A Thesis On The Bendy Straw
In his Athwart column (May 14), James Lileks imagines some future academic writing “a thesis on the insidious invention of the bendy straw.” While I am not aware of an actual thesis, a fair amount of scholarly work has been done on this very topic.
The inventor was Joseph Friedman, a Cleveland native living in San Francisco. His brother ran an ice-cream shop, and when Friedman saw his young daughter struggling to drink her soda through a straight straw, he devised a method to corrugate a section of it in a way that would permit bending. He received a patent in 1937 and began manufacturing the straws after World War II, at first selling mainly to hospitals.
Friedman’s papers are in the Smithsonian. And far from being “insidious,” the bendy straw is now celebrated as an early example of “universal design,” in which changes instituted to accommodate the disabled end up helping everyone.
Des Moines, Iowa
The Power of Presidential Character
The dialogue between Victor Davis Hanson’s “Donald Trump, Tragic Hero” and Michael Knox Beran’s “The Magnanimous Magistrate” in the April 30 issue is particularly interesting. The two writers seem to be in agreement: Presidential character is eminently important to the well-being of the republic. But while Beran takes a positive view, suggesting that magnanimous character can fill a space and bring positive change, Hanson operates from the negative, suggesting that Trump’s lack of character, or at least magnanimous character, may be the greatest tool in shifting the path of this country.
Beran limits his analysis to “first-rank presidents,” those who “in some way stirred the nation even as they undertook to reform its laws and manners.” Perhaps Trump does not fall within this rank, his “hamartia,” as Hanson puts it, excluding him, almost as a martyr, from these highest reaches. So while Trump’s lack of character may be an effective agent of change itself, it does not necessarily signal positive change. Beran writes, “The presidency of a wholly unmagnanimous man, whatever its surface accomplishments, would almost certainly be a disaster, and destructive of the republic’s moral life.”
This seems to me the strongest point against Hanson; though Trump may indeed be forced to sacrifice his presidency for the sake of some goods (a Supreme Court justice’s nomination or a tax-reform bill’s passage), the damage his caddishness and lack of scruples may do to the country’s moral foundations may temper their glow. Trump’s legacy is not yet complete, and one can still hope that character will rule the day.