Monday, May 31, 2010


If you look this word up on Wikipedia, you will find a straightforward description of the term as used to describe a display of art or other objects at a museum or art gallery. However, I have known three other threads of meaning.

A misbehaving child is sometimes told to stop making "an exhibition" of herself or himself. Another less desirable use of the word is one I first heard in Egypt some sixty years ago. As male visitors would go ashore in Alexandria or Port Said, they would be accosted by touts, encouraging them to watch an "exhibition", often abbreviated to "exhibeesh". I always resisted the temptation, but I was reliably informed that these were displays of sexual athleticism, sometimes involving donkeys or other creatures, usually relating to a human subject.

It is mainly about another form of "exhibition", that I write today, a usage I have not heard in the United States, but of which I was reminded in a recent communication from my alma mater, Lincoln College, Oxford. It refers to a sort of minor scholarship, although in the UK we used to hear of major and minor scholarships also.

In Britain, a "prep school" refers to a private school for children from about the age of eight until they move on to a so-called "public school" (which is, of course, a private school as opposed to the American version, which one attends if not enrolled in a private school.) Confusing? You bet.

In my day, prep schools and public schools were for boys or girls, but not "co-ed". This has long ago changed in the UK. Other changes may make my comments here rather dated: for example, in my time, prep school boys did not take the notorious "11+" exam which, before the advent of Comprehensive schools as the norm for all children, was used to separate "the sheep" destined for secondary modern schools from "the goats" who were admitted to "grant aided" grammar schools.

In my time, virtually all public schools required those seeking admission to take the Common Entrance (C.E.) exam. There were a few holdouts: in my day, Winchester required applicants to take that school's own examinations, heavily laden with the classics. Whereas I understood the appeal of learning to read and understand history and poetry in Latin and Greek, I felt that the art of turning English prose into Latin - or, God forbid, Greek - verse reflected the sadism of our mentors.

It is possible that some schools offered scholarships or exhibitions to gifted students based on the results of their C.E. papers, but the norm was to require applicants for these honors to take separate scholarship exams. The best results earned a scholarship; others with not-quite-so-good results were awarded an "exhibition".

On the other hand, I have recently also encountered further abuse of the term "scholarship" for those unable to pay their way to a church camp, etc. I am still firmly of the opinion that there are more appropriate ways of describing monetary relief to those who cannot afford to pay the full charges. I don't see the word "bursary" these days, but sometimes I do see reference to "grants" or "financial assistance".

Monday, May 24, 2010

Punitive Damages

I am a believer that both the British and US systems of jurisprudence have their merits. However, one aspect of Civil Law in the US troubles me. It is about punitive damages.

The theory of this feature is easy to understand. If I drive my car into yours and damage it, I'm clearly responsible for repairs, any depreciation in value, and the loss of use when your car is being repaired. The same applies to any injuries incurred by you as a result of the incident, and the law properly allows for such matters as "pain and suffering". If you (as Plaintiff) claim that I have recklessly or maliciously caused the damage, you may choose to claim "punitive damages" in addition. The idea is to punish me for my behavior.

This is where it gets murky. It has been held that, to be appropriate, such damages must take into consideration the wealth of the offending party. Thus, an oil company or other wealthy corporation must pay huge punitive damages, for a small penalty would be a slap on the wrist, or "a mere flea bite" as a British schoolboy would say.

In civil litigation, about which I have some knowledge through my experience as an expert witness, punitive damages are often alleged as an additional bargaining chip, and awards are relatively rare, although certainly not unknown. (I guess that I should explain that my experience has largely been with California litigation, although I have also been involved in cases in Colorado and Nevada.)

Often, claims for punitive damages blur the distinction between civil law and criminal law. I see civil law as a system primarily designed to assure equity in our common life, whereas in criminal law the malefactor is properly subject to punishment.

I realize that some who are reading this may be qualified lawyers, which I am not. There is little prospect that punitive damages will be eliminated in the foreseeable future, so I need to accept them. I just believe that there needs to be some work on this issue if a heavily divided Congress, full of lawyers, ever takes serious action on Tort Reform.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


When we attend a reception here in California, we are often responding to an invitation which indicated (say) cocktails 6:00, dinner 7:00. It is rare indeed for cocktails to be featured, although anyone who askes for a "martini" may well be served with the traditional ingredients of a "dry martini".

No, most of what is offered is a choice of at least one red and one white wine, perhaps scotch, vodka, or gin; probably beer and non-alcoholic alternatives. Since I so rarely drink anything but wine these days, that's not a problem for me, I do like to know whether I am drinking chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel, and so forth. Cocktails? Never!

It was very different when I began to imbibe alcoholic drinks at the age of 21 (the delay was in fulfillment of a pledge I made to assuage my guilt at smoking when I was 11 years old. I pledged not to smoke until I was 18 and not to drink until I was 21). Admittedly, my fellow Naval Officers took me ashore soon after my 21st birthday, and I drank enough brandy and ginger ale (we called this concoction a "horse's neck", for reasons which remain obscure) to walk a little uncertainly up the gangplank, and endure a major headache that night. Oh, there have been a few instances of over-indulgence since, including one within the past five years, but heavy drinking is fortunately not part of my customary pattern of life.

However, there was a time in my twenties when I was very interested in cocktails, without actually drinking any. In fact, I had my own manuscripted book of recipes, copied from many sources, all neatly and orderly arranged in order of the principal ingredient, such as Scotch, Bourbon, Brandy, Vodka, Gin, etc.

Besides table wine, in my time I have sipped small quantities of fortified wines, including port, the preferred after-dinner drink of British males of a certain status in life. When it comes to aperitifs, I will take the occasional Dubonnet, but for the most part I stick with dry Sherry. In Sherry terms, that is "fino", the most famous brand of which is Tio Pepe , but my personal favorite is La Ina. For the occasional contrast, I usually have a bottle of Amontillado open. Purists will tell you that Sherry and Port should be consumed promptly once a bottle has been opened, but I don't buy that. Fortified wine stays pretty good after opening, if re-corked and stored at typical room temperature.

During the past 50 years, the quality of wines from many countries has improved greatly. I remember a trip to Banff over 30 years ago, when I learned that most Canadian wine then being produced was hardly drinkable. In a recent visit to Ontario, I discovered excellent wine. The same is true of California wine. We drink a fair amount of wine from South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand. I have learned to appreciate wine from Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Hungary, Georgia, Germany, and Austria. Well, wine from Switzerland, Romania, and perhaps other parts of Europe are certainly better than they used to be.

Almost every state in the US now makes some wine, including Colorado, where our second home is located. I know there are many other parts of the United States, including the Finger Lakes region, where good wine is to be found, although I cannot speak from personal experience.

If you don't live in the UK, you may not know what an "Offy" is, but the word is an abbreviation for "Off Licence", an establishment in the UK licensed for the sale of alcoholic beverages, for consumption "off the premises". There are parts of the country, devoid of such a fancy establishment as a wine merchant, where a citizen may buy a bottle of "cooking" (inexpensive) sherry or a bottle of wine for dinner. The term "off licence" puzzled me as a boy: I thought it must mean that the establishments license had been suspended for some offense, such as selling liquor outside the government-mandated drinking hours.

On one occasion, when I had business in Evanston, Illinois, I went into a Safeway store, and wandered around looking for the wine section. I wanted to take a nice bottle of California wine to a party given after a child's baptism. When the assistant manager asked me if he could help, I explained my quest. He laughed, and said "You must be from out of town". I admitted to this. He then explained that Evanston had been the birthplace of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and it was still a "dry" town. He helpfully explained to me that if I drove a few blocks down the street, I would enter the Chicago city limits, and I would find what I was looking for. Indeed I did, and I found one of the best wine merchants that it has ever been my good fortune to encounter. My bottle of "California Sunshine was greatly appreciated.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Open Houses

I am happy to report that Barbara and I have many interests in common, although she does not share my interest in matters ecclesiastical. Nor, for that matter, do I share her perennial hobby of visiting Open Houses. There are plenty of these in Berkeley, and Barbara loves to stop the car on a weekend when she sees that there is a house for sale. In she goes!

I used to accompany her, and suppress my embarrassment when she would chat to the realtor as if she were genuinely interested in acquiring the property. I don't know if it was my inhibition, but I excused my lack of interest by telling myself that I really didn't feel it was right to waste the realtor's time. Now, I do understand that it is probably helpful for the seller's representative to have someone apparently interested in the place, as this might well encourage interest of those really planning to buy a house for themselves. Besides, in her time Barbara has bought several houses in the area, either as an investment for her own account, or as a place in which some other family member might want to live.

My excuse is that we already have a very nice home in Berkeley, and a lovely second home in Boulder County, Colorado. However, although I fiercely deny any tendency to snobbishness, I must admit that I love to visit Stately Homes, whether somewhere like Hearst "Castle" at San Simeon, on the coast road from San Francisco to Los Angeles, or somewhere like Woburn in the UK.

Nowadays, with reduced mobility, I usually prefer to sit in the car and listen to the radio. When Barbara returns, she is usually happy to tell me about the places she has visited, so I'm not about to discourage her from her inquisitive hobby of visiting Open Houses. I prefer an Open Bar....


As someone who would rather be a book maker than a bettor, perhaps it is a little strange that I would pick this topic. However, I would like to contrast our well-known courses in the US with some of those in Britain.

I don't think the general public is very familiar with racecourses outside their own area. Most of us know that the Kentucky Derby is raced at Churchill Downs. We have heard of Santa Anita, Hialeah, but the names of famous races, such as the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness are probably better known than Aqueduct and Pimlico

I can recall my first visit to Epsom Downs, although it wasn't Derby Day. It was very colorful, watching the bookies communicate with each other as soon as too much money was laid on one of the horses, causing the bookies to shorten the odds. I did attend a meeting at Goodwood, a beautiful course in Sussex. Because the UK is more compact than the USA, most folk are familiar with at least the names of Cheltenham, Newmarket, and Ascot.

A good friend of mine, who was truly a Squire from Lincolnshire, was for several years a Steward (racecourse authority) until some hanky-panky was alleged (if I recall correctly) concerning actions of his trainer. Although personally blameless, and upheld by his friends, my friend had to pay the price and was removed as a Steward.

The headquarters of racing in the UK is Newmarket, and I have visited that famous course, although no racing was taking place that day.

One important distinction is that in the UK "National Hunt" racing involves steeplechasing, an interesting name, although I have never seen a horse attempt to jump that high! I used to work in Liverpool, and I do remember that one year I went with friends to Aintree, the location of the Grand National, which engages the interest of a large proportion of the populace.

I enjoyed watching steeplechases, because there is a much greater chance of an "outsider" winning. Also, for reasons I cannot explain, the weight carried by the horse seems to allow for taller and heavier jockeys, including some successful amateurs.

Back to the US: What about trotting races? The only race with a well-known name is the Hambletonian. Thanks to Google, I discovered that this is now run at the Meadowlands, presumably in New Jersey. However, this form of racing is not very well known by the general public.

Back across the Pond: There is another form of sport in England, which I remember as being very popular in the Fifties, the "Point-to-Point". I remember going to a nearby meeting in Kent, not far from the Penshurst area, where my mother lived for many years.

Point-to-Points are usually held at less formal locations, such as large fields otherwise used for livestock grazing. The owner of the land has to put up with scores of cars parking on the land. Events such as the one I attended were a lot of fun, especially when one took a sumptuous picnic, washed down by champagne or Pimms No. 1 (in my day, one could also drink Pimms No.2 or Pimms No.3, but I believe those have both vanished from the scene).

Yes, there was betting there, with loudly dressed bookies very much in evidence. I suppose you could consider a Point-to-Point as being largely for the "Country Club set", but out in the countryside, its adherents came from all classes. Now that fox-hunting is essentially banned in Britain, something which one of my favorite authors, Anthony Trollope, might find amazing, I hope that Point-to-Points are still thriving.