Our Showy Id.

[T]hey were plenty wealthy, and appeared very comfortable with lying without compunction to get their way, and with throwing around hundreds of thousands of dollars in their quest to buy status. They were immediately fascinating characters to me: vulgar, entitled, and un-self-aware, they seemed to embody the latest version of the showy American id, not unlike Bravo’s Real Housewives, or the Kardashians, or, for that matter, the Trump family. ..

The people involved [in the admissions scam] were so self-satisfied and secure in their power that they greeted unethical, perhaps felonious proposals with complete nonchalance.

**********************

If you’ve ever wondered why everyone’s always telling you The Great Gatsby is the great American novel…

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

Among a sudden flurry of satires…

.. this is a good one.

I could also be very good at: rowing ($300,000), golf ($147,000), dance ($203,000), soccer ($375,000), but probably tennis is best bet/makes most sense?

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Palo Alto

ANTHEM OF THE DOOMED PARENTS

(Sing it.)

Sons of the rich sons of the thief
Who is the child who comes to grief?
Sons of the boss sons of the suit
Lazy and dumb but incredibly cute
The same sweet grins the same sad tears
The cries at night the nightmare fears
Sons of the great sons of the vile
Who can resist the way they smile…

Sons of tycoons sons of the shits
We love our sons so you have to acquit
It’s poor Upper Rancho’s problem from hell
We loved them not wisely but oh too well
The foolish fond father the well-heeled tard
The tow-headed lad with an ass made of lard
Sons of tycoons sons of the shits

We love our sons so you have to acquit




Sixty million freshmen can’t be wrong.

Jared Kushner, Morris Esformes, Ralph Lauren’s kids, and millions of others (well, haha, not millions; only the very rich can buy elite college admissions for their kids) have been at it for years, and who knows why the DOJ decided today to make some noise about it… And they made a lot of noise – it’s all over the front pages! – cuz famous actresses and all are involved…

I mean, you knew, UD-reader — you already knew, right? — that what Philip Esformes did to get his uncoordinated dummy into U Penn via his amazing basketball skills is standard practice among a certain slice of this country’s obscenely well to do, ja? We are talking here after all about the cubs of some of America’s most powerful predators; you think they’re not going to use their money on the cubs’ behalf with the same scorched-earth aggression they used to accumulate the money in the first place?

And yes, UD is waiting with the same warm pleasurable anticipation you are for the secret recordings of these parents (full list, with adjuvant malefactors, here) as they open up about the vagaries of genetics… The kid’s a real flop and I have no idea why… It’s actually been an embarrassment in my career that I failed to produce even one above average child with any of my wives… See what you can do for her… I can pay the school or the coach or whatever up to ten million…

******************

So there are too many people being arrested at the moment to cover them all; let’s just focus on UD‘s close neighbor, Chevy Chase, Maryland’s own Gordie Ernst. (I actually had dinner, a few years ago, a few doors down from Ernst’s two million dollar house; the host was a big fancy lobbyist.) Let’s see what Gordie, then Georgetown University’s tennis coach, did.

[Ernst] designated at least 12 applicants as recruits for the Georgetown tennis team, including some who did not play tennis competitively, the indictment alleges. This assisted those applicants in their quest to gain admission to the school, according to the indictment.

The indictment alleges that on Aug. 19, 2015, [William] Singer instructed an applicant to send Ernst an email containing false information about their tennis ability. In fact, the applicant did not play competitive tennis. Ernst then forwarded the email to Georgetown’s admissions office “to confirm my usage of three spots,” or that the applicant would be part of his recruiting class.

In April of 2016 the parents of the applicant sent $400,000 to [a bogus] charitable account set up by Singer. Between Sept. 2015 and August of 2016, Ernst received checks totaling $700,000 from one of the charitable accounts.

Gordie made millions in this way, but UD understands his desperation. Here’s a long article about the tragedy of Georgetown’s outdoor courts being temporarily unavailable due to construction. This meant that Gordie couldn’t, for a year or two, run his summer tennis camps.

Ernst will also not be able to share in the revenue generated by the camp, which previously was an important financial source for the coach. Ernst said that losing the camps has been a “big financial hit” for him and his family.

Luckily, as fate would have it, at the very same time Gordie was pocketing millions of dollars by taking bribes to admit lots of unadmittable people to Georgetown!

**********************

Georgetown University removed Gordon Ernst as tennis coach in December 2017, after an internal investigation found that he had violated university rules concerning admissions, said a spokeswoman, Meghan Dubyak.

HYUK! Guess nobody told University of Rhode Island, which hired Gordie right after Georgetown booted him! But then the Catholic Church is famous for… moving its… bad actors… around from… parish? to parish….

But what’s truly beautiful is the way Gordie spun his desperate end of the road move back to Rhode Island as a shimmering golden no-place-like-home local-boy-makes-good tale:

“We are thrilled to have Gordie Ernst join the URI Athletics Family as our new Head Women’s Tennis Coach,” [the URI AD] said. “Gordie is highly regarded in the tennis community and has had terrific success throughout his career. I really like the fact that he is a native Rhode Islander looking to continue his career back in his home state.”

And luckily, the AD might have added, no one needs to bribe their way into URI, so we’re safe.

Gordie weighed in too.

 Throughout my life as a student-athlete and coach, I have had the good fortune to meet many great people and travel the world. While this has been hugely fulfilling, my heart has always remained in Rhode Island. I was born and raised in Rhode Island, my mother is the ultimate Rhode Island sports mom and enthusiast. My late father left huge shoes for me to fill as an inductee into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.

I’m gonna bet dad’s gazing down from heaven right now, eyes aglimmer, saying You little shit. I told you to stop stealing.

PS Your Cat is Dead

LOL

‘Something about our current national mood suggests we’re yearning to see con artists, to watch their rise and, more hungrily, their fall.’

It’s all Villains, Thieves, and Scoundrels Union here on planet earth, and University Diaries, in a year-end, retrospective mood, recalls with you not merely the prolific literary frauds of our day (chronicled on this blog, to the extent that I can keep up with them), but cultural frauds more generally. Obviously, we’re most interested here in frauds perpetrated in university settings – the hilarious venerable ‘student/athlete’ thing; plagiarism; made-up research; corporate-whore research; stashing federal funds away for personal use; or simply, Jimbo Ramsey-style, stealing your university’s endowment…

Or go way back to the much spiffier Andrei Shleifer, eminent Harvard economics professor, turning his federal-government-funded advisory position into a get-rich-quick scheme… Persistently, this blog, and planet earth, have been located in The World According to Trump University, and with the election of that university’s CEO, people have made it pretty clear that this is where they want to be. It’s not – as the Vanity Fair quotation in my headline has it – that we want to watch the rise and fall – few fraudsters fall… I mean, you’ve got to be Bernie Madoff to really FALL. His comrade in crime, Ezra Merkin, will remain out of jail – although, to be sure, in courtrooms – for the rest of his life. James Ramsey, larcenous president of the University of Louisville, will die with his McMansion lifestyle intact and the case against him grinding slowly on. The literary fraudsters described in the VF article are getting immortalized in fancy schmancy movies. Shleifer continues to ride high.

But it is true that watching ourselves being frauds and perpetrating frauds has become a keener and keener spectator sport – it’s part of the Italianization of culture about which Adam Gopnik writes. Our self-alienation, wrote Walter Benjamin long ago, has “reached such a degree that [we] can experience [our] own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.”

Yet the blogeuse you hold in your hands hopes you can, like her models (Orwell, Camus, Arendt, Murdoch, Hitchens), resist la dolce vita spectatorship in favor of sour indignation.

As Brown and Yeshiva Universities Know…

… you don’t want to look too closely at some of your biggest donors (Steve Cohen, Zygi Wilf).

UCLA‘s biggest donor is also kinda grody – but in a very Hollywood way [scroll down for Colbert Report segment]:

Best of all of these guys is California media mogul David Geffen… ‘These are designed to look like garage doors… But … they’re actually sealed shut.'”

All pretend! But law-abiding ordinary people, Geffen knows, assume they’re real. And therefore the dupes obey the… law…







Sitting behind glass, looking at a screen replaying something already projected on another screen.

Game day excitement!







Ripple Effect

Taiwan’s education minister, co-author on a number of fraudulent papers that appeared in Vibration and Control (background here), has resigned.







“Vibration and Control.”

So poetic a title, Vibration and Control. As in Whitehead’s term vibratory organism, or as in Baudelaire’s poem, Music, ‘vibration and control’ suggests the very dynamic of human existence – our lives as shaped expressions of energy…

Music, like an ocean, often carries me away!
Through the ether far,
or under a canopy of mist, I set sail
for my pale star.
Breasting the waves, my lungs swollen
like a ship’s canvas,
night veils from me the long rollers,
I ride their backs:
I sense all a suffering vessel’s passions
vibrating within me:
while fair winds or the storm’s convulsions
on the immense deep
cradle me. Or else flat calm, vast mirror there
of my despair!

I sense all a suffering vessel’s passions / vibrating within me… It’s also the very basis of aesthetic response: Listening to music, sailing away on its ether, makes one resonate with the universal suffering of the human vessel. Yet that sympathetic vibration, because it is for you, at the moment of listening, aestheticized, feels as it were supported (“cradle me.”) Tis what UD has said so often on this blog about artistic experience, and it’s an idea that goes back to Aristotle: We are intensely drawn to aesthetic response in part because it cathartically allows us to go through the feeling of suffering in a way not personal to us. Art “mirrors” our despair; it is not the raw stuff of our despair. It vibrates our being with being and is therefore thrilling, clarifying, purgative, and even – in making us feel universal suffering – compassion-making…

But what grand work of art is titled “Vibration and Control”?

Well, let’s shift gears.

“Vibration and Control” is the name of an engineering journal. One of its contributors was part of a peer review ring:

[Peter] Chen and possible collaborators may have set up as many as 130 fake email accounts that they used to fabricate identities as peer reviewers to help clear articles for publication. On at least one occasion, [the journal’s publisher] alleges, Chen “reviewed his own paper under one of the aliases he had created.”

The journal has in one swell foop retracted SIXTY articles.

Not very poetic, but very postmodern. A lot of journals these days pretty much run themselves. When you don’t have real editors (most journals don’t have much in the way of readers either), this sort of thing will happen. Another instance of what UD calls where the simulacrum ends.

*********************

UD thanks two of her readers for various links to this story.







“On the metrics for attendance to NMSU football games, Carruthers confirmed that the NMSU Foundation purchased season tickets to meet the requirement of 15,000 fans per game.”

These foundations are great. They find $300,000 that somehow couldn’t be found for scholarships and give it to politicians who visit campus for a few hours to hawk a ghosted book and give a speech. Their 30,343-capacity football stadium can’t attract half that, so money that could go to scholarships or something vaguely academic instead goes to buy seats – empty seats, but they’re paid for – in a football stadium.

This – as this post’s category puts it – is where the simulacrum ends. It’s the way simulacral culture eventually ends up infecting even our universities.







There are lots of things to unpack, thinks UD, in the Hillary/UNLV dustup…

… in which student leaders at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (a school that’s a perennial source of ridicule on this blog, by the way) object to the – everyone’s trotting out the usual adjectives – obscene, outrageous, grotesque – payment she’s getting to give a speech at the school. The students, who attend a university constantly and, uh, outrageously raising tuition and fees, a school about to build a billion dollar football stadium, are shocked that anyone would be handed $225,000 to read an hour’s worth of platitudes (an hour? maybe less) written by someone else. (UD will enthusiastically vote for Hillary when she runs, so look elsewhere for an anti-Clinton screed.) (And don’t get me started on the mystery of who wrote her memoir.)

Not long ago, Clinton got $300,000 to do the same thing at UCLA.

UD ran the give a speech for $300,000 thing by Mr UD, and though far from a populist, he too was shocked. For him too something in this transaction – you fly me out, put me up in a nice place, watch while I read a speech, have one of your fund-raising arms give me $300,000, and fly me home – seemed very wrong.

********************

The dustup has me thinking about John Edwards, a presidential candidate with … call them money problems. Remember? This is a from a long profile in Esquire:

Edwards was taking a beating in the press. The two $400 Beverly Hills haircuts that were mistakenly charged to the campaign, his yearlong employment at a New York hedge fund, the revelation that he took large fees for speaking engagements — all of it has been drowning out his message.

“They’re calling you a hypocrite,” I said.

Edwards looked at me, kind of annoyed, kind of resigned. “The truth about me is that I come from a very normal background. Early in our marriage, Elizabeth and I had very normal lives. We got financially successful because I won a bunch of cases. So we had money far beyond what we would ever have expected to have. And I think that part of our life, the financial life, is pretty privileged. You know, that house you went to is a really nice house. But I don’t think either one of us has believed that anything’s changed about us.

“Yes, of course, having money, having people around me, being able to buy a nicer shirt or whatever without having to worry about it, or going to dinner and not having to worry about it, that’s all true, that has changed. But I don’t think it changes anything about me as a person. The people who are critical, well, they don’t know me, they’ve never been around me. They don’t know me personally. That’s what I really believe is the truth.

“Because of the background I come from, I always feel a personal connection with people who are struggling…”

Large fees for speaking engagements… though back then they were probably a piddling amount, like $100,000… Not long after he was president of Harvard, Larry Summers made $135,000 for one speech at Goldman Sachs… That’s nothing…

And what was Edwards’ defense? That despite the absolutely enormous house he’d built himself, despite all of the other gazillion dollar expenditures, he wasn’t a hypocrite because his essential ordinary humble self was unchanged.

Beyond the on-the-face-of-it unpersuasive nature of this argument – unimaginable sums of money clearly had changed him, as such a staggering life transformation would change anyone – there’s the deeper but even more obvious truth that how you use your wealth reflects your morality. Edwards used his in a profligate and narcissistic way; and to add insult to injury he did this while lecturing the nation on the shame of there being Two Americas.

And sure, there are two Americas, which is the heart of what Hillary’s up against. I mean, there are several Americas, but for the purpose of addressing this problem, her problem, there are two. There’s middle-class America, represented by the shocked UNLV students; and there’s Tom “Kristallnacht” Perkins’ America, represented by Brown University’s Steven Cohen (personal wealth $9 billion) and Harvard University’s endowment (approaching $35 billion). And the real problem, ironically enough, since UNLV is a university, is ignorance. The student leaders do not know about, let alone understand, this other America, the America whose one big daily existential issue is what to do with all of its money. People are always bothering Harvard about spending more of its endowment, but Harvard is kind of at a loss. They spend and spend – they’re building an entire other campus, for god’s sake – and it’s still around 35 billion. Cohen is constantly purchasing palazzos and Picassos, but, like some character in Alice in Wonderland, the more he spends the more he makes. This is The Spending Down Problem, the one problem that continues to bedevil our rich country’s large number of super-rich people and institutions. What the hell do we do with it all?

If you understand the problem from this angle, you’re not surprised when people come to your university, read some lines, and get a check for $225,000. The country is bulging with people desperate to dispense their money somehow, somewhere.

Since UD believes the students’ problem is essentially one of education, she has a proposal to make. Our universities should offer – perhaps in the business school – a History of Personal and Institutional Wealth in America, with an emphasis on the last ten years or so, when so much wealth has accumulated in private hands that most observers have trouble believing the numbers, much less the Spending Down Problem. (Review of required text here.) This course would allow America’s university students to look at $300,000 for a speech at their school (not to mention prepare them for the eventual escalation of these fees into the millions) without blinking.







“If the test is unreliable and 99% pass, why have a test at all?”

Where the simulacrum ends.

***************

UD thanks Barney.







“[A] major credit mill fraud operation [appears to have been] run with total impunity inside one of America’s premiere public research universities.”

Kevin Carey lifts discussion of jock school University of North Carolina Chapel Hill to the higher, existential level that was always implicit in nihilistic events there.

Like all universities, particularly those with prestige, [UNC] depends on the idea that it actually exists…

Yes. But this is postmodern America, and the school might be a simulacrum. Lots of universities – all the online ones – are simulacra.

The writing that follows Carey’s words about the non-existence of UNC is so strong that I would like to quote it in its entirety.

UNC Chapel Hill is not a coherent undergraduate institution. It’s a holding company that provides shared marketing, finance, and physical plant services for a group of autonomous departments, which are in turn holding companies for autonomous scholars who teach as they please. This is the only possible explanation for the years-long, wholly undetected operation of the African and Afro-American Studies Department credit fraud scam. Or, rather, it’s the only possible explanation other than a huge, organization-wide conspiracy in which the university administration, department, and football team colluded to hand out fake grades to hundreds of athletes.

The university, of course, vehemently denies that anything resembling the latter scenario is true. Despite damning emails between [Julius] Nyang’oro and the athletic department, UNC is desperately selling the story that the entire credit fraud operation was the work of just two people–Nyang’oro and an assistant–and involved no athletic department wrongdoing of any kind. That’s because while academic misconduct gets you nothing more than a wrist-slap from your accreditor and [a] year of sad/absurd “monitoring” in which the university administration randomly checks classes to make sure they actually exist, athletic misconduct can cost the university things it actually cares about, like money, bowl appearances, and athletic scholarships.

In other words, the only way for UNC administrators to avoid blame for gross academic misconduct is to admit that academic conduct was never their concern.

Meanwhile, the football team must be saved because the intense tribal loyalty generated by big-time sports is one of the chief mechanisms employed by universities to create the illusion that they exist. I’ve lived in Chapel Hill and experienced the closest thing to full-scale Dionysian revelry one is likely to find in modern America, on Franklin Street after the men’s basketball team won it all. It was thrilling. It felt like we were one people, all of us, conquerors. But it was also an illusion (I wasn’t a student at the time), a false consciousness manufactured by the university to conceal its non-existence as an academic institution.

The cynicism and dishonesty inherent to that seep into the cracks of university life, occasionally as outright criminality but far more often as mediocrity and simple indifference. If Julius Nyang’oro had simply bothered to show up in a room on campus from time to time, say something–anything–to some “student” athletes, and hand out a bunch of A-minuses, he never would have been caught. In the modern non-university, he wouldn’t even have been doing something wrong.







Where the Simulacrum Ends

UD has a category on this blog called Where the Simulacrum Ends, and it chronicles the many ways in which high-tech postmodern American culture is making the nuisance of conducting an actual life – a life outside of one’s bedroom, kitchen, and tinted-window car – a thing of the past.

This category has things in common with another UD category – Online Makeover – because among the education-related de-actualizing she chronicles (here, “actual” means going to public buildings and being with other physical humans) is the transformation of the country’s universities to – well, the strongest current model is Southern New Hampshire University, but pretty much everyone else is bringing up the rear. Public life in general in the United States is disappearing, and universities are no exception.

*******************

And of course that most salient feature of our higher education institutions – their football games – is also undergoing obsolescence. It’s happening in the professional leagues; it’s happening in the university leagues.

Before long, players may be performing in front of empty stands, with those most interested in the game sitting or standing miles away.

Why should anyone care, though? Ticket sales are no longer the main source of revenue for sports leagues. That may be a fair economical point to be made, but is there nothing to say about the toll this may take on integrity of the games played? Does the game gain a feel of becoming more of a simulation that we score through fantasy points as opposed to real-live action taking place right in front of our eyes?

Integrity… integrity… That strange word seems the core of this statement, yet what does it mean? What does it mean to say that a university or a football game has integrity?







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