February 27, 2002
The Drinking Age

Instapundit quotes reader Brett Deal of North Carolina on Elizabeth Dole's federalization of the drinking age. Go read it, if you haven't already. Then come back (please!) and read these additional points:

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.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
February 25, 2002
Szamuely Update

Someone has now started a very amusing and instructive Slobo-Google website. In this garden of idiotic delights, Dale Drummond provides links to a selection of George Szamuely's recent work, two articles from Antiwar.Com and two from the New York Press. In the right-hand margin of the first-linked article, we find the following capsule biography (or perhaps autobiography):

George Szamuely was born in Budapest, Hungary, educated in England, and has worked as an editorial writer for The Times (London), The Spectator (London), and the Times Literary Supplement (London). In America, he has been equally busy: as an associate at the Manhattan Institute, editor at Freedom House, film critic for Insight, research consultant at the Hudson Institute, and as a weekly columnist for the New York Press. Szamuely has contributed to innumerable publications including Commentary, American Spectator, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, National Interest, American Scholar, Orbis, Daily Telegraph, the Times of London, the Sunday Telegraph, and The New Criterion.

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.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:20 PM
Yet Another Fish In A Very Big Barrel

I have now Slobo-Googled #675 on the Master List, "Paul Lockwood, Cambridge". It seems likely that this is the same "Paul Lockwood, Socialist Labour Party, Cambridge" who wrote this letter to Labour Left Briefing (print journal? web journal? bulletin board? who cares?) in March of 1998:

David Taylor ("The Party's Over", last month's LLB) attacks "a number of grim men ranted about the correctness of the regime in China and the old Soviet Union". Is David Taylor trying to say that Arthur Scargill should ban these people from the SLP? Of course, the development of socialism in the two countries named has not been without some very serious mistakes, and most would argue that China is currently embarked on the road to full capitalist restoration (although that doesn't mean that it will inevitably happen).

I object to the use of the term "Stalinist". Stalin has been the subject of one of the most intense hate campaigns in history and we cannot take at face value all of the things that capitalists say about him. Since Kruschev denounced him at the CPSU 20th Party Congress, the Soviet leadership tried to pretend that Stalin had never existed. This has made a true assessment of Stalin very difficult. Although I do not accept that everything Stalin did was beyond criticism, there is no doubt that many of his supposed "crimes" are simply fabrications. Much of what Kruschev said about him in his "secret speech" (which he kept secret from the Soviet people -- why?), is simply a lie.

What about those who totally reject these countries? Do they think that nothing worthwhile was achieved by them at all? Would the United States have been able to inflict such appalling suffering on the Iraqi people if the Soviet Union still stood, even though it were not a perfect model of socialism? Would the capitalists here have been able to make such bold attacks on the welfare state and the wages and conditions of workers? I think not.

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:

THE attack launched against the United States, resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians, was terrible and there is no doubt that the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

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.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:10 PM
I'm Back!

No sooner had I gotten my first link from a major blogger -- or from anyone else, for that matter -- than my web-site went down. At first I thought I had been overwhelmed with hits, but it turned out that my domain registration had expired at just the wrong time -- midnight Friday, as far as I can tell. For a combination of reasons, mostly having to do with an evil former ISP that demanded the same amount for forwarding e-mail as they had charged for web-hosting (around $40 / month), and never forwarded any e-mail even for the weeks in which I submitted to their extortion, I hadn't heard -- I suppose I should have been keeping track. Anyway, if you can read this, I'm back on-line, with apologies to all those who have unsuccessfully tried to link here. No doubt most of you have long since given up trying to get through and I'm just talking to myself. Of course, that is what vanity web-sites and blogs are really for, isn't it?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
February 22, 2002
Great Minds Think Alike

Matt Welch has invented the art of Slobo-Googling: tracking down the various people who have signed a petition defending Slobodan Milosevic (most notably #2, Ramsey Clark and #12, Harold Pinter) to see what other idiotic things they may have said or done.

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:

NYC Man Arrested for 570 Overdue Books

New York City police arrested a 44-year-old former New York University student at his gym October 4 on charges of grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property after he failed to return 570 overdue political-science and history books to the campus libraries. In addition, George Szamuely, who had ignored dozens of calls and letters asking for the books’ return, owes $31,000 in fines, the New York Daily News reported October 6.

The newspaper said that Szamuely, a freelance writer for the weekly New York Press, borrowed the books when he was a continuing-education student from 1993 to 1997. Szamuely’s visibility in the weekly newspaper was a continual annoyance to the library. “A staff member said, ‘Why can’t they find this guy, he’s writing for the New York Press,’” NYU head of user services Albert Neal told the Daily News.

Although police recovered the books from Szamuely’s apartment, they won’t be returned to the library until the case goes to trial, the October 7 Daily News said.

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.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
February 21, 2002
The Flattening Of The Academic Pyramid

Glenn Reynolds and Will Vehrs (scroll down to yesterday's topmost post) agree that the Ivy League schools are overrated and "have no monopoly on outstanding scholarship, teaching, or facilities" (Vehrs). Both pundits, the 'Insta-' and the 'Quasi-', concentrate on the technological advances, mainly web databases, that have made it much easier to find and read articles in less-prestigious journals, so that researchers need not start with the 'best' journals and work downwards, as before.

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.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
February 18, 2002
What's Softer Than Soft?

The previous spasm of campaign reform brought us the distinction between hard and soft money. Now that Shays-Meehan has made it through the House and headed for the Senate, it is time to think of what to call the new third kind of money that will inevitably be used to evade the upcoming limits on soft money. It is conventional wisdom, at least among opponents of Shays-Meehan, that whatever kind of expenditure is allowed will inevitably expand to take the place of what is banned. (Hydraulic metaphors are popular here: if one source of money is dammed up, the stuff will overflow or leak in through some other conduit.)

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.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
February 13, 2002
America : Europe :: Gulliver : The Lilliputians?

Not to sound like the Weekly Standard parody of a blogger, but I have something to add to Michael Gove's comments on Chris Patten's remarks, quoted by Glenn Reynolds in Instapundit. (I can't seem to get the Times link to work.) As quoted by Reynolds, Gove writes:

"Mr Patten may protest that America as 'Gulliver' can’t 'go it alone' and the EU should not regard itself as 'so Lilliputian that we can’t speak up and say it'. But I would rather Gulliver unbound, standing taller and seeing further, than Gulliver tethered by pygmies. Mr Patten may not recall, but it was Swift’s hero who, after they had freed him, saved the Lilliputians. Sometimes we need a giant’s 'simplistic' strength. Now is such a time."

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:

". . . it was not long before I had an Opportunity of doing his Majesty, at least, as I then thought, a most signal Service. I was alarmed at Midnight with the Cries of many hundred People at my Door; by which being suddenly awaked, I was in some kind of Terror. I heard the word Burglum repeated incessantly: several of the Emperor's Court, making their way through the Croud, intreated me to come immediately to the Palace, where her Imperial Majesty's Apartment was on fire, by the carelessness of a Maid of Honour, who fell asleep while she was reading a Romance. I got up in an instant; and Orders being given to clear the way before me, and it being likewise a Moon-shine Night, I made a shift to get to the Palace without trampling on any of the People. I found they had already applied Ladders to the Walls of the Apartment, and were well provided with Buckets, but the Water was at some distance. These Buckets were about the size of a large Thimble, and the poor People supplied me with them as fast as they could; but the Flame was so violent that they did little good. I might easily have stifled it with my Coat, which I unfortunately left behind me for haste, and came away only in my Leathern Jerkin. The Case seemed wholly desperate and deplorable; and this magnificent Palace would have infallibly been burnt down to the ground, if, by a Presence of Mind, unusual to me, I had not suddenly thought of an Expedient. I had the Evening before drunk plentifully of a most delicious Wine, called Glimigrim (the Blefuscudians call it Flunec, but ours is esteemed the better sort), which is very diuretick. By the luckiest Chance in the World, I had not discharged myself of any part of it. The Heat I had contracted by coming very near the Flames, and by labouring to quench them, made the Wine begin to operate my Urine; which I voided in such a Quantity, and applied so well to the proper Places, that in three Minutes the Fire was wholly extinguished, and the rest of that noble Pile, which had cost so many Ages in erecting, preserved from Destruction.

"It was now Day-light, and I returned to my House, without waiting to congratulate with the Emperor: because, although I had done a very eminent piece of Service, yet I could not tell how his Majesty might resent the manner by which I had performed it: For, by the fundamental Laws of the Realm, it is Capital in any Person, of what Quality soever, to make water within the Precincts of the Palace. But I was a little comforted by a Message from his Majesty, that he would give Orders to the Grand Justiciary for passing my Pardon in form; which, however, I could not obtain. And I was privately assured, that the Empress, conceiving the greatest Abhorrence of what I had done, removed to the most distant side of the Court, firmly resolved that those Buildings should never be repaired for her Use: and, in the presence of her chief Confidents could not forbear vowing Revenge."

In Chapter VII, this is given as Article I in the indictment for treason of Lemuel Gulliver, aka "Quinbus Flestrin":

"Whereas, by a Statute made in the Reign of his Imperial Majesty Calin Deffar Plune, it is enacted, That whoever shall make water within the Precincts of the Royal Palace, shall be liable to the Pains and Penalties of High Treason; Notwithstanding, the said Quinbus Flestrin, in open breach of the said Law, under colour of extinguishing the Fire kindled in the Apartment of his Majesty's most dear Imperial Consort, did maliciously, traitorously, and devilishly, by discharge of his Urine, put out the said Fire kindled in the said Apartment, lying and being within the Precincts of the said Royal Palace, against the Statute in that case provided, etc., against the Duty, etc."

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.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
February 12, 2002
The Rarity of Treason

Victoria Toensing writes in National Review Online:

"The talking heads mistakenly surmise that because treason cases are rare, they are difficult. No, they are rare because they can only be brought when we are in a military conflict. The fact that there have been limited time periods when one could 'levy war against' the United States does not make the case more difficult when such conflicts do occur."

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.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
February 10, 2002
Bloomberg and Phryne

So Mayor Bloomberg wants to give corporations the right to name public sites after themselves? Not just football stadiums but even parks and such? That reminds this Latin teacher of the story of Phryne (pronounced 'fry knee'). Along with Lais and Thais, Phryne was one of the greatest hetaerae, or courtesans, of ancient Greece. (Her name means 'Toad', which is of course a joke, since she was very beautiful. She was Praxiteles' model when he sculpted his nude Aphrodite of Cnidus.) After Alexander the Great destroyed the walls of Thebes, her native city, in 335 B.C., she offered to rebuild them from her own earnings, provided the new walls were inscribed "destroyed by Alexander, rebuilt by Phryne the hetaera". The city fathers turned down the proposal as shameful.

Tangential points:

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?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM
February 06, 2002
Death Metal Not Just a Metaphor

Mickey Kaus (how about some permalinks, MK?) writes that "Axis of Evil" would be a good name for a death metal band. (I find his editor's note offensive, but perhaps that's just me: I do like country music.) This cuts both ways, since the names of many death metal bands would also work for military operations: see the lists at (where else?) www.deathmetal.com.

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)?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 10:00 PM