Faint Heart Never Won Full Funding

If there’s one thing UD‘s learned from following the history of retracted papers – most of them, lately, hothothot stem cell papers – is that you don’t want to go half way. You don’t get to be “the principal investigator on grants totaling $57 million since 2000″ without going for it, attracting BIG attention onaccounta your amazing, but strikingly difficult to replicate, work on regenerating dying hearts.

UD has also learned that with the imprimatur of Harvard behind you (our old friend Joseph Biederman continues, in his curious research, to benefit from the association, as does the scientist at issue here, Piero Anversa, the scrambled letters of whose name, UD feels sure, add up to some great phrases, but she’s not up to the task right now), you can just keep rolling along and pulling it in (all those millions for Biederman and Anversa are of course your taxes). People have been making a fuss (a negative fuss) about Anversa’s work for more than ten years.

One Harvard researcher who has long been familiar with Anversa’s work said that many people at Harvard are not surprised by these developments. “If anything it’s surprising how long it’s taken for these questions to surface.”

It’s kind of a funny way to live, isn’t it? You watch a way-belaureled scientist do his questionable research year after year… Many of you watch…

UD’s always kind of amazed at these university football team stories…

but no one else is. I guess she just needs to puzzle it out logically, and if she does that she’ll join the rest of America, which yawns at news stories about whole squads of university students – venerated revenue sports players – roaming the bars near campus and, with remarkable violence, beating students up. She admits to being amazed that no one seems to care about American universities going to great lengths to recruit and retain frighteningly violent people to their campuses. You’d think students would be a little nervous, since they’re the ones getting beaten up. But they seem to welcome these scholarship students.

Logically, though… Logically, you’re looking for the most violent people you can find – it’s football, after all – and you’re doing all you can in grueling team practices to make them even more violent… So the reasonable way to look at this is … If you want a winning team, you’re almost inevitably going to end up admitting a few people, every few years, who can be expected to damn near beat random undergrads to death. Price of doing business.

Like this student at Lehigh University who, with some of his teammates, hit the bars one night and got into a fight with another group of students walking out of the place. No reason for the fight – he and his buddies were just drunk and belligerent… Spoiling for a fight, as they say.

So this particular football player just kicked the living shit out of this student.

When police arrived after receiving reports of a fight, they found [the student] unconscious on the ground and the former Mountain Hawk defensive back running away. Police managed to chase down [the player] and arrest him, according to court records.

Witnesses told police Phillips kicked at Graham as he lay unconscious and defenseless. Graham testified today the attack broke his jaw in two places, and he had to have his mouth wired shut, leaving him unable to eat or speak. His injuries delayed his education by a year, and he is still in counseling over the attack, he said. He cannot yawn without paralyzing pain, he said, a condition doctors say will stick with him for the rest of his life.

Hell of a tackle there, and UD is sure the pros will be all over this guy when he gets out of jail. I see him playing shoulder to shoulder with Richie Incognito. Dream team.

Another Div I Success Story

Since the move to Division I, UC Davis has struggled greatly as evidenced by the 9-22 record for men’s basketball and the 5-7 record for football this year. Compare this to UC Davis’ Division II career, when it won six Director’s Cups, which are given to the top Division II university in the nation.

But at least it’s destroying their non-revenue sports and bleeding money from the school.

“Who would call an investment bank based in Bethlehem ‘Jesus Ltd’? Who would dedicate a shooting range in Delhi to Gandhi?”

And who would name a luxury hotel Hotel Gramsci?


Well, but there is a bank called Institute for the Works of Religion, and another one called Banco Espírito Santo… There’s a Stalin hotel… (Watch a breezy all-American take on Uncle Joe here.)

“Calling on Congress: It is time for probing hearings into corruption at the NCAA and the serious misuse of college athletics and college athletes by major educational institutions for their own profit. Haul up Mark Emmert, a passel of college presidents and athletic directors, Shabazz Napier and other current and former athletes who have been exploited by the system, and let the chips fall where they may.”

Sure, laddie.

Listen up.

Until Hillary’s in power, you’ll never rustle up enough guys to do this. President Obama is a major jock, and he sets the tone. Forget it.

And … you know what? Forget it when Hillary takes over too. When that happens, the guys will get even more jockish. In reaction.

Breath and Pulse

At George Washington University, where I’m an English professor, two students have committed suicide this semester, one in January, and one last month. A third student death has also lately taken place, not yet confirmed as a suicide.

All universities tremble a little, crouch a little, when suicides happen in succession like these; administrators know about suicide clusters, the weird capacity of the act to embolden others who might be leaning toward self-destruction, and they try to heighten scrutiny – through resident assistants and the like – of their student population in the aftermath of these events. Via their president, they issue – as GW’s president did – university-wide emails that remind people to take care of themselves and each other, to reach out to people who seem troubled, to make use of campus therapists, to call the following phone number if they think they might need counseling.

I’ve read, and blogged, about university student suicides – and other kinds of suicides – for years. I’ve read Hume and Durkheim and Camus. My father committed suicide. I’m teaching modern American poetry this year, which sometimes feels like a suicide-compendium. Each morning as I walk toward the end of the Metro platform on my commute to Foggy Bottom, a sign in front of the train tunnel implores me not to throw myself on the tracks. So many hurl themselves from the Golden Gate bridge that a decision has finally been made to install a mesh net.

Suicide, especially among the promising young, always shocks us; yet it is far from uncommon. Suicide, experts say, is a very impulsive act, and the young are inclined toward impulsivity. A lot of people seem to carry suicidal thoughts around with them from day to day, but it takes a special combination of personal attributes and environmental factors to actually make it happen. Being young makes it easier to make it happen.

When I hear (usually from colleagues) about a student suicide at GW, I tend to have one immediate feeling (pity) and one immediate thought (was this one of my students?). Then my mind goes to the last minutes of the person; I can’t help imagining the silent misery and desperation surrounding the act itself. Of the student suicides that have happened during my decades at GW, I tend to think most about the undergraduate woman who took the short Metro ride across the Potomac River from her dorm room to soulless Crystal City Virginia (a stark landscape of skyscrapers and parking lots), where she checked into a hotel and killed herself. I’m not sure why her scenario in particular moves me. Maybe her final gesture of removing herself from the social and intellectual buzz of a heady urban scene to the anonymous white noise of Crystal City evokes for me the gesture of suicide itself – the impulse to deafen yourself even to the most seemingly seductive blandishments of existence.

Martin Amis, in his autobiography, Experience, writes that “the writer is the opposite of the suicide, constantly applauding life and, furthermore, creating it, assigning breath and pulse to a ‘nonexistent prodigy.’” (The last phrase is taken from The Eye, by Vladimir Nabokov.) The creative writer may indeed embody suicide’s opposite principle, but this doesn’t stop surprising numbers of literary artists from ending their lives.

We are all, if you like, literary artists every day of our conscious life, telling stories in our heads about ourselves (“God, we simply must dress the character,” Stephen Dedalus broods in Ulysses), keeping journals that plot our progress through the world. Every morning we assign breath and pulse to the self we are as we rise. My teaching life has been about sharing not just formal poetic and fictive and dramatic narratives, but asking students to think about our informal universal demand for stories from our story-tellers – a demand that starts in early childhood. As we get older, we take over the task of narrating our life story and, like Scheherazade, keeping that narrative thread going for the sake of our survival. To teach literature is mainly to deal with successful story-telling: the finished novel, the realized poem. But it is also to remind students that the content of some of that successful literature will be the failure of characters to maintain their fictions. And that the larger story of some of this art will be the personal narrative failure of its flesh-and-blood creator.

Okay, so UD has a slightly different take on the…

… controversy currently raging about Brandeis University having changed its mind about the honorary degree they announced they were going to give Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a very outspoken – really, at times, an over the top – critic of Islam.

You’re supposed to be on one of two sides about this: She’s a pernicious Islamophobe and good riddance; or, she’s not all that different in the ferocity of her some of her statements from other people who have been honored in this way by Brandeis so what the hell.

UD‘s thing is: Whatever brings more attention to this woman’s powerful attacks on female genital mutilation and full veiling is a good thing. Instead of Hirsi Ali getting a nice little notice in a Brandeis University alumni magazine, she’s getting immense tons of coverage from the world’s media. Brava.


UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan gets it said.

Snapshots from Home


La Kid, Snoop Dogg,
Kennedy Center,
Washington DC,
December 2013.

UD welcomes readers from…

KOMPROMITACJE, a first-rate (according to Mr UD, who speaks the language) blog out of Poland. Its proprietor linked to UD‘s comments about Zygmunt Bauman’s plagiarism.

“Veishea is a weeklong promotional showcase — an open house of sorts to highlight the campus community’s attributes…”

And, well, here goes

University-Level Math, Greece.

[T]he Athens Special Affairs Unit carried out an inspection in the Development Grants Account of the National Technical University of Athens and found that during the years 2002-2013, the university submitted false income declarations and as a result it failed to pay 20,796,216 euros in tax returns.

Uh-oh. San Jose State University Gets Audited!

[Howard] Bunsis said there are …issues internally with how money is being spent, with athletics receiving increasing amounts of funding and instruction receiving less and less.

“The majority of the funds to pay for athletics at San Jose State come from the academic side, either from the student success fee or the general fund of the University,” Bunsis said. “The increases in athletic spending far outpace the increases in spending on academics at this university.”

Bunsis pointed out that, of the $19,206,370 collected in Student Success in Excellence and Technology (SSET) fees, more than $7 million goes toward athletics.

He said this means approximately one third of a fee paid by every students benefits only athletics…

Bunsis estimates that 57 percent of athletics’ budget was covered by academic funds this year, although a database kept by USA TODAY has the figure at 66 percent, the highest in the Mountain West Conference.

Bunsis said athletics is “a huge drain” on the budget because it costs so much and makes back only approximately a quarter of its expenses in revenue.

This means that it accumulates debt to the University, but Bunsis said that each year that deficit is forgiven.

Bunsis also showed a list of the 20 highest paid employees at SJSU.

The head football coach receives the second highest salary at $249,000 a year.

Only the president made more in 2013 with $343,ooo.

The Athletic Director made the fourth most with $222,000 and the football team’s offensive coordinator and the head basketball coach also made the list at 14 and 16 respectively.

Meanwhile, Bunsis said that faculty wages and benefits have decreased and there has been a dramatic shift from full-time faculty to part-time faculty, which he said he believes hurts the university.

He said that there are 1,458 fewer full-time instructional employees here than there were five years ago, and subsequently, class sizes have increased and so has the student-to-faculty ratio.

He said that, while the number of non-instructional employees has decreased, the number of employees in management has increased eight percent, and administrator salaries are, on average, more than $40,000 greater than those of full-time instructors.

Bunsis said that the administration, in addition to athletics, has impacted the budget negatively.

The report showed that athletics, advancement and the president’s office were exempt from cuts, while Academic Affairs received a 14 percent decrease in funding and there was an approximate $13 million cut from the operating budget.

Athletics was exempt because it moved to the Mountain West Conference and did not receive its typical support from the Western Athletic Conference.

Bunsis noted that the $2 million it cost to move conferences, being paid out $500,000 per year over four years did not appear to be represented in the athletics budget, leading him to believe it was paid for using funds taken from academic uses.

San Jose State! Good on ya!

“When he was but a baby brigand…”

Excellent writing about one of America’s most prominent university figures, the University of Kentucky’s John Calipari. A sample:

Anyone who follows college basketball sooner or later develops a kind of ethical dementia. The sport is a perfect example of a functioning underground economy. Players have skills that CBS—to name only the most prominent parasite—values at something over $1 billion a year. Because this is not Soviet Russia, players find ways to get paid for these skills under the table, largely because a preposterous rulebook (and a feast of fat things called the NCAA) works diligently to prevent anyone from getting paid over the table. Since everybody involved in the sport has known this for decades, there’s a lot of the old nudge-nudge, wink-wink going on.

… But even in this culture, which is pretty much what a dockside saloon in Singapore would be if it had shoe contracts and golf outings, John Calipari always has been notable for the baroque happenings that seem to surround his every move. Coaches who have barbered the rulebook like Edward Scissorhands look upon Calipari with a weird mixture of awe and disdain. When he was but a baby brigand in the employ of the University of Pittsburgh, Calipari’s recruiting tactics very nearly incited a general hooley at the Big East’s annual meeting.

During his brief, and clamorously unsuccessful, stint coaching the NBA’s New Jersey Nets, a job he landed because of that UMass Final Four run that doesn’t officially exist any more [it was vacated because of rule-breaking], Calipari enlivened things by calling a reporter a “Mexican idiot.” Then he moved on to Memphis, a university with a proud history of employing coaches whom you would not trust to hang up your coat.

Those southern sports factories… You can’t keep ‘em down…

So… UD will be interviewing Fran Lebowitz…

… at a George Washington University event next week, and of course she’s been reading and watching a lot of Lebowitz (interviews; this film; and Lebowitz’s agent is sending UD The Fran Lebowitz Reader). She’s been pondering Leibowitz as a person and as a writer, pondering the mix of character and personal history and intellect that makes a person a certain kind of writer, and in particular pondering Lebowitz in connection with UD‘s old friend David Kosofsky, who, like his well-known sister Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, died a few years ago, in his fifties.

While his sister became a famous academic writer, David died without producing the writing he had the ambition to write. This was partly because he lacked his sister’s focus – David tried on academia, tried on freelance travel writing, wrote some unpublished short stories, but nothing really took (a language teacher in Korea for many years, he published two books about English acquisition). Yet thinking about Lebowitz, who calls herself not just a blocked but a “blockaded” writer, UD wonders whether a certain complex attitude, an angle toward the world the two of them share, has something to do with this outcome.

On the simplest level, Lebowitz and Kosofsky are rather steadily depressed, extremely well-read Jewish intellectuals of a socially radical disposition. Yet because they actually seem not to believe in the possibility of even incremental (forget radical) human improvement – because both have the satirist’s amused pity for the incorrigible stupidity of the human race – their radicality is really what’s blocked. The blocked writing is the natural outcome of a wry hopelessness which may – as in the case of Lebowitz and, say, someone like Karl Kraus or Alfred Jarry – produce some hilarious satire which evokes the liberating and clarifying shock we feel when a writer aggressively strips us of all our delusions, but it won’t produce very much, possibly because the pull of the writer’s underlying hopelessness gets more and more powerful, moves more and more toward disappointment, with time and experience.

Think here of what George Orwell, in “Politics vs Literature,” says about Jonathan Swift. There’s much in the passage I’m about to cite that does not correspond to Lebowitz and Kosofsky – neither the point about authoritarianism, nor the point about envy of others who may be happy seems right – but there’s much in this passage that does correspond:

[T]he most essential thing in Swift is his inability to believe that life — ordinary life on the solid earth, and not some rationalized, deodorized version of it — could be made worth living. Of course, no honest person claims that happiness is now a normal condition among adult human beings; but perhaps it could be made normal, and it is upon this question that all serious political controversy really turns. Swift has much in common — more, I believe, than has been noticed — with Tolstoy, another disbeliever in the possibility of happiness. In both men you have the same anarchistic outlook covering an authoritarian cast of mind; in both a similar hostility to Science, the same impatience with opponents, the same inability to see the importance of any question not interesting to themselves; and in both cases a sort of horror of the actual process of life…

The dreary world of the Houyhnhnms was about as good a Utopia as Swift could construct, granting that he neither believed in a ‘next world’ nor could get any pleasure out of certain normal activities. But it is not really set up as something desirable in itself, but as the justification for another attack on humanity. The aim, as usual, is to humiliate Man by reminding him that he is weak and ridiculous, and above all that he stinks; and the ultimate motive, probably, is a kind of envy, the envy of the ghost for the living, of the man who knows he cannot be happy for the others who — so he fears – may be a little happier than himself. The political expression of such an outlook must be either reactionary or nihilistic, because the person who holds it will want to prevent Society from developing in some direction in which his pessimism may be cheated.

… Swift’s world-view is felt to be not altogether false — or it would probably be more accurate to say, not false all the time. Swift is a diseased writer. He remains permanently in a depressed mood which in most people is only intermittent, rather as though someone suffering from jaundice or the after-effects of influenza should have the energy to write books. But we all know that mood, and something in us responds to the expression of it.

… Part of our minds — in any normal person it is the dominant part — believes that man is a noble animal and life is worth living: but there is also a sort of inner self which at least intermittently stands aghast at the horror of existence.

The energy despite the jaundice – yet, if my theory is right, that energy does indeed dissipate, with the satirist increasingly unwilling to face the horror-content she is bound to produce if she does in fact write. “All contemplation of oneself is unpleasant — even the contemplation of your own ideas is fairly nerve‑racking — and that’s what writing is,” says Lebowitz in a Paris Review interview. When your own ideas feature the ignobility and lack of interest of most other human beings, you may have difficulty taking them seriously enough to write about them. In one of the few unkind reviews of Lebowitz’s work I found, a Tablet writer says

[A] tastefully nihilistic pose has been [Lebowitz's] fortune and, perhaps perversely, also her undoing as an artist. “I’m not interested in other people, so I don’t expect them to be interested in me,” she claims. Fair enough (if somewhat specious), except that the single requirement of the art of writing — to say nothing of the art of conversation — is exactly that.

Actually, it’s not that an interest in other people is a requirement of writing; it’s a requirement of deeper, non-satirical writing. Nor is such an interest a requirement of conversation; it is, again, only a requirement of conversation that goes beyond what can be enormously amusing (see Oscar Wilde’s Earnest) badinage and point-scoring. Iris Murdoch puts it this way:

[M]ost great writers have a sort of calm merciful vision because they can see how different people are and why they are different. Tolerance is connected with being able to imagine centers of reality which are remote from oneself. The great artist sees the vast interesting collection of what is other than himself and does not picture the world in his own image. I think this kind of merciful objectivity is virtue…

Lebowitz and Kosofsky’s charisma derives and derived in part, I’m thinking, from their patent, and very cool, uninterest in this sort of thing. Flaneuse and flaneur, they are and were the “idle observer” on the surface of things, the observer who makes out of a public/private experience involving a totally out-there walker’s life in the city and a totally in-there retreatist’s life inside one’s library, a fascinating, but perhaps ultimately pretty demoralizing, spectacle.

Annals of Higher Ed

“I think greed is healthy,” [their speaker] told the graduating class at Berkeley’s business school in 1986. “You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” The speaker was Ivan Boesky, who shortly thereafter would be fined $100 million, and later go to prison, for insider trading.

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