Davos Divas Denounce Disparity

January 27, 2011

The World Economic Forum meets regularly in Davos, Switzerland to do whatever it is the Forum does. Whatever that is, there will be more women doing it this year than in years previous: the Forum’s Women Leaders & Gender Parity program has made a priority of increasing the participation of women in the event, this year mandating (under the auspices of unknown authority) that 50% of representatives from any particular organization be female.

(Despite its collective brain power, the program may not have realized that the only thing quotas ensure is that organizations will produce token representation when necessary for the sake of compliance, while avoiding any appreciable, system-wide change… or that quota systems encourage the promotion of those conforming to criteria over those worth promoting.)

The same thing is underway at Dartmouth College, where a lady named Evelynn Ellis has been named vice president of institutional diversity & equity. The fact that such a position exists and is salaried handsomely is worrisome enough; what is more so, especially considered in conjunction with affairs in Davos, is that such intelligent people have missed the obvious solution to problems of gender parity:

Hire people, promote them, and reward them based on their ability and achievement. Just as hiring men over women for the sake of anachronistic chauvinism is wrong and leads to gross inequity, so too does hiring women over men for the sake of politically-correct tokenism. Hire the people who deserve hiring, promote those who deserve promotion, and reward those deserving of reward… and ignore their race, gender, ethnicity, orientation, and the rest of it. The result will be an organization full of able, deserving people held back by neither prejudice nor politics.

A Century Waiting

January 23, 2011

After more than a century, a French country gentleman’s last wishes are being honored in that nation. Louis Mantin toiled for years as an unremarkable civil servant on behalf of the town of Moulins until, when he was 46 years old, he inherited a fortune through his father’s will. Mr. Mantin immediately thereafter set about the work of aesthete and patron of culture, and the first serious step was his house.

Mr. Mantin’s patrimony financed the construction of a country mansion in the very center of Moulins, a site formerly occupied by the ducal palace of the Bourbons, French aristocracy with claims to both that country’s and Spain’s royal thrones. He filled the house with imported tapestries, paintings, and porcelain; commissioned sculptors and woodworkers; and had installed his burgeoning – and fittingly eccentric – collection of Egyptian artifacts and oddities, prehistoric flints, oil-lamps, and medieval lock-and-keys sets.

Desirous of renown in his own life and the next, Mr. Mantin’s own will provided for the curating of his home and for its preservation as a museum for the people of Moulins. The only stipulation: the house must remain shuttered for one century. Mr. Mantin died and the house remained as he requested for 100 years, sliding from memory to local legend until authorities found the inclination – and the money – to renovate and re-open the manse this year. Mr. Mantin’s great-niece Isabelle de Chavagnac recently told the BBC: “The house was gradually forgotten by the world. But not by the people of Moulins.”

The result is a picture of the French country squire at leisure, circa 1900. Skulls and other Masonic curios, stuffed game birds, the latest in fin-de-seicle domestic gadgetry (electricity, flushing toilets), and a sense of antiquarian grandeur imbue the place. Explains Ms. de Chavagnac: “Here, everybody was waiting for the day when 100 years would have passed and the house would have opened once again. It is odd how the collective memory of a place never dies.”

Outside of Maison Mantin

La maison de Mantin.

Dartmouth Rugby Takes 4th Consecutive Ivy Title

January 18, 2011

The Dartmouth Rugby Football Club ended its 2010-2011 Fall season with a 31-0 trouncing of Harvard of a brisk New Hampshire Saturday afternoon. That win marked the end of regular-season Ivy League play, and the fourth time in as many years Dartmouth has captured the Ivy League title. Said co-captain Tommy Brothers: “Four Ivy League championships in four years is something very, very special, and I think it’s a great testament to the work that we’ve put in and the winning culture we’ve been able to establish since 2007.”

The match was also the end to another undefeated season for the DRFC, and the 11th time the team has taken Ivy gold in the past 14 years. While it will continue participation in Ivy contests next season, Dartmouth will also join the competitive D-1 National Premier League group of rugby-playing colleges and universities. Its first match in that league will be against Delaware on March 5th.  

team 2010

Esq., Etc.

January 12, 2011

The Latin word scuturius means “shield-bearer” and turned itself over time into the French esquier. The British made the word into esquire and used it to describe a noble but murky social standing: better than average, but worse than best… like its cognate squire, a man apprenticed to a knight but not quite knighted himself. In any case, the implication is of gentle – but not gentlest – birth.

In old English registers, esquire was used to distinguish slightly brighter stars of the social cosmos from more dim ones (mere gentlemen). The difference was usually one of patrimony: esquires were born, gentlemen were made (usually by themselves). The classification was of upper versus lower gentry. Or, old money versus new. Those accorded the English esquire were generally:

  • The eldest sons of knights, and their eldest sons, in perpetuity,
  • Esquires created by investiture,
  • Esquires created by virtue of their office, like magistrates,
  • Foreign noblemen,
  • British army officers above the rank of captain, and
  • Barristers (but never solicitors, those dull worms).

That last bit jumped the Atlantic. In America, the title esquire is reserved for men’s magazines and practitioners of law (though Yanks make no distinction between barristers – trial lawyers – and the much duller solicitors – transactional lawyers). The Brits remain more tight with the suffix; the Office of Arms there restricts the use of Esq. to a very small set, whereas Americans restrict its use only when rampant overuse could reasonably lead a person to believe a non-lawyer is engaged in the practice of law.

"The Country Squire & The Gypsies"

Revisionist Literature

January 8, 2011

The New York Times ran this editorial in its issue of January 5, 2011; the piece is reprinted here in its entirety:

Next month, you will be able to buy the single-volume New South Edition of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” edited by Professor Alan Gribben of Auburn University at Montgomery. It differs from other editions of those books because Mr. Gribben has turned the word “nigger” — as used by Tom and Huck — into “slave.” Mr. Gribben has also changed “Injun” to Indian.

Mr. Gribben says he wants to make these American classics readable again — for young readers and for anyone who is hurt by the use of an epithet that would have been ubiquitous in Missouri in the 1830s and 1840s, which is when both books are set. He says he discovered how much Twain’s language offended readers when he began giving talks about “Tom Sawyer” all across Alabama in 2009. He has also acknowledged that what he calls “textual purists” will be horrified by his sanitized versions of the two classics.

We are horrified, and we think most readers, textual purists or not, will be horrified too. The trouble isn’t merely adulterating Twain’s text. It’s also adulterating social, economic and linguistic history. Substituting the word “slave” makes it sound as though all the offense lies in the “n-word” and has nothing to do with the institution of slavery. Worse, it suggests that understanding the truth of the past corrupts modern readers, when, in fact, this new edition is busy corrupting the past.

When “Huckleberry Finn” was published, Mark Twain appended a note on his effort to reproduce “painstakingly” the dialects in the book, including several backwoods dialects and “the Missouri negro dialect.” What makes “Huckleberry Finn” so important in American literature isn’t just the story, it’s the richness, the detail, the unprecedented accuracy of its spoken language. There is no way to “clean up” Twain without doing irreparable harm to the truth of his work.

Editor’s Note: It is with a concerned eye that we surveil Professor Gribben lest he, fearful the Holocaust prove too offensive to ethnic groups of which he is not a member, begin denying that also. Those who ignore history…

WSJ Seeking WFB

January 8, 2011

Columbia University professor of humanities Mark Lilla has, in the Wall Street Journal, a thoughtful and articulate examination of the decline of intellectual conservatism… all the more thoughtful because of his admitted liberalism. That handicap aside, Professor Lilla does a very good job summing up the waning of the conservative thinking class – William F. Buckley, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Richard Brookhiser, Norman Podhoretz – and its replacement with idiots – Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, etc. The quality of national debate, Professor Lilla writes, has suffered accordingly and so have Americans, liberal and conservative alike.  

William F. Buckley, Jr. & dog.

Loose Lips Sink Ships’ Captains

January 6, 2011

The news media’s disseminatory apparati have kept us current with the travails of U.S. Navy Captain Owen Honors, formerly the commanding officer of the United States Ship Enterprise. The Navy relieved Captain Honors of that burden recently, after it learned (or was reminded) of a series of home movies he produced and aired during movie nights aboard the Enterprise. The films are allegedly sexist, homophobic, or both.

Having not seen the work, we’ll reserve comment on the captain’s capabilities as auteur. But we may safely say this: Captain Honors is neither gentlemanly, polite nor proper. He leads (or lead) a very well-equipped and superbly armed set of Americans, a rough-hewn bunch. The members of the United States military are, of necessity, warriors and fighters. They tend toward manners and conduct accordingly, especially within closed systems like Naval ships.

Civilians might not approve of, or understand, the manners of soldiers. Their ways may seem retrograde. This doesn’t mean that it’s so; only that it may seem so to non-soldiers because soldiers inhabit a culture parallel with, yet removed from, civilian life.

Captain Honors, in whose defense Internet sites have grown legion, is a member of that culture and, till shortly ago, a leader of it. By most accounts he was an exemplar of its best qualities: an effective officer who cut through red tape to let sailors take leave to visit sick relations and a man able to keep morale high.   

He was not, however, polite and proper. Others similarly situated might not be either. It is nevertheless incumbent on citizens to accept this without offense because, when it comes to defending American interests around the world at the points of swords, better we have rough-edged warriors and fighters, though uncouth, than rely on the polite and proper. The best apologists of Captain Honors might do worse than cite a film (though not one of the Captain’s):

My existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall… I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said “thank you,” and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest that you pick up a weapon and stand a post.

-Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men