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February 27, 2002:
The Drinking Age
1. Instapundit's penultimate comment: "There's also some evidence that raising the drinking age has made problem-drinking by 18-20 year olds worse, by moving them from bars (where there are people watching) to dorm rooms, etc., where there aren't."
To judge from my own experience, it's even worse than that. When I was an undergraduate at St. John's College (Annapolis) in the early 1970s -- admittedly a highly atypical college then and now --, my friends and I spent very little time in bars. Instead, we had a lot of wine-and-cheese parties for two or more, the occasional school-wide waltz party with champagne and strawberries, and plenty of other parties at which beer and hard liquor were consumed. However, we also had parties with the faculty. Near the end of each semester, nine out of ten teachers would invite their various classes over to their homes (one class at a time) for cheese, crackers, fruit, and of course wine and beer and sometimes (in the spring) mint juleps made with fresh-cut garden-grown mint. The tenth of ten was generally considered a jerk. In short, we learned how to drink like adults from adults. Of course, even then there were alcoholics and binge drinkers among the students and sometimes the faculty, but the general level of civilization in drinking habits was relatively high. Many years later, as a university instructor, I found that relations with students were necessarily much more distant than they should have been. Colleagues occasionally served wine or beer to undergraduates in parties at their homes, but this was far less frequent, since it is now a crime. Just about the only legal choices today are beerless back-yard cookouts and cookies-and-milk parties. It does indeed tend to puerilize the students.
2. Though I cannot prove it, I have a strong impression that smokers have gotten ruder since I was in college, that is, a lot more prone to toss their butts anywhere they please. (I've never been a smoker or an anti-smoker, so I don't think that's affecting my judgment.) A likely reason is easy enough to find. Even the most polite smokers are now treated like scum by a large portion of the population -- including many who pride themselves on their tolerance --, so there is far less incentive to be polite if you smoke. I think that making under-21 drinking illegal has had much the same effect and for similar reasons. If the mere fact of drinking is already a crime, why not toss your empties out the car window or puke on the sidewalk or piss on the neighbors' rose bushes? (Well, the danger from thorns should discourage the last -- see Tom Sharpe's Wilt for a terrible, though fictional, warning.)
February 25, 2002:
That's a lot of respectable periodicals for one man, though the tenses are a bit of a giveaway: he "has worked", "has been . . . busy", and "has contributed" to various newspapers and journals, with no clear distinction between recent and far-in-the-past work. I did a little checking in journals with searchable on-line archives, starting with two that have complete indices on-line. His one and only review in nearly twenty years of The New Criterion is dated February 1988. There are six articles in Commentary (indexed back to 1945), dating from August 1987 to December 1989. I can't find anything on the National Review or Spectator (U.K.) websites, though it's not clear how far back their archives go.
I may be wrong, but it certainly appears that Szamuely is a formerly-successful journalist who has had to move 'down-market' because of the offensive idiocy of his current views. He certainly doesn't seem to have been in any first-rate middle-of-the-road (or even not-mowing-down-pedestrians-on-the-sidewalk) journals lately. I doubt that any of the periodicals listed have anything so crude as a blacklist, but I suspect that few other than the New York Press are particularly eager for more verbiage from George Szamuely. In short, those perfect tenses should for the most part be imperfects: he "used to work", "used to be . . . busy", and "used to contribute".
On the other hand, he can plausibly claim an international reputation for his recent work. For some reason, he does not list Pravda among his outlets. Perhaps his ineptly-titled article "Happy Days, Here Again" (February 21, 2002) is too recent to have made the Antiwar.Com list.
Yet Another Fish in a Very Big
Comment seems superfluous, though I can't resist noting that the last sentence sums the whole thing up with admirable concision.
Lockwood's letter to the Cambridge News on September 19, 2001 is nearly as bad, though far duller. It begins promisingly:
Of course, he is only going through the motions and the very next sentence is: "However, let us not forget the wrongs suffered by the peoples of the Middle East". He spends the rest of his words talking about "brutal repression" in Palestine and "punitive sanctions" in Iraq.
All in all, it is not nearly as amusing as the previous letter, in fact it comes across as some kind of legalistic extreme-left 'talking points' rather than anything an actual human being would write. The very short paragraphs cry out for bullets -- the typographical kind, I hasten to add. I quote it only to show that even a week of reflection on the atrocities of September 11th could not bring Paul Lockwood of Cambridge to any kind of sense or decency.
February 22, 2002:
Great Minds Think
Here's an obvious one: George Szamuely (#14) writes for the New York Press and was also once arrested for being in possession of huge heaps of long-overdue library books. Here's the story (dated October 11, 1999) from the American Library Association website. They naturally takes a hard line on this sort of thing:
Maybe it's just the bibliophilia talking, but this sort of behavior strikes me as even worse than signing a Free Slobo petition. I can't find anything on the web about his sentence, though I seem to recall that he spent a week or two in jail before (I suppose) coming up with bail money. Szamuely's articles for the New York Press are about what you'd expect from a Slobophile book-thief.
February 21, 2002:
The Flattening of the Academic
I want to add a related point. For a combination of reasons, it is now much easier for those who work in places like Tuscaloosa or Bowling Green (Kentucky or Ohio, what difference does it make?) to write good articles in the first place, and to get them into the more prestigious journals.
Once it is written, getting a good article into a good journal is easier because of double-blind refereeing. I have heard that when one of the top-ranking American classics journals switched over to double-blind refereeing in the 1970s the percentage of female contributors immediately doubled, while the percentage of nobodies roughly quadrupled. The latter number is obviously a lot harder to calculate precisely, but includes professors working in smaller institutions, those working in the hinterland, the untenured and untenurable (i.e. instructors), and the occasional high school teacher or precocious grad student.
As for writing a good article in the first place: Fifty years ago, it was essentially impossible to do first-rate scholarshiop out in the sticks, at least in my field (Classics), because the scholar had to go to where the essential journals were kept and read them on-site. In any field, there are a lot of journals to read, and very few university libraries subscribe to them all. I have heard of an eminent Midwestern Mediaevalist who spent every summer (this would have been in the 1930's and 1940's) at the Library of Congress. While he read the new books in his field and took detailed notes on those important enough to read but not important enough to buy, his wife spent eight hours a day copying out articles in long-hand for him. Before the xerox machine, that was the only alternative to actually working at or near a place that subscribed to the journals.
It is now far easier to get to where the books and journals are kept, and this is still essential for rare books, which can't be checked out. (Classics is one of the few fields in which scholars still find pre-1800 books essential to their work. Many have been reprinted, but more have not.) Airline deregulation and the interstate highway system have helped a great deal. For most of the time that I lived and wrote in Tuscaloosa (early and mid-1990's), a round-trip airline ticket from Birmingham (55 miles away) to Baltimore cost $110. I could have gone to the Milton Eisenhower library at Johns Hopkins and used its well-stocked Rare Book Room every month if I had wanted to. As for interstate highways: in "From Four 'Til Late", Robert Johnson sang "from Memphis to Norfolk is a thirty-six hour ride". According to Rand McNally, it is now 16 hours and 36 minutes, and their estimate assumes that you obey the speed limit. Perhaps Johnson was talking about a train ride, but I suspect that 36 hours would have been about right for his time, and that improved roads have made more difference than faster cars. Neither Norfolk nor Memphis is known for its libraries, but that's another question . . . .
Even better, it is now far easier to get the books and journals to come to you. In the mid-1990's, I noticed that Interlibrary Loan suddenly became much quicker. For a paper I was writing, I needed to get hold of the 3-volume collected scholarly works of a third-rate German classicist of the first half of the nineteenth-century. Only eight libraries in North America owned copies. It took less than two weeks for the books to come from Ann Arbor to Tuscaloosa. Interlibrary Loan had previously always taken a month or more, often two or three. Why the difference? Because the slow part is not the actual shipment of the book, it is finding out who has a copy that is not checked out and is willing to lend it. That used to involve looking in the Union Catalogue, making a list of possible lenders, and then writing to them in turn, starting with those in the same state. It might easily take five or six tries to find a lendable copy. Now the searching is done on the web, the requests are sent by e-mail, and, if the librarians are not too busy, a book or journal can be located and ordered the same day the request is filled out. After that, it's up to the Post Office, and even book rate doesn't all take long.
Of course, inexpensive xeroxes are also a life-saver, though the high quality nickel-a-page copies of a few years back are now rare. The prices of scholarly books tend to go up faster than the general inflation rate, but so do professorial salaries. It is probably easier now than it has ever been for professors (but not adjunct instructors) to buy the books they need. Xeroxes are still necessary for journal articles and the occasional irretrievably out-of-print book. Even for the last, it is far easier and quicker to find used copies than it ever was before. A simple web-search on (e.g.) www.abebooks.com replaces years of trolling used bookstores in various cities. Of course, it's not as much fun, since it's more like shopping and less like hunting a rare and elusive beast.
All in all, it is now possible to do first-rate scholarship just about anywhere in the continental U.S., to look no further. Of course, many (not all) professors in the Ivy League and other big-name schools (Berkeley, Michigan, and the like) continue to sneer reflexively at those with less-prestigious jobs at less-well-known institutions. Perhaps surprisingly, I have always found Oxford and Cambridge less snobbish than the Ivies. Perhaps that is because it is obvious even to professors that two schools could not possibly contain all scholars worth reading, while some might think that twenty or thirty schools could. Whether they could or not is moot: they don't, and it's time they realized that.
February 18, 2002:
What's Softer Than
So, what will we call money that is softer than soft? Squishy money? Gooey money? Runny money? (Dividing a class of things into subclasses that are hard, soft, and softer makes me think of cheese.) How about slippery money? Spongy money? Sticky money? Slimy money? Not liquid money -- too easily confused with liquid assets. None of these names seems quite satisfactory, but if S-M passes the Senate and Bush signs it some name will be needed, and soon. (Should I register www.squishymoney.com and all the rest? Perhaps it's already been done: I haven't checked.)
February 13, 2002:
America : Gulliver :: Europe : the
This is true as far as it goes, but a look at the original text never hurts. In this case it shows that we sometimes need the giant's simple and effective solution to a problem, even if it leaves the pygmies a terrible mess to clean up. Someone named Lee Jaffe (his 'About Me' file is empty) has provided an excellent website for Gulliver's Travels, with the complete text formatted for pleasant reading, glosses on obsolete words, and lots more. Here is the last paragraph and a half of Book I, Chapter V, Gulliver (as always) narrating:
In Chapter VII, this is given as Article I in the indictment for treason of Lemuel Gulliver, aka "Quinbus Flestrin":
Gulliver is forced to flee for his life. I suppose the moral of the story is that Lilliputians can be petty, ungrateful, stupid little bastards.
February 12, 2002:
There is something to this, but the U.S. has fought a lot of wars, and some have gone on for quite a few years. Surely treason prosecutions are also rare for the same reason that bestiality prosecutions are rare. I can't find a link now, but a few months ago there were a lot of news stories about a man somewhere in New England whose father had beaten him senseless with (I think) a tire iron because the son wanted to marry his (the son's) dog, and had already, so to speak, consummated the relationship. The son even tried to bring the dog to court with him as his wife. Although there are exceptions, I would say that marrying your dog and betraying your country are crimes that relatively few Americans have ever wanted to commit, or, I imagine, ever will. Finally, while I do not condone beating one's son with a tire iron even in cases of treason or bestiality, Sulayman al-Lindh's father seems to have gone a bit too far in the opposite direction.
February 10, 2002:
1. The National Press Club used to have a painting of Phryne hanging on their wall, but it was removed under pressure from a few women members in May, 1998. See this NPC page (about a third of the way down) for a reproduction of a photograph of a man holding a photograph of the painting.
2. Isn't it about time the editorial writers of the New York Post made "life-long Democrat Bloomberg" a hot-key combination?
February 6, 2002:
Death Metal Not Just a
Oddly enough, the titles of Barbara Olson's books have the same characteristic. As an homage to one of the most distinguished victims of Al-Qaeda, who was also a personal friend of the president, how about an 'Operation Hell to Pay' (perhaps in Somalia or Yemen) followed by 'Operation Final Days' in Iraq, Iran, or North Korea (it hardly matters which, as long as it's final)?