Friday, March 31, 2006

And then... blame the victim

More about George Henson, the gay prof who found "FAGGOT" scrawled on his doorway at school the other day. He frequently writes Bush-bashing editorials in the campus paper and implied that he suspected some Republican homophobia at work in the incident. So now a student counters with his own take on the case--notice the blame-the-victim scenario he suggests. Appalling. But not at all surprising. The place just doesn't change.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The ugly scrawl

George Henson is a nice man who teaches languages at the university where, just about a year ago today, I was given the heave-ho via a tersely worded letter. I write a blog. Henson writes a blog. And on that blog last year he wrote supportive words for me and my blog. He also emailed me, which at the time I deeply appreciated. He was the sole full-time faculty member at the place who stood up for me in public. And for that, I'm forever in his debt.

On his door at school, Henson has a rainbow sticker that indicates that his office is a safe haven for gay students. It's part of an effort on campus to make gay students--particularly those who haven't yet come out--feel less alienated.

This week Henson showed up for work to find the word "FAGGOT" scrawled across the rainbow sign.

How safe do you think gay students feel now? How safe do you think Henson feels?

Here's the story from the campus newspaper.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Big Love

Just spent 45 minutes writing a new post here about a wide range of topics: HBO's Big Love (love it), the Duke U. lacrosse team case (gang rape and hired hoochy dancers, all the elements of a huge night on the Nancy Grace show), the new class I'm teaching that is the best group of students I've ever had, and some new links to fascinating crap on the internet.

Just as I got ready to hit "publish post," AOL blanked out and lost the connection. Everything disappeared.

Mothereffing AOL. This only happens about 20 times a day when I'm on deadline. And for the past two weeks I've been on deadline around the clock.

I notice that my cable's "On Demand" feature is billboarding a soft-porn flick called The Witches of Breastwick. That and a box of gluten-free cheese crackers just might get me through the night. Will try to write it again tomorrow.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The big questions

Saw a reading of a new play last night: All of the Above. The playwright, Tom Sime, is a theater critic-turned-playwright. He dares to ask some big, strange questions in his play. Like, how would a man with no hands make love to a deaf-dumb-blind-from-birth woman? It's Helen Keller meets a double amputee (he's had his paws surgically removed as punishment for thievery -- yes, the near future is America under the Christian Taliban). Bigger even is what the play asks about the Divine. The man gets two new hands transplanted from a dead religious figure (Dalai Lama? Pope? Evangelist? We never know) and starts getting messages from God. Then he begins to channel messages from the mind of the Helen Keller woman. It's a little weird, oddly sexy and quite provocative. I liked it, even though act two needs a big rewrite to make it make sense.

If you're interested in Big Questions, here's a great site: The World Question Center. Philosophers, professors and other lofty thinkers weigh in with questions such as "What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Cannot Prove It?"

Hmm. Good one. For me, I believe that food eaten in the car has no calories and that women over 50 become invisible in crowds (when you get there, you'll know what I mean). But those are smaller questions, albeit vexing.

The World Question Center also explores "What Questions Have Disappeared?" and "What Is Today's Most Unreported Story?" Good reading. Check it out.

I'll be back next week with some news.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Telling the 'rents to back off

From the Washington Post a good piece about teachers getting fed up with the "helicopter parents," the Millennial Moms and Dads who interfere too much. Blame it on the cellphone, plus the relentless overprotection and micromanaging these parents have done with kids born since 1982. You know what I'm talking about. Back off, buckos.

I have five plays to review this week and I'm now teaching the film studies class to 55 eager and energetic students, so I may not blog much until after Sunday. In the meantime, I've discovered two wonderful bloggerians to recommend. Elyse Sewell is the only girl I've seen compete on UPN's deliciously awful America's Next Top Model whose IQ exceeds her weight. In the first season she came in third and now is modeling her exceedingly bony ass off in Hong Kong, where her beautiful mug is on every billboard and public kiosk. She has a writing style full of jazz and juice. Check out her online journal. Dave White writes about film and TV for and has a new book out called Exile in Guyville. I want to be this kind of H'wood writer in my next life. Good reading at Dave White Knows.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The break of spring

My favorite Starbucks has empty chairs. At the nail place, manicurists stand idly around the little TV in the back watching Bold & Beautiful. You want a mani-pedi, it'll only take 20 minutes instead of an hour because you'll get a separate technician for every hoof.

Along the Katy Trail, that wisteria-dripping ribbon of pavement cutting through Highland Park and Oak Lawn, the elbow-pumping exer-rexics in greek letters are missing, leaving more room for strollers of every kind, including the wheeled and the shod.

At Toulouse, the faux French cafe of the moment, no reservations needed for lunch. At Celebrity Cafe, where they usually fetch their big iced teas and tiny muffins (only $2.50 apiece), now only the grackles occupy the outside tables, fighting for crumbs.

At Tom Thumb grocers and Central Market, the truly handicapped are able to park in their designated spots without cursing the pony-stickered Porsche Cayennes who've trespassed "just for a minute--I'll be right back!"

It's Spring Break. They've gone away. And for a few more days we get to live in an Ashley-free zone.

The rowdy students --and the bloody goat carcass--should scare them

My favorite columnist and Dallas Observer colleague, Jim Schutze, explores the Bush presidential library land-grab and--shock! shock!--discovers that the university prez has been bending the truth about the scheme to oust elderly condo residents to make way for the Bush-a-teria.

Writes Schutze: I'm not saying SMU broke the law. But I am saying the way SMU took this land was ethically filthy. And I wonder why now on this ugly foundation we should want to see a monument to George W. Bush.

Read the whole dirty story here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"College material"

You know that saying: "He's just not college material." Or "In another year, she might be college material."

What is "college material"?

It isn't always about intelligence. My brother is one of the most brilliant people I know--and better read than the Ph.D.'s--but he hated sitting in classes and taking exams. He's the classic "autodidact" and now he's a teacher, working with kids and adults and using his gifts in ways that have made him a leading figure in his field. But school? Not for him.

There are lots of young folk in college these days who clearly are not college material. How do they get in? Why are they there? You know the ones. They come to the first week of classes, then drop in sporadically throughout the term. They don't do the work. They feign illness or the famous grandmother's funeral around exam times. (How is it that kids these days all have eight or nine grandmothers, always near death?)

A week or two before finals, these slackers reappear, usually by email, requesting the "meeting in your office" to talk about how they can catch up and get a passing grade. At this point, it's hopeless but they think that they can somehow charm their way back into your good graces and squeak out with a C.

I'm talking about the class-sleepers, the leave-early-for-fall-breakers, the "I'm having issues" kids who have no business wasting our time and theirs (not to mention their parents' money) pretending to be college students. They are the girls who major in greek life and the guys who'd rather be drinking and studying the point spread than studying for midterms.

And then I hear a story like the one about a young woman who's dating the son of a close friend. Starting in high school, she worked two jobs to pay her own tuition to a prep school, with the goal of getting into a good university. She worked 50 hours a week and maintained an "A" average, graduating with honors. Meanwhile, her parents told her that "college is wasted on girls" and threw all their support behind her brother instead. They didn't contribute to her education financially--not a penny.

Working her way through two years of community college--again, maintaining top grades--she started looking at applying to four-year schools. There are huge obstacles. She needs financial aid. And she lacks those extracurricular credits that so many college admissions offices seek on a resume because she's spent the past five years getting up at dawn to waitress and staying up late to study.

My friend wrote her a great letter of recommendation to the college she wants to get into. He also drove her there to do an in-person interview--SO important--and personally talked to the financial aid guy on her behalf. Being "in loco parentiis" has extended to my friend inviting this girl to eat and study at his family's house when the situation in her own home becomes too stressful (her parents--sheesh, you don't want to know).

This one is college material and she's having to claw tooth and nail to get in.

We love students like this girl. She's like the non-traditionals who start college in their mid-20s and work like the devil doing it right because they really want to be there.

Sometimes college (like the old saying about youth) is wasted on the young.

Kubby, the writer's friend

There she sat, behind my chair, watching me type. Every now and then she'd tap a paw on her bowl to request a snack or knock against the wall to let me know she needed some play time. So we'd play. And I'd return to writing, newly refreshed and touched by her happy spirit.

Sweet Kubby, the 17-year-old Aussie shepherd, left us last Friday. She had a long life, full of adventures. She got and gave lots of love. She barked at squirrels and the UPS man.

If a dog can be a diva, she was one. She liked to be brushed and combed and seemed a little out of sorts when she wasn't looking her best.

This dog was a genius. Even in her later years, she never lost an IQ point. I once laid out half a dozen of her well-worn toys, which she could fetch by name. In the middle of the pile, I put a rolled up sock, something she'd never played with. I said, "Find the sock, Kubby." She looked at the objects for just a few seconds before picking up the sock in her teeth. She worked it out by elimination. Genius, I tell you.

The house is awfully quiet without her. The corner behind my desk now is filled with papers and books because I can't stand the empty space.

Last night I could swear I heard her bark, the way she did in recent months when she needed another pain pill or a midnight refill of her water bowl. Her spirit is here. It's sad to lose a friend. I wish you could have met her.

Star sighting in Austin

Call this little story "Sexiest Man Alive: Once Removed."

It was a big celeb-spotting weekend at the Four Seasons in Austin. First I run smack into Kris Kristofferson, wearing a black t-shirt and black jeans (what else?). Then Jeff Fahey, star of Scorpius Gigantus and TV's Manticore, rolls over on the grass out by the pool and asks me the time. Variety editor and cable TV film-chat host Peter Bart is lurking in the Green Room at the Interactive fest. And then: A four-star encounter with the Sexiest Man Alive himself.

I am waiting for my car in the circle drive in front of the hotel. Two tall, shaggy-handsome guys walk right up to me and one says, "Hey, hot thing, did you get a better room?" I recognize him as having shared my elevator yesterday when I checked in, and, after seeing my crummy second-floor no-lake-view-as-promised room, zipped back down to the desk to get re-roomed. "You should be staying on the ninth floor," he says. "It's rock star up there." I tell him I got a much better room the second try and he high-fives me. I can't remember the last time anyone addressed me as "hot thing."

Now I look just beyond these guys and see that they're part of an all-male posse with Matthew McConaughey, who's standing there by himself in baggy shorts and faded t-shirt, waiting for what turns out to be a stretch Escalade. I ignore Mr. Failure to Launch and keep fun-flirting with his friends.

So who are you guys? I ask.

"I'm Matthew's stunt double," says the shorter of the two. He's Mark Norby, an actor who's doubled McConaughey on a bunch of films. They met as UT students and got to know each other on a trip to Mexico (this story is interrupted by McC, who nudges into our triad to bum a cigarette... I continue to ignore him because it amuses me).

Norby bears a startling resemblance to McC: same young Paul Newmanesque face, same aquiline nose, piercing blue eyes, layered hair.

I introduce myself and shake hands with the hand that pretends to be McC's hand. So the big star looks a little hung over today, I say. (He's out of earshot, having wandered away to give a bearhug to Don Phillips, who cast him in Dazed and Confused, his first movie job. )

"We're all hung over. We partied way late," says Norby.

They were all guests at Friday night's Austin Film Society bash that honored Lyle Lovett, Cybill Shepherd, JoBeth Williams, Kristofferson, McConaughey and others who began their film and music careers in Texas.

"We were celebrating Matt's new movie making, like, $25 million this weekend," says Norby.

I can't help but gossip a little. I heard he didn't get along with (co-star) Sarah Jessica Parker too well, I say. (It's taking a looooong time for our cars. But who cares? McC told an interviewer that SJP was "peculiar." I have to know.)

"Naw, they didn't get along," says Norby. "He didn't like the movie either. But he made a lot of money doing it!" (Reportedly, the $7-$10 mil range.)

Norby's wife is also a stunt double and did that job for Ms. Parker on Failure to Launch. "She got paid to push me out of sailboat all day," says Norby.

The shiny black Escalade pulls up. McConaughey gets in, gets out and gets back into the back seat.

My new friends ask for my biz card and tell me they'll send me a T-shirt. The tall one gives me a goodbye high-five. My dusty little Toyota arrives.

Right in front of the McC posse, I trip over the curb and almost fall off my sandal.

Unlike big stars, I do my own stunts.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

So NOW you know what I'm talking about

From another campus correspondent, very close to the action:

Although I'm new to (the nearby university), I've followed your column ever since a friend and former student of yours linked me to it. I have read, I have laughed and I have learned from it. Unfortunately, until today, I never had a reason to write in.

Now, don't get me wrong. I enjoy the degree program. I just hate the students. I'm currently enrolled in a course in Free Speech and believe me, I've done my part. I'm the rare over-educated person that you see in the communications program. I'm the one who dominates debates and shreds the other students' ideas to pieces. I like to think I have cut through the ignorance, if even just a bit.

But today, I couldn't take it. Today, the Professor decided to gauge if anyone had their position swayed about free speech thanks to the course. A resounding chorus of "Yes" was issued. That is, save one.

She was a flash of blonde at the very, very far back of the classroom. Before today, she barely ever came to class, let alone talked. Today was her moment to shine. Of course, the Professor had to inquire as to just why she hadn't changed her mind. What she said I'll never forget.

"Uh, like, when people disagree, people get mad. If everyone that wanted to disagree were to remain quiet, we could all be happy."

The room was silent.

My god, I never knew it was this bad. I always thought of you as an honest professor from what I've read; now I think of you as a saint.

Well, hardly that, young grasshopper. But I am a pretty accurate observer, as are you. Thanks for the story!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Blogger heaven

Golly, it's blogger-ific down here in Austin, TX, where the South By Southwest Interactive Festival (in conjunction with the film and music fests) started today. Just returned from dinner at Stubbs' Bar-B-Q, where I met the women behind and communed with my fellow panelists. We talked about what we've gained or lost from blogging.

A woman from Toronto has lost two jobs.

A woman from Miami has lost 100 pounds.

A woman from California has lost a boyfriend.

I lost one teaching job but gained another. I also got a year's worth of publicity (nice mention in this week's Austin Chronicle), high-paying speaking gigs, assignments from national magazines and a steady following from an intelligent readership that spans the globe. Without blogging, dang, my life would have chugged along the same boring route I was stuck in for five years!

Hey, guess who I saw in the lobby of my hotel? Kris Kristofferson, here tonight for the Texas Film Awards. Also saw actor Jeff Fahey. He was rolling in the grass out by the pool (no, really) and he rolled over and asked me the time. I said, "I know you! It's 6:41." The town is crawling with celebs from film-music-webworld. Among the speakers at the Interactive Fest tomorrow are Craig of Craigslist and that guy who writes about the wisdom of crowds.

Remember, if you see me, say the secret word--MONKEY--and you get a prize on the spot! That means you, too, Kris! And you, too, Jeff!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Getting naked online

And I'm not talking about those pasty Clay Aiken pix in the tabloids. "We Got Naked--Now What?" is the topic of the panel I'm on this Saturday, March 11, at the Austin (Texas) Convention Center at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, part of the weeklong web-music-film fest that draws tens of thousands from all over to our lovely capital city.

Here's the Austin Chronicle's fine look at, the group hosting the panel I'm on, with a nice mention of yours truly. As I understand it, we'll be talking about what happens when your online identity is "outed" for good or ill.

If you come to the panel, I have a little super-secret prize for the first 20 people who find me and utter the secret Phan/Prof password: Monkey.

I'll be blogging from Austin to let you know what's going on there. And I have more stories from campus to tell, too.

Like the one about the Ashley who emailed the prof, dressing him down for asking her for overdue assignments and threatening to "tell your boss."

Back in a few.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Lauren hopes for a C -- cup, that is

Lauren says she's a student working her way through the university. Lauren has a blog with lots of photos of her in her underwear. Lauren wants you to donate $9,000 so she can get breast implants. Choice: tuition.... chest bags. Find Lauren here.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Prof resigns after showing video of man having sex with pig

Insert your own Paris Hilton joke here. But really, here's the scoop.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

From our own correspondent

Actually from a former student. This is her story, with names changed to protect the guilty:

I started dating this boy (he doesn't deserve to be called a man) Jay a few months ago. Jay goes to school in (another state). Even though we didn't get to see each other often, we still made it work. We talked hours on the phone and we would spend every chance we could together.

A few weeks ago, Jay started getting very friendly messages on his Facebook account from his Italian Professor. At first, they were messages like, "Hope you are studying hard for the test tomorrow!!" but then they started getting a little friendlier. "I saw the way you looked at me in class today, I know what you were thinking." (And then she'd use a smiley emoticon. Eww.)

Jay would tell me about this, and even though I was a little jealous, I didn't think anything could really happen...come on...this lady was almost 50!!! So, Jan. 6th was Jay's 20th birthday. I had bought him a really nice gift. It was supposed to arrive on the 1st, but when Jay didn't call me to tell me it had arrived, I knew something was up. We never went more than a day without talking.

Monday rolls around, and I finally get a phone call from him. "I did something very, very bad," he says. I knew it. Right when he said that, I knew what it was.

"You fucked your professor, didn't you?"


This whore is not only his Italian professor, but she is also the head of (a special) program at his school. She has a son that is almost Jay's age!!!!!! That is SICK! If I was a bitch, I would probably report them, but I'm not. I just wanted you to ask your readers if they know of other sick professors out there like her or if someone has a similar story to mine...or maybe I am the only idiot that gets dumped by her boyfriend for a woman who is older than her own mother.

OK, readers. Your turn. Post in comments. Don't hold back. The college-age-appropriate g-friend vs. Professor/Mrs. Robinson.