Magazine | May 28, 2018, Issue


(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

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.

Alison Schildkraut
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.

Nora James
Annapolis, Md.

NR Editors — NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners


The Week

The Week

We propose a total and complete shutdown of New York attorneys general until we can figure out what the hell is going on.

Most Popular


Stick a Fork in O’Rourke

If, as I wrote last week here, Joe Biden may save the Democratic party from a horrible debacle at the polls next year, Beto O’Rourke may be doing the whole process a good turn now. Biden, despite his efforts to masquerade as the vanguard of what is now called progressivism, is politically sane and, if ... Read More

In Defense of the Electoral College

Senator Elizabeth Warren has joined a growing chorus within the Democratic party in calling for the abolition of the Electoral College. Speaking at a forum in Mississippi on Monday night, Warren said that she hoped to ensure that “every vote matters” and proposed that “the way we can make that happen is ... Read More

Ivy-League Schools Wither

A  number of liberal bastions are daily being hammered — especially the elite university and Silicon Valley. A Yale and a Stanford, or Facebook and Google, assume — for the most part rightly — that each is so loudly progressive that the public, federal and state regulators, and politicians would of ... Read More
National Security & Defense

In Defense of the Iraq War

Today is the 16th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and Twitter is alive with condemnations of the conflict -- countered by precious few defenses. Yet I believed the Iraq War was just and proper in 2003, and I still believe that today. When Donald Trump condemned the war during the 2015 primary campaign and ... Read More