Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Boycott Google?

I was very disappointed to learn that Google has agreed to censor its search results in China. So disappointed, in fact, that I'd like to send the company a message. The first option that comes to mind is a boycott of Google and its subsidiaries.

That's easier said than done. It would mean not just moving this blog (Google owns Blogger), but changing the way I search, read news, follow Usenet, send e-mail -- in fact, the vast majority of what I do online. The problem is that whenever I try an alternative to Google, it turns out not to be much good. And when I do find a non-Google service I like, it seems Google soon pops up and buys it. (I'm expecting bids for Wikipedia and LibraryThing any day now.) Furthermore, I have no guarantee that any other company would have cleaner hands. As the Reuters story I linked to above notes:

The voluntary concessions laid out on Tuesday by Google, which is launching a China-based search site as it officially enters the market, would parallel similar self-censorship already practised there by most multinationals and domestic players.

Homegrown giants like Inc. and Inc., along with China sites operated by Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft, all routinely block searches on politically sensitive terms such as the Falun Gong spiritual movement and Taiwan independence.

The company added that at least for now, it will stay away from e-mail and blogging in China, which have been the source of recent controversies after Beijing demanded information on an e-mail user from Yahoo, and Microsoft pulled down a politically sensitive posting from its China-based blog service.

A more important question is whether a boycott of Google would actually work. To be effective, any protest would need to cost the company more than it stands to gain from the China deal. Would that happen if a couple of non-paying users stopped using it? If 10,000 did?

Perhaps those best placed to change Google's mind are the company's shareholders. After all, at its initial public offering Google promised them '
not to be evil.' I think they have a right to feel ripped off.

Monday, January 23, 2006

More OED fun

The OED's periods of free access continue to be a fascinating source of information. I'd recently encountered the word elsewhen on a LibraryThing profile and thought it was a delightful neologism -- turns out it actually dates back to 1418. What's more, it was part of a whole clan of now-forgotten cousins, including elsewhat (first recorded in AD 840), elsewhither (1000), elsewho (1542), elsewise (1548) and elsehow (1666). In a similar vein, prepone -- the opposite of postpone -- turns out not to be a recent invention of Indian English; it was first used in its current sense in 1941, and had been used with the meaning 'to set before' as long ago as 1549. I was also pleased to find ramp, the West Virginian word for a very pungent kind of wild onion; I'd never seen it in a dictionary before.

Because I've been doing some research into the history of the song 'The Lady is a Tramp' (more on that later), I was curious as to when tramp was first used to mean 'loose woman'. It turns out the first written example is from 1922, which fits in with what I had in mind.

Much more of this, and I may end up having to buy a subscription -- which, of course, was probably the promoters' plan all along ...

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Those only are happy ... who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness: on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.

John Stuart Mill, Autobiography

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Potto update!

The pottos (see entries passim) have finally been definitively located. They've been moved to Marwell Zoological Park in Winchester, which has close links with London Zoo. The keepers don't know yet whether the pottos will return to London when the refurbishment is done, but they've promised to let me know.

My thanks to the staff at London Zoo for their friendly and helpful responses.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Pottos, redux

Two mini-mysteries solved this evening. First, it transpires that while London Zoo's pottos are indeed still in the zoo, they're not going to be on display to the public while their new home is built. Clearly, I must move to Cleveland, or else donate £500 for a private visit.

Seriously, if animals can be cared for better behind the scenes, then that's where they should be. The zoo did offer to let me adopt another animal instead, but I'd rather keep supporting the pottos because, well, they're just special. I'll also continue to bring you potto news from around the world, so keep checking back every hour or so.

Secondly, as promised, here's what the OED
has to say about redux:

[L., f. redcre to bring back, REDUCE.]

1. Path. Of crepitation or other physical signs: indicating the return of an organ to a healthy state.

1898 Allbutt's Syst. Med. V. 99 The ‘redux’ crepitation is sometimes indistinguishable from that of pulmonary hæmorrhage. Ibid. 360 Friction sound, indicative of restored contact between the pleural surfaces, redux friction as it is usually called.

2. Brought back, restored.

[1662 DRYDEN (title) Astraea Redux. A poem on the happy restoration and return of His Sacred Majesty.] 1873 TROLLOPE (title) Phineas redux. 1971 J. UPDIKE (title) Rabbit redux.

I'd never heard of the first, medical definition, but the second definition suggests that my theory about how the word entered common usage is correct.

And as a tribute to our friends in seclusion, here's the OED's
entry for potto:

[Alleged to be from a Guinea dialect (see quot. 1705); cf. Ashanti aps(s)o. (See J. Platt in N. & Q. 10th ser. IV. 286.)]

1. A West African lemur (Perodicticus potto), commonly called a ‘sloth’. Also potto lemur. b. Calabar potto, a species of lemur (Arctocebus calabarensis), inhabiting the district of Old Calabar.

1705 tr. Bosman's Guinea 250 A Creature, by the Negroes called Potto [orig. een beest, 'tgeen by de negers de naem van potto draegt], but known to us by the Name of Sluggard. 1868 OWEN Vertebr. Anim. III. 405 In the Potto the sub~maxillary ducts open in the usual position, upon the free margin of the sublingual. 1901 Q. Rev. July 18 That most typical West African creature, the potto lemur. 1902 Westm. Gaz. 28 May 12/1 To a weird-looking and nocturnal creature with the eyes of a cat and the body of a tailless monkey the name of ‘Bosman's Potto’ has been given. 1906 SIR H. JOHNSTON Liberia 685 The range of the common potto extends right across Africa from Sierra Leone to Uganda.

2. The kinkajou. Also potto kinkajou.

1790 T. BEWICK Quadrupeds (1824) 446 One of this species [Yellow Macauco] was shewn in London some years ago, and was said to have been brought from Jamaica, where it is called the Potto. 1834 MCMURTRIE Cuvier's Anim. Kingd. I. 84 This is, perhaps, the only proper place for the singular genus of the Kinkajous or Potto... From the warm parts of America, and from some of the great Antilles, where it is called Potto. 1855 H. G. DALTON Brit. Guiana II. 456 The Potto-kinkajou, size of a pole-cat, a pretty looking animal, is occasionally seen.

(Although not closely related to the true potto, the kinkajou is a pretty neat little creature too.)

Saturday, January 07, 2006

And you thought fried Mars bars were bad

Like many regional delicacies, West Virginia's pepperoni roll is best enjoyed by putting all thoughts of your waistline or arteries out of your head. But now a pair of pizzeria owners in Chesapeake, Ohio (just over the river from Huntington, W.Va.) have gone too far. Their new menu includes the 'pepperoni zinger' -- a pepperoni roll, deep-fried. I'd be interested in comments from readers who have tried this, if you're still in any condition to make them.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Redux redux

Making my usual ill-founded attempt to be clever, I titled my last post Mirabilis redux. See what I did there? Mirabilis is a Latin word (meaning 'wonderful' or 'astonishing,' as Christine explains), so I thought I'd throw in a bit more Latin to go with it.

I admit that I know next to nothing about Latin (I've never studied it, using the excuse that I was in too love with Greek to give it proper attention), but I was pretty sure redux was a Latin word that had been assimilated intact into English. So I was puzzled not to find it in any of the dictionaries or 'glossaries of common foreign phrases' in our house, and I was downright gobsmacked to check Wiktionary and find it described as 'a slang term which seems to have circulated in the early 1990s. Origin unknown.'

But wait! If that's true, what was
John Dryden doing writing a poem called Astrea Redux in 1660? Or Anthony Trollope writing a novel called Phineas Redux in 1874? For that matter, what was John Updike doing writing Rabbit Redux in 1971? I decided to investigate further. I looked up redux in the University of Notre Dame's Latin dictionary and grammar aid, and there it was: 'Redux -ducis adj.: act. [bringing back , restoring]; pass. [brought back, returned].'

So the Wiktionary editor had no clue; that's hardly news. But the question remains: Why wasn't the word in any of our real-life dictionaries? Our dictionaries are a few decades old, so the fact that they don't include the word suggests that it wasn't used frequently in English until fairly recently. Searches online seem to bear this out: New dictionaries have the word, old dictionaries don't. (This
guide from Lancaster University illustrates the up-to-dateness of one dictionary by noting that it includes redux, which the site's author describes as 'American English.')

My guess is that Dryden deliberately gave his poem a Latin title, that Trollope named his novel in imitation of Dryden, that Updike named his in imitation of one or the other, and that the word then became popular because of Updike's use.

I'll be able to test this theory next week, when the online version of the
Oxford English Dictionary is briefly free as part of their tie-in with the BBC series Balderdash and Piffle. (Thanks, Language Hat!)

Mirabilis redux

I'm pleased to see has returned after a long hiatus caused by technical problems. For those who haven't yet discovered this excellent blog, it covers a variety of interesting topics, but mainly archaeology and ancient history. Have a look!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A cruel joke

I imagine many West Virginians were asleep in the early hours of this morning, and did not go through the emotions that people a few time zones ahead felt on their behalf. Like many Londoners, Chris and I woke to joyous news on our clock radio: All but one of the miners trapped in Upshur County had been recovered alive. Then three hours later, our elation turned to bewildered horror when we learned that it was a huge mistake, and that in fact, all but one of the miners had died. But what we felt, of course, does not even begin to approach what the miners' families felt and what they will feel for the rest of their lives.

A spokesman for International Coal Group oozed in front of the cameras to
insist that the company never actually said the miners were alive, but he didn't explain why they allowed relatives to believe it for three hours. Likewise, the media seem so far to have avoided examining their consciences about how the false information spread.

It's too soon to tell whether anything could have been done to prevent the explosion, or to get the miners out before it was too late. But the mine's appalling
safety record certainly suggests that ICG's practices should be looked at very closely. In addition to this, West Virginia needs to rethink the pitifully low penalties it applies for mine safety violations. At current rates, an unscrupulous operator could conclude that it was more cost-effective to pay the fines than to invest in its workers' safety.

The one redeeming feature of the
Farmington No. 9 disaster, which killed 78 miners in 1968, was that it led to the federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act. If the investigation into the Sago disaster leads to measures that make mining safer, then some good will have come out of a terrible event.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

King Coal

One thing about being a West Virginian living abroad is the feeling of utter surreality you get when places familiar to you from childhood make the international news. So it was last night when BBC radio's hourly news update included a story from Buckhannon.

The story of the trapped coal miners did not stay in the bulletins very long, since there hasn't been much progress and the Beeb presumably don't have a correspondent there. I had to go
elsewhere on the web to learn that the company that runs the mine has a history of safety violations:

A coal mine where 13 miners were trapped after an explosion Monday was cited 208 times for alleged safety violations in 2005, up from just 68 citations the year before.

Federal regulators' allegations against the Sago Mine included failure to dilute coal dust, which can lead to explosions, and failure to properly operate and maintain machinery, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Ninety-six of the citations were considered "significant and substantial" by inspectors.

Records from the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration also show that Sago Mine has had 42 injuries since 2000 that resulted in lost work time.

Its injury rate per hours worked in 2004, the most recent year for such data, was nearly three times the national rate for a mine of its type. Eight injuries were reported that year.

The state Office of Miners' Health Safety & Training, which inspects underground mines four times each year, issued 144 notices of violation at Sago last year, compared to 74 in 2004, officials said.

The maximum fine the company could have paid for each citation? $250. Such is life under King Coal.

Monday, January 02, 2006

O potto, where art thou?

Back in October, I posted that London Zoo's pottos would be staying in the zoo while the small mammal house was refurbished. With one thing and another, I didn't have a chance to visit for a few months, but finally went shortly before Christmas.

I was looking forward to seeing the pottos again, but was concerned not to find them in the former elephant house, where the small mammals are supposed to be. They weren't with the aye-ayes and lemurs either, nor in any of the other buildings we checked. The nice people at the animal adoption kiosk assured me they had been kept in London, and that as far as they knew they were meant to be on display in the elephant house. I double-checked: nothing, not even a placard, and the keepers in that building had never seen them.

I'm now waiting for the zoo to get back to me when they've found out the pottos' location. I know the little creatures don't like to draw attention to themselves, but on the other hand, they can't have got far ....

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Honey be good

One small pleasure I've discovered over the last couple of years is honeybush tea. I've not had much truck with herbal teas on the whole, finding that they flatter to deceive with their aromas, but this is something different; it lacks the caffeine and much of the tannin so I can drink it late in the evening, but still resembles conventional tea closely enough for a refusenik like me - in fact we even served it to some removal men once and they didn't spit on the carpet (sorry guys if you're reading this). Best of all, it doesn't smell of anything that it doesn't also taste of.

Recently I haven't been seeing any on the shelves though. I've done a little research online which suggests that it may simply be out of season, but what's been more interesting has been the story of its
use to help the poor in the new South Africa.

The tea's apparently
official site is not very detailed, but you can learn all you want to know (if not more) here. There are also some recipes (although the first one is just the recipe for tea, which seems too much like cheating) and even some South African Government regulations if you're truly curious. I think I'm supposed to end this post by saying something like "Cheers!".

Happy new year

I almost downloaded 'New Year's Day' by U2 this morning. Instead, I've sort of resolved to celebrate 2006 by blogging more, and to this end I've started a whole side-blog, The Hit Parade, a sort of shadow Top 40 that hopes to highlight some overlooked hit singles. I've started at Number 40 with David McAlmont and will gradually work up (or down?) to a Number One single of my choice. All the tracks are drawn from my own collection, which also makes this a substitute for the currently-in-stasis Random Single Project.

I'll be posting on here more too, so there really is no escape. I hope everyone's enjoying the year so far.

Maurice Dodd RIP

It probably won't make many headlines, but the remaining half of Britain's best-ever cartooning duo has died at the age of 83. Maurice Dodd wrote the dialogue for The Perishers, which was illustrated by Dennis Collins; after Collins died in the 1980s, Dodd began drawing the strip as well.

I'd like to think that Dodd's passing would be commemorated with the retrospective collection that the strip has always deserved, but from what I know of the Daily Mirror's current management I don't have great hope.

Dodd's family have provided an address for well-wishers on the
Perishers website.

Y. Bhekhirst

While exploring the outsider music category of Wikipedia, I recently found out about a very bizarre, yet somehow inescapably appealing, musician called Y. Bhekhirst (almost certainly not his real name). Sadly, I haven't been able to find a complete copy of his sole, cassette-only album Hot in the Airport -- it's allegedly distributed for download by, but none of their 'digital partners' appear to have it. However, there are several tracks available at

Until recently, information about Bhekhirst on the Web has been scanty and scattered over several sites. So I was delighted to find that Jonathan Benney has started a
Bhekhirst home page that gathers together everything that is known about the man and his music, with the addition of Benney's own very thoughtful observations. I particularly like his summary of Bhekhirst's appeal:

My fascination with Y.'s music is that it is simultaneously addictive and repugnant. It's proof that music of any style or level of competence can be considered "catchy". It is also phenomenally irritating, almost disturbingly bizarre, and remarkably incompetent.

Another good site for information and theories about Bhekhirst is Phil S.'s weblog, Eyes that Can See in the Dark.