October 30, 2003

Andrew Sullivan reports that the likely new leader of the British Tories is a man named Michael Howard. That means that if the right loses power in the U.S. to the current Democratic front-runner, wins power in the U.K., and holds power in Australia, the Coalition of the Willing will be led by three Howards: Howard Dean, Michael Howard, and (I had to look up his first name) John Howard. Assuming of course that the U.S. does not abandon the coalition if the Democrats win next year . . . . Perhaps I should add that I had to look up the Australian Howard's first name not because he is unimportant, but because he is now the only important Howard in the world so everyone just calls him 'Howard'. That may not last.

Postscript: (2:20 PM)

The last trio of Howards to be preeminent in their field was Curly, Moe, and Shemp. How would these be matched up with Dean, Michael, and John? Place your suggestions in the comments, and be sure to give specific reasons for each identification.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 02:00 PM
October 26, 2003
Contemporary Uses Of Latin

Volokh Major mentions the judicially-approved 'Shit Happens' bumper sticker (10/24, 3:39 PM if the link doesn't work). A few years ago, I was asked to translate this message into Latin for a summer student I was tutoring to brush up his Latin before he went back to Amherst, Bowdoin, Colby, Dartmouth -- one of those places. He wanted to make a bumper sticker for his favorite professor's pickup truck.

Latin doesn't seem to have a noun exactly corresponding to 'shit'. The verb is easy enough: caco, cacare, cacavi, cacatus is the standard obscene word for intestinal excretion -- and it even sounds like 'caca'. Merda (plural merdae) is close to the right meaning, but it usually means a piece of shit and is therefore more like 'turd'. I went with stercus, which is barnyard language but not obscene: 'dung' or 'manure'. For the verb, I gave him a choice of fit or accidit, leaning towards the latter. Although the meanings overlap, Stercus fit would mean something more like "Shit exists, there is shit in the world", while Stercus accidit could be loosely paraphrased "Into every life some shit must fall". (The basic meaning of accidit is "fall on" and therefore "befall, happen to" or just "occur".) The original English saying is not entirely perspicuous, so a case could be made for either fit or accidit. I don't know which the student chose, or how his professor responded.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:12 PM
Look Who's Talking

Last Wednesday (the 22nd), Eric Alterman wrote:

Read Jay Rosen on O'Reilly and Greg Easterbrook. On the latter, we concur. "Everyone needs an editor."

Of course, Easterbrook's first name is Gregg, not Greg. In a wittier author, I would have suspected that the misspelling was some kind of self-referential joke, but here I think it's just incompetence. That would also explain the slovenly ambiguity of the first word. Is it an imperative (go read Jay Rosen right now) or a past indicative (I recently read Jay Rosen but can't be bothered to include the clarifying pronoun)? The latter seems marginally more likely, but who can tell? What with the ambiguous pronunciation of 'read', a present indicative (I am reading Jay Rosen every day) is not absolutely impossible, though very unlikely. It may not be true that "everyone" needs an editor, but Eric (not Ericc) Alterman could certainly use one.

I would have linked to the particular entry, but Altercation doesn't seem to allow that, and doesn't seem to have any archives either.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:39 PM
October 21, 2003
Seen in D.C.

I went to see Bellini's Norma at the Washington Opera last night: not bad, and I may have more to say about it later. Getting there was surprisingly easy. I left school inside the Baltimore beltway at 3:05 and was at 16th and K by 4:05. Of course, it took 20 more minutes to find even temporary legal parking. While waiting for the show to start, I walked around the neighborhood and observed:

  • A restaurant called Yee Hwa. With a name like that, I assume it's Korean -- make that South Korean, or rather Deep South Korean.
  • Olsson's Books and Records has a section (of books) labeled "Self Help & Sexuality". I hope that's a mixture of books in two different categories, rather than a whole pile of books on how to help oneself sexually.

The end of the second grading period is Friday, so that's all for tonight. At least I didn't sink so low as to repeat the joke about the duck who went to the drugstore to buy some chapstick.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:58 PM
October 19, 2003
Shameful Reticence

I can't find a link for my second point, and the first hardly needs one, so this post will be link-free.

Various blogs and news sources have reported that (a) PM Mahathir of Malaysia denounced the Jews for inventing "socialism, communism, human rights, and democracy", and (b) France and Greece were the two EU countries least enthusiastic about criticizing his speech. Even if they don't care about the anti-Semitism, I would have thought that the Greeks would at least object to the historical falsehood. After all, most of us think that democracy is a good thing, and that the Greeks invented it. If they can't stand up for the Jews, can't they at least stand up for themselves?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:13 PM
More Than One Way To Make A Venn Diagram

Joanne Jacobs reports that a high school in Kennewick, Washington has assigned students to compare the Salem Witch Trials, the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, the McCarthy era, and "the anti-terrorist fear since 9/11 which resulted in the establishment of Homeland security and the Patriot Act" as "instances where mass hysteria has ruined people's lives" (emphasis added). Students are instructed to created Venn diagrams to illustrate their work. No doubt the teacher is thinking of something like this, where objects A, B, and C all share the characteristics that would listed under ABC, and pairs of them share the characteristics AB, BC, and AC:

(I borrowed the illustration from the What is a Venn Diagram? page on the Electronic Journal of Combinatorics site, but copied it here so as not to hog their bandwidth. The first hit for "Venn Diagrams" on Google is http://www.venndiagrams.com, which sounds promising but seems to have been unplugged. Even the cached pages are missing a lot of pieces.)

Of course, this, too, is a Venn Diagram:

All it needs is a list of all the non-overlapping characteristics of contemporary Homeland Security with (e.g.) the Salem Witch Trials and Japanese-American internment. I wonder if any of the students will be clever enough to think of some approximation of the second illustration, and snarky enough to hand it in. Scratch that last part: of course high-school students are snarky enough. But will any of them be bold enough?

Post-script: It appears from Jacobs' quotation that the school doesn't think much of its students Venn proficiency, since they are asked to construct a separate diagram for each pair of events: A, B, and AB, but no C, AC, BC, or ABC. Perhaps I should redo the illustrations, but I'm too lazy.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:01 PM
Test Your English Vocabulary

Here's a handy quiz to see whether your knowledge of English vocabulary is better than (ahem!) one or two of those on my blogroll. Fill in the appropriate adjectives to complete the story:

The ________ veteran of the Park Police blanched when he saw the ________ scene the ________ bears had left behind: there was nothing left of the naïve environmentalists except bones and ________ bits.

Choices: grisly, gristly, grizzled, grizzly.

Click 'More' for the answers, if you don't already know them.


The grizzled veteran of the Park Police blanched when he saw the grisly scene the grizzly bears had left behind: there was nothing left of the naïve environmentalists except bones and gristly bits.

To simplify, 'grizzled' means that one's hair or beard is gray or sprinkled with gray. It is etymologically related to 'grizzly', which refers only to a particular species of bear whose fur, unlike that of other bears, turns partially gray with age. 'Grisly' means 'grim, ghastly, horrible', and has nothing to do with bears per se, despite the fact that the scientific name of the grizzly is Ursus horribilis. Finally, 'gristly' means 'full of gristle' or otherwise pertaining to or connected with the cartilaginous parts of the body. Now if everyone could please stop writing about "grizzly" scenes when there are no bears involved, I can get back to more substantial, and less pedantic, posts.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:39 PM
Just Wondering II

Tipped off by reader Gautam Mukunda, Instapundit reports that ESPN has not only fired Gregg Easterbrook but removed all his writings from their website. Without getting into the question of his guilt, on which my thoughts and feelings are mixed, I sincerely hope that he

  1. has copies of everything he wrote for ESPN on his own hard-drive, so he doesn't have to ransack the Google cache, and
  2. has the legal right to republish his work on his own web-site or elsewhere (which depends on the exact words of his contract, I suppose).

Mildly amusing side-note: In revising the first draft of my first sentence to make ESPN instead of Easterbrook the subject I inadvertently put my right hand one key too far to the left, which made ESPN come out as ESOB. Perhaps the error was subconscious and mental rather than physical. I would boycott them, but (a) I very rarely watch any sports at all, and (b) I don't have cable yet. Perhaps I can boycott next year's broadcast of the National Spelling Bee.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 04:34 PM
Just Wondering I

Critical Mass blogs on plans to start a "tribally-controlled" university in Oklahoma. In passing, she mentions that there are 39 Indian tribes in the state, and that the Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles are known collectively as the "five civilized tribes". Google tells me that there is a Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee, and that the tribes got the name from their early adoption of European customs. What I want to know is what the other 34 Indian tribes in Oklahoma think of the name. It does rather imply that the rest are barbarous and uncivilized, which strikes me as being at least as bad as naming a sports team Indians or Braves or Seminoles.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 04:06 PM
October 13, 2003
Unintentional Irony?

Kieran Healy of Crooked Timber mentions upcoming conferences on "Philosophy and The Onion" and "The Undead and Philosophy". When I was in graduate school (late 1980s) I saw a poster announcing a conference on "Dominance and Submission in Mediaeval Literature". At the bottom, readers were given the name and address of the professor to whom abstracts were to be "submitted". Yes, they used exactly that word. It seemed peculiarly appropriate for the desperate adjuncts and tense untenured who most likely submitted most of the abstracts.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:53 PM
October 08, 2003
Hmmmmm . . . .

Maybe I'm just cynical, or have seen too many genre movies, but I'm not sure I believe that Yasser Arafat had a heart attack last week. The timing is awfully convenient. Just when the Israelis should be finishing the bastard off, they are told that if they wait a little longer they may not have to. That would theoretically allow them to avoid the 'wrath of the Arab street' and the supercilious carping of the State Department and its foreign equivalents. (I say 'theoretically' because the Palestinians are already claiming that the Israelis are poisoning Arafat: it appears the Jews will be blamed no matter how or when he dies.) It's the perfect excuse for taking out their frustration on other targets: cf. David Warren's argument that their raid on the Hezbollah camp in Syria was justified but horribly mistaken.

Of course, Arafat has been looking quite repulsively unhealthy* lately, but when has that not been true? Not as long as I can remember. Even if his current appearance explores whole new levels of purple-lipped horror-movie ugliness, it may owe something to the discreet use of makeup.

I'm even beginning to wonder whether Saddam Hussein in 1991 actively encouraged the perception that his regime was about to fall, so as to discourage the U.S. from giving it the last shove. George H. W. Bush certainly thought he could get what he wanted without further fighting. I hope Sharon is not making a similar mistake.

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

*Scroll down to "Arafat suffered a heart attack" if the link doesn't work. Or just scroll down to the picture that freezes your scrolling finger like Medusa. You'll know it when you see it.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:01 PM
October 06, 2003
Ancient Forerunners Of PETA

It's been over a year since I quoted any jokes from the Philogelos, an ancient Greek joke-book (here, here, and here). I think we're overdue for another one (103), paraphrased for readability:

Three tenured professors were having a dialogue. The first argued that it is wrong to kill sheep since they provide us with milk and wool. The second argued that it is wrong to kill cows since they provide us with milk and plow our fields. The third argued that it is wrong to kill pigs since they provide us with bacon, ham, and pork chops.

Here's one more from the same collection (108):

A boaster was in the marketplace when he spotted his slaveboy just in from the country. "How are all my sheep doing?" he called out, so everyone would hear him. "One of them is sleeping, and the other is standing up", replied the slaveboy.

And here's a modern sheep joke:

Why do Scotsmen wear kilts?
Because sheep can hear a zipper a mile away.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:18 PM
October 05, 2003
What's In A Name?

Yesterday's Rantburg has a story about the IDF killing Sirhan Sirhan, the man or half-man who shot a mother and her two little boys in their bedrooms last fall. What I want to know is how he got his name. It could be a coincidence: as I recall, when Robert Kennedy was shot by Sirhan B. Sirhan, a respectable L.A. businessman named Sirhan M. Sirhan (I may have the initial wrong) found himself in a world of trouble until his friends and acquaintances found out that he was not the same Sirhan. So, was the late Mr. Sirhan using a pseudonym in honor of Kennedy's killer? Or was he born to a long line of Sirhans and given only his first name in honor of the killer? Or is it just a coincidence? The fact that there were two Sirhan Sirhans in L.A. thirty-five years ago suggests that the last is possible, but it seems unlikely. Just as any parents unfortunate enough to be named Hitler or Mussolini would not name their son Adolph or Benito today unless they were (a) neofascists or (b) very stupid or (c) incredibly tasteless, surely a bona fide Sirhan would follow the same policy?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:50 PM
Not So Ambiguous Evidence?

In a post by 'Hindrocket' on PowerLine, I read this interesting quotation from David Kay's report on the search for Iraqi WMDs:

We have not yet been able to corroborate the existence of a mobile BW production effort. Investigation into the origin of and intended use for the two trailers found in northern Iraq in April has yielded a number of explanations, including hydrogen, missile propellant, and BW production, but technical limitations would prevent any of these processes from being ideally suited to these trailers.

It seems to me that the ambiguity of the evidence is itself quite sinister, though perhaps not sinister enough to stand up in court. Why would a trailer be partly suited for several jobs, but not ideally suited for any of them? Unless someone can come up with a job for which it is ideally suited, the most likely explanation is that it was designed to be multi-use, specifically to combine an ostensible harmless use (e.g. filling weather balloons) with an actual malevolent use (e.g. biological warfare). To take an example: A sword-cane is likely to be less useful as a weapon than an ordinary sword, and less useful as a support for the weary than an ordinary cane: it would be too skinny for the one and too heavy for the other. The only reason to carry one at all is deniability: a not-very-good sword which everyone else thinks is a not-very-good cane may come in handy in a fight.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:37 PM
Not A Paradox

At the very end of a longish post, Gedänkenpundit wonders how Freedom House can list Lebanon as "partly free" when it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of unfree Syria. Surely the same way Hong Kong can be freer -- or less unfree -- than China. It has nothing to do with the goodness of their masters' hearts, which is severely limited. It is rather that the masters worry about killing the economic goose that lays the golden eggs. Hong Kong and Beirut could hardly operate as major financial centers if they were as unfree as China and Syria. The masters may also think that their own citizens have been inured to slavery by long endurance. Subjects added to their empires more recently will have to be handled with care, at least until those old enough to remember what it is like to be at least partially free die off.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:19 PM
October 02, 2003
On The Late Shortage Of Free Ice Cream

Things have been very busy at work. The first grading period (of eight) ended Friday, a fact I did not realize until Wednesday afternoon. What with the hurricane and all, we had had less than three weeks worth of actual classes, so I hadn't given enough quizzes for accurate grading. That made for a busy Thursday, composing six fair-sized exams for Friday, and a very busy weekend grading them. I'm only now digging out from under the pile of accumulated work. Serious posting should resume tomorrow tonight.

In the mean time, here's some mouse-blogging for my more fanatical readers (if such there be):

Between the time I left for work yesterday and the time I got home today, I have caught nine mice. That's with only three old-fashioned mousetraps, though I just put out three more. Thanks for all the suggestions about mouse-bait: peanut butter, gumdrops, and more. Attracting them has not been a problem, and my gooey stinky way-past-its-sell-by-date French Münster has been working just fine, though I also caught one with a bit of Korean squid stir-fried in hot pepper. It's getting the traps to detonate that's the problem. I've caught a total of thirteen mice in about ten days, but have also had roughly the same number of traps cleaned out without going off. So far, my brother's suggestion of flour and water seems to be working best, smeared on the trap before and after adding the cheese to form a crust like a tiny tiropita.

Not really an update:

Make that fourteen. As I was writing the last sentence, another trap went off. The weather has turned much colder in the last couple of days, so I suppose they are looking for a nice warm place to spend the winter. It makes me feel rather like the British soldiers in Zulu: they just keep coming, wave after wave! Or is this a small-scale Willard?

This really is an update: (11:30 PM)

Fifteen. Time to haul away the last two bodies and reset their traps so I'll have all six ready for the hordes of desperate suicidal rodents trying to get into my apartment. Putting the traps a foot away from each other doesn't seem to affect the kill-rate. I would have thought that having a dead friend or relative in plain view would affect even a stupid rodent's appetite, but apparently not.

This is another update: (11:45 PM)

Hmmm. I seem to have stumbled into a pseudoscientific comparison of American and imported technology. The two old traps (the third one seems to have lost its springiness) are Victor brand, made in Lititz, PA, perhaps by Amish craftsmen who pass down the skills from generation to generation. (Lititz is near Lancaster. Whether it's pronounced LIT-itz or Luh-TITS, I do not know. If the latter, perhaps it's French.) The four new ones are PIC or PIG brand (hard to tell from the slapdash paint job), made in Taiwan. The American traps have a much more complex bait apparatus, curved at one end like a toboggan, with a hole in it. I was able to tie my squid strips in knots through the hole. The Taiwanese traps just have a metal plate with a small square depression for the bait. They are also stronger, i.e. springier, and more sensitive. I had to set one of them four times, since it kept going off when I set it down and tried to gently nudge it into place.

Results of last unscientific test: The two American traps caught no mice, though the one closest to the stove was licked or nibbled clean. The four Taiwanese traps caught two mice, but one of the two traps that went off broke irreparably, and the other has a (relatively) huge pool of congealed mouse blood on it -- around half a teaspoon, which is, I suspect, more than half of what the live mouse contained. Despite the small sample size, it seems that stronger Asian traps are more fragile and messier, but American traps are insufficiently sensitive. Experiments will continue, at least until the mice are all dead and damned.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:08 PM