One of the useful things about having the Sitemeter web statistics service appended to this site is that one gets to see what people are searching for when they stumble across the Virtual Stoa. Here are some of the best:

– Big pictures of Asian elephants
– Free porn zoo sex ox
– WEEI Red Sox Radio Network
– Consignia profit declining
– Cutting off long hair
– Inability to grow beard
– Pictures of male strippers
– Argentinian jokes
– Joe Castiglione and Jerry Trupiano

Most of them, sadly, would have been disappointed. Still, it is nice of Google to pass them along my way.

The Virtual Stoa

Apologies for absence… (ab)normal service will resume before too long…

The absence of the weblog stems from a variety of reasons: an excellent World Cup in June, which was vastly preferable to the Today Programme as Something To Wake Up To, and having a lot more work to do in the second half of term than in the first half (students taking exams, that kind of thing) being probably the two most important. General idleness shouldn’t be neglected, though. Never discount the significance of idleness as an explanation for why things (don’t) happen the way they shouldn’t.

But now the Weblog is back, and I’ve given it a cosmetic going-over, pretty much for the first time since it began. In particular, you will notice that I’ve revived The Virtual Stoa brandname, which has been dormant since the middle of 2000. People with longish memories will remember that the webpage I put up in my American incarnation was called the Virtual Stoa, for no better reason than that I was working on the Stoics and that the name entertained me;and since it still entertains me, it’s now going to be the name of the Weblog. Welcome (back) to the Virtual Stoa!

Nick wrote: Gosh! It’s changed!!

Happy birthday!

One year ago today I wrote the following words to kick off this weblog:

Welcome to the weblog! After a bit of fiddling with the code I think I’ve just about managed to make it work the way I want it to. Let’s see what happens now. (To see someone do this properly — and far better than I ever will — visit the excellent and thought-provoking bobblog.)

And here it still is, one year on.I worked out the other day that almost 60,000 words have been posted to this blog over the last twelve months, all available through the archives. That’s not a great deal by the standards of many weblogs out there, and many of them aren’t my words at all, but the words of people I’m reproducing in large chunks or the words of people who have usefully written in to contest or to supplement the opinions I’ve been offering in these columns. But it is still a pleasingly large number of words, and it’d be nice to think that the coming twelve months will produce a similar number. So — thanks to everyone who has clicked on the “comments” buttons below to send me their Objections and Replies, and apologies to all the hundreds of people who have visited this page over the previous year, and found that I’ve been scandalously slow to post anything new. More material will appear, I promise, eventually…

Shout out

And while I’m here to coordinate this Sunday mini-relaunch of the weblog, I’ll grab the opportunity to send out my thanks to the small number of other bloggers out there who have created links to this page from their own. They include the Bobblog (and we are all delighted at the resumption of somewhat normal service, comrade Torres!), iMakeContent, Sore Eyes and Airstrip One, whose author shrewdly described me as an “Oxford academic, not a man of the right”. Thanks to all, and if there’s anybody I’ve missed, do let me know.


Keith Thompson wrote to the weblog a few days ago to say this:

I was just doing a little ego-surfing, and I ran across your weblog entry here [reporting the contemporary variant on Pastor Niemöller’s remarks, that “When they come for the Muslims, I will speak up, even though I am not a Muslim / When they come for the spammers, I will speak up and say: ‘Hey, you missed that one over there!'”]. FYI, FWIW, this was one of mine. It was part of a discussion triggered by a drive-by spam / troll in rec.arts.sf.fandom. (It got me three rasff awards — I can explain if you’re curious.) The article is here. (I’m not demanding credit or anything like that, and I don’t mind being quoted; I’m just letting you know where it came from.)

Well, credit where it is due, and thanks, Keith, for being in touch. Now, during the long dark, silent night of the weblog, there has, amidst the usual dross, been a small amount of rather good spam coming my way.Eric Chevrier, for example, was positively bilingual as he solicited my custom:

As a personnal fitness trainer recognized by the American Weightlifting Association with “Best Technique” and champion in North America , I am providing a personnilized training service that will enable you to reach your goals in fitness and physical performance. En tant qu’entraineur reconnu “Meilleure Technique” par l’American Weightlifting Association et champion de l’Amérique du Nord en haltérophilie, je vous offre un service d’encadrement personnalisé vous permettant d’atteindre vos buts de santé et de performance physique.

Hélas! I think I am on the wrong continent to benefit from his personnilized training service. No matter, for meanwhile, our friends in West Africa are getting bolder, and are now impersonating members of the Congolese elite as well as those of Sierra Leone and Nigeria, in their ongoing attempts to extract money from that medium-sized segment of the population which combines high levels of both credulousness and greed:

DEAR SIR, I do recognize the surprise this urgent and highly confidential letter bring to you more especially as it comes from a stranger. I am MR BANZAL KABILA from the DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO,the special adviser to the President Laurent Kabila…

But my favourite recent piece of spammail began in unbeatable fashion:

Dear Sirs: We know your esteemed company in beach towels from Internet, and pleased to introduce us as a leading producer of high quality 100% cotton velour printed towels in China, we sincerely hope to establish a long-term business relationship with your esteemed company in this field…

Did anyone else get this one? It baffles and delights.

Nick wrote [12.5.2002]: Nice to see the weblog back; I was worried you were working too hard! Check out – especially recommended is “My Buddy Kutty”. This is the work of a loon who painstakingly replies to spammers, even the most inappropriate and/or inept.

Richard wrote [12.5.2002]: Regarding spammers, can I recommend the wonderful Use it, and stop spammers. Even better, give money to spamcop, they do great work. Basically it’s an automatic complaint form that’s sent to the spammers’ internet service provider. Since ISPs usually don’t like spammers they kick them off the service (if there are enough complaints). But spammers are usually cunning enough to hide (“obsfucate”) the ISP they use – spamcop deciphers it and send the complaint to the right ISP.

Nick wrote [13.5.2002]: I have to agree with Richard: I’m using the Spamcop mail-sanitising service myself — it’s cheap, dead good, and I warmly recommend it.

If you don’t want to go that far, and you’re using an email client it supports, there’s a neat plug-in you can get instead called Spam Deputy, which enables one-click spam tracking and reporting via Spamcop. Click the miscreant missive in your inbox, click the Spam Deputy button, and automated complaints are sent to everyone who helped the spam get to you.

While I’m in this helpful mood, I’ll mention that it’s likely to be worth flushing your machine out with Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware from time to time, just to remove any miscellaneous commercial rubbish that’s gunging it up in an underhanded way. And the Zone Alarm firewall seems to work very well indeed. These last two are completely free.

Richard wrote [13.5.2002]: Two others I’d suggest: Cookie Crusher allows you to control the cookies being placed on your computer; and Pop-Up Stopper, which halts those annoying “pop up” ads that you get pestered with these days (even the Guardian and NY Times, grrr). Also free. Don’t leave home-page without them.

Tom wrote [15.5.2002]: And on the subject of avoiding irritating ads and things, I’m going to bang on about OmniWeb being an immensely fine browser, not least because it has some simple heuristics to allow you to avoid downloading all of those big flashing banner ads. It doesn’t stop popups yet, but they frequently come as just little empty windows, which is somehow less irritating. Must go – a pint of Dublin’s finest apparently awaits me at Father Flanagan’s.

Welcome back to the weblog

… and apologies for the unplanned three-week silence, which, not coincidentally, has coincided with the first three weeks of the new term. No amount of planning during the dying days of the vacation can ever really prepare me for the chaos of termtime, and weblog postings are among the first things to be affected. With luck, semiregular postings will now resume, and a small backlog of stuff will be appearing over the next few days.

Thanks to everyone for being patient. As one distraught reader of the weblog wrote, “There’s been nothing new for days! What am I supposed to do, write my dissertation?” Everything’s OK — you can stop now.

And do remember, the weblog is always happy to receive your comments, objections and replies. Feedback in (almost) any form is (almost always) wholly welcome, and it works to remind me that there is in fact a small group of people out there (ranging from parents in London through friends on several continents to undergraduates here in Oxford) who drop in from time to time to read the trivia I deposit here. When firing off comments into the void of cyberspace, it’s (almost, as I say) always nice to hear some kind of echo, and to enlarge the conversation.

Richard wrote [12.5.2002]: Well I missed it if no-one else did…

Katherine wrote [12.5.2002]: So happy to hear about the weblog, also good for those long afternoons staring at my screen…

The spam explosion continues

Scared of going bald? Worried about your thinning hair?


Take the first step toward a thicker, fuller and healthier-looking head of hair!

LIMITED TIME OFFER: First time buyers get a 90-day supply of Kevis Follicle Enhancer supplements FREE WITH PURCHASE of any 90-day or longer program! To take advantage of this offer, mention DHT BUSTER #4 when you call. Offer expires April 15, 2002. Call 1(800)434-9029

How can I resist?

Tech Stuff

I’ve finally fixed the code error that meant that the weblog never appeared properly in versions of Netscape 4.x. This is good news, especially for Richard, who used to point it out to me.

Richard writes [13.2.2002]: As a dedicated 4.7 Netscape user, thank you… another blow for Microsoft haters everywhere.

Tom writes [19.2.2002]: Just to let you know that it works fine in my new favourite browser – OmniWeb – a particularly beautiful (OS X – only: I’m now a Mac hugger again) browser that I’m getting rather enamoured of. Oh, except that your ‘byline’ style is such a subtle shade of grey that it almost blends into the background…


The bobblog is flourishing again, after a lengthy gap, during which Bob went jobhunting, and a period of only intermittent posting in late December and the New Year. But he’s back on form now with a lot of good stuff — including yet more mockery of W. (this time for his failure to eat pretzels), and the text of an advert for a language course which asks “Wouldn’t you like to communicate with your Spanish speaking domestic help? … Learn specialized vocabulary, phrases expressions and the basics to give instructions in Spanish for house cleaning, food preparation, child care, yard and garden and errands”. And — better yet — he has a job to go to in the Sociology department of St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. Well done, Bob (since I know he visits these columns from time to time): this is very good news indeed.

Bob wrote [14.1.2002]: Thanks for the plug in the blog…and for the nice words. You sure do know how to make a guy blush… ; ) I’m honored. I enjoy your blog as well, and I have to admit, I laughed out loud at your newest entry on GWB re: the pretzels and beer. Keep on bloggin’!