Review of the fiscal situation
"In Berlin the situation is serious but not desperate; in Vienna, the situation is desperate but not serious." This quip was heard around Central Europe in the closing days of both world wars, but certainly predates 1918. Political Scientist Paul Gottfried, my go-to guy on matters Mitteleuropäisch, thinks it originated with one of the late-Hapsburg... Read More
Bidibidobidiboo and other art objects.
The first thing I saw on entering the atrium of the Guggenheim was a horse suspended in a sling ten feet above the ground. The sling went under the belly of the beast (as it were), leaving its head, legs, and tail drooping down dolefully. A great many other things were also suspended from the... Read More
Russia, imagined and real.
I have just spent a week in Moscow with Mrs. Straggler at the invitation of a Russian foundation. Neither of us had been in Russia before. It was a working trip, with very little time for sightseeing, and that only in central Moscow. It was, though, in a perfunctory way, an opportunity to compare the... Read More
I am ill-read.
"Should I read Thomas Mann?" Miss Straggler wanted to know. She has enrolled in some sort of freshman Western Lit. course at college, and keeps coming up with these questions. What to say? I have never, to my knowledge, read a single word Thomas Mann ever wrote, though I did sit through that sappy Dirk... Read More
Thus the founder of this magazine, writing in these pages, issue dated November 19, 1955. Bill Buckley was famously a man of many, many words. He had, I mean, more words at his disposal — there in his head, ready to use — than most of us have. That "supererogation" is characteristic. Bill used the... Read More
While I still can
We do ever more of our shopping online, I am told. The printed book is facing extinction, I am also told. The U.S. Postal Service is in dire straits, I am further told. Taken together, these facts imply, along of course with much else, that the big, printed, mail-delivered store catalog may soon be at... Read More
The lost souls of consumer culture.
Also shoes, skirts, dresses, blouses, lingerie, jeans, and sportswear. Jewelry, too; fine leather and luggage; housewares and home furnishings. Kipling's soldier didn't know the 'alf — sorry, half — of it. We had been visiting with friends in upstate New York. Now we were driving home. The first hundred miles was delightful: lovely scenery, clear... Read More
Confessions of a book amasser.
Miss Straggler, just graduated from high school and with time on her hands, came home the other day with two boxes of second-hand books on the back seat of the car. "Found them outside Book Revue," she explained, naming the local independent bookstore. "There was a sign saying to please take them." The books were... Read More
I visit Turkey.
It is always fun to gather first impressions of a foreign country. Turkey is, John O'Sullivan had explained to me, "upper-tier Third World." That seems about right. The Third World-itude exhibits itself at once in the streets. The Turks' own quip about their driving skills is: "In other countries people die by accident; here in... Read More
The fragility of civilization.
Winter conducted a fighting retreat this year, one last storm bringing down our cable service. That left us without TV, Internet, or house phones. When we signed up for this threefold package a couple of years ago, Mrs. Straggler observed that we should soon be getting our food and water from the cable-service provider. With... Read More
I become a client of the welfare state.
There is a school of psychology called Situationism that pooh-poohs the notion of individual character. This line of thought began with some experiments by Stanley Milgram of Yale University in the early 1960s. By manipulating his test subjects' conformism and respect for authority, Milgram was able to get ordinary pleasant people to give near-lethal 450-volt... Read More
Brace for the big commemoration
It starts! January 20th, the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inauguration, passed with little comment, so far as I could judge. Then the public-sector unions of Wisconsin began demonstrating against Governor Walker's bill to cut back their collective-bargaining powers. Propagandists for the unions were keen to remind us that it was John F. Kennedy... Read More
Learning to talk Turkey.
Until very recently the only thing I knew how to say in Turkish was the proverb Nerede çokluk, orada bokluk, which means (I shall bowdlerize slightly) "Where there are people, there is dung." I had learned this by the most random kind of chance. Many years ago I was living in a rooming house in... Read More
I fill a hole.
One of our township's very few claims to fame, perhaps the only one, arises from its cesspools. The Wikipedia article headed "cesspool" devotes an entire paragraph to Huntington. In numbers of people sucked down into collapsing old cesspools, we lead the nation. There were three deaths just this past decade. The Straggler family avoided this... Read More
If you want to get ahead, get a hat!
The other day I stepped into an elevator while wearing a hat. Seeing ladies in the elevator, I removed my hat. One of the ladies, who was of a certain age, complimented me on my manners. "Not many men would know to do that nowadays." Not many men need to. As someone or other has... Read More
Capital punishment then and now.
Scowling out at me from my New York Post is Steven Hayes, recently convicted in an exceptionally vile crime in my neighbor state of Connecticut. With another man, not yet tried, Hayes invaded a family home, clubbed the father senseless, then raped, tortured, strangled, and burned alive the wife and two daughters. He has been... Read More
The past, present, and future of an indispensible material.
What a place it is, this world we humans have made! It has such variety, such abundance of skills and knowledge, so many aspects one never thinks of from one year's end to the next till they are suddenly forced on one's attention. Consider, for example, glass. Over the past three or four years, windows... Read More
The world of work.
August lived up to its reputation as the Silly Season this year, the news dominated for several days by JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, who quit his job August 9 in a sensational manner, venting his grievances over the plane's PA system then exiting via the emergency chute. (Fortunately the plane was stationary on the... Read More
I become a cyclist.
The recent political ructions over the extension of unemployment benefit brought Norman Tebbit to my mind. Tebbit was Margaret Thatcher's Secretary of State for Employment in the early 1980s. There was some urban rioting, and it was suggested to Tebbit that these disturbances were a natural response to the indignity of unemployment. Tebbit, whose origins... Read More
Priscilla and James.
For some time I had wanted to meet James Buckley, fourth of the ten in his generation. (Bill Buckley was sixth.) This man had an extraordinary career. He served at a high level in all three branches of the federal government: as a U.S. senator, as an undersecretary of state, and as a federal appeals... Read More
The Navy comes to Manhattan.
Fleet Week! For a few days the rather distinctly un-military inhabitants of New York City find that in hurrying from one commercial deal to another, one fashion show to another, one dinner party to another, one charity fundraiser, poetry slam, book-launch party, gallery show, clubbing excursion, coffee-klatch, or private debauch to another, they are sharing... Read More
The risk-reward equation in medicine.
Science fiction writer Robert Sheckley wrote a story titled "Protection" whose first-person protagonist acquires a guardian angel. The angel is actually a validusian derg — an invisible, immaterial being from another plane of existence, present only as a voice in one's head. The derg's sole satisfaction is to keep a human being safe from harm.... Read More
Clubs and clubbability.
Third Thursday of the month, in season, is club night — the meeting, that is, of my gents' dinner club in New York City. We are a heterogeneous crowd: lawyers, doctors, writers, academics, a violinist, an ex-diplomat, some finance types. The club's been in business for decades. Bill Buckley was a member, showing up at... Read More
Finding each other with Google.
My breakfast-time reading matter of choice, the New York Post, has regular stories about long-separated friends, lovers, and family members who find one another via Google. Here's one: High School Sweethearts Rekindle Romance After 50 Years. The boy and girl were parted by a ruse of their parents, who disapproved. Half a century on, he... Read More
Reflections on being an immigrant.
"All those years we thought we were building communism! Actually they've built communism right here in the U.S.A.!" This gets the biggest laugh of the evening. All seven of us in the room laugh, including me, the only non-Chinese. Someone quotes one of Chairman Mao's tremendous Thoughts, "We should pay close attention to the well-being... Read More