College 200 years ago was for the few, the erudite

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Few will question that college has changed dramatically over the past two centuries. Today, post-secondary education is often geared toward preparing an individual for employment, where 200 years ago the goal was to provide a classical education.

In the early 19th century, very few people went to college, but it would appear that those who did were extremely well educated.

Consider this description, taken from The Life and Times of C.G. Memminger (1893), a biography of the Confederacy’s Secretary of the Treasury, of the knowledge necessary to gain admittance to South Carolina College (today’s University of South Carolina) in 1819:

“A candidate must be able to sustain a satisfactory examination upon Arithmetic and Elementary Algebra and English Grammar; upon Cornelius Nepos, Caesar, Sallust, and the whole of Virgil’s Aeneid in Latin; and in Greek upon the Gospels of Sts. John and Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Greek Grammar.”

And that was just to get into the school!

The description goes on to add that “The studies to be pursued in the Freshman year are Cicero’s Orations and Odes of Horace in Latin, Xenophon’s Cyropaedia and Memorabilia in Greek, Adam’s Roman Antiquities, Vulgar and Decimal Fractions, the Equations and Extractions of Roots, English Grammar and Rhetoric.”

My first thought is one would be hard pressed to find a college student today proficient in the above in their mother tongue, never mind in Latin and Greek.

Some of the names listed above are familiar, others not so much.

Cornelius Nepos was a Roman biographer whose simple writing style made his passages a standard choice for translation on Latin exams.

Gaius Sallustius Crispus, often known simply as Sullust, was a Roman historian and politician whose works include The Conspiracy of Catiline.

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Bidding adieu to the last of the original Ramones

It was rocker Neil Young who sang the lyric “it’s better to burn out than to fade away,” but few groups embodied that concept better than the Ramones.

They played fast – very fast, almost too fast – and eschewed musical luxuries for the basics of two guitars, drums and a vocalist.

The last original member of the Ramones, Tommy Ramone, died Friday at age 65, essentially closing the book on a remarkable bit of rock history.

Despite their stripped-down style, anti-establishment look and the fact that to the untrained ear the Ramones’ sound, described as a “wall of noise,” could come across as little more than a jumble of yelling and musical anarchy, they influenced not only a generation of musicians, but of music aficionados, even as mainstream radio ignored them for decades.

The group was formed in the New York City neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens, in 1974. All four members adopted pseudonyms ending with the surname “Ramone,” although none were related. They took the name Ramone from an alias Paul McCartney used to check into hotels.

They group wore ripped jeans, black leather and bad haircuts, and came to embody American punk rock with tunes such as “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” “The KKK Took My Baby Away” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.”

Tommy Ramone, 65, was born Thomas Erdelyi in Budapest, Hungary, to Jewish parents who had survived the Holocaust by being hidden by neighbors. He died of bile duct cancer.

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When Cain and Abel joined Adam and Eve at the Last Supper

Last supper

My girls and I have done a bit of traveling lately to an array of creeks, lakes and rivers, for fishing, swimming, exploring and generally enjoying the summer weather. I, having tired of the same-old traveling game of who can irritate whom the most effectively, of which all four seem equally adept, took it upon myself to introduce our form of Jeopardy.

Initial categories were the main subjects of my younger daughters (a rising 9th grader, two rising 8th graders and a rising 6th grader): English, science, math and social studies.

After a couple of games, I found myself having to improvise as I was beginning to struggle to find the right mix between what my kids knew and what I thought they might know. When questions such as “Name any of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina” and “Define the term ‘heliocentric’” began to draw blanks all the way around, I figured I probably needed to dial it down.

But first it was time for a little fun.

A little more than a year ago, I wrote of Daughter No. 3’s bible acumen, or lack thereof. She’s sharp as a tack, an excellent writer and is on the advanced track at her school. However, it should also be noted that she is far, far down the recruiting chart for the local chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Prayer.

Daughter No. 3, you may or may not recall, is the one who described Adam and Eve as having fallen victim to “Forbidden Fruit Theory” – which involved, according to her, the pair eating poisonous peaches in the Garden of Eden.

So, guessing my 13-year old’s bible knowledge hadn’t increased markedly over the past year, I announced we’d play another game of Jeopardy, but with different categories.

“All right,” I announced, “the categories are: The Old Testament, the New Testament, Geography of the Bible, Translating the Bible over the Centuries, and Major and Minor Prophets.

Daughter No. 3 was seated in the front passenger seat and I as I drove: I could see her expression out of the corner of my eye. It could best be described as dumbfounded dismay, with her face crinkling up like a balled-up newspaper.

“Caroline,” I said to her, “you want to go first?”

She proceeded to give me one of those looks. Head titled down, eyes peering up, slight frown on face. “I don’t think so, dad. That’s not Jeopardy – that’s all bible stuff!”

“So? What’s wrong with having questions about the bible? They have bible questions on the real Jeopardy, right?”

“Yeah, but not every category! You can’t have every question be about the bible. It’s not fair.”

I looked at her for a moment with a smile. “You only think it’s unfair because you don’t know much about the bible, right?”

“I know some things,” she responded (apparently at least one word in nearly every teen’s sentence has to be heavily emphasized).

“Really,” I replied. “Well, let’s see what you know.”

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Austria’s fights to preserve its own form of German

Vienna-Schönbrunn Palace

Pulling a page from French efforts to keep their language “pure,” Austria is undertaking a major new endeavor to preserve its own unique tongue.

The difference is that while the French seek curtail the use of phrases imported from English, Austrians aren’t fighting against a foreign language, but against German, the same tongue spoken in Austrian.

While both Austrians and Germans speak German there are many words and phrases that mark Austrian German as different from standard German.

Austrian German traces its beginning to the mid-18th century, when Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II introduced compulsory schooling and several administrative reforms. They chose to adopt the already standardized language of Saxony, which was based on the standard language used for administrative purposes in cities such as Dresden.

Austrian German is spoken by approximately 8.5 million people and is recognized as an official language not only in Austria, but also in nearby Italy.

Austria’s education minister this week announced plans to preserve the unique Austrian form of German, amid increased intrusion from words and expressions from neighboring Germany, according to The Telegraph.

“What is heard in movies, on TV or the internet, is often produced or dubbed in our neighboring country Germany,” the education minister, Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, wrote in a 64-page booklet distributed to schools. “One consequence is that specifically Austrian peculiarities and expressions of our language slowly but surely fall into the background.”

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Ronald McDonald: From apathy to loathing

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The Ronald McDonald makeover would likely have escaped the notice of this blog had it not been for the utterly inane press release that accompanied the restyling.

As a bit of background, even as a kid I saw Ronald McDonald as, at best, a neutral figure. A large red-haired, red-nosed clown in a weird yellow outfit with giant red shoes, he had little positive or negative impact on me or my desire to consume low-grade fast food.

Last week, however, McDonald’s announced that the character was being revamped, and in a most invidious manner.

It’s not irritating enough that the clown will be garbed in a new wardrobe which includes yellow cargo pants, a vest and a red-and-white striped rugby shirt, along with “whimsical new red blazer” and a special bowtie for special events, according to a company press release.

The mindless consumerism really kicks in when one reads the press release:

Ronald McDonald, who represents the magic and happiness of the McDonald’s brand, is setting out on a global mission to rally the public through inspiring events.

For the first time, Ronald McDonald will take an active role on McDonald’s social media channels around the world and engage consumers using the #RonaldMcDonald hashtag. As Ronald begins his journey, he seeks to deliver on the mission: ‘Fun makes great things happen’ – the idea that moments of fun and enjoyment bring out the simple pleasures in life and can lead to acts of goodness.

‘Ronald brings to life the fun of our brand by connecting with customers around the world, whether he’s promoting literacy or spreading cheer at a Ronald McDonald House,’ said Dean Barrett, Senior Vice President, Global Relationship Officer. ‘Customers today want to engage with brands in different ways and Ronald will continue to evolve to be modern and relevant.’

Questions which arise from this bit of tripe: What does “Fun makes great things happen” mean?

If fun really made great things happen, my fraternity would have come up with an inexpensive means to desalinize ocean water, invented cheap, safe, portable nuclear reactors that could have helped reduce dependence on fossil fuels and cured all forms of cancer, likely within a few weekends.

Judging from our collective grade-point averages, fun alone does not make great things happen.

Following that up, the idea “that moments of fun and enjoyment bring out the simple pleasures in life and can lead to acts of goodness,” is utter nonsense that even a child would have trouble stomaching. Too often, people seeking fun and enjoyment do so at the expense of others, which doesn’t exactly lead to acts of goodness. Often, in fact, it leads to acts of utter selfishness.

If you’re going to come up with hokey marketing pabulum to throw at the masses, try not to make it sound like something out of Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece 1984.

And then there’s “Global Relationship Officer” Dean Barrett’s assertion that, “Customers today want to engage with brands in different ways …”

Umm, no, I don’t want to “engage” with brands in different ways. I want to “engage” in the McDonald’s brand in one single, solitary way. That way consists of me forking over currency in exchange for Grade C meat products, wilted lettuce, a slice of unripe tomato and room-temperature American cheese, all slapped between two flattened buns, served by a surly teenager who detests his assistant manager and/or thinks a music company is just moments away from walking in to offer them a recording deal.

If your want to remain “modern and relevant,” stop trying to be cutting edge and concentrate on making the food edible and the hired help civil.

If all that weren’t enough to turn my stomach, McDonald’s ends its press release with this absurd idiocy: “Ronald McDonald can’t wait to connect with people through social media. ‘Selfies …here I come! It’s a big world and now, wherever I go and whatever I do…I’m ready to show how fun can make great things happen,” said Ronald McDonald.’

I’m not a fickle consumer, but I certainly don’t believe in rewarding inanity. Any company that includes the sentence “Selfies … here I come!” in a press release is, in its own way, giving the middle finger to humanity.

Whoever wrote that line ought to be force-fed Big Macs until they slip into a sodium-induced coma, then slathered with gunk from a fast-food grease trap and dropped into a pit of ravenous badgers.

Huff Po readers: how heavy art thou burden

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The above is the Huffington Post’s attempt at humor. I suppose one has to be squarely in the publication’s readership demographic to find the graphic even remotely humorous.

Forgive me if I have a hard time relating to travails of “tardy housekeepers,” “talkative cabbies” or, alas, “gluten.”

Curmudgeonly sort that I am, the bit comes across as smarmy and irritating, much like the vast majority of those who read the Huffington Post, or, at least, those who post comments on website material.

Smug and self-righteous are two terms that come to mind when reading the rantings of Huff Po regulars. That, and self-important.

As such, perhaps it’s not surprising that the Huff Po’s content is overwhelmingly shallow, narcissistic and materialistic. It’s editorial content possesses the nutritional equivalent of Wonder Bread smeared with marshmallow fluff, and is about as appealing.

William F. Buckley once famously quipped, “I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”

Likewise, I’d find conversation with 100 readers of The Hockey News infinitely more compelling than that of an equal number of purveyors of Huffington Post. It would certainly be easier to engage in an educated discourse.

France’s regional languages fight for parity

Breton village

The French language has long been held sacred in France, which has led hard feelings among groups within the country whose first tongue is something other than the lingua franca.

France is home to more than 2 million individuals who speak regional languages such as Alsatian, Breton and Corsican, but the French government has refused to change its constitution, which states that “the language of the Republic is French.”

So while France actually signed the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages – adopted in 1992 under the auspices of the Council of Europe to protect and promote historical regional and minority languages in Europe – the French government has never ratified it.

As a result, the nation’s regional languages have failed to receive support required by the charter.

In fact, the policies of the Paris government have had the deliberate effect of greatly weakening the prevalence of native languages in France that are not “French.”

The second-class status afford languages other than French has not set well in regions where regional tongues are still prevalent, such as Brittany, the Basque country and Corsica.

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Biblio-scofflaw offers up overdue Mea Culpa

calvin and hobbes library book

Every so often, usually during a particularly slow news cycle, one comes across a story of a literary desperado finally returning an overdue library book checked out years, perhaps even decades, earlier.

One such incident occurred last summer, when an anonymous library patron returned “The Real Book About Snakes” to the Champaign County Library in Urbana, Ohio, along with a note of apology and $299.30 in cash to cover the fine.

“Sorry I’ve kept this book so long but I’m a really slow reader!” the culprit wrote in a message to the library. “I’ve enclosed my fine of $299.30 (41 years – 2 cents a day). Once again, my apologies!!”

What makes this example unusual is that the outlaw took it upon himself (anonymous or not, I’m betting the ranch that any book on snakes was checked out by a male patron) to bite the bullet and pay the fine.

Most always, libraries receiving a volume decades past due end up waiving late fees, realizing that fine exceeds the actual cost of the book in question, and also understanding that the return of a work 30, 40 or 50 years past due is more likely to generate good publicity if the library graciously renounces penalties.

That was the case in another example last summer, when the University of Wisconsin’s library received a hardcover copy of “Selected Papers on Philosophy” by William James by mail.

Included with the book was a note indicating that the work had been checked out by one of the writer’s two parents, both of whom had attended the school, although it was unclear which one had borrowed the book on Jan. 13, 1938, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The book’s return slip indicated that patrons would be levied a fine of two cents a day for each day overdue, but the family didn’t have to pony up any cold hard cash as the library no longer collected fees on overdue books. Were the old policy still in effect, the fine would have totaled more than $550.

All of which leads me to a confession of my own: I, too, am a biblio-scofflaw.

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Hot Pockets: Now even worse for you

Pity the poor folk whose job it is to market Hot Pockets, those ubiquitous microwaveable turnovers filled with one or more types of cheese, meat, or vegetables.

For years, Hot Pockets were a staple of comedian Jim Gaffigan’s standup routine (see above), in which he effectively ensured that a generation of consumers would associate the food item with indigestion, diarrhea and a variety of other ailments.

There’s likely no amount of money or promotional effort that Nestle, which produces Hot Pockets, could ever come up with to overcome the effectiveness of Gaffigan’s biting ridicule, and now the company is facing another PR nightmare.

Nestle is voluntarily recalling an unspecified number of “Philly Steak” and “Croissant Crust Philly Steak and Cheese” Hot Pockets because they could contain meat that is unfit for human consumption, according to the USDA.

Gaffigan’s gag, of course, is that they were never fit for human consumption in the first place.

Anyhoo, nearly 9 million pounds of beef products were recalled last week by Rancho Feeding Corp. after regulators said it processed diseased and unsound animals without a full inspection, according to the Associated Press.

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Fact or fiction: Veteran forsakes past for family

leonard l. bleeker

Old-time newspapers were notorious for printing articles that were long on fanciful stories but often short on verifiable facts.

As such, many curious stories that appeared in papers a century or more ago have to be read with a skeptical eye. Readers then, as today, would view information in printed form at face value, when in reality it was a fraud, whether purposeful or accidental.

In fairness to the folks of the past, researching the validity of printed information was a good bit harder.

Not only was there no Internet to employ for fact-checking, but books were much scarcer, especially among the lower classes, libraries were an anomaly outside big cities and competition among newspapers often meant that outlandish stories were run “as is” and sometimes even further embellished, to get a leg up on rivals.

So when I came across the following story in the July 26, 1899, edition of the Fairfield News and Herald, a Winnsboro, S.C., newspaper, it both caught my attention and raised my suspicions.

The death of Leonard B. Bleeker aged 72 years which recently occurred at Yates Centre, Kas., has revealed a case of self-sacrifice seldom heard of outside the domain of fiction. Three years ago Bleeker went to that country peddling cheap articles and, too old and weary to proceed farther, a kind hearted farmer took him in and cared for him until he died. To the family which befriended him he told the story of his life, reserving for the grave the specific names of persons and localities. He stated that in 1861 he left a wife and five children in Michigan and answered the first call for volunteers. The fortunes of war were against him and for months he lay a prisoner in Andersonville prison. For some reason he was led to believe that a certain other batch of prisoners would soon be exchanged. Among them was a dying man and the two comrades exchanged names and military designations. The soldier died and the death was reported as that of Leonard B. Bleeker, and is so recorded in the war department. The real Bleeker was released after a time, rejoined his regiment and served until the close of the war without communicating with his family. Then he went back and found his wife married to another man. He ascertained that his children were well cared for and then left the community without revealing his identity. Throughout his life he carefully guarded his secret and since going to Yates Centre, was often urged to apply for a pension, but stoutly refused. Even when near death he would not reveal the location of his former home or permit anyone to communicate with old associate(s). He was a man of more than ordinary education and the truth of his story or the possession of a noble purpose in his long sacrifice cannot be doubted.

Indeed, the entire story seems utterly fanciful to us today. But a few things to consider:

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