Saturday, March 31, 2007

Enter, To Grow in Wisdom

The March 30th issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education contains an article by Fred R. Shapiro, co-editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, on the origins of the most famous quotations from the academic world (e.g. "Publish or perish," "You can always tell a Harvard man..."). One of these quotes caught my fancy, perhaps because I'd never heard it before, but also because it too often reflects reality. Asked why universities were such great repositories of learning and wisdom, A. Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard University (1909-1933), replied "The freshmen bring a little in and the seniors take none out, so it accumulates through the years."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

And in Other War News...

Military historians may long debate which conflict deserves the title "Most Obscure War in History," but a couple of weeks ago Europe submitted a strong contender. On March 1st, 2007, Switzerland invaded Liechtenstein.

To be honest, the invasion was accidental, and the 170 Swiss soldiers involved weren't very well armed - they were carrying unloaded rifles and (of course) Swiss Army knives. Nor did the good people of Liechtenstein seem particularly worried about Switzerland's act of aggression. Markus Amman, an employee of Liechtenstein's ministry of the interior, remarked that "nobody in Liechtenstein had even noticed the soldiers. 'It's not like they stormed over here with attack helicopters or something.'"

Commentators on world politics rarely use the words "war" and "Liechtenstein" in the same sentence, because the tiny nation's military history has been both brief and inglorious. The principality last sent troops into battle in 1866, dispatching an 80-man contingent to Italy to assist the Austrians in the Third War of Italian Unification. However, the expeditionaries saw no fighting and sustained no casualties. "In fact," wrote Bill Bryson, "they came back with 81 men, because they had made a friend on the way." (Neither Here Nor There [New York, 1992], p. 194.) In 1868, Liechtenstein dissolved its army and went about its other business, which currently consists of three enterprises: printing postage stamps, serving as a corporate tax shelter, and manufacturing false teeth.