“A man may take to drink,” wrote George Orwell, “because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” Unfortunately, the Daily Princetonian is like the man who rushes the growler a few too many times. When it claims to investigate or challenge authority, it genuflects to institutional power. When it believes it takes a controversial stand, it demonstrates cowardice and lack of imagination. And when it purports to expose what was once unseen, it obscures and confuses instead. One might think that Princeton University’s public newspaper would be immune to the twin maladies of slovenly language and foolish thought. But neither ambition nor high test scores can adequately inoculate writers against such afflictions. That requires an antidote: PrinceWatch.
Editorial: Students should consider the meningitis vaccine
Very few people open the Daily Princetonian with high expectations. What they do expect, though, are unnecessary editorials. This week, the Prince’s board continued its commitment to telling people things they already know. “The Editorial Board strongly supports ongoing efforts to provide information about the current cases of infection with the N. meningitidis bacteria on our campus…In view of recent events the Board recommends that students strongly consider receiving the vaccine.” It seems they were concerned that without this clarification, most students were under the impression that the Board preferred to keep them in the dark with regard to the deadly bacterial infection. The idea that the editorial board needs to state its support for the dissemination of information is, itself, rather bizarre. Some editorial boards take courageous stands on challenging or controversial issues. This is not one of them, unless the Board believes that it isn’t easy today to argue in favor of vaccinating people against diseases. Though, perhaps we ought to thank the board for this clarification. Before this editorial, we assumed the Prince’s editors believed students should remain vulnerable to a deadly disease.
However, we cannot thank the Daily Princetonian for this heinous sentence construction: “Swabbing and culturing for possible carriers is of no value in deciding who should receive antibiotic prophylaxis, since carriage of N. meningitidis is variable and there is no consistent relationship between that found in the normal population and in an epidemic.” Yes, you read that correctly. That is one sentence. The problem with long sentences like this one is it not the length but the lack of clarity that accompanies unnecessary length. The “that” does not appear to refer to any subject mentioned in the sentence before; it is nearly impossible to decipher what this sentence refers to in general. Were it shorter, we might be able to see the almost decent point it makes: it is difficult to identify carriers of the disease and therefore difficult to administer prophylactic treatment. But that point is masked by the convolutedness of the run-on sentence. Still, there is a glimmer of hope in that dark, syntactical abyss. The Prince seems to have settled its epistemological crisis with regards to the objective or subjective, semantic or empirical nature of an epidemic.
Unfortunately, the next paragraph does not spare us from more bad grammar. “Measures to avoid saliva exchange, while commendable, are impossible to enforce universally—especially not on Prospect Avenue.” Presumably, they meant especially on Prospect Avenue. But with the Prince, you never know for sure.
At the end of the editorial, as if to say that he wants no part in his colleagues’ shenanigans, Zach Horton notably abstains from the aforementioned recommendations. Does dissent within the editorial board mean there is a dark side to being immune to dangerous infections? Is there something we don’t know about the spread of this disease? Will the Daily Princetonian ever produce real investigative journalism? Probably not.
Revised title: “After much deliberation, we, the editorial board, do not want you to die.”
“Living in parallel”
Parallel lives—perhaps a metaphor for growing economic inequality? An exposé of the harsh treatment of dining hall workers? Will this op-ed show some rare social consciousness?
Of course not. This is the Prince.
The last sentence of the first paragraph destroys any possibility that it’s worth reading. “Standing on a stage in a tailcoat, white bowtie and borrowed vintage Yale snapback was one of my best friends from high school, now a member of the Yale Glee Club.” The title, “Parallel lives,” evokes the idea of upstairs, downstairs in Edwardian England, or perhaps Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. But not for this author. Apparently, parallel lives are lived in the same socioeconomic echelon and at similar elite schools. How surprising that a student at Princeton has a friend at Yale! How astonishing that this friend wears a “vintage Yale snapback!”
Though inconsequential to ninety-nine percent of people on Earth, the op-ed seems to hold special significance for the author. In particular, the possibility that people might attend Yale appears as a source of profound personal inquiry. “My mind was in a strange way thrown into trying to rationalize an inherent contradiction. Why someone who I was so used to seeing in my high school auditorium and refectory would now find himself in Richardson or in Whitman.” The author may want to review the meanings of several words. Having read this sentence, we’re left worrying about the author’s mind being thrown in a strange way. And to what is the contradiction inherent? The author’s friend? The situation? Is there a reason why, after telling us they went to school together, the author finds it necessary to say he was used to seeing the person he went to school with? If the author finds himself “in Richardson or Whitman,” it isn’t at all any sort of “contradiction” that he finds someone like him there, too. But then again, that someone would choose to attend Yale might be hard to grasp if you spent time in high school frequenting a “refectory” at mealtime. Only people who eat in cafeterias go to Yale.
If the Prince had guidelines for how to write an op-ed sufficiently bad enough to get published, this op-ed would meet every single one. Shameless self- pity? Yes: “I had to make a whole new set of friends, and I wouldn’t have the crutch of knowing people from my high school. I text and stay in touch with my friends from home, but on some level I was compartmentalizing.” The details of the author’s social life are, of course, important for everyone to know. But even these details are not clear: it appears that for the author, the opposite of texting is compartmentalizing.
Is there sentimental reflection on the author’s home or old school? Yes: “Having a high school grade of 51, where most people had the same few classes, the same few teachers and participated in the same few clubs made us an incredibly close group.” From this sentence, it seems the author owned his grade and that, judging from the “where,” his grade was also a geographical location. Not only is this an exemplary boast in the form of feigned modesty, but it also helps those of us who attended large public schools understand how the other half lives.
A saccharine message about how to make college worthwhile? That’s there, too: “the individuality and independence that comes with college…is also a good thing. It’s a trade-off for more liberty to explore and grow as an academic and as a person.” This is strange advice, since it means that before you got to college, you weren’t an individual. We hope that isn’t what the author meant.
Money quote/unattributed Dr. Phil quote: “Having your own struggles and a group less in tune with each others’ problems forces you to grow.”
“Looking past the outbreak”
At first glance, this column promises some kind of critical thought. Maybe the author will put into perspective Princeton’s acquisition of vaccines unapproved by the government. Perhaps he’ll highlight the power structures that enable Princeton to demand special government assistance. Will he mention how Princeton’s ability to secure special healthcare for its students eerily resembles the behavior of nefarious corporations in capitalist dystopias? Nope.
This op-ed is about washing your hands. If you didn’t already know, you should wash your hands. The author feels so strongly about the importance of hand hygiene that he is willing to reveal his own bathroom habits: “I doubt that anyone has conducted a controlled study on the percentage of bathroom visits that actually conform to the UHS recommendations, but personally I have never seen anyone use a paper towel to turn off a sink faucet.” If he has never seen it happen, that means he, too, is guilty of turning off a faucet without using a paper towel.
Why is hygiene important? Because without it Princeton students won’t be able to go to medical school, then become investment bankers, and still live past thirty. “Shifting and distorting our sleep schedules, eating unhealthy junk at random times, and slouching over a computer screen might work for four years of college, for a few more years of medical school, for the first few years at a finance job, but,” the author warns us, “eventually our habits will catch up to us.” The author has quite ambitious expectations for Princeton students, assuming they don’t drink too much Red Bull and eat too many Doritos.
Revised title: “Wash your hands, or you’ll die.”
“Founder of J Street Speaks on two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict”
Typically, the Prince traffics in melodrama. But occasionally, it deals in wildly irresponsible understatements. This article, for the most part, is reportage—a rare piece with attributed quotations. Toward the middle, though, things get dicey. “‘It’s in my blood to be concerned for, passionate about…the state of Israel,’ Ben-Ami said, describing his personal connection to the issue, as his grandparents were among the families that helped found Tel Aviv and his father was an active participant of a right-wing freedom-fighting movement.” This sentence (yes, that is also one sentence) white-washes the “movement,” that goes unnamed in the article. Come on Prince, do your homework. Good journalism does not demand omniscience, but it does require a bit of research. Ben-Ami’s father was in the Irgun, a terrorist organization responsible for killing ninety people in a bombing at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The Irgun also participated in the Deir Yassin massacre, in which which more than one hundred Palestinians were taken from their homes and killed. But go for it, Daily Princetonian. Call it a “freedom-fighting movement,” if that’s your idea of freedom.
“Taking back the weekend”
Most people acknowledge that Princeton’s weekend rhythm can grow monotonous. And it can be tiresome groveling outside of beer-filled mansions for a colored piece of paper. But very few people worry that Princeton’s social scene is not rarefied enough. “I had fairly low expectations for the party scene at Princeton,” writes this self-anointed queen-of-rage. For her, revelry just doesn’t cut it. “I was confident that my nightlife would be varied, my weekends full of spontaneous trips outside quaint suburbia.” We regret to inform you that varied nightlife, like racist development projects, belongs to Columbia.
“Needless to say, classes and train tickets didn’t make these trips very feasible.” Here, basic understandings of both the university and transportation are absent. When you attend a university, you are generally expected to attend class. And to travel somewhere on a train, you need a ticket. Train tickets, in addition to trains, train tracks, and train conductors, make those trips feasible.
The author continues: “But it only took about three or so nights out to see how this Street culture establishes a repetitive cycle.” Firstly, the people on the Street can establish things, including the Street’s culture. The Street itself may be an establishment, but its culture establishes nothing. Secondly, what is this mysterious “Street culture?” It sounds like what Tipper Gore was worried about when she attacked rap groups in the 1990s.
In case the regular Prince reader (if such a person exists) was curious about the author’s future bacchanal plans, the author provides an official statement in bureaucratese, as it were crafted by the University’s mysterious spokesman/minister of propaganda himself. “This is not to say I’ve given up the Street altogether. I’m sure I will continue to frequent it, especially when particular annual events occur. But under no circumstances will I go when I don’t want to.” The Princeton community undoubtedly appreciates that the author took time out of her busy schedule to share her lack of desire to do things she does not want to do.
Princeton’s famous humility: “after learning the system of eating clubs and passes, finding a club to settle into was easy enough.”
12 thoughts on “PrinceWatch”
Re: meningitis editorial
Did you actually look at the editorial page that day? If so, you may have noticed an op-ed below the editorial that sought to trivialize the outbreak and concluded that it could simply be ignored (see Nassau Weekly verbatim section 2 weeks ago for a highlight of this op ed). So much for the argument about the self evident nature of the meningitis outbreak.
If the Prince Watcher had read beyond the first paragraph of the editorial, he would have realized the huge public health teaching point that was being made. It is not surprising that this Nassau Weekly writer would have difficulty with this concept, since he was unable to read a coherent scientific sentence. The subtle point being made in the editorial, which is actually quite interesting to students of biology and epidemiology, is this: because of the concept of herd immunity, the vaccine naysayers among us may actually facilitate the prolongation of this infection on our campus.
But we do not mean to consign our Prince Watcher to two semesters of biology. The fact that this Watcher reached the conclusion that the rationale for vaccination is self evident is in itself evidence that this useless editorial had some use. So huzzah.
On one point, we the commentators of the commentator agree: how can one abstain from a matter of life and death?
This is mean. I don’t want to sound like a kindergarten teacher, but what are the authors of the Prince articles attacked here going to think when they see this article?
@Galinda: Putting your name into print means that you allow your opinions to be appreciated, discussed, and, yes, criticized.
You’re right. It is mean. The Prince writers will probably think something along the lines of “Gosh, what a rudeness,” and feel so down in the dumps they’ll have to turn to Upworthy for succor.
I generally like you quite a lot, but this just sounded mean and nit-picky. It was really unnecessary and came across as a forced push to sound as ridiculously liberal as possible (I mean, I agree with you on the issues you brought up such as wealth inequality and your take on the Irgun, but bringing them up felt forced and unrelated to the articles).
You clearly don’t know Josh then. He is far from forcing himself to be liberal, he actually IS that liberal and this may be himself actually more moderate than he usually is.
Easy to criticize, harder to do. It seems clear that you have some strong opinions, one of which is that you can do better. So why don’t you? If you actually took the time to fix the problems you’re pointing out by contributing to the Prince, then maybe it could be a substantially better paper. But otherwise it’s pointless for you to complain only to leave the writers you presume to be incompetent to keep on writing. You should also keep in mind though that, as a daily paper, the Prince faces a lot more challenges than most other publications on campus.
maybe he wants to write for the nass and poke fun at the prince and keep writing for the nass. seems reasonable to me.
Because sometimes — when an institution’s problems are systematic and deep-seated and self-perpetuating — reforming it from the inside is an uncertain option at best, impossible at worst. In such cases what’s needed is a good smashing.
Brilliant. More like this, please — the Prince could use a little cutting down to size, and all crass jokes aside Marcelo, the new editor-in-chief, is smart and competent enough that if you put the fire under his ass with this sort of media criticism he might actually be able to change things for the better.
Everyone seems to be missing one of the main thrusts of the essay, though, so I’ll spell it out explicitly: Leifer clearly has a problem not only with the Prince’s atrocious writing but also with its incompetence at producing anything but shoddy sensationalism or idiotic puff pieces. That this is happening at all at a supposedly elite institution’s undergraduate newspaper is disheartening; that it is also happening at a time when neoliberal capitalism is in crisis, the American government seems perpetually paralyzed, the Middle East may or may not be about to erupt into war, class and racial divisions in our society are widening dangerously, and the ecological crisis looms in the near-distance is unacceptable.
We deserve better — no, scratch that — we are *obligated* to *produce* better. Because the Prince’s terrible quality isn’t an isolated incident; it’s a consequence of the academic environment surrounding it, which is insulated, elitist, complicit in the hegemonic and oligarchical structures of our corrupt society, and stubbornly anti-intellectual. It’s our fault as well as theirs.
One final note: don’t rag so much on the writers, as it’s not always their fault. Yes, the Prince has a habit of hiring writers who can hardly stitch together a sentence, but those of them that can often find themselves frustrated by the overeager ministrations of fanatical, moronic editors who diligently bleach every story of any trace of nuance, subtlety, investigation, and analysis.
how does this piece produce anything substantially better/different than prince
i partially agree with you and partially with just sounds like noise. 4th par — yes we deserve better — does this produce it?? no… in fact it’s hardly well-written in itself. 5th par — spot on — prince is victim of system that is princeton bureau., you know, “our reactionary monolith,” as it were.
leifer doesn’t have to defect to the prince to do something “better” — but he should at least propose or create some concrete solution within confines of nass, rather than criticizing with no ultimate purpose other than to say “they are bad, haha” .. didn’t perceive an ultimate point to this piece, and many criticisms were unfocused as JSLN indicated.. could have garnered much greater effect if more driven, precise
josh i’m excited to watch you develop as a writer, because i think you have great potential and are a seriously smart human, but i don’t think this was a very mature or complex piece, and i think you can do better
This is bad and you should feel bad, buddy.