An Important Lesson for Joseph Epstein.

Epstein’s famous for a WSJ column pouring contempt on Jill Biden, a Ph.D. holder, for using the title “Dr.” He directly entreated her, an Ed degree grad from a state school, to cut out the pathetic vainglory. He directly entreated his readers also to drop her doodoo, stupo, pseudo, honorific, and admit her degree’s embarrassing worthlessness.

The column went over like a lead balloon. A really big, international, lead balloon. The WSJ was forced to issue – not a retraction, no sir. An editor there felt compelled, given all the hoohah, to double defensively down, endorsing Epstein’s titular rigor. (Here are all my Epstein/Biden posts.)

But Joe. Have you watched any of the January 6 hearings? Have you noticed how scrupulous the committee is in referring to John Eastman as Dr. Eastman? He is, like Jill, a Ph.D. holder. He is, unlike Jill, a traitor. But in this generous country, we not only refer to graduates of the University of Delaware grad school, like Jill Biden, as Dr. We even extend the courtesy to traitors. Here in the US, if you have a doctorate, even if you have conspired to destroy the country, we will respect your title. Think about that, Joe.

Will be working with Joseph Epstein and Paul Gigot to Set Up a Writers’ Collective.

There’s got to be a morning after
If we can hold on through the night
We have a chance to find the sunshine
Let’s keep on looking for the light

(Sing it.)

Joseph Epstein and Palinolatory

I can’t believe Doctorate Discourse has lasted a week. Here’s the deal: WSJ op ed & subsequent attacks are motivated by hatred of Joe Biden, with Jill Biden being used as a surrogate target. They should be dismissed as nasty & sexist, without arguments dignified as serious.

Jeet Heer’s tweet goes to why my Joseph Epstein commentary began with his unabashed praise of Sarah Palin [scroll down] during that election cycle. A hyper-scrupulous aesthete/critic who above all admires the writing of Henry James, Epstein claimed to find Sarah Palin more than intellectually and morally astute enough to assume the presidency.

Heet is correct that Epstein is best seen as a political hack, doing what hacks do — in his praise of Palin, a woman who embodies everything for which he actually has contempt, and in his attack on Jill Biden.

“[N]ote how the [Northwestern University English] department’s statement doesn’t even include [Joseph] Epstein’s name. Is he such a non-person now that even mentioning his name would be offensive?”

No. That’s not the reason NU’s English department (where UD was a student, and where she knew Epstein) quite consciously deleted Epstein’s name.

Turnabout is fair play. If Epstein is going to erase Jill Biden (not just her Dr. title, but anything other than the humiliating “First Lady,” for which he counsels her to settle), NU can do the same thing to Epstein. It’s all about (to use Jill Biden’s term for what Epstein tried to do) “diminishing.” You flatten another human being to nothingness; we’ll do the same to you. How does it feel to be diminished to some temporary nameless long-forgotten adjunct?

Epstein was strategic in his non-personing of Jill Biden; Northwestern will be equally strategic. Bruce Bawer unsurprisingly takes note of the diminishment. But he misreads its motive. Mentioning Epstein’s name would not be offensive; it would be unjust.

Sensible, Thoughtful Take on the Joseph Epstein Shitstorm from…

Graeme Wood. Excerpts:

‘Do people with doctoral degrees have the right to call themselves “Dr.”? If they have the right, does exercising that right make sense, in all situations? If Epstein had wanted to investigate these questions, he could have done so without sprouting new feet like a centipede, finding ways to step in rhetorical dog turds in every paragraph…

What mystifies me is Epstein’s desire to police the use of the title, when he could instead just use it as requested, like a normal person, and contain his disrespect…

In a university environment, insisting on it might be pompous; in an environment where such titles are rare—such as before the name of the soon-to-be first lady of the United States—they make more sense…

If Jill Biden wants to flaunt her Ed.D., who is Joseph Epstein to object? Those letters mean only what they mean. They certainly aren’t more embarrassing than other titles that people use in perpetuity. Ambassadors, I find, tend to call themselves “Ambassador” forever, even if they bought their sole ambassadorship by bundling political donations in Long Island…’

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Wood actually tries to go there, to the arcane competitive arena of title-tossing… I’ve covered the European mania for dottore on this blog…

I’ve never thought much about – or blogged about – my own titlephobia, but for what’s it’s worth:

Les UDs share a refusal to call themselves anything other than first name last name. On our syllabi we are first name last name. On academic correspondence the same. On everything the same. We have available to us, and have certainly seen lots of other people use, Dr. and PhD. For ourselves the idea of using these is embarrassing. We wouldn’t think of doing it. Except in one context.

When we are sending each other, or sending friends, particularly immature and hilarious emails, we sign ourselves with … I don’t know – MA, PhD (Mr UD has two MAs), Doctor Margaret Soltan, MA, PhD, and maybe I’ll add something extra like OBE…

But see we can afford to joke and, as Wood notes, find these things pompous, because we move in an environment where such things are common and we’re a little cynical about them because as with all titles (see Graeme on “ambassador”) some are powerfully earned and meaningful and some are not and the better part of valor is just to avoid them. Plus we were both raised in families full of advanced degrees so we fail to see the shimmer and the glimmer of them. Is this reverse snobbery? I dunno. As I say, this is pretty much the first time I’ve thought about this.

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Actually, to be really really unwisely disclosing, I think for me it’s about as far from reverse or any other kind of snobbery as one can imagine. Like you, I live in my head, and in my head I’m a jerk. In my head I barely made it out of high school and am, au fond, an absurdity. When I read Humbert Humbert’s description of his first wife – “that figure of fun, Mme Humbert” – I pause at figure of fun and feel powerful identification. I just never made it into the adult world, where you take yourself seriously and where there’s a correspondence between the interior of your head and things like titles designating mature accomplishments. My problem, not yours, Dr Biden.

Joseph Epstein’s Three Minutes of Fame…

… are ticking away as we speak, so UD will be quick about this: She knew him rather well at Northwestern University in the ‘seventies. He thought highly of wee UD‘s writing, and indeed was so insistent that she launch a career just like his — freelance person of letters – that he became quite annoyed when UD decided to go to graduate school in English. He seems to have felt betrayed.

I mean, it was all a kind of compliment, and I remember genially taking it as such, even though Epstein was ungenial in his interactions with my twentyish self.

He condescended. I didn’t take it personally, since he (along with his buddy Erich Heller) was, with virtually everyone, snippy and snobby.

Huge numbers of years on, Epstein has gone and been snobby with Jill Biden — though, curiously, back in 2016, he attacked other snobs for being snobby in regard to Sarah Palin, whose cultural superiority he indignantly defended. Same unfortunate background as Biden – public universities, degrees in girl fields – but as the running mate of Epstein’s presidential choice, Palin would somehow have to be pedigreed; whereas, given Biden’s political connections, she’d need to be a mutt. Sarah Palin abundantly deserved the title Vice President, but Jill Biden doesn’t even deserve “Dr.,” and would do better to content herself with There There Little First Lady.

Not much to see here, in other words. By the time they’re in their eighties, most people – especially if they’re cranks – have long been ignored by the world. Joseph Epstein is to be commended for having kept his name on the page, even unto the final petulance. Good boy.

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UPDATE: OOCH. OUCH. EECH.

The [NU] Department [of English] is aware that a former adjunct lecturer who has not taught here in nearly 20 years has published an opinion piece

They don’t even name him. (For good measure, his faculty page has been removed from the university’s website.) For a person who cares about status as much as Epstein does, and for a person who believes that he’s famous, this brief no-name dismissal must hurt as much as Trump’s brief no-name Supreme Court dismissal.

Knowing Epstein (having known him long ago), UD anticipates that is he working already on a vindictive short story featuring easily identifiable actors in this Biden episode. After Saul Bellow ended their friendship, Epstein wrote one such story about Bellow; he wrote several vindictive stories about lesser-known people.

Which is fine – one of the venerable motives for writing is the destruction of people who have hurt you and/or people you have come to hate. Nothing wrong with it. Give it your best shot, kiddo.

The Unkindest Cut of All

UD‘s old acquaintance, (see this post) Joseph Epstein, Man of the Hour, has endured insults from all over the world in the aftermath of his … ill-considered column about Jill Biden. But knowing Epstein (whose real name is Myron, as I recall), UD figures this well-meaning piece by a couple of Northwestern University law professors has got to be the worst of the worst. The authors argue that while Epstein’s column stank six ways from Sunday, NU acted badly in response by scrubbing him from its website. It’s a free speech issue, after all.

They’re probably right. But in characterizing Epstein’s status at NU, they (inadvertently?) say things guaranteed to wound him.

Epstein, in UD‘s day as an NU undergrad, taught writing and literature at the university (I never took any of his courses) even though his highest degree was only a BA. I guess the idea was that Epstein was a well-known, well-connected author (books of popular interest, essays, fiction) who lived in Chicago (grew up there), had things to say about art, wanted to teach, and could benefit NU students both intellectually and practically. He was, if you like, our Saul Bellow (U Chicago got the real Bellow) – both men were writers and intellectuals who only had BAs (Bellow did a little grad work at the U of Wisconsin), but both were worth having on your faculty (Ravelstein describes classes Allan Bloom and Bellow taught together at the U of C) because they were noted figures. Somewhat noted, and mainly in conservative circles, in the case of Epstein. (FWIW: A mutual friend of Bellow and Epstein, Edward Shills, also had only a BA. By the time Bellow wrote Ravelstein, he and Shills were enemies, and Shills got one of Bellow’s patented fatal character sketches in that novel.)

Although in strict hierarchical terms Epstein was rather a nobody at NU, he thought of himself, from my observation of him, as superior to what he regarded as cookie cutter politically correct tenured English PhDs. They were timid, dry as dust scholars; he was a red-blooded freelancer who launched himself into the real world and came back and wrote about it and got reviewed in the New York Times, etc. etc. They produced the constipated prose of pretentious ideologues; he wrote clear, strong, true, and real words.

He couldn’t stand the department; he looked down on it. (The department, from what I recall, couldn’t stand him back.) All through those years, as he edited The American Scholar and sat on NEH review committees (Republican administrations were heady days for Epstein), he thought of himself, I’m pretty sure, as simply dropping in on NU a few days a week, when he wasn’t hobnobbing in Washington, to share his thoughts about literature with a small, carefully selected group of English majors. (The money can’t have been much, but for a freelancer I suppose it was a welcome little stipend.)

Despite his lofty sense of himself, however, in the clear light of university hierarchy he was merely an adjunct lecturer, subject to review and renewal every year. Far from bothering Epstein, I’m guessing he read this status as his preference, a way of avoiding faculty meetings and administrative chores, and a way of maintaining personal freedom.

But there’s no controlling the way other people describe his situation at NU. Here are the two law professors:

Epstein never held a professorial rank at Northwestern, but academic freedom equally protects lecturers, adjuncts, and other faculty members. A sad fact about modern higher education is the very large population of professional scholars without tenure, many of whom, like Epstein, teach for decades with lower pay and less job security. In a different economic environment, many of them would be tenure-track professors. Their precarious status is a reason for insisting even more strongly on that protection.

Of course they are quite right about the economic insecurity of adjuncts; but Epstein never thought of himself as a professional scholar seeking tenure, etc. The idea in fact repelled him. His ego rested on an entirely other self-perception, one that entailed a transcendence of the whole pathetic academic game. How horrible, in his latter days, to be made a poster boy for adjuncts!

‘[The point is to control] who gets to be considered genuinely intellectually lofty…’

A writer in The Forward isolates a major motive behind Joseph Epstein’s notorious WSJ essay : Keeping certain categories of people out of the senior common room.

But when UD considers Epstein’s own number one intellectual exemplar, the room looks a bit dull-witted. The critic Hilton Kramer, for instance, “argued that Mikhail Gorbachev was a far bigger threat to the free world than Joseph Stalin had ever been,” notes Jeet Heer.

Kramer

stood in steadfast opposition to the idea that gays should be open and equal citizens in a democratic polity. He did this moreover not by making any rational arguments against gay equality but by constantly and snidely assuming that the very practice of gay sex was naturally repugnant to all right-thinking people.

Queers and women seemed to rub him the wrong way.

About one of America’s most prominent female intellectuals Kramer wrote, “In the end, Mary McCarthy’s politics were like her sex life—promiscuous and unprincipled, more a question of opportunity than of commitment or belief.” When writing about sexually active heterosexual male intellectuals (notably McCarthy’s ex-husband Edmund Wilson) Kramer somehow avoided the word promiscuous. Like a school yard bully, Kramer knew that slut-shaming is reserved for girls.

When you add to the common room the whole guy gang Epstein hung out with in those heady intellectual days, the place looks positively scummy. Kramer was a trustee at Adelphi University, an institution being run into the ground by Kramer’s buddy, the scandalous Peter Diamandopoulos. It took years of litigation for Adelphi to get rid of Diamandopoulos, who basically spent every moment of his presidency taking as much money as he could out of the school.

While president of Adelphi, Diamandopoulous arranged an honorary degree for Joseph Epstein. Given the vileness of this university-dismantler, it is in fact a dishonorary degree, and Epstein should have repudiated it.

A few scenes starring these stewards of the university:

[Diamandopoulos] entertaining his old friend on the board, John Silber, over dinner and drinks ended up costing Adelphi $546. Dr. Silber was president and is now chancellor of Boston University.

The next day, food and drinks with another trustee, Hilton Kramer, and a second guest cost the university $707. Mr. Kramer is The New York Observer’s art critic and a media critic for The New York Post.

The meal charges were actually modest; it was the bar tab that drove up the grand total. The bill was $454 for the 1982 Brion wine and Martell 100 cognac that Dr. Silber and Dr. Diamandopoulos drank. And the 1983 Chaval and Martell that he and Mr. Kramer sipped cost $552.

Promiscuous and unprincipled at the expense of the students for whom he was supposed to be acting as a trustee, Kramer seems a strange moral or intellectual exemplar for anyone – except, I guess, for Epstein.

“We don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall / Keepin us tied and true…”

UD excitedly welcomes Tucker Carlson to her old hippie/Joni Mitchell/anti-bourgeois world! UD is, as they say, “from the ‘sixties,” and I guess in the wake of Trump’s destabilizing loss, some former right-wing reactionaries are taking UD‘s leftish path — embracing, as Tucker does, a contempt for traditional institutions, a repulsion away from old people, and a disgust for capitalist status anxiety.

In response to the Epstein Shitstorm, Tucker hits the hippie trifecta:

At the age of 55, [Biden] got a doctorate … [She has] status anxiety… [She] decided to cure that, as so many do in our country, with another pointless title.

You’re on your way, babe! Now I want you to pick out a Terry Southern novel (any Terry Southern novel), lie back, and relax.

Gigot Gets Jiggy with It.

Gigot, Gigot, Gigot

Kiddo, you gotta know when to hold em, and when to fold em. You went ahead and dealt yourself and your newspaper some Joseph Epstein, knowing full well what’s in that deck, and even after the game blew up in your face, you’re still dancing around with the shards of his cards in your bloody digits.

Stick with me baby I’m the fellow you came in with… Yes, loyalty is a thing; we’ve all watched in amazement as your fellow conservatives in congress maintain their loyalty to Donald Trump. You yourself remain a fan of his. Fine.

But in your capacity as editor, monkey nipples, you have an obligation to the Wall Street Journal. It’s not like just liking Donald Trump for, you know, yourself. It’s like you publish things that reflect on a whole newspaper. Once having published a damaging opinion piece, nothing stopped you from reviewing your decision, re-reading the piece, and expressing something short of rigid rageful defense of it.

Instead, you argue that no one’s really angry about it outside of a cynical conspiracy of Bidenites. “[T]he Biden team concluded it was a chance to use the big gun of identity politics to send a message to critics as it prepares to take power.”

Paulie, Mrs Gigot, Honeychild: Your excitement over sinewy macho Jill brandishing a weapon overlooks the national and international overflow of disgust in response to Epstein’s attack on a woman who simply chooses to use the title Dr because she has a doctorate. This here’s a big story (that link is to Team Biden/Paris), and you need to reckon with it, sugarlips.

And as for your conspiracy theory: Let’s say the Biden team did all gang up on you and your boy Epsy in a coordinated effort to do damage. So what? What have you got against coordinated action? Your guys in congress are as one ganging up on Biden – you got a problem with that?

And again – instead of conceding just a tad — not taking the piece down, but conceding just a tad that there might be a small but reasonable connection between what Epstein wrote and the massive anger/disdain/disbelief it has generated, you make a number of dumb statements in its defense that have nothing to do with Epstein’s argument. “She can’t be off-limits for commentary.” Yes, and we’ve all decided Jill Biden must be TOTALLY OFF-LIMITS FOR COMMENTARY. Don’t you, Paulie, or anyone else dare say a word against her!

And finally, just like a woman, you get all teary and so there and I’m too good for this world: “[T]hese pages aren’t going to stop publishing provocative essays merely because they offend the new administration or the political censors in the media and academe.” BWAH! What dya say to that ya big bully? (Tosses hankie – er, bloody card – in face.)

Here’s what we say, bubbaleh, and we’re going to try to keep this abbreviated and monosyllabic: There’s a dif tween prov. and crp.

Summary: Summers.

Only he forgot a couple of things.

  1. He gambled away $1.8 billion of Harvard’s money.
  2. He made five million dollars working for a hedge fund while still Harvard’s president.

Sarah Chayes reminds us of the Larry Summers presidency of Harvard, featuring people like Andrei Shleifer.

(Also featuring Jeffrey Epstein, but that’s for a different post.)

[Before Hunter Biden’s legal but unethical activity in Ukraine,] there was already a template… for how insiders in a gas-rich kleptocracy could exploit … a [government] crisis using Western “advisers” to facilitate and legitimize their plunder—and how those Westerners could profit handsomely from it. A dozen-plus years earlier, amid the collapse of the U.S.S.R. of which Ukraine was a part, a clutch of oligarchs rifled the crown jewels of a vast nation. We know some of their names, in some cases because of the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office: Oleg Deripaska, Viktor Vekselberg, Dmitry Rybolovlev, Leonard Blavatnik. That heist also was assisted by U.S. consultants, many of whom had posts at Harvard and at least one of whom was a protégé of future Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

Yes, she’s talking about Professor Andrei Shleifer, whose greed cost Harvard millions, but all is forgiven.

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UD wants very badly to see the end of Trump.

Yet she also thanks Chayes for focusing on a particularly disgusting practice.

Scratch into the bios of many former U.S. officials who were in charge of foreign or security policy in administrations of either party, and you will find “consulting” firms and hedge-fund gigs monetizing their names and connections.

Latest UD posts at IHE

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