Absolute power erupts absolutely.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il [is reported to have] died after getting into a fit of rage when he was told that a major dam project had sprung a leak. He collapsed during a briefing about a flagship hydro-electric power plant, but managed to order ‘severe punishments’ for those responsible before he died.

Psy’s End of Year Valedictory for Gangnam Style…

reminds UD to link to this YouTube, full of shots of La Kid (the beaming blond to the right of Diana Ross) at Christmas in Washington.

“[T]he market demand just can’t seem to sustain the model.”

Another genius scrutinizes attendance at university football games (especially the BCS) and begins to detect a problem.

There’s no there there.

Football’s not – as all of Gump Nation believes – the front porch of the university. It’s a surly back alley, a scholastic Skid Row, a lunar landscape with losers.

Look at these stadiums. Look at this picture of the second half crowd at the Military Bowl. They’re the last human beings on earth, huddled near the field while a glowing UFO prepares to beam them up.

Once everyone’s gone, it’s the players plus the Masturbation Marching Band, tickling its own glockenspiel.

“She now continues to work as a senator for life and last month harshly criticized Mario Monti’s government of technocrats for abolishing the peer review mechanism in funding policies to researchers.”

That was just a few months ago; and now Rita Levi Montalcini has died, age 103.

She won a 1986 Nobel for her work in nerve growth factor; a few years later, she started a foundation for the scientific education of African women. Well into her hundreds, she spent part of each day at the lab, and part at the foundation.

An atheist, she said the reason she lived so long was selflessness – she never cared or thought much about herself, but spent her energy on scientific and social problems that engrossed her. Pesky obstacles like a sexist father, fascism, anti-semitism, and a whole lot more sexism, were ignored, or somehow gotten around.

This is so “meta” …

… that even UD, who prides herself on her grasp of our simulacral world, is having a little trouble.

It’s a diploma mill in Wyoming — nothing to see there; hundreds of thousands of diploma mills operate all over the world, and Wyoming is one of the most pro-diploma-mill states in America (God forbid the feds interfere with private enterprise). But even by Wyoming’s give-a-shit standards, the gloriously named Degree in a Day (the website provided in the Star Tribune story no longer functions) represents a problem. Dig:

The website tells visitors that purchasers can receive diplomas “in the traditional university manner printed on traditional paper with traditional fonts in the traditional format,” plus official transcripts, signed letters of verification to for use with an employer and letters of recommendation from the dean and president.

Under a tab called, “About Degree in a Day,” the website says it “offers verifiable and authentic life experience degrees from our own ‘Anonymous Universities.’” It continues, “We will never publish the name or allow it to be associated with this site to anyone other than alumni. We do this to ensure our alumni can feel confident there will not be any negative press online about their degree.”

The website “gives examples of legitimate-appearing university websites that it promises to construct in order to give purchasers ‘further proof their degree is in fact authentic,’” according to the complaint.

So… UD‘s been trying to figure this one out. Here’s what she’s come up with. If she’s right about the business model, it represents an authentic advance in the industry.

As soon as a diploma mill’s name becomes known, it becomes notorious. Coverage of the scam will invariably refer to “the notorious degree mill, LaSalle University,” or whatever. In order to avoid instantly stigmatizing the millions of people who’ve gotten bogus degrees from this or that outfit, Degree in a Day will tailor-make a pretend online university just for you. It will come up with a name (the model assumes one will never run out of plausible-sounding university names, and this seems to UD a reasonable assumption) that will be known only to you and to the few to non-existent employers who ever bother to check your credentials.

One particularly brilliant aspect of this model involves (I assume) the ability at a moment’s notice to change the university from which you graduated. Once you’ve been run out of town because of the exposure of your fake Cambridgetown Institute of Technology degree, you can go back to Degree in a Day and have them construct Oxfordshire Institute of Technology.

Yet another malcontent…

… who doesn’t understand the nature of university football sounds off. This one’s from the University of Michigan. Says he feels like a ripped-off fool. Says a lot of things. Read them all. Here’s a sample:

When Bill Martin reluctantly accepted the job of [University of Michigan] athletic director in 2000, he insisted he be paid a dollar his first year, and his second, before agreeing in his third year to the middling rate of about $300,000. … Martin had become a multi-millionaire businessman, and didn’t want to be a burden to his alma mater. He later turned down the president’s offer to double his salary, and declined all bonuses …

His successor, Dave Brandon, served as the CEO for two Fortune 500 companies, and is worth well over $100 million. His salary at Michigan is fast approaching a million dollars, including bonuses. For the first time in Michigan’s long history, the athletic director makes more than the president.

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul …”

This Chesterton quotation is one of those very fine, very annoying things we say to each other at times like these, late Decembers, year ends, year beginnings. Yes yes soul must

clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

and louder sing and

You must change your life.

Take a look at the most significant publishing launch for the American new year if you want to know how tunefully renewed our souls are.

Our souls are clapping pills down their gullets.

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

Still, we want what we want. We want vivacity, and we want wisdom. We want to feel we are truly alive, and we want to feel we are living in the truth.

This long clunky poem
written in 1897 by Edwin Arlington Robinson – “Octaves” – gets at the problem kind of nicely… Or, since it’s not a very good poem, it gets at the problem in a way ol’ UD finds moving. The bad writing, the unachieved philosophical ambition, the naivete — UD likes these. She likes the peculiar way they’re deployed here, in this particular poem, which records the sound of one man trying to clap.

Some of it’s claptrap, actually, which UD also likes.

You’re welcome to whomp yourself up with Onward Christian Soldiers as you anticipate the new year; UD‘s looking for lyrics that capture the way we shout RETREAT just as loudly as we shout ADVANCE.

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

So let’s see. We’re not gonna do the whole poem because as I said it’s quite long, one eight-line verse after another after another.

Start here, in the middle of the eighth stanza.

[T]hough forlornly joyless be the ways
We travel, the compensate spirit-gleams
Of Wisdom shaft the darkness here and there,
Like scattered lamps in unfrequented streets.

Clunky, yes? Forlornly joyless feels not only redundant but unpretty as language; and the little points of light that lucid vivid soulfulness sheds are dully compared to streetlights… Reminds UD of Tennyson’s arch, also a dull image:

[A]ll experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

And this is also an image of the glinting into this dull world of the highly lit existence – the new life, the new soul, the new year – that beckons us.

Where does a dead man go?—The dead man dies;
But the free life that would no longer feed
On fagots of outburned and shattered flesh
Wakes to a thrilled invisible advance,
Unchained (or fettered else) of memory;
And when the dead man goes it seems to me
‘T were better for us all to do away
With weeping, and be glad that he is gone.

Let the dead bury the dead, says Robinson; or, rather, Robinson natters away about it while Blake, say, or Allen Ginsberg, or – a prose favorite of UD‘s – Henry Miller – gets it said faster and louder and more jazzily… But, again, UD finds the nattery quality here, the sense of Robinson talking to himself, inquiring rather than announcing, attractive, faithful to most people’s mental reality. A “thrilled invisible advance” is very nice — if one can free oneself from one’s past (UD‘s friend David Kosofsky, who died last year, once lamented in an email to her that he was

feeling self-loathing at never having wrestled my adolescent issues to even a stalemate.)

one can perhaps experience an exciting inward forward motion, a surge of open possibility — that new life everyone’s on about…

But this operation – this wrestling – will probably have to be pretty brutal — “be glad that he is gone.” Blake writes: “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.” We may not have the stomach for this psychic savagery. We may prefer, like David, a weak form of wrestling which makes us hate our inability to have done with things and move on.

So through the dusk of dead, blank-legended,
And unremunerative years we search
To get where life begins, and still we groan
Because we do not find the living spark
Where no spark ever was; and thus we die,
Still searching, like poor old astronomers
Who totter off to bed and go to sleep,
To dream of untriangulated stars.

Very nice, no? Every now and then Robinson knocks one out of the park. Untriangulated stars is spectacular, as is blank-legended… And what’s the point here? Only that we set out on our new yearly reanimations all wrong; we assume some originary point of purity, of full light, from which we have strayed into the dark, and we piss our lives away trying to get back (like Citizen Kane with Rosebud) to that first principle, Gatsby’s just-flicked-on green light. We think of ourselves as that singular Thing, a Thing not yet triangulated (of course even if we get as far as accepting triangulation, that’s probably still tragic – think of the images of blighted stars amid the sound ones in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and in Absalom! Absalom!), not yet implicated in the convoluted compromised crowded human story, not yet part of a pattern… We piss our lives away dreaming of getting back to some …

Hold on. Gotta get on the train back to DC. Later.

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

We lack the courage to be where we are:—
We love too much to travel on old roads,
To triumph on old fields; we love too much
To consecrate the magic of dead things,
And yieldingly to linger by long walls
Of ruin, where the ruinous moonlight
That sheds a lying glory on old stones
Befriends us with a wizard’s enmity.

Not only dead people and their ghostly power over us; not only a disabling sense of our own now-dimmed-but-somehow-maybe-reignitable selves; we also have to reckon with the romance of escapism, the magic of dead things, the malignant wizardry of a world softened into friendly, familiar and lulling shapes. James Merrill, contemplating his love for Greece, writes


[H]ow I want
Essentials: salt, wine, olive, the light, the scream
No! I have scarcely named you,
And look, in a flash you stand full-grown before me,
Row upon row, Essentials …

You want the hard sharp present-time clarity of things themselves; but even when you go to the trouble of moving to iconic things-in-themselves locations, things-in-themselves tend as soon as you’ve noted and named them to shrink into abstractions — the abstraction in this case being, well, Essentials

Merrill writes as a poet desperate to write the world, to perceive and express reality. (Greece meant as much to him as it did to Jack Gilbert and as it does to Don DeLillo.) As does Robinson:


The prophet of dead words defeats himself:
Whoever would acknowledge and include
The foregleam and the glory of the real,
Must work with something else than pen and ink
And painful preparation: he must work
With unseen implements that have no names,
And he must win withal, to do that work,
Good fortitude, clean wisdom, and strong skill.

That last line is a real let-down; the stanza takes us from Keats (“pipe to the spirit/ditties of no tone”) to the Boy Scouts (fortitude, wisdom, skill). But it makes its point well enough: If you want to grasp and express concrete essentials, you are going to have to do a good deal of private soulwork, as Stephen Dedalus says at the end of Portrait:

I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

And – not to lay the discouragement on too thick, but … you recall how well Dedalus did at that ambition, right?

Still, writers can sometimes grasp essentials, internalize them… Or rather say they can metabolize them… Give them new life, a new soul.

Totally Scandalous Florida A&M University…

… ignored murderous hazing among its students.

We’ve known that for a long time, but the investigative report making it official has just been released.

The school is now on probation — and not just because its students haze one another to death. Because of anything else you can think of. Financial corruption; inept, constantly changing leadership; hilarious graduation rates. Whatever.

“Sidney Zisook [of the University of California San Diego], the key committee adviser who developed the scientific report justifying the change on bereavement, has had close [drug industry] ties …. He has served as a speaker for AstraZeneca and Forest and as a consultant to Glaxo, though that work preceded his work for the committee by at least two years, he said. He was also the lead author of the Glaxo study showing that Wellbutrin can be used to treat the bereaved.”

When the evidence – often ambiguous and often paid for by drug-makers – allows you to go pretty much anywhere, you’ll go where the money is.

Actually, the evidence about whether people grieving the loss of someone they loved are more susceptible to clinical depression and suicide seems to be… no.

[In] a major national survey, none of the bereaved who now could be subject to a diagnosis of depression had attempted suicide. Other data sets … showed similar results — indeed, such individuals are less likely to attempt suicide than someone in the general population.

Indeed now people who show up for their on-average seven minute visit to their primary doctor and who are overtly sad because someone important to them recently died may be subject to a depression diagnosis and all the anti-depressant pills thereto.

It’s all there in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the big book your doctor thumbs through to treat your grief.

Treat your grief. How’s your grief treatment going? Something new enters the language.

“To Rabbi Norman Lamm, how is it that you do not now remember the “shock” that we were told you experienced upon hearing of my molestation at the hands of Macy Gordon? I suppose a $250,000 donation to name a scholarship after Gordon is incentive enough to forget. To current Y.U. President Richard Joel, what will you do now? Will you allow the Macy Gordon scholarship to stand?”

AWKward.

Penn State, to be sure, had Sandusky Blitz ice cream; but Yeshiva University’s scholarship named after a rabbi alleged to have been a notorious abuser of children (just like Sandusky, although Sandusky was not a man of the cloth) is something else again.

UD can find no reference at all to Macy Gordon at Yeshiva’s website. No surprise there.

“Many used NIU as a means to an end – getting an education and leaving it at that.”

A local Northern Illinois football booster really lets it rip as he tries to account for poor attendance at the school’s football games — despite a strong record of wins.

He and his fellow boosters dutifully go down the list of established excuses – an ever-lengthening list, given shitty attendance at deficit-ridden programs all over the country.

But when you get down to it, as this guy says, it’s really about morality. Many NIU students are contemptible enough to view the university as a place where they get an education. They enroll, take classes, graduate, and, having educated themselves, get jobs or whatever… You get enough of these a-university-is-a-place-where-you-get-an-education people at your school, and goodbye full stadium.

The Mean Streets of Chico

On Dec. 8, an intoxicated Chico State student, Brandon Fisher, 21, of Valley Springs wandered into a street after bar-hopping in a semester-ending pub crawl, [university president Paul] Zingg said. Police said Fisher was struck and critically injured by the pickup truck of a Butte College student, Matthew Lambert, 20. Lambert was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

“A number of causes contributed to the decline in soldier suicides, the army said, noting the increase in army psychiatrists and the removal of guns from the hands of soldiers who didn’t need them in their line of duty.”

The next time an American gun enthusiast tells you there’s no correlation between gun ownership and suicide (and many of them will tell you this), you could mention that the Israeli army disagrees.

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

This column goes one better on the subject.

But let’s suppose science could establish that people who obtain firearms do indeed increase their death rate (or the death rate of their family members) from suicide. So what?

Buying a car may shorten your lifespan, since traffic accidents are a major killer. Building a backyard swimming pool creates a potential fatal hazard to you and your loved ones. But nobody says the government should interfere with such decisions.

Personal safety is a far more central matter of individual autonomy than those choices. A mentally stable person living in a crime-ridden neighborhood should be free to judge whether she’s more at risk from street criminals than from a spell of intense depression.

One imagines survivalist Nancy Lanza reading that last line and feeling relieved.

UD is always impressed by the bullshit that comes from Athletic Directors.

Here’s an athletic director, from Washington State University, who has led his program to a $6.6 million deficit. Some of that deficit is because they had to hire the incredibly spectacular, incredibly expensive Mike Leach (details here).

Year before they only lost about a million. They’ve now lost over six million. Oh, and under Leach this year the team bit the big one.

So what can Bill Moos say?

He can explain to the idiots – and I’m sure they’ll buy it – that he’s a visionary. He sees into the future. He makes plans for the ages. The multimillion dollar coach with the very bad reputation; all the new athletic buildings the school can’t afford?

Moos said he has based many financial decisions on a massive increase in future television revenue resulting from the creation of the Pac-12 Networks this year.

Moos has estimated each Pac-12 school could eventually bring in more than $20 million a year from the Pac-12 Networks. For the coming fiscal year, however, Moos estimates schools could net anywhere from “zero” to several million dollars, due to start-up costs and the failure to reach agreement on contracts with some carriers (most notably DirecTV).

Asked about the status of negotiations with DirecTV, Moos said, “I think both sides are standing pretty firm. We’ve got to be patient, and we are.”

Moos said it will take “at least two or three years” before the Cougars might turn a profit again. The Cougars plan to reduce debt during the current fiscal year, Moos said, with the aid of increased income from football season ticket sales, Cougar Athletic Fund donations and the suites and other premium seating areas added to Martin Stadium.

You do wonder whether the Washington State folks have ever met a huckster before, the sort of person who promises massive returns if they’ll just wait a bit, but while they’re waiting they’re going to need to give him all their money.

Where the simulacrum ends.

It was always about the superiority of sport to intellect – American universities were willing to spend millions of tax dollars and tuition dollars on coaches instead of academic programs because nothing sustained school spirit and generated alumni gifts like stadiums packed with excited students. And anyway all that sports money would eventually benefit the academic side of the university. A win-win situation.

Yet even the thickest heads in big-time university sports are beginning to notice that nothing in this model works. Even when schools give tickets away, fewer and fewer students attend games. Away games are often a total joke, with a few hundred tickets sold and even those simulacral — blocks of seats some corporation purchased for some reason, but no actual human being wants to use any of them, so a distinction is now drawn between live gate and… dead gate? Simulacral gate.

A bigger concern is empty seats. Some bowls’ live gates are barely half of their announced attendances.

Officials at lower-tier bowls “don’t even believe the (attendance) numbers they give you,” a BCS bowl executive told the American-Statesman. “They’re counting the tickets schools contractually are forced to buy. If they had to sell tickets, we’d probably have 15 bowl games. But that’s not financial reality. You’ve got TV money and sponsorships propping them up.”

Propping them up is one way to put it. Running them would be a better way, since the schools – beyond springing for the coaches and all – have vanishingly little to do with the whole thing, so that university football in America right now is essentially a bunch of tv programs featuring motion on a field in front of vast numbers of empty seats.

Thick heads are being scratched in athletics offices around the nation as to why no one’s showing up (the numbers are drastically down pretty much everywhere). They’ve kind of gone through their traditional excuses (distance, weather, losing seasons, blahblah) and the numbers keep plummeting, and that’s forcing them to scratch their heads yet more.

Let’s see if we can get somewhere with this.

When your culture is simulacral – when everybody relates to the world via images (online universities, tv-mediated sports events) – the whole concept of physical presence falls away. Why be anywhere? Desperate universities talk about “enhancing the stadium experience,” but beyond making sure everyone’s sloshed they haven’t been able to come up with much. They spend millions on huge – yes – screens – the notorious Adzillatrons – and don’t consider the possibility that when you screen the event at the event (interspersed with screaming relentless advertisements) you take away any sense of immediacy and encourage people to reason their way to future non-attendance. (“Hm. I’m paying three hundred dollars to watch the game on an Adzillatron screen. I can watch it at home on my own screen.”)

And it’s a problem that just keeps feeding itself. Consider the loyal season ticket holder who thinks he’s really lucky because he gets guaranteed seats to every game. He gets to the game and no one else is there – except for a bunch of yahoos who stay long enough to get drunk and then leave halfway through. Eventually he’s going to stop attending. No one likes to feel like a chump.

The solution will come from advanced robotics. The networks running university football, seeing that viewership is also down, will figure part of it is the empty stadium. The empty stadium says to the viewer at home that maybe he’s a chump too — maybe fewer and fewer actual people share his enthusiasm for the game. To counteract this, the networks will purchase tens of thousands of humanoids programmed to remain in their seats and get excited.

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