July 05, 2002
Why I Use A Pseudonym

I've been having a dispute with someone named Bruce Moomaw over on Megan McArdle's site. I thought I should say something here, since the subject may be of general interest. Besides, Megan's software told me my original comment was too long to post there, anyway.

When he found that he was losing an argument on another subject, Moomaw resorted to an ad hominem sneer:

. . . what should be said about bloggers who continually hide behind pseudonyms? All my creations are available for public inspection, Doctor. Why not bring yours out, that we may know them?

Unlike many people who post hostile remarks on other people's blogs (I am not referring to Moomaw, but to the kind of bozo who posts insults as "Nobody" at "nowhere@aol.com") I have a known location that will never change, since I have my own domain. It is very easy to see what I think about any subject.

I only use a pseudonym because I'm a high school teacher. If I put my real name on my blog, some of my students and their parents would read it, with various unpleasant consequences:

  1. I would have to keep it G-rated. I prefer to write a PG-13 blog for grownups.
  2. I would have to avoid criticizing anyone that might be a friend of my students' parents, and that includes a lot of people who deserve severe criticism. For example, I taught at a very good school in Manhattan last fall: some of my students had parents who were New York Times editorialists and the like.
  3. I like to be able to give relatively specific examples on this blog without being sued. As Dr. Weevil, I can tell stories about idiot professors or clueless bureaucrats I have known without my readers being able to identify them by checking out my curriculum vitae.
  4. I have found it best not to discuss my politics with my students. Discussing modern politics in any but the most general way tends to divide students into pro-teacher and anti-teacher factions, and that interferes with the learning of Latin. I do make appropriate parallels and contrasts between ancient and modern politics, but I generally refuse to tell them how I vote, or what I think about abortion or the death penalty. On the two or three occasions that I have broken this rule, I have regretted it. Some students turned hostile, others thought they'd found a guru. I don't need either. Otherwise, my students' success rate in guessing how I vote in presidential elections is 50%, which seems about right. I would like to keep it that way.
  5. I don't want to look like I'm 'pulling rank' on anyone by showing off my credentials. Yes, I do claim considerable expertise in Latin: it's my job. Other than that, my arguments have nothing to back them up except (I hope) logic, evidence, and whatever else makes a good argument better than a bad one. Nothing is more tiresome than someone who thinks you should believe him because he went to Harvard, or has won some award, or has been on television, or something. There are plenty of morons with impeccable credentials, and vice versa.

Of course, it all comes down to freedom of speech. If I were wealthy, or retired, or tenured, or a union member, or owned my own business, or worked at some other profession, I could use my real name. As it is, it seems inadvisable.

In any case, Google tells me that I have the same real name as at least a dozen other people in the world, so my pseudonym is actually a more distinctive identifier. I don't want to annoy a microbiologist at Berkeley, a computer programmer in Cleveland, a librarian in Georgia, a technical writer in Philadelphia, a shipping line executive in Scotland, and some other guys in Australia, Brazil, and South Africa by giving anyone the impression that my criticisms are theirs. In fact, one of the bloggers listed on the right has a name very similar to mine, so using my real name could be confusing even within the Blogosphere.

One more thing: how can Moomaw say "all my creations are available for public inspection" when he either doesn't have a website or doesn't give the URL for it? Where exactly are they available? All my political thoughts are available right here on my website, but for his I apparently have to go to the library and look through the 'letters to the editor' in twenty years worth of back issues of The American Spectator, The Atlantic, and God knows what other journals. Other than the comments sections of various blogs, those are the only places I have seen his creations.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at July 05, 2002 12:54 PM

One reason some of us good ol boys use a pseudonym is the same reason we still like cb radio's-- we get to use really cool handles while being a smart ass

Posted by: chuck myguts on July 5, 2002 02:55 PM

I was kind of hoping that "Moomaw" wasn't his actual last name.

Posted by: Andrea Harris on July 5, 2002 03:33 PM

It is, unfortunately. As for Dr. Weevil's travails in looking up my creations (mostly in aerospace journalism, for whatever it's worth), there is this thing called a search engine... And, by the way, his belief that I was "losing my main argument with him" (two of them at once, actually) is mystifying.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on July 5, 2002 06:06 PM

High school teacher, eh? OK, under those (unusual) circumstances) hiding behind a pseudonym is forgivable. What is not forgivable is (A) your own little ad hominem smear on me that provoked my retaliation; and (B) your confident statement (sans details) that you won our main argument. To put it mildly, you didn't.

I repeat if President Gore had delayed starting the Afghan War as long as Bush did, there would have been wholesale screams from the GOP Right that he was being "criminally irresponsible", complete with frequent calls for his impeachment. Do you really think that Limbaugh or Lucianne or the Freepers (or Bob Barr) would have refrained from the latter? Or that DeLay and Lott and Armey would have forcefully denounced those calls? They would have happily played along, just as Robert Taft and the rest of the GOP Congressional leadership -- and, until it no longer served his purposes, Eisenhower -- happily played along with Joe McCarthy's smears.

And, by the way, while it may be my eyes, for the life of me I can't see any hint in that statement of Bill Clinton's that he actually approves of the fact that the US won't be the sole superpower forever. As fas as I can see, he was simply warning that it doesn't behoove us to throw our power around arrogantly -- or, for that matter, unwisely refrain from acting -- in the complacent belief that we'll always be top dog. (I wish I was less certain that the next superpower will be China, probably still in fascist form.)

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on July 5, 2002 08:51 PM

Let me guess, your name is Frederick K. R. Norman?

Posted by: Robert Bauer on July 6, 2002 02:42 PM

Reply to comment #3, beginning "It is, unfortunately":

You have entirely misconstrued my point. You specifically said that the fact that you do not use a pseudonym means that all your creations are "available for inspection" and implied that mine are not. In fact, except for half a dozen short letters to the editors of various publications, mine are all in one place, this website, and very easy to consult.

Your remark about search engines is a cheap shot, and ill-aimed. If I want to know what you think about politics -- I don't, I've already seen quite enough -- I can do a Google search, but that gives me 858 hits. The first ten appear to be about astronomy and aerospace matters. Apparently, if I wanted to read your thoughts on politics, I would have to go through quite a few of the 858 to find them. Pseudonymous or not, my creations are far more conveniently 'available for inspection' than yours.

I'm sure you will continue to be mystified by my belief that you were losing the argument. You keep repeating the same allegation, which very few others find plausible. (Only a Snark can say "what I tell you three times is true".) If Gore had started bombing Afghanistan 26 days after September 11th, as Bush did, you are quite sure that large numbers of Republicans would have been screaming for impeachment? Hogwash. You seem to have Gore mixed up with Clinton. Most Republicans find Gore stiff, boring, and wrong on a wide array of issues, but they do not loathe him, as they loathe Clinton (not without reason). You cannot just assume that Republican reaction to a hypothetical Gore presidency would have matched their reaction to the actual Clinton presidency. The idea that they wouldn't have given him even a month to get the war in Afghanistan started is incredible.

For comment #4:

There are many professions in which discretion is called for. A priest, minister, or rabbi has no business taking sides in front of his congregation, except maybe on abortion and divorce and such semi-religious issues, but is certainly entitled to have political opinions that he may want to express elsewhere. The same may well apply to some doctors (psychiatrists and G.P.s) but not others (who cares what your pulmonologist thinks about politics?). In private business, no one cares whether a computer programmer is left- or right-wing as long as he's competent, but a salesman or human resources director would probably be well-advised to keep his politics to himself -- again, except on his weblog. I'm sure examples could be multiplied.

My "ad hominem" smear was a simple question. If you were not the one who made fun of Mr. Maloney's name -- provoking a rather cruel retaliation -- then I apologize. But I find it a little odd that I should remember your name so well, if you only had one letter published in the American Spectator over 26 years. Are you quite sure that they didn't publish more than one?

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on July 6, 2002 09:20 PM

Dealing with the last first: I sure as hell didn't write any letter to TAS before Jan. 1992 (the correct date of the one letter of mine I know they published), and I certainly wouldn't have done anything as moronic as making fun of "Maloney" (who, by the way, I'm unfamiliar with). In that letter, I did do some name-calling at Tyrrell and P.J. O'Rourke, for the simple reason that they routinely do the same thing themselves. I try to avoid being a troll except to fight other trolls -- and if the word doesn't apply to those two, it has no meaning.

As for the Republicans: certainly, if Gore had delayed the Afghan War as long as Bush did, there would have been wholesale screams from the GOP about his "criminal irresponsibility". And there would have been very frequent calls from the party's far-Right fringe to remove him from office immediately on the grounds that he was a national danger. You've said that these would have come only from "the likes of Cal Thomas" -- but the trouble, as I noted, is that there are now a hell of a lot of Cal Thomases in the GOP. Limbaugh, to name the most obvious one; Tyrrell, O'Rourke, Lucianne Goldberg and the current leadership of the NRA, to name just a few more. And the current Congressional leadership of the GOP, being mostly Southern Republican and beholden to Cal Thomas-style fundamentalists for their support, would not have denounced that kind of rhetoric. We do have a precedent, after all: the GOP did exactly the same sort of thing in the early Fifties, at a time when they were no more conservative than they are now. (Megan McArdle made a much stronger point when she said that, given a similar opportunity, the Democrats would very likely have demagoguged it against a Republican president in the same way.)

Finally: you haven't found any political articles of mine on the Web for the simple reason that there aren't any to speak of. My suspicions of you were based on the belief that anyone who hides continually behind a pseudonym very likely has something to hide about his supposed intellectual credentials. You've convinced me otherwise, especially that I do now know your name and background (and will keep my mouth -- permanently -- shut about them).

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on July 8, 2002 03:36 AM

Your name has been exposed on Warblogger Watch.

Posted by: Martin on July 8, 2002 09:47 PM

"Your name has been exposed on Warblogger Watch."

Word up! That's an honor, Dr. Weevil! I am so proud of you... and just a little bit jealous. Why can't _I_ be listed on Warblahblawahaha's scarey "We're watching youuuuu -- ooga booga!" list? I mean, I've got choppin' dude!

Posted by: Andrea Harris on July 9, 2002 01:31 PM

Thanks for the heads-up, Martin. If you read the comments there, you'll see that I've known for a couple of days.

By the way, if you're going to use a Hotmail account, you should probably pick a different or more expansive display name. The second-to-last comment before yours (on another thread) was from another 'Martin', but he's the PatioPundit. Very confusing at first glance.

Andrea: I am truly honored, and will be saying more about this later today in a regular post.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on July 9, 2002 02:23 PM

Looks like Mr. Moomaw is spreading the science fiction around. Show me Al Gore winning the election, Bruce, and show me the Republicans berating him for delaying attacks on Afghanistan. Then maybe I'll grant your point. Otherwise, unfounded assertion. Not to mention irrelevant.

As I stated over on janegalt.net, I once had a German teacher who asserted that if we had been in Hitler's place, we would have done the same as he did. It's yet another "shoulda, coulda, woulda" that we'll never be able to verify. And the attempt to justify left-wing whining with the supposition that right-wing whining MAY have taken place under different circumstances is pathetic, IMO. Let's try to keep this in the current timeline, shall we?

Posted by: David Perron on July 12, 2002 02:13 PM