December 28, 2003
CI CIN CID and AN ENTOMOLOGICAL ETYMOLOGY

In the comments on the previous entry, J. M. Heinrichs asks for an interpretation of the enigmatic phrase 'CI CIN CID', which is apparently inscribed on a banner displayed by an American soldier in Iraq in a picture posted by Sgt. Stryker on Christmas Eve. I don't know whether I need new glasses or (more likely) a new and larger monitor, but I cannot see these letters at all. Assuming they have been correctly reported, I can say that they are not Latin. At least they are not whole Latin words, and CID is not even a Latin abbreviation, since the only word in the unabridged Latin dictionaries that starts with cid- is the rare cidaris, Persian for 'tiara' or 'diadem', specifically the headress of the Persian king of kings. I can't see that being quoted, much less abbreviated, by an American soldier in Iraq. What would be the point?

Then again, perhaps the inscription is Latin, but not Latin words. CI is of course a properly-formed Roman number and means 101. I believe the 101st Airborne Division is operating in Iraq, though that leaves CIN and CID unexplained. On the other hand, it was the 4th Infantry Division that captured Saddam, and I have the impression that this picture is supposed to be Saddam's spider hole, not just any old spider hole.

Speaking of which, I have not seen any discussion of the etymology of 'spider hole' on the web or the evening news. It must come from the habits of trapdoor spiders. As this Texas A&M entomology page puts it:

Trapdoor spiders dig a tunnel in the ground and seal it with a hinged lid. They wait patiently behind this trap door until they sense prey passing nearby. Then they rush out to capture the prey and drag it down into the tunnel.

Then they eat the prey, or feed it to their young. The spider's trap door fits snugly in the mouth of its hole, very much like the styrofoam plug used to conceal the entrance to Saddam's septic tank. (Riddle: What's the one thing that could make a septic tank even filthier than a full load of human waste? Having a filthy brute like Saddam in it. Human waste is clean by comparison.) The pictures on this U.C. Irvine page give a vivid illustration of just how well the trapdoor spider conceals her burrow and herself.

Judging from the etymology, I would guess that 'spider hole' was first used of human beings when soldiers thought of putting camouflaged lids on their foxholes so they could pop out and shoot unwary enemies at close range, and was only later extended to mean holes for deposed dictators to hide in. Whoever coined the phrase must have known a thing or two about actual spiders. I wonder if the Oxford English Dictionary knows all this.

Update: (12/29, 8:15 AM)

This list of military abbreviations gives CI - Counter-Intelligence and CID - Criminal Investigation Division, but no CIN. CI and CID are rather different things, but I imagine they work together in Iraq, since it's hard to tell whether an armed thug is a Ba'athist insurgent or just a criminal until you catch him -- and maybe not even then. If (as I'm guessing from the names) CID handles ordinary decent criminals and CI handles insurgents, they would have to coordinate their activities.

The problem is that we now have two possibilities for CI -- 101st Airborne or Counter-Intelligence -- and none for CIN. Suggestions, anyone?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:49 PM
December 27, 2003
"Searing Truth And Blinding Honesty"

Max Sawicky celebrated Christmas Day with a cri de coeur notably lacking in Good Will towards Men or any sign of a desire for Peace on Earth. Perhaps we should call it a cri de cul:

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS: NO MORE MISTER NICE MAXSPEAK

I've been much too nice a guy. That's my main misgiving. I don't mean I'm even-tempered. I'm not. But I give way too much credit to a-holes whose mission in life is to demonize people who think differently. You can tell instantly when somebody is making statements aimed at others, under the pretense of having a dialogue. I don't need someone else as a prop to speak to the masses. It doesn't pay to exhaust words and bandwidth to respond to imbeciles. I relish vigorous debate with all who are able to avoid ad hominem (especially with respect to me!). I look forward to debate with conservative visitors. Anyone who checks the archives at the old site can find plenty of criticism of what I am pleased to call my thought. I only deleted posts that were simply profane and abusive, or that lacked any substance other than insulting remarks.

I used to think of this site as a public meeting place. I exercised a very light hand as far as moderation went. Now I think of it more as my living room. I welcome guests who bring trenchant criticism, humor, and other good vibes. Stuff that annoys me I'm deleting. Banning IPs can be impractical, but since I'm in front of or near a computer 24-7, near-instant deleting of obnoxious stuff is possible. Post all the crap you like; nobody is going to see it. Bring the funk, and you're welcome to hang out.

This is going to be a nasty political year. I'm not going to disarm. Unlike some others, my weapon is searing truth and blinding insight, . . .

Sorry, I had to take a break to pour myself a stiff drink. I'm back now.

. . . or my best efforts to those ends. We have enough liars on both sides. Some of them visit periodically, but they won't be welcome.

Happy New Year, and keep your powder dry.

Unwary readers, like most of those who have commented on Sawicky's post, might think that his sites have lately been overrun with hordes of vicious and voluble trolls. In fact, I know of only two comments that Sawicky has deleted in the last two weeks. I posted them myself on this thread last Friday. I even used an inoffensive fake name, so as not to pollute Max's site with my own loathsome pseudonym. Here are the comments, which were deleted several hours later:

1. 'If anyone was wondering . . . .' (12/19, 11:07):

Since our host does not provide a link or even a name, anyone looking for the other side of this mysteriously one-sided argument should know that it will be found at www.drweevil.org. Just search on 'Sawicky'.

2. 'If anyone was wondering . . . .' (two minutes later):

Since our host obviously objects to linking to the site, I made that a cold link in the previous comment, but the software turned it into a hot one. Stupid software.

It seems unlikely that the last two words are what set Sawicky off, since he switched over from Grey Matter to Movable Type and from http://maxspeak.org/gm/ to http://maxspeak.org/mt/ just three days later, and must already have been planning the big move.

If you're wondering what's so "profane", "abusive", "insulting", "obnoxious", or "crap" about these comments, just continue on to the next one, from Sawicky himself:

3. 'Max' (12/20, 00:44):

If Bugsy really wants a debate, I'll be happy to go toe-to-toe on his site with him, his half-wit brother, and his stupid readers. Here we have better things to do.

Because as I've said before, I don't have to argue with idiots.

He has indeed said that before, about me, the last time I nailed him for making shit up. Or maybe it was the second-to-last time: I tend to lose track.

The last three comments on the same post were obviously written after mine were deleted:

4. 'Vinteuil' (12/22, 20:10):

Who's "Bugsy?"

Why not hold the debate here?

5. 'Max' (12/22, 21:07):

Bugsy is an irredeemable a-hole who thinks he can sponge off my traffic and bandwidth by being unpleasant. If he really wants a debate, which I doubt, it will have to be an imposition on his readers, not mine.

6. 'Vinteuil' (12/23, 18:50):

Max: I'm asking for a *name*, not a *description*. I already knew how you felt about him. What I want to know is what he has to say for his own part. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently it was. No further comments have been posted, or at least none have survived long enough for me to see them.

In the benevolent despotism of Sawickia, politely trying to let Max's readers know where to find the other side of his arguments makes me an "a-hole" and an "idiot" and an "imbecile", while calling me all that, my brother a "half-wit", and all of you, dear readers, "stupid", is perfectly proper behavior. As I've said before, that makes Max Sawicky an intellectual bully, willing to dish it out, but unwilling to take it.

Sawicky either doesn't know or doesn't care what bandwidth theft is. I have never linked to a picture on his site, partly because I've never seen one worth linking, but mostly because I avoid bandwidth theft as a matter of principle. As for 'sponging off his traffic', I did my best not to include any hot link in my deleted comments, and have now included hot links in this post, so he can "sponge" off mine. I just checked my statistics, and, despite several multi-post arguments with Sawicky, fewer than 0.1% of my traffic comes from his sites: only 316 hits in all of 2003. Just for comparison, I have 866 so far from Monday's post at Winds of Change, and routinely get more hits from Dutch Google (roughly one a day) than from Max Sawicky, despite never posting anything in Dutch.

So why do I criticize Sawicky so harshly? Not because of any urge to "demonize" those on the other side of the political aisle, but because he is (a) often wrong on matters of crucial importance to the world, and (b) the kind of lying asshole who's too arrogant to admit it when he's wrong, makes shit up to try to prove he's right, and lies about me and others. If he were only (a) I would have no problem with him, and would be glad to debate him either here or at his place. It's the (b) that makes me despise him. I will soon have further posts on Panama and Grenada and what they show about the utility or otherwise of U.S. military interventions, but they are unlikely to form any sort of satisfactory dialogue with Sawicky, who hasn't bothered to reply to any of the points I made last Friday. Nevertheless, if he (or anyone else) can come up with any arguments, I will endeavor to answer them. But Sawicky will have to make them on his own site, since he is not welcome here.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:48 PM
What's Going On?

Yesterday's referral logs list nine different referrals coming (supposedly) from various permutations of this address:

drweevil.org//pages/add-passwd.cgi

Most of the permutations just changed the directory name, from /pages to (e.g.) /cgibin or /cgi-bin or /cgi-bin/epoch, but one changed the file name to es-passwd.cgi. Four of the referrals were repeated, for a total of 13. Fortunately, there doesn't seem to be any such file as add-passwd.cgi or es-passwd.cgi in my version of Movable Type, and most of the directories tried do not exist on my site, either.

Checking my logs, I find that the 13 referrals came from 11 different IP addresses, most of them apparently in Portugal or Queensland, though my WhoIs skills are rudimentary. If anyone is wondering, here are the IP numbers, which I have of course banned:

164.100.190.246 (twice)
213.141.31.146
211.75.231.21 (twice)
203.115.204.133
203.200.28.158
202.188.63.130
217.33.69.131
200.223.149.170
148.223.251.99
203.113.34.239
194.126.30.138

So what exactly is going on? Given the name add-passwd.cgi, it looks as if someone is trying to gain posting privileges on my site. There is certainly no legitimate reason why any stranger -- or any friend or relative, for that matter -- should even think of trying to add a password to my site without my permission. I'm left with a number of questions:

  1. What exactly are these evil persons trying to do? Shut my website down entirely? Take it over completely and post things I would not wish to post? (Something like that seems to have happened to the egregious 'Barney Gumble', though I gather that was because he gave up his BlogSpot site, which allowed someone else to claim it.) Or is there some sort of partial takeover that would be useful to someone in some way, and worth going to a lot of trouble to achieve? (Trolls can already put crap in my comments, though it doesn't last long.)
  2. Why would anyone want to do this? If they're trying to shut me down, it's presumably because they disapprove of what I post, most likely for political reasons. If they're trying to take over my site, it may not be personal: they may just be looking for any site that could be hijacked to sell groinopaphic pictures or Viagra or Jihad or whatever, or just to display some pathetic geek's web-graffiti.
  3. How vulnerable am I? Could this have worked if they had been a little luckier? Could it work in the future? Has it already worked, and I don't know it yet? (It occurs to me that they may be somehow attempting to insert an add-passwd.cgi file in my directories rather than find one that's already there. If so, they have not yet succeeded: I checked all my directories.)
  4. What can I do to prevent this kind of attack (or reconaissance mission, if that's what it is) in the future?

Please place your suggestions in the comments.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:43 PM
True Humiliation

Those who accuse the U.S. of mistreating or humiliating Saddam Hussein don't seem to have noticed how little humiliation has been applied so far. It would have been easy enough to shave off the mustache along with the beard. However spurious, a claim of medical necessity would have sounded plausible: it certainly looked as if the mustache harbored fleas, lice, ticks, or all three. A full-fledged Curly Stooge haircut would also have been hygienically and penologically appropriate.

Didn't 'Comical Ali' curse people's mustaches when they annoyed him? It appears that a clean-shaven Iraqi is only half a man, and the U.S. has spared Hussein that humiliation, even restoring him to his pre-war beardless-but-mustachioed condition. Of course, that may not have been from the goodness of our hearts so much as to prove to Iraqis that the man in custody was really Hussein.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:29 AM
December 25, 2003
Infidel Trifecta

More presents are coming later today, but so far I have received:

  1. Augustine through the Ages: an Encyclopedia. Everything you would ever want to know about Saint Augustine, in only 902 pages.
  2. A bottle of Drambuie.
  3. A pound of lard. (After 60+ years of baking, my mother has finally given up making her own pie-crust. I haven't. I've already used a quarter of it for something in the oven right now.)

Mmmmmmm, Christianity, liquor, and pork: just the things to annoy our enemies in the current war. Of course, there are other categories in their very long list of anathemas, but I doubt my relatives will be giving me anything Jewish or pornographic for Christmas.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 02:20 PM
Jesus And ________: Fill In The Blanks

The Reverend Donald Sensing of One Hand Clapping has an amusing and timely comparison of Jesus and Santa Claus. Here are some of the lyrics of a bluegrass song on a not entirely dissimilar theme. Without Googling, can you fill in the blanks?

They both know a man in trouble when they see one
They're both willing to listen when he talks
Anger and depression, tearful confessions
Jesus and (1) ________ hear it all
Jesus and (1) ________ hear it all

Well they hear things that men don't tell their wives
Sinful secrets (2) ________ brings to light
One man offers comfort (3) ______ ______ ______
The other only comfort (4) ______ ______ ______

(Repeat first stanza)

Well if you're at the end of you're [sic] rope
Either one will serve you, but just one offers hope

(Repeat first stanza)

Answers:

  1. bartenders
  2. whiskey
  3. from the cross
  4. on the rocks

The song is "Jesus and Bartenders", by Larry Cordle and Leslie Winn Satcher, performed by Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time on their album Murder on Music Row, Nashville (where else?), 2000. The victim of the title song is of course Country Music. I suspect there may be a double éntendre in the answer to blank #4, with "on the rocks" also meaning "shipwrecked". You can hear bits of this song and others at the band's web-site.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 02:03 PM
December 24, 2003
Just A Suggestion

Maybe I'm just picky, but I think Daniel Drezner should slightly adjust his (otherwise very elegant) header. The position of the dot on the I in 'Daniel' makes Karl Friedrich Gauss look like Karl the Blue-Nosed Reindeer Mathematician. It took quite a bit of Image-Googling to identify the man with the odd hat on the faded banknote, but I eventually ended up here.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:30 PM
Probably Not What He Had In Mind

Tyler Cowen of The Volokh Conspiracy has been looking for paintings on legal themes: his latest post is here. Arcimboldo's The Lawyer will probably not be high on any lawyer's list of favorites. I've put it in the extended entry, since it would otherwise be too wide for many screens, including my own:

Yes, his face is made of dead birds and (I think) at least one fish, and his gown appears to be stuffed with books and papers instead of human flesh.

So as not to hog their bandwidth, I copied the image from the Arcimboldo page at the Tigertail Virtual Museum -- new to me, but definitely worth a longer visit. Some other Arcimboldos may be familiar from baroque music album covers.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:02 PM
December 20, 2003
False Advertising At The Met

The program for today's performance of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron at the Met lists among the singers a "First Naked Virgin", "Second Naked Virgin", "Third Naked Virgin", and "Fourth Naked Virgin". None of the singers listed was naked at any point in the opera: they kept their (very modern) brassières and panties on throughout. Should I ask for my money back? I also have doubts as to whether they were all virgins, but do not care to pursue the point at this time.

Not to sound too much like Beavis or Butt-Head, but anyone willing to sit through two solid hours of twelve-tone music really ought to be able to enjoy a more authentic staging and more authentic costumes (or lack thereof) than the Met provided today.

P.S. I'm kidding. Please restrain yourself from writing indignantly humorless comments or e-mails.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:56 PM
December 19, 2003
Max 'Commodus' Sawicky Plunges To New Depths

Ancient authors record that the emperor Commodus wished to earn glory as a gladiator without actually risking his life in fair combat. If we are to believe the epitome of Cassius Dio Book LXXVIII (scroll down to chapter 20), he once put on a public exhibition in which he fought and slaughtered a group of 'Giants', in imitation of Hercules. The original Giants were of course huge, had snakes for feet, and hurled massive rocks, but Commodus' opponents were ordinary humans, unarmed and (sorry!) unfooted:

. . . he had once got together all the men in the city who had lost their feet as the result of disease or some accident, and then, after fastening about their knees some likenesses of serpents' bodies, and giving them sponges to throw instead of stones, had killed them with blows of a club, pretending that they were giants.

Max Sawicky seems to share Commodus' lust for fraudulent glory, though he sticks to verbal rather than physical violence. On Wednesday (12/17, 12:40 PM) he posted a long reply to my criticisms of his remarks on Panama (here and here). In it he answers some, but not all, of my arguments, while carefully concealing the name of his opponent from his readers. None of the seven comments posted so far betrays any knowledge of my actual arguments, so none of them does a particularly good job of answering them. I will shortly post a comment cluing them in: we'll see whether Sawicky is honest enough not to delete it.

I don't blame Sawicky for not linking to me -- I didn't link to him, because I have found him dishonest in the past. But I did give his name and the dates and times of his posts, and any reader of my site will have found little difficulty tracking them down. He alludes to me only passively ("I've been challenged") and offers a 1990 report from Human Rights Watch to show that the 1989 intervention was a failure. This was too much even for his readers, and he later (no time recorded) added an update trashing the good name of Freedom House and quoting various more recent authorities, the last of them Noam Chomsky.

Since I'm leaving very early in the morning for a day trip to New York, I will confine my reply to a few salient points:

  1. Why doesn't Sawicky mention the case of Grenada? If we're arguing whether American invasions have or have not improved the countries invaded, isn't more evidence better than less?
  2. The question at issue was whether American intervention did or not help Panama towards democracy. The fact that previous administrations were in cahoots with various Panamanian thugs is simply irrelevant. It proves only that the invasion came a lot later than it should have, which you can hardly allege if you think it shouldn't have come at all.
  3. The fact that Panama still suffers from corruption and other problems does not prove that Freedom House's high rating for freedom (1-2) is fraudulent. Many solid democracies with the highest FH rating (1-1) have serious corruption problems: just off the top of my head I can think of Elf-Aquitaine scandals in France, Chrétien's Shawinigan shenanigans in Canada, accusations against Berlusconi in Italy too numerous and complicated to comprehend, and the long-time high-level cover-up of a murderous pedophile ring in Belgium. In the U.S., we have (just to take one example of many) both the winner and runner-up in a recent Louisiana gubernatorial election currently in jail. This would only be evidence that the U.S. is not a democracy if they were innocent. Corruption prove very little about whether Panama is free, either. Deep poverty and gross disparities of wealth are also perfectly compatible with democracy. Mentioning them looks a lot like an attempt to change the subject.
  4. Freedom House is run by establishment types of both parties, and Sawicky alleges that that makes their ratings unreliable. A look at the actual ratings shows that they are not in fact going out of their way to make either Bush administration look good. Our supposed friends in Saudi Arabia get the lowest possible rating (7-7), and many of the countries that have supplied bases for the war in Iraq are not much better: Qatar 6-6, Oman 6-5, Uzbekistan 7-6, Eritrea 7-6. Even relatively civilized Kuwait and Djibouti only rate 4-5. Freedom House could have given higher numbers to the more obscure places, and not one American in a million would know what was going on, but they didn't. France, Germany, and Belgium all get the highest possible score (1-1), despite their opposition to Bush and various corruption scandals, because they are in fact functioning democracies. Post-Taliban Afghanistan is rated higher this year than last, but not by much: it is now a 6-6 instead of a 7-7. If Sawicky wants to impugn these ratings, he needs to put up or shut up by offering evidence that they are (a) wrong, and (b) systematically so. Showing that compiling such ratings is not a science will not suffice.
  5. The fact that someone Sawicky thought was a jerk in college 30 years ago now works for Freedom House proves nothing. I was in college 30 years ago, and some of my jerkier classmates have turned out tolerably well, while some of the more tolerable classmates have evolved, or degenerated, into total assholes. In any case, even the most respectable organization is likely to have a jerk or two among its employees if it has more than 10 or 15.

    Tangential point: Sawicky accuses the nameless classmate of 'taking notes' at "our meetings". No word on who "we" were, and why they should have objected to note-taking. If the meetings were public, why shouldn't anyone who wanted to take notes? And if they were private, why didn't they just ask the jerk to leave? It's all very mysterious.

Turning back to the main point, Freedom House's website is a little confusing, and I have only now found the last few years' ratings for Panama, Grenada, and other countries. Here are my revised charts, graphically illustrating the FH ratings over time:

It looks as if the U.S. overthrow of Gen. Noriega in 1989 put Panama back on its previous gradual upward path towards democracy after a fairly steep downward plunge over the previous decade. Is Freedom House falsifying the data to protect evil Republicans? If so, they did a lousy job of it: most of the first upward thrust is during the Carter administration, while the longest downward trend is under Reagan.

It looks as if the U.S. overthrow of Gen. Coard in 1983 rapidly restored democracy to Grenada after a five-year interlude of steep decline. If Max Sawicky has evidence that Grenada today is actually a brutal tyranny of Turkmenbashing proportions, he needs to present it. Quotations from the likes of Noam Chomsky will only weaken his case among sensible readers.

I could say more, but I have to go to bed now. More in about 25 hours.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:57 PM
December 16, 2003
Doesn't Anybody Around Here Watch CSI?

Imshin / Not a Fish posts a thought I have seen on other sites, though nowhere this succinctly (it's yesterday's first post if the direct link doesn't work):

The morning Yediot Aharonot says they were looking for cyanide in [Hussein's] hair and mouth. Silly me! I thought they were worried about his personal hygiene.

I suspect the examining physician was also getting the DNA sample necessary to complete the identification. CSIs on various crime shows always use a Q-tip on the inside of the cheek, but a tongue depressor in the same general area would no doubt do the job, and the nit-check probably secured a stray hair or two. As for alternative methods, I don't imagine it would have been easy to get Hussein to give blood voluntarily: the fact that any approaching hypodermic could be full of lethal poison, 'truth serum', or God knows what else would likely have led to physical resistance.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:34 PM
December 15, 2003
The Perils Of On-Line Dictionaries

I have updated my post on Panama and Max Sawicky, replacing the bare lists of numbers with colorful graphs. These clearly show that the American invasions of Grenada (1983) and Panama (1989) were followed by large and persistent increases in democracy and human rights.

Sawicky has obviously read my post, since he reacts (10/15, 10:08 AM) to the second-to-last paragraph by quoting Dictionary.com as evidence that 'disinterest' can mean 'lack of interest, indifference'. Too bad he didn't check 'disinterested' as well. There he would have read, from the very same source (American Heritage, 4th edition) the following 'Usage Note':

In traditional usage, disinterested can only mean “having no stake in an outcome,” as in Since the judge stands to profit from the sale of the company, she cannot be considered a disinterested party in the dispute. But despite critical disapproval, disinterested has come to be widely used by many educated writers to mean “uninterested” or “having lost interest,” as in Since she discovered skiing, she is disinterested in her schoolwork. Oddly enough, “not interested” is the oldest sense of the word, going back to the 17th century. This sense became outmoded in the 18th century but underwent a revival in the first quarter of the early 20th. Despite its resuscitation, this usage is widely considered an error. In a 1988 survey, 89 percent of the Usage Panel rejected the sentence His unwillingness to give five minutes of his time proves that he is disinterested in finding a solution to the problem. This is not a significantly different proportion from the 93 percent who disapproved of the same usage in 1980.

Of course, the reason so many of us insist on distinguishing 'disinterest' from 'lack of interest' and 'disinterested' from 'uninterested' is to avoid confusing two very different ideas. Those who don't know the difference, or don't care, may be "educated", but they have been educated badly. It is the same reason that makes many of us object when writers use 'flaunt' for 'flout' ("he was flaunting the law"): if there are two words for two concepts it is best not to use one of them for both. In a hard-copy dictionary, it would not be possible to look up 'disinterest' without also seeing 'disinterested' just below, and the long 'Usage Note' on it. It surely applies to both noun and adjective, though it would have helped if American Heritage had said so.

Of course, all this is relatively trivial. What about the larger issue? Since he has read my post, I wonder why Sawicky does not correct his larger error and emend his original post to admit that there is evidence that some Americans do keep track of democracy in Panama, and that democracy did in fact greatly increase after the overthrow of Manuel Noriega in 1989.* He wouldn't be some kind of partisan hack concealing the evidence that undercuts his case, would he? Or perhaps an intellectual fraud who cannot admit that he is wrong?

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

*I think it was The Corner that quoted a Panamanian last April saying how the fall of Hussein's statue in Baghdad brought back wonderful memories of 1989 in Panama City. He didn't seem to think that that victory had been squandered.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:45 PM
Ba'ath Poker Update

I've updated the Ba'ath Poker page (button above) for the first time in months. I have not added the last two captures (Eight of Hearts on September 19th, Ace of Spades on December 13th) to the charts in Part III that graph date of capture against rank, since these are already far too wide.

I do wonder what happened to the dozen or so 'cards' not yet killed or in custody. No doubt some are hiding out in Iraq, lurking in spider holes, or paying fanatics and thugs to kill Americans, or both. It is possible that one or two were killed in battle back in March or April and buried in unmarked graves. Some may have escaped to other countries: the lower-ranking members of the Top 55 would obviously find it easier to escape notice, and would likely have been important enough to have access to sufficient money to escape and survive. I like to think that some of the missing Ba'athists have been quietly murdered for their money and other assets by what the Northern Irish call 'ordinary decent criminals': it must be dangerous to carry large amounts of cash in dark allies and out-of-the-way hideouts, and very tempting to one's followers -- there's no need to wait for a reward from Centcom when you can cut out the middleman and collect it immediately and in person. Finally, I wonder if Saddam knows which of his henchmen are still at large, and whether he's willing to tell.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:38 PM
December 14, 2003
Nomen Omen?

Austin Bay passes on a rumor that Saddam Hussein's elegant sidekick Tariq Aziz (not to be confused with Tariq Ali) has hired "French attorney Jacques Verges, who defended the Nazi Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie and the Marxist terrorist, Carlos". He doesn't mention that 'verge' is French for 'penis'. Too bad Jacques' last name is plural: if he were (in effect) Jack Prick instead of Jack Pricks, we could ask whether he has the same middle name as Smokey Bear and Attila Hun.

P.S. Yes, I know that 'verge' also means 'switch' or 'birch'. I could make jokes about that, too, but it's almost midnight and I still have tests to make up and quizzes to grade for tomorrow. If only we could have another snow day . . . .

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:22 PM
Ancient Roman Non-Inventions

Eugene Volokh is looking for products and processes unknown to the Romans in 150 B.C. that could have been known to them if they had only thought to invent them -- things like stirrups or Arabic numerals. Follow the link to see the specific conditions that must be satisfied to meet his mysterious requirements.

Here are my tentative suggestions, which I will glad to have corrected or (even better) fortified with evidence:

  1. Pockets. I've never seen them mentioned in ancient literature, and surely Romans wouldn't have carried book-rolls tucked in the fronts of their togas or tunics, or small change in their mouths (ick!) if they had had pockets. I wonder when they were invented. Before the discovery of marsupials, Iím pretty sure, though it surely wouldn't have taken long after that.
  2. Buttons. Again, I don't recall reading about them in any ancient author. Zippers and velcro take relatively advanced technology, but the ancients had needles and thread: why didn't they have buttons? They could have put them on their nonexistent pockets to discourage pickpockets.
  3. Chests of drawers? Drawers generally? Smith & Hall's English-Latin Dictionary gives plenty of Latin words for drawers, but only in the senses 'one who draws' and 'underpants' (it's a rather old dictionary). My impression is that clothes were kept in footlockers or on shelves in closets. Metal rollers help a lot, but all-wood chests are still quite useful. If Romans didn't have them, why not? If they did, what did they call them and where are they mentioned?
  4. Clothes hangers? Again, I have the impression that ancient closets had shelves and pegs, but not hangers.
  5. An example that should occur to any classicist: The 'codex' or book with individual pages bound together on one side: much more durable and convenient than the papyrus roll.
  6. Alphabetized card files. I've read that (e.g.) ancient librarians didnít normally alphabetize titles beyond the first letter. Why not? It's not difficult. And the catalogues (Pinakes) of the Library at Alexandria seem to have been kept in multi-roll book form, when the librarians could have listed the holdings separately on slips of papyrus or parchment and put them in drawers (or boxes or something), like modern (but not contemporary) librarians. That would have allowed the easy addition of new titles. It would also have allowed them to drop them on the floor and have to spend all day realphabetizing, but that's another story . . . .
  7. Double-entry bookkeeping is said to have been invented in Italy in the late Middle Ages or early Renaissance.
  8. Musical four-part harmony (or any number of parts more than one). Iíve read (where?) that ancient choruses always sang in unison unless they were mixed man-boy choruses, in which case they sang in octaves. Apparently a barbershop quartet is more sophisticated harmonically than ancient music, though they no doubt made up for it with rhythmic and other complexities.
  9. This hardly counts as a useful invention, but the ancients could have carved frisbees out of wood if it had ever occurred to them to do so. They would have been prone to crack in half along the grain, but would still have made nifty toys.
  10. Condoms were most likely discovered well into the Renaissance -- they are first mentioned by the Fallopius who discovered the Fallopian tubes --, but there is some very slight ancient evidence for them. More on this later. Without rubber, they couldn't have worked very well, but any kind of animal intestine useful for sausage-making would have been better than nothing for condom-making.
  11. I wonder if anyone else will think of this one: Seeing-eye dogs. No advanced technology is required, though special harnesses help them guide their masters. If I recall correctly, seeing-eye dogs were developed in Germany in the 19th or (at the earliest) 18th century. Of course, in Sophocles' Oedipus and Antigone, Tiresias enters guided by a seeing-eye boy. (Students are always shocked when I call him that, but how is it inaccurate?) No doubt the easy availability of child labor (both slave and free) discouraged the use of dogs for the same job before modern times: they just weren't needed.

Volokh's post raises more general questions about factors that prevent things from being invented or discovered. Other than just plain ignorance (failing to think of it), I think there are three:

  1. Some things had to wait for basic scientific discoveries: anything that requires electricity, to take the most obvious example.
  2. Some things had to wait for gradual technological improvements in the precision with which things could be manufactured. Someone (reference please!) recently wrote a well-received book about Swiss clockmakers' gradual progress from grandfather clocks to wall clocks to pocketwatches and wristwatches. I don't think there were any new scientific processes involved, just advances in precision that allowed smaller and smaller clocks to be more and more accurate. Similarly, I doubt the ancients had means of making metal wire efficiently, so barbed wire would have been out even if they had thought of it. I'm almost certain they couldn't make wire small enough and in large enough quantities to make window screens.
  3. Some things had to wait for the discovery of natural products found only in far-off parts of the world. Roast turkey, baked potatoes, and spaghetti sauce are not exactly technological advances, but umbrellas and raincoats had to wait for rubber, and cigars had to wait for tobacco. The Greeks and (I assume) Romans had parasols to keep off the sun (Prometheus carries one in Aristophanes' Birds), but I'm pretty sure the best they could do for rain was something like a hooded leather cloak, which is far less effective than an ordinary rubberized raincoat (with buttons!) or poncho or umbrella.

Many inventions have had to wait for things that fall into more than one of these three categories. For instance, cigarettes require both tobacco (3) and paper (1), while bicycles require precision gearwork (2) and probably rubber (3 Ė who would want to ride a bicycle with metal or wooden wheels?) I imagine the internal combustion engine would come under categories 1 + 2.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:37 PM
Max Strikes Again

Note: This post has been edited (4:00 PM, 12/15) to substitute graphs for lists of numbers. The substance is unchanged.

In deprecating the importance of the capture of Saddam Hussein, Max Sawicky writes:

U.S. political leaders in both parties are quick to laud imaginary progress towards democracy in other countries. It plays to the notion of an inexorable trend based on the shining U.S. example. Actual accountability, given the facts on the ground, is always sloughed off. Has anybody checked on the state of democracy in Panama? I'm not saying it's absent; I wouldn't know. But we invaded the place and a bunch of civilians died. My data here is the extent of utter disinterest in the fate of Panama in the U.S. I can't remember ever seeing a review of the consequences of U.S. intervention.

We call most Latin and South American countries democracies. What is meant is that they are not-Cuba (and lately, not-Venezuela). The fact is that genuine observance of democratic norms is notoriously spotty. The hurdle of democracy is low enough for most any country to jump over it.

I don't link to Sawicky, but this is from today's first post, and I have bold-faced the most interesting part. Just because he "wouldn't know" doesn't mean the rest of us don't. I'm surprised he didn't think to ask the same question about Grenada, which was also invaded by the U.S., just 20 years ago this past October. Both questions are easy enough to answer: it took me about 10 minutes, plus another hour and a half to write this up. This is not the first time Sawicky has depended on others to do his homework for him. Perhaps I should send him a bill.

The best place I know to find information on the progress (and regress) of democracy around the world is Freedom House, which annually rates every country and territory in the world for political rights and civil rights, on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being the best and 7 the worst. To take some examples from the latest chart, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United States, and quite a few other countries rate "1, 1", the best possible rating, while Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a few others rate "7, 7", the worst possible rating. Note that the chart is dated 2000: if they have more up-to-date information somewhere on their site I have not been able to find it. I imagine Afghanistan and Iraq would score at least a little bit better now.

I don't have the information to argue with the Freedom House ratings for (e.g.) Guinea (6-5), Guinea-Bissau (3-5), or Kiribati (1-1), but the ones for more familiar countries seem plausible enough: consider, for instance, China (7-6), Iran (6-6), Egypt (6-5), Haiti (5-5), Jordan (4-4), The Philippines (2-3), Hungary (1-2), and Canada (1-1).

So how do Grenada and Panama rate? They both score 1-2, the same as France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Poland, Hungary, and Japan, and slightly better than Greece (1-3).

If we compare them to their immediate neighbors, we find that Grenada rates the same as most of the other islands in the vicinity (1-2 or 2-1), though not quite as high as Barbados (1-1), while Panama rates the same as Costa Rica (1-2) and better than El Salvador (2-3), Nicaragua (3-3), Honduras (3-3), or Guatemala (3-4), though not quite as high as Belize (1-1). It appears that the reason we haven't heard much about Grenadan or Panamanian politics lately is that both countries are getting along tolerably well.

What does all this have to do with the U.S. interventions in Grenada and Panama? Freedom House provides historical ratings going back to 1973. A look at the charts is interesting. Scrolling down to bottom half of this one, we see that Grenada's ratings begin in 1974-75 and go like this (my own graph of the Freedom House data):

Notice the huge jump after 1983-84, when a bloody coup was followed (a few days later) by the U.S. intervention or (as some of us prefer to call it) liberation. It takes time to turn a military occupation into a functioning democracy, and I assume the following year's 5-3 reflects a country that was far from independent (hence the 5 for political rights) but already relatively free (3 for civil rights). American intervention seems to have ended several years of increasingly brutal tyranny and brought about a long period of domestic tranquillity and not-quite-perfect democracy.

The chart for Panama shows much the same pattern. As I've mentioned, the Freedom House figures go back to 1972. For Panama (scroll down to bottom half), they go like this (again my own graph of the Freedom House data):

Here we see a much longer period of tyranny, with some ups and downs, preceding American intervention in 1989 and followed by a large immediate improvement, particularly on the civil rights side (4-2), and general gradual improvement after that.

By the way, when Sawicky writes "disinterest", he means 'lack of interest, inattention': I would call it a Freudian slip, attesting to the actual disinterested way in which the U.S. now and then (and not often enough) liberates countries without getting anything material in return*, but it's probably just ignorance.

Finally, giving credit where credit is due, I have to admit that 'Hesiod' has been relatively sensible -- or perhaps just circumspect -- when it comes to criticizing the capture of Saddam. Who would have suspected that? I still won't give him a link, though.

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

*If I'm not mistaken, Panama is one of the few Central American countries that have not sent any troops to Iraq. Ungrateful bastards.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 03:23 PM
Saddam In Custody

Disjointed thoughts on the capture of Saddam Hussein:

  1. I want to know who went down in the hole and pulled Hussein out. In his press conference, General Odierno said Hussein was disoriented and did not resist, which implies that he most likely did not climb out of the hole without help. The entrance to the hole is very narrow. Assuming American soldiers crawled in to get him, whoever went in first had a lot of guts. He must have known Hussein was likely to be armed, as indeed he was, though he didn't use his pistol on himself or his captors. I hope the first soldier into the hole gets a medal or dinner at the White House or a cut of the $25,000,000 reward money, or all three. I just realized what this reminded me of: a show on the Discovery channel about African python hunters who crawl right into the snakes' holes and drag them out by their tails.
  2. The idiots in Atrios' comments (no link for him or them) have already come up with a new meme: Hussein couldn't have been running an insurrection from a hole in the ground! Well, duh! I didn't have to wait for Gen. Odierno to say it to know that Hussein only went down in the hole when American troops were in the vicinity.
  3. It looks like my assumption that Hussein, who is well into his 60s, dyes his hair, was only partially true. His mustache and temporary beard are mostly gray, but the hair on his head is impressively black, though it obviously hasn't been near a barber or hairdresser in months.
  4. This would make an interesting pictorial quiz, though I'm too lazy (and too bandworth-stingy) to put it together. Whom does bearded Hussein resemble more: (a) Karl Marx, (b) Charles Manson, (c) Ted Kaczynski, (d) Robert Bork.
  5. On the first Star Trek series, 'Bearded Spock' world is full of evil and vicious people (and aliens). Anyone who makes a joke comparing Bearded Saddam World with Mustachioed Saddam World is nerdier than I will ever be. But I bet someone will do it, and soon.
  6. It's too bad they already shaved his beard. Putting Saddam on trial in a striped suit in a cage will do more for the morale of democratic Iraqis than anything else I can think of. Below is a picture of Professor of Philosophy Abimael Guzmán, founder of the Peruvian 'Shining Path' terrorists, after he was captured a few years ago. Though too lazy to come up with a URL, I have read that seeing him fat and scraggly and raving in his cage did great things for the struggle against his followers.
  7. If the Iraqi courts can't think of an adequate penalty for Hussein's crimes, they could always borrow the ancient Roman punishment for parricide: sew him up in a big leather sack with a dog, a snake, a cock, and a monkey, and throw him in the river to float out to sea -- or rather to gradually sink on the way to the Persian Gulf. The punishment could even be adjusted to suit the local culture: subtract the cock and add a pig.
  8. I almost forgot: Hallelujah! Woo hah! Ululululululululululululul! Sic semper tyrannis!

I guess I'd better update my Ba'ath Poker page to reflect the latest capture -- and the one before, which I haven't gotten around to, though it's been a month or more.

Update: (1:15 PM)

Great minds think alike. I see that Power Line had the same comparison to Abimael Guzmán and even the same picture, which was the first one that came up when I googled "Guzman + Shining Path".

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:33 PM
December 13, 2003
Am I Too Cynical?

Buzzmachine (last post on 12/12 if the direct link doesn't work) reports that German 'peace' groups (sneer quotes richly deserved for a change) are raising money to help Ba'athists in Iraq kill Americans. It would be nice if these pseudopacifists could be prosecuted, but I'm not getting my hopes up. I hope at least that they can be inconvenienced in some small way. I think it's safe to assume that if and when one of these [I'm still trying to think of the right name for them*] flies to the U.S. to visit Disney World or the Grand Canyon and is stopped at immigration and sent straight back to Germany as an undesirable alien, he will be (a) surprised and even flabbergasted, (b) offended and very huffy about it, and (c) defended by many Americans and even more Germans who will be unable to comprehend how any civilized country could possibly treat someone that way.

*What would be the German word for someone who pays fascist thugs to kill while making sure not to get his own hands dirty and priding himself on his own love of peace? Besides 'Arschloch', I mean, which is insufficiently specific. Fortunately, German nouns can have an almost unlimited number of syllables: this one's going to need at least six or eight. Suggestions?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:33 PM
Pedantic Footnote III

In today's Power Line, The Big Trunk refers to "media bigfeet". Is that correct? Or should they be 'bigfoots'? After all, the plural of 'still life' is 'still lifes', not 'still lives'. I have to admit that neither 'bigfeet' nor 'bigfoots' looks right to me. I would avoid using the word in the plural, except for comic effect.

At the end of the same entry, Hindrocket refers to the "feckless Clinton years". I suppose Clinton admirers could retort that if he was feckless, now we're really fecked.

I like to think of this entry and the two preceding as 'Pedantic Feetnotes'.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:51 PM
Pedantic Footnote II

Under the title 'Lefty denied tenure at Cal', Pathetic Earthlings links to an SFGate story about a controversial critic of biotechnology, denied tenure at Berkeley after his research was found to be (pick one) offensive to multinational biotechnology companies or scientifically shoddy.

I found this sentence odd:

Two years ago, Chapela co-authored a study published in the journal Nature that concluded that DNA from genetically engineered corn contaminated native maize in Mexico.

Why is the genetically-engineered grain 'corn' and the native grain 'maize'? They're the same thing! Using two different words makes the corn seem far more alien and intrusive. Paul Elias, "AP biotechnology writer", ought to be ashamed.

Of course, the English have traditionally referred to 'corn' and 'maize' where Americans say 'wheat' and 'corn', respectively. However, I don't think that the 'corn' in this passage can be wheat. Not only is such a usage unlikely in an American journal, but genetically-engineered wheat could hardly contaminate native corn in any sinister biotechnicological sense. The story makes no sense unless the 'corn' is in fact maize.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:41 PM
Pedantic Footnote I

In a long post on campus campaigns against Hate (not Hatred), Critical Mass mentions in passing that English 'hate' is related to Greek kêdos, 'care, anxiety, grief'. I've always found it amusing that the same Greek noun also means 'relative by marriage'.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:22 PM
December 04, 2003
Quotation Of The Day

Oxblog today has a quotation from Douglas Adams that reminded me of one of my favorite Chesterton quotations:

It really is more natural to believe a preternatural story, that deals with things we don't understand, than a natural story that contradicts things we do understand. Tell me that the great Mr Gladstone, in his last hours, was haunted by the ghost of Parnell, and I will be agnostic about it. But tell me that Mr Gladstone, when first presented to Queen Victoria, wore his hat in her drawing-room and slapped her on the back and offered her a cigar, and I am not agnostic at all. That is not impossible; it's only incredible. But I'm much more certain it didn't happen than that Parnell's ghost didn't appear; because it violates the laws of the world I do understand.

This is from "The Curse of the Golden Cross" in the third collection, entitled (appropriately enough) The Incredulity of Father Brown. Thanks to the University of Adelaide, the whole story is on the web here: search for 'Gladstone' to locate the passage quoted.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:24 PM
December 02, 2003
Unimpressive Signs And Portents

One of the many amusing passages in Ovid's Metamorphoses is the story of Io (1.583-746). Jupiter falls in love with her and turns her into a cow to conceal her from his wife Juno. Poor Io tries to go home to her family, but they naturally do not recognize her as kin after her transmogrification. Since she cannot speak, she finally convinces them of her identity by writing her name in the dirt with her hoof. Actually, Ovid is not very explicit about what she writes, calling it only corporis indicium mutati triste, "sad evidence of her changed body" (649). However, commentators tend to assume that the message is her name, since IO is also Greek for 'alas', and Ovid loves bilingual word-play.

None of the commentators seem to mention it, but I think part of the joke is that so simple a word as IO does not provide a particularly impressive demonstration of writing skill, and this is true whether the second letter is a Roman O or a Greek omega -- perhaps even truer with the latter, since any random hoofmark would provide a rough approximation of a capital omega. It's not as if the poor girl cow was named Clytemnestra or Alphesiboea or Mnemosyne.

I was reminded of Io and her bovine scratchings when I read Amish Tech Support's report of the latest news from Bethlehem:

Thousands of Palestinians have been thronging the Aida refugee camp at the northern entrance to Bethlehem to pay their respects to the infant boy, who is being hailed as "the miracle baby of Bethlehem." The timing of his birth [on the last day of Ramadan] was auspicious enough, but his parents were amazed to discover a large birthmark across his cheek, which spells out in clear Arabic letters the name of his uncle, . . . , a Hamas member who was killed by the IDF eight months ago.

The "inscription" begins near the right side of the baby's mouth, continues all the way round his cheek and finishes behind his right ear.

The family said they would raise the baby to follow in his uncle's footsteps and lead a new generation of terrorists to fight against Israel. In the meantime, they have to cope with the thousands of pilgrims converging on their home every day to see the boy with their own eyes.

If this were a Jewish baby, I would of course be far less impressed by a birthmark naming (for instance) a 'Job' or a 'Saul' than by one that named a (hypothetical) Rebbe Maher-Shalal-Hashbaz T. Rosenbaum. If it were an Iraqi baby, Nebuchadnezzar or Hammurabi would make for very impressive birthmarks. In fact, the name of the dead Palestinian uncle is much shorter. I omitted it from the quotation above just to keep my readers in suspense: it was 'Ala'. This is, I believe, even shorter and simpler in Arabic than in English. I don't actually know any Arabic, and more knowledgeable readers are welcome to correct me on what follows. However, I have consulted The World's Writing Systems, by Peter T. Daniels and William Bright (Oxford, 1996), and it appears that 'Ala' in Arabic script would look something like this (sans serif): JI. Like Hebrew, Arabic generally omits the vowels, and some consonants are much simpler than others. I may be wrong, but I suspect that Ala (JI) is about as simple as any Arabic name could be. There's many a cow that could write JI in the dirt, and a birthmark with that particular shape doesn't strike me as a particularly clear sign from above -- or from below, for that matter.

Update: (11:30 PM)

In the first comment, Laurence Simon tells us that Drudge has a picture of the famous baby. The letters look a lot more like JC than JI, but are just as simple as I suspected. I wonder if some brave individual should let the gullible Palestinian masses know that the birthmark could just as easily be left-to-right Latin letters as right-to-left Arabic script. In that case, J.C. would most naturally refer to a non-Muslim with Bethlehem connections who was rather more important than some dead Hamas thug, and known for signs and portents, too. Or perhaps J.C. refers to Jimmy Carter, who has been meddling in the area again. Of course, if babies are being born with Carter's initials preprinted on their cheeks, he must be the AntiChrist. This may seem unlikely, but, as Ned Flanders once said, "It's always the one you least suspect". Then again, I can't honestly say that Jimmy Carter is the contemporary I least suspect of being the AntiChrist.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:45 PM
A Book Proposal, But Not For Me

Work has been burdensome and distracting, but here's a little something for those still reading:

On the Third Hand links to a story from Australia about "young Muslim men . . . roaming around Sydney gang raping non-Muslim women, or as the rapists like to say, 'Aussie pigs' and 'sluts' who ask for it". Similar things have happened in France, Norway, and other countries. The post reminded me of something I wrote a year and a half ago that still seems important:

It seems to me that many men in today's Islamic world suffer from an unusually virulent strain of the so-called 'Madonna-whore complex', dividing all women into the virtuous asexual Madonnas and the hopelessly depraved majority. That would be bad enough, but they combine this with an equally virulent ethnic and religious bigotry. It appears that all Madonnas are Muslims and all Muslims are Madonnas: any exceptions to the latter rule are promptly stoned. At the same time, all the (unstoned) whores are infidels, and just about all the infidels are whores, the whoriest of all being Jews and Americans. Whether this is wishful thinking or actual opinion, who can tell? In their hearts they must suspect it is, shall we say, oversimplified.

I suspect that this could be expanded into an entire book. Perhaps someone with the requisite expertise in the appropriate fields, the courage to risk a fatwa, and (what I have even less of than the other two) enough spare time to write such a book could do so. I just want 10% of the royalties.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:14 AM