THE LONDON LIBRARY.

I had never heard of the London Library, but an article by Nancy Mattoon makes it sound like a very attractive place:

The London Library bills itself as “a university library for people who are no longer at university.” It is the largest independent lending library in the world, with over one million books and periodicals housed on some 15 miles of open-access shelves. Over 95% of the collection may be freely browsed, and 97% is available for loan. The central tenet of the library is that since “books are never entirely superseded, and therefore never redundant, the collections should not be weeded of material merely because it is old, idiosyncratic or unfashionable: except in the case of exact duplication, almost nothing has ever been discarded from the library’s shelves.” This has resulted in a library chock-full of books, ten floors of them and growing, with another half-mile of shelving required every three years. And all of this in a library that has been located in the same London townhouse on posh St. James Square since 1845.

Read all about the history (it was founded by Thomas Carlyle, who was pissed off at the British Library’s “closed stacks and non-circulating collection”) and careful remodeling of this London institution. And they’ve got a very nice website, too. The catch? It’s members-only, and very expensive (according to Wikipedia, £395 a year—the library’s own site seems to take the attitude that if you have to ask, you can’t afford it). But I’m glad it exists; I understand why ordinary libraries feel they have to get rid of so many books, but I still hate the practice and am glad there is a holdout.

Comments

  1. prince florizel says:

    One way of looking at the expense (approx £30 a month) is to see it as gym membership for the brain. + no fines and unlimited length loans (provided no one else has requested the book) help save on purchases.

  2. I had quickly figured $50 a month: less than the mobile phone bill, or Starbucks on weekdays; not so much, really.
    There’s a discounted fee for people under 25, and a subsidised rate, too (30% off) if you have a particular need for works in the collection and aren’t able to go the regular one. And they let you pay by the month.
    Had heard of the place but had presumed wrongly that it was London’s municipal library system….

  3. They will mail you books if you don’t live in London. I think it’s quite a lot of money if you’re abroad, though.

  4. Mark Etherton says:

    The London Library is a wonderful institution and alone makes London the only place in the world to live in. There was a big row a couple of years ago over a significant rise in subscriptions: see for example http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/article2915640.ece
    The financial pain is mitigated for those of us whose loving parents bought them life membership some time ago.

  5. hsgudnason says:

    Isn’t the London Library, where much of the archival work occurs in A.S. Byatt’s Possession?

  6. The London Library has a steel frame. It was done at the turn of the century, because of the weight; it’s one of the earliest in London. You would never guess. Just like its contemporary, Avery Library, by McKim, Mead & White, at Columbia, they both look like they held up by the masonry.
    I know more facts like this.

  7. I recently heard second-hand about the fire safety &c at the Danish National Library.
    Somehow it’s comforting to know just how paranoid and analretentive the people in charge of such issues are.

  8. Well…I used to be a member when I lived in London. In some ways it was terrific: they have a splendid collection of books in a wide range of languages other than English. (For those familiar with The Last Samurai, it was here that I discovered The Eskimo Book of Knowledge, a work with such timeless lines as “Obey the instructions of the white man” – the past, as they say, is another country.)
    It was also terribly nice to find Euler’s Introductio in analysin infinitorum in the original Latin (if you know Latin, it’s at times actually easier to read about mathematics in that language, because the terms are less remote from their original meaning – “sine” is “sinus”, for instance, which of course makes perfect sense). Hard to imagine most libraries having such a thing, let alone letting you take it home.
    The fact is, though, that the library – at least in the 90s – had drifted away from the intellectual breadth of its founders. In the 19th century the assumption seems to have been that members would be as interested in developments in science as they were in arts and letters (T E Huxley was on the board) – so there are extensive holdings on mathematics and the sciences that were cutting edge when Victoria was on the throne. These are not, of course, without interest, but their interest is now purely historical rather than scientific. You can find Russell’s little book on the atom, written at a time when, if I remember correctly, the structure of the atom (nucleus, electron shells) was not yet understood; you will not find the sort of book Russell himself would have been in ecstasies over, one of the many excellent (and, sadly, extremely expensive) textbooks which you can find if you wander the aisles at Foyles. Note that one might have expected such books to be all the more useful to a British membership, i.e. persons who have come up through an educational system which forces early specialization on students – it is entirely possible for a highly educated Briton to have not even a nodding acquaintance with calculus, to have done no formal study of science after the age of 15. The library will not help such members to fill in their gaps – and from a scientific point of view it simply is the case that books are superseded as new discoveries are made.
    I started out thinking the membership would pay for itself because I would save money on all the books I would otherwise have to buy myself, but as it turned out this wasn’t entirely the case: I couldn’t go into Foyle’s, find several heartstoppingly expensive books that I would like to consult, and go off to the London Library to read or borrow them there instead. It seemed to me that the library could update its collection with at least a few current books on a range of sciences and, what shall I say, books on mathematics at the low-to-intermediate level, and make a policy of replacing these every ten years – so I made a few suggestions (there’s a suggestions book in which members can make recommendations), and the response was that they thought the books would be too technical to be of much interest to most members. When acquisitions were made in the sciences, they tended to be popular accounts that were thin on mathematics or biographies of famous scientists.
    It may, of course, be different now. And I don’t, of course, mean to dismiss the value of a library whose literary holdings are augmented by a really first-rate collection of dictionaries and other non-scientific reference works, which the average reader might well not be able to afford.

  9. Sorry to be picky, but it’s St James’s Square, not St James.
    When I worked there about a thousand years ago the pay was awful, but staff had borrowing rights like the members – had it been possible to live on the pay it would have been the perfect job.

  10. dearieme says:

    “I had never heard of the London Library”: well, ya boo; I’ve never heard of Harvard.

  11. it is entirely possible for a highly educated Briton to have not even a nodding acquaintance with calculus
    I don’t believe that. They may not fully understand it, but when I did O-level maths at the normal age of 15 (okay, it was in 1969) differential & integral calculus were part of the curriculum, and you pretty much couldn’t get into university without O-level maths.
    what shall I say, books on mathematics at the low-to-intermediate level
    When I was at architecture graduate school, at Columbia, there were plenty of Americans taking the required remedial-math class.

  12. I’m don’t think that “the library’s own site seems to take the attitude that if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” Here’s where it tells you, right at the top of the page:
    http://www.londonlibrary.co.uk/join/individualmembership.htm

  13. Woops, you’re right—how did I miss that? Thanks for the correction!

  14. marie-lucie says:

    it is entirely possible for a highly educated Briton to have not even a nodding acquaintance with calculus
    Although not a Briton, I think I am fairly well educated, but I have not even a nodding acquaintance with calculus, and have had no reason to regret not learning it.
    According to my father, a former math teacher, the math programs in schools are much too heavy and complex for the vast majority of students.
    In Mark Liberman (Mr Language Log)’s opinion, statistics would be a much more useful math subject to teach than calculus.

  15. That’s actually true, I think.

  16. Useful for linguistics, maybe, but not for everyone (and, according to someone who commented on it at Language Log, Mark Liberman just has some statistics program that anyone could use, I don’t think it requires any prior instruction).
    I’ve never had any reason to use calculus–I’d be interested to know if (and how) Helen DeWitt, or anyone else, has–but that’s true of many things I learnt at school. My daughter is at a point where she’s having to choose between pure & applied math. She’s going to take pure; she’s much better at it, but I admit I encouraged her.

  17. Useful for linguistics, maybe, but not for everyone (and, according to someone who commented on it at Language Log, Mark Liberman just has some statistics program that anyone could use, I don’t think it requires any prior instruction).
    I think you’re wrong. The average person has a lamentable lack of understanding of even the most basic facts of probability; in fact, I suspect it’s hardwired into us by evolution, which makes it even more important to counteract that wiring in class. People take far too seriously the minuscule chance of something going wrong when they get into an airplane, and far too lightly the considerably greater risk of something going wrong when they get into a car. And let’s not even get into the whole vaccine issue, which tends to froth everyone up.

  18. >>it is entirely possible for a highly educated
    >>Briton to have not even a nodding acquaintance
    >>with calculus
    >
    >I don’t believe that. They may not fully
    >understand it, but when I did O-level maths at the
    >normal age of 15 (okay, it was in 1969)
    >differential & integral calculus were part of the
    >curriculum, and you pretty much couldn’t get into
    >university without O-level maths.
    I did GCSE (which replaced O-level) Maths in 1988, and there was no calculus; I think that calculus (and logarithms, which my GCSE didn’t have either) had been slipping out of O-level Maths gradually through the 80s and finally disappeared with the introduction of GCSE. The A-level syllabuses still hadn’t quite cottoned on to this, and first-year A-level Physics still tended to assume that you were able to apply calculus to electrostatic/gravitational potentials.
    Folk a few years older than me did an O-level in Latin that was far harder than the GCSE I did—it had unseen translations, for one thing…

  19. I don’t see how a lack of understanding of probability could be hardwired into us by evolution.
    Anyone who can’t see that more people spend time in cars and die on the road than take planes and die in plane crashes, and that drivers have less training and lower standards of safety than pilots, isn’t going to get much out of a statistics class.
    Steve, GCSE must account for it. Thanks.

  20. John Emerson says:

    I agree about statistics. I’ve never had occasion to calculate how long it would take to fill a tank of a given size if it was being filled at the top by one pipe at a given pressure and simultaneously being drained by a smaller pipe at the bottom.

  21. ignoramus says:

    reckoning before stats is a must unless one likes being credit card fodder, when big business discovered getting your money before you see it or taking a scraping at a time £1 here and £1 there. ‘Tis why there be billionaires.
    £395 represents in 200 coffees a year.
    What is a pound a day, small change that when dropped you would not pick up.
    drip here or there is nothing.

  22. The car/plane example doesn’t take into account that when you have car problems you simply pull over to the side of the road, but if you have problems in an airplane the problem will be more severe–you can’t just park on a cloud. My late husband was in only one airplane with a problem, his last, whereas car problems are for me a regular occurrence, and I’m still in one piece.
    Statistics is fairly necessary for understanding social sciences. Probability is a tiny part of it. One undergraduate statistics course I took years ago also had a 20 minute intro to calculus, which was interesting, but not on the test. Mostly you need statistics to find correlations (such as whether there are more home foreclosures within a ten mile radius of a casino than within a fifty mile radius) and to see if the correlations are negative or positive or statically significant. My dad and brother took calculus as part of engineering degrees but say they have never had to use it.
    Part of the perception of the British system of education compared to the U.S. is that the British focus is on literature and “classical” education (Latin, Greek, philosophy) while neglecting the engineering and technical courses, therefore the computer and all the important scientific discoveries etc. were invented in guess which country. This perception comes from growing up in a university town with strong engineering departments.

  23. Nij is right about aeroplane crash statistics. If I’m offered a seat next to a tiger on a bus, it doesn’t help to know that practically nobody gets attacked by lions and tigers and I’d be much better off worrying about chimpanzees.

  24. When I did O-levels, which would be in, blimey, I don’t know, perhaps 1960, there was O-level Maths, which didn’t include calculus, and then there was O-level Additional Maths, which did. Can’t remember what the justification for all that was. I do remember thinking calculus was contradicted by common sense, and I don’t know that I’ve ever used the damn thing in all the eons since.

  25. I can’t even spell calculus without thinking about it. I took a GCE called “Use of English”, which was described as “not exactly an O level”. I just googled to find out what the point of it was (learning to spell calculus and logarithm, say), and there’s no reference to it whatsoever; it has vanished.

  26. Rupert Goodwins says:

    I did Use of English at school – at, I think, about a day’s notice. I was seen as a potential Cambridge candidate, and my English master explained that this would be a useful bird to bag for that explicit purpose.
    I don’t know why I wasn’t told about it beforehand, but there was no preparation to be done in any case. I can’t remember much about it; I think it was a set of essay questions, and the only one I recall was “The Importance Of Not Being Too Earnest”. I wrote my answer to that one in the style of a contestant on Just A Minute (any examination which appeared out of the blue like that was not to be taken too seriously, I guessed), and eventually learned I’d got an A.
    Ended up as one of 13 O-levels I got, which was probably just showing off.
    (I didn’t go to Cambridge. Or anywhere.)

  27. That’s exactly how the exam happened in my case too; suddenly, one day, the whole of my year just took it. Anyway, thank you for the confirmation that it wasn’t all a dream.

  28. ‘Part of the perception of the British system of education compared to the U.S. is that the British focus is on literature and “classical” education (Latin, Greek, philosophy) while neglecting the engineering and technical courses, therefore the computer and all the important scientific discoveries etc. were invented in guess which country.’

    Germany? In seriousness, the British have done excellent work in technical and scientific fields since the Second World War. My perception of why the US took such a lead in development of computers is that with a much bigger domestic market, the price point where it made economic sense to deploy them commercially was substantially higher, so there was an earlier critical mass of experience with them. But I’d be interested to see other explanations.

  29. “The computer” wasn’t invented in America,”it” consists of many inventions. Nevertheless, a well-known Norwegian mathematician called Bull “invented the computer”, according to one person I know. In Britain, Babbage, Turing and good old Tim Berners-Lee invented the computer. I’m sure there are at least as many inventors as there are countries.
    all the important scientific discoveries etc. were invented in guess which country.
    How can you fall for this bollocks, Nij? It’s so depressing to see one so gullible. Who do you think invented penicillin, discovered insulin, invented the radio, the motor car, the jet engine, the rocket that went to the moon? Who do you think Higgs is, whose bison no one can find?

  30. The telephone? The airplane? And we all know Al Gore invented Teh Internets. Cryptology is a long way from engineering.
    That’s all very fine if you’re trying to take over the world, and British spies have always been the best, maybe because they know their Shakespeare, but did you ever park an MG in your driveway? You get a grease spot every time.

  31. And engineering is a long way from scientific discovery, but there’s no reason to think the best engineers are American either. Offhand, the only notable American structural engineers I can think of are Roebling the elder and Fazlur Khan.
    I forgot DNA, movies, television, X-rays, the helicopter, the discovery & generation of electricity, atomic number, psychiatry, most of post-Newton physics (as well as pre-Newtonian and Newtonian).
    I’ll give you the atomic bomb, since it was developed in America with American money (using European science & scientists). And likewise the phone, although Bell was Scottish.
    Otherwise, that leaves you with… the Wright brothers, the record player and the light bulb (which wouldn’t even work without European electricity), but I’m not 100% certain an American didn’t invent the paperclip.
    The only car I ever got a grease spot from was a 1961 Cadillac.

  32. AJP, you seem to be counting various Europeans as Brits, which kind of sidesteps the point of the effect of the respective educational systems. Sure you can have some individuals who come up with creative ideas, but unless they are in an environment that supports technology, they will either be unable to build a model that actually works, or not have an infrastructure where they can obtain well engineered products to create with or support personnel with enough technical training to be of use. Remember the Wright brothers were skilled with bicycles before they built their airplane. And Bell Labs, where the transistor was discovered, although impossibly bureaucratic now, was once a leading edge think tank brimming with both techie talent and capital to realize creative vision.
    I see quite of few of your examples are German, and I also have to mention the perception, at least some years back, that “we” had rebuilt Europe and especially Germany through the Marshall Plan so that those countries had a relatively new infrastructure–while at the same time the American physical capability for manufacturing had aged to the point of not being able to compete. All you have to do is look at a (German)Z-gauge model railroad and know that the U.S. has small capability for the sorts of tolerances necessary for that level of precision miniaturization. Of course WWII has now receded into history, so I would imagine the European infrastructure has now aged as well.
    A Pink Cadillac?

  33. You said there’s a perception that British education focuses on Latin, Greek & philosophy and therefore all the important scientific discoveries were made in America. But, in fact, a very small proportion of recent important scientific discoveries have been made in America. I’d guess the proportion reflects the size of the US population relative to the population of the rest of the world. (That’s my main point.)
    My perception is that Americans study philosophy in greater numbers than Britons; it’s part of the liberal arts curriculum in US colleges, whereas Britain has more specialised undergraduate education. Not many study Latin or Greek in either country these days. I never did Greek at school (though I could have).
    It was a silver-blue Cadillac.

  34. Silver-blue sounds nice.
    I’m not sure I would expect a 50-year-old Cadillac not to burn a little oil, but a new one won’t do it. New MG’s are notorious.
    So the British are able to do some some things with encryption/software and medicine/biology (btw, DNA–Crick and Watson–Crick may have been British but Watson was American), but where are your British engineering projects, your Panama canals, your hydroelectric power plants.
    While your little British kids were reading Shakespeare, we were reading Tom Swift and Danny Dunn. But there is no hope for the future–now everyone reads Harry Potter.

  35. I don’t know any Americans who have ever taken a philosophy course, but I’m sure there are some. Those who don’t intend to major in philosophy can probably satisfy the humanities requirement in other ways, usually by taking some (already required) English courses, or maybe history. Once you get the requirements for your major subject out of the way, there isn’t all that much more room for taking stuff just because you’re interested. (Of course not everyone has such a straight path.)

  36. It was only fifteen years old when I was driving it. New MGs aren’t notorious, they haven’t built any MGs for some years now.
    I’m surprised that as a feminist you believe that Francis Crick & James Watson were the only ones responsible for the discovery of DNA. Anyway, if you’re getting the phone even though it was invented by a Scotsman just because he happened to be living in NJ, then I’m having DNA, which was discovered by at least three Britons and one American all working at British universities.
    Hydroelectricity is a matter of geography, not engineering expertise. As for British engineering, guess which “country” invented the steam engine? The railway? Which country had the industrial revolution and transported their goods using a nationwide canal system? Look up James Watt, the Bridgewater Canal, George Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, A Briton, Frank Whittle, invented the jet engine. Another one, Chistopher Cockerall invented the hovercraft.
    I almost forgot Charles Darwin.
    Much as I’d love to, I’m not going to have time to continue this this weekend, Nij.
    I’m sure there are lots of Americans at Language Hat who took philosophy courses at college. More than the Britons, I’ll bet.

  37. I took a philosophy course in college. Yesterday one of my freshman advisees (who will certainly specialize in one of the sciences) told me that she is registering for two (if you count logic as one) philosophy courses in the fall. Another (who will specialize in either engineering or applied mathematics) is taking courses in Latin literature. I studied ancient Greek for half a year in college and have always regretted that I did not continue. (I had some kind of attack of puritanical conscience about studying “irrelevant” subjects for my own pleasure.)

  38. AJP, how about you take biology, cryptology, and chemistry for the Brits, and I claim electrical engineering, civil engineering, and mechanical engineering for the Americans. The Brits won’t miss them, I doubt if they even know what they are. Then we can get on with our weekends. Also dentistry. I don’t mind getting sick in England, but breaking a tooth is a different matter.
    they haven’t built any MGs for some years now
    Food for thought:

    “Cadillac oil leak” 331,000 ghits
    “MG oil leak” 1,220,000 ghits

    How to fix an oil leak in an MG. (Spoiler: it was the O ring)

  39. I claim electrical engineering, civil engineering, and mechanical engineering for the Americans. The Brits won’t miss them, I doubt if they even know what they are.
    If you doubt that, then read up on the names i gave you, to which I’ll add Michael Faraday (without whom you wouldn’t have electricity) and James Clark Maxwell.
    I don’t know what makes you think Americans are so fixated on engineering. Look at any large developing country – China is a current one – and you’ll find large engineering projects.
    My orthodontic work (extensive) was done (for free) in Britain when I was a child. Heaven knows what I’d look like now if I’d grown up in the US.

  40. I think Nij is just yanking your chain, but as always I have no idea of how much of what she says she actually believes.

  41. Nij is a great patriot who believes her county is the best in every way (except in teaching Latin, Greek and philosophy, apparently), which is something I’m not and don’t. To be fair i was yanking her chain in retaliation, but she has more stamina than i do.

  42. Trond Engen says:

    For every yanker there’s a yankee.

  43. Of course she has more stamina than you. She’s an American!

  44. That’s yanker, with a Y?

  45. Oh all right, AJP, take dentistry then for England, just as long as I can keep my own dentist. You have no idea how aggravating it is to find someone who can do a proper root canal. Although I have seen too many Brits with really awful dental work.
    If AJP wants to re-fight the American Revolution, how can I resist–besides, I know how that one ends. I’m also enjoying the irony of the American branches in his family tree.
    As for what I really think, the engineering and technical people I associated with for quite a bit of my life had no worries about being displaced by British technology and no desire for British goods (including MG’s). Japan was a different story, and now I suppose Asia and India are the new emerging competitors, as well as (to some extent) countries that provide significant government subsidies to industry (France=||=Airbus). There’s always military and aerospace, although that’s feast and famine and most tech companies would rather not deal with the insecurities of the congressional appropriation process, no matter how lucrative.
    But American “is the best in every way”? Have you seen the statistics for maternal death rates? Or representation in government by women? (Saudi Arabia is ahead of us.) Or the country by country ratings from Transparency International? Don’t get me started, it’s even worse than my root canal rant.
    Other than that I would probably go along with Paul Valéry, “Everything simple is false. Everything which is complex is unusable.”

  46. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma: You have no idea how aggravating it is to find someone who can do a proper root canal.
    ?? Do you mean that looking for such a person takes a great deal of time and trouble until you find one? I would think that anyone who needs a root canal would be relieved at finding a qualified practitioner, not aggravated.

  47. My impression is that Nijma, after much searching, has found one good dentist — and that she generalizes from this to say that American dentists are the best.

  48. Sorry Nij, that’s too heavy-handed even for me to not see what you’re doing.
    What I can’t understand is how she can go on about how great US dentists are (I agree, they are) when her root canals show that she hasn’t taken care of her teeth.

  49. marie-lucie says:

    AJP, I don’t know whether the recently debated Health Care Bill covers dentistry, but one of the problems in America has been that people neglect relatively minor care for lack of money until they are faced with much bigger problems which they can no longer ignore.

  50. Yes, and if you can’t afford a check up, you’re not going to be able to pay for a root canal.
    As mab pointed out, the US news reports were only about the strategy of the combatants; there was never any description (at least, in the NY Times) of the legislation itself, but I’d be surprised if it covers dentistry.

  51. When someone goes back to the industrial revolution, before America was even a country, or starts citing Darwin to prove the superiority of the British engineering educational system, you know you’re being tweaked.
    For NYT coverage of the health care debate try here:
    http://prescriptions.blogs.nytimes.com/
    You can always look at the Thomas section of the Library of Congress for the full text and status of any legislation that has been proposed or enacted.
    Paradoxically, my Great Root Canal Adventure came when I had just started a job that had health insurance, but I had to sign up for one dentist from a list. When I went in for routine care, he said I needed a root canal, but started working on a different tooth from the one he showed me in the X-ray. A dental school evaluation said I now needed two root canals, as the first one hadn’t removed all the nerve, but left part of it where the tooth curved, and if not completely removed it would become infected. Someone at work told me a story about a foreign dentist who had done 36 root canals on one person–just one is over a thousand dollars. My mother, who had the same health care plan in a different town said, “Where did you find that dentist?” since when she asked around for recommendations, no one had heard of any of the dentists on the list for her area. She told me to pay the extra $5 a month to updgrade the plan and go to whatever dentist I wanted, but unfortunately I couldn’t change plans before the open enrollment period that comes once a year. After that, there were four more student dentists/dental surgeons, and I learned more than I wanted to know about NSAIDs. One day I was drowning my sorrows in a pizza shop while reading a book about the Vajra Jogini goddesses of Kathmandu when the pizza delivery guy, who was a Hare Krishna and separated from his wife after she filed a protection order against him, saw the book and developed a mad crush on me. He said his father built tooth crowns for all the local dentists and he knew who the best dentists were, then he divulged the name of the one who is my current dentist. By way of confirmation, one day my dentist was busy when I needed X-rays for some application thingy, so his partner did the exam–and recommended two root canals. I said thank you very much I would wait for an appointment with my regular dentist, who recommended fillings instead. The work passed muster with the application and I still have those two teeth today.

  52. Don’t bother trying to post a comment at my blog again, Nij.

  53. Well.
    It looks like the British educational system is a touchy subject in some quarters. Who knew.
    I don’t see why it should be. It seems obvious that no one could possibly study everything there is to know on every subject there is. Individuals as well as nations have to make decisions about where they will concentrate their resources. In delving into the question of how educational policy is made, I have sometimes been surprised at how much of my own education was shaped by the Cold War. And in the U.S. we recently had a lengthy national discourse over the No Child Left Behind legislation. Time and time again the field of American education has seen huge changes in direction.
    Differing national attitudes and values about technical education would go a long way towards explaining why the above (American) commenter was told that up-to-date math and science books were “too technical” to be in the London Library collection.

  54. What you & I think about British vs American education, Nij, is not current and not very interesting. I got mad because you ignored what I wrote, twisted my words, wasted my time, all for the sake of one of your loony chauvinistic rants. Are you really as ignorant as you make out? Who knows, but from now on I don’t care. I’m sure you’ll want to have the last word, then after that lets try & stay out of each other’s way.

  55. I think Nij is just yanking your chain, but as always I have no idea of how much of what she says she actually believes.
    Finally I have gotten some of my pressing obligations out of the way and have some time to concentrate on rereading the thread in closer detail. I don’t see anything there that would give anyone reason to encourage readers to be dismissive of what I wrote.
    My original statement: “Part of the perception of the British system of education compared to the U.S. is that the British focus is on literature and “classical” education (Latin, Greek, philosophy) while neglecting the engineering and technical courses, therefore the computer and all the important scientific discoveries etc. were invented in guess which country.” was clear enough to me, but maybe I should have expanded on the “etc.” part, which I meant to include all the unmeasurable stuff that leads to an atmosphere where goods can be created and manufactured, not just the theoretical like the Greeks’ drawings of mechanical devices that were never built. The “scientific discoveries” thing is a typical funding argument, whether for educational institutions or the space program. Remember the teflon argument? NASA didn’t actually invent teflon, but they do still have a webpage–and a journal–devoted to spinoffs. Unfortunately it’s a harder argument for the liberal arts to make, as the benefits are more nuanced and not easily reduced to a sound bite.
    My reasons given for the conjecture were also stated up front: “This perception comes from growing up in a university town with strong engineering departments.” YMMV, but for those who get a different answer, the source of my speculation is out there in the open. I had hoped that this would be a unique and intriguing perspective, as I suspect most of this blog’s readers come from more of a liberal arts background. I might add that the people in the engineering and technical programs I associated with were both from top-fifty-engineering-universities-in-the-U.S. and from not-top-fifty. When I was growing up there were always a lot of foreign students in our home. Of course you could argue selection bias, that the students I met were those who had already chosen to go to school in the U.S.; the ones who preferred British programs I would have been unlikely to meet. Or like Aidan Kehoe’s comment above, you could argue economies of scale and market forces. Or that British goods go to different markets and Americans are unlikely to see them unless they travel. Or you could just argue I came from a place that is very insular, which is true enough. Or the original conjecture could also be true, you know.
    Do you mean that looking for such a person takes a great deal of time and trouble until you find one?
    Something like that. I noticed it on preview and thought that would probably be the first interpretation, then mentally tried to rewrite it and couldn’t in a succinct enough way that expressed the urgency of the aggravation. Then I noticed I was quickly losing daylight, thought the way it was stated could also be interpreted as process, and the real problem was finding someone who would refrain from doing a root canal when none was needed. So I hit “post”. I should probably spend more time rewriting when there are so many linguists about.
    My impression is that Nijma, after much searching, has found one good dentist — and that she generalizes from this to say that American dentists are the best.
    No, this actually came from an American dentist who also studied in England, the story of it being told to me in the dentist’s chair as I was getting ready to spend an extended time in England. I have to depend on dentists to tell me what good dentistry is–a process that has not gone well for me in the past, considering that root canal business.
    How can you fall for this bollocks, Nij? It’s so depressing to see one so gullible.
    Why shouldn’t the people who are specialists in a field know something about that field? I’m not saying you have to accept everything a dentist says about dentistry just because they’re a dentist, or for that matter everything an architect says about architecture, just because they’re an architect, but it does add some credibility when people are talking about their own fields of study. If there’s something wrong with what they’re saying, instead of calling the messenger a fool, figure out what’s wrong with it.
    Who do you think Higgs is, whose bison no one can find?
    There is no such thing as a “Higg’s Bison”. This is some sort of in-joke between mathematicians.
    And likewise the phone, although Bell was Scottish.
    Out of the hundred bazillion examples of individuals and industries AJP cited, this was actually the only one I had time to google, and I found out Bell dropped out of school in Scotland and was privately educated by a relative. Edison, born in the U.S., was also home schooled. The examples I gave were meant to be representative of outputs from a system, assuming if you put money, or the right curriculum into a particular educational system, you get inventions/technology out the other end. Neither Bell nor Edison illustrate that.
    Nij is a great patriot who believes her county is the best in every way (except in teaching Latin, Greek and philosophy, apparently), which is something I’m not and don’t.
    No, I’m genuinely interested in education, how the British system might be different, especially the “classic education” that we don’t seem to get here, and what the end result of that might be.
    I’m surprised that as a feminist you believe that…
    Ignoring for the moment the mansplaining–I suspect I’m being teased again–I don’t refer to myself as a feminist mostly because there is too much confusion over the word. If you mean I work, yes I do work. I’m not ashamed of working and I’m not ashamed of what I do. I don’t know anyone our age who doesn’t work. Just as our mothers’ generation had no choice but to stay at home, our generation has no choice but to work. The reason is not any -ists or -isms or -ologies; it’s the economy. But I have to say that it’s a shame when any human being who wants to have an intellectual life and develop their innate talents is considered to belong to such an exotic and rare tribe as to require a special word to describe them.
    What you & I think about British vs American education, Nij, is not current and not very interesting.
    Don’t underestimate yourself. Most Americans don’t know O-levels from Tawjihi and you’re one of the few people with the experience to translate between the two sides of the pond. I can’t name even one British engineering school.
    I got mad because you ignored what I wrote, twisted my words,
    I can’t just cut work and do hours of research and writing for free on demand. It doesn’t work like that. If I misinterpreted something you said, do set it straight. But going beyond that, how do you measure of quality in engineering education? Lists of inventions? Numbers of faculty with doctorates? Student-faculty ratio? Probably it’s a lot more complicated than any of that. I would prefer to have any further discussions offline (if my emails aren’t rejected), since as you point out, this is becoming of decreasing interest to linguists.

  56. Of course she has more stamina than you. She’s an American
    Any stamina I might have comes from the Norwegian side of my family, which is unfortunately given to feuds. Fortunately, there are no longer blood feuds. To their credit, they always know the reason they are feuding, even though it is invariably a stupid one.

  57. I can’t just cut work and do hours of research and writing for free on demand.
    You could, on the other hand, simply refrain from posting irrelevant and inflammatory opinions.

  58. Nijma,
    It seems that your main point was something about educational systems (based largely on a “perception” that “exists” — that is, what you personally have observed), but in the heat of battle it really did come across as broad statements along the lines of “America invented practically everything worth inventing”. I mean, that’s how it came across to me.
    I should probably spend more time rewriting when there are so many linguists about.
    The linguists here do not strike me as people who are going to willfully misconstrue what you write because of some professional urge to nitpick. On the contrary, they strike me as people who are going to make a good faith effort to discern your intended meaning even if you write something ambiguous — probably more so than the average reader. Marie-lucie was not the only one who was puzzled by your first root-canal comment, and I see her query as an honest effort to find out what you meant.
    How can you fall for this bollocks, Nij? It’s so depressing to see one so gullible.
    I don’t think he meant that you were gulled by your dentist, but rather that you fell for a lot of America-first hooey.
    I’m surprised that as a feminist
    Watson and Crick had a collaborator who has received very little credit for her contributions, in part no doubt because she was a woman. Like AJP, I take it for granted that you would prefer not to go along with the world in general in failing to give her her share of the credit. I do not base this conclusion about you on the fact that you evidently don’t live a traditional 1950s Leave-it-to-Beaver lifestyle. Yes, “feminist” is a word that can get tricky, and I can see why you might prefer to avoid it because it means different things to different people, but how could you think AJP was using it to refer to “an exotic and rare tribe”?
    no such thing as a “Higg’s Bison”. This is some sort of in-joke
    Yes. “Higgs boson” is the real thing. AJP is just picking Higgs as a more or less random example (who has recently been mentioned in a pun at his blog) of a leading scientist who happens to be British. There are a lot of them.

  59. Oh for Pete’s sake. Of course I’m not trying to be inflammatory. Saying engineering students come to America is no more inflammatory than saying art students go to Florence.
    It seems that your main point was something about educational systems
    That’s why I used the phrase “British system of education” and was careful to use the word “perception”. I’m certainly not British and my information is second-hand, but if the liberal arts vs. engineering/industrial arts dichotomy that we see so often here in U.S. academia (and yes they’re literally competing for resources) also exists in the U.K., it would certainly explain the uneven choice of book acquisitions in the library under discussion.
    I finally had time to look at several of the British scientists other people posted about, and yes it does seem like I’m being completely misunderstood. Out of the four I looked at, one was educated in Russia, two in England but in math, not engineering, and the fourth was home schooled. The only thing they have in common is British genes. My question was about educational systems (and libraries), and the underlying values that generate them, not genetics. I’m not sure why anyone would out of the blue start talking about German and French-born scientists who lived way before the library was founded. The idea that country of birth has anything to do with innate ability strikes me as being absurd. I suppose I am just being teased again. “Higg’s Bison”, indeed.
    My suggestion to divide up the fields between our respective countries was in response to AJP’s statement that he had to bow out, as an arbitrary but quick way to end the conversation amicably and let him know I wouldn’t be offended by his departure; as I indicated, my schedule was also pressing.
    Watson and Crick had a collaborator who has received very little credit for her contributions
    Sorry, but when it comes to biographies, I have a very short attention span. I vaguely remembered Crick’s name from a 1972 biology class. His wiki entry has Watson’s name but not the others. Maybe someone should edit it to look more like the entry for Watson….?
    I mean, that’s how it came across to me.
    If someone posted the information that you were “gullible”, “falling for bollocks”, a “patriot” who believes x, y, and z, “heavy-handed”, “loony”, “chauvinistic”, and “ignorant”, maybe people would start to believe that about you too. But I suspect that saying those things here is just considered to be part of an acceptable friendly-but-acerbic give and take that goes on. I just hope anyone who is still following this thread will bother to parse what I actually wrote and the subsequent clarifications. In the meantime, it’s shame that a level-headed discussion of the library’s acquisition choices has now become impossible.

  60. Nijma,
    I’m a little sorry that I stirred this one up again, but let me say a few more words.
    It seems to me that where things took an unfortunate turn was where you started in about how many things were invented in the US and AJP took issue with that. You object to his bringing in lots of non-British examples to support his side of the argument. The thing is, he wasn’t arguing about educational systems at that point: he was arguing against some other assertions you made. That’s allowed. A thread drifts along and doesn’t always stick to the original point, or to a later point. That’s how it goes. You can’t expect people to stick strictly to a discussion of the relative merits of US and British education, or to stick to the subject of engineering as opposed to science, when you are writing “the computer and all the important scientific discoveries etc. were invented in guess which country”.
    Frankly, I didn’t see exactly what it was in your comments that offended AJP so much. But once again you have managed to offend and be offended without seeming to have a clue about your role in what happened.

  61. And while we are asking each other to actually read what we have written, may I point out that when I wrote “I mean, that’s how it came across to me” I was only saying it looked to me like you were making some broader statements than your original ones about two educational systems.
    I was not saying that you came across to me as “gullible”, “falling for bollocks”, a “patriot” who believes x, y, and z, “heavy-handed”, “loony”, “chauvinistic”, and “ignorant”

  62. Empty: Frankly, I didn’t see exactly what it was in your comments that offended AJP so much
    It was this:
    When someone … starts citing Darwin to prove the superiority of the British engineering educational system, you know you’re being tweaked.
    Nij originally said all the important scientific discoveries etc. were invented in guess which country. without making it clear that she was really only talking about the “etc.”, by which she meant technology. And not all technology, only engineering. Not structural, but mechanical engineering. By which she meant (I think) the services required for the production of various unspecified metal objects. At any rate, she was not talking about “science”. If she’d only said in the first place various metal objects were invented in guess which country I doubt anyone would have taken issue with her statement, but clearly all the important scientific discoveries sounds a lot more… well, important.
    So that’s okay, but then Nij tried to make it look like I was the one who was making ridiculous statements (citing Darwin to prove the superiority of the British engineering educational system) and I figured, I just don’t want anything more to do with this.
    For clarity’s sake, I didn’t say Nij is ignorant. I did say Are you really as ignorant as you make out? More important, from my point of view, I said you twisted my words & wasted my time.

  63. Bathrobe says:

    Part of the perception of the British system of education compared to the U.S. is that the British focus is on literature and “classical” education (Latin, Greek, philosophy) while neglecting the engineering and technical courses…
    Actually, part of the perception of the British system is that it is, like the German system, highly streamed. (Let me clarify: My own impression is that the British system is highly streamed). There may be people who study Latin and Greek, but it seems to me (just a perception, mind you) that there are also plenty of people who go into science and engineering.

  64. Bathrobe says:

    did you ever park an MG in your driveway? You get a grease spot every time.
    This reminds me of a great put-down of Italian cars that I once heard from a Japanese: “They’re no good. The engine just cuts out if you go through water.”
    I don’t know much about Italian cars, but if they were that bad I think the Italian car industry would have collapsed years ago.

  65. Bathrobe says:

    Actually, I think he said they just cut out in the rain. Nothing compared to Japanese cars, of course!

  66. I don’t know much about Italian cars, but if they were that bad I think the Italian car industry would have collapsed years ago.
    It’s called protectionism. In a free market the Italian car industry would have collapsed years ago. Just as Chrysler would no longer exist in the US. Although, to be fair, Fiat has apparently improved over the past decade.

  67. Off off topic: Many years ago I gave a lift to a young Italian. It was a winter day in Cambridge, Mass. Before I could drive, I had to scrape some ice and snow off the windshield of my car. The fellow was terribly alarmed when he saw the tool that I was using. He tried to stop me. I got the impression from what he said that in Italy in those days the careful motorist had to watch out for some metallic blades sold for this purpose that did in fact scratch glass.

  68. Bathrobe: My own impression is that the British system is highly streamed
    Is that like “tracking” where some students are in advanced classes? Or more like the Jordanian system where they are assigned university career paths based on secondary school testing. (I don’t think we have tracking anymore, at least that is my impression, unless you count special schools.)

  69. Look, I don’t have any great knowledge of the British education system. A look at Wikipedia articles (try Education in England) should, however, give an idea. I certainly never got the impression that in British universities the “focus is on literature and “classical” education (Latin, Greek, philosophy) while neglecting the engineering and technical courses”. I did notice at this article, however, that after the Second World War … “the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge ceased to require proficiency in Latin as a qualification for entry. This meant a sharp reduction in the numbers of school pupils learning Latin.” This seems so starkly at odds with the “perception” that you threw into the discussion that I really wonder where it came from. Is this what comes of “growing up in a university town with strong engineering departments”? It seems to me a rather unhelpful stereotype, and the throwaway line about MG grease spots didn’t help a lot, either.

  70. Bathrobe, I do believe you’ve hit on it with that Association for the Reform of Latin Teaching link, especially if you interpret “classical education” as requiring or including Latin. Following the chain of links further, eventually you find the information that the classics “is the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterranean world; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity (Bronze Age ca. BC 3000 – Late Antiquity ca. AD 300–600). Initially, study of the Classics (the period’s literature) was the principal study in the humanities.” I also saw in the wikipedia that Francis Crick, of double helix fame, “failed to gain his intended place at a Cambridge college, probably through failing their requirement for Latin; his contemporaries in British DNA research Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins both went up to Cambridge colleges”…; this would have been around 1908. Our high school offered Latin, there were about 16 students in it out of a student body of around 800, but although there were noises about med school requirements, I don’t know of any U.S. schools that required it. Our local Wobegon U engineering school never had any language requirement. Some liberal arts schools still had a foreign language requirement into the 60s and 70s; the one I went to did, but eliminated it the year I started. A British Latin requirement could well explain a preference for U.S. engineering programs, depending on how you interpret the “after WWII” timeframe. Our local foreign students’ association used to throw an annual potluck for the host families–it was huge, so believe me, no stereotype, foreign students (and a LOT of Chinese students) did seek out American programs.
    throwaway line about MG grease spots
    I suppose I should have explained it more but I was on my way out the door. I remember my undergraduate mentor telling a story about a group of PhD’s standing around the campus parking lot with someone’s car that wouldn’t start and not one of them knowing how to hook up the jumper cables, but sometimes I forget not everyone knows what’s under the hood.
    If there is a grease spot on pavement where a car usually parks, the grease probably came from inside the car. Maybe the head gasket seal isn’t tight, maybe the brake lines, I remember one car with oil that had to be added to the differential. If it is a slow leak, you can drive the car indefinitely as long as you keep topping off the fluids–the oil or the master cylinder or whatever occasionally. An older car might leak because of wear, but you don’t expect a new car to leave any spots, likewise with a car that’s been rebuilt. And that’s the reputation of the MG, if you will, a stand-in for a generic British car. Not in our corner of Wobegon, because no one there would have bought a foreign car, at least nearly no one, as there would have been no shop that knew how to fix it, and if you wanted to fix it yourself, as many did who could not afford a mechanic, the parts would be unobtainable, as would the metric tools. But in the city, where you could find mechanics (for twice the price), among the technically minded people I knew, the British car was not in big favor. People who had rebuilt them told me so. But trying to characterize this as an attitude of “American is the best in every way” would be totally inaccurate. The styling of the MG was admired, if not the engineering, also the Beatles, Twiggy, and Monty Python. Japanese cars were admired, especially the QC aspect. I don’t see how that could possibly offend anyone, unless they wanted to believe that British was the best in every way. Contrast this to the Palestinian love affair with the Mercedes–they buy Mercedes because they intend to keep them forever and rebuild them when necessary, and believe the car is well-engineered enough to make this cost effective.
    I got mad because you ignored what I wrote, twisted my words, wasted my time
    It seems I have been the one misunderstood, but in spite of that I have spent a great deal of energy making a good faith effort to clarify, even though AJPs said “To be fair i was yanking her chain in retaliation”…apparently for some assumed stereotype of Americans which turned out to be incorrect.
    Actually, I think he said they just cut out in the rain. Nothing compared to Japanese cars, of course!
    I once had a Japanese car that cut out in the rain. The mechanic said you could see the arcing from the spark plug wires to the chassis through the insulation. After the spark plug and distributor wires were replaced, I put 120,000 miles on it with no further electrical problems. But the only reason I knew it was a Japanese car was because I saw the invoice and knew which port it came in through. It could just as easily have been manufactured in the U.S. It had a Ford steering wheel and Ford headlights. My connections at Ford tell me the nationality of a car is meaningless any more–there is so much that is interchangeable and companies share parts suppliers.

  71. bruessel says:

    ” I also saw in the wikipedia that Francis Crick, of double helix fame, “failed to gain his intended place at a Cambridge college, probably through failing their requirement for Latin; his contemporaries in British DNA research Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins both went up to Cambridge colleges”…; this would have been around 1908. ”
    Francis Crick was born in 1916, so this date can’t be right.

  72. Francis Crick was born in 1916, so this date can’t be right
    Oh, sorry, yes that would have been his father, Harry Crick, who was born 1887. “At the age of 21, Crick earned a B.Sc. degree in physics from University College of London (UCL)after he had failed to gain his intended place at a Cambridge college, probably through failing their requirement for Latin;”…so sometime before 1937, but still before “the end of the second world war”.
    While the wiki is silent on the subject of Latin requirements at Cambridge, for the University of Oxford it reveals:

    From the inception of the Church of England until 1866 membership of the church was a requirement to receive the BA degree from Oxford, and “dissenters” were only permitted to receive the MA in 1871. Knowledge of Ancient Greek was required until 1920, and Latin until 1960. Women were admitted to degrees in 1920.

  73. AJP, I guess I just don’t understand your point.

    How can you fall for this bollocks, Nij? It’s so depressing to see one so gullible. Who do you think invented penicillin, discovered insulin, invented the radio, the motor car, the jet engine, the rocket that went to the moon? Who do you think Higgs is, whose bison no one can find?

    The whole idea of telling someone to “read up on” various fields without providing any links or names or specific details is unrealistic and seems more like a shotgun approach than any serious comment about either education or technology or libraries. It’s like saying “etc.” Prefacing the remark with insults and name-calling makes it seem even less serious, and makes it sound like I am being teased again. It also sounds like the NASA program is being credited to the British, and unless you don’t believe those things have a military payload or that their R&D departments don’t need armies of technically educated people with security clearances, the comment just sounds like a non sequitur.
    Add to that the remark about “Higg’s bison”, which, in case anybody missed it, is described on AJP’s blog as the stated goal of the Large Haedine Collider:

    Q:For those who’s been wondering: The relevance of the image to the text is the Large Haedine Collider. We all know how AJP has been raising a herd of goats but we’ve not known why. I can reveal that he’s made two large circular paths in his garden, one inside the other and tangentially connected in one point. His daughter and her horse are trained to drive the goats around the circles at higher and higher speed, and when finally two goats running in opposite directions collide at the tangent point he’ll photograph the impact, hopefully catching a glimpse of the mythical Higg’s bison that’s supposed to come out of the collision. But this is an uncertain project. For a single picture of the bison he’ll need hundreds or thousands of goats – depending on the operating speed of the collider.

    A:“Thousands of goats” is being pessimistic. We’re predicting results using somewhere between two and four goats. At times they will be moving – literally – at speeds close to ten miles-an-hour. Very, very fast, but only a fraction of the speed of light, in other words.

    I don’t see any point at all to this. In fact, I interpreted it as meant to be entertaining. It certainly sounds like the sort of meaningless harassing banter of Cubs vs. Sox or Arsenal vs. Manchester or whatever the current cross-town team rivalries are. I don’t see that any serious response is asked for or needed.
    FWIW, AJP is welcome on my blog any time. I’m not going to have a cat if someone doesn’t agree with me or if they don’t drive what I drive.

  74. Why did you bother coming back a week later to post yet another long self-justification? Just let it go.

  75. Why? Because I was unavoidably out of town and have just come back. I guess I’m still stunned by AJP’s comments and am looking for a way not to interpret them as a personal attack, or maybe find a civil resolution (which has to be done publicly when someone chooses to block your email). But of course that’s not always possible. Drop it I shall.

  76. Bathrobe says:

    Nij, the problem is that you made a huge, unsourced blanket statement implying that the British were too busy studying Latin and Greek to worry about engineering, topped off with a potshot at the MG’s grease spot (which could as easily be a result of poor workmanship as poor engineering). AJP was pointing out, with examples, why your blanket statement was wrong. I can understand why he was annoyed because your original posting seemed to be marked by stereotyping, prejudice, and not a little parochial crowing. There are blogs where you can crow to your heart’s content about the superiority of your own culture / nation / race, but this isn’t one of them.
    To be honest, I am truly puzzled by the way that someone who is so obviously an intelligent person of the world, who can make interesting and penetrating observations about very different cultures, can suddenly come out with comments that sound so uninformed and parochial.
    I don’t really know about British education. But I do have a second cousin who is a British engineer and has worked on major civil engineering projects all over the world. His son (20s) has followed him into the field. This admittedly small example from my direct experience is so at odds with your “perception” that I really have to wonder where you are coming from. And I suspect AJP is having trouble figuring it out, too.
    There is one civil way out of this: “Yeah, you’re right. I guess the perceptions of American engineering colleges might be a bit parochial, and I admit that the British have a tradition of science and engineering that I overlooked when I made that statement”. End of story.

  77. Bathrobe says:

    And I think “Higg’s bison” is a joking reference to the “Higg’s boson”.

  78. To be honest, I am truly puzzled by the way that someone who is so obviously an intelligent person of the world, who can make interesting and penetrating observations about very different cultures, can suddenly come out with comments that sound so uninformed and parochial.
    This is why I used to think she was a troll.

  79. Bathrobe, thank you at least for not judging me by an inaccurate and unfair portrayal of what I said. Also for actually addressing the question of British education instead of making my gender and nationality the issue.
    Of course I didn’t say England didn’t have any engineers. Of course I never said my own culture / nation / race was superior. And the original statement was not mine; I thought I had made that clear. That’s why I used the word “perception”–twice. I deliberately avoided stating it as a fact. The use of the passive voice was also intentional, because whose idea it was was not important. The statement might be “unsourced” in the sense that it doesn’t have a name and phone number attached to it–in a sense I’m sharing part of my grapevine–and as such has not been tested (and if you can’t test it at LH, where can you test it?), and it has to remain anonymous–but it would have come from faculty and/or grad students, people who both had first-hand knowledge ( a plus for credibility) and had a dog in that particular race (a minus).
    You have to understand that when we were eleven years old, we were studying number sets, trig, and logarithms, and learning how to add and subtract in Base Two. We understood it was because of NATO, the Cold War, the space race, and the arms race. We tried (unsuccessfully) to get subjects like philosophy, European history, and world history added to our curriculum in part because we were convinced there were kids in other countries (like England) who studied those things. To find out after all this time that it wasn’t true (if it really wasn’t) kind of makes me sad.
    In an environment like that, an English department becomes useful for learning to write technical reports and a sociology department can get renamed Department of Rural Sociology (no, I didn’t go there, and yes that statement reflects my own liberal arts bias). With those kinds of observations as experience, it’s only intuitive to look for a link between a national agenda and what ends up in a library, or to work backwards from the contents of a library to postulating causality from intentional policy decisions. Nationality as such doesn’t really have anything to do with it, since everyone will try to copy anything they think has a desirable outcome.
    If “Higg’s bison” is a joke, so is the thing about the moon rocket. I googled it just in case one of the sub-contractors was British, but they were all American. I’m not sure it matters. Sometimes people joke about serious things, just to test the water, and if it doesn’t fly, they can just pass it off as a joke. I can’t say what AJP’s intentions were–I don’t know whether or not he’s an intentionally mean person–but his comment has the same pattern as the everything-American-is-no-good street buzz I heard in the Middle East just before 9/11 and that has shown up in his blog too. I usually just ignore it when I see it, but I’m not going to join in that–I don’t know who writes those talking points and what their political agenda is. I prefer to find things in common with people and I would prefer to treat AJP’s statements as either a joke or as friendly cross-town rivalry and not robotic anti-Americanism.

  80. I used to think she was a troll.
    Heh. Before I started reading languagehat, I had never heard of Strunk and White. Now I have two copies.
    If a troll is someone who comes to the thread only to make jokes with their e-friends instead of talking about the thread topic, is eager to insult without trying to understand the words they’re responding to, makes comments about female underwear every time a female reader makes a comment, and intentionally misspells other readers’ names, then no, I’m not a troll.
    If a troll is more like a conservative commenting on a liberal blog or a liberal commenting on a conservative blog, then I am neither fish nor fowl. The advantage of not having traditional linguistics or literature credentials is that I don’t have preconceived notions and can approach everything tabula rasa, with delight; the disadvantage is not knowing where the landmines are buried. At times I have found it rather rough and intolerant here, at other times whole new worlds have opened up that I didn’t know existed before. I guess I just accept it now that if I want to engage, I may have to make a greater effort and explain myself more at length in order not to be misunderstood.

  81. Bathrobe says:

    Nij, your original comment about “perceptions” just didn’t sound like it was about perceptions, especially after the MG comment. You just didn’t distance yourself enough from your content. But if it was about their perceptions and not yours, then it’s all been a case of misunderstanding.
    When I was at university, engineering students were generally dismissed for their total lack of “culture”. They returned this in open disdain for lazy arts students who had too much time on their hands and didn’t do anything useful. Looking back much later in life, it’s clear that such stereotypes were stupid and unproductive. So I wouldn’t put too much store by class, national etc. sentiments circulating amongst either the engineering faculty or arts students. They merely express the rivalries, often hardening into petty prejudices, that arise when people form into large identifiable groups.

  82. marie-lucie says:

    As a young man my father spent a couple of years in a kind of teachers’ college, where the students (all male) lived in the school. There was a sharp contrast, constantly emphasized, between the Arts and the Science students, each side despising the other. The Arts students looked fussy, dressed meticulously and ate daintily. The Science students (my father among them) cultivated their image as slobs: they wore baggy clothes or even pajamas under dirty lab coats and went out of their way to eat as sloppily as possible.

  83. Nij, 1 May: Of course I didn’t say England didn’t have any engineers.
    Nij, 9 April: So the British are able to do some some things with encryption [...] but where are your British engineering projects, your Panama canals, your hydroelectric power plants.
    Nij, 10 April: I claim electrical engineering, civil engineering, and mechanical engineering for the Americans. The Brits won’t miss them, I doubt if they even know what they are. Then we can get on with our weekends. Also dentistry. I don’t mind getting sick in England, but breaking a tooth is a different matter.
    Nij, 1 May: Of course I never said my own culture / nation / race was superior.
    Nij, 31 March: the computer and all the important scientific discoveries etc. were invented in guess which country.
    Nij, 15 April: Oh for Pete’s sake. Of course I’m not trying to be inflammatory.
    Nij, 11 April: Although I have seen too many Brits with really awful dental work.

  84. Bathrobe says:

    Nij, looks like you’ve been nailed.

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