antiwarbloggers, or Poles, or people named Max are all stupid. Any one of these five statements would be (a) obviously untrue, and (b) a vicious slur, and the fact that it was a subordinate part of my argument would be irrelevant. (Just to take the last two, I only know two Maxes well enough to have an opinion about their intelligence, and I'm confident that the average IQ of Max Sawicky and 'Max Power' is a point or two over 100. The same goes for Max Sawicky and the Pope.)
2. Even if Sawicky comes up with evidence that Klan members did vote overwhelmingly for Bush, it's too late. As Aziz Poonawalla is discovering, you can't make a bold and controversial claim, refuse to withdraw it when challenged, and only then dig up the evidence to back it up. It's dishonest, even if you turn out in the end to be correct.
3. In the comments to my first post, 'gc wall' claimed:
Reagan's popularity was mainly based upon the Republican Party's reliance on racism to divide the American public so as to weaken their ability to effect policy. "Reagan allowed people to feel comfortable with their prejudices." I do not know whether Ronald Reagan was a racist or not, but political expediency has been the hallmark of Republicans after Dwight Eisenhower.
This seems obviously false to me, and not just because political expediency is the hallmark of any politician who wants to get reelected. How do I know that racial prejudice had very little to do with the election of Reagan? It's simple: I voted for him twice,† as did many long-time Democrats of my acquaintance, not all of them white. So far as I could tell, none of them were motivated by racial prejudice, and race-related issues such as affirmative action were very low on our list of factors to consider. We were fed up about equally with Carter's disastrously stupid economic policies and his spinelessly inept foreign policy. Gas lines, hostages in Iran, 14% inflation, Russians in Afghanistan, 18% interest rates, I could go on and on giving my reasons to vote for Reagan, or rather to vote against Carter.
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* The motivation of the macaroni remark is amusingly transparent. Sawicky is obviously torn between his desire to sneer at his poverty-stricken un(der)employed enemies and his unwillingness to criticize a food many working class Americans enjoy. He certainly wouldn't want to imply that he dines on lobster and champagne every night like some sort of (ugh!) Republican. Hmmm . . . I think I'll spend my unemployment check on opera tickets, caviar, and Grand Marnier! (Just kidding: opera season ends this week.)
† Until 1992 the only presidential candidates I had ever voted for were McGovern and Reagan. In 1976, I was leaning toward Ford over Carter, but the lines at the polling place were long and I didn't bother to vote. It didn't take long to realize what a mistake that was.
A site-specific search function can be very handy in confirming (or not) one's first impressions about a blogger's vocabulary. For the fourth time in the last eight months, and the third time in the last four, the blogger who calls himself 'Hesiod Theogeny' has referred to opponents as "urine-stained". (I won't link to him, but the post is dated April 24th, 7:23:38 PM.) It's an unusual locution, and his use of it is beginning to seem a little obsessive. It may be worth asking why he is so fond of it. Here are some possibilities:
I have now finished compiling a cross-reference chart comparing the rankings on the Central Command list of 55 wanted Iraqis and the deck of cards listing 52 of the same. It is at the end of the Ba'ath Poker file, but can also be reached by the link here.
There are many interesting differences, but the biggest is the ranking of the fifteen local leaders of the Ba'ath Party. Each of these is BP chairman for a different governate and commander of the Ba'ath party militia there. All are all ranked much higher on the list of 55. There they are in the middle of that list, numbers 22 to 36, with the chairman of the Baghdad governate naturally coming first. In the deck of cards, they are all at the bottom, with the Baghdad chairman a mere 5 of Diamonds, while the others are three of the 4s, all eight of the 3s and 2s, and three who didn't even make the cut (sorry about the pun) for the deck of cards.
Next question: Were the two lists compiled at different times? If so, does the unfolding of the war explain the ups and downs in various rankings? As it became clear that most troops were not going to fight, their commanders might well have seemed less important, while political leaders might well have moved up. Or was one or both of the lists just thrown together without a lot of thought?
(Post, graph, and linked file edited to reflect better data at 0:30 and 1:30 AM on 2/28.)
My Ba'ath Poker chart is now revised: use the second yellow button above to reach it, or click here. (The buttons will likely move to the sidebar, and turn white with blue letters, but not for another day or two.)
I have also constructed a very simple graph to see how the hunt for top Ba'athists is going:
The ticks at the top represent days, from April 9th, when Hussein's statue was toppled in Baghdad, through today, April 27th. The dots represent the rank of each captured individual on the official Central Command Iraqi 55 Most Wanted list. Number 55 was captured on the 12th, and his dot touches the bottom edge. (It must be humiliating to know that he barely made the cut. I wonder if that's why he turned himself in.) The dot for number 1, Saddam himself, would be touching the horizontal line near the top of the graph, if he had been captured or proved dead. Those captured on the same day are joined by vertical lines. The longest of these is for April 23rd, and connects numbers 10, 21, and 48. Clear enough?
I think it's obvious from the graph that the pace of captures is, on the average, steady or perhaps even picking up a bit, while the average rank of those captured is definitely increasing, though they are still predominantly from the bottom half of the list.
I moved the Ba'ath Poker deck to a separate file. It is also in the middle of a complete overhaul, which may take another day or two, since information on the names and positions of captured Iraqi leaders is often contradictory. When done, I hope to come up with some estimates on how the hunt for Ba'athists is going. Some obvious questions: Are they being picked up faster than before, or is the flow tapering off? Are those being picked up now generally more or less important than those already nabbed?
I have also added some more buttons near the top of this file: one for entomologists looking for information on weevils, three more for those who might want to buy my spare books, buy me books (or CDs, or DVDs) from my Amazon wish list, or (best of all) just send me money. Feel free to make use of any or all of the new buttons. Three of the five (but which three?) will even tell you my real name -- not that it's ever been much of a secret. I keep if off this site so I can continue to write for grownups without endangering my job prospects in high school and middle school teaching. I prefer not to make it too easy for students (or parents or prospective employers) to find this site by Googling my name. I'm not writing for them, and do not wish to confine myself to G-rated posts on noncontroversial topics.
I may change the color of the buttons. Yellow is easy to read, and very eye-catching, but tends to clash with the overall color scheme. The latter is almost symbolic: red, white, and blue to annoy all the right people, black and (again) white for strong opinions, shades of gray for the occasional nuance. Unfortunately, red or blue buttons would make the labels hard to read, while white buttons would blend into the background. Yellow will have to do for now.
Acidman complains about the abundance of male bloggers who associate themselves with monkeys. He mentions IMAO, The World Wide Rant, and Feces Flinging Monkey, which is only half of the monkey-related weblogs I know. There's the Banana Counting Monkey, though he hasn't updated in a month. (I guess a Canadian monkey would be more likely to count bananas than fling feces.) BCM even has a separate category on his sidebar for 'Monkey Blogs', which includes Feces Flingin' Monkey again (I don't know why he drops the G), plus Government Monkey and ResourceMonkey. The Banana Counting Monkey needs to update his links: the first two have moved, and the third hasn't posted since June. Still, there are even more monkeys on the web than Acidman realizes, though I'm not sure they're all male: hard to tell sometimes, what with all the body hair.
InstaPundit reports that Turkish Special Forces have been arrested operating in Kurdistan, and comments:
Is it just me, or does it seem like nobody in the region actually wants to see a free, prosperous Iraq?
I hope he means 'nobody in the region except the Iraqis themselves', though it looks as if even they cannot all be trusted to want such a thing.
Tariq Aziz is the first really big name Iraqi leader in U.S. custody, and he turned himself in. Is that because the Husseins are all dead and there's no point in putting off the inevitable? Or is it because he suffers from cancer (widely reported last year) and needs treatment that he cannot get underground? It's possible that senior Ba'ath leaders have safe houses sufficiently safe to keep them hidden for quite a while longer, but it seems unlikely (to say the least) that fugitives would have access to state-of-the-art radiation or chemotherapy facilities.
This seems like a pretty safe prediction:
By this time next year, there will be either two Shiite theocracies in the Middle East, or none. Things are likely to get messy, but I think 'none' is more likely. Double or nothing is a dangerous tactic, and the ayatollahs should know better than to try it.
A very rich and not very bright man wants to know for sure how much two plus two is, so he hires an accountant, a mathematician, an engineer, and a lawyer, and pays them $1000 each to tell him the answer.
The accountant pockets his check and then says: "I'm almost ashamed to take your money. Two plus two is four." He holds up four fingers for emphasis. "Four. That's all there is to it. Thank you and goodbye."
After he leaves, the mathematican says: "Actually, two plus two is four point zero, with a horizontal line over the zero to represent the repeating decimal." He draws the number on the board, spends several hours explaining about repeating decimals, then takes his money and leaves.
After that, the engineer says: "Actually, two plus two is four point zero zero times ten to the zeroeth power plus or minus zero point zero zero times ten to the zeroeth power." He draws the formula on the board and spends two whole days explaining it, then takes his money and leaves.
Finally, the lawyer waits for the engineer to leave, locks the door behind him, closes the shades, goes up to the rich man's desk and says quietly: "How much do you want it to be?"
Yesterday Lynn S. (Reflections in d minor) was complaining that it was "only 45°F" when she got out of bed, somewhere in northeast Oklahoma. At least it wasn't snowing, as it was in Rochester when I went out to mail some letters at 3:00 this afternoon. Hard enough to stick, too, though it's since melted.
With the capture of the tenth of the 52 Iraqi playing cards, we now have a straight, actually a choice of a 45678 or a 56789 straight -- assuming the appropriate discards were made along the way, of course. Then again, why not just forget about discards and call it three pair?
Some time in the next 24 hours, I plan to move the card pictures to a separate file, with a button here, adding the names and titles of the corresponding thugs, with links to the Command Post entries on their captures.
By the way, a friend (hi, Malcolm!) suggests one possible way to make this into a competitive game: assign each card to whoever made the capture, Army, Marines, Iraqi National Congress, whoever.
Today is the 387th anniversary of the deaths of William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra. Of course, they actually died ten days apart, since England was still using the Julian Calendar, while Spain had long since switched over to the Gregorian, which we still use. That means that it really has been 387 years since Cervantes died, while Shakespeare has been dead (I think) for 387 years and 10 days. Most of their works are on-line. For Shakespeare it looks like the best set of links is at Palomar College in California: Mr. William Shakespeare on the Web. The Cervantes Digital Library at Texas A&M is putting the complete works on-line in several formats, though some are still to come. Only Don Quixote seems to be available in English.
Today is also the birthday of a disproportionate number of Russian cultural eminences: Sergei Rachmaninoff's 130th, Sergei Prokofiev's 112th, and Vladimir Nabokov's 104th. I think I'll reread "The Aurelian" to celebrate the last. It's also J.M.W. Turner's 228th birthday -- not to mention Shirley Temple's 75th, and Bermuda's Peppercorn Day. Though awkwardly laid out, this site has much more useful information on the date, including the calculation that the first Easter was April 23rd, A.D. 33. Of course, Jesus of Nazareth doesn't qualify as a DWEM, being neither European nor (if Easter is worth commemorating at all) dead.
There will be several more posts before I go to bed tonight. I never intended to go so long without updating, but I had a telephone interview Sunday for what looks like the perfect job, and it's very distracting waiting to find out whether they'll call me in for an on-campus interview and demonstration of teaching skills.
I have to go out of town again, and won't be back until very late tomorrow. That will give Max Sawicky and his friends a full week to back up his assertion that the Ku Klux Klan voted for Bush. So far all they've been able to come up with is one (possibly former) Klansman who says he would have liked to vote for Buchanan but voted strategically for Bush. As Aristotle said, "one swallow does not make Spring", and they're going to have to do a lot better than that not to leave Sawicky looking like a liar.
I don't have a link, but I've run across this argument at least half a dozen times in the last few days, mostly buried in various comments sections:
Of course, this argument is not entirely airtight. For one thing, it's early yet, and there are hundreds of sites that need to be checked. For another, I doubt that anyone outside the Pentagon knows just how many WMD finds have been confirmed. I could go on. However, rather than heap up more such counterpoints, I will simply point out that the overall argument is also vulnerable to reductio ad absurdum, like so:
May I consider the first argument refuted and assign myself a big fat Q.E.D.?
Today is Henry James' 160th birthday. In honor of the occasion, I have formatted and uploaded one of my favorite short stories, A Bundle of Letters (1879). Three Americans, an Englishman, a Frenchman, and a German professor sit around a French pension writing rude letters about each other to their friends and relatives. The effect is slightly Rashomonic, with lots of still-amusing national stereotypes. Warning: there is a fair amount of untranslated French, though most of it is easy.
According to the BlogStreet Top 200 list (click on the icon in the right-hand column) I'm now tied for 182nd out 121,805 weblogs in the world, which puts me in the top 0.15% -- not too bad. Unfortunately, I'm tied with Michael Moore. Will someone please link or unlink me -- I don't care which -- so I can get away from him?
After the thrilling events of the last few days, lot of webloggers have been quoting the Virginia state motto, but not all have gotten it quite right. The correct form is:
Sic semper tyrannis
The first two words are indeclinable, meaning the forms never change. Sic means "thus, so, in that way", and is the same word scholars and snarky journalists use to quote a misspelled or ungrammatical passage, like Dan Quayle's "potatoes [sic]". The sic assures the reader that the mistake was made by the person quoted, not the quoting author or his editor.
Semper means "always". Beginning Latin students tend to mix it up with saepe, "often", so I always remind them of the Marine Corps motto, 'Semper Fidelis', "always faithful": a U.S. Marine is not just "often faithful". Fidelis is singular, by the way, but can be either masculine or feminine. The plural is fideles, as in "Adeste, Fideles", the Latin version of "O Come All Ye Faithful". It's the source of Spanish name 'Fidel' ('faithful' as in Christian), and the English opposite 'infidel'.
Tyrannis means "tyrant", but is plural number and dative case. The English language has only traces of the original set of eight Indo-European cases, though German and Russian still have four or five each. (I believe they've entirely disappeared from all the Romance languages. [Oops! What was I thinking? In the comments, 'gek' reminds me that French has kept them for pronouns but discarded them for nouns, just like English. I believe the same is true for the other Romance languages.]) Half a dozen English words still have different forms for the nominative (subject) and accusative (object) cases: I/me, we/us, he/him, she/her, they/them, who/whom. Of course the last distinction is disappearing fast. The 'S (and S') used to makes English possessives is something like the genitive (possessive) case, but the only word I know of that has a reasonable facsimile of an actual genitive form is 'who': 'whose'. The dative and other cases have completely vanished from English.
Anyway, the Latin dative case means "to" or "for" whatever the noun is, so tyrannis means "to tyrants" or "for tyrants". The literal meaning of the entire phrase is therefore "Thus always to tyrants", and it is often quoted that way, though it's hardly idiomatic English. There is no verb in the Latin, and more than one could be supplied. That's one of the neat things about Latin: it is very compact because so much can be left out. (There's no "a" or "the" either, and these are added as needed when translating.) The whole phrase could be paraphrased and spelled out in various ways:
This is what always happens to tyrants.
This is what always has happened to tyrants.
This is what always will happen to tyrants.
This is what always should happen to tyrants.
Of course, these meanings overlap, and there's no need to rule any of them out. The motto is wish, prediction, and general statement of fact, all rolled into one: 'this is what always has happened, does still happen, and always will happen to tyrants'.
The World Flag Database offers this image of the central portion of the flag (copied here so as not to hog their server):
Turning back to the spelling, I have seen more than one weblogger write:
Sic Semper Tyrannus
That's good Latin in itself, but it makes the tyrant singular and nominative (subject), so that it means something like "that's what a tyrant is like" (or "will be like" or "should be like"). That's not nearly so encouraging a thought, and is not the motto of the state of Virginia. I first saw the motto spelled that way many years ago on a van (in Virginia) that was campaigning for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. It wasn't a bumper sticker, either, but painted on the side with the whole woman-stabbing-prostrate-tyrant scene copied from the state flag. Someone should have asked a Latinist before spending the money on the paint job.
Thus endeth today's lesson.
I'm surprised that I haven't seen this already suggested elsewhere:
Would it be possible to set up a game (or rather a single hand) of Ba'ath Poker with the new political deck our troops are using in Iraq? It would be a very long game, like the Amish Tech Support Dead Pool. Two or more people could play, each one building up a hand as the wanted men and women are rounded up. The first player gets the 7 of Diamonds, already dealt. Whichever of the 55 is captured next is the first card in the second player's hand, and so on around the virtual table. If the number of players is kept small and things go well in Iraq, there would be opportunities to discard and replace. Since some of them are likely to be caught in groups, there would have to be tie-breakers defined in advance: perhaps the order of the names in the first New York Times or Command Post story would determine the order in which they would be dealt. What to do about those who are killed would also be a question, since it seems to be taking quite a while to determine who's dead and who's alive. But the same applies to the Dead Pool: I've got Tariq Aziz on my list, and there's really no telling whether he's dead or alive.
I don't know much about Poker, except that there are a lot of varieties, so players would have to decide beforehand which to play. Texas Hold'Em has the most appropriate name, but others might have more appropriate rules. With 55 cards in the deck, it would obviously have to be a version that includes Jokers.
Here is Max Sawicky's reply to my second-to-last post, in full:
I DON'T HAVE TO ARGUE WITH IDIOTS. I think it's in the Bill of Rights.
I'm sure he's right as a matter of constitutional law: he doesn't have to argue with idiots, or with me, or with anyone else. But when someone pleads the Fifth, observers tend to conclude, rightly or wrongly, that he has something to hide. Or is this a case of nolo contendere? Perhaps a lawyer could say which is a better analogy. Either way, I think it's safe to say that Max Sawicky is an intellectual fraud: he makes sweeping allegations and refuses to back them up when challenged.
I would have said all this in his comment section, but he banned me months ago, after my previous challenge. He recently had the nerve to send an e-mail to one of my commenters accusing me (among other misrepresentations) of deleting his comments here. (I know because he cc'd me.) That was true, but not the whole truth. I only deleted those of his comments that were made after he had banned me from his own site, and I will continue doing so in the future. What kind of jerk thinks he has a right to keep posting comments on a site whose owner he has already banned from his own? That's a rhetorical question: no need to post your suggestions on the particular genus and species of the order of jerks (Ierkoidea?) to which Max Sawicky should be assigned.
Update: (11:03 PM)
Now Sawicky's comment-trolls are piling on.
I'm ignoring Bush's many huge lies! (So says 'yellowecho', too cowardly to give even a Hotmail address.) Such as? No examples are given, and it's not as if plenty of people aren't already working that angle, so far to little effect. I challenged Sawicky's statement because no one else had done so. I certainly don't claim to be able to correct every falsehood in the world. And contrary to what 'yellowecho' seems to think, two wrongs do not make a right.
'bobbyp' (also too gutless to give an e-mail address) insists that Sawicky is retroactively right about North, who is now (he says) a hero on Fox. Big deal: he's still not 'worshipped' by warbloggers, which was Sawicky's original claim, still unretracted, and still utterly false. North is sometimes quoted by 'warbloggers' as a useful source for what's going on at the front lines, just as Geraldo Rivera and Robert Fisk are occasionally so quoted, and I don't know of any 'warblogger' who worships either of them.
I will pass over bobbyp's McCarthyite use of the standard McCarthy comparison, and just mention his final slur: "As far as Weevil's analysis of how the Klansvolk vote, I found it disingenuous and totally lacking in fact. Apparently he doesn't have much time to conduct in depth research either". My post made it quite clear that I don't know how Klansmen voted, and I'm not sure it would be possible to tell. It's not my job to dive into the sewers of Klan-related sites to do Sawicky's homework for him and find out whether the Klan endorsed Bush or Buchanan or one of the lesser-known candidates or let its members follow their stunted little consciences. He needs to either offer evidence that he's right or withdraw his statement. And that's "Dr. Weevil" to you, 'bobbyp': I didn't spend five years in graduate school to be an ordinary 'Weevil'.
Sawicky says I'm "not a serious person". No, not always: I like a joke as much as the next man, but I'm utterly serious in wanting to know why Sawicky thinks he can slander Republicans with unsupported and implausible Ku Klux Klan analogies and not come across as a pathetic lying asshole.
'Conrad' of The Gweilo Diaries nominates a winner for "the most ill fated advertising campaign in history": even as the SARS super-pneumonia sweeps Hong Kong, the local tourist board uses the slogan "Hong Kong will take your breath away".
I think I know the runner up in this virtual contest. A few years ago there was a mini-epidemic somewhere in Virginia in which 7 or 8 people caught typhus or typhoid (I forget which) from seafood prepared by an infected employee at a fast-food restaurant. Even a week later, the chain's billboards still said "Catch Our Shrimp Salad!".
Six months ago, I challenged Max Sawicky to back up his statement that warbloggers "hail" Oliver North "as an American hero". Results (in excruciating detail here, with related bits here and here) were disappointing, to put it politely. Now he claims in passing that
The Ku Klux Klan voted for George Bush.
(Does he mean the elder Bush or the younger? Who can tell? He doesn't bother to give any initials, but I'm guessing he means George W., not George H. W.) So far, none of the 39 comments (at last count) on his post has offered any objection.
I would like to see the evidence for this statement. It may be true, though it's hard to tell for sure how people vote, what with the secret ballot and all. I assume that few Klansmen voted for Gore: having Lieberman on the ticket would surely have been enough to make that certain, even leaving the issues to one side. I'm guessing that very few, if any, of them voted for Nader, again at least partly because of his Lebanese ancestry and Native American running mate, though his policies can't have helped. But that still leaves quite a few possibilities. This site lists eight other minor parties that between them ran seven candidates in the 2000 presidential election. I don't suppose David McReynolds (Socialist), James Harris (Socialist Workers), or Monica Moorhead (Workers World) got a lot of votes from Klan members, but what about Harry Browne (Libertarian), Earl Dodge (Prohibition), John Hagelin (Natural Law), Howard Phillips (U.S. Taxpayers and Constitution parties), and -- has Max Sawicky already forgotten him? -- Pat Buchanan (Reform)? Is it quite certain that Klansmen would have voted for Bush over all of these? Maybe: I suppose they hate throwing away their votes on Quixotic third party candidates as much as most people, and none of the men listed seems a perfect fit for the Klan's (shall we say?) unique approach to the issues.
I have no intention of visiting any Ku Klux Klan sites to see whom, if anyone, they endorsed. But Max Sawicky needs to offer specific evidence for his claim, or withdraw it and apologize for what looks an awful lot like a drive-by slur. Having seen his reaction to my previous challenge, I doubt that he will do either, though I'm prepared to be pleasantly surprised. If he does neither, we will have to conclude, not for the first time, that Max Sawicky makes shit up.
Of course, I should probably ignore him, but he is widely respected -- or at least widely linked -- by widely-respected weblogs. It may be "rude, unedifying, and unamusing" to point out that the Emperor has no clothes, but it's also a necessary part of basic intellectual hygiene not to let big lies pass unchallenged in public.
By the way, Sawicky also needs to learn how to spell basic obscenities: it's "f***wads", not "f**wads", d***w**d.
Update: (10:30 PM)
Scroll up for further remarks.
Dustbury complains about the "turgid spew" that is the prose of a penis-enlargement spam he received. Isn't that just a case of form following function? Here's the first meaning of "turgid" according to Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary:
Distended beyond the natural state by some internal agent or expansive force; swelled; swollen; bloated; inflated; tumid; -- especially applied to an enlarged part of the body; as, a turgid limb; . . . .
Sounds to me like just what the doctor ordered. I particularly like the discreet ambiguity of "part" and the slightly evasive use of "limb".
'Hesiod' (6:47 PM today) and others have jumped on reports that mobs of Baghdadis have looted the Baghdad Archaeological Museum while American troops stood idly by. This is horrible, if true, but there may be more to the story than that. There is an entire site devoted to The 2003 Iraq War and Archaeology. Special thanks to Francis Deblauwe, who runs the site (which also includes a nice map showing the locations of Ur, Nineveh, Babylon, and other ancient cities in what is now Iraq) and to Ricky Torrey, who mentioned it on the Internet Classics list -- otherwise I would not have heard of it.
Deblauwe quotes the same Australian story as 'Hesiod', but also links to a very different story (in French) in today's Le Figaro, giving this brief English summary:
halls with still-intact display cases (objects removed for safekeeping before the war started); the big orthostats and lamassus still there with their protective sandbags; some objects were taken to a safe haven under the supervision of US troops shortly after their arrival in Baghdad on Wednesday.
I don't know how much of either story is true, but neither does 'Hesiod'. It's rash to assume the worst. And no American should ever quote "ABC News", as 'Hesiod' does, without mentioning that it's the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (the Australian equivalent of the BBC), not the more familiar (to us) American network with the same initials.
I don't know what "orthostats and lamassus" are, either, but I'm a Latin language and literature guy, not a Mesopotamian archaeologist. Etymologically, an orthostat is something that stands up straight: some kind of obelisk? I should look it up, but as I said I'm not an archaeologist.
By the way, 'Hesiod' has been banned from commenting on this site. His AOL address is immune to IP banning, so I will be deleting any comments from him as soon as I see them. I only mention this publicly to save others the trouble of replying to any comments he may leave, which will be quite ephemeral. If he doesn't know why, he's even stupider than I thought.
I don't understand why anyone would ever search on this combination of words:
impacted OR hispanic OR boardinghouses OR coinage OR embellishes
If the ORs were all ANDs, I could come up with a reason that was almost plausible. Perhaps someone was trying to remember the name of a novel or short story featuring a Hispanic graduate student who embellishes his resume and lives in a whole series of boardinghouses while writing a dissertation on the coinage of some country or other and trying to come up with the money to pay for an operation on his impacted molar. But using ORs in the search should give millions of sites with very little in common. (I just checked: "approximately 154,000". I guess that's still quite a few.) Or is there some demented dictionary program running loose in cyberspace that comes up with these searches by random selection? I get equally weird combinations every week, but not every day.
Update: (4/11, 7:30 PM)
Today's five-random-word search was even worse:
outsweetened OR elevatedness OR politburo OR dimmedness OR confessable.
This can't have been typed in by a human being. There must be some sort of crazed automaton with a large dictionary file loose on the web.
In the comments on one of Dean Esmay's posts about 'The Agonist' (no link for the plagiarist), someone calling himself Norm Jenson writes:
I'd like to see the screenshot of "Intellectual property is theft."
I'm sure he would. I wonder if this is the same Norm Jenson who registered http://www.pejmanpundit.com and related URLs, thereby forcing Pejman Yousefzadeh to find a new name (Pejmanesque) when he recently moved off BlogSpot? Even a right-winger like me will admit that there are cases in which property (intellectual or otherwise) is indeed theft -- morally, ethically, and often legally.
My last entry reminded me of something I'd forgotten:
Back when I still had a record collection, one of my records was entitled Purcell's Fantasies for Viols. Given that a sonata for piano is exactly the same thing as a piano sonata, I always thought the publisher should have titled it Purcell's Viol Fantasies to gladden the hearts of those of us who love bad puns.
In my pleasanter moments, I like to think that Saddam Hussein will end his days as a beggar on the streets of Baghdad, protected from harm by the universal assumption that he is just an unemployed double and the real Hussein is buried in tiny pieces in his deepest bunker. A typical encounter would go something like this:
Saddam: "Bow down before me, Zionist scum! I am your absolute ruler, Saddam the Magnificent, Saddam of the hundred palaces and thousand prisons, master of germs and gases and radioactive waste, field marshal of the mighty Republican Guard! Bow down or I will order my minions to torture you and your entire family!", and so on, if not ad infinitum, certainly ad nauseam.
Passerby: "Sure, whatever you say, old man. We all know life is tough for former doubles. Who wants to hire a geezer with big glasses and no serious work experience, a guy whose face makes everyone except small children shudder? Halloween never really caught on in Iraq, the American soldiers have all gone home, and there was never much demand for ghouls the rest of the year even when they were here. I gotta admit the resemblance is truly amazing. So the stories about how the doubles all had plastic surgery are true?" (Rolling his eyes and nudging his companions) "But don't you think your impression is just a little . . . over-the-top? If you tone it down a bit you'll get more sympathy. And try to cut down on the 'evil' glare, it just looks silly. Here's a couple of nice crisp new dinars, worth 2,000 of the old dinars with 'your' picture on them. Go buy yourself another bottle of arak. Not that haven't already had plenty today, to judge by the way you talk."
Of course, in my less pleasant moments I think there's a lot to be said for putting Saddam Hussein through his own plastic shredder, feet first, with the speed set on 'low' and a half-hour break every six inches.
And in my sensible in-between moments, I think that neither fantasy comes close to doing Saddam justice, though the first would work for a Hollywood movie about some far-less-loathsome villain. This is one case where a very literal and elaborately painful form of eternal damnation is the only thing that could possibly suffice.
Of course, 'friendly fire' deaths in Iraq have not been high in absolute numbers, just a painfully high percentage of total coalition deaths.* This is not as surprising as it appears. Simple statistics can sometimes show odd results, if the disproportion is large enough. It seems to me that the high percentage of allied deaths from 'friendly fire' is in great part a direct result of the very success of coalition strategy and tactics.
Consider a couple of examples:
1. If allied forces kill 1000 people for each one lost to enemy fire, that's very good, about as good as anyone could reasonably expect. If they are 99.9% successful in avoiding 'friendly fire' deaths, that's also very good. But the combination of these two good things has the perverse result that fully half of their deaths will be from 'friendly fire'. Specific hypothetical numbers will show what I mean. Suppose that in a given week Iraqi soldiers kill 10 allied soldiers in battle. Assuming a 1000:1 ratio and 99.9% accuracy, that would mean that coalition forces would kill 10,000 people in the same week, 99.9% of whom are not allied soldiers -- say 99% Iraqi soldiers, 0.9% civilians, 0.1% allied soldiers. The result of our hypothetical case is that the Iraqis lose 9,900 soldiers and 90 civilians to Allied fire, while the Coalition loses 10 soldiers to Iraqi fire, 10 more to 'friendly fire'. (To simplify, I omit journalists and all those killed in ordinary accidents, collisions and such.) The very competence of coalition troops, as shown by (a) the huge disproportion in casualties and (b) the very high accuracy in targeting, produces a shockingly high percentage of deaths from 'friendly fire'. Since coalition forces take good care to determine and publish the cause of each allied death, 50% of relatives in our hypothetical case have the added misery of knowing that their loves ones died at the hands of their fellow soldiers.
2. The same argument works from the other side. Developing example 1 further, suppose Iraqi troops are so astonishingly incompetent that they not only kill very few people compared to their losses (that 1000:1 ratio again), they even kill just as many of their own soldiers as they do of ours. (This is probably too high, but I'm making an à fortiori argument. To simplify again, I omit from my calculations any civilians or journalists they may succeed in killing, whether intentionally or not, plus any soldiers shot by their officers for refusing to fight, successful suicide bombers, officers 'fragged' by those planning to desert, and so on.)
Continuing with the previous assumptions, that would mean that they lose 9,910 soldiers, 9,900 to coalition fire, only 10 to their own incompetence, despite the grossness of the incompetence hypothesized. Even if every death could be clearly assigned to its cause -- unlikely in this war --, only a tiny percentage of grieving Iraqi families would have the added misery of knowing that their loved ones had died at the hands of their fellow Iraqis. (Again, I'm counting only those killed in battle by misaimed weapons, not executed deserters and such.)
I don't see any solution to this statistical paradox. We certainly don't want to reduce the ratio of enemy deaths to allied deaths. The only possible improvement is a further increase in the accuracy of targeting. Of course, in this imperfect world it's very difficult to increase a number that's already at 99.9% of the theoretical maximum,† all the more so in the barely controlled chaos of modern war. The only sure way to get the number much closer to 100% is to add further checks and rechecks and crosschecks that take up precious time, time which allows even a sluggish and badly led enemy to react, and thereby causes the ratio of enemy deaths to friendly deaths to worsen. It is surely better to lose 20 men in battle, half to 'friendly fire', than to lose 40 or 50 or 100, only 1 or 2 or 5 of them to 'friendly fire'. Not that that would make the survivors feel much better.
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* 'Friendly fire' is not a good name, but it is concise, and more recognizable than 'blue-on-blue'. I will use it here, but only in quotation marks.
† I don't know the actual number, but it's certainly something in that general area.
Yesterday's SharkBlog includes an interesting little item:
Buyer Beware: Marketplace Radio reported that the intelligence which may have betrayed Saddam's location was obtained by monitoring a "secure" radio system -- which the British sold Iraq several years ago, and which the coalition forces somehow had the ability to decrypt.
I like that "somehow". I've often wondered whether airplanes and other complex weapons systems sold to foreign countries have secret gadgets attached that could disable them if necessary. If not, they should. Suppose the U.S. sells a few dozen advanced fighter aircraft to, say, Egypt or Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. What happens if a revolution or coup d'état puts them in the wrong hands, as happened when the Shah of Iran was deposed? It would be nice to be able to send a coded radio signal that would permanently disable the weapons systems or even the whole airplane. Causing an airplane to crash in flight would be a bit severe, though it would preserve some deniability. Even triggering the ejection seat on command could injure innocent bystanders. But surely a tiny bomb designed to fry all the weapons-control circuits beyond any possibility of repair could be designed and tucked away inside some innocent-looking part. Of course, this method could only be used to disable an entire air force once, after which sales would plummet as word got around.
Can we do this? Have we? Have other manufacturers of sophisticated military hardware? I have no idea, but I certainly hope so.
The Dixie Mall in Missisauga. What's that all about? There's nothing less Southern-fried, Confederate, or Dixieish than Canada, especially Ontario. It will pain some to hear it, but the name 'Dixie' doesn't really have enough glamor to be worth borrowing. Is this some kind of geographic pun? Missisauga does sound a lot like Mississippi. If so, it wouldn't be the first such pun: Connecticut is a long way (geographically and culturally) from Jack London country, but the University of Connecticut calls its teams the Huskies, because "U Conn" sounds like "Yukon".
A lavender tanker truck with Ontario plates and three labels on the rear of the trailer:
Canadian humor? (Sorry, I mean 'humour'.) The implied aggression sounds more stereotypically American to me.
I've lived or frequently traveled near three of the Great Lakes and always found them dull, at least by contrast with various oceans. I spent the first half of last year living in Yarmouth, Maine, a mile or so from the Atlantic, with numerous interesting islands (many with bridges to the mainland), lots of boats of various sizes and types, the occasional ocean-going ship, noticeable waves even in calm weather, and (not least) the constant smell of the sea.
Whether it's the south end of Lake Michigan, the south shore of Lake Erie, or the stretch of Lake Ontario from Rochester around to Toronto, the parts of the Great Lakes I have seen lack most of these, though I suppose the sailboats will be out soon, and Toronto has a few islands. In Rochester, I haven't seen a single vessel of any kind in months, and I drive by the shore just about every day. It still seems strange that I can drive along Lake Avenue for a mile or more, only 50 yards from the lake, and smell nothing at all.* Even in fairly bad weather, the waves are rarely over three feet, and they are often measured in inches. All in all, Lake Ontario at Rochester is just an endless unbroken expanse of boring blue, though the nearest two-thirds of what I can see has been very brown for the last few days, most likely from all the melting snow. At least I hope so: the power is still off in some areas from Friday's ice storm, so I suppose it could be untreated sewage. Either way, it's not an improvement.
On my trip to Toronto last Saturday, I did see something quite remarkable. It turns out that you can see all the way across Lake Ontario at some points. I always take the coastal route to Toronto: it's 90 miles to the border, but the first 35 (Lake Ontario Parkway) and the last 10 (Robert Moses Parkway) are interstate-quality with very little traffic. The 45 miles in between (state route 18) is two lanes, but 55 mph except for the occasional town, and very straight, so I'm never stuck behind a truck for long. Not only is the route scenic, it also avoids going through Buffalo, saves at least 20 miles, and avoids the tolls and traffic of the New York State Thruway.
Since moving to Rochester last September, I've driven that way half a dozen times, but had never noticed the most remarkable sight along the way. The town of Porter (not in Rand McNally) is a single row of houses between Route 18 and the lake, five or ten miles east of the mouth of the Niagara River. As I was driving through, or rather alongside, Porter on Saturday, I suddenly noticed the Toronto skyline thirty miles away on the northwest horizon. It was just the tiniest, hazy, clump of six or eight overlapping skyscrapers that looked to be about an inch high, perched on the watery horizon like an island. A little to the left of them was a threadlike CNN Tower about an inch and a half high: I could just make out the bulge in the middle. The whole thing looked like it belonged in a snow globe. I wonder if the locals use the view of Toronto as a weather sign, depending on whether it's clear, hazy, barely visible, or entirely invisible.
I'm going back to Toronto the first weekend in May (for Figaro at the Opéra Atélier) and will try to remember to take my camera and (weather permitting) take a picture. To judge from Rand McNally, Buffalo is about fifty miles from Toronto. I wonder if any of the tallest buildings in either city are ever visible from those in the other.
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* I suppose this comes from spending far more time living near oceans than lakes. (My father was in the Navy for 26 years, and retired when I was in college.) Similarly, I've spent three or four months of my life in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and only a day and a half in Brooklyn. Whenever I see a Hasidic Jew on the subway with a laptop or cellphone, it seems horribly wrong, even sinful. I have to remind myself that if he's riding the subway in Manhattan, he's very unlikely to be Amish -- especially if he's carrying a cellphone or a laptop.
. . . to open the attachment of an e-mail purporting to come from 'email@example.com' with the subject-line 'Re: Here is that sample'? Is this really an efficient way to propagate a virus? Or is it part of an academic study to determine what percentage of computer users are dumber than the proverbial box of rocks? Or is some kind of reverse psychology involved -- making the message so obviously dangerous that the occasional recipient will be intrigued enough to open it, just to see? Not that it worked on me, of course.
Update: (4/11, 7:35 PM)
Today I was offered a chance to buy "UNIVERSITY DIPLOMAS", with the assurance of "No required tests, classes, books, or interviews". Again, this would have been a lot more convincing if it had not purported to come from firstname.lastname@example.org (sic), with the subject header "finnantial critterya" (sic again).
Anyone with a television and a heart has spent the last few days enthralled by the scenes of statues and pictures of Saddam Hussein being knocked over, smashed, or burned by crowds of happy Iraqis. Winds of Change quotes the Virginia state motto and Shelley's 'Ozymandias'. I can't help thinking of Juvenal on the fall of Sejanus (Satires 10.58-64):
Descendunt statuae restemque sequuntur,
ipsas deinde rotas bigarum impacta securis
caedit et inmeritis franguntur crura caballis.
Iam strident ignes, iam follibus atque caminis
ardet adoratum populo caput et crepat ingens
Seianus, deinde ex facie toto orbe secunda
fiunt urceoli, pelves, sartago, matellae
Here is Peter Green's Penguin translation (3rd edition, 1998):
The ropes are heaved, down come the statues,
axes demolish their chariot-wheels, the unoffending
legs of their horses are broken, and now the fire
roars up in the furnace, now flames hiss under the bellows:
the head of the people's darling glows red-hot, great Sejanus
crackles and melts. Those features, once second in all the world,
are turned into jugs and basins, frying-pans, chamber-pots.
Though it would be good to keep the broken pieces of one or two of them on display for future generations, I trust that most of Saddam's statues will also be recycled. Chamber-pots are out of style, but bedpans are a possibility: perhaps they could be made with miniature portraits of Saddam and his sons.
The political situations are not entirely parallel. Sejanus was not the emperor himself, but right-hand man of Tiberius, who suddenly and without warning (A.D. 31) had him executed with his whole family. Unfortunately, there is a gap in the text of Tacitus' Annales and the most dramatic parts are missing. But Juvenal fills in quite nicely.
The passage was reworked in Ben Jonson's tragedy Sejanus, 400 years old this year:
The eager Multitude, who never yet
Knew why to love, or hate, but only pleas'd
To expresse their rage of power, no sooner heard
The murmure of Seianus in decline,
But with that speed, and heate of appetite,
With which they greedily deuoure the way
To some great Sports, or a new Theatre;
They fill'd the Capitoll, and Pompeis Circke:
Where, like so many Mastiues, biting stones,
As if his Statues now were sensitiue
Of their wild fury, first they teare them downe:
Then fastning ropes, drag them along the streetes,
Crying in scorne, this, this was that rich head
Was crown'd with Gyrlonds, and with Odours, This
That was in Rome so reuerenced. Now
The Furnace, and the Bellowes shall to worke
The great Seianus crack, and peice, by peice,
Drop in the Founders pit.
That's from Act V, of course, a few pages from the end of the play.
I wonder what ever happened to the Russian guy in the famous photograph -- I mean the one who shimmied up the side of a 30-foot statue of Lenin to put a rope around its neck so a crane could lift it off its foundations. I might not remember him so vividly if he hadn't been wearing Rocky the Flying Squirrel's hat.
If anyone has e-mailed me in the last three days, either to order books and CDs or for any other reason, I should be able to answer you tomorrow. Friday's ice storm knocked out the power at my apartment, and it's still not back on. I'm at the public library now, but that doesn't help with e-mail.
The latest news is that power will "probably" be restored some time tonight. Until it is, there will be no more posts, though I've got plenty to say. The public library has a 90-minute internet access limit, and it takes that long just to see what's happening in the world.
Stay tuned, and watch this space.
Just checking to make sure my dial-up access works now that the cable modem is unplugged. More real blogging later.
"Dear Mr. Nordlinger: In my three-year-old daughter's music class, the teacher sings, 'Someone is hiding, hiding, hiding, hiding. Someone is hiding, where can they be?' This grammatical incorrectness comes from political correctness: We can't say, 'Someone is hiding, where can he be?' Also, I've seen a bumper sticker that says, 'If you can read this, thank a teacher. And give them a raise!' Ugh. (Also politically incorrect, since it defames Native Americans!)"
I have to disagree about the cause of this repulsive usage. It may be encouraged by political correctness, but it cannot have been inspired by it, since it is at least thirty years old, probably more like fifty or sixty years, if not more. In 1925, Bessie Smith sang:
It's hard to love some man
When he don't care for you.
Bob Wills sang the same song ('I Ain't Got Nobody', by Roger Graham and Spencer Williams) with slightly different words:
It's awful hard to love someone
When they don't care for you.
I suppose he felt uncomfortable singing about loving a man, but it's odd that he didn't just reverse the genders to 'some girl' (or 'some gal') and 'she'. Apparently he found the use of 'they' for a single person of indeterminate gender acceptable. The album (Bob Wills, 24 Greatest Hits, Polydor 827573, 1977) provides no dates, but most of the tunes naturally come from his period of greatest popularity, so his rewriting was most likely done in the 1940's or 1950's, long before the advent of Political Correctness. Wills retired in 1969 and died in 1975.
This is partly (but not entirely) an experiment in e-commerce:
A friend and I have a few hundred used books to sell, plus a dozen or so CD albums (all classical) and a few videotapes (all VHS). Click here to see the index file for the various subject-lists, then e-mail if you see anything you like. Please don't put your orders in the comments.
First come, first served. There is a wide variety of stuff, from the Lexicon Spinozanum (what library is complete without it?) to Elmore Leonard to the Jerk Cookbook, not to mention Thatcher's Arabic Grammar of the Written Language, various Portuguese and Catalan classics, a complete Wordsworth, and much more. Be sure to tell your bibliophile and biblioholic friends, but not until you've grabbed up anything you want that they may also want.
For payment, I should have my Paypal account straightened out in the next 24 hours, but checks will also do. Sorry, no credit cards.
Finally, if you think a particular price is too high, you can make an offer, but I can't promise to take it (this is not an auction) or that someone else won't be glad to pay the asking price.
Robert Prather (in The Command Post) and others have quoted Kofi Annan's statement that "everyone will emerge a loser" in the Iraq war. Isn't that what losers always say when they see that their side is losing? And doesn't it give us a hint as to which side Annan is on? (Not that most of us needed one.)
On Sunday Innocents Abroad (2:20 PM, 3/30) reported that French journalists are now in 'I told you so' mode. I hope they aren't taking the same line as so many American journalists, 'experts', and webloggers, that the main problem is insufficient allied troops. If they do, they might want to accept some of the responsibility themselves. After all, the French Foreign Legion would come in very handy right about now hunting Scuds in the western desert, or intercepting busloads of Syrian and Palestinian 'volunteers', or stirring up the Kurdish hordes in the north, and a genuine German Panzer division would come in very handy in the desert fighting along the Euphrates. Those who stand on the sidelines and refuse to get involved in a fight can hardly complain when their friend and ally is outnumbered. That's assuming that they are friends and allies, of course, but I believe they still claim to be.
After Saddam Hussein once again failed to appear for a press conference this afternoon, many have jumped to the plausible conclusion that he is dead. Steven Den Beste is more circumspect:
Either he's dead, or he's in a coma, or he is so badly wounded as to make it impossible to disguise the fact on TV.
This is almost exactly right, but I would modify it a bit. If Saddam is wounded, it must (as he says) be in some way that is impossible to disguise, but it must also be something repulsive or humiliating. I don't know about Iraqi attitudes, but in the U.S. losing an arm or an eye for one's country could actually be a plus. An eye-patch in particular looks quite dashing: many years ago (the 60s?) a company (Van Heusen?) used a handsome eye-patched model to sell men's shirts. A few scars could also add to Saddam's heroic stature.
Of course, as Den Beste says, anything that can be concealed would also be possible: scars or burns below the neckline or above the hairline, a missing leg or two, missing genitalia. As with the last, it's kind of fun in a sick sort of way to consider all the possibilities. Actually, I'm not sure it's sick at all when dealing with someone like Saddam Hussein. Here are all the possibilities I can think of:
Everyone will have his own favorite among these possibilities. Have I forgotten any?