Watering Holes: Mory’s Temple Bar

June 28, 2010

Mory’s Temple Bar is a New Haven institution, having served thirsty Yalies since its founding in 1849. Membership in the club is generally open to anybody affiliated with Yale University (which is annually less the compliment it was the year before), and has lately been overrun, via lax membership standards, by co-ed student government types.

Despite its reputed $2 million endowment, Mory’s was forcibly shuttered during the financial upheaval of 2008. Its president has since promised to re-open in the summer of 2010, after renovations.

The Whiffenpoofs at Mory's.

Mory’s occupies 306 York Street, a white frame building which was formerly a private home, built sometime prior to 1817. The clubhouse made the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

The Whiffenpoofs, Yale’s effeminately-named a cappella troupe, regularly entertain in the club’s dining rooms. Their hoary staple, The Whiffenpoof Song, makes mention of Mory’s as “the place where Louis dwells.”

A Mory's Cup in the offing.

Since its opening, one of the constants at Mory’s (it held an all-male tack until 1972 when, three years after Yale admitted women, Mory’s did too) has been the tradition of Cups. A Cup is a ceremonial drinking event in which silver trophy urns are ordered by color (red, gold, purple, green, blue, velvet, and more) and each color corresponds to a drink, drunk from the urn. Whomever is left holding the urn at its completion, cleans it dry with only his mouth and hair while the rest sing the Mory’s Song by way of encouragement. When the Cup is dry, it’s turned upside-down and set on a napkin, then raised again and the napkin inspected for any sign of unfinished drink having dripped.

Another Mory’s tradition is that its bar rooms serve as retreat to the members of the Yale Political Union, recent notables of which have included George H.W. Bush, the late Gerald Ford, John Bolton, and the late William F. Buckley, Jr.

They Got It

June 24, 2010


“A well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained in arms, is the best, most natural defense of a country.”

James Madison

4th President of the United States of America

“You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be an armed American behind every tree.”

Isoroku Yamamoto

Japanese Fleet Admiral

Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy

The Old Ways

June 22, 2010

This past Friday Ronnie Lee Gardner was shot to death by the State of Utah.

That state had allowed a handful of death row inmates, including Mr. Gardner, the freedom to choose the manner of their executions if, in return, they agreed to withdraw from the courtroom appeals process.

Mr. Gardner elected the firing squad; he spent his final day watching The Lord of The Rings films and reading a spy novel.

Clamorous protest ensued: death penalty opponents denounced the execution as barbaric, while execution advocates insisted the novel method drew attention away from the more-deserving victims.

Each camp has its point, and each point its merit, but neither side has found any fault in Mr. Gardner for requesting a death by firing squad. This might be because, among the ignoble ways in which we live and die these days, an execution by professional riflemen is a comparatively solemn and dignified thing.

Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno is an expert on execution techniques. She has an idea why, despite the controversy generated by the event, nobody has yet disparaged Mr. Gardner for his choice: “When you think of all the [execution] methods, the firing squad would be the most dignified.”

“The anti-death penalty people think it’s barbaric, and the pro-death penalty people think it detracts from capital punishment,” Professor Denno explains. But she believes there is nobility in the squad: “Someone’s standing up and facing his own death.”

Mr. Gardner’s ability to stand up with dignity might be why, though the punditry squawks and warbles, few have probed very far into the circumstances demanding that dignity: what did he do? Why did he do it, when, and how? Stuck in amidst generational shirking and a popular sense of entitlement, the more compelling story here might be a man who decided to calmly face the consequences of his actions and accept them with dignity and composure.

Certainly Mr. Gardner’s crime was reprehensible; he was sentenced to die for it and neither judiciary nor legislature saw fit to extend him leniency or clemency. There was no question of guilt; Mr. Gardner’s last minutes were writ large by every type of media, but he made no final protestations of innocence, or requests for mercy. Asked whether or not he had any last words, he said only “I do not. No.”

But despite the crime, and despite even the criminal, the execution was witness to a kind of stoic dignity rarely still evidenced. Athletes, politicians, financiers, and celebrities make tearful apologies on national television and beg public forgiveness. Famous marriages crumble and the partners escape into therapy of one kind or another rather than accept any type of consequence or accountability: don’t blame me for anything I’ve done, my parents were sub-par.

Governors, mayors, Congressmen, presidents… each step wrongly and grovel loudly, offering reasons, excuses, solutions; anything but dignified responsibility. These Americans, whom we esteem so highly, are barely able to meet the demands of their own lives with any degree of accountability, let alone nobility. Yet Mr. Gardner, a convicted criminal awaiting state-sponsored death, was able to meet not only his life, but his death, with noble dignity.

Perhaps the sensational nature of that death owes less to its circumstances and more to the fact that, having long ago given up for dead the qualities of dignity and responsibility in our leaders, we briefly saw evidence of them again in a condemned prisoner.

Correspondents A-fishin’.

June 18, 2010

Gone fishing.

The Violent Red Herring

June 17, 2010

The University of Chicago Press recently released, again, a new edition of John R. Lott, Jr.’s thoughtful book, More Guns, Less Crime. In it, author Lott examines the efficacy of American gun control laws. Specifically, does controlling guns have anything at all to do with controlling crime?

For the third edition running, the answer is an emphatic, and obvious, no. Since the original edition’s first appearance in 1998, none of its critics have been able to refute its logic, or its conclusion: that areas with more guns generally have less crime. Now, drawing on an additional 10 years of data (including deep analyses of Chicago’s and Washington, D.C.’s attempts at gun banning), More Guns, Less Crime is even more sure of that original conclusion.

Guns have always been a red herring when it comes to discussions of violent crime. They’re the professional tools of gangs and criminals and Presidential assassins, but guns can’t fire themselves; they need criminals for that. Without criminals, guns are about as harmful as kitchen knives and sports cars. Some potential for injury, sure… but very little, assuming chef and driver are neither careless nor murderous.

Arguing about guns in the context of discussing crime is what lawyers call “an attractive nuisance”: a dangerous thing which, because of some interesting quality, you can’t help but get involved with. For instance, an unattended go-cart in a grade school parking lot. Kids know it’s dangerous and it’s not theirs, but they just can’t help themselves from trying the key. In that case, the go-cart owner might be liable for injuries: he should’ve known it was likely to entice children and cause them injury.

There ought to be similar laws about gun debates. They’re an attractive nuisance: likely to lure pundits, and very likely to cause injury to any kind of constructive conversation.

Debates over gun control retard productivity because they’re wide of the mark. Guns don’t cause crime, criminals do; the only real way to decrease crime is to decrease those social conditions which breed criminals. Criminals commit crimes because of an inequality of opportunity, poor access to education or professional alternatives, general frustration, and… seriously… a lack of positive role models. No criminal has ever committed a crime simply because guns exist.

The counter-argument goes this way: “That may be true, but still he commits his crime with a gun. So while we work on fixing the underlying social causes, we can at least keep guns out of his hands, and he won’t be able to commit those crimes with a gun anymore.”

The counter-argument is as flawed and false as it is alluring in its simplicity: criminals don’t follow laws; otherwise, they wouldn’t be criminals. The fact that it’s illegal to buy a gun, or to buy a certain type of gun, won’t prevent criminals from buying that gun, or that type of gun, any more than Prohibition kept them from buying liquor.

Texas boasts a much higher incidence of gun-ownership than Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. combined, and also enjoys much more relaxed gun laws than those cities. In fact, Chicago and D.C. have tried their hardest to ban handguns outright. Yet, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. suffer from a murder rate much higher than the national average, and much higher than the Lone Star State’s. Tighter gun laws and fewer guns haven’t made any difference in those cities. In fact, things have gotten worse.

Why? Because guns don’t cause crime. Criminality is bred via certain social conditions and, until we fix those conditions, regulating guns won’t make a bit of difference. We’ve seen this often enough by now that we ought to be convinced of its truth. Unfortunately, we run up against the attractive nuisance: guns are a much easier target than social injustices and, when it comes to discussions of crime, they’re also a very big, dangerous red herring.

Flag Day

June 14, 2010

Americans celebrate Flag Day on June 14, a holiday during which we commemorate the adoption of the national flag of the United States by Congressional resolution in 1777. President Woodrow Wilson set that date aside as Flag Day in 1916, and in 1949 National Flag Day was adopted by an Act of Congress.

Though not an official Federal holiday, some states have adopted the date as a State holiday; Quincy, Massachusetts and Troy, New York annually produce nationally-renowned Flag Day parades, and the Wisconsin parade traditionally features detachments of the United States Navy.

Flag Day was first formally observed in 1885, when grade school teacher Bernard Cigrand held a ceremony commemorating the adoption of the flag at Wisconsin’s Stony Hill School. Today, a bronze bust of Cigrand sits in Wisconsin’s Flag Day Americanism Center.

On June 14, 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt saw a man wiping his nose with what appeared to be the American flag. Outraged that any American would be so disrespectful to the flag, especially on Flag Day, President Roosevelt began to beat the man with a stout piece of wood. After five or six hefty whacks, the President realized the offending fabric was, in fact, only a blue handkerchief with white stars on it. He beat the man several minutes more anyway, for getting him “riled up with national pride.”

Correspondents Afield.

June 12, 2010

The Saint Louis Brewers’ Heritage Festival begins this weekend; correspondents are afield accordingly. Dispatches forthcoming.

Correspondents afield, indulgently.