‘Love, morphine, and whisky.’

UD‘s about to go to Teaism to meet up with a friend, but she wants to write a little bit, when she gets back, about this now-notorious blog post from a very good writer and a very thoughtful doctor.

Because Richard Smith’s candid thoughts about the best death angered a lot of people, he has written a follow-up.

UD thinks his writing on death might profitably be read alongside another notorious recent essay on the subject, also by a doctor: Ezekiel Emanuel’s piece in the Atlantic.

As is often the case with very controversial writing, the responses (one’s own as well as those of others) are perhaps more interesting/important than the writing itself. I’ll chew over these matters while chewing on a scone and downing a mug of chai, and I’ll write about them when I return.

Spectacularly mature and well-written piece on laptops in the classroom…

… by a Wesleyan University undergrad. One of the keenest, calmest, most honest, considerations UD has seen of the phenomenon.

It is our obligation as students to delve more deeply into the impacts of technology on our education and our values, and this can only happen through reflection about the influence of technology on what and how we learn… The questions raised by technology are not just questions about distraction or temptation. They are deeper human questions about how we learn, and they must be addressed if we ever hope to reach an understanding of how technology should be used in the service of learning. Whatever decision professors or students might make about the use of technology in the classroom, these questions can serve as springboards for discussion about the importance, for example, of an engaging classroom environment, and about why complete focus and open interaction with one’s classmates are essential to this environment.

Concisely, incisively, she gets to the core of why professors who allow – much less encourage – laptops in their classroom are guilty of pedagogical malpractice.

But – as UD has said for years on this blog – laptop lecturers, who totally grasp the advantages of talking to an audience that ignores you (especially if, like many of these lecturers, you spice up the classroom sizzle with extensive PowerPoint use), will never shut down the enterprise. Nor will their university’s administrators, who after all have been giving these drones awards for innovative use of technology in the classroom. As UD has always said, and as this and other student editorials suggest, change will come only from a popular revolt.

Nice writing on the Steven Salaita controversy.

Quoted in an Inside Higher Ed article.

John K. Wilson, author of numerous books and essays about academic freedom, wrote on the AAUP blog that he found [University of Illinois chancellor Phyllis] Wise’s statement troubling. “Respect is not a fundamental value of any university, and being ‘disrespectful’ is not an academic crime. But it’s notable that Salaita really didn’t say anything personal about anyone. So here Wise greatly expands the concept, declaring that not only persons but ‘viewpoints themselves’ must be protected from any disrespectful words,” Wilson writes.

“I am puzzled as to exactly how a free university could possibly operate when no one is allowed to be disrespectful toward any viewpoint. Presumably, Wise will quickly act to fire anyone who has ever disrespected or demeaned Nazism, terrorism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. Since all ‘viewpoints’ are protected, then biology professors must be fired for disrespecting creationism as false, along with any other professor who is found to believe or know anything.”

Nadine Gordimer…

… has died.

In the town where I lived, there was no mental food … at all. I’m often amazed to think how they live, those people, and what an oppressed life it must be, because human beings must live in the world of ideas. This dimension in the human psyche is very important. It was there, but they didn’t know how to express it. Conversation consisted of trivialities. For women, household matters, problems with children. The men would talk about golf or business or horse racing or whatever their practical interests were. Nobody ever talked about, or even around, the big things — life and death. The whole existential aspect of life was never discussed. I, of course, approached it through books. Thought about it on my own. It was as secret as it would have been to discuss my parents’ sex life. It was something so private, because I felt that there was nobody with whom I could talk about these things, just nobody. But then, of course, when I was moving around at university, my life changed.

Rightwing …


“Should she return to her selfish, shallow life in Hollywood or build a new shallow, selfish life in Monte Carlo?”

Sure, these reviews are pretty easy to write. Still, they’re often fun to read.

“You truly represent everything that the West loathes about white South Africans who live extravagant lives in their expensive laagers.”

The Pistorius trial generates its first truly powerful writing. This article is going viral in South Africa.

“It was Day 2 of Mobile Home University, an intensive, three-day course on how to strike it rich in the trailer-park business. Seventy-five or so students had signed up for the class, which Rolfe offers every other month in different places around the country…”

I love this article about MHU. I read it going home on the metro yesterday and loved it. Its strange, comic, and morally questionable subject matter is rendered in an appropriately flat descriptive tone; it features an amusing all-American main character (Frank Rolfe); and it evokes the exotic (to me; probably to you) world of the American trailer park (more delicately, the manufactured home community).

“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t gamble,” [Rolfe] says. “I don’t travel, I don’t restore cars, I have no hobbies. I don’t do anything.” Trailer parks are his world, and after nearly two decades in the business, he can entertain his students with a near-endless repertoire of tales. One of the class’s favorites was the tenant who tried to drown his girlfriend — and then nearly became a murder victim himself when the same woman tried to saw off his head.

“Cremation will take place at the family’s convenience, and his ashes will be kept in an urn until they get tired of having it around. What’s a Grecian Urn? Oh, about 200 drachmas a week.”

A great obituary from UD‘s summer stomping grounds, the beaches of Delaware.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

“Recently voted the world’s worst politician, and still plumbing ever-deeper depths of domestic unpopularity, the wobbly-chopped socialist can be forgiven for seeking consolation somewhere.”

UD finds the best writing – so far – on Francois Hollande.

It’s all good, but the writer has in particular a way with phrases:

While still a student at the Ecole Nationale d’Admininstration, the elite college that turns out France’s bureaucrats, Hollande met Ségolène Royal, a glossily-coiffed fellow political obsessive…


wobbly-chopped socialist… glossily-coiffed fellow political obsessive…

Wonderfully pithy. But the whole thing is good.


A side-note on all this:
UD argues that the photo of Hollande wearing a big macho motorcycle helmet (in order to hide his identity as he enters his love nest) is the functional equivalent of the photo of Michael Dukakis wearing a big macho military helmet during his presidential election. Not a good look for them.

“Why give it to an institution rolling in money?”

Some of Gore Vidal’s family members are irritated that he willed his fortune (almost forty million dollars) to Harvard University. The New York Times interviews various confused friends, like the one in my headline…

It’s not just that Harvard already has close to forty billion dollars in endowment money; it’s that Vidal spent a lot of his life presenting himself as a man of the left who despised the gilded establishment and was mad for the radical redistribution of wealth. People at the very least expected him to set up a foundation in support of free speech and other rights; some expected him to establish his Italy house as a writers’ colony.

So there’s a lawsuit now, with family members making as ugly a spectacle of themselves as Vidal often did toward the end of his life. (“I have no wish to commit literary patricide, or to assassinate Vidal’s character — a character which appears, in any case, to have committed suicide,” wrote Christopher Hitchens in 2010.)

There’s a 2012 essay here, at Inside Higher Ed, about Vidal’s history with Harvard. It features a curious little clip of him portraying a pompous Harvard professor.

Of course for old UD the principle here is simple: He wrote and signed the will; he wasn’t in great shape, that’s true; but giving it to Harvard is a plausible thing for someone as complex in his motives to have wanted, and it should be respected.

“When a band this massively popular, this risk-averse, this patently un-weird takes heartfelt shots at the ‘norms,’ it’s hard to decide whether to laugh, barf or weep for the future of rock-and-roll itself.”

It’s a little over the top, but there’s a basically well-written take down of a popular band by Chris Richards in The Washington Post.

[T]his is rock music that lazily presumes life on the digital plane has made us so numb, so unable to feel for ourselves, that the only way to reach our hearts is by applying a pneumatic hammer to our classic rock pleasure centers. Bowie! Springsteen! Talking Heads! Blam-blam-blam! Bludgeoning and vacant, “Reflektor” is an album that both condescends and sells itself short, over and over again, for 76 insufferable minutes.

Again, this is pretty good, but editing it down to make it tighter – and its emotion of disappointment and contempt more focused – would have helped:

This is music that presumes digital life has made us so numb we can only be reached via pneumatic hammer. Bowie, Springsteen, Talking Heads: Blam, blam, blam! Bludgeoning and vacant, “Reflektor” condescends and sells itself short, over and over again, for 76 insufferable minutes.

Yet better examples of the absolute dump review are two from the New York Times that Scathing Online Schoolmarm has already featured on this blog: A 2008 Jon Pareles description of a Sarah Brightman concert, and, in 2012, Alastair Macaulay reviewing Russia’s Eifman Ballet. Click here for hilarious details.


UD thanks her sister for
the link to the Post review.

Student Storage

An hilariously well-written piece about award-winning new dorms in London.

Longtime readers know that UD’s a big fan of …

… Anthony Tommasini, New York Times music critic, because he writes really well. His review of Bayreuth’s recent train wreck of a Ring Cycle is a thing of beauty. Excerpts:

When Frank Castorf, the avant-garde German director responsible for this confounding concept, took the stage with his production team, almost the entire audience, it seemed, erupted with loud, prolonged boos. It went on for nearly 10 minutes, by my watch, because Mr. Castorf, 62, who has been running the Volksbühne (People’s Theater) of Berlin since 1992, stood steadfast onstage, his arms folded stiffly. He sometimes jabbed a finger at the audience, essentially defying the crowd to keep it coming.

… Mr. Castorf presents the “Ring” as a metaphorical story of the global quest for oil, with the resulting era of war, oppression, corporate greed and environmental destruction. But Mr. Castorf did not follow through with this theme very consistently.

In the first act of “Siegfried,”which opened on Monday, Mr. Castorf and the set designer, Aleksandar Denic, playfully evoke the battle over energy that was a major component of the cold war. The setting is supposed to show the forest dwelling where Mime, the Nibelung dwarf, has raised the orphaned Siegfried into brawny young manhood. Here Mime’s home is a trailer-park campsite in front of a stunning scenic riff on Mount Rushmore: The faces of the American presidents have been replaced by Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao. But often the oil quest imagery just seems slapped on, literally: for no clear reasons, singers smear one another with crude oil.

… [N]ear the end of “Siegfried” …(you can’t make this up) a monster crocodile swallowed the poor Forest Bird in one big gulp.

This last scene, of course, is the ecstatic love duet between Siegfried, our rambunctious hero (who, by the way, instead of forging a sword assembles a semiautomatic rifle), and the smitten Brünnhilde. In this production, at the most climactic moment in the music, the stage rotated to reveal two of those monster crocodiles busily copulating.

… [One] crucial scene … begins at the Marxist Mount Rushmore, then moves to an almost-reproduction of the Alexanderplatz, the Socialist-era transit hub and shopping center in Berlin.

[At another point, a singer] scurried up a stairway to consult a hairy-chested man, who wheels a baby carriage down the stairs, spilling its contents — potatoes — everywhere. At least they looked like potatoes. If you are expecting me to explain this (or Wotan’s being orally serviced — one Rhinemaiden sucking oil off the finger of another as they look longingly into each other’s eyes), I am sorry to disappoint you…

This oil business reminds me of another avant-garde effort, in the pages of Vogue.

Patrick Hruby on the NCAA Pissing its Pants.

Late last week, the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the antitrust lawsuit filed against the [NCAA] by former University of California, Los Angeles basketball player Ed O’Bannon and a group of other former college athletes added six current college football players to their amended complaint; in response, NCAA vice president for legal affairs Donald Remy released a statement claiming that O’Bannon and company’s “scheme to pay a small number of student-athletes threatens college sports as we know it.”

“In particular,” Remy wrote, “we would lose the very real opportunity for at least 96 percent of NCAA male and female student-athletes who do not compete in Division I men’s basketball or FBS football to play a sport and get an education, as they do today.”

In other words? This is the end. Of everything. Make us share more of the pie with greedy revenue-sport athletes and their trial lawyers by eliminating amateurism, and say goodbye to women’s lacrosse. Don’t you want those hard-working young women to earn college degrees? Cue “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana.

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