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Tuesday: April 17, 2007

Stupid Argument Clinic

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:12 PM GMT-0500

Since Jules Crittenden’s site truncated my comment twice, though it was shorter than many posted previously, I’ll post it here. A commenter calling himself ‘alphie’ — no doubt the same idiot who infests Protein Wisdom — was going on about how Stalin won World War II more or less single-handedly by killing 90% of the German soldiers who were killed. Others pointed out that a lot of those German deaths were from gross mistreatment of German soldiers in Soviet prison camps. Here is what I added:

alphie uses an argument that many have used before him, just as dishonestly. He pretends that the German army was the only enemy to be defeated in World War II. No doubt it was the strongest enemy, but the Japanese Army, Air Force, and especially Navy were quite formidable, and the USSR did <1% of the killing and dying needed to defeat them. The German Navy — the U-boats, I mean — was also quite formidable, and the USSR did <1% of the killing and dying needed to defeat it. I don’t know how to apportion the defeat of the German Air Force between the western allies and the USSR, but I suspect that the US and UK did most of that, too — certainly far more than 10%. Of course, the Italian armed forces were nothing like as effective, but they still had to be defeated, and it was the US and UK that did much of the work of defeating the Italian Army and Air Force and all of the work of defeating the Italian Navy. On the other hand, the USSR did most of the work of defeating the minor Axis allies, Finland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. To sum up, anyone who pretends that the USSR did 90% of the work of defeating the Axis as a whole — army, navy, and air force of three major powers and four smaller countries — is a liar or a fool. Which is alphie? Hard to say, and the two are not mutually exclusive.

Postscript: I just realized the problem. The less-than signs were being taken as HTML, so everything after them was truncated. Substituting LT between an ampersand and a semicolon should take care of that. I guess I’ll go over to Crittenden’s blog and post this there as well.

Tuesday: April 10, 2007

Cruel, But Not Unusual

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:40 PM GMT-0500

Many of my students — especially a couple of 7th-grade boys — show a great deal of interest in ancient forms of capital punishment. Today I put together a model to illustrate the Athenian practice of apotumpanismós, or ‘planking’, which is essentially crucifixion without the nails (paradoxically, that makes it crueler):

The text on the lower left reads:

Ancient Athenian Capital Punishment

Stephen (Stéphanos) is a thief, caught in the act. His punishment is apotympanismós (‘planking’). He has been fastened to a wooden plank with five metal hoops and left out in the sun to die of hunger, thirst, heat, cold, and the nibbling of wild animals and birds. There are guards to keep his friends from releasing him or giving him food or water, but his enemies are free to come and abuse him whenever they like. If he were a major criminal like a traitor, he would have been thrown in the Bárathron, a deep pit near Athens, his body left there to rot and be eaten by vultures. Stephen will get a decent burial after he dies, though that may take a week or more.

That’ll teach Stephen to steal Barbie’s purse. It’s too bad about the hair-style — and the silly happy look on his face.

Next project: the Bárathron. That will take a bit more money, but will be easy enough. Take one large-sized plastic garbage can, add a small shelf on one side at the top, line the interior and the shelf with papier-maché to represent bare rock, add a fully-clothed Ken and Barbie throwing a loin-cloth’d Stephen over the edge, and put the pieces of another Stephen down in the bottom, with the broken-up remains of a couple of plastic skeletons, if I can find them in the right size. Bushes and vultures are optional, though they would add a bit of atmosphere. I’ll probably enlist my students to work on that, since their experience with papier-maché is undoubtedly fresher than my own (by 40 years or so, I estimate).

Sunday: April 8, 2007


Filed under: — site admin @ 10:13 PM GMT-0500

Colby Cosh wants to be able to express ‘the wisdom of crowds’ in a single word, or rather two words, a noun and an adjective. He proposes ‘plurisapience’ and ‘plurisapient’. Not bad, but that would also mean ‘the wisdom of more than one person’, which is not the same thing. For example, it would include novelists and professors who become so famous that they dispense with editors and publish ever longer and worse works. The usefulness of (competent) editors is an example of ‘the wisdom of more than one; the value of a second opinion’, but doesn’t seem to have much to do with ‘the wisdom of crowds’.

Why not go straight to the Greek and Roman words for ‘crowd, mob’? They are pejorative, but that’s no objection. I’ve never read The Wisdom of Crowds, but I gather that it argues that crowds of non-experts can in some cases combine to outthink even the cleverest of experts. Anyway, ‘the wisdom of the mob’ would be ‘vulgisapience’ (adjective ‘vulgisapient’) if derived from Latin, ‘ochlosophy’ (adjective ‘ochlosophic’) if derived from Greek.

Just Asking . . .

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:59 PM GMT-0500

I haven’t read all the coverage of the Iranian kidnapping of 15 British sailors and marines — no one could — but what I have read does not mention one interesting question: what happened to their uniforms? We know that they were sent home in ugly Iranian suits. Unless I’m missing something, it appears that their uniforms remain in Iranian hands. Or perhaps not. In January, Iraqi ‘insurgents’ — in fact, war criminals — wearing American uniforms killed five American soldiers in Karbala (good summary here). Have the British uniforms stolen by Iran already been shipped to al Sadr’s men in Basra so they can try the same thing there? Why is no one asking what happened to them?

About the Author

Filed under: — site admin @ 4:50 PM GMT-0500

If InstaPundit can post a portrait of himself drawn by a two-year-old nephew, I suppose I can post a portrait of me done by the youngest of my sixth-grade Geography and Latin students:

I like the way it gives the short person’s perspective, while taking thirty or more years off my age. On the other hand, my ears are not quite that prominent.

Saturday: April 7, 2007

Food for Thought

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:17 AM GMT-0500

One of the great ironies of the Internet age is that traditional ephemera, such as newspaper articles and diary entries, now live on forever in indexes and blogs. Meanwhile, given the short shelf life of modern books — basically, six weeks nowadays — and the decline of traditional library stacks, modern books only live on for a few years at most. Indeed, if you really want your prose to survive this century, you might be better off writing a successful blog that enjoys a lot of technorati links.

— Michael S. Malone (here)