May 23, 2004
Paranoid Musings II

Let us consider a few apparently unrelated facts:

  1. North Korea is widely assumed to have built several nuclear bombs in the last few years.
  2. Kim Jong Il's regime is so evil and incompetent that it cannot or will not fulfill one of the most basic functions of any government: keeping its people from starving to death by the millions.
  3. The town of Ryongchon was recently the site of a massive explosion that killed (so far as we can tell) thousands of people.
  4. A Dog's Life quotes an Asian source with interesting new information (I've bolded the most significant parts):

Japan's Kyodo News, citing numerous diplomatic sources in Vienna, reported Saturday that the force of April 22's train explosion at the North's Ryonchon Station was about that of an earthquake measuring 3.6 on the Richter scale, which would have required about 800 tons of TNT -- about eight times that officially announced by North Korea.

The sources referred to earthquake figures gotten by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency had previously reported that the destructive power of the blast was that of 100 tons of dynamite, and explained that the accident was caused by "the electrical contact caused by carelessness during the shunting of wagons loaded with ammonium nitrate fertilizer and tank wagons".

The CTBTO feels that the cause of the explosion may differ from the North's explanation, and noted the explosion might have been caused by highly-explosive materials like military-use fuel going off. Officials at the CTBTO plan to look into the causes of the accident.

The CTBTO said the explosion at Ryongchon was observed using seismological observation stations in Korea, Japan, the United States and Russia. The stations were built to detect nuclear tests.

Putting all this together, I wonder why no one in the press is asking whether the Ryongchon explosion was some kind of nuclear 'work accident'.* It certainly looks as if the CTBTO may be thinking along those lines. I hope the CIA and the Pentagon have taken steps to check radiation levels downwind, just to make sure. Maybe the UN and the IAEA should check into it, too. They could send Hans Blix . . . Never mind: scratch that last thought. Let's just hope the CTBTO is up to the job.

Perhaps I should say that I consider my hypothesis highly unlikely, and that the Pentagon and CIA have probably already considered and refuted it by checking for fallout. But I'm still flabbergasted that no one in the press is even asking the obvious questions.

Postscript: Yes, I know that 800 tons is less than one kiloton (duh!), which would be on the low side for a nuclear explosion. On the other hand, Russia's 'suitcase nukes' are said to have a yield of one kiloton, just 25% larger than the Ryongchon explosion. They are also said to be capable of killing 100,000 people each, which is a lot more than the 3,000 reported to have died at Ryongchon. However, I imagine the larger figure is a 'worst-case' estimate ('best-case', if you're on the other side) and assumes that the bomb goes off in (e.g.) Times Square on New Year's Eve or a well-packed stadium during a playoff game.

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*Either that, or an unsuccessful assassination attempt by a team willing to kill thousands of innocent bystanders to make success more likely. The media reported at the time that Kim Jong-Il had been in Ryongchon just a few hours before. I imagine he constantly changes his schedule on very short notice like any other paranoid dictator, so it's quite possible that he was supposed to be in town when the train blew up. Maybe I should check Democratic Underground: some of them have probably already concluded that it was a nuclear assassination attempt, that Bush did it, and that the 3,000 dead bystanders were part of the plan.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:50 AM
Paranoid Musings I

I'm surprised no one else has suggested this yet -- at least no one whose blog I've read:

If Kerry puts off accepting the Democratic nomination until several weeks after the convention, wouldn't that possibly leave an opening for someone else to slip in and take it from him? Of course, I do not think that Kerry would plan such a thing. Even to consider such a deferral, he would have to be convinced that he would be doing it to improve his prospects for adequate campaign funding. However, others in his party (*cough* Hillary *cough* Edwards *cough* anyone worried about Kerry's electability *cough*) may have other agendas. Is the whole idea a set-up, with Kerry as the patsy?

I don't know of any particular mechanism by which someone could take the nomination from the presumptive nominee after the convention was over, but:

  1. If there is one, I wouldn't know: I am entirely ignorant of the nominating rules for presidential candidates. The one thing I do know is that experts often use the adjective 'Byzantine' to describe them. It's possible that there is some obscure rule that would facilitate switching horses (or horse-faced candidates) in mid-stream.
  2. The situation envisioned would be unprecedented -- not to mention freakishly weird -- and it's more than likely that no existing rules would cover it. A lack of rules gives a big advantage to the unscrupulous.
  3. As long as the front-runner has not officially accepted the nomination, he is only the front-runner, not the nominee, and there must be some possibility of an involuntary switch. Otherwise, nomination would have no meaning.

(Note: This entry was lightly revised, mostly for style, at 8:10 AM.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:50 AM
May 18, 2004
A Riddle Solved

I always thought "Who gives a rat's ass?" was a purely rhetorical question. According to Matt Welch and his commentators, some cats will give you a rat's ass, along with the tail and hind legs, as a mark of honor and respect.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:42 PM
May 13, 2004
Another Silly Test: Did I Pass?

From Eve Tushnet, what kind of cicada am I?

You too can Take the Cicada Test!

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:03 AM
May 10, 2004
Everybody's Doing It

Lynn Sislo, Robert Tagorda, and others have provided their reading lists, selected from an arbitrary and idiosyncratic master list. Here's mine:

  • Beowulf (in college, I think)
  • Achebe, Chinua - Things Fall Apart
  • Agee, James - A Death in the Family
  • Austen, Jane - Pride and Prejudice (more than once, and 2-3 others, too)
  • Baldwin, James - Go Tell It on the Mountain
  • Beckett, Samuel - Waiting for Godot (I've seen it but wasn't impressed enough to read it)
  • Bellow, Saul - The Adventures of Augie March
  • Brontë, Charlotte - Jane Eyre
  • Brontë, Emily - Wuthering Heights
  • Camus, Albert - The Stranger
  • Cather, Willa - Death Comes for the Archbishop (I think so, in high school, but am not sure)
  • Chaucer, Geoffrey - The Canterbury Tales (I've read some of the tales, but far from all)
  • Chekhov, Anton - The Cherry Orchard
  • Chopin, Kate - The Awakening
  • Conrad, Joseph - Heart of Darkness (more than once -- I prefer The Secret Agent)
  • Cooper, James Fenimore - The Last of the Mohicans
  • Crane, Stephen - The Red Badge of Courage (maybe in high school)
  • Dante - Inferno (and the rest of the Divine Comedy, too)
  • de Cervantes, Miguel - Don Quixote (in college)
  • Defoe, Daniel - Robinson Crusoe (probably in high school)
  • Dickens, Charles - A Tale of Two Cities
  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - Crime and Punishment (in college)
  • Douglass, Frederick - Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
  • Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy
  • Dumas, Alexandre - The Three Musketeers
  • Eliot, George - The Mill on the Floss (I've read Silas Marner and the two short stories, but none of the full-length novels)
  • Ellison, Ralph - Invisible Man
  • Emerson, Ralph Waldo - Selected Essays
  • Faulkner, William - As I Lay Dying
  • Faulkner, William - The Sound and the Fury
  • Fielding, Henry - Tom Jones (I read it very quickly in college and remember very little)
  • Fitzgerald, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby
  • Flaubert, Gustave - Madame Bovary (twice, but not lately)
  • Ford, Ford Madox - The Good Soldier
  • Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von - Faust (started, but never came close to finishing)
  • Golding, William - Lord of the Flies (in high school)
  • Hardy, Thomas - Tess of the d'Urbervilles
  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel - The Scarlet Letter (in high school)
  • Heller, Joseph - Catch 22 (maybe in high school -- if so, it made little impression)
  • Hemingway, Ernest - A Farewell to Arms (ditto)
  • Homer - The Iliad (more than once, and nearly half of it also in Greek)
  • Homer - The Odyssey (more than once, and close to half also in Greek)
  • Hugo, Victor - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Hurston, Zora Neale - Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World (in high school or college, maybe both)
  • Ibsen, Henrik - A Doll's House
  • James, Henry - The Portrait of a Lady (I've read 6-7 novels and 20+ tales, but not these two -- not yet, anyway)
  • James, Henry - The Turn of the Screw (see previous note)
  • Joyce, James - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in college)
  • Kafka, Franz - The Metamorphosis (twice)
  • Kingston, Maxine Hong - The Woman Warrior
  • Lee, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird (in high school, I think)
  • Lewis, Sinclair - Babbitt
  • London, Jack - The Call of the Wild (probably, in high school)
  • Mann, Thomas - The Magic Mountain (in college)
  • Marquez, Gabriel García - One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Melville, Herman - Bartleby the Scrivener (a favorite)
  • Melville, Herman - Moby Dick (in college)
  • Miller, Arthur - The Crucible
  • Morrison, Toni - Beloved
  • O'Connor, Flannery - A Good Man is Hard to Find
  • O'Neill, Eugene - Long Day's Journey into Night
  • Orwell, George - Animal Farm (in high school)
  • Pasternak, Boris - Doctor Zhivago (maybe in high school -- if so, it made little impression)
  • Plath, Sylvia - The Bell Jar
  • Poe, Edgar Allan - Selected Tales (a few, but not lately)
  • Proust, Marcel - Swann's Way (in college)
  • Pynchon, Thomas - The Crying of Lot 49
  • Remarque, Erich Maria - All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Rostand, Edmond - Cyrano de Bergerac (does seeing Roxanne count?)
  • Roth, Henry - Call It Sleep
  • Salinger, J.D. - The Catcher in the Rye (in high school)
  • Shakespeare, William - Hamlet
  • Shakespeare, William - Macbeth
  • Shakespeare, William - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Shakespeare, William - Romeo and Juliet
  • Shaw, George Bernard - Pygmalion (I've seen the movie)
  • Shelley, Mary - Frankenstein
  • Silko, Leslie Marmon - Ceremony (who? what?)
  • Solzhenitsyn, Alexander - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • Sophocles - Antigone (more than once, and in Greek)
  • Sophocles - Oedipus Rex (ditto)
  • Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath (in high school, along with a dozen other Steinbecks, while living in Monterey)
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis - Treasure Island (maybe in high school)
  • Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom's Cabin (in high school)
  • Swift, Jonathan - Gulliver's Travels (more than once -- a favorite)
  • Thackeray, William - Vanity Fair
  • Thoreau, Henry David - Walden
  • Tolstoy, Leo - War and Peace (in college)
  • Turgenev, Ivan - Fathers and Sons
  • Twain, Mark - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (in college and maybe before that in high school)
  • Voltaire - Candide
  • Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. - Slaughterhouse-Five
  • Walker, Alice - The Color Purple
  • Wharton, Edith - The House of Mirth (I have read The Reef and 20+ short stories)
  • Welty, Eudora - Collected Stories
  • Whitman, Walt - Leaves of Grass
  • Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Williams, Tennessee - The Glass Menagerie
  • Woolf, Virginia - To the Lighthouse
  • Wright, Richard - Native Son

Is the list slanted towards things Americans tend to read in high school and college, or have I just not read a lot since then? Mostly the former, I think. It's also a bit spotty, including two Homers and two Sophocleses, but nothing else Greek, Roman, or whatever, before Beowulf.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:01 PM
May 09, 2004
Is This A Contest?

Last Wednesday, Terry Teachout (About Last Night) quoted Aaron Haspel (God of the Machine) quoting David Hurwitz (Classics Today) on “Classical Music’s Ten Dirtiest Secrets”:

  1. Mozart really does all sound the same.
  2. Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge is just plain ugly.
  3. Wagner’s operas are much better with cuts.
  4. No one cares about the first three movements of Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique.
  5. Schoenberg’s music never sounds more attractive, no matter how many times you listen to it.
  6. Schumann’s orchestration definitely needs improvement.
  7. Bruckner couldn’t write a symphonic allegro to save his life.
  8. Liszt is trash.
  9. The so-called "happy" ending of Shostakovich’s Fifth is perfectly sincere.
  10. It’s a good thing that “only” about 200 Bach cantatas survive.

Teachout comments:

When I went to school, five out of ten wasn’t a passing grade . . . .

So which five does he agree with? And is there a prize for guessing correctly? Here are my guesses:

  • Almost certainly agrees (to judge from previous comments on Schoenberg): 5.
  • Probably agrees (it’s not exactly an iconoclastic view): 6.
  • Probably disagrees: 1, 10.
  • No clear idea one way or the other: 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9.

If I have to make a specific guess to win a prize, I'll say: 4, 5, 6, 7, and 9. But that’s just a guess, not much better than a lottery pick.

Of course, it would be a lot easier to decide whether Teachout or anyone else agrees or should agree with 8 if it said either “most Liszt is trash” or “all Liszt is trash”. There’s a big difference. If it’s “most”, I’ll add 8 to the list and subtract 4 or 7.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:39 PM
May 05, 2004
Moronic Marketing

I have had to ban 145 IPs so far from commenting on this site. A few were trolls, but the vast majority were spammers pushing semi-legal drugs, or operations designed to increase the size of various body parts, or other products that would increase my well-being in highly dubious ways.

Today, for the first time, I received a spam-comment advertising a company I had heard of: Netflix. This seems an incredibly stupid way to market the services of a respectable company. The comment was attached to a post over two years old, and was only up for a few hours when I found out about it through the Movable Type editing screen and deleted it. Given my low traffic (800 or so unique visitors on weekdays), it is unlikely that even one of my readers saw the spam-comment before it was deleted. At the same time, the chance of my signing up with Netflix, which was better than 50%, though I hadn't gotten around to it yet, has dropped precipitously. Someone needs to be fired.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:02 PM
May 03, 2004
Monday Morning Nightmare

Years ago, I knew a grad student who paid his way through college working at a professional wrestling arena in (I think) North Dakota. He said that he thought the pay was surprisingly generous until he started work and realized just how difficult it was to fulfill one of the requirements of the job: not to laugh out loud at the paying customers who thought wrestling was real. His job was to walk up and down the aisles selling various crunchy snacks, including 'Funions', an onion-flavored snack that did not include onions anywhere in the list of ingredients. Of course, artificial bacon bits that do not include any pork product are popular among vegetarians and (I suppose) Jews and Muslims who want to see what they're missing -- not that they'll get a very clear idea from the imitation.

So much by way of background.

I woke up very early this morning dreaming of Funions and 'Manions'. In the waking world, Manion is the last name of various people, none of whom I know or have had occasion to think of lately. In my dream it was a food product for wannabe cannibals: all the flavor of human flesh, but made entirely of nonhuman ingredients, and therefore entirely legal. I was just trying to figure out how they could test the product to ensure that the reproduction was accurate when I woke up. I probably should have watched what I ate before going to bed. Now that I'm awake, I wonder how many would try Manions, if they existed? Of course, they would need a better name.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:17 PM
May 02, 2004
Housman on 'Mercenaries'

In reply to a couple of disingenuous questions from Heather Mallick ("What poem does a modern mercenary recite? Halliburton's mission statement?"), Colby Cosh quotes A. E. Housman's "Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries":

These, in the day when heaven was falling
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling,
And took their wages, and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

David Kovacs, one of my favorite professors in grad school, has demonstrated that the poem is not about mercenaries at all, but the regular British Army. As he puts it, "in the early years of the First World War, German propaganda charged England with employing a 'mercenary,' i.e. a professional, army, and it is to this charge that the poem published in the [London] Times on 31 October 1917 alludes as it commemorates the third anniversary of the First Battle of Ypres".

In a footnote, he gives specific evidence, e.g.: "A pamphlet called 'Facts about the War' published by William Heinemann around 1915 has a section called 'German Views of British Soldiers' in which paragraphs from the Cologne Gazette are quoted contrasting the unwarlike British shopkeeper, who pays for mercenaries to protect his money bags, with the Germans, whose war-casualties come from all ranks of society".

He sums up as follows: "The mercenaries of the poem were not really mercenaries at all: they had merely been represented as mercenaries by enemy propaganda. The point of the poem was to show, in light of their heroic conduct on 31 October 1914, how absurd this accusation was."

(All quotations are from David Kovacs, "A Cautionary Tale", TAPA 123 [1993], 405-410. TAPA is the Transactions of the American Philological Association.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:49 PM