September 25, 2003
Fact-Checking A Commenter's Ass

He's not even one of my commenters, but the facts are important.

Tacitus has an interesting post on the shameful propensity of many Democrats today to call the war in Iraq "Bush's war" rather than America's war, just as many Republicans a few years back called the bombing of Serbia "Clinton's war". In the 18th comment (of 80 so far), one 'MC Hawking' rashly sneers:

Of course, Bush & Company shared all the glory of our victory in Baghdad equally with everyone, of both parties.

Remember when Bush had Tom Daschle land with him together on the Lincoln flight deck? Because it's AMERICA'S war, all of us in it together, right? Certainly no one was partisan in any way about it.

What is it said about victory having a thousand fathers...?

Your eyes are turning brown, Tac.

A quick Google search confirmed something I vaguely remembered. The source is the May 9th edition of The Sun (published in Bremerton, "serving the Western Puget Sound since 1935"), and I'm only quoting the most pertinent bits:

Continued criticism by Democrats of President Bush's visit to the supercarrier USS Abraham Lincoln a week ago isn't shared by this state's party members.

Of course, six state Democrats flew by helicopter to greet the warship as it headed into Everett on Monday.

U.S. Reps. Norm Dicks, Jay Inslee and Rick Larsen, who all represent districts that include Navy installations, said they don't begrudge Bush's landing and national address on the aircraft carrier May 1.

. . . . . . . . .

The House trio was accompanied to the Lincoln by U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and Gov. Gary Locke.

"It just seems to me it's entirely appropriate for the president to welcome home the sailors," Inslee said. "I don't have a problem with doing it on the ship. I can't see that it causes great grief to anyone.

"But first off, I'm not focusing on landing planes. I'm more worried about stopping the economy from crashing."

Many Democrats, including Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., have characterized Bush's visit to the Lincoln as a campaign stop.

"Other people can look at it differently," said Dicks, who added that he was proud six state Democrats visited the Lincoln together. "I don't have any problem with what the president did. Those kids on board are going to remember that for as long as they live."

Since the meeting was on an aircraft carrier, the six Democrats must have been flown out by the Navy -- they couldn't just drop in, like Arianna Huffington crashing a Schwarzenegger rally. And that means their visit could not have been arranged without White House approval. Which means that 'MC Hawking' is the one whose eyes are turning brown. (Though unfamiliar with the locution, I'm guessing it's a euphemistic way of saying someone is full of shit.) When it comes to bipartisanship, one governor, two senators, and three congressmen are surely more than equal to a single Daschle. It appears that Bush didn't bring any Republican congressmen along, though the story implies that there don't happen to be any in the area with significant numbers of military constituents.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:48 PM
September 23, 2003
Gluttony Kills

I seem to have taken care of the mouse problem in my new apartment, at least for the moment. No doubt more will move in as the weather turns cold, but I'm told they usually come in pairs and the first pair is dead.

The first two nights I put out three old-fashioned mousetraps baited with stinky French cheese, but the mice nibbled all the cheese off two of them both nights without setting them off. My brother recommended flour and water to make the bait stick to the trap, so I put a gob of French Münster on each with a little flour and water before and after and all around, making sure to jam cheese, flour, and water into the inner part of the bait-holder. I hadn't even gone to bed when the kitchen trap nailed one of the furry little bastards. Perhaps he was old and shaky, or young and inexperienced: either way, he died hungry. I reset the trap, since the bait was still nearly intact. The second night was uneventful, but on the morning after the third, I found the same trap with every last bit of the bait gone and one dead mouse. If he hadn't been so intent on nibbling off the last of the cheese, he could be alive today.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:47 PM
September 22, 2003
Information As Troll Repellent

I hope it's not also reader repellent . . . .

A troll who calls himself (herself?) 'JadeGold' has been infesting North Georgia Dogma. I hate to have to do someone else's homework for him, but I very much object to being accused of "misrepresentation", having "little regard for the truth", and saying "false" things by someone who exemplifies all three characteristics. Some of you may wish to skip this entry: it could get messy. The issues are important, not just the economic question -- is the current economy even worse than Carter's? -- but the question of how to argue about economics, or any other subject.

My first remark in the comments to this post castigated 'JadeGold' for the bigoted use of the inane epithet "Repugs" -- no apology was offered -- and went on:

Those of us over 40 or so have good reason to believe that Carter's was the worst economy since Hoover's -- certainly far worse than either Bush's. And I can say that even after spending five of the last six months unemployed. Of course, "not as bad as Carter's" isn't a very high recommendation of anything -- economy, foreign policy, whatever.

'Just John' replied:

Carter didn't have the n[e]t loss of total jobs that W has.

To this I replied:

Maybe not, but Bush doesn't have 14% inflation, 18% interest rates, and gas lines two blocks long. Taken as a whole, I do not believe the current economy is nearly as bad as Carter's.

By the way, is this "net job loss" stated as a percentage of the workforce, or as a total number of jobs lost? The wording suggests the latter, which is rather misleading: if there are (e.g.) 30% more people in the workforce today and the total jobs lost are 15% or 20% or 25% more this time than last time, Bush would be doing better (or less badly) in proportion to the size of the workforce. Not adjusting for the size of the workforce is just as misleading and (if intentional) dishonest as not adjusting for inflation when comparing dollar figures from different eras.

To return to our story, 'JadeGold' replied:

What's sad is that some conservatives have such little regard for the truth.

Maybe not, but Bush doesn't have 14% inflation, 18% interest rates, and gas lines two blocks long

No, Dubya doesn't. But neither did Carter. Under Carter, inflation averaged 10.7% (with a high of 13.5% in 1980). Unemployment under Carter averaged 6.5% as compared to 8.6% in Reagan's first 4 years. Job creation under Carter averaged about 3.1% annually, while Reagan averaged 2.1% over his 8 years.

I won't quote all the foolishness that followed, but how's this for sophistry? I wrote:

I didn't say inflation averaged 14% under Carter, I said or at least clearly implied that it hit 14%, which it did. If the average for his (thankfully) last year in office was 13.5%, then there were months in that year in which the rate hit an annualized 14%. (Duh! In something so variable as economic statistics, it would be difficult for 12 monthly numbers to average 13.5 without some of them being even higher.)

The reply:

Even this tortured explanation is false. Funny, but false. In an attempt to parse his figures, the good Dr. claims that certain months in 1980 might have had an annualized inflation rate of 14%. If we accept this as true (and by no means is it necceassrily true or false)--that must mean certain months were well under an annualized inflation rate of 14%.

Apparently 'JadeGold' doesn't understand how averages work. If twelve numbers average out to 13.5, and some of them are over 14, but not very far over, the rest of them cannot all be "well under" 14, unless you define "well" as one percent or not much more. And I didn't say that some months "might" have been over 14%: I remember the Carter years very well, and distinctly remember often thinking "Jeez, 14% inflation, how soon can we vote this moron out?".

I have now tracked down monthly inflation data for the last half century to show that:

  1. Yes, the inflation rate did hit 14% under Jimmy Carter, just as I wrote, in fact almost hit 15% in March 1980 (14.76%) and was over 14% for five months in a row (February to June). So much for "might".
  2. The inflation rate never went under 12.5% the whole year. So much for "well under".
  3. Contrary to what another commenter wrote, Carter did not just inherit Ford's inflation and pass it on to Reagan. When Ford took office (August 1974) the inflation rate was near 11% and had been in double digits seven months in a row. (How much of the severe inflationary spurt of 1973-75 should be attributed to the oil embargo of 1973 and how much can be blamed on Nixonian economic incompetence is an interesting question, on which I suspect even competent economists disagree. Anyone who wants to put all the blame on Nixon will get no argument from me.) Two years and two months later, when Ford was voted out in favor of Carter, it was less than half that: 4.88%. Laugh all you want at WIN buttons, but he, or his subordinates, must have been doing something right. By the time Carter was inaugurated (January 1977) it had crept up to 5.22% and Carter nearly tripled that number. November 1980, when he was voted out in favor of Reagan, was the 21st consecutive month of double-digit inflation, including, as I have already mentioned, five consecutive months over 14%.

I could go on and impugn the other arguments 'JadeGold' offers, but it's hardly worth the time. Of course, as she (or he) earnestly argues and no one denies, inflation is not the only measure of an economy. It may be possible to prove that the current economy is worse than Carter's. It will take better and more honest arguments than 'JadeGold' has come up with, and those of us who have been unemployed for parts of both the Carter and Bush II administrations will be particularly hard to convince. At least this time around I haven't had to take a job moving pianos for the minimum wage (then $2.70 per hour), as I briefly did in February 1978.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:49 PM
September 19, 2003
Hurricane Blog III-B

I know I promised my previous entry on this subject would be the last, but there's more to report. It turns out that some nearby areas were much harder hit. My parents and brother 'Steevil' live on the same one-block dead-end street a mile or two west of here. Among the 60 or 70 homes on their block, 4 cars were damaged or destroyed by falling trees or branches, and one fallen tree blocked the whole street at 4:30 this morning, though the city (or county?) had a crew out very quickly, and sawed it up and hauled most of it away before dawn. A lot more exciting than anything that happened where I am.

I just moved into my apartment, and haven't had a chance to do much grocery shopping. However, thanks to the power failure at my parents' house, my freezer is now full, and my refrigerator half-full. They tell me they'll disinherit me if I eat the home-made rhubarb pie, but the rest is fair game. Too bad I don't like liverwurst or chicken pot pies.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:52 PM
Hurricane Blog III

What a bore. This will be my last entry on the subject.

I slept through the worst part, though I'm a light sleeper and woke up a few times, and there was very little in the way of lashing rains or howling winds. The damned mouse I saw run behind the stove last night seems to have extracted the cheese from two of my three mousetraps without setting them off. It was stinky and French -- the cheese, not the mouse -- so I'm not surprised he couldn't resist the risk. I'll add more tonight: in the long run a "work accident" is likely.

The debris in the front yard this morning consists of a few hundred individual leaves and half a dozen foot-long quarter-inch-thick branches, or rather twigs. The power is still on here, but a couple of blocks away at Paradise and Frederick all 15 or 20 stores are closed and the stoplight is out. At least it was an hour and a half ago when I went out to look for a newspaper and some breakfast. The policeman I passed on the way was too busy ticketing a speeder to direct traffic. In Rochester after the great power failure a few weeks ago, all the radio stations kept telling us that a nonfunctional traffic light should be treated like a four-way stop, and most drivers followed that rule even into absurdity, stopping when there was no one else coming from any other direction. Either Baltimore radio stations are not passing along the message, or local drivers are ignoring it. I would guess the latter, since my insurance rates went up 60% when I moved here, and I was almost run over by some moron who didn't even slow down at the dead light.

The 7-11 at Paradise and Frederick has a camper-top pickup truck backed right up to the double front doors, blocking them very thoroughly. At first I thought that meant that the electronic locks didn't work in a power failure, but that seems unlikely, since (a) a 7-11 probably wouldn't have such sophisticated locks, and (b), unless the programmer was an idiot, they should default to "locked" when the power goes off. More likely, the owner just wants to prevent smash-and-grab robberies.

Conclusion: No big deal in this part of Baltimore County. Television is still running all-hurricane all-the-time coverage, and there is major flooding nearer Chesapeake Bay, with the usual footage (perhaps recycled from the last storm) of people paddling down major thoroughfares in canoes and dinghys as the water pours into the first-floor windows.

Update: (12:40 PM)

A college friend (we'll call him "Tom in NYC") objects that electronic locks should not default to locked in case of a power failure, because that would trap people inside. What I should have said was that they should default to "exit only", like ordinary emergency exits, when the power goes off, or (better) default to "exit-only unless you have a physical key", i.e. turn into ordinary non-electronic locks. You certainly wouldn't want fancy computerized locking systems to leave the doors unlocked whenever the power goes off. I was vaguely thinking of a newspaper story I read some years back about a maximum-security jail in (I think) Mexico that installed a super-sophisticated computerized security system which defaulted to "unlocked" when the power went off. When a local power failure occurred, all the prisoners walked out. Of course, this may just be an urban legend with a nasty ethnic slant.

On the other hand, programmers do sometimes make dumb mistakes with serious consequences. The dreaded Y2K meltdown turned out to be a bit of a flop, but I've read that a programming error once caused huge damages to the Australian aluminum-smelting industry. Apparently one of the programmers who wrote the software controlling the very expensive equipment forgot about leap years, so when February 29th, 1992 or 1996 (I forget which) rolled around, all the factories did a sudden uncontrolled shutdown that cost hundreds of millions of (Australian) dollars. I assume it was just one programmer. If they had all ignored leap year, the equipment would surely have kept chugging along, thinking it was March 1st when it was actually February 29th. But when different program modules suddenly diverge by 24 hours, it's not surprising that they stop working right.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:54 AM
September 18, 2003
Hurricane Blog II

The rain just picked up a few minutes ago, and is now coming down hard (but not in buckets) at nearly a 45 degree angle. Still nothing that would distinguish this from an ordinary thunderstorm, and the power is still (obviously) on, though it has flickered once or twice, though not quite enough to affect my computer.

Five minutes later:

Woo-hoo! No school tomorrow. I love my job, but the late hire means that I've been treading water from the first day, trying to move and unpack and prepare for classes all at once. A four-day weekend is just what I needed to catch up.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:48 PM
Hurricane Blog I

Not having a lot else to say at the moment, I'll post comments on the weather here in Paradise, just west of Baltimore.* So far so good, though the worst (3-5 inches of rain and 50 mph winds) is supposed come after midnight, peaking around 4:00 or 5:00 AM. The morning was cloudy, quite windy, and pleasantly cool, but dry, and I finished moving most of my stuff into my new apartment. (No school today!) Around 1:00 or so a light but steady rain started, and it has continued since without any apparent increase in intensity. The wind seems, if anything, less than it was before the rain started. In other words, no big deal, but the day is not yet over. This is my first apartment with a garage -- located under the house facing a treeless alley -- so my car is quite safe. If I can find the cable that downloads pictures from my digital camera, I'll post a picture of my front yard, showing why I did not park out front: a thick-rooted and apparently healthy but rather slanted and very large tree looming over one of my neighbors' subcompact. Now all I need is to find which of 100+ boxes contains my flashlight, in case the power goes out.

Riddle: Speaking of flashlights, which prominent left-wing blogger just bought not one, not two, not three, but "four or five" of them for his family? That seems a bit excessive. They're in very short supply in the hurricane area, so it looks as if three or four other families will have to go without any flashlight at all because their patriarchs were too short-sighted or short-funded to buy them before Anonymous got there. When lefties allege that the reason some must do without is because others have too much, they're usually full of baloney, but in this case it seems to be literally true.

Hint: This particular blogger has been known to argue that Communism was really not so bad, and right-wingers shouldn't go on about its horrors. I wonder whether he includes shooting 'hoarders' of food and other necessities among the not-so-serious crimes of Communism.

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

*Some of the more literal-minded classical scholars have tried to pin down Odysseus' adventures on a map of the real world. My favorite argued that Aeolus' island is Madeira and Circe's Iceland: since Circe's seems to be quite warm and well-furnished with vegetation, she must have lived near one of Iceland's volcanic hot springs. Best of all, the scholar places the entrance to the Underworld on the west coast of Scotland, near modern Glasgow.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 04:32 PM
What Does This Mean?

Can anyone translate this brief Hebrew text for me?

It's painted on most of the basement steps in my new apartment. If I had to guess, I would think it means "G-d bless this house" or "G-d forbid that anyone fall down these stairs" or something equally innocuous. I hope it's not "Pork-free zone" or "Eat not the flesh of the blue crab, whether steamed with spices or fried up as crabcakes" or "If you can't read this, you are hereby condemned to everlasting torment for your shameful ignorance of the divine language".

I'm particularly curious as to what vowels should be supplied, whether the third letter is a sin or a shin, whether the text should be divided into separate words and if so how, and of course what the whole thing means.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:18 AM
September 17, 2003
What's Wrong With Pennsylvania?

I've driven through central Pennsylvania on U.S. 15 and I-83 at least a dozen times in the last year, mostly from Rochester to Baltimore and back, except for the last time, when I didn't go back. Much of the route (Williamsport to Harrisburg) follows the Susquehanna River, which is quite scenic, except for a couple of clumps of fast-food restaurants and one sparsely-populated stretch from roughly ten to roughly twenty miles north of Harrisburg. It contains no towns of any size, only a few dozen houses, one motel, two gas stations, and (when I first drove it) three porn stores. That seemed a bit excessive. On my second-to-last trip in May, I noticed that a fourth had opened along the same ten-mile stretch of highway. On my last trip a month ago, there was a fifth, and none of the others appeared to have closed up shop. To judge from Rand McNally, the area contains no towns of any size set back from the highway and the river. So what's going on? Are central Pennsylvanians the loneliest, horniest, most voyeuristic bastards in America, or what?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:25 PM
September 09, 2003
P.S. Eternal Data

When I applied for my Maryland driver's license, the clerk asked if I had ever had one before. Yes, I had -- in 1979. She immediately called up my record and displayed my personal data on a touch-screen so I could confirm or edit each item as necessary. I'm still 6'1" and still have hazel eyes (duh!), my hair may as well still be entirely brown, since I shave my head, but I haven't weighed 160 pounds in a long long time. Thanks for the reminder, omniscient computer!

Speaking of clerks: A few weeks ago someone on my blogroll (I don't recall who) was making sneering remarks about customer support employees as if they were universally lazy, incompetent, and impossible to reach in the first place. That has not been my experience lately. From Chesapeake Bank to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration to Hertz Penske Truck Rentals, just about every customer representative I've talked to while moving has been thoroughly pleasant, efficient, and helpful. Perhaps most impressive: it took less than five minutes total to shut down my telephone and gas-and-electric accounts in Rochester and arrange for the final bills to be forwarded here. When I was young and slender, that had to be done in person, and involved waiting in line for at least half an hour in each location. What was particularly imprssive was that I made the calls the day after the great power outage that knocked out electricity for 90% of Rochester along with most of the rest of the Northeast: Rochester Gas & Electric had a perfect excuse for putting me on hold for hours, but I got right through. I should mention, though, that none of these experiences involved computer support, which may be just as bad as its reputation.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:22 PM
I'm Back, Finally

What kept me from posting for the last nine days:

  1. The first six days of teaching at my new school. So far, so good. My last class on Friday was way too rowdy, and the same gang wasn't much better yesterday, but even my worst class here is better behaved and more willing to learn than my best class last year. Main problem so far: no air conditioning.
  2. A bad cold all weekend, just when I should have been nailing down the lesson plans for the quarter. From previous experience I know that moving to a new town and teaching high school or middle school means three to five colds in the first semester.
  3. All the other complications of moving to a new town. The bank wouldn't let me open a checking account without a local driver's license (they blamed Ashcroft, of course), so I had to wait in line at the MVA Saturday morning. Having a picture of a crab on my license made the wait worthwhile. I found an apartment in Paradise -- that's the name of the neighborhood -- actually two floors of a stone row-house. Assuming the landlord gets the ferret smell out of the basement carpeting and the mouse turds and (presumed) mouse out of the garage before I move in, it should be quite comfortable. It costs about the same as the tiny one-bedroom I had looked at before, but is weird-shaped, huge, with high ceilings, hardwood floors, and a (non-functional) hand-carved stone fireplace. (The fake logs are going in the boiler room: I think it will look better empty.) I plan to make the first floor look like the inside of Dr. Who's Tardis (the one in the movie, not the tacky one in the original series). I liked the place so much I rented it without noticing that it came with a washer and dryer. Best of all, I can move my 200 boxes of books in very easily, since there are only two low steps leading to the front door and first floor, and none at all leading to the basement through the garage in back.

Now all I have to do is rent a truck and drive to Rochester this weekend to pick up at least half of my stuff.

Since my cold is almost gone, posting should be slightly less intermittent the rest of this week.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:36 PM