July 31, 2003
Another Aftermath

Another interesting thing I saw in Stratford was the World War I memorial, with long lists of names under the dates "1914-1919". I don't imagine the memorial makers were ignorant of the fact that the armistice was November 11, 1918: even if they were, surely someone would have corrected it by now. More likely the dates mean that at least one local boy was killed in France in 1919, at least seven weeks after the armistice.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:00 AM
July 30, 2003
Small Town News

This is from page B1 of today's issue of The Record, which serves Kitchener, Cambridge, and Waterloo, Ontario and surrounding areas, including Stratford, where I saw it. I haven't looked to see whether it's on the web:

               Man Prefers Jail To Living With Mom

Michael McAllister would rather be in a jail cell than living with his mother or sister.

The 21-year-old Kitchener man turned himself in to police yesterday because he refuses to live with either his mother or his sister, as required by the terms of his bail.

He's been on bail since being arrested for methadone trafficking in July 2001. His lawyer, John Lang, said McAllister just couldn't take the "house rules".

There's more, including the fact that if McAllister hadn't turned himself in, he would have left his relatives holding the bag for $10,000 (Canadian), but we never do get any details of the house rules. Was he tired of being nagged about leaving the toilet seat up, or was it much worse than that? And how could he possibly think the local jail's rules would be less onerous? There seem to be only three possibilities:

  1. McAllister's mother and sister (both of them!) exhibit near-Nazi levels of merciless authoritarianism and obsessive rule-making.
  2. Ontario jails (shouldn't they be gaols?) are permissive beyond the dreams of the wooliest leftist.
  3. McAllister is really really dumb.

The three possibilities are not mutually exclusive, so there may be a bit of each.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:42 PM
July 29, 2003
An Inadvertent Pun?

Maybe I'm just easily amused, especially on long boring drives, but somewhere between Cooperstown and Syracuse is 'Pratts Falls Park'. It would sound so much better (worse?) without the first S.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:25 AM
Missing (Part Of) The Point

Several bloggers have quoted the words of a recent Justice Department study: "The nation's prison population grew 2.6 percent last year, . . . despite a small decline in serious crime in 2002." DailyPundit quotes a criminologist named Alfred Blumstein who points out that it is "not illogical for the prison population to go up even when the crime rate goes down" because "some crimes considered victimless are not counted in the FBI's annual report on the crime rate, including drug crimes, gun possession crimes and immigration offenses" and because (is this really a reason?) experience has shown that "there is no reason that the prison count and the crime rate have to be consistent".

Isn't it also true that many of the people who were committing crimes last year are not committing them this year because they're in jail? Some went to jail last year and are still in or were in for part of this year but are now out, while others were not even jailed until this year. The American criminal justice system is not known for its efficiency, and the average time from crime to punishment is a fairly large fraction of a year. (How large a fraction? Ask a criminologist.) If I may borrow and adapt some economic terminology, shouldn't the crime rate be a 'leading indicator' of the incarceration rate, and the incarceration rate a 'lagging indicator' of the crime rate? Of course, as with economics, other factors are involved, and the War on Terror has probably skewed the numbers at least a little bit, since immigration offenses are not counted in the crime rate, even when they lead to incarceration.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:16 AM
July 25, 2003
Last Chance To Own A Piece Of The Weevil

I've been selling off some spare books, CDs, and videotapes through my non-pseudonymous scholarly site. This is just to announce that I will be putting all my possessions in storage in two weeks, so anyone who wants to buy should do it soon. There is a wide range of products available, from Fats Waller to Ayn Rand (books about her, not by her), Plato to Rimbaud, Aquinas to LeGuin. Since I'm hoping to move some stock, I'm offering special one-time-only conditions:

  1. Spend more than $75.00 and I will pay book rate shipping within the U.S.
  2. Buy at least nine books or CDs or tapes (any combination) at one time and the ninth one (the cheapest one, obviously) is free. Multiple volume books and multiple-CD sets count separately, so there may be some pro-rating and averaging involved. This offer may be combined with the previous one for additional savings.
  3. If you think a price is too high, make me a reasonable offer by August 8th and there's a fair chance I will accept it. Of course, if someone offers more, or offers full price before the 8th, you're out of luck.

Of course, if anyone would rather throw some money in the Tip Jar and earn a place on the Council for Blogging Excellence, that would be nice, but it's been less than three months since I made an appeal for contributions. Not to mention that selling books lightens my work in hauling stuff to the storage place, while mere contributions do not. (I might even find time to fix it up the way the CBE page is supposed to look.)

Just to show I'm not feeling greedy, I would ask people not to buy me anything from my Amazon wish list until further notice, since my address will be changing in two weeks and I'm not quite sure where I'll be living then. (Maybe under a bridge, which would give me a chance to meet some of my commenters.) Of course, this is an easy request to make: no one's bought me anything yet, and it's a long time to my birthday.

Unless they are made in the next half hour, orders and inquiries will not be answered until late Sunday, when they will be handled strictly in order of arrival in my in-box. I'll be out of town until then. Of course, if I'd known my car was going to develop $520.50 worth of brake problems this week, I wouldn't have bought tickets for seven different theatrical events in the next week, but I'm trying to see what there is to see up this way before relocating. (Most likely to Baltimore for the next few months, though there are still some jobs left undecided.) If anyone is wondering, I will be seeing Euripides' Orestes at Franklin Stage near Oneonta tonight, Verdi's Macbeth and Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin done by the Kirov Opera at Lincoln Center tomorrow, Offenbach's comic (huh?) version of Bluebeard at Glimmerglass on Sunday, and Aristophanes' Birds, Sophocles' Electra, and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival on Tuesday and Wednesday. Would a promise of brief reviews help shake the money tree, or have I already alienated all my readers by my grossly sybaritical lifestyle (aesthetic division)? I've already paid for all the damned tickets, so money that should have gone to car repair is going to car rental instead.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:41 PM
July 24, 2003
To Show Or Not To Show The Corpses

Rantburg reports: "The United States will release photographs of Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)ís sons taken after they were killed by American missiles as they resisted arrest in an effort to convince Iraqis they are truly dead." Various bloggers and commenters have also suggested that the bodies need to be shown to the Iraqi public. Tacitus asks "wouldn't publicly displaying the corpses (or photos of the corpses) of the Brothers Husseini present some legal problems?" I think there's something in the Geneva Convention about showing respect for the dead.

Wouldn't a compromise be possible? Why not ask several dozen respected Iraqis to take a look at the actual bodies and tell the masses whether they think they are Uday's and Qusay's? Witnesses could include members of the governing councils, tribal chiefs, senior mullahs, and of course doctors or medical professors to check the X-rays of Uday's injuries and dentists to look at the dental evidence. Perhaps a few random citizens of all classes could be selected by lottery. They would have to be volunteers, since strong stomachs and self-control would be prerequisites.

It seems to me that this would show the Iraqis that we respect their opinions, and their fear of a hoax or mistake, while not allowing a circus-like display or desecration of the corpses. Of course, we would have to make sure none of the witnesses got carried away and started tearing at the corpses or whacking them with their shoes, so a no-touching please-stay-behind-the-rope-line policy would have to be announced and enforced. If any of the women of the Hussein family can be found in or out of Iraq, it would be both polite and useful to allow them to view the corpses, too, assuming they want to, and safe-conduct passes would surely be appropriate.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:03 AM
It's Only Money

A week ago, the Ombudsgod reported that an Englishman is facing prosecution and a possible fine of £150 ($241) for not paying the BBC poll tax, which comes to £116 ($187) for a color (sorry, colour) television. That's really not much of a difference, is it? Is £150 the most he can be fined? Though rather cheap myself, I can well imagine thinking that it would be worth an extra £34 ($54) and an hour or two in court to deprive the BBC of £116 in revenues. Assuming, of course, that the fine goes into general revenues or court costs rather than being handed over to the BBC, in which case such legal recalcitrance would be counterproductive.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:36 AM
July 23, 2003
"All On A Summer's Day"

That didn't take long. Only one day after two Aces, Uday and Qusay, were killed, the Queen of Hearts has been captured. Some desultory questions and comments:

  1. Four of a kind: all four Queens are now in custody.
  2. I wonder if the Queen turned himself in when he realized it would be safer than waiting for Task Force 20 to knock on his door. I don't imagine there's much time between the knock and the first bullet, and failure to respond promptly, which could easily happen if he were asleep or in the shower, could lead to a very unpleasant end.
  3. I also wonder if he felt his manliness threatened by having the most effeminate identification in the deck: 'Queen of Hearts'? His card seems to be one of those without an actual picture, so there's no way to judge the appropriateness of the identification. (Whoever decided to make serial rapist Uday Hussein the Ace of Hearts was either careless of secondary implications or had a sick sense of humor.)
  4. With the latest capture, 36 of the 52 cards have been accounted for, a total of 69.2%: three-fourths of the Aces (all except Saddam), half of the face cards (one king, four Queens, and a Jack), and three-fourths of the number cards. On the slightly-longer list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis, the total comes to 37, or 67.2%.
  5. For a handy list of poker hands that can be built from these cards (not yet including the Queen of Hearts), see Priorities and Frivolities by 'Boomshock' (6:15 PM on 7/22 if the direct link doesn't work). I imagine he'll be updating it soon.
  6. Although the pace of captures (and now killings) has dramatically slowed, the rank of those captured has risen. (The graphs are here.) It has been 15 weeks today since the statue came down. In the first 7 1/2 of those weeks, up to the end of May, 27 were captured or turned themselves in, in the next 7 1/2 weeks, from June 1st through today, only 9 were captured or killed. But those 27 were mostly number cards, including lots of Twos, Threes, Fives, and Sixes, plus five face cards and no Aces, while the 9 have all been Sevens or above, and one-third have been Aces: in order, 7 10 10 A 7 9 A A Q. The loss in quantity is at least partly balanced by a gain in quality. As I have said before, we seem to be closing in on the big fish, while running out of little fish to capture, though there are still a few of them at large.
Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:27 PM
A Pair Of Aces

I've updated the Ba'ath Poker page (button in right margin) to reflect the deaths of Qusay Hussein, the Ace of Clubs, and Uday Hussein, the Ace of Hearts (perhaps not the most appropriate card for a rapist). Coalition forces have now captured or killed 35 of the 52 cards, which is just about two-thirds (67.3%). Three-quarters of the Aces and three quarters of the number cards (Two to Ten) are dead or in custody, but fewer than half of the face cards (one King, three Queens, and one Jack, five out of twelve). Perhaps that is just a matter of blind chance, but I wonder if the face cards have certain advantages. They would most likely have more money and more friends than the number cards, while not being quite as recognizable as the Aces. Some of them might also be important enough to deserve protection from Syria or Iran, but not so important as to risk U.S. pressure to hand them over. In other words, Syria might well not dare protect Saddam or his sons for fear of U.S. invasion, but might well think they could shelter a Jack or two with impunity.

There have been reports that two cards were already thought to be dead, though no one will say which two. If so, then 37 out of 52 have been taken care of one way or the other. Some of the other fifteen may be out of reach, either because they have successfully escaped to Syria or beyond, or because they committed suicide, as quite a few Nazis did when the Allies were closing in on them.

So far, so good?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:28 AM
July 21, 2003
The Horns Of A Dilemma

On YalePundits (6/18, 10:11 PM if the link doesn't work), Mitch Webber quotes an eloquent paragraph from Tony Blair:

There is a myth that though we love freedom, others don't; that our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture; that freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law are American values or Western values; that Afghan women were content under the lash of the Taliban; that Saddam was somehow beloved by his people; that Milosevic was Serbia's savior. Members of Congress, ours are not Western values. They are the universal values of the human spirit, and anywhere -- (applause) -- anywhere, any time ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom, not tyranny; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of the secret police.

What I find interesting is that so many who would object to Blair's words and support some form of cultural relativism also (and quite rightly) despise Aristotle's idea that some people, and some entire nations, are natural slaves. Don't we have to agree with one or the other? There doesn't seem to me to be much in the way of middle ground. Do anti-Blairites and anti-Bushies really want to come out in favor of natural slavery?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:40 AM
Great Minds Think Alike

Lynn Sislo (Reflections in d minor) asks: "Why don't serious classical composers write music for the banjo or steel guitar?" I think I know the answer. Because the banjo and steel guitar are totally uncool instruments, and no one interested in classical music can confess an interest in them without losing well over half his or her reputation for sophistication. This isn't a scholarly article, so one piece of evidence should suffice to prove my case. On one season of Frasier, Martin Crane has a vulgar but lovable girlfriend who always rubs Frasier and Niles the wrong way. Their most painful moment comes when she whips out her banjo and plays it for them. (A steel guitar would have been just as tacky, but less portable.)

Even before reading Sislo, I had sometimes thought of writing up a spoof post about the discovery of a trove of lost works of Paul Hindemith. Here's the short version. It is well known that Hindemith wrote pieces for just about every instrument in the standard orchestra and quite a few more (what the heckel is a heckelphone?). My idea was to write a fictional review of the first recording of the bundle of long-lost works, suppressed by his executors at Yale out of shame and embarrassment. It seems that the stuffy German professor had a secret passion for country and bluegrass and also wrote:

  1. Sonata for banjo and pedal steel guitar
  2. Sonata for recorder and mountain dulcimer
  3. Sextet for dobro, guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and string bass
  4. Double Concerto for dobro, guitar, and bluegrass band
  5. Double Concerto for twin fiddles and orchestra
  6. Sonata for trombone and steel guitar

I'd pay to hear any of these, especially the last: who could resist multiple crisscrossing glissandos?

The whole cool/uncool thing is fascinatingly irrational. Quite a few modern serious or classical (postclassical?) composers have written works for jazz band or included saxophones and exotic third-world instruments. Why not banjos and steel guitars?

Besides the class and regional biases involved in this omission, there may also be some racial stereotyping. When I was in college (St. John's College, Annapolis, early 1970s), the records most students owned, besides the obvious rock/pop stuff, tended to fall into two broad categories. One was classical: Bach above all, plus Mozart, Beethoven, Palestrina, Stravinsky, among others. (Not much Wagner or Verdi or Puccini, though.) The other semi-required category was jazz and especially blues: Robert Johnson (of course), Bessie Smith, Mississippi John Hurt, John Coltrane (the rawer, honkinger, stuff), Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker.

I don't recall much, if any, Duke Ellington or Count Basie in circulation, and no one I knew admitted to owning any Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn, or George Jones. The pattern is obvious: raw, primitive, elemental black music versus elegant, sophisticated white music. Duke Ellington and Hank Williams were devalued, or unvalued, or unknown, because they didn't fit the pattern.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:28 AM
July 20, 2003
I Hope It's Not Contagious

I shouldn't pick on someone who's sick, but Natalie Solent has come down with a bad case of irritating terminal vowel syndrome: the main symptom is "sinusy disgustingy thingies". Perhaps a nice drinky-winky would effect a homeopathic cure.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:36 PM
July 17, 2003
How Long, How Long Blues

I won't give his name, since he's someone I admire, but one blogger wrote a week ago that it had been "four months" since major combat operations ended. Of course, it had actually been only two and a third, since Bush's speech on the Abraham Lincoln was May 1st. I just realized today that it hasn't even been four months since major combat operations began on March 19th. Of course, it seems like much longer, but bitching and moaning about a quagmire in Iraq less than four months after the beginning of the war is a bit (how shall we put it?) stupid thoughtless premature.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:36 PM
Give Up?

Since no one has been able to answer them in four days, here are the answers to the first three quiz questions:

  1. Uncle Pen was Bill Monroe's uncle Pendleton Vandiver, who taught him to play the fiddle and mandolin. Monroe's hit 'Uncle Pen' was number 1 on the country charts in 1984.
  2. According to Big Joe Turner, you "sit on the bank and watch the crawdads die".
  3. These 'walking shoes' are not just for walking: they're what you wear to walk out of a bad relationship. A Google search came up empty, but I once heard a country song in which a woman put on her walking shoes and her "it's all overcoat".
Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:24 AM
July 13, 2003
American Music Quiz

With one question each from jazz, blues, bluegrass, and country (not necessarily in that order), this tests not only the depth but the breadth of your knowledge of American non-classical music. There is no prize because some answers can be found via Google. Please don't do that. Answers may be placed in the comments.

  1. What was Uncle Pen's full name? (This is a giveaway to many.)
  2. What do you do when the crawdad hole goes dry?
  3. What article of apparel goes best with a pair of walkin' shoes?
  4. What pair of musicians have color-coordinated first names? (They may or may not be brothers.)

Update 1: (4:50 PM)
Since 'Sporkadelic' has answered #4 (see first comment), here's three more bonus questions, one of them classical:

  1. What jazzman's name or nickname is also a dreaded disease? I am not referring to 'Bleedings Gums' Murphy on The Simpsons, but a real jazzman.
  2. Why is the "Green Mountain Monteverdi Festival" the best ever name for a music festival, and why should it move a few miles north from Massachusetts (apparently) into Vermont?
  3. Why would a woman who can't figure out that her boyfriend is a loser be appropriately compared to Cleopatra? Julius Caesar and Mark Antony were no losers. Well, Antony lost in the end, but you see what I mean.

Update 2: (7/16 00:26 AM)
Questions 4-7 have all been answered (press 'more' to see them), but 1-3 are still open. Come on, they're not that hard.

Answers so far:

  1. Jazzmen Blue Mitchell and Red Mitchell, who are not brothers (Sporkadelic).
  2. Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (Whaq).
  3. Because Monteverdi, Vermont, and Green Mountain are synonyms in Italian, French, and English, respectively (Michell Dulak).
  4. A few years ago Pam Tillis had a hit country song about a woman whose boyfriend swore he loved her but couldn't afford a wedding ring, but then bought a brand-new pickup truck, and so on. The punch-line (quoted from memory) was "They call me Cleopatra, 'cause I'm the Queen of Denial" (rvman). By the way, a Professor of Popular Culture could write a long and not-necessarily-boring paper about the intrusion of pop psychology into country music. (Also bluegrass: in a recent album, Del McCoury sings about being a "recovering Pharisee" -- a nice combination of pop-psych and Biblical tradition.)
Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:05 AM
July 12, 2003
Be Careful What You Wish For

Colby Cosh is looking for software to analyze his style:

You know what I’d like to have? I was thinking about this. I’ve put almost a year’s worth of text here: at a guess, I’ve written three or four hundred thousand words for the site. What I’d like is a program that analyzed my word frequencies and compared them to some background standard to see which ones I might be overusing. I don’t know if other writers have this phobia . . . sometimes I’ll use some slightly obscure adjective, and I’ll realize, “Hmmm, I’ve written that word, what, three times in the last two months? It’s kind of an unusual word. How often can I get away with this before people start to notice?” And so I have to strike it out of my vocabulary for a while. But maybe there are subconsciously irritating “favourites” I’m not aware of. If there were a way for a large cross-section of a person’s prose to be analyzed in this manner . . . well, I’m perfectly aware that there are sophisticated forensic tools for the analysis of word frequencies, I just don’t know if any of them have ever been adapted to a specifically literary purpose. Even a crude application would be useful: the old Smith-Corona electronic typewriter that got me through college was able to do this kind of analysis on a single document, and I came to rely on it to save me from embarrassing word repeats.

Knowledge of one’s own style is not necessarily a good thing. Here’s one of my favorite passages from David Lodge’s Small World (1984), Part III, Chapter I. It is set in a pub, where Persse, a young Irish poet, is talking to Frobisher, a washed-up proletarian novelist:

“How did you come to lose faith in your style?” Persse enquired.

“I’ll tell you. I can date it precisely from a trip I made to Darlington six years ago. There’s a new university there, you know, one of those plateglass and poured-concrete affairs on the edge of the town. They wanted to give me an honorary degree. Not the most prestigious university in the world, but nobody else had offered to give me a degree. The idea was, Darlington’s a working-class, industrial town, so they’d honour a writer who wrote about working-class, industrial life. I bought that. I was sort of flattered, to tell the truth. So I went up there to receive this degree. The usual flummery of robes and bowing and lifting your cap to the vice-chancellor and so on. Bloody awful lunch. But it was all right, I didn’t mind. But then, when the official part was over, I was nobbled by a man in the English Department. Name of Dempsey.”

“Robin Dempsey,” said Persse.

“Oh, you know him? Not a friend of yours, I hope?”

“Definitely not.”

“Good. Well, as you probably know, this Dempsey character is gaga about computers. I gathered this over lunch, because he was sitting opposite me. ‘I’d like to take you over to our Computer Centre this afternoon,’ he said. ‘We’ve got something set up for you that I think you’ll find interesting.’ He was sort of twitching in his seat with excitement as he said it, like a kid who can’t wait to unwrap his Christmas presents. So when the degree business was finished, I went with him to this Computer Centre. Rather grand name, actually, it was just a prefabricated hut, with a couple of sheep cropping the grass outside. There was another chap there, sort of running the place, called Josh. But Dempsey did all the talking. ‘You’ve probably heard,’ he said, ‘of our Centre for Computational Stylistics.’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘Where is it?’ ‘Where? Well, it’s here, I suppose,’ he said. ‘I mean, I’m it, so it’s wherever I am. That is, wherever I am when I’m doing computational stylistics, which is only one of my research interests. It’s not so much a place,’ he said, ‘as a headed notepaper. Anyway,’ he went on, ‘when we heard that the University was going to give you an honorary degree, we decided to make yours the first complete corpus in our tape archive.’ ‘What does that mean?’ I said. ‘It means,’ he said, holding up a flat metal canister rather like the sort you keep film spools in, ‘It means that every word you’ve ever published is in here.’ His eyes gleamed with a kind of manic glee, like he was Frankenstein, or some kind of wizard, as if he had me locked up in that flat metal box. Which, in a way, he had. ‘What’s the use of that?’ I asked. ‘What’s the use of it?’ he said, laughing hysterically. ‘What’s the use? Let’s show him, Josh.’ And he passed the canister to the other guy, who takes out a spool of tape and fits it on to one of the machines. ‘Come over here,’ says Dempsey, and sits me down in front of a kind of typewriter with a TV screen attached. ‘With that tape,’ he said, ‘we can request the computer to supply us with any information we like about your ideolect.’ ‘Come again?’ I said. ‘Your own special, distinctive, unique way of using the English language. What’s your favorite word?’ ‘My favorite word? I don’t have one.’ ‘Oh yes you do!’ he said. ‘The word you use most frequently.’ ‘That’s probably the or a or and,’ I said. He shook his head impatiently. ‘We instruct the computer to ignore what we call grammatical words—articles, prepositions, pronouns, modal verbs, which have a high frequency rating in all discourse. Then we get to the real nitty-gritty, what we call the lexical words, the words that carry a distinctive semantic content. Words like love or dark or heart or God. Let’s see.’ So he taps away on the keyboard and instantly my favourite word appears on the screen. What do you think it was?’

“Beer?” Persse ventured.

Frobisher looked at him a shade suspiciously through his owlish spectacles, and shook his head. “Try again.”

“I don’t know, I’m sure,” said Persse.

Frobisher paused to drink and swallow, then looked solemnly at Persse. “Grease,” he said, at length.

“Grease?” Persse repeated blankly.

Grease. Greasy. Greased. Various forms and applications of the root, literal and metaphorical. I didn’t believe him at first, I laughed in his face. Then he pressed a button and the machine began listing all the phrases in my works in which the word grease appears in one form or another. There they were, streaming across the screen in front of me, faster than I could read them, with page references and line numbers. The greasy floor, the roads greasy with rain, the grease-stained cuff, the greasy jam butty, his greasy smile, the grease-smeared table, the greasy small change of their conversation, even, would you believe it, his body moved in hers like a well-greased piston. I was flabberglasted, I can tell you. My entire oeuvre seemed to be saturated with grease. I’d never realized I was so obsessed with the stuff. Dempsey was chortling with glee, pressing buttons to show what my other favourite words were. Grey and grime were high on the list, I seem to remember. I seemed to have a penchant for depressing words beginning with a hard ‘g’. Also sink, smoke, feel, struggle, run and sensual. Then he started to refine the categories. The parts of the body I mentioned most often were hand and breast, usually one on the other. The direct speech of male characters was invariably introduced by the simple tag he said, but the speech of women by a variety of expressive verbal groups, she gasped, she sighed, she whispered urgently, she cried passionately. All my heroes have brown eyes, like me. Their favourite expletive is bugger. The women they fall in love with tend to have Biblical names, especially ones beginning with ‘R’—Ruth, Rachel, Rebecca, and so on. I like to end chapters with a short moodless sentence.”

“You remember all this from six years ago?” Persse marvelled.

“Just in case I might forget, Robin Demspey gave me a printout of the whole thing, popped it into a folder and gave it to me to take home. ‘A little souvenir of the day,’ he was pleased to call it. Well, I took it home, read it on the train, and the next morning, when I sat down at my desk and tried to get on with my novel, I found I couldn’t. Every time I wanted an adjective, greasy would spring into my mind. Every time I wrote he said, I would scratch it out and write he groaned or he laughed, but it didn’t seem right—but when I went back to he said, that didn’t seem right either, it seemed predictable and mechanical. Robin and Josh had really fucked me up between them. I’ve never been able to write fiction since.”

He ended, and emptied his tankard in a single draught.

“That’s the saddest story I ever heard,” said Persse.

Of course, none of this answers Cosh’s question, whether such programs are available outside the pages of a comic novel.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:01 AM
July 11, 2003
Oops! He Did It Again

James Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review is a sic, sic man. Here is how he quotes a Sydney Morning Herald columnist:*

Frank Sartor's once sparkling Olympic footpaths are now smeared with the oil of a million spilt [sic] milkshakes and hotdogs....

Yes, Capozzola added the "[sic]". If he had checked a dictionary first, he would know that 'spilt' and 'spilled' are equally correct forms of the verb. For instance, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, which is very full and recently updated, lists both as forms of 'spill' without any indication that one is better than the other, not even an 'obsolete' or 'archaic' for 'spilt'.

It does list 'spilled' before 'spilt', presumably because it is commoner today in most contexts. The one context in which 'spilt' is still common is the well-known proverb "there's no use crying over spilt milk": Google gives roughly 20% more hits for "cry over spilt milk" than for "cry over spilled milk", and nearly twice as many if "crying" is substituted in both.

'Cry over spilt milk' is the only form of the phrase given (under 'milk') in the Shorter OED. Since the columnist quoted is referring to milkshakes, I think it's fair to assume that he's alluding to the proverb. Once again, Capozzola has, like a pretentious twit, corrected something that was not wrong. Or would that be 'as a pretentious twit'?

Of course, if he'd only put the "[sic]" after "milkshake" instead of before, he would have a graceful escape. He could claim that he was mocking the idea that milkshakes have significant quantities of oil in them. Then again, perhaps Sydney milkshakes do.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

*First and only post for July 10th. I have a firm policy of refusing to link to anyone who refuses to link to anyone who links to Little Green Footballs.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:28 PM
July 10, 2003
Who's Jamming, And Whence?

Both VodkaPundit and (with more detail) Electric Venom report that Iranian-language broadcasts from the U.S. are being jammed (which did not surprise me) from somewhere in the Americas (which did). I'm wondering who is operating the jamming equipment, where they are located, and what (if anything) can be done about them. I don't understand the physics, but I'm guessing that it takes fairly expensive equipment and quite a lot of power to jam a satellite from the ground. Venomous Kate reports that the jamming is not coming from near the source of the broadcasts in Southern California, but from somewhere further east, aimed at a linking satellite over the Atlantic.

The Who and Where questions go together. I see three possibilities. In no particular order:

  1. Iranian agents on a ship (not necessarily Iranian-flagged) in international waters. Would an unobtrusive cargo ship have the power to do this? Would it have the stability? (I wouldn't know, but I wonder if a ship at sea would slosh around too much in the swell to keep a steady jamming beam aimed at a satellite, at least without some very sophisticated aim-correcting equipment.)
  2. Iranian agents on the ground in some country that doesn't know they're there. In that case, countries with huge expanses of jungle and poorly-guarded borders are most likely, but there are at least half a dozen countries in the area that fit the bill, for instance Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and Surinam.
  3. A government in the area that shares Iran's hostility to the U.S., most likely Cuba or Venezuela. (I hope the French aren't perfidious enough to let them use French Guiana.) In that case it hardly matters whether the jamming is being done by the government or by Iranians they have allowed into their country.

What can be done? Again, I know far too little about the science and the law to answer my own questions. Here are three more, one for the engineers, two for the lawyers:

  1. Can a jamming beam be easily tracked and located? I'm guessing not: if a radio station directed a focused signal straight at the satellite instead of broadcasting it in all directions, wouldn't it be impossible to detect without actually flying a plane in between? Even if the beam tended to spread, a station in a deep valley surrounded by mountains would surely be undetectable even in the next valley. (I hope the signal's not coming from a holler in West Virginia: that would be embarrassing.)
  2. Isn't this jamming a gross violation of international law? It seems to my legally-ignorant eye to be equivalent to piracy. The fact that property is passing through international waters (or space) and is (in this case) intangible doesn't mean than anyone is allowed to hijack or destroy it, does it?
  3. If jamming is equivalent to piracy, can the jamming transmitters be destroyed by the countries whose signals they are jamming? I believe the Navy is allowed to destroy pirate ships, at least if they are intercepted while committing piratical acts. I believe this is true even if the pirate ships are not in international waters, but in the waters of a country that is either unwilling or unable to stop their pirating. I assume jammers would have to be given a chance to stop jamming before launching cruise missiles at them. If they are located on land, the countries harboring them (knowingly or unknowingly) would also, I assume, have to be given a chance to shut them down themselves. But if they refused to do so, would we be free to fire off a cruise missile or two?

Can anyone help me out on these questions? Steven Den Beste? Steevil? (That's my brother the electrical engineer.) Anyone else? Maybe I should ask my father, who I believe helped jam radio stations in the Dominican Republic during the U.S. intervention in 1965. Then again, his knowledge of jamming, though practical as well as theoretical, may not be quite up to date.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:05 PM
Four Of A Kind

I've updated my Ba'ath Poker file (white button in right column) to reflect yesterday's capture of the Nine of Hearts and Seven of Spades. Some desultory reflections on that:

  1. We have now captured three-eighths of the Top 16 -- 1 Ace, 1 King, 3 Queens, and 1 Jack -- which is a good start but not great for close to three months of searching. On the other hand, we have fully three-quarters of the other cards in custody: two of the Fours, all four Sevens (hence my title), and three each of the other ranks from Two to Ten.
  2. It's likely, as I have noted before, that at least one or two high-ranking Ba'athists are beyond our reach, either because they were killed in bombing raids, have committed suicide, or have managed to escape to countries evil enough to protect them or inept enough not to notice their presence. How many will turn up (sorry: that's a card joke) in the long run is hard to estimate.
  3. The Nine of Hearts was reported captured on May 1st, but I removed him from the list of captured cards a few weeks later when I noticed that he had never turned up on the CentCom list. It's interesting that the news organizations that reported his supposed capture never, so far as I can determine, corrected their error.
  4. It's been almost three weeks since the previous capture, of the Ace of Diamonds. That's not very encouraging. (The Ba'ath Poker file provides graphs charting rank against time of capture.)
  5. Reasons for the slowing pace of captures are worth mulling. Partly there are just fewer left to catch: fewer fish in the pond, as it were. But there must also be a Darwinian effect: those who have managed to last this long may just be luckier than the others, but are also likely to be the ones who had greater available resources in the way of money, weapons, friends, relatives, safehouses, and so on, or are just better-adapted to the fugitive lifestyle. The Husseins and the face cards would obviously have had more opportunities to squirrel away guns and money and build safe-houses, and it is not surprising that fewer of them have been captured.
  6. As I have mentioned before, I'm very curious as to whether the fugitives are coagulating into cooperative groups. That would increase their chances of doing damage to coalition forces, but also increase their chances of being caught in bunches. I'm particularly curious as to whether the three Husseins are working together and at least occasionally meeting.
  7. It's hard to see a winning strategy for the surviving Ba'athists. They can keep picking off our soldiers one by one, but if we keep capturing their leaders, they will run out long before we do. I don't mean to be callous: they can make things thoroughly nasty, but that's not the same as winning. If they try to put together a major operation that could lower morale by killing 20 or 50 or 100 of our troops at a time, they vastly increase the risk of being spotted (or informed on) beforehand, or caught and killed afterwards. I suppose all they can do is try to multiply the pinprick attacks, encourage civilian disgruntlement by trying to blow up pipelines and power lines faster than we can repair them (and faster than we kill the dynamiters), and hope they can hold on until a withdrawal-minded Democrat is elected. That doesn't seem like much of a game plan to me.
  8. News organizations never seem to report whether the Iraqis or foreign irregulars who are shooting at our troops wear any sort of recognizable uniform. If not, they are not 'guerrillas' but simple terrorists.
Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:30 AM
July 09, 2003
Careless Or Vicious? You Be The Judge

It's not on their website, or at least not on the front page, but the lead story in today's local paper comes with this headline:

Bush Condemns ‘Crime’ of Slavery

I hope those are supposed to be quotation marks indicating Bush's actual word choice. Since Americans generally use “double quotations” for that purpose, these single quotations look a lot more like ironic ‘sneer quotes’. If irony is intended, it's not entirely clear who is the target, and I don't know which of the two possible implications is worse: that the editors don't believe slavery was a crime, or that they don't believe that Bush believes it was. The newspaper is called the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, which may offer a hint as to the likelihood of a sneer and its likely target.

My local grocery store (Wegman's) has a more innocently amusing sign in the bakery section:

Donut Holes
2 for $4

That seems awfully high for such simple delicacies.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 03:41 PM
July 08, 2003
A New Syllabus Of Errors?

One reason I've been out of sorts and not posting much lately is that I get so tired of seeing the same false and discredited arguments repeated over and over by those who haven't been paying attention. You can learn a lot from reading blogs, but you have to be willing to learn, and the most convincing arguments are soon lost in the archives. Of course they can be easily retrieved if they're still there (not a safe assumption for Blogspot sites) and if you can find them, either via Google or by remembering who wrote them, neither of which is a foolproof method.

To take one small example of the kind of verbal kudzu that's been getting me down, consider the comment of one 'ralphy-boy' on this morning's 8:28 post on Daily Kos (no I won't link to it): "you do not see the children of the rich or educated over there" -- he means you do not see them serving in Iraq. In his brief comment, he also calls our soldiers "the bottom of the pile" and says "they would be pawns no matter where they landed- the service or the factory". Of course, hundreds of others have said the same sort of contemptuous and contemptible things on the web, but it is all demonstrably false. I have not forgotten that one of the first men killed in Iraq was Lt. Thomas Adams, a direct descendant (presumably in the male line) of presidents John and John Quincy Adams, whose grandfather founded a bank and a savings and loan and "helped rebuild the Old Globe Theatre and the Aerospace Museum after they were destroyed by arson". I don't think Lt. Adams joined the Navy because it was the only way out of the ghetto or the trailer-park, or because he was tired of working the night shift at the plastic factory. The same goes for Marine Lt. Therrell Childers, who made the dean's list at the Citadel majoring in French. (That's two of the three who share this news story / obituary.) Even someone faced with a choice of service or factory is hardly an utter pawn if he can choose between them. Of course, anyone who has relatives who have servied, or who even bothers to read what military bloggers like the various contributors to Sgt. Stryker say about their families already knows that 'ralphy-boy' is utterly and shamefully wrong.

Given the masses of similar crap floating around the blogosphere, I sometimes wonder whether it would be worth putting together an old-fashioned non-linear non-blog hierarchically-arranged site of FAQs on the war on terror -- sort of a political Snopes. It could theoretically help the ralphy-boys of the world get a clue. Of course, it would be a lot of work, and I'm not offering to do it myself, just tossing out the idea in the hope that it may inspire discussion, if not action.

<Begin obligatory pedantic content>
Such a site could be arranged negatively, like the Syllabus of Errors, subtitled "A Condemnation of Modernist, Liberal Errors", proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1864. Not that many of us are going to agree with Pius' list of errors. Here are some samples:

15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.

55. The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.

63. It is lawful to refuse obedience to legitimate princes, and even to rebel against them.

Pius saved the best for last:

80. The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization.

It is interesting and in some ways amusing that most of these errors are now considered obviously true by most educated westerners. I bet some of my readers are even know scratching their heads wondering why I bothered to quote them: because they're supposed to be wrong, that's why. They also show what real traditional conservatism is, or rather was: those who think of George W. Bush as some kind of "mediaeval" "theocratic" "reactionary" wouldn't recognize the real thing if it came up and bit them, even with various Wahhabis and Iranian mullahs to give them a strong hint.
<End obligatory pedantic content>

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:53 PM
Hmmm . . . .

As I mentioned last month, The Oxford Companion to the Year, by Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens (1999) is full of fascinating calendar lore. It doesn't list birthdates of famous people unless these are national holidays, but it does give very full lists of national and regional holidays as well as saints' days for various brands of Christianity and other religious holidays. These are listed by date, with a section at the beginning of each month for those that fall on a first Monday or third Tuesday or first full moon after the equinox.

Of course, nations, regions, and saints are so numerous that there are at least two or three things listed for just about every day of the year -- maybe not anything particularly important, but something. For instance, January 23rd is Grandmother's Day in Bulgaria and the Feast Days of St. John the Almsgiver and St. Ildefonsus, Archbishop of Toledo. March 29th is Vietnam Veterans Day in the U.S., Swedish Colonial Day in Delaware, and Youth Day in Taiwan. May 22nd is National Day in Yemen, National Maritime Day in the U.S., bjornevak ('bear waking'), when the bears come out of hibernation in Norway, and the Feast Day of St. Rita. Here's the entry for the last:

Rita of Cascia (c.1381-c.1457), Augustinian nun; patron of desperate cases. Patiently enduring a vicious husband until he was killed in a vendetta, she then had to cope with her two sons, who had inherited their father's propensities; to her relief, they died before they could avenge his murder. She then became a nun, ministering to the sick, and suffering from a chronic wound on her forehead, connected with her visions of the Passion. An early life and record of miracles survives, and her cult has become enormously popular, especially with the unhappily married.

There is only one date in the entire year with nothing listed: tomorrow, July 9th. The authors cover the gap by quoting a stanza of Longfellow on the month of July, but it has no particular connection with the ninth day of the month. There's nothing listed for the second Wednesday of July, either.

I'm not superstitious, so I won't say that July 9th is just waiting for something significant to happen on it, but I will say that I suspect, and hope, that the next edition will list it as an Iranian national holiday. I wish there was something I could do to make that more likely.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:10 AM
July 03, 2003
Strunk And Disorderly

If you're going to call someone else "pretentious" and correct his punctuation, it's best to make sure that it is in fact incorrect. Last Thursday, James Capozzola, editor, publisher, and only author of the pretentiously-titled Rittenhouse Review, quoted these words from William Safire: "a column that delights, illuminates, stimulates[,] or infuriates". It was Capozzola who added the square brackets and the comma between them. His justification:

I know most newspapers have dropped the ultimate comma that helps to separate a series of three or more items -- usually to save space, but a convention also dating back to the era when type was set one character at a time -- but Safire really should know better . . .

Capozzola seems to think there is only one way to punctuate the phrase correctly. I was taught that the comma after the second-to-last item in a list is optional, and I am not the only one who thinks so (besides Safire, I mean). Thomas S. Kane's advice in The New Oxford Guide to Writing (Oxford, 1988, 288f.) seems sound, and is supported by examples:

The items in a list, or series, may be joined by coordinating conjunctions ("She bought bread and eggs and cheese") or by parataxis ("She bought bread, eggs, cheese"). The most common method is to combine parataxis and coordination, linking the last two items with and, or, or but not, and joining the others paratactically: "She bought bread, eggs, and cheese."

When a list or series is completely paratactic, commas are used between the items:

Oriental luxury goods, jade, silk, gold, spices, vermilion, jewels, had formerly come overland by way of the Caspian Sea . . . .        Robert Graves

When it is completely coordinated, the commas are usually omitted:

She was crying now because she remembered that her life had been a long succession of humiliations and mistakes and pains and ridiculous efforts.        Jean Rhys

In the combined method (the most frequent practice), a comma goes between each pair of paratactic elements and is optional between the final coordinated pair, the choice depending on the preference of the writer or the policy of an editor. The first of these examples uses the comma; the second does not:

Fifty years ago, when all type was set by hand, the labor of several men was required to print, fold, and arrange in piles the signatures of a book.        Carl Becker

His plan was to clinch his teeth, shut his eyes, whirl the club round his head and bring it down with sickening violence in the general direction of the sphere.        P. G. Wodehouse

But whether you choose to place a comma between the final coordinated items or to leave it out, you should follow the same practice consistently in any piece of writing.

I've quoted more than was strictly necessary, because I like the embedded quotations, particularly the last. Like Capozzola and unlike Wodehouse (or his editors), I very much prefer to insert the optional comma in my own prose, but anyone who reads widely knows that there are some thoroughly competent authors who omit it. Would Capozzola interpolate a comma when quoting Wodehouse?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:45 AM
July 02, 2003
Always Check Your References

The Pundit ex Machina is shocked that Mark Steyn lists The Nation among the journals for which he writes. If he had clicked on the logo, he would have seen that this is the good Nation, "Thailand's independent online news & information service", not the other Nation, the one that's been going downhill for over a century. (It was founded in 1865, and Henry James started reviewing for it the same year, and later published many of his short stories in it.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:50 PM