University Diaries
A professor of English describes American university life.
Aim: To change things.
Contact UD at: margaret-dot-soltan-at-gmail-dot-com

 
 
 
Read my book, TEACHING BEAUTY IN DeLILLO, WOOLF, AND MERRILL (Palgrave Macmillan; forthcoming), co-authored with Jennifer Green-Lewis. VISIT MY BRANCH CAMPUS AT INSIDE HIGHER ED





UD is...
"Salty." (Scott McLemee)
"Unvarnished." (Phi Beta Cons)
"Splendidly splenetic." (Culture Industry)
"Except for University Diaries, most academic blogs are tedious."
(Rate Your Students)
"I think of Soltan as the Maureen Dowd of the blogosphere,
except that Maureen Dowd is kind of a wrecking ball of a writer,
and Soltan isn't. For the life of me, I can't figure out her
politics, but she's pretty fabulous, so who gives a damn?"
(Tenured Radical)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

MARTIAL LAW
DECLARED IN
NEW ORLEANS


I fear my friend (see below) spoke too soon. New Orleans could go under.
POWERFUL KATRINA

UD’s dear old ‘thesdan pal, David, a refugee from Louisiana, sends an email out to family and friends:


Well, taking the good news first (and I trust that y'all will understand the need to address y'all in 'y'all' mode, under the circumstances), this e-mail is being written from a very high, dry, comfortable, and familiar place, WAY inland and about 600 miles distant from my South Louisiana home. I'm sitting at the computer room of the Athens-Clarke County Main Library, in good old Athens, Georgia…

Great library, great town, and we're staying here (after bailing out of New Orleans well ahead of Katrina and enjoying a surprisingly smooth evacuation) as guests of my two wonderful nephews and their equally wonderful wives…

…We escaped with our first-string car, our important documents, and more than a month's worth of medications. I even found some good news in THE NEWS: Houma, where we left our 2nd-string car, appears to have escaped serious flooding, so that vehicle may still be intact.



As for the other kind of news... that's what I've been sitting at this computer reading online. And as I piece it together, and kind of try to wrap my mind around it, I keep thinking of that Cole Porter song, one of the great standards of jazz players the world around: "You'd be so nice to come home to." In the key, unfortunately, of wistful irony.

Basically, everything I'm gleaning from online news-reports and official government announcements indicates that it might be a long time before we're able to return to our home, and that even then, there might not be a whole lot to come home to. It's easy enough to bail out of an impending disaster, but a lot harder, I fear, to bail your apartment out after one.

For all the media's inane rejoicing about the French Quarter's having survived with little damage, the places in metro New Orleans where people actually live (as opposed to the little area where tourists frolic) are, to use the technical terminology of the damage-assessment professionals, royally fucked.

…The Governor and all the state officials are urging all of us refugees to stay the hell out of town; in fact they're closing all roads into town to incoming traffic... even in the rare cases where those roads are otherwise passable. So, along with a million and a half or so others, we're left in a kind of limbo.
To the Many
Steve Sailer
Readers
Reading
University Diaries
Today:



Welcome, ISTEVE legions.

IUD. (Tee hee).




UD Rewrites John Denver’s
“Song of Wyoming”




Here come ole Alan Contreras!
Shinin’ a light down on me!
He done made fun of our diploma mills!
A song of Wyoming sings he.







From today’s Inside Higher Ed:

Here are the Seven Sorry Sisters : Alabama (split authority for assessing and recognizing degrees), Hawaii (poor standards, excellent enforcement of what little there is), Idaho (poor standards, split authority), Mississippi (poor standards, political interference), Missouri (poor standards, political interference), New Mexico (grandfathered some mystery degree suppliers) and of course the now infamous Wyoming (poor standards, political indifference or active support of poor schools).

Wyoming considers degree mills and other bottom-feeders to be a source of economic development. You’d think that oil prices would relieve their need to support degree mills. Even the Japanese television network NHK sent a crew to Wyoming to warn Japanese citizens about the cluster of supposed colleges there: Does the state care so little for foreign trade it does not care that 10 percent of the households in Japan saw that program? You’d think that Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Senator Mike Enzi [a GWU grad, by the way - no diploma mill for him], who now chairs the committee responsible for education, would care more about the appalling reputation of their home state. Where is Alan Simpson when we need him?





For more from UD on where the diploma mill industry meets the great outdoors, go

here

here

here

and here.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Mr. UD’s Next
Constitutional


Wisconsin Public Radio

For Program On: Tuesday, August 30, 2005 at 4:00 PM

Peter Donalds gets an insider’s view of the Iraq constitution negotiations after four. He'll talk with a constitutional expert who recently returned from Baghdad to advise the Iraqi Kurdish delegation. Guest: Karol Soltan, associate professor of government and politics, University of Maryland. Constitutional expert and consultant to Iraqi Kurdish leaders.



You can also listen online.
GO, USA

Via Andrew Sullivan, who got it via Wonkette. From Fox News Channel today:



SHEPARD SMITH: You’re live on FOX News Channel, what are you doing?

MAN IN NEW ORLEANS: Walking my dogs.

SMITH: Why are you still here? I'm just curious.

MAN: None of your fucking business.
ONE MORE
RANKINGS LIST



The Campus Squirrel Listings notes that “The quality of an institution of higher learning can often be determined by the size, health and behavior of the squirrel population on campus.” Some colleges go to great lengths to secure a 5-Squirrel rating. (GWU gets a respectable three.).


Mary Baldwin College, whose crest features a squirrel, is a shoo-in. Other places, like the United States Naval Academy (“Pro-squirrel would be an understatement for the USNA campus,” a student writes. “After 156 years of Federal Government protection, you've got to expect that these squirrels know they've got a good thing going.”) and Berkeley also get 5 squirrels. As does Rice, whose campus directory features a squirrel on its cover.

Hyperexpensive Sarah Lawrence has black squirrels, and sells a t-shirt that says: "Sarah Lawrence College: Where even the squirrels wear black."
ALWAYS TIME TO TAKE A SWIPE


"If the levees hold but the water spills over, the water will be almost impossible to remove, considering the pumps will be swamped and shut down. Some of the city's pumps sit in houses made in the 1890s, said Stevan Spencer, the Orleans Levee District's chief engineer.

"It all really makes you wonder what the French were doing when they built this place,' Spencer said."

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Helpful.
NOT helpful.
Ann Althouse

I've added Ann Althouse's blog to my (woefully unalphabetized) blogroll. It's second on the list, after Critical Mass. I like Althouse's aesthetics (lots of pictures!), her feisty ways, her writing. She's a law professor.
IRAQI CONSTITUTION

More MSM attention for Mr. UD.
SNAPSHOTS FROM HOME

This is part of a larger story about a general decline in the number of people applying to law school this year. UD isn’t sure what to make of it:


Among the 19 responding schools, the one receiving the greatest number of applications for the upcoming year was George Washington University Law School, with 11,500 applicants. Its first-year class, at 530, represents 4.6 percent of its applicant pool. George Washington also had the second-biggest incoming class, next to Harvard, where 559 students will start law school this year, representing 7.8 percent of the 7,129 applications it received.



She could cite the obvious stuff, like location and political connections, but these have always been there. Is it because GW law school lately has a lot of very high-profile faculty members commenting in very high-profile media outlets on all sorts of things going on in the country?

A Few Comments
On the New York Times
Article Directly Below,
On Intellectual Diversity
In America’s Law Schools








[And I mean “intellectual diversity.” One commenter on the subject at History News Network irritably asks, “Why not just call it ‘ideological diversity’ or political diversity,’ since, you know, that's what [one commentator on the subject is] actually talking about?”

Because that’s the beginning of what most people are talking about. Ultimately they’re talking about intellectual diversity.]




I think the article is devastating. Law professors use direct speech (humanities types generally do not), and the direct statements the law professors quoted in the article make about the culture of law schools and the intellectual implications of the study are devastating:

“ ‘Law schools are sort of organized in a club structure, where current members of the club pick future members of the club.’ ”

“The most serious problem pointed to by the study, Professor McGinnis said, is that the ideas generated by the law schools are both uniform and untested.”

" ‘We have a higher responsibility to our students, ourselves and our disciplines," he said, "that our preference for ideological homogeneity and faculty-lounge echo chambers betrays.’ "


Note that the commentators are indeed drawing intellectual conclusions (“the ideas generated”) from political data. At some American law schools, virtually everyone thinks alike (they are “clubs,” “echo-chambers”), with the result that the ideas generated out of those schools are “uniform and untested.”

Law schools make humanities departments look like hotbeds of polemic.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


From tomorrow’s New York Times :


Professors at the best law schools are generally assumed to be overwhelmingly liberal, and now a new study lends proof. But whether the ideological imbalance matters - to the academic environment students encounter, to the kinds of lawyers the schools produce and to the stock of ideas the professors generate - depends on whom you ask.



The study, to be published this fall in The Georgetown Law Journal, analyzes 11 years of records reflecting federal campaign contributions by professors at the top 21 law schools as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. Almost a third of these law professors contribute to campaigns, but of them, the study finds, 81 percent who contributed $200 or more gave wholly or mostly to Democrats; 15 percent gave wholly or mostly to Republicans.

The percentages of professors contributing to Democrats were even more lopsided at some of the most prestigious schools: 91 percent at Harvard, 92 at Yale, 94 at Stanford. At the University of Virginia, on the other hand, contributions were about evenly divided between the parties. The sample sizes at some schools may be too small to allow for comparisons, though it bears noting that by this measure the University of Chicago is slightly more liberal than Berkeley.

If the liberal law professors mean to indoctrinate students, though, they have failed spectacularly in some notable cases. The United States Supreme Court's two most conservative members, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, are products of Harvard and Yale, respectively. And if John G. Roberts Jr., another conservative, is confirmed this fall, another conservative graduate of Harvard Law will be added to the court.

Whatever may be said about particular schools and students, professors and deans of all political persuasions agreed that the study's general findings are undeniable.

"Academics tend to be more to the left side of the continuum," said David E. Van Zandt, dean of Northwestern's law school, where the contribution rate to Democrats was 71 percent. "It's a little worse in law school. In other disciplines, there are more objective standards for quality of work. Law schools are sort of organized in a club structure, where current members of the club pick future members of the club."

That can do a disservice to academic values, said Peter H. Schuck, a Yale law professor and the author of "Diversity in America: Keeping Government at a Safe Distance." "We have a higher responsibility to our students, ourselves and our disciplines," he said, "that our preference for ideological homogeneity and faculty-lounge echo chambers betrays."

Law professors' politics may be similar to those of other academics, but they are not representative of people with similar credentials and incomes. In the 2000 election cycle, according to data from the National Election Study produced at the University of Michigan, 34 percent of people with advanced degrees and 44 percent of those earning $95,000 to $200,000 gave exclusively to Democratic candidates. For law professors, the new study finds, it was 78 percent.

The figures suggest that liberal law professors do not always produce liberal lawyers.

"I don't think the liberal bias of law school faculties has much impact on the students," said Richard A. Posner, a federal appeals court judge who teaches at the University of Chicago. "Law students are careerists, and for them law school is career preparation, not Sunday chapel."

The profession itself, said Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, may moderate the influence of the academy. "Insofar as an elite law school might push students to the left," Professor Persily said, "corporate law firms might bring them back to the center."

John O. McGinnis, a law professor at Northwestern who prepared the study along with two New York lawyers, Matthew A. Schwartz and Benjamin Tisdell, said it was meant for the most part to present data rather than draw conclusions.

But the study does note an arguable inconsistency in the way law schools approach student admissions and faculty hiring.

When the United States Supreme Court endorsed race-conscious admissions policies in 2003, it based its decision on the importance of ensuring the representation of diverse viewpoints in the classroom.

Law schools that take race into account in admissions decisions, the study says, "open themselves to charges of intellectual inconsistency" if they do not also address the ideological imbalances on their faculties.

The most serious problem pointed to by the study, Professor McGinnis said, is that the ideas generated by the law schools are both uniform and untested.

"It may be," he added, "that the rise of conservative think tanks counterbalances this effect to a degree. As one who believes in markets, I think that alternative institutions in the long run will arise to supply ideas." Even so, he said, "liberal ideas might well be strengthened and made more effective if liberals had to run a more conservative gantlet among their own colleagues when developing them."
INSTANT UPDATE

UD Blogs Her Husband's Radio Interviews


Interview #1: 12:50 PM, WTOP Newsradio:

WTOP Newsradio just finished interviewing Mr. UD about the Iraqi constitution. I thought the questions were very good, and Mr. UD very pithy.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Mr. UD …

will be interviewed about the Iraqi constitution tomorrow at 12:50 in the afternoon on Washington’s WTOP News Radio (it’s broadcast online too). We figure it’ll be a three-minute in-depth discussion.

He’ll also be interviewed and take calls next week, on Wisconsin Public Radio. Date and time when I know them.
SNAPSHOTS FROM HOME
A Regular University Diaries Feature


My freshman year at college? Don’t ask. It was strange.

But I found myself thinking about it after reading this article in the Washington Post about a woman whose horse also had to apply for admission to her college. I went to a college like that, for a year. A college with stables.



Let’s begin by focusing in on UD, circa late teens. A Joan Baez clone hoves into view. Long hair, pathetic clothes (some things don’t change), a nylon string guitar. College? I didn’t have the slightest idea what college meant or where I wanted to go. I knew I liked to read novels and that I wrote pretty well. I knew - my incredulous father, a scientist, knew - that I was beyond belief bad at math.

I didn’t know what to do about college, and I don’t recall caring. My mother, a middle-class Baltimore girl, had always been impressed by Goucher College, a place just outside the city for well-bred females and their steeds. She suggested I apply there. I did, was accepted, and went.



It was a grotesque mismatch. My mother drove from ‘thesda to Towson every weekend to take me home because I was so miserable. She and my father had paid for the whole year, so I couldn’t leave as soon as I wanted to.

I had a very good year there academically -- Goucher was (no doubt still is) a solid liberal arts college -- and then I left.

The experience put me off college altogether for awhile. I spent the next year working as a secretary in ‘thesda and then traveling in Europe. I transferred to Northwestern.



Much of the mismatchery had to do with the all-girls thing (Goucher is now coed). Plus I’d gone to a public high school and everyone else at Goucher had gone to private school. I didn’t even know private schools existed. My roommate had to explain to me what they were.

The atmosphere in the Goucher dorms seems to me in retrospect to have been about the unhealthiest I’ve ever been in. At mealtime, I munched on my burger and watched anorexics wash amphetamines down with caffeine. For dessert, everyone gathered in the lounge and recited the captions accompanying the photos in their horse scrapbooks (“Hay! Don’t I know you?” “Misty’s being BAAAAD.”).



The year I spent working and traveling was the chance I needed to focus upon the real world, the things I loved, the ideas and books that mattered to me. By the time I arrived in Chicago, I had a pretty good idea what college meant, and why it was valuable.
THE PLOT THICKENS

The Washington Post is pursuing the Benjamin Ladner story with the same persistence he is said to have displayed in his pursuit of rich donors. The newspaper has another article about it today, in which its reporter wonders why the university decided to handle the allegations of financial wrongdoing against President Ladner by very publicly suspending him.

UD wonders about this too. Why physically remove him from his office? Are the trustees worried he’ll shred papers?

And didn’t they know that in a short time 44 news outlets would be running the story (that’s the current number, via Google News)?





The story quotes Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity University, also in Washington:

"The president should be subjected to the same audit rules" as others at the university. She turns in her receipts to the chief financial officer -- and pays for some trips on her own because the small school can't afford them. She has her own house and her own car, she added, and sometimes takes potential donors not to elegant dinners but to cafes at Union Station. Good donors, she said, don't want the president to waste money wooing them. They can get good meals on their own dime.

"This idea that presidents should be minor potentates" and paid accordingly just hurts higher education, McGuire said. "Look at the trouble corporate CEOs are in, too! It's a bad model to emulate."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

CHERCHEZ LA TUITION

From today’s Bloomberg.com :




In the mid-1990s, long before oil prices topped $60 a barrel, U.S. companies sought access to Kazakhstan, a Central Asian nation that the U.S. State Department says will be among the world's top 10 producers of crude by 2015.

First, they had to win approval from Jim Giffen, a New York investment banker who became an official in Kazakhstan's government and held sway over its energy deals.

"You couldn't go to a Kazakh minister, particularly if you were an American company, without going through Giffen," says Ed Chow, who managed external affairs at Chevron Overseas Petroleum Ltd., a unit of San Ramon, California-based Chevron Corp.

Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil company, avoided Giffen by arriving in the country before he amassed power, says Chow, 55, who's now an oil and gas consultant in Leesburg, Virginia. Others couldn't.

Now, federal prosecutors say Giffen, 64, cemented his power by bribing Kazakh leaders with $84 million that Amoco Corp., Mobil Oil Co., Phillips Petroleum Co. and Texaco Inc. paid to win access to Kazakh fields. In January, Giffen goes on trial in federal district court in New York in one of the largest overseas criminal bribery cases ever.


Giffen lavished gifts on the Kazakhs, prosecutors say: [President] Nazarbayev got two snowmobiles, an $80,000 Donzi speedboat and his daughter's tuition at George Washington University in Washington, then $22,625 a year.
UPDATE, PRESIDENT LADNER

[for earlier post, go here]



“But there has always been this underlying feeling [that] he makes a lot of money, and I think that makes most people skeptical."


This American University student’s reaction to the news that the president of the university, under investigation for financial wrongdoing, has now been suspended, points to the problem with overcompensated university administrators.

Like quite a number of university presidents, Ladner both earns a fortune (edging up toward $700,000 a year) and enjoys goodies freebies and perks on top of that, including a great house on campus.

Ladner also owns a house in nearby Maryland (AU’s in Northwest DC), and is accused of using university money for its maintenance. Plus he’s accused of having “charged the university for [his] son's engagement party, presents for [his] children, a personal chef, vacations in Europe …and wine that cost as much as $100 a bottle.”



If AU’s president had a salary people felt was appropriate to a member of a university community, there wouldn’t be an underlying skepticism about his character. Now that he’s in trouble, people are inclined to assume the worst.
IN BAGHDAD

UD’s old friend, and the person who brought Mr. UD to Erbil and Baghdad last month, is featured in today’s David Brooks column in the New York Times:



President Bush doesn't lack for critics when it comes to his Iraq policies, but the smartest and most devastating of these is Peter W. Galbraith, a former United States ambassador to Croatia.

Yesterday, after reading gloomy press accounts about the proposed Iraqi constitution, I thought it might be interesting to hear what Galbraith himself had to say. I finally tracked him down in Baghdad (at God knows what hour there) and found that far from lambasting Bush, Galbraith was more complimentary about what the administration has just achieved than anybody else I spoke to all day.

"The Bush administration finally did something right in brokering this constitution," Galbraith exclaimed, then added: "This is the only possible deal that can bring stability. ... I do believe it might save the country."

Galbraith's argument is that the constitution reflects the reality of the nation it is meant to serve. There is, he says, no meaningful Iraqi identity. In the north, you've got a pro-Western Kurdish population. In the south, you've got a Shiite majority that wants a "pale version of an Iranian state." And in the center you've got a Sunni population that is nervous about being trapped in a system in which it would be overrun.

In the last election each group expressed its authentic identity, the Kurds by voting for autonomy-minded leaders, the Shiites for clerical parties and the Sunnis by not voting.

This constitution gives each group what it wants. It will create a very loose federation in which only things like fiscal and foreign policy are controlled in the center (even tax policy is decentralized). Oil revenues are supposed to be distributed on a per capita basis, and no group will feel inordinately oppressed by the others.

The Kurds and Shiites understand what a good deal this is. The Sunni leaders selected to attend the convention are howling because they are former Baathists who dream of a return to centralized power. But ordinary Sunnis, Galbraith says, will come to realize this deal protects them, too.

Galbraith says he is frustrated with all the American critics who argue that the constitution divides the country. The country is already divided, he says, and drawing up a constitution that would artificially bind three divergent societies together would create only friction, violence and civil war. "It's not a problem if a country breaks up, only if it breaks up violently," Galbraith says. "Iraq wasn't created by God. It was created by Winston Churchill."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

FIRST-RATE WRITING

UD, as regular readers know, likes to feature the campus newspaper writing of first-rate undergraduate writers from around the country.

Here are a couple of earlier examples.

Today she’s found something very good from Arthur Martori, a student at Arizona State University (also known as the ‘Spa on the Salt’ and the ‘Tempe Country Club’). It’s witty, relaxed, and confident, and it gives us a window into the world of his school:


The days of coasting though an ASU education could be coming to a close. With the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication operating as an independent entity, ASU students are faced with an unmitigated disaster. A catastrophe of this magnitude has not been seen since 1674 - when ninja commandos overran ASU. (I know; I was there.) Soon, we may be forced to undertake a more demanding role than just one student in a crowd of 60,000. We may be looking at more personalized attention, and man, does that suck.

Talk around campus has been that ASU President Michael Crow is a Bill Gates disciple, running ASU as if it were a multinational conglomerate rather than a university. But that really isn't fair. Lately, he follows Genghis Khan. Crow's newest strategy seems to be "divide and conquer." It's proven impossible to accommodate a population of students larger than many cities, so his strategy is to split it up and address each part individually.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication has always been best described as a fortunate accident. It has produced some pretty heavy-hitters in the industry. But these successes can neither be explained nor consistently replicated. The Cronkite School would seem to be a natural choice for an experiment in credibility building.

Newly appointed dean Christopher Callahan just arrived on campus. He has already been looking around and digging for facts - "reporting," I believe they call it. He struck me as a very personable man, an enthusiastic man. He is also the harbinger of doom for students like me, who would settle for a career writing photo captions in Hustler.

He made it clear to me that the Cronkite School he envisions will not be geared toward producing trash-talking degenerates. He is an idealist. He has a so-called "respect for the profession." He talked about his formation of the radical concept that we should aspire to stand out in our industry.

"I was in junior high school right around the time of Watergate," he recalled, "a time in your life where things start seeping into your head, and all this stuff's going on ... And from that I realized, pretty early on, that journalists are actually a part of this."

Hold the phone. If, when this maniac thinks of the word "journalist," "Watergate" pops into his head, what madness does he have planned for the Cronkite School? Does Crow know about this? What kind of loonies does he hire these days?

"In a 10-year time frame, my goal is that the Cronkite School should be the best journalism program in the American West, period," Callahan firmly stated. "I think it's an ambitious but realistic goal."

His job, as the man behind the merciless cracking whip, is to put the people in place to make all this happen. "That's my job," he affirmed, "to go out and find the partners to help build new programs, to help add to our current resources, to help add new faculty members ... more and better equipment and labs, we now have the pieces in place to do that. We didn't have a dean before."

Even the notion of rapidly filling classes did not daunt his determination to advance the program. "If it needs to be fixed, we're going to fix it," he said.

Callahan's so-called reasoning for doing away with an educational happy hour prolonged over four years is career advancement. He believes that a diploma from a reputable school, a school that takes no prisoners, will lead to more prestigious, higher-paying jobs.

"The careers of the students who go through those programs will be an obvious and enormous benefit to them, and to us -- institutionally. It will increase the profile of the Cronkite School nationally and help us down that road of trying to make a very good school a great one nationally," he said.

I was shocked as I left his office. The vision of the Cronkite School he described to me did not match my own. I mean, what's the point of attending a huge school if they're just going to single you out as an individual and address your needs as a student?

Oh, well. I guess if a person still wants to roll through a diploma mill, there's still a viable option - about 90 miles down I-10.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

BLOG DAYS OF AUGUST

Ho hum. What shall we speak of as August winds down and the new university year begins?

What, for instance, can we say of this season’s school lists (US News and World Report, Princeton Review, Washington Monthly, etc.) that has not been said on this blog in the past?

Just that, as they proliferate, these lists tell you more and more. They tell you which small Christian colleges in the upper midwest have the largest number of artificially inseminated Peace Corps volunteers on Pell grants.

They tell you which schools have the highest and lowest graduation rates. Schools with low graduation rates boast that their rates are a function of a demanding intellectual atmosphere. Schools with high rates boast that their students are brilliant. High rate places scoff at low rate places and say their students are dumb. Low rate places scoff at high rate places and say their courses are guts.




Although sodden SUNY Albany continues sloshing around near the top of the dread “party school” list, this year it’s Wisconsin Madison’s turn to issue a prissy rejection of its Number One ranking, along with some language about how fewer students than ever are being treated at the campus clinic for delirium tremens.

The new Washington Monthly list focuses on the degree of student social mobility in various colleges and universities, with first-rate public schools like UCLA, packed with smart and ambitious lower-income students, shining brightly. Desiccated baronial Princeton makes a particularly bad showing.

Monday, August 22, 2005


"...[S]ome Boise State University students think the vagina-shaped, white chocolate candy that the school's women's center is distributing is in poor taste. "That's almost to the point of being degrading to a woman's body in my opinion," says business student Vicki Johnson.

Representatives from the women's center distributed the candy this week during a meeting for freshman honors students. But the center has actually been distributing the candy for six years now, and during that time the center says it's received plenty of criticism.

The center's interim coordinator Autumn Haynes thinks that criticism is okay because it gets people talking. "We want to dispel that myth that it's not okay to talk about 'down there.' Many times young girls, particularly in our society, are raised with the belief that they have to fit a certain kind of body type and that it's not okay to feel comfortable about their sexuality, and our mission is really to dispel that myth so that women can feel comfortable about their bodies," Haynes says."
THE WAGES OF SIN

UD warned you. This is what comes of the Syllabum Omnium. You should have stuck to one page.



[The] dean of the College of Letters and Science [at University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh] [has] told professors that — for financial and educational reasons — they should put their syllabuses online, and stop distributing them
on the first day of classes.

…The college never figured out the exact cost of printing syllabuses, he says. But copies cost the college about 2 cents a page, nearly all of the university’s 11,000 students take at least some classes in the college, and syllabuses run from a page to 15 pages.

…“This is really idiotic,” says M. Kevin McGee, a professor of economics. “You want access to something like the syllabus in your notebook and with your papers. You need it in paper form,” McGee says, adding that Oshkosh students do not carry around laptops with any regularity. …McGee is no Luddite. He has for a number of years posted copies of his syllabi online, and thinks that is useful, but he says students expect and need a paper copy, too.
Dateline: Cooleridge

“Black-and-white photographs of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Samuel Cooleridge, Joseph Conrad, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Henry Miller, Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway looked down on the approximately 350 attendees who wrote down their thoughts once they climbed a large black staircase that led into an open-air tent. Chandeliers and mounted wild-game heads decorated the booze-ridden ceremony.”


Letter to the Editor,
Aspen Daily News


"Editor: Just rode up Lenado, past Hunter launch site. Rent-a-cops everywhere, some peering into hills with binoculars—looking for invaders? Twice, I got stopped on my bike and told, 'Don't loiter, keep moving, don't take any pictures.' The guy who made his reputation opposing authority exits the planet completely surrounded by authority. Who'd have thunk it?"


Village Voice:

“[Jimmy Ibbotson] made the wire services when he opened fire with his shotgun on what he termed a 'paparazzi,' who wanted to park on his property."


Saturday, August 20, 2005

ENGLISH PROFESSOR
A BONIFIED MEMBER



“I am a bonified member of the MLA (Modern Language Association) and NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English).”

[Hat tip to Eric.]
…AND BACK AT
THE DIPLOMA MILLS



“[President Sheldon] Woods said accreditation and the fact his school has no campus or classrooms are the only differences between Cambridge State and a brick-and-mortar institution.”
MEANWHILE, BACK
AT THE ED SCHOOLS…



By Linda Seebach
Scripps Howard News Service


Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College, Columbia University, describes graduate programs for school leaders - principals and superintendents - as being in "a race to the bottom."

Competing for students who primarily want a credential so they can qualify for bigger salaries but want it to cost as little as possible in money or effort, universities lower their admission standards, weaken their degree requirements and course standards, and rely more and more on low-cost adjuncts to teach courses that have little or nothing to do with what school leaders need to know.

Little in Levine's scathing report will come as news to people familiar with schools of education - though his anecdotal reports on just how bad things are, and the candid assessments of the unidentified professors and deans he interviewed, are illuminating - but that someone of Levine's stature in the profession is the one saying these things ought to get people's attention.

Maybe that will happen. But I doubt it will change anything.

The report, "Educating School Leaders," is from the Education Schools Project, which is in the middle of a four-year effort to study more than 1,200 departments and schools of education across the country. It was released in March, to little attention, and is available at www.edschools.org online.

"The majority of programs range from inadequate to appalling," Levine says, "even at some of the country's leading universities." He mentions a couple of "strong" programs, but none that meet nine criteria relevant to program quality in higher education - clear purpose, curricular coherence, balance between theory and practice, faculty quality, admission standards, degree requirements, research quality, financial resources and continuing self-assessment.

These are not diploma mills, mind you, where you can buy a degree for a few weeks' work; they're real universities, just offering programs of very poor quality.

Why would universities do that? Sometimes, it's to earn the prestige of granting doctoral degrees. Educational administration is often the easiest field in which to gain approval.

"Too often these new programs have turned out to be little more than graduate credit dispensers," Levine says. "They award the equivalent of green stamps, which can be traded in for raises and promotions, to teachers who have no intention of becoming administrators."

Sometimes it's just for the money. Levine quotes a university administrator who told him, "We get $4,300 per undergraduate from the state and tuition is close to $4,000. So we have around $8,000 to work with and our programs cost a little under $6,000. You can admit a lot of education majors and make money. Nursing students cost $12,000 per student. So you have to admit a lot of education majors to have some money left over so you can admit a few nursing students."

It would, of course, be nice to know who these people are, but if we did, we wouldn't know what they really think. They'd be too embarrassed to say.

If a university did want to offer a rigorous exemplary program, who would apply for it? Students intending to enroll in a graduate program in educational administration have an average score on the Graduate Record Examination 46 points below the national average on the verbal part, and 81 points below the average on the math part. And that may be optimistic, since only the relatively strong schools even ask applicants to take the GRE. In practice, many accept everybody who applies.

Sometimes they don't even need to apply. One dean told Levine, "Students would show up and we would let them stay."

Another administrator, from a respected university, said about the students who enroll in its off-campus programs, "We have admitted some people with GRE scores just above what you get for filling out the form."
BEST COLLEGES LIST

UD’s friend JW sent her this year’s US News and World Report results.

A few comments: The decline of the lesser Ivies proceeds apace, with my alma mater, Northwestern, doing better than Cornell and Brown (and better than the more intellectually serious, non-Ivy, University of Chicago, where I got my Ph.D.).

American University, an expensive private college here in Washington, came in at a surprisingly low 85th. Can the scandalette involving its grandiose president have had an impact?



More broadly, I’d note that you can get a very good to excellent undergraduate education at almost any of the first, say, sixty schools listed; and there are quite a few good schools all the way down the list of 120. Rutgers, UC Santa Cruz, Indiana, Colorado, Kansas, Oregon -- none of these ranks very high, but they’re all very good.

Which leads to a couple of questions. How can we account for the dramatic price differentials among some of these essentially equivalent institutions? For some you’ll pay about $50,000 in tuition alone; others will be far, far less expensive.

And why are American students and their parents so anxious about getting into good colleges, when there are clearly plenty of good colleges to go around? From a recent article about high depression rates among college students:

But the cries for help appear to have other causes, too. The quest to get into a top college has grown so cutthroat for many that more students are emerging from it emotionally damaged. "Kids are burning out sooner and sooner," says Leigh Martin Lowe, director of college counseling at Roland Park Country School in Baltimore. "They're not being allowed to enjoy their teenage years, and many of them end up in college and they don't have the energy or stamina to really turn it on." At MIT, Jones, the admissions dean, gives preference to students who are "self-driven" (read: not being pushed by their parents), based on her belief that self-motivated students are better able to cope with failures. "Our culture has become insane — we're making people sick," Jones says.
UD has a theory…

as to why the Democratic party’s in such bad shape (everybody in the blogosphere and beyond lately seems to be writing about what the Democrats can do to start winning elections again). Her theory doesn’t explain everything, but might have some modest value.

Democrats today are both too happy and too sad. The happiness as well as the sadness tend to make them passive and apolitical, and as a result the party lacks the passionate involvement it needs from people in order to get somewhere.


I
Too Happy


The Democrats are too happy because millions of them are rich winners. It doesn’t matter to their way of life whether Clinton or Bush is in the White House -- the salient thing is their dreamworld of affluence, ease, and fun. To be sure, they sign large checks and give them to Democrats, but money isn’t everything, as a writer in New Left Review recently pointed out in talking about what he calls the blue plutocracy:

[T]he Democratic Party is a vehicle of reaction, not out of error or lack of wit, but because it is a machine largely controlled by the super-rich, who are perfectly capable of understanding their own interests.

For all his spirited retorts to hucksters like David Brooks, [Thomas] Frank [author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?] flinches from acknowledging the core of cold truth in their legends and demagogic stereotypes. In the recent Presidential election, the Democrats picked the wealthiest individual since George Washington ever to run for the White House as their candidate, outgunned the Republicans 59 to 41 per cent among donors with assets over $10 million, outspent Bush in every swing state of the Union, and hit an all-time financial record for a senatorial campaign: $17 million in a failed attempt to get Daschle back on the Hill.

Moreover, there is little that is new in this: since the nineties virtually all of the richest electoral districts in the country have been Democratic bastions, Clinton’s cash-mountain easily topped Dole’s in 1996, and the Democrats have regularly received larger individual donations than Republicans, whose strength has been among smaller donors. In this situation, workers who vote Republican may be less deluded than Frank seems to believe. Putting it in sociological language, since there is so little to choose ‘instrumentally’ between the two parties, each of them dedicated to capital unbound, why not at least get the satisfaction of voting ‘expressively’ for the one which seems to speak for their values, if not their interests?


People aren’t just voting expressively for the party that seems to speak for their values; they’re also voting resentfully against the rich winners. As Frank writes, “people know that in everyday life they are being screwed in a hundred ways, and that the people who benefit from this screwing are the ones they see driving Volvos and drinking lattes and enjoying life in Bethesda [UD’s hometown] or Georgetown or wherever.”




Just one example along these lines from the university world, bastion of blue. In a recent interview, Camille Paglia points out that

[U]niversities have permitted in the last 40 years and all the media sat on its hands on this, the growth of a bureaucratic master class of administrators. More and more deans who are making fortunes and also the salaries at the Ivy League are astronomical. People are making $200,000 and families are bankrupting themselves to pay for these bills. There should be a national outrage...





Another Democrat at TPM Café writes that “while liberals are steadfastly supportive of racial equality, all too many are outright contemptuous of working class white people. I think we all know that. I think we all hear ‘white trash’ bandied about by people with ‘Free Tibet’ on their car bumpers. My point here is that people are generally very sensitive to the fact that someone despises them…. Social attitudes bred by Harvard are not compatible with any broad-based social movement… When people look at the most prominent Democrats, they don’t see themselves. What they see are the Harvard-educated limo-libs of the entitlement class, who for God knows what reason are trotted out as party spokespersons.” Yet another writer says that Democrats “are prone to be elitist. They come from places such as California and Massachusetts who harbor class contempt for hayseeds living in fly-over country. Witness Michael Moore’s characterization of ‘Jesusland’ after the 2004 elections.”

Again Paglia, who got at this a few years ago: “The Kennedys want it both ways. They want their exclusive life, and they want the pretense that they speak for the people. But of course that’s the hypocrisy of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party that we’re now going to be examining with the potential senatorial candidacy of Hillary Clinton in New York. It’s long overdue -- a real shakedown that exposes the arrogance and insularity of the lifestyle not only of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party but of their media cohorts.”

Millions of Democrats, in other words, look around themselves, look at their lives, and see nothing but glory. These are the people who’ve been sitting tight for a couple of years in the house they bought for $500,000 and are about to sell it for two million. When your life is that beautiful, you lose the fire in your belly.

UD’s point is not to complain that many Democrats are successful people. It’s great to be successful. Her point is that success in the blue regions is so over the top that people have become complacent and self-involved, behavior alienating to the rest of the country, and behavior at odds with social commitment generally.


II
Too Sad


One major sign of this self-involvement is the way in which psychotherapy, and a general struggle toward yet higher degrees of personal happiness, has replaced larger worldly struggles. Democratic elites tend to be inwardly rather than outwardly directed . They contemplate themselves, not the world. They believe it’s worth a lot of their time and money for them to be in therapy and talk about their unhappiness over having had a judgmental father and a neurotic mother. No matter how privileged and happy you are, you can always be more privileged and happy.

Thus the literature that dominates this culture has, Paglia points out, “drifted into a compulsive telling of any trauma that you can find in your life. Prozac --‘I’m taking Prozac.’ - or divorce or diseases or whatever. Endless kvetching. It’s a style of telling of woes and the potential range of literature is being neglected…”

To other Americans, the ideology of therapy and restless self-fashioning toward total happiness which dominates the belief system of Democratic elites is another expression of the elites’ sense of superiority, and their eagerness to indulge in their own comfort. Most non-blue Americans find their belief system not in psychology but in religion of one sort or another. Their religion is a collective belief system, not an individual one like psychotherapy.

Democratic elites are not shy about expressing their contempt for the group-oriented religion of the majority of Americans, even as they fail to see the flimsiness of Freudian faith, whose simple-minded dogma has it that happy people are repressing something and that Christians and Jews are infantile. Frank Furedi points out the tendency on the part of blue Americans to reduce political discourse to psychoanalysis, as the current Democratic guru, George Lakoff, does when he “characterises Bush supporters as dominated by a ‘strict father morality’ which is hostile to ‘nurturance and care.’” Justin Frank performed the same reduction in his book, Bush on the Couch, a spectacularly vulgar psychoanalysis of the president which probably did as much for the Republican cause in the last election as any brilliant Roveian strategy.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

FELONIOUS BONK


SETON HALL DROPS
FELON’S NAME
FROM BUILDING


Liz Willen
Bloomberg News



SOUTH ORANGE -- Seton Hall University, a Catholic institution named for a saint, removed the name of Dennis Kozlowski, convicted felon and former chief executive of Tyco International Ltd., from a building on campus.

The name was removed today at Kozlowski's request, Seton Hall spokesman Thomas White said in a telephone interview.

The building has been renamed Jubilee Hall.

Seton Hall, a school of 10,000 students in South Orange, has had at least three buildings named for convicted felons. Kozlowski, a 1968 Seton Hall graduate, faces as many as 30 years in prison after being convicted of larceny for looting Tyco of more than $150 million and defrauding shareholders. His name also came off a rotunda in the library, White said.
Go there, for my wife's commentary...
Maybe love is blind, but this guy looks to me like one hell of a hunk. As promised, it's Mr. UD in full peshmerga uniform. The intensely hospitable Kurds (Mr. UD drank more tea in four weeks over there than he had in four years), overhearing him mention his admiration for their look, found a uniform perfectly fitted for a 6'1" Pole.

Among the many tales he's come back to tell, UD finds this one particularly moving: Iraqi Kurdistan is the only Kurdish area in the world where the Kurdish flag flies. Apparently quite a few Kurds in other countries routinely make their way to the Iraqi border just to stand there and gaze at it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

"He believed in education.
He made sure his three kids all went to college.
He was one of 10 children.
He sent a lot of his brothers and sisters to college too."




From today’s Bakersfield Californian:



Poor Bob Schrieffer. A brilliant research scientist, the pride of Tallahassee, Fla., snatched from the laboratory before his time. One of America's foremost theoretical physicists, a man of boundless mathematical curiosity and imagination, gone.

All because of a galling, tragic collision on a Central California freeway 11 months ago.

If Schrieffer, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1972, sounds like the victim here, the confusion is understandable. Some newspaper accounts, riding a narrative arc built around the incident's baffling incongruity, have in effect portrayed the 74-year-old verifiable genius as the party for whom we should be grieving.

Somewhere down in the last few paragraphs, if at all, we catch the barest glimpse of the other party, the only person in this story who, as a direct result of the events of that September day, won't be returning to any labs, scientific or otherwise.




When Schrieffer, the pride of Florida State University's National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, crashed his new Mercedes-Benz sports car into a Toyota van last Sept. 24 near Santa Maria, it killed 57-year-old Renato "Rey" Catolos of Ridgecrest and injured seven others.

Schrieffer, who taught at UC Santa Barbara for 12 years and directed its Institute for Theoretical Physics in the 1980s, was zipping down the coastal highway at an estimated speed of 110 mph when he barreled into the van, prosecutors say. He fabricated a story blaming another, nonexistent vehicle. Then he owned up to it himself.

Amparo Mangapit, a 77-year-old passenger in the same van, died a month later,but Schrieffer was not charged in that death. A third passenger was partially paralyzed and remains in a skilled-nursing facility.




Schrieffer pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter on July 25 and probation officials recommended an eight-month sentence in the Santa Barbara County Jail. But at his Aug. 8 sentencing hearing, Superior Court Judge James Herman said Schrieffer might deserve "a taste of state prison."

Now he's the smartest inmate at Wasco State Prison -- or will be, if Herman decides to keep him there after his three-month pre-sentencing evaluation period concludes. Sentencing has been rescheduled for Nov. 7.

Colleagues on both coasts are shocked and puzzled. This is an aberration, they say with unanimous incredulity. They never saw this coming, despite Schrieffer's having piled up nine speeding tickets since 1993, including 18 bad-driver points in the 18 months prior to the accident, prompting the state of Florida to yank his license.




Back in Ridgecrest, Estelita Catolos is too gentle a soul to rage at the injustice of the wreck -- or the injustice of its postmortems. She just misses her husband.

"He was a hardworking man and a good provider," she says, "When we first came to the United States (from the Philippines) in 1971 he worked three jobs. He was a very hard worker who cared about his family very much."

For a time, Catolos did commercial janitorial work early in the morning, cleaned apartments in the late evening and, in between, went to his regular job with the U.S. Navy. He retired in the early 1990s after 20 years of military service and got a job as a warehouse manager, most recently for General Dynamics.

He liked Ridgecrest. Thought it was a good place to raise kids.

He drove his wife into Los Angeles on regular buying trips for her Ridgecrest store, Lita's Fashions -- which over the course of her 16 years in business evolved into an Asian market with no "fashions" to speak of. At night he often cleaned the store for her.

It was the classic tale of a father who busted his backside so his children wouldn't have to.

"He believed in education," said his oldest daughter, Agnes Ysselstein, a registered nurse who lives in the Bay Area. "He made sure his three kids all went to college. ... He was one of 10 children, and he sent a lot of his brothers and sisters to college too."

Catolos and his wife -- two days shy of their 33rd anniversary -- were traveling with friends that day almost a year ago. They had visited friends in the town of Guadalupe and were on their way to the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, northwest of Santa Barbara, when Schrieffer intervened.




Inexplicable behavior, agonizing results.

Each man was passionate about his perceived purpose in life. Each gave all he could muster, exercised all of his gifts. In both cases the results were admirable.

Nobel Prizes and international acclaim have a way of skewing things, though. Genius attracts headlines. Accompanied by a fall from grace as precipitous as Schrieffer's, the story can only move in one direction on the page -- up.

But for one humble, grieving Ridgecrest family, the wrong man got top billing -- no matter how many honorary doctorates line the walls of John Robert Schrieffer's empty office.




By Robert Price
IN ERBIL



UD's husband and another American are walking in Erbil, a town in Kurdistan. A Kurd approaches them and asks: "Where are you from?" They tell him. "Thank you," he says. "I love you."


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

UPDATE:: The New York Times has a long, front-page article (in the Science section) about the history of Erbil, possibly the world's oldest continually inhabited city.

Monday, August 15, 2005

DASHING MR. UD...

...is back from Salahadin, Erbil, Baghdad, Istanbul, etc. He appeared on the doorstep last night in full Peshmerga uniform with Barzani headdress. Photo not yet available, but I'm not kidding.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

ROCKET MAN

The Baffling Descent of a Nobel Prize Winner,” headlines today’s LA Times. “Friends of physicist John Schrieffer [scroll down a few posts for more on this story], who faces prison in [a] fatal crash, are sad and perplexed,” writes the reporter. Everyone is stunned at this “catastrophic aberration,” this “tragic fluke.”

UD finds it hard to believe that his university colleagues and his friends are stunned. Even UD, rotten at math, can do the numbers. Schrieffer, so heavily recruited that Florida’s governor called him for a long phone chat, joined FSU in 1991. Since 1993, he has “piled up nine speeding tickets,” and last year, “at the time of the accident, he was driving on a suspended Florida license.”

So a couple of years after Schrieffer came to FSU, he began to demonstrate a pattern of such reckless speeding that his license had been suspended. For twelve years FSU had on its faculty a high-profile professor who was a notorious peril behind the wheel.



“In his plea, Schrieffer … made no mention of any illnesses that influenced his judgment or his ability to drive.” Schrieffer has to have had a good attorney. Why was no such mention made? Probably because whatever illnesses he has -- he’s a man in his seventies -- they aren’t bad enough for him to have used in his defense. How impaired could he have been to be directing a big important lab?

The LA Times writer settles for being as baffled and stunned as Schrieffer’s friends. But a likely explanation is right there in his article. Schrieffer just loves to make things go fast. Ever since he was young, Schrieffer’s had a “passion for technology,” which “showed even during high school in Eustis, Fla., where he shot homemade rockets over the orange groves…” Later in life, he became addicted to high-tech, late-model sports cars. He obviously loved to gun them and see how fast their engines could go.



The police tried to stop Schrieffer from taking his enthusiasm with the creation of speed to higher and higher levels, but tickets and a suspended license don't discourage people like Schrieffer.

UD continues to await evidence that his friends or FSU did anything about him for over a decade. She fears that everyone decided to protect so powerful and powerfully desired a faculty member. She’s therefore a bit nauseated by the shock and awe currently being expressed. Someone should have had enough imagination to conjure the innocent people Schrieffer was eventually going to destroy.

But it’s early days. UD awaits the next article about Schrieffer in the LA Times. It will, she predicts, be an exclusive interview with a graduate student in his lab, full of guilt over having said nothing to anyone for so long about the scary man for whom she worked.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Uses of the University

I don’t say it was beautiful. George Washington University Hospital was never beautiful. But it existed, and things happened in it. My kid was born there. A president’s life was saved there.

For a long time now, it’s been nothing. A chalky field surrounded by a fence marks the spot. It looks like a bullfight ring.

But GWU doesn’t plan to use it for bullfighting. Here’s what it wants for Square 54, as described in today’s Washington Post:




[GW] proposes to hire a pair of classy developers (Boston Properties and KSI) and a world-class architecture firm (Cesar Pelli & Associates) to design and build a $250 million, mixed-use development with offices facing Washington Circle, high-end apartments in the back and plenty of ground-level retail all around. [There will be] about 450,000 square feet [of office space], compared with 250,000 for residential and 80,000 for retail. With office rents at least 25 percent above apartment rents, that balance makes sense for the university, as landowner, and Boston Properties, as the project manager and office developer.


Cool. But what’s missing from this picture?

[The] university argues that with its Pennsylvania Avenue address and its proximity to the Foggy Bottom Metro stop, Square 54 is simply too valuable as a site for high-end commercial development to be used for its own purposes.


Hm. No room for even a little lecture hall?
YOU ROCK MY BOOK

Wow. Don’t rain but it pours. Via Maud Newton, here’s another fresh plagiarism tale, this one with a postmodern quirk: A woman’s autobiography takes much of its content from one contemporary novel, one contemporary short story collection, and three older novels. A writer in the Telegraph tells the tale:


I didn't more than glance over the original report in The Bookseller. It said that the Bloomsbury bestseller Rock Me Gently - Judith Kelly's memoir of a traumatic childhood in a Catholic orphanage - was being rewritten after "similarities" were spotted with Antonia White's 1933 novel Frost in May. Then a couple of weeks later Hilary Mantel, a novelist with whom I'm friendly, got in touch to say that she, too, had been gently rocked by Rock Me Gently.



After Mantel pointed out virtually verbatim copying to the book’s publisher, she received, notes the Telegraph writer, the following defense/threat:


“Judith… has read very widely and has a remarkable memory, and during the decade in which she was working on her own book, some of her wide-ranging reading emerged in her own prose without her realising it. There is no question of infringement of copyright," she wrote (that last steely, lawyerish phrase being the letter's real payload), "but Judith is naturally very upset that this has happened and is rewriting those passages for the next edition of the book."




Again with the uncontrollable memory! What shall we call this? Incontinent mnemonism?

Apparently Jane Eyre and Brighton Rock have been similarly pilfered for intimate truths about Judith Kelly.
IN OTHER WORDS

Is it plagiarism? "Alleged cribbing"? In South Africa, a prize-winning poet turns out to have turned in a poem translated almost verbatim from a Canadian writer. From Cape Times, August 12:



South African poet Melanie Grobler has relinquished the Eugýne Marais literature prize and offered to pay back the prize money after it emerged that she had presented an unacknowledged translation of a poem by Canadian author Anne Michaels as her own work.

Although her poem Stad (Die Waterbreker, 2004) reads as an almost direct translation of Michaels's There Is No City That Does Not Dream (Skin Divers, 1999), without any reference to Michaels, Grobler denies allegations of plagiarism.

She told the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, who gave her the prestigious award, that the resemblance was due to "pure negligence" and the "absorption that takes place naturally when one is an avid reader".

Marilyn Biederman, director of rights and contracts at McClelland & Stewart publishers in Toronto, on Thursday said she was not prepared to comment without more information.

"We represent Michaels both in Canada and where she is published abroad. At the moment we are looking at what course to take. We understand that the SA author had rescinded her prize, which also has bearing on how we will deal with the matter."

Loftus Marais, a young poet studying at Stellenbosch University, blew the whistle on Grobler on the website litnet.co.za, creating heated debate over Grobler.

Grobler initially refused to give up the prize, but later said in a statement she would take full responsibility for the harm she had caused by failing to credit Michaels, whom she said was one of her favourite poets.

Chief executive of the academy Jacques van de Elst said an investigation into the matter would no longer be necessary, although a report would be compiled about the incident.

It was also decided against passing on this year's prize to another poet.

In letters to the award's chief sponsors, Absa bank and Rapport newspaper, Van de Elst expressed disappointment at the turn of events and said Grobler had offered to pay back her prize money of R11 000.

"It is the first time in the academy's history that such a thing has happened. We firmly believe the poet had no cruel intentions. Besides a literature commission that assumes original work is presented, it is very difficult in an ocean of literature to identify alleged cribbing from a remote literature such as the Canadian," he wrote to both Absa sponsorships director Angela Bruwer and Rapport editor Tim du Plessis.

He also requested that this year's prize money be saved for next year's winner.

Van de Elst said the academy's council would discuss the matter at a September 23 meeting and would probably decide to scrap the author's name from their awards list of over a hundred years.

The volume of poetry containing the contentious poem is still for sale in book shops, but Tafelberg Publishers has since August 3 placed an embargo on any more stock going to retailers.



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



UPDATE
: I found the Michaels poem, and am wondering if Grobler changed the Canadian street names to South African ones:

THERE IS NO CITY THAT DOES NOT DREAM


There is no city that does not dream
from its foundations. The lost lake
crumbling in the hands of brickmakers,
the floor of the ravine where light lies broken
with the memory of rivers. All the winters
stored in that geologic
garden. Dinosaurs sleep in the subway
at Bloor and Shaw, a bed of bones
under the rumbling track. The storm
that turned the city purple, with the electricity
of spring, when we were eighteen
on the clean earth. The ferry ride in the rain
wind wet with wedding music and everything that
sings in the carbon of stone and bone
like a page of love, wind-lost from a hand, un-read.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

LEADING ACADEMICIANS AND
PROFESSIONALS AGREE



UD’s all in favor of building up your life again after you’ve taken a fall, but in the case of Rick Bragg, ex-New York Times writer and about-to-be professor of journalism at the University of Alabama , she thinks he owes it to his students to be more honest about his record at the Times than he, and his dean, have so far been.

“The issue here is that it appears that [Bragg’s] not doing any of his own reporting,” said one of the participants in a PBS discussion about big and small scandals at the Times a couple of years ago. And while this is an overstatement, Bragg does seem to have, in a rather arrogant and cynical way, farmed out the reporting of his pieces (journalists call this increasingly common practice “drive-by reporting”) to uncredited and barely paid gophers.



In the particular story that caused the Times to suspend him temporarily (Bragg eventually resigned. Only the resignation is mentioned in most of the Alabama stories.), Bragg appears to have sent a faceless stringer to Apalachicola to interview everyone and look around. Bragg dropped into town for a short spell and then wrote the story as if he’d witnessed and experienced what it described. As one commentator writes:

Bragg appears to be guilty of three counts of editorial deceit in hiring an unpaid, undisclosed, and unauthorized helper — essentially subcontracting his work to others without his bosses' consent. [He visited] Apalachicola for a couple of hours solely to claim the dateline and foster the illusion that [he’d] seen the story [himself].

The Apalachicola text reveals how Bragg infused the piece with its fraudulent sense of immediacy. He repeatedly invokes the word "here" to imply an intimacy with his subjects and the environs, even though he didn't do any of the interviews with the oystermen.



More and more, life here feels temporary. …
As in any society, there are layers here. …
A man has to get very drunk not to think about the future here. …
While environmentalists call the bay pristine, people who have lived here the longest say change has long since come. …
The people have a toughness in them here.



Obviously, the journalistic profession should better codify 1) exactly how much work a stringer must do before earning a byline credit and 2) how many minutes a reporter need occupy the city limits of his dateline in order to claim it. But the lack of a hard-and-fast standard doesn't mean I don't know journalistic scamming when I see it. Reconstituting a "you are there" story from somebody else's notes and conducting a touch-and-go landing to claim the dateline violates not only Times policy, but any sober person's elemental sense of intellectual honesty.




The same Slate writer continues:

Every reporter makes mistakes, but Bragg's gargantuan goofs defy explanation—often making you wonder if he even visited the scene of his own story. Take this hilarious extended correction for Bragg's June 1, 1998, story about a small Alabama newspaper's crusade against corruption, in which he appears to have gotten more facts wrong than right:

'An article on June 1 about a small-town Alabama publishing couple who exposed corruption by a county sheriff misstated the sentence received by the sheriff, Roger Davis of Marengo County, for extortion. It was 27 months in prison, not 27 years, and is to be served concurrently with another 27-month sentence, for soliciting a bribe and failure to pay state income taxes.

The article also misstated the age of the editor and publisher, Goodloe Sutton of the weekly Democrat-Reporter in Linden. He is 59, not in his late 40's.

In addition, the article referred imprecisely to the timing of a Democrat-Reporter article about Sheriff Davis's use of county money for an all-terrain vehicle for his daughter. That article was published after the sheriff had repaid the money, not before.

The Times article also misstated the process by which the sheriff took money from the county mental health center. He had the center write a check to him for each mental patient who was transported by sheriff's deputies; he was not cashing checks that had been intended for the center.

The article also misstated the circulation of The Democrat-Reporter. It is 7,125, not 6,000.'

Or this Page One March 14, 2002, Bragg story about a town that allegedly banned Satan:

'A front-page article on March 14 reported on a proclamation by the mayor of Inglis, Fla., population 1,400, banning Satan from the town. The mayor, Carolyn Risher, had prayers encased in posts at the entrances to the town. The article said that while the proclamation was signed by the town clerk and stamped with the official seal, other town officials had said the mayor was speaking only for herself.

The article should have added that those officials, members of Inglis's town commission, took that position in late January after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue the city. The commission ordered the mayor to reimburse the town for the cost of issuing the proclamation and had the posts removed from public property. Officials of the civil liberties union in Florida brought the later developments to The Times's attention in a letter to the editor published on Thursday.'

Such errors cry out for public pillory — or at the very least careful policing by editors. Instead, Bragg continued to live his enchanted life at the Times.





Bragg‘s dean is brazening it out. "I did discuss it with leading academicians and professionals," Clark said. "They considered what happened in that particular situation an injustice."




Beyond importing a certain raffish approach to reporting, Bragg brings to the University of Alabama a familiar brand of garrulous Southern self-mythologizing. Katha Pollitt describes his “lavishly overwritten tales of Southern life,” which “provoked many an eyeroll from acerbic New Yorkers.”

UD, a longtime, hypertypical NYT reader, recalls thinking that Bragg’s stories functioned to reassure affluent educated easterners like her that she shouldn’t feel bad about poor Louisianans and Floridians because after all they have the deep rootedness and humble human dignity that she lacks.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

She's back. Maria Alquilar, the artist about whom UD has already written, has come back to California to fix her spelling errors, and the whole world is watching.

From today's San Francisco Chronicle:



“What’s in a name?” Shakespere asked.

Make that “Shakespeare.” Miami artist Maria Alquilar, much maligned for 11 misspellings that popped up in the educational mural she designed for the Livermore public library last year, spent today under the hot sun correcting her mistakes.

In addition to fixing the bard’s name, she changed “Eistein” to “Einstein,” “Gaugan” to “Gauguin” and more.

But Alquilar, who at first claimed artistic license and said she wasn’t going to return to fix the faux pas because people were being too mean about it, was giving no media interviews as she worked under a broad-brimmed straw hat and blue tent. She sliced and diced the tiles with power tools, protected from the public by a barrier.

She wagged her finger at a television cameraman and threatened to throw a rock at a print photographer.

“No pictures of me!” she yelled. “If I’m in it, I’m going to sue you.”

Apparently, Alquilar wanted to return quietly to do the edits, for which city officials are paying her $6,000 plus travel expenses. That’s on top of the $40,000 she received for creating the 16-foot circular mosaic, made up of 175 historical names and cultural words.

But after she arrived Sunday, word spread, and today she had a consistent audience for her work, which she expected to complete today or Wednesday.

Assistant City Manager Jim Piper assured reporters that city officials were spell-checking Alquilar’s replacement tiles.

“We certainly believe they are spelled correctly,” he said.

Livermore officials selected Alquilar in 2000 to create a mosaic at the entrance to Livermore’s new library, which opened in May 2004. Icons representing science, art, literature and history surround a tree of life in the center.

Library patrons were of varied opinions about whether a name by any other spelling smelled as sweet.

A woman named Betty, who wouldn’t give her last name for fear of reprisal from her stickler school-teacher chums, said she didn’t mind the imperfect art.

“I feel sorry for her out in the heat,” she said. “It was kind of fun to have something unique. I thought it was very nice.”

But Jarod Vash, 17, who was borrowing videos with his girlfriend and her family, said he thought the misspellings were embarrassing.

“When the story first broke, I thought, ‘Oh, Livermore, the town that misspells stuff,’ ” he said. “The only thing we’ve got in Livermore, and it’s misspelled.”

But he added, “Everybody makes mistakes.”

“Not this bad,” said his girlfriend’s 13-year-old brother, Eric Smyth.
A REAL WINNER

Robert Schrieffer, a distinguished American scientist and longtime professor, is about to go to state prison for having killed one person and injured seven with his new Mercedes, which he was driving at one hundred miles an hour at the time.

Professor Schrieffer loves to do this sort of thing. His many speeding tickets finally impelled the authorities to suspend his license, though this didn’t discourage him from buying a late-model sports car and killing people with it. "It's a puzzle why you decided to drive high-performance cars at great speeds on public highways," said the judge, who seemed confused as to why “a bright man who has made great contributions to society” could also do things like this. But a relative of one of the victims nailed it easily: "Mr. Schrieffer is a very intelligent man with no respect for the legal system."



“The defendant, who spoke cheerfully to his attorneys and a reporter prior to the hearing," a local paper reports, "did not look at the family members as they spoke.” In his official statement of apology, he wept and said he felt their pain.

“Schrieffer initially told investigators that he was a victim in the accident, and that a truck hauling a trailer had clipped his car and the van, according to the CHP. That story was never corroborated, and Schrieffer eventually admitted inventing the truck, Mestman said, adding that the defendant later expressed remorse for his actions.”



Oh, I meant to mention. Schrieffer got the Nobel Prize a few years ago. The least the Nobel people could do would be to add this information to the glowing biography of him they provide on their website.

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


UPDATE: If Professor Schrieffer’s guilt or innocence was still in question; if he didn’t have a long record ending with a suspended license on which he was driving when he killed and maimed people; if the judge hadn’t been so appalled by his victims’ suffering that he recommended harder jail time … then maybe UD could see Florida State University coming up with this as its official statement to its staff, a statement subsequently quoted in the media:

Greg Boebinger, director of the mag lab, notified staff members of new legal developments in Schrieffer's case in an e-mail Tuesday. "This is a very sad time. Bob Schrieffer will apparently be sentenced to serve time in connection with an automobile collision in California late last year," Boebinger wrote. "This is a terrible human tragedy, for the victims of the collision and their families as well as for Bob and his family."



Um, collision? Schrieffer ploughed into an innocent car. Sad for FSU? No. Embarrassing, in that the university has been harboring and honoring this man even though it knew what he was like. A tragedy for Bob? No. A belated reckoning with justice. I trust FSU has been offering counseling for this man during the years it has known of his problem…

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

MORE REACTION TO THE SCHRIEFFER CONVICTION:

“Professor Leon N. Cooper of Brown University, who shared the Nobel Prize with Schrieffer in 1972, said he was stunned to hear of Schrieffer's problems. 'It is the kind of nightmare that everyone worries about,' Cooper said."


Really? Driving your uninsured Mercedes on a suspended license at one hundred miles an hour into a van packed with people?


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

THINGS HAPPEN QUICKLY AROUND HERE

It’s August 11, Professor Schrieffer doesn’t yet know whether he’s going to a real or a country club jail, and already he's past-tense pop-culture shorthand. From an article in yesterday’s Village Voice about new video games:


The New York Times' Matt Richtel was probably right in taking MADDEN NFL 2006 to task for not having enough brand new features to rationalize the $50 price tag. Yet if you're a football nut in the way embattled Nobel Prize Winner John Robert Schrieffer was nutty about theories of superconductivity, you just have to have the game.

Monday, August 08, 2005

DISCOMFORT

"As conservatives we should never have to feel uncomfortable in the classroom because of our beliefs," says a delegate to the annual meeting of conservative college students taking place now at George Washington University (UD's institution also recently hosted a similar meeting of progressive college students).

This is wrong, actually. While no student should have to endure idiot ideologues in the classroom, all serious students should want exposure to ideas, interpretations, facts, and personalities that make them squirm.

Sunday, August 07, 2005





This is the only literary entry in a sand sculpture contest being held outside UD's beach apartment. She's not even fond of C.S. Lewis. But she figured she should find a vacation image for this university blog that has something to do with books...

Friday, August 05, 2005

PROBLEMS, HERE AND ABROAD

UD is suffering from a more than ordinarily intense case of cognitive dissonance today after reading her New York Times. The front page of the A Section features the dead bodies of Niger’s malnourished children.


Much of this disaster was suspected last November, when experts monitoring Niger‘s farms found a 220,000-ton shortfall -- about 7.5 percent of the normal crop - in the harvest of grains, especially the millet that is the staple of most people‘s diet. Among others, the United Nations World Food Program and Doctors Without Borders sounded alarms, and Niger’s government, with World Food Program approval, quickly asked donors to give Niger 71,000 tons of food aid and $3 million for the 400,000 most vulnerable farmers and herders. By May, it had received fewer than 7,000 tons of food and one $323,000 donation, from Luxembourg.



The front page of the business section features the plaintive headline: Doesn’t Anyone Want to Manage Harvard’s Money?


David Swensen, who manages Yale University’s …endowment, was paid $1.03 million in compensation and benefits in the year ended in June 2003. And Bob L. Boldt, chief executive of the University of Texas Investment Management Company… was paid $1.28 million. … Top [private sector] money managers can earn more than $250 million a year running hedge funds, making the Harvard post a hard sell.
BLOGOSCOPY


From today's Denver Post: (Headline: HOFFMAN DENOUNCES BLOGS)

[Former University of Colorado president Betsy Hoffman] also said she wished she would have assigned one of her staffers to read political blogs every day, as she does now.

One of the first mentions of [Ward] Churchill's essay appeared on a blog called "little green footballs" after the professor was invited to speak at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. Within 10 minutes, people were calling Gov. Bill Owens and asking him to tell Hoffman to fire Churchill, she said.

MARTIN WEITZMAN VALEDICTORY

“Yet if the trial yielded a positive externality for the professor,” writes the Harvard Crimson, “it is that Weitzman won’t have to pony up in the future — he said that since the story started getting such attention, he has received several offers for free manure.”

Whoa, Weitzman. UD reminds you -- you’re an economist; you should know this -- that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
DUBIETY


UD’s husband may or may not be on his way to Dubai


UD is most certainly on her way to Rehoboth Beach


And she’ll be blogging from there.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


we had joy we had fun we had seasons in the sun






Twice a week, UD’s daughter goes to Washington Children’s Chorus practice in a church on the campus of American University. UD, while she’s waiting for her, drinks coffee and reads at the Starbucks at AU; or, if she’s feeling energetic, walks around campus.

As a native Washingtonian, UD has witnessed AU grow in size and popularity. She has watched it gussy up its buildings and landscape and, like most things in Northwest DC and Montgomery County (AU is located close to Montgomery County, where UD lives) get rich.

Now AU is running into one of those problems that rich universities tend to run into: overcompensation of administrators. Universities “are not in the for-profit world,” an expert on the subject reminds the Washington Post in an article about AU this morning. “If there is some unusual perk, it has to be justified.”

AU’s president’s base salary for 2003-04 was $633,000. He gets a free house plus other value-added goodies. On top of this, an anonymous letter to trustees and the Post claims, “the Ladners charged the university over the past five years for their son's engagement party, presents for their children, a personal French chef, vacations in Europe, maintenance of their personal residence in Maryland ‘including garbage bags,’ and wine up to $100 a bottle for lunch and dinner.” An investigation is underway.



The Engagement Party

Let’s start with the engagement party. There are “things that look on the surface like they are personal, but turn out to be donor cultivation,” another expert explains to the Post. “You might have a big wedding party, but maybe 70 percent of the guests are major donors.”

Consider the pathos of an engagement party for one’s beloved child, seventy percent of whose guests are business connections. Consider, more broadly, a family with absolutely no personal life.

If a set of human beings, connected by blood and some sort of history, end up living a wholly institutional life, then compensation for most aspects of that sort of life doesn’t seem out of line to me. You only get one lifetime, and people who miss out on having their life deserve not only pity, but some form of compensation for their loss. If I couldn’t go to the john without taking donor cultivation calls, I’d expect compensation. The question is how much.



Father Flanagan/Dennis Kozlowski

The conceit in the particular case of university presidents is that, having chosen the public over the private sector, they are motivated not merely by greed and vainglory but also by duty.

The university president is located somewhere between a priest and Dennis Kozlowski. He or she is expected to want good money, but is also expected to demonstrate a commitment to non-profit values.

Yet our wealthy country, as the director of research for the American Association of University Professors points out to the Post, increasingly compensates its university presidents “like private sector CEOs,” and CEOesque presidents in turn “often reflect their compensation in their management of the institution.”

This is a delicate way of saying that they often give themselves as stupendous a salary and as perky a set of perks as they can get away with. The AAUP’s Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession notes that “presidential salaries have risen much more rapidly than faculty salaries in the last ten years,” and “the trend apparently continues. This development is one further indication that a more corporate organizational hierarchy is emerging in colleges and universities, in potential conflict with the mission of institutions of higher education to operate for the benefit of society as a whole.”

The AAUP researcher calls “the rapid growth of presidential compensation” a “morale crusher for other staff and faculty members.”



The Red Corvette

It’s hard for most university presidents to get away with truly truly gross and blatant greed. Ask Peter Diamondopoulous. No one tried harder than he.

This rule does not hold true for the University of Florida system, however. There, a university president can do just about anything and be rewarded for it. The current president of the Florida Institute of Technology, for instance, left his last university presidency in disgrace, but got another university presidency right away. Here’s his story, in the Miami Herald:



SOLD: RED CORVETTE WITH PURPLE PAST

It is possibly the most infamous car in the history of South Florida higher education. A former Florida Atlantic University president has sold a red Corvette bought as his retirement gift with money that was supposed to be used for students.

The little red Corvette that former Florida Atlantic University president Anthony Catanese got as a going-away present turned out to be nothing but trouble.

His reputation was sullied. So was that of the school's foundation. And an FAU vice president was criminally charged and forced to resign.

All of that, and it turns out that Catanese barely drove his shiny red bauble. He averaged about 23 miles per week in it. Now, after less than three years of ownership, Catanese has gotten rid of the car.

"Obviously it's very ironic that so much harm was caused to so many for so little," said Kenneth Lipman, an attorney who represented Carla Coleman, who lost her job in the scandal's fallout.

Catanese traded in the car on March 30 to a Melbourne car dealership and bought a silver 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 roadster. Like the Corvette, it's a luxury sports car that sells in the low to mid-40s. Catanese also has a 2003 BMW.

The Kelley Blue Book car buyer's guide lists the trade-in value of a Corvette comparable to Catanese's at $26,100.

A Melbourne engineer and his schoolteacher wife, Randolph Hines and Teresa Baggett-Hines, bought the Corvette on April 12. The odometer read 3,285 miles.

"It looks showroom new," Randolph Hines said. "It was like buying a new old car."

GOING-AWAY GIFT

Catanese, 62, did not respond to an e-mail asking why he hardly drove the car and traded it in.

He requested the car as a going-away gift in July 2002 following his resignation after 12 years as FAU president to assume the same job at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. He told investigators later that he wanted a Corvette because it was a favorite car of astronauts on the Space Coast, where he was relocating.

Coleman, a top FAU administrator, funneled $42,000 from the FAU Foundation to Catanese's wife, Sara, so that her husband could buy the car.

STUDENT MONEY

Foundation money is supposed to be spent on programs that benefit students, faculty or the university. Coleman concealed the Corvette purchase by having an interior design firm pay Sara Catanese for "consulting" work on FAU's new presidential residence.

Coleman then reimbursed the firm with a check from an FAU Foundation account.

The scheme succeeded until The Palm Beach Post and then the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began scrutinizing foundation spending in 2003.

In June 2003 Catanese sent a check for $42,000 to reimburse the FAU Foundation, along with a letter insisting:

"I believed the gift was completely legal and appropriate."

NOT CHARGED

The FDLE thought there was enough evidence to charge the Cataneses with felonies, but the state attorney said there was insufficient evidence to obtain convictions.

Coleman, however, who resigned her $185,000-a-year job, was charged with a third-degree felony, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to a year of probation.

When the Hineses, who live in Melbourne, bought the storied car on April 12 they knew none of this.

"They told me it was somebody who got it as a retirement gift," Randolph Hines said.

Now that he knows the Catanese connection, one mystery about the Corvette seems less cryptic to Hines.

"I guess it answers the question as to why there were so few miles on it," he said. "He probably felt bad driving it around."

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

STEVEN VINCENT




Is this where I'll find the soul of Basra -- in the trauma inflicted on the city by Saddam Hussein?

Samir shakes his head no, then, after a pause offers his answer: "Walt Whitman."

Chuckling at my reaction, "Yes, your country's poet -- you are perhaps familiar with his book Leaves of Grass?"

Cormorants, bedding down for the night, flit from palm to palm. From a concrete block house nestled in the underbrush a generator coughs and sputters, and a small trickle of water comes splashing down the irrigation channel.

"In his poem," continues Samir, eyes gleaming in the dark, "Whitman talks as if his soul were a part of nature -- free, filled with love, encompassing every aspect of life. I think of this often."

After weeks of experiencing little but shortages, poverty, frustrations and dysfunctionalities -- Iraqis' and my own -- this evocation of the great American Bard startles me. Kafka, yes -- but narcissistic, homoerotic, barbarically yawping Walt?

"Yes, you see, Basra was once like that. It is, you know, a port city. Open to influences from around the world -- Asia, Europe, Africa, America. In the 50s, 60s, 70s, life was here -- if you went to the Corniche, you found bars and casinos and nightclubs. People gambled, drank Arak, had sex and prayed. They may have sinned, but they did it indoors, with the result that Allah forgave them."

This last theological point is lost on me, but I understand Samir's general meaning. Again and again, I've heard similar sentiments from Basra's intellectual class: the "turbans" who are imposing their Islamic beliefs on the city--often at the barrel of an AK -- are not Basrawi, they are an aberration, a glitch in the city's history, a "transitional" phase from 35 years of Saddam's tyranny to a truly democratic future.

It is dangerous -- possibly fatal -- to express these thoughts too forcibly in public, but they exist on the minds, lips, tongues and soon the voting fingertips of thousands of Basrans come the next round of elections this December.

"This is what I look forward to. That someday, insha'allah, I will live in a country without any differences from any other country. Just a normal place where my family and I can live normal lives. You ask about the soul of Basra? Look for it in the humanity that your poet, Walt Whitman, expresses."



It's late. I must return to house arrest in my downtown funduk. We stand, brush the dirt off our trousers, walk back to the car. Through a picket-line of palms I see the rising moon, hanging full and yellow in the blue-black sky. With the trickling sound of water in the background and the gentle whisper of the breeze, the scene approaches a tranquil beauty I've yet to encounter in Basra. For an instant, you can almost imagine the world inviting you to lean and loaf and observe a spear of summer grass. The moment contains multitudes. Walt Whitman would love it.


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



Written July 1, 2005, in the blog In the Red Zone, by Steven Vincent, murdered yesterday in Basra.
HARRUMPH III

(For Harrumph I and II, see this and this.)



Harrumph III is one of the many indignant responses, in the subsequent issue of Poetry, to the August Kleinzahler piece that UD reprinted in its entirety a couple of posts down.

H-III features the same rhetorical strategy that H-II used -- the “I’m far too busy doing important things to write this letter about trivial things” strategy. The downside of this strategy is obvious. If that’s true, why are you writing the letter?

Harrumph II and III are both written by creative writing instructors offended by criticism of MFA programs or of poets generally. H-II writes: "I'd call up all my friends who teach at other programs right now and ask them if they have ever told a student writer [to write in a way a New York Times critic of MFA programs complains about] — or if they were ever told such a thing when they were students — but I'm too busy today reading my students' M.F.A. theses.”

I’m too busy! I’ve got important work to do! My important work is exhausting me! Just … shut up!




Rita Dove, angry at Kleinzahler, Garrison Keillor, and Dana Gioia for being racists -- all three men hang a “scarcely veiled reserved for whites sign” over their writing, Keillor because he doesn’t include enough minority poets in his anthology, and the other two because they don’t notice Keillor’s lack of inclusivity -- writes:


As I get older … my patience wears thinner; I've grown weary of having to point out what should be obvious to anyone with sense and sensibility. I resent the complacent, singleminded arrogance of myopic "men of letters," whose curious brand of good will perpetuates racist selectivity. I resent their transparent, self-serving attacks on concepts such as multiculturalism and feminism that have propelled our society towards a truer democracy. I resent the presumption that their majority in numbers absolves them from paying attention to fair representation, leaving it up to those who have been "marginalized" to take note, tally the figures, and mount the protest. …Well, my mama didn't raise a bean counter. I have better things to do — like trying to sit down and write a good poem, for example.
Promising News for UD

…whose disordered house has stacks of flawlessly completed Sunday New York Times crosswords and acrostics all over the place:


[A] three-decade-long study published in 2003 in the Annals of Internal Medicine examined 678 Catholic nuns, ages 75 to 107. Researchers found that those who regularly engaged in games and crosswords were more likely to remain mentally alert until death. Nuns who performed more menial tasks, such as housekeeping or kitchen work, did not tend to live as long.



Or do you have to be a Catholic nun for this to work?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

OH WHAT THE HELL.
KICK BACK AND ENJOY
THE WHOLE THING.


[In Poetry ]


On Garrison Keillor's Good Poems:

"No Antonin Artaud with the Flapjacks, Please"

by August Kleinzahler


Readers may remember how the U.S. military blared Van Halen and others at the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, when he took refuge in the Vatican Embassy in Panama City during our invasion of Panama years ago. This method of rousting the wicked proved so successful that it was repeated during the recent Afghan experience, when heavy metal chart-busters were unleashed on caves thought to be sheltering Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. The English Guardian newspaper reported last year that we were breaking the wills of captured terrorists, or suspected terrorists, by assaulting them first with heavy metal followed by "happy-smiley children's songs." The real spirit cruncher turns out to be the "Barney, I Love You" song played for hours on end. Even the most hardened, sadistic killers buckle under "that kind of hell," or so asserted a reliable source. But if that fails to work, I suggest a round-the-clock tape of Garrison Keillor reading poems on his daily Writer's Almanac show.

Now, had Keillor not "strayed off the reservation" and kept to his Prairie Home Companion show with its Norwegian bachelor farmers and Lutheran bake sales (a sort of Spoon River Anthology as presented by the Hallmark Hall of Fame), comfort food for the philistines, a contemporary, bittersweet equivalent to the Lawrence Welk Show of years past, I'd have left him alone. But the indefatigable and determined purveyor of homespun wisdom has wandered into the realm of fire, and for his trespass must be burned.

If it were up to me, I'd suggest we borrow the U.S. military's tactics and lock Mr. Keillor in a Quonset hut, crank up the speakers, and give him an industrial-strength dose of, say, Albert Ayler saxophone solos until this "much beloved radio personality" forswears reading poems over the airwaves every morning. Ayler's music is not a particular enthusiasm of mine. The late poet Ted Joans described Ayler's solos as shocking as hearing someone scream "Fuck!" in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. But Garrison Keillor could do with a little Albert Ayler in his church, and church is what Keillor is all about. Everything that comes out of his mouth in that treacly baritone, which occasionally releases into a highpitched, breathless tremolo when he wants to convey emotion, is a sermon. The homily runs something like this: we are good, if foolish and weak, and may gain redemption through compassion, laughing at ourselves, and bad poetry badly read.

Albert Ayler could only be a tonic for Keillor — a tonic we will force-feed him as they force-feed a goose in Perigord for foie gras — because Ayler's art is opposite to Keillor's shtick. Everything Keillor does is about reassurance, containment, continuity. He makes no demands on his audiences, none whatsoever. To do so would only be bad manners. Gentleness and good manners are the twin pillars of the church of Keillor.

Ayler is all about excess, anger, challenge, exploration, risk. Even when his improvisations fail, they fail bravely. His mission is to explode conventions and expectations. It would never have crossed his mind musically to be ingratiating or reassuring, or polite. Nor should it have done. That is not what music or poetry is for, especially in times like these. There is a passage from a William Carlos Williams poem, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower," dear to the hearts of those who would peddle poetry, or the idea of poetry, to the masses. I have heard it read on NPR in that solemn, hushed tone that is a commonplace among poetry salespersons, not least Mr. Keillor:

Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
I come, my sweet,
to sing to you!
My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
of something
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
despised poems.
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

A pretty sentiment, to be sure, but simply untrue, as anyone who has been to the supermarket or ballpark recently will concede. Ninety percent of adult Americans can pass through this life tolerably well, if not content, eating, defecating, copulating, shopping, working, catching the latest Disney blockbuster, without having a poem read to them by Garrison Keillor or anyone else. Nor will their lives be diminished by not standing in front of a Cézanne at the art museum or listening to a Beethoven piano sonata. Most people have neither the sensitivity, inclination, or training to look or listen meaningfully, nor has the culture encouraged them to, except with the abstract suggestion that such things are good for you. Multivitamins are good for you. Exercise, fresh air, and sex are good for you. Fruit and vegetables are good for you. Poetry is not.

Especially most of what Garrison Keillor reads on his Writer's Almanac, which, as a rule, isn't poetry at all but prose arbitrarily broken into lines masquerading as poetry. The typical Keillor selection tends to be anecdotal, wistful: more often than not a middle-aged creative writing instructor catching a whiff of mortality in the countryside — watching the geese head south, getting lost in the woods, this sort of thing.

John Ash, writing of the brilliant, fellow English poet Roy Fisher, speaks of Fisher's "rage, his refusal to be politely depressed." There is a virulent strain of the "politely depressed" in American poetry. There are other, equally obnoxious and resistant strains, but the "politely depressed" is a pertinacious little bugger, and Garrison Keillor is only helping to spread it.

Poetry not only isn't good for you, bad poetry has been shown to cause lymphomas and, in extreme instances, pancreatic cancer, in laboratory experiments. (I'll have to dig around in my notes to find exactly what study that was....) I avoid Keillor's poetry moment at nine a.m. here in San Francisco as I avoid sneezing, choking, rheumy-eyed passengers on the streetcar, lest I catch something. But occasionally, while surfing for the news, I get bit and am nearly always sickened, if not terminally, for several hours.

Keillor means well. Of course he does. That's his problem. His execrable Almanac begins with a few bars of hymn-style piano. And how could it be otherwise? We are in church. Garrison is ministering culture. A series of four or five capsulized, and trivialized, biographies of writers born on that same day follows: "Emily Dickinson was born on this day in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. She wasn't a picture, God knows, and was reclusive in her ways. She wrote small, puzzling poems that no one read until she was dead." Keillor then proceeds to read a poem, of Ms. Dickinson's, if we are lucky, or of one of his stand-bys like Billy Collins, if we are not. It doesn't really matter. Keillor embalms whatever poem he reads within the burnished caul of his delivery, a voice one friend of mine describes as "probably taken out at day's end and left to stand all night in a glass of bourbon." Keillor then signs off: "Be well, do good work, keep in touch." You bet, Garrison, I'm right on it.

I have little doubt that a Keillor staffer picks the poems for the show, a superannuated former M.F.A. from the Iowa Workshop would be my guess, one familiar with Keillor's appalling taste, sentimentality, and the constraints of format. Keillor will deny this, as will his staff. But there's no way he'd have the time, either to read poetry or even sift casually through volumes current and old, to choose an appropriate poem. He not only has his weekly radio show, he's busy producing rotten books on what seems an almost seasonal basis. Also, judging by the introduction to Good Poems, a selection of poems from five years of those read on The Writer's Almanac, Keillor is infatuated with the idea of poetry but knows and cares little or nothing about the art, what's good, what's bad, and how it's made. But that doesn't stop him, oh no. Keillor is all appetite, irrepressible, the hardest working "thoughtful person" in show business.

In his introduction to the collection, Keillor warns us:

"The goodness of a poem is severely tested by reading it on the radio. The radio audience is not the devout sisterhood you find at poetry readings, leaning forward, lips pursed, hanky in hand [?!]; it's more like a high school cafeteria. People listen to poems while they're frying eggs and sausage and reading the paper and reasoning with their offspring, so I find it wise to stay away from stuff that is too airy or that refers off-handedly to the poet Li-Po or relies on your familiarity with butterflies or Spanish or Monet."

"So I'll be feeding you mostly shit," is what Garrison could well go on to say. No Antonin Artaud with the flapjacks, please.

Actually, Good Poems isn't as bad as one might think had one been listening now and then to Keillor's morning segment over the years. Its principal virtue is that one doesn't have to endure Keillor's poetry voice. But the range of the selections suggests more variety than the show customarily offers, and there's a healthy dollop of Anonymous, Shakespeare, Ms. Dickinson, Burns, Whitman, et al. There are surprising and delightful choices I would never have credited Keillor in making (he probably didn't) like Anne Porter, an excellent and little-known poet published by the now extinct Zoland Press. And the volume contains enlightened selections of the work of well-known contemporaries; I'm thinking here of a particularly good C. K. Williams poem. Of course, on balance, it's a rotten collection I wouldn't recommend to anyone, but it's not so bad as it might have been.

Keillor is not the first to offer the masses reassurance and diversion through poetry on the radio. Edgar Guest (1881-1957) broadcast a weekly program on NBC from 1931 to 1942, and his topical verses were syndicated to over 300 newspapers throughout the U.S. in his daily "Table Chat" column. Known as the "poet of the people," Guest published more than twenty volumes of poetry and was thought to have written over 11,000 poems, almost all of them fourteen lines long and presenting "a sentimental view of everyday life." Guest's Collected Verse appeared in 1934 and went into at least eleven editions. "I take the simple everyday things that happen to me," Guest wrote, "and I figure it happens to a lot of other people and I make simple rhymes out of them."

Are we not yet adult enough as a culture to acknowledge that the arts are not for everyone, and that bad art is worse than no art at all; and that good or bad, art's exclusive function is to entertain, not to improve or nourish or console, simply entertain. And in this, Moby Dick or Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" are not different than the movie Cat in the Hat or Britney Spears wiggling her behind on stage; the former being more complexly entertaining and satisfying, but only for those who can appreciate the difference, and they are the minority.

Let me quote from a lecture the British poet Basil Bunting gave in Vancouver in 1970:

"Poetry is no use whatever. The whole notion of usefulness is irrelevant to what are called the fine arts, as it is to many other things, perhaps to most of the things that really matter. We who call ourselves 'The West,' now that we've stopped calling ourselves Christians, are so imbued with the zeal for usefulness that was left us by Jeremy Benthem that we find it difficult to escape from utilitarianism into a real world."

In America, usefulness is indissolubly wed to profit, increased capital. Poetry is no exception. It is worth reflecting during National Poetry Month that creative writing, over the past forty years, has subsumed American poetry and become a 250-million-dollar industry, a rather seamy industry, and an off-shoot of the rather seamy Human Potential Movement industry. American poetry is now an international joke. And not just internationally: American novelists, nonfiction writers, scholars, the enlightened general reader who a generation ago read poetry as a matter of course, for pleasure, rarely attend to it anymore. Poetry is seldom, if ever, reviewed in mainstream journals like the New York Times, the New Yorker, Harper's, the Atlantic Monthly, and when it is reviewed at all, it is reviewed in a cursory or inept manner.

Publishers will cheerfully volunteer — at least last time I checked — that poetry has never sold so well. Surely, never have so many written it and sought to publish it. I have every expectation that Keillor's Good Poems is doing land-office business. It's that kind of book and has the editor's broad public appeal behind it. I expect Mr. Keillor's morning show has legions of faithful listeners as well, who feel nourished and broadened by his daily reading of poetry, as countless Americans once felt about Edgar Guest and his more homely product.

But I, for one, have never in my lifetime seen the situation of poetry in this country more dire or desperate. Nor is the future promising. Cultural and economic forces only suggest further devastation of any sort of vital literary culture, along with the prospects of the very, very few — it is always only a very few — poets who will matter down the road. What little of real originality is out there is drowning in the waste products spewing from graduate writing programs like the hog farm waste that recently overflowed its holding tanks in the wake of Hurricane Isabel, fouling the Carolina countryside and poisoning everything in its path.

Let me put it starkly: the better animals in the jungle aren't drawn to poetry anymore, and they're certainly not tuned in to Keillor's Writer's Almanac. Just as the new genre of the novel drew off most of the brilliant young writers of the nineteenth century, movies, television, MTV, advertising, rock 'n' roll, and the internet have taken the best among the recent crop of young talent. Do you suppose for a moment that a spirited youngster with a brilliant, original mind and gifted up the yin-yang is going to sit still for two years of creative writing poetry workshops presided over by a dispirited, compromised mediocrity, all the while critiquing and being critiqued by younger versions of the same?

Boosterism of the sort Garrison Keillor participates in on The Writer's Almanac will succeed in shifting more than a few books of poetry, not least his Good Poems, and in encouraging countless more people to write. But there exists a surfeit of encouragement of this kind in America at the moment, and there's very little to show for it. The merchandising of poetry, or at least the slick, sentimental idea of it, is the problem, not the solution.

Allow me to conclude with a poem called "National Poetry Day" by the Scottish poet Gael Turnbull, which is timely and also reminds us that this sort of foolishness, though endemic in the U.S. of A., is not altogether unique to it.

"Transform your life with poetry"
the card said, and briefly I fussed
that this overestimated the effect
until I remembered how it had thrust
several old friends,
plus near and dear,
into distress and penury,
how even I, without the dust
of its magic, might have achieved
peace of mind, even success,
so maybe the advice is just,
not to be ignored, a sort of timely
Health Warning from the Ministry
of Benevolence
at the Scottish Book Trust.


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


(Read more about August Kleinzahler in today's New York Times.)
DISAPPOINTMENT


From today's Boston Globe:


Economics Professor Set to Pay for Manure


A Harvard economics professor accused of stealing horse manure from a 98-year-old Rockport farmer received a market lesson yesterday as charges against him were dismissed but restitution was set at an amount he once deemed ''artificially inflated."

Martin Weitzman, 63, agreed to pay $600 to Charlie Lane for one truckload of manure Weitzman took from the farmer on April 1. The going rate for a truckload of manure is about $20.

The professor was charged with larceny, trespassing, and destruction of property in a case that drew international attention. The case in Gloucester District Court was put off as Weitzman insisted on either a trial or a settlement that did not call for him to admit guilt. The settlement also requires Weitzman to pay $300 to the Rockport Boy Scouts, instead of performing community service.

"I learned a lot, but it wasn't worth the agitation," Weitzman said after yesterday's hearing.

Essex Assistant District Attorney Stephen Patten objected to the deal, saying that a professor from Harvard, ''one of the finest institutions in our nation," should be held responsible for his actions. The prosecutor said he wanted, at the very least, an admission from Weitzman that he took the manure without permission.

Weitzman, an avid gardener who sought the manure for his Gloucester flower beds, has contended he received permission several years ago from another farmer, which he interpreted as a blanket approval for removing manure from the Rockport fields.

"If he shouldn't be held accountable, either by exercising his right to a trial or admitting to what he did, then who should be held accountable?" Patten asked Gloucester District Court Judge Richard Mori.

But the judge, who recalled fond boyhood memories of traveling with his grandfather to get manure for the garden, said he didn't expect Weitzman would run afoul of the law again. "I have many cases to try," Mori said, adding that he accepted the settlement "in the interest of justice."

Lane also said he was satisfied with the deal. The farmer said "no trespassing" was clearly posted on his land and he believes Weitzman drove off with manure from his fields several times, not just on the day he was arrested.

But Lane said it didn't matter to him that Weitzman did not have to admit any guilt.
"I don't care what they do as long as I get my $600," said Lane.




UD cannot help thinking how much fun a trial would have been. She finds herself bitterly echoing the statement of the District Attorney: "If he shouldn't be held accountable, either by exercising his right to a trial or admitting to what he did, then who should be held accountable?"

Exactly. Was this an act of God? The devil? Nature, in its awesome mystery?

No. Professor Weitzman and Professor Weitzman alone bears responsibility for his actions, and should have been held accountable for them.

UD also believes that putting a judge on this case who is himself “fond” of manure was a travesty. Is there no judge in the state of Massachusetts at least neutral on the subject of shit?

Monday, August 01, 2005

UPDATE: Syllabum Omnium


UD’s posts on the Syllabum Omnium have attracted a good bit of attention in the blogosphere, and now there's something to add, an intriguing development that suggests there’s nothing really new in the tendency of professors to bulk up their syllabi.

A church historian working in the Vatican library has uncovered what he claims is an early invocation to the Syllabum Omnium. “It looks as though medieval instructors appended this little prayer to their syllabi,” Fr. Stephen Fratelli, who found the verse scrawled in the corner of an illuminated manuscript, comments in an interview in the Vatican newspaper.

Here is the prayer, along with a rough translation:

Syllabum Omnium, o melle dulcius,
Puris amicum mentibus
Puris amandum professoribus
In corde regnes omnium. Amen.



Syllabum Omnium, sweeter than honey,
Friend of pure minds,
Loved by true professors,
May Thou reignest in the hearts of all who love. Amen.



UD finds it extremely charming, and invites all authors of Syllabi Omnii to add it to their syllabi.
SECRET OF HIS SUCCESS

From this month's New Yorker:


As George W. Bush has learned, Harry Reid [of Nevada, the Senate Minority Leader] does not ignore slights. “I believe in vengeance,” he once told a reporter. In May, he began a commencement address at George Washington University Law School by saying that the last time he had set foot on the campus was January, 1964 — the year he graduated from the school. “I’ve been holding a grudge,” he said.

Law school was difficult. “We managed to get by, but just barely,” he said.

At one point, while Landra was pregnant with their second child and he was working six days a week as a Capitol police officer, the transmission of their car, a 1954 Buick Special, broke down. He was desperate. “No car,” he continued. "No way to get to work. Too many bills." When he approached a dean for help, he recalled, the dean said, "‘Why don’t you just quit law school?’ I don’t remember exactly what I thought he would say, but that was not it,” he said. "Since that day, I’ve harbored ill will toward this school."

Reid told the graduates that he regretted his pettiness, but it’s fair to say that payback has been a factor in his career.

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