October 31, 2004
Cause And Effect? Or Effect And Cause?

At the end of a short post about a break-in at her apartment, Virginia Postrel writes:

Since Dallas is crime-ridden, and property crimes are a low priority, the police took only a phone report.

I wonder whether that is at least partly backwards. I suspect that it would be equally true if rewritten like this:

Since the Dallas police consider property crime a low priority, and can't be bothered to investigate it in person, Dallas is crime-ridden.

I say 'partly backwards' because there is most likely a vicious circle involved, whereby failing to investigate some crimes leads to higher crime rates in all categories which in turn leads to pressure to investigate even fewer crimes.

Maybe if the Dallas police checked they would find that the burglar was careless enough to leave a fingerprint or two on V.P.'s door. He is almost certainly out committing other crimes today, some of which may well fall into the 'higher-priority' categories. Didn't Giuliani's police commissioner find that a high percentage of petty criminals turned out to be wanted for much more serious offenses?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:36 PM
A Dime's Worth Of Pedantry

In his Last Political Word before the election, 'Michael Blowhard' of 2Blowhards refers approvingly to a book by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair entitled Dime's Worth of Difference, adding:

The title is a lift from country-and-western great Waylon Jennings, who back in the '80s was asked to characterize the two political parties and who answered this way: "There ain't a dime's worth of difference between them, hoss."

A Google search on "dime's worth of difference" confirms my recollection that Jennings lifted the line from George Wallace, though he certainly added the last word. Most of the hits quote Wallace as saying "there isn't" or "there is not" a dime's worth of difference, but I'm confident he most likely said "there ain't".

Elsewhere in the same post, M.B. compares the choice between Bush and Kerry to "a choice between a Coke and a Pepsi". Those of us who find Coke (classic only, with sugar and caffeine) infinitely tastier than Pepsi may think that he is right for the wrong reasons. Neither is the tastiest drink in the world -- nothing without alcohol could be -- but they are in no way interchangeable, and it doesn't take a connoisseur to know that. Why are so many waiters surprised that I'm offended when I ask for a Coke and they bring a Pepsi as if there were no difference?

Perhaps a better comparison would be this one:

Bush : Kerry :: butter : margarine.

I know a lot of people who claim that they can't tell the difference, but they are invariably margarine eaters. It appears that eating margarine for a few years destroys enough tastebuds to make the difference undetectable. Those of us who eat butter can certainly tell. Margarine, and Kerry, may be 'healthier' in some theoretical sense, but they're also phony and repulsive. There is definitely a dime's worth of difference.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 02:53 PM
All Clear, For Now

Comments are turned on now, but may be turned off again for brief periods during future spam attacks. If your comment is refused, that may mean that I have my spam umbrella up, or it may mean that you are unfortunate enough to share a URL with one of the 517 users already banned. In either case, I can take urgents comments by e-mail.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:45 PM
October 30, 2004

I have had to shut off comments temporarily, due to a shower of filthy Gay P--n comment spam. The first words of the first one were "Gay Rights", which suggests the sender doesn't have a clue as to any other kind of right, like mine not to have him squat on my property as an unusually filthy (and versatile) exhibitionist. I will post a notice when comments are turned on again. In the mean time, my e-mail is open for urgent suggestions -- preferably not from the spammers.

I still don't understand how this sort of advertising is supposed to work. Hardly anyone ever sees any of this spam, because it's always on long-ago posts where the average-time-to-deletion is almost certainly far shorter than the average-time-to-next-visitor. I've been told many times that the point of comment spam is not to be seen by human eyes but to be spidered by Google and earn the poster a temporary high place in the results of Google searches for internet gambling, bootleg viagra, or whatever, but I don't see how that can work. Google does not track the contents of my comments, or those of most other blogs. I know because I've tried to use it to track down something I or someone else had said in a comment. It rarely works, and never finds anything on my comments. I may be wrong, but I think the only way Google tracks comments is if they are in-line, as on Daily Pundit. I tested this hypothesis a few weeks ago, when someone was posting comment spam for an on-line gambling site whose name I wouldn't tell you if I remembered it. The dozens of comments I received all had the same misspelling: "the best plae to play" whatever game it was. I searched "plae to play" on Google and got zero hits. So are comment spammers polluting the Blogosphere with their verbal filth without even getting any money or hits out of it?

I suppose I should just be thankful that I logged on in the middle of the current flood of spam and was able to cut it off after only 41 entries. God knows how many I would have had to deal with if I'd stayed in bed.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:20 AM
October 27, 2004
Passive-Aggressive Campaigning

Planning to vote Bush-Cheney but afraid that, if you put up a sign saying so, it will be stolen or damaged by vandals? Want to steer a middle course between shameful cowardice and dangerous pride? Try a sign like this:

Anyone oafish enough to think political vandalism is acceptable behavior in a democratic republic is likely too stupid to solve the puzzle. (Some may even think the sign supports the United Nations -- as if such a sign would ever have an American flag on it.)

Please link me if you do your own version.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:53 PM
October 26, 2004
Two Memories

Filling in for InstaPundit, Megan McArdle of Asymmetrical Information confesses to “checking the polls with a frequency to shame those lab rats they train to push levers so they can dose themselves up with crack”.

That reminded me of two things.

The first is something I overheard in 1978 or ’79 in an old-fashioned corner drugstore on West Street in Annapolis. I was buying the Washington Post, and the lead story was

Consumer Confidence down 0.1%.

During the Carter years, that particular headline was recycled every week, and there were plenty more along the same lines, giving the results of various polls and surveys, most of them unpleasant.

One of the old guys who sat there all morning drinking coffee, eating pie, and reading the papers had obviously seen the headline, since I heard him tell his buddies, in what my memory somehow records as Ross Perot’s voice,

“Y’ know, a man who takes his temperature every half-hour is a hypochondriac. What do you call a country that has a new poll every day of the week?”

I thought that was a very good question even then, when polls were less abundant . . . not that I’m any better at resisting them than Megan.

Speaking of resistance, my second memory has to do with crack-addicted lab monkeys. I’ve never met one, but used the same metaphor in what is still my personal favorite of everything I’ve ever written on this blog, “Dealing with Addiction”, inspired by Sgt. Stryker’s temporary retirement from blogging in April 2002. Should I just copy the best part here, so you won’t have to click? Why not? It’s only a few clicks away! Here it is:

You start out just reading a few blogs, to kill time when you’re waiting for your boss to give you some boring assignment or other. Or maybe you’ve always been curious about something your trendier friends have been doing for years. Next thing you know you’re checking in every day, for hours at a time, even when it's a beautiful day or you have urgent work to do, and your list of essential blogs is approaching triple digits. Then comes your first comment on someone else’s blog. Someone -- maybe even the blog-owner! -- replies to your comment, and agrees with you. You send a tip to Sullivan or the Instapundit, and he uses it! The rush is un-freakin'-believable, man! Now you’re hooked. Soon you’re lying awake half the night screaming for a blog of your own. Your trendy friends give you the name of someone who can get you started on the hard stuff, a trustworthy supplier named Ev or Ben or Mena. Once you’re up and running, you can’t stop checking your hit count and referrer logs, updating and posting, uploading and reloading, over and over for hours at a stretch, like a lab monkey with a push-button cocaine-drip: it’s just too pleasant to stop. Every morning you wake up hungry for more, roll up your sleeves, plug into your keyboard, and feel the sweet sweet blog soak into your consciousness. You spend the whole day in a blissful fog. (Why do you think they call it ‘bl-og’?) And when the blog wears off at the end of a very late evening, you crawl off to bed, saying 'That’s the last time. Really. I can quit any time I want'. In your heart you know it’s a lie. You’re a slave to cruel Lady Blog. You start trying to get more friends interested. Pretty soon all your friends are serious bloggies. Now you know where to go for the good stuff, the urgent fixes. When one of the more reliable suppliers is no longer on his streetcorner, it drives you half-insane. VodkaPundit takes a whole week off: doesn’t he care about his customers? PejmanPundit goes out on a date and doesn’t come back on-line until late the next morning: you’re waiting for him when he checks in. InstaPundit belies his name by spending time with his family for almost an entire day: the lack of new posts gives you cold sweats and the shakes. And his archives have disappeared, too, so you can't link to the post that would prove it. Now the Sarge has gone silent and he won’t even tell us for how long. I can’t take it! Give me my blog! For God's sake give me my blog!

All in all, I feel a bit like the friend of a friend, who tried to cure his alcholism by taking up cocaine. He thought he could use the drug to wean him from liquor and then quit it, too, but ended up as a cocaine-addicted alcoholic. (I wrote a bit more about him here.) I want my blogs and my polls! Now! Please? A drink would be nice, too, but not for a few hours.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 01:39 PM
Bierce Of The Day

I found today’s entry from Ambrose Bierce’s Write It Right particularly amusing:

Moneyed for Wealthy. “The moneyed men of New York.” One might as sensibly say, “The cattled men of Texas,” or, “The lobstered men of the fish market.”

I have now posted more than half of the book on my Bierce page. Three more days will finish the Ms, and by the end of the year there will be only a few Ps to go, plus Q through W. The last word is ‘would-be’: were there really no solecisms in Bierce’s time that began with X, Y, or Z, or did he lose interest near the end?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:29 AM
October 25, 2004
Orchids And Orchides

Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine provides a handy guide (taken from this site) for decoding the meanings of lapel ribbons of various colors. There are so many more causes than colors that most of the commoner shades have multiple meanings. A dark blue ribbon, for instance, means that the wearer is against child abuse or arthritis or in favor of water quality or crime victim rights. The only common color with a univocal meaning is, not surprisingly, brown, which represents only colorectal cancer. I suppose there is such a thing as excessively appropriate symbolism.

The other ribbon that particularly caught my eye was the 'orchid' ribbon. I gather that that is a shade lighter than purple but darker than lavender. The orchid ribbon represents testicular cancer, which is entirely appropriate, though the appropriateness has nothing to do with the color. Orchís (plural orchídes, three syllables) is the ancient Greek word for 'testicle'. The name of the flower comes from the obscene shape of the bulb. (Hope I haven't offended any orchid-fanciers!)

A few English words are compounded from Greek orchís. Hitler was reputedly 'monorchid', at least according to the wartime ditty (sung to the tune of the Colonel Bogey March) "Hitler has only got one ball". A 'cryptorchid' has testicles that are hidden, i.e. undescended. Finally, 'orchidectomy' is the scientific term for castration: a bilateral orchidectomy would be needed for any man who was not already monorchid.

Whoever picked 'orchid' to represent testicular cancer was indulging in a kind of pun.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 06:02 PM
Disambiguation Brings Relief

I also visited the library at Johns Hopkins University yesterday. Looking over the current periodicals, I finally laid eyes on a journal I first heard of (in bibliographies of Propertius) twenty years ago, but had never actually seen: Vichiana. I was relieved to see that it is an Italian journal, published in Naples, and therefore presumably pronounced 'Vée-kee-áh-nuh' and named after the great Neapolitan polymath Giambattista Vico. When I first ran across the name, I thought it was pronounced 'Vée-shee-áh-nuh' and was French, and hoped that it was named after Vichy water or the mineral springs that produce it rather than the collaborationist régime of Marshal Pétain.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:16 PM
For The Happy Few

Anyone who is (a) reading this, (b) an opera fan, and (c) not too far from Baltimore -- that's about three of you, I imagine -- should know that the Vivente Opera's production of Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri is very competently done: certainly well worth the modest price. Tickets are $20 to $36, and even the $20 seats are not that far from the stage, since the church hall only fits about 200 chairs. It's sung in English, which doesn't help the intelligibility as much as it ought, but the plot is obvious enough. The orchestra is just a string quintet and a wind quintet, with the conductor playing the harpsichord only for the recitatives. The staging is simple and generally non-Eurotrashy, though the chorus does put on pirate hats to capture Isabella and Taddeo, and one of them has a stuffed parrot attached to his wrist for that scene only. The Isabella (Ann Marie Wilcox, not to be confused with Ana Marie Cox, aka Wonkette) was particularly striking, and looked very Italian, appropriately enough.

All in all, it was a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and there are two more performances, on Thursday and Saturday nights.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 04:57 PM
October 24, 2004
Answering The Beldar Challenge

Beldar lays down "a challenge . . . to those of my thoughtful and articulate readers in general, and to selected bloggers, who support Sen. Kerry":

Please offer a plausible, reasonably detailed scenario for how, if Sen. Kerry had been the President instead of Dubya, Saddam would not still be in power as of November 2, 2004.

(Kerry said in the second debate that Saddam would "not necessarily be still in power" if he had been president for the last four years.)

I don't support Kerry, but I can think of a few remotely conceivable scenarios:

1. If Saddam hadn't spent the eight months between the fall of Bagdhad and his capture scurrying from place to place and hiding in spiderholes, he would have gotten a lot less exercise and a lot more fine cuisine, cigars, liquor, sex however and with whomever (willing or not) he wanted, movies of all ratings, and (if his tastes run that way) drugs. Just because he hasn't had a heart attack or stroke since the U.S. invasion doesn't mean he wouldn't have had a fatal one if it had never occurred. (Sorry about all the negatives!) On the other hand, if he had stayed in power, he would have had better access to doctors, hospitals, personal trainers, Soloflex and similar machines, and swimming pools, so perhaps he would have been in better health, not worse.

Not plausible enough? Here's another:

2. If Saddam had had another year and a half to do anything he pleased to anyone he pleased, he would undoubtedly have murdered and tortured thousands more, and there would have been that many more bereaved Iraqis who wanted to kill him. He had already survived dozens of assassination attempts: perhaps the next one, or the one after that, would have succeeded. That may not seem likely, given his abundance of bodyguards and doubles, but the more people try something, the more likely one of them is to succeed. Then again, how many Iraqi families were left in March 2003 that had not already had at least one member murdered, tortured, or raped by Saddam, his sons, or one of his henchmen?

This one strikes me as the most plausible yet:

3. Speaking of Saddam's sons, if they hadn't been killed by the U.S. military fifteen months ago, Uday and Qusay might well have gotten tired of waiting for the old man to retire or die, and decided to hurry along the latter process. They were certainly vicious enough.

These are the best I can come up with. Can anyone top them? Or come up with one that is not just 'arguable', or 'conceivable', but likely? In this case, I define 'likely' as 'having a better than a 1% per year chance of occurring'. Please do not resort to time machines, wormholes, or shape-shifting alien lizard overlords in your hypothesis.

If no one can come up with a hypothetical chain of events more plausible than these three, I will have to conclude that John Kerry is either a liar, or a fool, or a logic-chopping weasel whose "not necessarily" is designed to deceive rather than inform. I can live with that.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:13 PM
October 17, 2004
Advice Needed I

My sparse production over the last few weeks is mostly because of computer problems, specifically a virus that seems to have infected my machine late on September 8th, though most of the damage was done on the 9th. (I blame Dan Rather!) Here are some questions some of you may be able to help with:

  1. One of the earliest files to arrive was named DyFuCa -- I forget the file-type. Would that be pronounced "Die, Fucka'!"? That's certainly how I feel about the virus, it's creator, and everyone involved in its delivery.
  2. Is there any reason why I shouldn't delete every file and directory in the /Windows/Temp and /TemporaryInternetFiles directories? I don't care if the latter slows down my browsing. I'm just worried that some of the subdirectories may be required somehow.
  3. What good is Norton software? Their virus sweep takes 10 hours to run, finds anywhere from 907 to 1438 infected files each time, and then invariably reports that it is unable to delete a single one of them. When I delete them by hand using the instructions on their website, they are all back the next day. (Actually, there are always two I'm unable to delete, since they are apparently running all the time, but Norton gives no hint as to how to kill the processes so I can delete them.) Meanwhile, Norton's virus sweep has slowed down my system pitifully: it used to take 3 1/2 minutes to load Word (mostly for the Greek keyboard and PDF plug-ins) and 2 seconds to open a Word file. Now it takes a ridiculous 8 minutes and 30 seconds respectively. Should I ask for my money back?
  4. The virus seems to be trying to communicate behind my back. Whenever I boot up I get a popup telling me that my log-on has failed and asking if I want to 'work offline', when I haven't tried to log on yet. I use dial-up and very much object to having my machine try to log on before I tell it to. When I do log on, Internet Explorer keeps opening itself and popping up windows trying to sell me stuff: this is particularly annoying since I'm mostly using Opera now. I would deinstall Explorer and stick with Opera, but (a) I've heard that IE is so tightly integrated with Windows that that might cause other essential software to stop working, and (b) some sites don't work on Opera. Examples of point b are Sgt. Stryker, where the text column is only an inch wide, and Tim Blair, where I can't even read the comments, much less add one of my own. I suppose I need to get hold of Firefox.
  5. If some kind of keystroke logging is going on, can it log keystrokes that are provided as defaults? I mean if a site has given me a 'remember password' option so that I never have to type it in again, can I safely go to such a page and log on with a button, without revealing it to a keystroke-logging virus? I'm using that method with Movable Type right now, but have been afraid to do it with any site that has my credit card information, such as Amazon or eBay.

By the way, please do not recommend any of the following:

  1. Buying a new computer. I'm between jobs, so unless you're planning to send me the money for a new one, this is not an option in the near future.
  2. Reinstalling Windows 98. I don't have the installation disks: I stupidly forgot to ask the dealer why they weren't included when I bought the machine six years ago. I also have no way of backing up everything essential: not enough Zip drives and some files are too large for them anyway. Even if I could back everything up, I would probably be backing up some of the virus files, which would defeat the purpose of the exercise. Should I upgrade to Windows 98 SE? That would allow me to buy a back-up device that I could later use with my next machine, either a CD writer or a peripheral hard drive, neither of which works with Windows 98 non-SE. Do they even sell Windows 98 SE any more? If so, is it inexpensive? Most important, would it take care of my problems?
  3. Reformatting my hard drive. See previous point.

I'll have more questions soon, so if anyone is feeling helpful and well-informed, please check back. I'm also working on another spin-off website that many of you will find interesting. More on both topics soon.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:45 PM
Schwarzschild's Theorem Or Amis' Law?

Maimon Schwarzschild of The Right Coast wonders how Brian Leiter can be so smart about philosophy (I'll have to take his word on that) and so dumb about politics (he puts it much more politely):

I have a tentative Schwarzschild Theorem to explain this sort of thing: that capable people tend to be conservative about what they know best and do most, even when they are theoretically radical about things that are further removed from their immediate knowledge and their primary concerns. Brian is a good example: he may be a Chomsky-an, or a quasi-Marxist, but as the author of the best-informed and shrewdest rankings of philosophy departments and law schools, he is light-years away from being an "egalitarian" or a leveller. There are lots of people like this: people who have no utopian illusions whatsoever about their work, or about rearing their children, but who hold utopian, or at least silly views (from TheRightCoast point of view, of course) about politics.

The theorem is not original, though a proof would be impressive. Here's a comment I wrote for Bill Quick almost two years ago that seems worth recycling. He was looking for a list of such laws, and the entire thread is well worth reading. My comment is about half-way down:

Here are two more:

1. Kingsley Amis liked to quote this one from (I think) Robert Conquest:

Any organization that is not explicitly right-wing becomes left-wing over time.

It's quoted from memory, so the wording may be a bit off.

2. Here's one from Amis himself (again quoted from memory, and probably less accurately):

Everyone is conservative about things he knows about first-hand.

He was talking about education: Amis first started turning to the right when he was teaching and found that left-wing educational thought was not particularly grounded in reality.

I'll try to find authoritative versions of both quotations when I have the time.

Unfortunately, I still haven't had the time, and my books are all in storage at the moment. But the second semi-quotation shows that Schwarzschild's Theorem is just another name for Amis' Law. Or perhaps Amis' Nth Law, since some of his other apophthegms are equally pithy -- and true. Time to root through my rented store-room and pull out the box of Amis books? According to my map, I would only have to move two pieces of furniture and three other boxes to get to it.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:49 PM
October 08, 2004
Today In History

From today's entry in The Oxford Companion to the Year, by Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens (1999):

In 1966, the revolutionary Ernesto Guevara, commonly known as 'Che' (i.e. 'the Argentinian', from the Argentine Spanish for 'mate'), was handed over to the Bolivian army by the peasants of La Higuera, amongst whom he was preaching a political message in which they took no interest. The western counter-culturists whose posters proclaim 'Che Lives' may be surprised to learn that he is now honoured on this day at La Higuera as San Ernesto, who never fails to answer prayers for rain.

I would wish a Happy Che Day and Feast of San Ernesto to all the Guevarists and counter-culturalists out there, but any of my readers who thinks Che was anything but a thug deserves a very bad day. (I'm assuming none of my readers is a Bolivian peasant. Do leave a comment if you've ever prayed to San Ernesto for rain.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:05 PM
Obvious Questions?

Captain's Quarters and the evening news, among others, have mentioned that at least one terrorist in Iraq has downloaded floorplans for eight different schools in six states of the U.S.

Here's what I want to know:

  1. Is there any pattern in the types of schools listed? Are the students mostly rich kids, poor kids, middle-class kids, a mixture of all three? Is there any pattern in the ethnicity of the students? Are they primary or secondary schools or some of each? Are they near neighborhoods where undercover terrorists might live? Are they conveniently accessible from interstate highways and other likely escape routes? I'm sure there are many other questions that can be asked along these lines. It may be that these are just the few schools short-sighted enough to put their floorplans on the web.
  2. Most important, how many of these eight schools will be used as polling-places in the next election? If the answer is two or three, it may be a coincidence, since schools are often used as polling places. (My last three votes, counting backwards, were in an elementary school, a fire station, and a city park community center.) If the answer is all of them, it's not hard to guess when someone was (and perhaps still is) thinking of attacking these schools. The timing could probably be narrowed down further. An attack on polling places would have the best chance of disrupting a national election if it were done early on election day, but not too early: late enough to catch voters in sufficient numbers to be worth massacring but early enough for those who had not yet voted to hear about it on the news.
Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:49 AM
October 03, 2004
Advice For Bloggers

When the family is making what's left of Friday's flank steak into roast beef sandwiches for lunch, and everyone is making his or her own, it's best not to be the last one to the table.

Here's what I was able to make with what the others had left on the platter:

I probably should have logged off and come to lunch a bit earlier.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:55 PM
On Lack Of Self-Knowledge

I just now found this quotation on the web:

The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.

This is excellent advice. I would have liked it better if whoever posted it had named the author, and perhaps also the work from which it is quoted, the date, and so on. And I would have liked it a lot better if I had not had to read it in a comment on my own site, where it was being used to disguise a piece of Online Poker Spam, one of several from I suppose I should be glad it's not porn spam.

Is the extreme (in)appropriateness of the quotation to its context an instance of dry -- and rather nasty -- wit? Or is it just an indication of stupidity and lack of self-knowledge? Did the spammer even read it before posting it?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:29 PM