The Corner

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Stooping to Conquer


Jonah, I consider myself a dabbler in anthropometric history (just to impress the chicks) so I found certain aspects of that New Yorker piece on tall, blond, and handsome Dutchmen rather odd. By the way, the juxtaposition of your item with Mona’s on those 120,000 U.S. troops in Europe reminds us that any proper study of Continental “standards of living” or “biological standards of living” should take into account U.S. defense welfare, which relieves Continental governments of the need to maintain credible militaries and enables them to provide generous social programs instead. Hence, the paradox of all these 6’5” Dutchmen and Scandinavians protected by squat knuckle-dragging 5’2” Americans. Those Continentals seem tall because they’re standing on the backs of Texan midgets.

And, without wishing to recycle my old fertility-rate routine, what’s the point of being the tallest guys on the planet if there are only four of you? Given the numbers of lanky Dutchmen leaving the Netherlands, the entire country would appear to be, to quote Cole Porter, down in the depths on the 90th floor.

But, that aside, there was something awfully convenient about the way that New Yorker story set up a comparison between Americans and “Europeans” and then focused on the Dutch — one of the most appealing countries to those of a social-democratic bent. Within Europe, there are significant height disparities. If good public health care is a relevant factor in height, why are the French and Germans among the shortest people in Europe (and shorter than Americans)? In the Eighties and Nineties, the Yugoslavs, Estonians, and Czechs were the tallest people on the Continent, which would seem to argue not just for socialized health care but for the full-scale Communist version. Hey, maybe, it’s public housing that makes you tall.

And within Yugoslavia the tallest men were found on the Dalmatian coast and Herzegovina, both of which were reduced to rubble in the early Nineties without any discernible impact on the height of Croat and Bosnian adolescents today. Even Albania under its distinctive form of eco-Stalinism managed to produce men who were an inch taller than Frenchmen, even though Albania’s health care system involves swimming to Italy.

As Fred MacMurray once said on My Three Sons, a man is never so tall as when he stoops to pick up another man’s hat. Likewise, a man is never so low as when he reaches up to cherry-pick.