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24 May 2002  

Blogbreak. Posting has been a bit slow at the tail end of this week, and next week there will be no new posts at all. There are many excellent reasons for this, related to Real Life and suchlike, but I won't trouble you with the details.

Thanks for stopping by and taking a look at week six of The Goliard Blog, and look for week seven to commence on the 3rd of June. Ciao until then.

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23 May 2002  


A call to arms—or rather, for arms. On Tuesday I noted that, if Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, and North Korea are all furiously working to develop nuclear weapons, and would all dearly love to see them used against the American mainland when they have been developed, then we must either be prepared to confront all of them, up to and beyond the point of full-scale conventional war, or we must be prepared to see an American city hit with a nuclear device.

I believe the first option to be vastly preferable to the second…but the unfortunate fact is, given the present state of our military, it might not actually be an option available to us. Mark Helprin explains this in worrisome detail in his recent National Review piece, which is must-reading for anyone concerned about our nation's ability to wage war.

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Another selection from Church Poems by John Betjeman. I have selected it in honor of all the good priests out there. The poem has two stanzas but I am posting only the first.


When things go wrong it's rather tame
To find we are ourselves to blame,
It gets the trouble over quicker
To go and blame things on the Vicar.
The Vicar, after all, is paid
To keep us bright and undismayed.
The Vicar is more virtuous too
Than lay folks such as me and you.
He never swears, he never drinks,
He never should say what he thinks.
His collar is the wrong way round,
And that is why he's simply bound
To be the sort of person who
Has nothing very much to do
But take the blame for what goes wrong
And sing in tune at Evensong.
   For what's a Vicar really for
Except to cheer us up? What's more,
He shouldn't ever, ever tell
If there is such a place as Hell,
For if there is it's certain he
Will go to it as well as we.
The Vicar should be all pretence
And never, never give offence.
To preach on Sunday is his task
And lend his mower when we ask
And organize our village fêtes
And sing at Christmas with the waits
And in his car to give us lifts
And when we quarrel, heal the rifts.
To keep his family alive
He should industriously strive
In that enormous house he gets,
And he should always pay his debts,
For he has quite six pounds a week,
And when we're rude he should be meek
And always turn the other cheek.
He should be neat and nicely dressed
With polished shoes and trousers pressed,
For we look up to him as higher
Than anyone, except the Squire.

John Betjeman

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22 May 2002  


Don't come around here no more. Today I received an e-mail from Times Online, the website of London's The Times, stating the following:

I am writing to let you know that this week we will be introducing subscription for overseas readers wishing to read The Times and The Sunday Times newspaper editions online and to explain why we are introducing a fee for a service you previously received free of charge.…

We are asking you to pay £39.99 (approximately US$58) for an annual subscription that will allow you to read all articles published in the newspaper editions online over the past seven days for one year from the date of purchase. This represents tremendous value for overseas readers compared with the price of an annual subscription to the print editions - and guarantees fast and regular delivery of two of the world's greatest newspapers.

You will be invited to subscribe when you next visit one of our newspaper editions online. If you should decide to do so before June 17, 2002 you will be offered a free World Cup VIP Pass, worth £9.99…

I had already made the wrenchingly-difficult switch from making pitiful attempts to solve the Times crossword, to making pitiful attempts to solve the Telegraph crossword, when Times Online started to charge for that part of their website. And I was also already set on getting my World Cup news elsewhere—however wonderful Bill Bryson's writing is, I was never going to pay £9.99 for an occasional column of his next month. Now Times Online appears to intent on driving cheapskate freeloaders like myself from their site entirely. Fine. I shall now visit the site exclusively.

Until they try to charge me £39.99 as well.

(Note to the suits at the Telegraph: this American reader would bite at a subscription rate of £9.99 per year, but no more than that. Try to charge over fifty dollars like the Times and you'll drive me to read The Guardian…in which case I'll send you the bill for the inevitable high-blood-pressure medication.)

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Psycho Blogger, run run run away… Blogger, and the Blog*Spot server, have been behaving very strangely over the past couple of days. So if you haven't been able to reach The Goliard Blog, or if posts seemed to be missing when you got here, well that would be why.

I didn't do it, honest.

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The Wednesday Book is on hiatus this week, due to the fact that neither of the two titles I was considering writing about are actually at hand…I now remember that they were loaned out to a friend who may or may not have decamped for San Francisco by now. Sorry about that.

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21 May 2002  


Oaths across the water. It is time for the second installment in my occasional series of helpful hints for American readers who may suddenly find themselves wishing to pass for Brits (or vice versa). Today we shall cover two rather rude words. Since this is a family website, I shall seek to do so in as amusingly delicate a fashion as possible.

Word number one is, in the United States, a four-letter term which is sometimes used on its own, and sometimes combined with a reference to cattle or other livestock in order to specify the exact source of the stuff which is referred to by the four letters. The classic British rendering of this word, however, runs to five letters due to the addition of an "e" on the end. This affects pronunciation in the usual manner for a "silent e". (Who else remembers the Tom Lehrer song "Silent E" which was used on the PBS show The Electric Company? "Who can turn a cap / Into a cape?...")

Word number two, an anatomical term, is three letters long in the States. Once again, the British version is one letter longer, but the changes in this case are a bit more extensive. You will need to remove one of the twin consonants at the end of the American word, then add an "r" before the remaining consonant and an "e" after it. If your result is one of the words in Metro Goldwyn Mayer's motto with an "e" at the end, you've successfully converted the word to the British version. Pronunciation of this one is pretty straightforward, I think.

Our next installment in this riveting series shall be "Ticks and Crosses". Don't miss it.

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Welcome East Timor. Congratulations to the world's newest nation, East Timor, which celebrated its independence yesterday (Reuters story | BBC story). This is a great achievement for the Timorese, a staunchly Catholic people surrounded by the Muslims of Indonesia, a country which subjected East Timor to murderous repression between the 1975 invasion and the beginning of U.N. administration in 1999. The country is tiny and desperately poor, but at least it is now free, and we should all hope and pray that East Timor's first president, Xanana Gusmao, will preserve and defend that freedom.

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Derb has a bad feeling. Newly-minted American John Derbyshire writes in his latest column that he has a sinking suspicion that we will not go to war against Iraq—not this year, not ever. You should really read the whole piece, but here is the conclusion:

I favor war against Iraq. I believe a successful war against Iraq would trigger major attitude adjustment in the Middle East, to the benefit of us and the promotion of our values. I believe it would greatly enhance this country's security by removing a major supplier of WMD to terrorist gangs. But if our leaders believe that "the desire to avoid further slaughter" trumps the desire to take down our enemy; if they believe that Crown Prince Abdullah or Hosni Mubarak will lift one jeweled pinkie to assist our war aims; if they believe that we need the permission of crooks and despots before we act in our own interests; if they believe that Europe is militarily significant; if they believe that the U.N. Security Council is worth anything more than a thimbleful of rat's piss; if they believe that our fighting men and women cannot carry out their duties without a year and a half of preparation; if they believe all these things, then it would be best if we did not start a war at all. They do: We won't.

Derbyshire might just be right, and that is a depressing proposition indeed, in light of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's remarks to a Senate committee today. Rumsfeld stated that terrorist states—particularly Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, and North Korea—are "inevitably" going to develop nuclear weapons, and either use them against us themselves, or provide them to terrorists who will.

If Rumsfeld is correct, and I believe he is, then the United States faces a stark choice. Either we overthrow the governments of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, and North Korea as soon as humanly possible, by any means necessary including full-scale conventional warfare; or we accept the fact that the American mainland will be nuked in the near future. I don't know about you, but to me the choice between these two is a no-brainer. We must attack and defeat those who plot our destruction, now, and our "allies" be damned. Better conventional war now than nuclear war later.

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DeBow on NRO! Now that Blog*Spot is back up and running, I can provide a link to an excellent new piece which has been posted on National Review Online, "Out-of-Control AGs: Restraining state attorneys general". The article is written by Michael DeBow, my favorite among the many excellent professors who taught me at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law. As far as I know this is DeBow's first appearance on National Review Online. Read this article. Then, if you'd like to learn more, check out DeBow's Policy Analysis for the Cato Institute on the same subject.

Professor DeBow also maintains a huge links page which can send you to many, many interesting places. Don't miss the "Diversions" link at the very bottom of the page.

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The men and women who make the best boon companions seem to have given up hope of doing something else. They have, perhaps, tried to be poets and painters; they have tried to be actors, scientists, and musicians. But some defect of talent or opportunity has cut them off from their pet ambition and has thus left them with leisure to take an interest in the lives of others. Your ambitious man is selfish. No matter how secret his ambition may be, it makes him keep his thoughts at home. But the heartbroken people—if I may use the word in a mild benevolent sense—the people whose wills are subdued to fate, give us consolation, recognition, and welcome.

— John Jay Chapman

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20 May 2002  


The Irish elections. Assorted thoughts on the results from Ireland:

• I will begin with a brief pronunciation guide for Americans and others who might have trouble with Gaelic words:

Taoiseach (Prime Minister): "tee-shock" (even better if you can make the final "ck" more like "ch" as in "loch")
Fianna Fáil (political party): the Voice of America's guide gives "FEE-eh-neh F-OIL", which is correct enough but might sound a little precious to those Irishmen who pronounce it more like "finn-a foal"
Fine Gael (political party): "fee-nah" or "fee-nay" + "gael" as in Gaelic
Sinn Féin (political party): "shin fay-n"
Dáil (lower house of Parliament): "dial" or "doyle"

Making it more difficult is the fact that pronunciation of these words can very a good deal, depending on the speaker's local accent and level of Gaelic proficiency. So coming anywhere close to the pronunciations given will do just fine in a pinch.

• The Irish sure know how to throw an election. It is always good fun for the political junkie in ways large and small. A couple of large ways: The Byzantine party system is intriguing and ever-shifting. And the wondrously convoluted electoral system provides days of suspense and fodder for analysis. (RTÉ has a good explanation of Ireland's Proportional Representation with Single Transferable Vote system at its website.) A couple of small ways: All the Irish accents and place names and occasional Gaelic words are awfully pleasing to this Celtophile's ears. And it seems so very Irish somehow to see newly-elected members of the Dáil hoisted on their supporters' shoulders when victory is announced.

• The Cork South Central contest is sure to win the title of world-champion nailbiter for 2002. On the first count, Independent Kathy Sinnott snatched the constituency's fifth and final seat from Fianna Fáil's John Dennehy by three votes out of a total of 55,000 cast. Today's recount gave Dennehy the lead, this time by two votes. There will be another recount tomorrow.

• This looks to be the last hurrah for the long counts and the old-fashioned tallyman. Three constituencies in Ireland ran the first real-life experiment with an electronic voting system at this general election. This will replace a decidedly low-tech system of writing numbers on paper ballots, which are counted by hand over and over (and over) as preferential votes are assigned and reassigned to candidates. The electronic voting seemed to go smoothly, and it is expected that all constituencies will use the new system by the next general election, guaranteeing final results within a couple of hours of the polls closing, rather than several days. This may prove to be more efficient, more reliable, and easier for everyone concerned, but it will also quite certainly be less fun.

• I don't know why news organizations so rarely put the most basic facts in their election stories, to wit: How many seats did each party have before the election, and how many have they now won? And so here are the numbers as they stand right now.

State of the parties at dissolution:
Fianna Fáil 74, Fine Gael 53, Labour 20, Progressive Democrats 4, Greens 2, Sinn Féin 1, Socialist Party 1, Independents 10.

State of the parties with 165 of 166 seats filled (and pending recounts):
Fianna Fáil 80, Fine Gael 31, Labour 21, Progressive Democrats 8, Greens 6, Sinn Féin 5, Socialist Party 1, Independents 14.

• When trying to understand Ireland and its politics, Americans should keep in mind that they probably know much less about the Irish than they think they do. This is because Irish-Americans, with whom we are all familiar (and for whom I do have some affection) have developed a way of being "Irish" that diverges greatly from the "Irishness" of the people who actually live there. The Irish-Americans' politics can diverge greatly too, which both puzzles and exasperates Irishmen when they note that the Irish Republican Army has long been more popular in Boston than in Dublin. It is safest, when approaching the Emerald Isle, to forget what you might have learned from or about Irish-Americans, and start with a clean slate.

• Fine Gael's Michael Noonan became the latest leader of a center-left European party to resign while the votes were still being counted, when the scale of his electoral disaster started to become clear. Fine Gael, which had been the lead governing party as recently as 1997, saw a 5.4% decrease in first-preference votes translate into a 41.5% reduction in the number of seats won. Even more telling is the identity of those who lost their seats: over half the Fine Gael front bench (i.e. its shadow cabinet members) will not be returning to Leinster House. The failure to agree on an electoral pact with Labour (which might have succeeded in holding down Fianna Fáil's numbers through coordination of Fine Gael and Labour votes) was obviously a big factor here; but even more important, I believe, is that Fine Gael is having real trouble convincing people that it still has a reason to exist. The party has little in the way of well-defined ideology—press accounts have variously described them as "center-left", "Christian democratic" and even "conservative", and the confusion is not entirely the press'—and young voters in particular have shown that they are much more attracted by parties that offer stronger medicine. Hence the surprising success of the Progressive Democrats (classically liberal by European standards), the Greens, and Sinn Féin. The ranks of Independent candidates, who often focused on particular local issues, also showed a strong increase, demonstrating a pronounced locally-oriented and…er…independent streak in the electorate.

• The Progressive Democrats' success is the most stunning to this observer, since their political obituary had already been written by the pundits and pollsters (the party was only founded in 1985, and no new party has lasted this long since Fianna Fáil was founded in 1926), yet they not only held on to their prior total of four seats but doubled it. This was quite an accomplishment for Mary Harney, who is the first woman to ever lead a political party in the Republic, and who also stands as proof that not all Irishwomen in politics need be like Mary Robinson.

• Sinn Féin, which had abstained from the Dáil until 1986 and won but a single seat last time, now prepares to take five seats after nearly tripling its share of the first-preference votes. Despite the fact that many of its leading figures are suspected of maintaining continued strong ties to the Irish Republican Army leadership (Sinn Féin's Martin Ferris, elected to the new Dáil from Kerry North, is a convicted IRA gun-runner), the party appears well on its way to convincing voters in the Republic to treat it as just another legitimate, non-dangerous political party, albeit one with strong republican beliefs. This latest success builds on gains at the last elections in Northern Ireland for seats in the British Parliament; Sinn Féin promises continued steady increases in its strength on both sides of the border in elections to come.

• If the election results indicate anything, it is that the majority of voters were pleased with the performance of the outgoing governing coalition (Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, plus some Independents) and would like it to continue. The opposition Fine Gael and Labour candidates were fond of claiming that Ireland's fantastic economic situation allowed the government to duck difficult decisions and please everybody in its first term, and predict that the government will find itself in a real pickle when the economy becomes less stellar (causing the voters to come running back to them, of course). We shall see about that. In the meantime, with Fianna Fáil holding 80 or 81 seats out of the 84 necessary for a majority, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern could easily govern without his partners in the last government, the Progressive Democrats, because there are a number of Independents among the 14 elected who have strong ties to Fianna Fáil and good relationships with the Taoiseach, and who could be counted on as loyal supporters of Ahern's government if he shows a modest degree of consideration for their pet issues.

Some of Ahern's men are publicly keeping open the option of going it alone—which is probably, more than anything else, intended as a signal to Mary Harney to keep her demands modest. I interpret it this way due to a belief that it would be foolish for Ahern not to continue to govern in coalition, because: a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat government appears to be what the voters want; the Progressive Democrats' platform is at the same time highly compatible with, and a better program for growing the economy than, Fianna Fáil's; the Irish electorate would cast a wary eye on a single-party government after 21 years of coalitions and minority administrations; and leaving the coalition behind would risk returning to the pre-1989 pattern of Irish politics, "Fianna Fáil versus the rest", which I think would hurt Fianna Fáil as the other parties started to work more closely together to try to end its dominance. The best way of winning at "King of the Hill", in Irish politics at least, is to leave everyone in doubt as to whether there actually is a King of the Hill, and if there is one, whether or not it's a good idea to work together to knock him off. Ahern played this game well enough in the last Dáil; we shall see if it is still playable in the next one.

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Taoiseach triumphs. What a great season it has been for election junkies. Ireland went to the polls on Friday, and as its electoral system is uniquely complex, the counting went on all weekend. It was clear from very early on that the Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Bertie Ahern, was being resoundingly returned to power, although the exact number of seats his Fianna Fáil party will claim is still being worked out. One seat in Wicklow has still not been filled, and recounts will go on for the next day or two in four constituencies, including two where the final margins were surreally narrow (a one-vote margin in Limerick West out of over 35,000 cast, and a three-vote margin in Cork South Central out of over 55,000 cast).

I will be posting my thoughts on the results later in the day. Until then, I commend to you the detailed results, news stories, and audio and video clips of election coverage available at the RTÉ Election 2002 website.

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Like many other bloggers, I find it hard to resist sharing my various pet peeves with the world. Doing so at length, however, might give readers the false impression that I am some sort of cantankerous nut. (In real life I am actually an exceptionally mild-mannered and pleasant nut.) How to solve this dilemma? A recent contest run by the lovely and talented Eve Tushnet inspired a solution: Pet Peeve Haiku. Wretched poetry in the service of petty gripes…is this a great moment in blogdom or what?

"How are you doing?"
"Fine." Same question, same reply
Every day—pointless.

"Fast Food": a concept
That is only relative
Here in the Deep South.

On the radio
And even at church are songs
With endless refrains
Yeah, endless refrains
So sick of endless refrains
Oh, endless refrains.

National anthem
Sung by junior-high choir
at the baseball park.
Seven do it in
Sign language. "Translation"? No.
It's performance art.

Readers are welcome to join in the fun by sending their own Pet Peeve Haiku to me at the usual e-mail address. (Double haiku, such as the last two above, are acceptable, as some things are more annoying than a mere seventeen syllables can capture.)

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Teaching Math in the 1950s: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

Teaching Math in the 1960s: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

Teaching Math in the 1970s: A logger exchanges a set "L" of lumber for a set "M" of money. The cardinality of set "M" is 100. Each element is worth one dollar. Make 100 dots representing the elements of the set "M". The set "C", the cost of production, contains 20 fewer points than set "M". Represent the set "C" as a subset of set "M" and answer the following question: What is the cardinality of the set "P" of profits? Alternately, set up a number line representing the set of real numbers (rational and irrational) representing the infinite continuum, and use that to do the operation commonly referred to as subtraction but which is really the addition of negative quantities. Explain your work.

Teaching Math in the 1980s: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

Teaching Math in the 1990s: By cutting down beautiful forest trees and thereby murdering living beings, the logger earns $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the forest birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down the trees? There are no wrong answers—unless you include a recipe for poached spotted owl.

Teaching Math today: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $120, but when Arthur Andersen finishes with the books, they show a profit of $60 on the deal. Demonstrate the best method of "spinning" this story when angry investors find out about it.

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