Thursday, November 30, 2006


A good friend of mine is a charter member of the “Here and Now Society.” He has not one pore of nostalgia on his person. He praises aluminum siding and eschews cedar shingles. He salivates when cobblestones are paved over with asphalt. There is not a vox populari which he does not immediately embrace … from late-term abortions (“unto the sixtieth trimester”) to “The Da Vinci Code” (“a welcome ray of truth”). Tradition to him is anathema. And many more like him believe that a predilection toward “out with the old and in with the new” is the reason that the United States does so well competitively in world commerce.

On the other hand, Tevye sang it well when he lauded the value of tradition in “Fiddler on the Roof”:

”Who, day and night, must scramble for a living,
Feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers?
And who has the right, as master of the house,
To have the final word at home?

(Chorus) Tradition!”

Few cultures value tradition as much as the Jews or the English. The English follow ceremonies that go back to the Middle Ages (e.g., pampering the ravens at the Tower of London. See: ). One has to only watch a regal coronation in England to see an outpouring of obscure traditions that are nevertheless followed to the letter … or, likewise, a Jewish Seder.

The question is: What is the true value of tradition, particularly insofar as Dartmouth is concerned? Clearly, the dropping of the tradition of seniors breaking their clay pipes on the stump of the Old Pine in the BEMA was not of major consequence, particularly if done without political rancor. (I still remember having to go to the Smoke Shop to buy my clay pipe before this rite.) However, this ceremony did commemorate a transition from college life to real life and, if it had been so represented to the students, would have been of great value. The trouble was that this was not the case. We were just going through the motions. And so this tradition was susceptible and, as such, was open to be attacked for reasons outside of its true meaning. And so it was and so it was dropped.

Again and again this has been the case (as documented in this blog.) I guess my point is that traditions are good in so far as they connect actions of the present to the lessons of the past … with alacrity and clarity. If the powers-to-be at our college refuse to do this, then it is they who are wiping out the footprints of those who came before us … and tarring over the cobblestones.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


When I was a freshman (in the late 1950’s) and lived in Wheeler Hall facing the Green. I greatly enjoyed, through an opened window, the fraternities rehearsing for “Hums” on the steps of Dartmouth Hall on those ever-warming spring evenings. And finally, during Green Key weekend, would come the full-blown Hums competition with every available member of each fraternity dressed in black shoes, black chinos and white shirts singing their hearts out just for the honor of winning this age-old competition. And there were some spine-tingling performances as well-harmonized groups sang a capella many of the old-time pop classics, Dartmouth favorites, and an occasional new composition. As I remember it, the judging was based on percentage participation, song selection, group appearance, and quality of performance.

Then, when I was a member of a fraternity, I too became part of this tradition and savored it immensely. Even though I was most often a “sandbag” – someone who had to learn the songs but, because of poor vocal quality, was not allowed to actually sing – I had to just lip-sync the words. (This was a nod to the percentage participation judging factor.) I still recall most of the words to “All the Things You Are” (even though I never uttered a sound) which was one of the highlights of Sigma Nu’s 1959 performance led by Mike Melvoin, now a music industry poobah in Hollywood.

I’m not exactly clear why this beautiful custom has disappeared under the waves but this website has a clue:

Apparently, home-grown songs became the norm at Hums in the early 1980’s and eventually they became too raunchy to tolerate. So … another sweet tradition obsoleted itself due to lack of monitoring and attention to its original purpose.

Monday, November 27, 2006


I first take up the issue of the Dartmouth's outlawing, in 1993, the custom of seniors breaking their long-stem clay pipes on the stump of the old pine tree in the BEMA during graduation week. This tradition was killed because our Indian brothers accused this rite of involving a "peace pipe". This is, at best, a forced conclusion. Long-stemmed or “Churchwarden” clay pipes existed long before Dartmouth was founded and even before the English came to America. See:

Many of these cheap clay pipes were coach drivers' pipes which were used by those early drivers who brought students to Hanover from White River, etc. These coach drivers would, when the nicotine and tar levels around the mouthpiece grew too dark, break off a few inches of the stem to get to a more pristine part. These clay pipes also were used in taverns where patrons could use a communal pipe by first breaking off a few inches of its stem for sanitary sake.

Early Dartmouth students adopted this pipe because of its panache, ubiquity, and low price. They also adopted the habit of periodically shortening the stem for hygienic purposes. Then, of course, when they graduated, this clay pipe would become a college-days throwback and its abandonment for more expensive pipe types (such as briar) was celebrated in this BEMA ceremony. It had absolutely nothing to do with Indians, except perhaps that it was the Indians who introduced the world to tobacco … perhaps an act for which the world should demand reparations?

Alas, we "Big Greeners" have been once again buffaloed by the PC crowd.