The Samuel Johnson
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December 29, 2002:
I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters,lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson's breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, "why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;" and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, "but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed."
This reminds me of the ludicrous account which he gave Mr. Langton, of the despicable state of a young Gentleman of good family. "Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats." And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favourite cat, and said, "But Hodge shan't be shot; no, no, Hodge shall not be shot."
— James Boswell (The Life of Samuel Johnson)
Hodge is well-known as Johnson's cat, due largely to this passage in Boswell's Life of Johnson. Frequently overlooked, however, is the fact that Johnson had other cats, also. Hodge has been given his own statue opposite Johnson's house in Gough Square, but Johnson himself said he had cats he liked better.
Unfortunately we don't know much about the other cats. We have a name for one of them, Lily, a white kitten (mentioned in a 1783 letter to Hester Thrale's daughter Susanna). And we can presume that there was at least one other: Hester Piozzi's anecdotes tell us that Johnson chastised his wife for beating the cat in front of the maid; since his wife died in early 1752, it's unlikely that this cat was either Hodge or Lily.
(The picture of the statue of Hodge was edited by the kid unit, to whom we are yet again thankful.)
December 22, 2002:
"Very slender differences will sometimes part those whom long reciprocation of civility or beneficence has united."
— Samuel Johnson: Idler #23
The other night we had the Beatles on in the background during dinner, and the kid unit and a friend were trying to name the singer of each song. They are both old enough to care about the Beatles, but not yet discriminating enough to tell their voices apart. Eventually the kid unit asked me why they broke up, and which was my favorite Beatle.
The reasons I trotted out for the break-up seemed pretty unsubstantial when you think about them from an unfair distance, but they must have been significant for all the Beatles at the time.
The break-up is an interesting issue for a child, and still for many adults. The partnership between the four was short-lived and so productive, so many people wish it could have lasted longer. And yet, the members are still saddled with the albatross that they were all inferior when apart. (A recent example is an article this past week in Slate, Dead Beatles For Christmas.) I've often thought it unfair to bring this canard out against the Beatles: it happens to so many performers, that the Beatles are far from being an exception. Does anyone really think that John Fogerty, Mick Jagger, Lowell George, John Sebastian, Paul Simon as solo acts and so on and so on were better than the groups they came from? And don't we see the same phenomenon with the couples we know?
I'm inclined to believe that partnerships (musical, friends, professional, corporations, etc.) are so often formed from diverse parts that unite to a greater whole, that it's more likely normal that a split or recombination works out to be something inferior to what we've seen already. In how many cases have we seen complementary couples flounder when not together, because they are not so well-rounded?
As for who I identified as my favorite Beatle, I punted. The obituaries I read after Harrison's death convinced me that the four of them were too complementary to separate into favorites, so I said the question was kind of like saying which ingredient in the pancake batter was your favorite.
December 15, 2002:
"Men who cannot deceive others are very often successful at deceiving themselves."
— Samuel Johnson: Rambler #31
This week (surprise) I want to talk about Trent Lott, the Republican Senator from Mississippi, who is the incoming Senate Majority Leader (which makes him one of the most powerful politicians in America), and a continuing pattern of statements by him which indicate he's not ready for life in the 21st Century. Perhaps not even the latter part of the 20th.
For those who know the basic details of the story, you can skip past the bulleted section, but readers from outside the U.S. may appreciate the following outline:
Continued efforts to deceive himself, if successful, will impede his rehabilitation, making him a continued liability for the Republicans.
Oddly, he may not be at all concerned about the liability he represents to his party. There are rumors swirling that he has threatened Republican Senators with a sequence of events that will result in them losing their new majority in the Senate. (It goes like this: if he has to quit the position as Majority Leader, he'll quit the Senate at the same time. In such situations, the governor of his state gets to appoint his replacement. The current governor, a Democrat, is likely to appoint a fellow Democrat, which will bring the Senate back to a tie between Republicans and Democrats.)
That scenario is not very statesmanlike, is it? But at this point should we be expecting statesmanlike behavior from someone who has done all the above?
December 8, 2002:
"Sir, I look upon every day to be lost, in which I do not make a new acquaintance."
— Samuel Johnson (James Boswell: Life of Samuel Johnson)
Johnson's persistent need for human contact is pretty well known, but the diversity of his friends isn't often thought about. He was on friendly terms with important painters, major politicians, historians, musicologists, writers, and attorneys; people from countries such as Italy and Ireland (and Scotland, too, of course); people his own age, and people significantly younger than him.
I think it's safe to say that for Johnson, meeting a person for the first time often introduced new worlds to him; and as a result, I think this line from Boswell's Life of Johnson is a song to diversity. Life can be surprising, and offer interesting tales and facts you'd never anticipate.
This week and next week we have two Germans in our home. One was an au pair for the kid unit the year prior to kindergarten, and the other is her boyfriend. Naturally, I had some grounding in German culture from the year the woman was our au pair, and a little more from when we visited Koln a couple of years ago. But there was still more to learn: we only really knew one person from Germany, and her boyfriend added to our perspective.
In addition, he has had fun being around us, listening to our music and playing games at night. We turned him on to a card game called Set, where you look for patterns among a subset of cards in a special 81-card deck. (Each card varies in one of three ways on four dimensions [3x3x3x3=81], and you want to find a trio of cards, called a Set, where the Set completely shares characteristics, or is completely different. Having two of a kind on any characteristic disqualifies the cards from being a set. You can try it for free at www.setgame.com, where they have a daily puzzle containing six sets.)
We've also had fun playing dominoes. I don't often think of Germany as being a country particularly fond of dominoes, but he quickly caught on and enjoyed the game enough to play for hours on successive nights.
So, for both of us it's been an opportunity to open doors and learn about other people, in simple every day ways. I can certainly see how Johnson would thrive off of such occasions.
December 1, 2002:
"He that pines with hunger, is in little care how others shall be fed. The poor man is seldom studious to make his grandson rich."
— Samuel Johnson: Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland
With Thanksgiving over, and fairly late in the calendar, it's now a hundred yard dash to Christmas. But our eagerness to trim trees, shop, and party should not distract us from stopping to consider our own situations, our own blessings, and whether or not we can afford to think of others.
We are fortunate enough to not be hungry, thanks to my wife's ongoing employment. While I cooked this Thanksgiving, she went to a seniors center in Brooklyn Heights, and served food to the elderly, and I hope it's a new tradition for her. We are also going to go through our closets, because New York Cares has started its annual coat drive.
We have already had a strong cold snap, and we felt our bodies clench as we walked through lower Manhattan on Saturday. Surely there will be more cold days ahead. There are all sorts of ways to find ways to volunteer: you could go to Google, for instance, and type volunteer plus the name of your city. Or you might use a service like VolunteerMatch.org to help you.
If on this past Thanksgiving day you counted your blessings, and expressed gratitude for them, please try to share them with those who are less fortunate this holiday season, and beyond if you can.
November 24, 2002:
"To prize every thing according to its real use ought to be the aim of a rational being. There are few things which can much conduce to happiness, and, therefore, few things to be ardently desired."
— Samuel Johnson: Adventurer #119
I've long had reservations about the number of SUVs which one sees running around an urban environment like New York City. I understood their value, but never really saw their appropriateness for people who never leave asphalt. Since they typically get fewer miles to the gallon than cars, this means precious, non-renewable resources are being wasted. And they come to us as a trade-off: greater dependence on foreign oil (harming the balance of trade, among other aspects) or costs to the environment as we head into drilling in Alaska.
For me, SUVs seemed like an immoral choice, and I was heartened by the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign launched by the Evangelical Environmental Network, a group of Jewish and Christian leaders. Executives at Ford who criticized the environmental aspects of SUVs were ignored, so it's good to see this issue raised again. Sadly, in some corners it's being pigeon-holed as an effort by liberal groups; I didn't really think that this was necessarily a liberal or conservative issue, since dependence on foreign oil erodes our economic independence. (I can see how some environmental causes are pushed as part of a liberal agenda, but I think this one should have a broader base among conservatives.) But the value that SUVs provide (which is significant) needs to be compared against the situations in which people drive, and whether or not people will truly be able to take advantage of that value. Otherwise, the trade-offs are not being made well.
This issue — the true value of what we pursue, and whether or not we will realize that value — should be considered in most of our purchases, of course. For some reason some years ago I felt compelled to buy the Dean Benedetti recordings of Charlie Parker. They are recordings of Parker's solos only, in far less than optimal sound, and extremely valuable to the enthusiast who wants to really study Parker's improvisational techniques. But to me? Low value. And yet I paid good money for them (money which would have been far better going to the poor, to our retirement savings, to all sorts of different causes...), and they still sit in the rack, taking up space. It's not like I didn't have enough Charlie Parker before, but as Johnson wrote in Adventurer #67, "Thus it comes to pass, that our desires always increase with our possessions."
November 17, 2002:
"To push advantages too far is neither generous nor just."
— Samuel Johnson: Thoughts on the Late Transactions Respecting Falkland's Islands
If you've been following the press, you know that the Bush Administration has cast Senate Democrats as the obstacle to getting the Department of Homeland Security created. (You may remember the brouhaha over whether or not they were more concerned with special interests than national security.) An odd position to pursue, really, since Senator Patrick Leahy was one of the first to call for such a department, but it was the White House which stonewalled for months, finally relenting when there was too much pressure and too much evidence of fumbling by the US intelligence agencies. The Democrats called for this to be a cabinet level department; Andrew Card claimed White House resistance was out a feeling that a non-cabinet level department would be more efficient, but this writer is skeptical, given the timing with respect to intelligence revelations. (More on this here.)
Republicans had added, as a deal breaker, that employees in the new department would not have the same working rights as other federal employees, and were so rigid about that, that they held up creation of the department. Now, Senate Democrats are being more flexible than the Republicans. Perhaps it's good sportsmanship on the part of the Democrats; perhaps it's gamesmanship (they don't want an additional albatross on the neck of the Democratic senate candidate running in Louisiana).
But it's stunning that in the face of less Democratic resistance to the bill, the Republicans would try to add special, irrelevant considerations to the bill, considerations which could ultimately block its passage. I am speaking specifically of a provision that would indemnify pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly from suits regarding one of its drugs, a drug completely unrelated to Homeland Security. Now, in fairness, a spokesperson for Lilly is quoted in the article as saying it's a complete surprise to them. But because greater learning comes from assembling what initially seem like coincidences, and comparing them for patterns, it's worth noting that when the White House announced the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council in June, the CEO of Lilly, Sidney Taurel, was on it. It could be mere coincidence. But while we're storing it for pattern analysis, let's remember that there may have been some friends on VP Cheney's Energy Advisory council, too, but I don't believe he's released that information yet.
So, is this any way to negotiate, once you've got the upper hand? To arrogantly pad a bill with all sorts of unnecessary trimmings? This is no way to build trust between the parties, in hopes of changing Washington's climate of partisanship. As Princess Nekayeh said, "It is difficult to negotiate where neither will trust."
November 10, 2002:
"Such is the state of life, that none are happy but by the anticipation of change; the change itself is nothing; when we have made it, the next wish is to change again."
— Samuel Johnson: Rasselas (said by the Princess Nekayeh)
Because I write this page once a week, I didn't feel an immediate obligation to write about the midterm elections in the United States, especially regarding the shift in power in the US Senate, from a narrow majority of Democrats to a slightly less narrow majority for the Republicans.
If you live here in the US, you probably know the major explanations which are in development. One goes that it was the strength of the President's campaigning in key states that helped the Republicans. Another goes that it was Gore's campaigning which hurt the Democrats. Others point out that there was no vision on the part of the Democrats, or that they lacked unity.
I won't hesitate to add to the fray. First, let's remember that nature abhors a vacuum (Spinoza, not Johnson), and people will rush to explain when there are no explanations to be had. Even when the observed phenomenon is small enough that it's quite possible that no explanations could exist, such as in the case of random variance.
So let's ask this question first: beyond the shift in power, have we seen a true shift in the sentiments of the American people?
If there is any real shift in the will of the people as a whole, I'd guess it's pretty small. It certainly makes sense to speculate about shifts locally, comparing this year to six years ago, but that has to be done before you aggregate state-by-state speculations into national commentary. Otherwise, we could be trying to explain a non-phenomenon.
But whether or not it had any impact on the outcome of the election, I'm inclined to agree with those who noticed a lack of vision in the Democratic Party. A perceived lack, anyway, because I don't exactly think the Republicans have a vision, either.
Elsewhere, I've mentioned that I think Bush is making it up as he goes along.
So, if we still need an explanation, perhaps I'll just offer this one: voters were bored with what was happening, and hankered for change. Nothing more, nothing less. And I guess it remains to be seen how long it will be before boredom sets in again and they look for change again. (A desire for change may set in even sooner, if the hope for positive change is undeserved, and dissatisfaction sets in.) My own guess is that it's going to be a bumpy ride.
November 4, 2002:
[After a parlor performance of music, one which Johnson paid absolutely no attention to, perhaps because of his deafness and paying greater attention to books on the shelves] Mrs. Thrale, in a laughing manner, said "Pray, Dr. Burney, can you tell me what that song was and whose, which Savoi sung last night at [J.C., not J.S.] Bach's Concert, and which you did not hear?" ...wishing to draw Dr. Johnson into some conversation, [Dr. Burney] told him the question. The Doctor, seeing his drift, good-naturedly put away his book, and said very drolly, "And pray, Sir, who is Bach? Is he a piper?" Many exclamations of surprise, you will believe, followed this question. "Why you have read his name often in the papers," said Mrs. Thrale; and then she gave him some account of his Concert, and the number of performances she had heard at it.
"Pray," said he, gravely, "Madam, what is the expense?"
"Oh!" answered she, "much trouble and solicitation, to get a Subscriber's ticket; or else, half a Guinea."
"Trouble and solicitation," said he, "I will have nothing to do with; but I would be willing to give eighteen pence."
Anecdote from Fanny Burney, in C.B. Tinker, Dr. Johnson and Fanny Burney (1912)
Ah, trouble and solicitation I will have nothing to do with.
First, my apologies, this week's quote and discussion are being posted a couple days late. Normally, if I'm late, it's because I'm having a hissy fit over the fact that a couple thousand people come through here every week and so few (er, no one) puts a nickel in the poor box. Or maybe I'll skip a week because I'm out of town.
I'm actually late because of computer hassles. We have been running on a Pentium II machine that dates from about 1997, and has only 6 gigs of space on the hard drive. We're down to about 1.5 gigs at this point. The kid unit ordered a piece of software through school that we approved, based on the scanty specs they always provide in the monthly book order pamphlets. We thought it was actually a good idea: the kid unit is thinking of growing up to be a veterinarian, and the software relates to that. And it's only $10. Cool!
However, on its arrival we learned the software wants 500MB of hard drive space, basically taking a third of the remaining open space on the hard drive. And here is where the trouble and solicitation story begins. We would gladly pay ten bucks, but...
In a one paycheck household while I am unemployed-slash-writing-a-book, we decided to get an external hard drive rather than a new machine. But since the kid unit wants to run games off the additional drive space, and data transfer speed matters as a result, at the same time that we bought this new drive, we also had to upgrade the USB ports from 1.1 to 2.0. (Who ever knew, when USB came out, that there would be versions of connections?)
So we have spent about $300 in the effort to accommodate all the kid unit's games, spurred by a $10 purchase. Trouble and solicitation! $200 on an external hard drive, $50 on a USB card, $40 on a new surge protector (to accommodate additional electrical plugs), and $9 on subway fare for three separate trips into Manhattan. Plus sales tax.
Are you a parent? Did you ever make the mistake of introducing more than one new food to your infant at the same time, see an allergic reaction, and not known which new food caused the allergic reaction, because you introduced more than one at once? Something similar here, with having introduced both a new card and a new hard drive. Over the course of about 36 hours, we've fiddled with this and that to see which part wasn't working and needed to be taken back to the retailer. Right now, it's still not the way we need it (an additional call to tech support will be helpful, but they are on Pacific Time and I won't be able to dial until noon). But I am optimistic. No, it's not the triumph of hope over experience, it's the triumph of perseverance.
To all those who came here wanting another of my political tirades, apologies. Vote on Tuesday, it really matters. And hell YES I'm livid that the State of Florida is purging another 95,000 voters from voting, in a blatant effort to keep non-Bush supporters from voting for McBride. This, you may recall, is what they did in the 2000 presidential election, severely limiting the votes for Gore. The audacity, the arrogance, the impudence, is just beyond description, and I really really really hope Jeb Bush and his cronies have to look for new jobs soon.
October 27, 2002:
Of a person [Edmund Burke] who differed from him in politicks, he said, "In private life he is a very honest gentleman; but I will not allow him to be so in publick life. People may be honest, though they are doing wrong; that is between their Maker and them. But we, who are suffering by their pernicious conduct, are to destroy them. We are sure that [Burke] acts from interest. We know what his genuine principles were. They who allow their passions to confound the distinctions between right and wrong, are criminal. They may be convinced; but they have not come honestly by their conviction."
— Samuel Johnson (James Boswell: Life of Johnson)
Johnson admired Edmund Burke for having a brilliant mind, and at one point of illness asked that Burke be kept away from him, because arguing with Burke would take too much of his energy and might kill him. Burke's superiority over others was also obvious: Mrs. Piozzi quotes Johnson as having said, "You could not stand five minutes with that man beneath a shed while it rained, but you must be convinced you had been standing with the greatest man you had ever yet seen."
While Burke was a member of The Literary Club and they often saw each other, Johnson had strong reservations about Burke in the political arena. We of course see that in the quotation above. As I mentioned in this column just before the 4th of July, Burke and the party he belonged to practiced a lot of the political maneuvers which Johnson condemned in his pamphlet The Patriot. Johnson could well have had Burke and his ilk in mind when he made his famous remark about patriotism and scoundrels.
In an era where we still have disingenuous, rabble-rousing politicians who rely on hypothetical extremes and straw men (as well as other horrid rhetorical tricks), it's refreshing to read how different Senator Paul Wellstone was, even as we mourn his loss. From all accounts, both from the Democrats in his party and the Republicans across the aisle, Wellstone was a sincere politician, who you knew was arguing for what he believed to be true. It's not unusual for encomia to be spoken after someone's death, but the plaudits for Wellstone's honesty seem more believable because this praise often occurs amidst the recognition of philosophical differences; that is, the comments recognize philosophical differences, but the praise about of sincerity and openness is presented without qualifications.
For instance, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, a Republican, said "you know when Paul Wellstone said it, it wasn't a political ploy. It's what he believed. He believed that was the right course to follow."
In the same transcript linked above, Senator John McCain, another Republican, said "He was very independent, did not — was not swayed by the political winds."
Comments in the media are similar. Wellstone was embroiled in a tough reelection campaign when the vote to authorize force against Iraq came up, and although he risked his political future in voting against the resolution, did so. Time magazine writes that he was unflinchingly dedicated to his causes whether or not they were popular. Over at Slate, Mickey Kaus regretted not writing a requested positive piece on Wellstone three weeks ago, and after his death wrote (scroll down to the Friday October 25 entry) that Wellstone "didn't seek a middle ground that would offend the fewest number of people and guarantee his reelection. His openness and honesty constituted a temporary crack in the evolutionary laws, a quirk in which the proven Darwinian traits that make for success in the competition for national political prominence somehow didn't obtain."
October 20, 2002:
"To be driven by external motives from the path which our heart approves, to give way to any thing but conviction, to suffer the opinion of others to rule our choice or overpower our resolves, is to submit tamely to the lowest and most ignominious slavery, and to resign the right of directing our own lives."
— Samuel Johnson: Rambler #185
It couldn't be any clearer to me, at this point, but that the Bush administration is making it all up as it goes along, and doesn't have the vision that we normally associate with genuine leaders.
A few examples (one of which may have slipped your recollection, two other fairly recent).
Bush apologists may say that this is merely a President who is attentive to public opinion, and thus is trying to represent the desires of the people. (And those who know rhetoric may say I am merely setting up a straw man...) But if this is all that it is, it's fair to point out that Clinton was vilified for the same behavior, and Bush shouldn't expect anything less.
It's also worth pointing out that if it's truly the case that Bush is following polling results to his decisions, then it could be very different from the desires of the minority (yes, I remind you, the minority) who elected him. "They give you this, but you paid for that," as Neil Young sang.
Personally, as much as I would have preferred Gore as President, and as glad as I would be if Bush were adopting the broader views of the majority that voted for Gore, I would still be left with the distaste one feels when in the presence of someone who cannot make a decision. I really do feel as if they are making it up as they go along. This is not jazz improvisation, this is our country.
I guess it also makes me feel as if Bush's initial opinions are flat out wrong, and he eventually realizes it, but not before he's opened his mouth.
Update (November 9, 2002): Not sure how I left this whopper out of my list of Bush flip-flops, but I did. The Department of Homeland Security was first the idea of Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter. For months, the Bush Administration felt this was unnecessary, and stonewalled against the idea for months, until popular clamor made the position untenable.
October 13, 2002:
"Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages."
— Samuel Johnson: Idler #30
I'm incredibly thankful that the US Congress bent over backwards to give our President advance go-ahead for war against Iraq, without first developing an adequate understanding as to whether or not it's necessary. Rather than fulfilling its constitutional authority for exercising judgment and declaring war, it decided to sidestep the difficult decision and cede the responsibility to the President.
I know I'm kinda sorta in the minority here. The majority of Americans "support the President," but since the President has yet to specify what exactly he intends to do, I'm not sure how well-informed and solid that support truly is. I also know that, whereas the Johnson quotation is theoretically about the altering of accounts during war, there been a flood of reports that accounts are already being altered before we even engage in war. (If you are revolted by Christmas advertising in October, where is your outrage now?)
As to these preliminary deceits, the Guardian reported on October 9 that reports were being cooked, that there is considerable pressure being put on CIA analysts to issue reports conforming to White House opinion. October 9, of course, was before the Congress passed a resolution allowing Bush to go into action against Iraq.
Readers of this page may also recall that Bush presented Blair an erroneous (slanted?) interpretation of an old analysis in order to get his way. (This wasn't only reported here, of course, there's a CNN story about it.) And on September 30, Joe Conason reported on further misinterpretations in the same Blair-Bush meeting. These accounts, too, were available to Congress well before they voted on their resolution. And it's not as if CNN and Salon are horribly irresponsible, radical news outlets.
Now, as serious as the single issue is with respect to attacking Iraq, we also have to be concerned about precedent and borader consequences. Does this kind of spineless Congressional acquiescence represent one more step in a progressive abdication of its Constitutional responsibility?
"The falsehoods which interest dictates," indeed.
October 6, 2002:
"No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public library; for who can see the wall crowded on every side by mighty volumes, the works of laborious meditations and accurate inquiry, now scarcely known but by the catalogue..."
— Samuel Johnson: Rambler #106
If you think about the various ways we store culture, I think you'd have to agree that libraries are unique. Unlike institutions such as museums, libraries need to service both high culture and low, both William Shakespeare and Lawrence Sanders. They also need to provide functional information, such as travel books and car repair manuals.
Further, in some communities, such as Queens County New York, the library must provide materials in a wide variety of languages. (And, if they see their role the same way as the library in Queens, they also have outreach programs to help the immigrant community assimilate and/or thrive. But that's another point, entirely.)
Is there any other medium where the required range is so broad?
Dollars to doughnuts, the Brooklyn Public Library has more books than the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art has art.
I guess it's because it costs little to print books that nothing like libraries exist.
Think about the television shows that have been tried in your lifetime and failed. Why, just from the past couple years, what happened to that series about the first year law student graduates... Were they just fodder to fill time?
(When I walk down 7th Avenue in Park Slope or Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Heights, and see shuttered businesses, I think about the faltered dreams the small business people had, and I feel their sadness. Is it different for the people who work on a show that will only be aired four or five times at most?)
Where do they all go? There is a museum that has old television shows, but would anyone really expect that they contain the universe of all television shows?
I worked in London for a couple months in 1990, and Ben Elton had a short series that was constructed of stand-up routines interspersed with imagined situations. Where can I see them? Where is the Stephen Frye series "This Is David Lander"?
Why can't I see Barney Miller or Bob Newhart episodes when I want? I'm glad The Prisoner is available on DVD, and I'm glad that people in the UK can get The West Wing on DVD. Will I want to watch those Prisoner episodes so often that it justifies purchasing them? Why isn't there a library with this stuff? Are we expected to build our own complete libraries? The family here is enjoying watching Upstairs, Downstairs on DVD, but I really wonder if they will watch them enough to justify our having bought them.
I suppose the Internet dreamers will tell us to wait, it will one day be available online. Unfortunately, they have a long way to go before they will come close to what we can get from the library. And so long as people expect to surf, read, and view for free, it ain't going to happen. (By the way, did you contribute to this site yet?)
So, what television shows do you wish you could rent? Let me know, and I'll try to post. It's basically a tree falling in an empty forest, but what the hey.