Icy Path


Early morning shot of
UD‘s backyard.
Everything has iced over.

Icy Buddha


Click on this photo, which La Kid
just took from inside the house,
to see UD‘s icy Buddha atop
an upside down birdbath.

La Kid, Boston, This Afternoon.


Wind Chill 3 AM

What woke me early this morning felt like raw cold, not house cold. I followed the cold to the living room, where the wind had blown open a set of casement windows.

I’m in the habit of latching them in the middle and not bothering with the bottom and top. Now the doors were flung open to the incredible cold and the incredibly clear night sky. A blast of arctic reality.

Paul Campos comments on the NYT piece on UD’s George Washington University.

The NYT story is here.

Here’s Campos:

… Only when [national university] rankings expanded in the mid-1990s to encompass 50 and then 100 schools in numerical order did GW appear on these lists. Like the vast majority of colleges and universities, George Washington’s ranking has always been very stable. The school lurked and continues to lurk on the edge of the top 50, with practically no variation in its ranking from year to year. This suggests, of course, that what [ex-president Stephen] Trachtenberg did for the school’s overall reputation was exactly nothing, although his ability to convince credulous journalists that he had taken a humble inexpensive commuter school and transformed it into a high-priced academic powerhouse no doubt played a role in helping raise his salary by the time he departed to $3.7 million. (To the — very considerable — extent that a university’s endowment can be considered a proxy for its overall academic status, the history of GW’s endowment suggests strongly that the school’s status didn’t improve at all during Trachtenberg’s tenure.)

… Stephen Joel Trachtenberg might be considered academia’s king of meta-bullshit. His oft-repeated claims that he cynically and successfully exploited the Veblenesque yearnings of America’s middle and upper classes in order to make George Washington University much richer and more prestigious turns out to be just so much bullshit. But what most certainly isn’t bullshit is that he managed to exploit those claims themselves — although the prime beneficiary of those claims turned out not to be the institution that ended up paying him millions of dollars a year for his services.


UD thanks Dr_Doctorstein for the link to Campos.

Retirement Day, Joanna Soltan, Curator, School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

_DSC6113 copy

UD‘s sister-in-law,
with her colleague Alahna,
says goodbye to her office.

Plus hey what about…

… that raise?

Because of the misconduct allegations against him, [Rakesh] Kumar has not been able to find another research job. He also alleges that GW denied a “promised” raise to him.

Regular UD readers know that UD and her sister…

… often take off for a few days in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. UD‘s sister swears up and down that the weather for the next few days will be mild there, so off we go.

She’ll blog from the beach, of course. She blogs from everywhere.

UD’s Action-Packed Day Today…

… ranged from leading an early morning corporate seminar on John Updike’s short story, “Trust Me” (the participants were managers who have been doing some long-term thinking about trust and organizations) to attending a GW faculty seminar on the subject of “Christian Zionists” (a term UD had not heard before). She needed to cover large swathes of DC in a hurry – she metroed, ubered, and shuttled her way up and down and all around.

Best of all, at the end of the day, a generous colleague gave her a lift right to her door.

It was cold, and intensely sunny, with no snow. It was so cold that UD wore her massive alpaca coat, which she rarely does because it feels as though you’re carrying around a massive alpaca. But the thing undeniably keeps her warm.

UD has been asked to talk to a group of businesspeople here in DC about…

trust. For much of today, she’s been working up some remarks.

She was asked to structure her remarks around a work of literature, and she chose John Updike’s short story, “Trust Me,” a man’s recollection of his father having failed (for a few terrifying moments) to catch him as he – three or four years old – jumped for the first time into a swimming pool. “Trust me,” the father had said, and the child trusted him, but because the father in fact was not able to catch him right away, he came who knows how close to drowning.

Years later the narrator realizes that despite this abject failure of trustworthiness, and despite his mother (who was sitting nearby during the incident) having flown into so intense a rage that she violently slapped her husband’s face as he helped his son recover (her anger, writes the narrator, “seemed directed at him as much as at his father”), it’s his father he ended up trusting all his life. “It was his mother he distrusted, her swift sure-handed anger.”

The rest of the story recounts later failures of trusting and being trusted in the man’s life: He assures his girlfriend she can ski on a slope that’s in fact too challenging for her, and she falls apart – the two of them have to walk down the long icy run. His seventeen year old son assures him some hash brownies friends made for the son’s birthday “won’t do anything” to him, so the narrator eats one and becomes seriously and hilariously high as he tries to take the subway back to his apartment. He’s on a pleasant comfortable jet leaving Rome, and as he’s settling in for the flight the plane runs into bad trouble and has to return to the airport.

In most of the recalled incidents, the trauma involves a menacing uncontrollable world of water, ice, and snow: the “lapping agitation” of the swimming pool; the Atlantic ocean which “visually interlocked with the calm silver edge of the [airplane’s] wing: Olympian surfaces serenely oblivious of the immense tension between them;” the snowy woods that circled the man and his terrified girlfriend as they made their way down the mountain:

[T]he woods around them, perceived at so unusually slow a speed, wore a magical frozen strangeness, the ironical calm of airplane rivets.

Ironical because those rivets too, the narrator muses, say “Trust me, [yet] in his heart [he] refused, and this refusal in him formed a hollow space terror could always flood.”


He expresses no anger at his son for feeding him drugs, but when the narrator calls his girlfriend and tells her what’s happened, she flies into a rage (“Oh, that’s disgusting!”) and hangs up on him.

The story ends with him once again musing.

The click [of the phone] sounded like a slap, the same echoing slap that had once exploded next to his ear. Except that his father had become his son, and his mother was his girl friend. This much remained true: it had not been his fault, and in surviving he was somehow blamed.

It seems not so much the fact of survival, though, as his lack of “sure-handed anger,” his failure to believe that when you get right down to it life is a risk almost not worth taking, that makes the narrator an object of blame. The narrator is more willing to assume the risks of life, more willing to be vulnerable in the ways you’re vulnerable when you trust someone, than some of the other people he encounters. (His ex-wife, for instance, has a fear of flying.)

Despite everyone’s inclination toward terror when they realize (as the narrator did, age three) their frailty in relation to a betraying human and a menacing natural world, the point is to persist in trusting, to resist one’s tendency to be “flooded” with terror. “There are few fates worse than sustained, self-protective, self-paralyzing, generalized distrust of one’s human environment,” writes the philosopher Annette Baier. “The worst pathology of trust is a life-poisoning reaction to any betrayal of trust.” The various rages against the narrator disclose, perhaps, elements of this pathology, and he rightly shrinks from them.

And when absence of trust becomes not just personal, but social?

Where a society has degenerated to the point that there are few institutions of trust, it is hard to see how things may be transformed so as to let trust in. Consider the society, for example, where trust is only found in small family groups: where there are few other examples of loyalty-based trust and few or no examples of trust based on habits of expecting virtue or prudence. Consider a society, in other words, where civic engagement is at an absolute minimum and utter cynicism prevails: where there is little of what James Coleman describes as social capital. In such a society, trust is likely to lack any dynamic and it may require dramatic developments or interventions if things are to be turned around.

“It’s not the ultra rich here,” he said. “It’s a quiet wealth in many respects. It’s not that showy.”

This line, which concludes an article announcing UD‘s own ‘thesda as “the next Aspen,” instantly made UD think of a couple of lines from Don DeLillo’s White Noise.

“The saved know each other by their neatness and reserve. He doesn’t have showy ways is how you know a saved person.”


The Aspenization is happening
in South Bethesda; UD lives
in North Bethesda (the
Garrett Park part of North Bethesda),
which – given what it looks like when
you take a picture off of UD‘s
back deck on January 30, 2015 at 7:50
in the morning – isn’t very showy at all.


Looks downright rural.

The Rabbit Thing

UD and La Kid got home after dark last night (office hours; Tabata after work). Mr UD dropped them off and began backing out of the driveway to head to Chipotle.

Suddenly, in the snowy dark, UD spotted a small living thing sitting on one of the steps to the front door. What was it?

“Look.” She prodded La Kid.

“What is it?”

“A rat? A rabbit? A cat?”

“Why doesn’t it move? We’re inches away!”

“I don’t know.”

“Go away!” shouted La Kid. We moved closer, trying to scare it. It didn’t budge, and we still couldn’t figure out what it was.

“Call Daddy! Daddy!La Kid called. He’d already left.

“There’s too much wildlife here,” wailed UD. “What is it? Why won’t it move? MOVE,” she screamed.

Then, as the moonlight deepened, she saw an unmistakeable rabbit-shadow.

“Hop away! Hop hop hop hop away!” they yelled. The minutes ticked by, and UD and La Kid were cold. “No wonder the owls and the hawks and the foxes like it so much here,” grumbled UD. “Big open lawns full of motionless rabbits.” They edged closer, and finally the thing bounced off…

The latest Garrett Park Bugle, with UD’s thoughts on…

… government (“Boring is Good”).

Dave, a reader, sends UD a promotional video from the University of Moncton…

… – ou peut-être il serait mieux de dire Université de Moncton – which is generating controversy. Apparently some people on campus think it insults the dignity of the school by featuring students (actors, maybe) kissing passionately… uh, French kissing – in the library stacks…

It’s altogether a tonguey ad – lots of tongues hanging out of the mouths of students as they gambol about or play hockey or paihrfohrmuh zair wilduh enduh crayzee Franche roque moozeekuh…

But the ad – plus this morning’s metro ride to Foggy Bottom – has UD thinking about something else entirely. She notices that in this video everyone is beautiful. Some students are insanely beautiful, and some are merely somewhat beautiful, but everyone is beautiful. On the crowded metro this morning, she took a seat and her blazingly blond daughter stood near her; and near her daughter stood a staggeringly beautiful young man, the sort of person you kind of have to look at even though it’s a little impolite. The dude was chiseled: Closely cropped black hair, long elegant face with dramatic green eyes, aquiline nose, full lips, and cleft chin… UD thought Okay, the metro is the domain of the young and restless, the super-ambitious full-bodied hot-blooded denizens of DC … But these two are exceptionally beautiful…

But then La Kid and the guy left the train (UD had already, gazing at them, melded their DNA to produce a race of amazing specimens), off to their separate jobs, and now onto the train scrambled (see post immediately below) six random dudes, a group of friends, also in their twenties… And all of them were beautiful!

So is it just me? Am I seeing the world through rose-colored glasses? Or would turning on a camera anywhere at a place like the Moncton campus produce a steady array of beauties? Have I gotten to the point in life where the mere fact of being young makes you beautiful?

UD Finally Gets Around to…

soltanid15 001

… renewing her ID card.
She had to. One of her
classes meets in the library,
and you can’t get in without
a card.

The process was very quick
and easy, and essentially
involved listening to the
student who processed her
tell her how his writing
courses at GW were “my most
difficult. It is so hard
to write well.”

“Yes,” I said. “It is.”

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