Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Spellers in prime time

ABC airs the final rounds of the Scripps spelling bee live Thursday night (June 1). And the earlier rounds were on ESPN and will be repeated today and tomorrow. (Two of the survivors so far are from the Dallas area, including five-peater Samir Patel.)

Here's someone live-blogging the thing.

And Salon offers today's wrap-up coverage. Nullipara, oculogyric and obstreperous, anyone?

Winning advice! Check it out

Wow! Double wow! More than 80 comments offered GREAT advice for succeeding in college. So much good stuff it actually inspires me to someday put it in book form. I don't think there's anything like that on the bookshelves. Not with the kind of hard-won, no-nonsense advice y'all shared.

I loved this terse, straightforward nugget: Keep up. Be yourself.

Big snaps to the anonymous writer of that one.

As always I'm hard pressed to pick just three winners. So I picked a few more. (And I urge everyone to go back to the comments below on the "Secrets of Your Success " post to read them all.)

The winners are: Andrea, Sultan, Terminaldegree, Remita, Koru's Daughter, Jenny and Clueless Carolina Girl (who is anything but). Your tips and suggestions were all tops. And some nifty little items from the Professor's Prize Closet will be mailed to you IF you send me your snail address at

Thanks for playing along, everyone! You sent me in directions I wouldn't have gone in without your input.

Be back later with more juice. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

...softly with his song

Slate looks at what colleges do with potentially suicidal students. In two words: Get out!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Wanna try that again?

Borrowing a riffing format from my favorite blogger, Fresh Pepper...

The correct answer to this middle-of-the-date question:

"Why don't you have a girlfriend?"

Is not:

"Because really beautiful women never want to go out with me."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Secrets of your success

Gimme your brain for a sec. For a magazine story, I'm compiling a list of "secrets of success in college (whether it's your first year or your last)." What are some tips you'd give college students based on your experience? Shmooze teachers more? Less? Drop the goofy nickname you've had since childhood? Sit on the front row? Eat protein at breakfast?

A prize from the bulging prize closet awaits the best three (judged by moi) posted in Comments here by Memorial Day. Funny is good. But within funny should be some good advice, especially for those just heading into college in the fall.

So I'm crunching deadline on several stories. Last week I was pressed into service as a fill-in restaurant critic. Not easy, given that the little bistro I was assigned wasn't exactly Le Cirque quality. I'd have settled for Golden Corral. Or Sonic (love them tater-tots). And I had to eat there twice. You're supposed to go anonymously, paying full price for the meal (the paper reimburses later) and not letting on that you're there as a critic. But on both visits, my friend and I were the only diners in the joint. And we had to order a lot of food. Take my advice: When you ask the waiter if the veal is good and he looks over his shoulder like there might be a sniper in the corner and then he shrugs, don't order it.

I'm also taking a night course online. More about that later.

And because some of you have asked via email -- including some of you nice members of the Nigerian royal family who need my help securing some of that fat inheritance money -- I'll confirm that I'm still seeing Professor Lunch-Guy, about whom I wrote a few months back. To me he's Dr. McDreamy, but I still can't get a read on his attitude toward the whole dating thing. We talk about everything but that.

He's out of town a lot, so I end up going out with my gay friend (as I did last night), which is so much more predictable and easier to navigate. You can ask him anything and he'll tell you what's what. And at the end of the night you don't have to surreptitiously slip one of those vile Listerine tape-lozenges on your tongue in anticipation of the goodbye smooch.

My gay man will go ahead and TiVo American Idol without having to be asked.

And then happily watch it with me later.

OK, secrets of college success. Type me some. Prizes await.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Journo grads: Here's what they think of you at the NY papers

A Media Guy Q&A With Ian Spiegelman
By Simon Dumenco
Published: May 21, 2006/Advertising Age

Former writer from NY Post's Page Six gossip column discusses his new roman a clef...

Media Guy: You've also got a youthful journalist character in your novel who blithely plagiarizes passages from books and from other journalists. I guess somehow you saw that coming too?

Spiegelman: What I was aiming at in the book was this wave of young, rich, entitled kids who the J-schools and Ivy League English/communications programs have been spewing forth these last few years. They work the weeklies and monthlies because something as pedestrian as a daily newspaper would be too base and, frankly, too difficult for them to handle. They are moneyed brats who come out of school expecting cover stories because everything in their lives has taught them that they deserve attention now, not in a few years. And what they're taught in their incredibly expensive programs never prepares them for anything as run-of-the-mill as dealing with cops, getting files released under FOIA [Freedom of Information Act], or just plain knowing how to question a source. So, because they think they deserve big stories -- since it's been drilled into their heads -- they lie. They invent stories, and they plagiarize other writers. Some 28-year-old shit who thinks she or he has paid her dues when they're still fresh to the business thinks nothing of making up stories.

And you can't even blame the kids. The story no one has reported is that this plague of fake writers and reporters was totally encouraged by their editors and engineered by them. These assholes fall in love with some pretty young thing -- male or female -- and end up writing most of their first stories for them. Once the editor sets them loose, then the stealing starts. There is no way around it. The New York media is so impaled upon the youthful beauty of its youngest, most avaricious writers that nothing else matters.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The dictionary is my Bible

From a DaVinci Code interview on
"If we have offended any Christians, I would ask them to forgive us, which seems to be one of the main tenements in the New Testament," actor Paul Bettany, who plays Silas in the film, said with a smile during an interview with CNN's Brooke Anderson at Cannes Tuesday.
This explains the term "slum lord."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Leveling the playing field

New York Times/May 18, 2006
Colleges Chase as Cheats Shift to Higher Tech

LOS ANGELES — At the University of California at Los Angeles, a student loaded his class notes into a handheld e-mail device and tried to read them during an exam; a classmate turned him in. At the journalism school at San Jose State University, students were caught using spell check on their laptops when part of the exam was designed to test their ability to spell.

And at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, after students photographed test questions with their cellphone cameras, transmitted them to classmates outside the exam room and got the answers back in text messages, the university put in place a new proctoring system.

"If they'd spend as much time studying," said an exasperated Ron Yasbin, dean of the College of Sciences at U.N.L.V., "they'd all be A students."

With their arsenal of electronic gadgets, students these days find it easier to cheat. And so, faced with an array of inventive techniques in recent years, college officials find themselves in a new game of cat and mouse, trying to outwit would-be cheats this exam season with a range of strategies — cutting off Internet access from laptops, demanding the surrender of cellphones before tests or simply requiring that exams be taken the old-fashioned way, with pens and paper.

"It is kind of a hassle," said Ryan M. Dapremont, 21, who just finished his third year at Pepperdine University, and has had to take his exams on paper.

"My handwriting is so bad," he said. "Whenever I find myself having to write in a bluebook, I find my hand cramps up more, and I can't write as quickly."

Mr. Dapremont said technology had made cheating easier, but added that plagiarism in writing papers was probably a bigger problem because students can easily lift other people's writings off the Internet without attributing them.

Still, some students said they thought cheating these days was more a product of the mind-set, not the tools at hand.

"Some people put a premium on where they're going to go in the future, and all they're thinking about is graduate school and the next step," said Lindsay Nicholas, a third-year student at U.C.L.A. She added that pressure to succeed "sometimes clouds everything and makes people do things that they shouldn't do."

In a survey of nearly 62,000 undergraduates on 96 campuses over the past four years, two-thirds of the students admitted to cheating. The survey was conducted by Don McCabe, a Rutgers professor who has studied academic misconduct and helped found the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke.

David Callahan, author of "The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead" (Harcourt, 2004), suggested that students today feel more pressure to do well in order to get into graduate or professional school and secure a job.

"The rational incentives to cheat for college students have grown dramatically, even as the strength of character needed to resist those temptations has weakened somewhat," Mr. Callahan said.

Whatever the reasons for cheating, college officials say the battle against it is wearing them out.

Though Brian Carlisle, associate dean of students at U.C.L.A., said most students did not cheat, he spoke wearily about cases of academic dishonesty.

He told of the student who loaded his notes onto the Sidekick portable e-mail device last fall; students who have sought help from friends with such devices; students who have preprogrammed calculators with formulas. Some students have even deigned to use the traditional cheat sheet, he said.

"One of the things that we're going to be paying close attention to as time goes on is the use of iPods," Professor Carlisle added, pointing out that with a wireless earpiece, these would be hard to detect.

The telltale iPod headphone wire proved the downfall of a Pepperdine student a couple of years ago, after he had dictated his notes into the portable music player and tried to listen to them during an exam.

"I have taught for 30 years and each year something new comes on
the scene," Sonia Sorrell, the professor who caught the student, said in an
e-mail message.

At the Anderson School of Management at U.C.L.A., the building's wireless Internet hotspot is turned off during finals to thwart Internet access.

Richard Craig, a professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at San Jose State, who caught students using spell check
last year, said that for tests, he arranged the classroom desks so that the
students faced away from him but he could see their desktop screens.

"It was just a devilishly simple way to handle it," Professor Craig said.

At the University of Nevada, Professor Yasbin, the dean, was not the only one upset by the camera phone cheating episode there, which occurred in 2003; honest students were appalled, too. They suggested that they police one another, by being exam proctors.

"The students walk around the classroom, and if they see something suspicious, they report it," Professor Yasbin said.

Amanda M. Souza, a third-year undergraduate who heads the proctor
program, said her classmates had decidedly mixed reactions to the student

"The ones that aren't cheating think it's a great idea, " she said. "You always see students who are really well prepared covering their papers. But the ones that aren't prepared, probably don't like us."

At Mercer County Community College in West Windsor, N.J., students must clear their calculators' memory and sometimes relinquish their cellphones before tests. At Brigham Young University, exams are given in a testing center, where electronic devices are generally banned.

In some classes at Butler University in Indianapolis, professors use software that allows them to observe the programs running on computers students are taking tests on. And some institutions even install cameras in rooms where tests are administered.

To take a final exam last week, Alyssa Soares, a third-year law student at U.C.L.A., had to switch on software that cut her laptop's Internet access, wireless capability and even the ability to read her own saved files. Her computer, effectively, became a glorified typewriter. Ms. Soares, 28, said she did not mind. "This is making sure everyone is on a level playing field," she said.

Several professors said they tried to write exams on which it was hard to cheat, posing questions that outside resources would not help answer. And at many institutions, officials said that they rely on campus honor codes.

Several professors said the most important thing was to teach students
not to cheat in the first place.

Timothy Dodd, executive director of the Center for Academic Integrity, said creating a "nuclear deterrent" to cheating in class, and perhaps implying that it is acceptable elsewhere, "is antithetical to what we should be doing as educators."


At the health club today in the women's dressing room, two slender middle-aged women stand in their skimpies in front of the largest mirror.

Lady 1: We're going back to Tuscany this summer. We have a villa there, you know.

Lady 2: Didn't your daughter get married there last year?

Lady 1: In Florence. Beautiful wedding. Everything was perfect. Gorgeous.

Lady 2: I'm sure...

Lady 1: We used a wonderful Italian wedding planner. Knew all about the paperwork and how to hire the caterer and all the arrangements. Took care of everything for us.

Lady 2: If they were married there... is that legal and all?

Lady 1: Oh, they had to marry over here. Then they did the Catholic thing over there. And a huge reception for about 400. Very formal.

Lady 2: Well, that's nice.

Lady 1: I leave next week for London. To see my sister. Has that house in Mayfair. Gorgeous. Perfect. And her husband's family has an estate in Sussex. (pause) Where will you be this summer?

Lady 2: We always go to Florida. The kids love Florida.

Lady 1: You have a place there?

Lady 2 (looking deflated by this point): Um... my sister has a condo in Panama City. She lets us use the first floor. We have so many kids. It gets... crazy. We never even go out to eat.

Lady 1 (patting moisturizer on her cleavage): I'm sure.

Lady 2 (after a pause): How do you like the new yoga teacher?

Lady 1: She's gorgeous. Perfect.

Five minutes later, another middle-aged lady, never seen her before, walks up to me stark naked (well, she has a gym towel around her neck) and asks me where I got my swimsuit. I tell her -- T.J. Maxx.

Middle-aged lady: Those are good suits for our kind of figures. (She means chubby in the middle). After menopause, it's hard to lose that belly fat.

Me: I haven't done the menopause thing. Still... everything as usual.

M-A Lady: Oh, I've been through it. Afterward, I had no interest in sex anymore. My vagina became a stranger. Enjoy it while you can!

Meanwhile, over in the men's dressing area, I can imagine this conversation happening:

Guy 1: How about those Mavs?

Guy 2: How about those Mavs?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Oh, the places you probably won't go

Good afternoon, graduates, near-graduates, parents, step-parents, faculty – tenured and adjunct – caterers, groundskeepers, valet parkers and friends.

I am so honored to speak to the graduating class of aught-six. You came to this university four to eight years ago terrified, pimply, shy, slightly overdressed high school graduates. We have watched you mature into the young adults you have become. Underneath those robes you now sport tramp-stamp tattoos, breast implants, multiple piercings, waxed whatsits and Mystic Tans. You make us so proud.

It would be foolish for me to repeat all those usual commencement speech clichés. You know, all that rosy hooha about the next decade being the best years of your life, about how you should be persistent, about how you should hold onto your dreams and how even a C student can become president of these United States. Except for that last one, it's all bullshit.

The best years of your life are behind you. You will never again have such thin thighs, tight abs, abundant hair, bouncy boobs and unpuffy ankles. That goes for you ladies, too.

Your teeth and eyesight will never be as good. Or your hearing. Listen to your moms. Turn down those iPODs and cellphones or pretty soon you'll be watching "Elimidate" with subtitles.

Never again will your memory – your simple sense of recall – be as sharp as it is right this minute. In 10 years you won’t remember a single day of high school. In 20 college will be one or two random flashes when you get a whiff of pot smoke or hear the dulcet harmonies of “Funky Cold Medina.”

In 30 years you’ll have to think a minute to bring forth the names of your college roommates. In 40 you won’t remember what you majored in. In 50 your memory will be so bad you’ll have to pause to recall your own phone number. If they still have phones in 2056. Shoot, you might have to ask “What was a phone number?”

Yes, the easy years are over. Remember the sick panic you had right before that final paper was due? The galloping anxiety attack when you realized you studied the wrong chapters for the big exam? And remember how you thought that if you could ever, ever get through that one day, the rest of your life would be smooth sailing? Well, one day you’ll look back at how easy those little tasks were.

When you’re facing an IRS audit, bankruptcy, review by a co-op board, review by a new boss… when you’re trying to think just how to tell the person you’ve been living with for five years that you’ve met someone else who doesn’t fart in front of company and doesn’t criticize the way you load the dishwasher … when you’re waiting for the results of a test you took because that little pain in your gut turned out NOT to be an ulcer… when it's 4 a.m. and your 14-year-old kid hasn't come home and the phone rings... you’ll remember your worst moments in college and think, “I’d trade this for those in a New York minute.”

And not to sound too cynical, but that hold onto your dreams thing? The best advice I ever got in college came from an old character actor named Marvin Kaplan. I was a theater major, dreaming of a career on the New York stage, and Mr. Kaplan visited my acting class senior year. As budding thespians, we asked for his advice and here’s what he said:

“Give it up! Quit right now. You’ll never make it. It’s a horrible business. It will kill you. Think of something else to do and go do it tomorrow. I’m sorry I ever got into it. It’s been a miserable, shitty life.”

After he left, the other students dismissed him as a bitter old fool. But I took him seriously. He’d been on Broadway. He’d done movies with big stars. And he’d spoken the truth. And that was the day I gave up my dreams of stardom and decided to become a journalist. That I could do. You didn’t have to sing, dance or memorize Shakespeare to be a reporter. Nobody could turn you down for a newspaper job because you “didn’t look right for the part” or because you weren’t pretty. There are very few pretty print reporters. The pretty ones become TV anchors or go into public relations.

I jettisoned my dream and I’ve never looked back. Twenty-five years of fairly steady paychecks later, I have seen my actor classmates who foolishly held onto their dreams lead lives of noisy desperation. I ran into one of the star actors from my college class the other day. We all thought he’d become the next Kevin Kline. He’s a clerk at Barnes & Noble. He’s divorced – twice-- and lives in a garage apartment behind his parents’ house. He rides the bus to work.

Some dreams are stupid. Think of a new dream. One that won’t guarantee years of heartache, poverty and humiliation. A person can only take so much discouragement. Figure out what comes easily to you and that you can stand doing day after day – for me it was writing – and how you can make a decent living doing it. If you make a lot of money, save it. But not all of it. Give some away to people who need it. Take some trips. Buy some stuff. But don't think there will always be more money to be made.

Companies fold. Lay-offs happen. If you get a good new job, do this: Make friends with the one person in the office everyone hates, the one with the worst nickname behind his or her back, the one about whom everyone says, "When he/she leaves, this whole place will improve." Make that person your best friend because in less than a year, he or she will be your boss. (I learned this one the hard way.)

Life is long but careers aren’t anymore. In many professions, sad to say, you’re a has-been at 40. If you haven’t found something you’re good at by the time you hit 30 or 35, you either have to marry money, pull an insurance scam or go into public relations.

Anybody can do public relations.

If you’re headed to graduate school, I say good for you. Do grad school, medical school and law school when you’re young. I waited until my 40s to get a master’s and it was hell. It was more expensive. The professors were burned out and the classes were filled with empty-nesters whose favorite authors are Martha Stewart and Danielle Steel. Finish your education while you have the patience, the time and the support of your parents.

Marry young, too. If you meet someone you can halfway stand and whose breath doesn’t smell like an abattoir, marry him or her. I made the mistake of always thinking someone better would come along. They didn’t. Several men I loved when I was young and had good thighs made the mistake of thinking somebody better than ME would come along. They didn’t.

I’m single at 52, which means I’ve been dating for 36 years. My pool of possible mates now has shrunk to widowers, divorced granddads and … OK, that’s it. Just widowers and divorced granddads. These are men who’ve just discovered a certain little blue pill and think having a four-hour hard-on makes them less paunchy and bald. In Dallas – a city of several million residents – there are seven men in the dating pool for my demographic. And I dated six of them back in the '80s. One of them was married at the time.

As I like to say, “I’ve had a husband… he just wasn’t mine.”

Take it from me, the best years of your life end today. The rest is a big climb up Everest without benefit of sherpas. If you make it to the top, you’ll love the view. And if you don’t, well, to paraphrase Butch Cassidy, the fall will probably kill you, so you won’t know the difference.

Secret of life? Woody Allen said it best: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

Congratulations for showing up for college. And for being here today. Best of luck to you all!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Summer reading?

Seems Roth-heavy to me. I like the inclusion of Confederacy of Dunces. Agree with this list? What would you add? (Comments are working again, btw. Don't know what happened yesterday. Gremlins, I suppose.)

May 21, 2006

What Is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?

Early this year, the Book Review's editor, Sam Tanenhaus, sent out a short letter to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to please identify "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years." Following are the results.
Toni Morrison

Don DeLillo
Blood Meridian
Cormac McCarthy
Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels
John Updike
American Pastoral
Philip Roth

A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole
Marilynne Robinson
Winter's Tale
Mark Helprin
White Noise
Don DeLillo
The Counterlife
Philip Roth
Don DeLillo
Where I'm Calling From
Raymond Carver
The Things They Carried
Tim O'Brien
Norman Rush
Jesus' Son
Denis Johnson
Operation Shylock
Philip Roth
Independence Day
Richard Ford
Sabbath's Theater
Philip Roth
Border Trilogy
Cormac McCarthy
The Human Stain
Philip Roth
The Known World
Edward P. Jones
The Plot Against America
Philip Roth

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Answering the critics

Sometimes it takes weeks to get back to reading your comments. I can read the 50 fun/nice/playful ones and then hit the sourpuss and it really harshes my mellow. Because there are still ratfinks out there who wish I'd dry up and blow away.

And I ain't gonna. So stick that in your bong and puff away.

Was I a "liability," as one commenter put it, because I was blogging about the goings-on on campus? And were they justified in zarching me out of a teaching job because some rich fat cat and his daughter Ashley didn't like the mirror I was holding up?

I was writing anonymously, not using real names or real identities or real locations. Call me Jimmy Frey if you want to, but I thought I was "fictionalizing" enough of the details to keep me out of trouble. Nobody was ever "lured" into telling me anything. I wasn't seeking material. It came to me uninvited. I also had no idea anybody was reading it.

Many of the stories I've written have been about students and others who passed through my classroom (and life) so many years ago that it would be almost impossible for them to recognize themselves. One reason I make up the funny names is that I can't remember the real ones. (To wit: The other day I ran into the former prof I called "Hot Pockets" and for the life of me, dang, it took me about three hours to remember his last name. )

And the bit about writing other people's stories being unethical. Are you kidding me? The bookstore shelves would be nearly empty if writers didn't use other people's lives and foibles and adventures and sexual indiscretions and odd conversational snatches in their own material. And the way I look at it, all of my stories are about me. They are my observations of the world around me, including what the people in it say or do when I'm in the room.

Whatever writing class taught you that it's unethical to write "other people's stories," forget it. That's crazy talk. Just don't write other people's printed stories word for word. That's called plagiarism. Or chick lit. Take your pick.

If anything, I wish I'd written MORE before I was dooced and lost the cloak of anonymity. Memory fades like a cheap t-shirt. I'm racing to get down now things that I will forget by August.

That's it for today. Keep reading. Keep leaving comments. I'm killing out the extra mean ones because they upset my mom. That's the only reason. I can dish it out and I can take it. But she can't.

And by the way, I just reread the Scary Mary Sunshine entry, which I posted last fall. And I still think that girl and her hideous yellow Juicy Couture towel dresses are ridiculous. She's graduating and no doubt settling into a cushy, high-paying job her father arranged for her. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Dealing with a dooce

This week marks one year since I was "dooced." That's blogworld parlance for being outed and fired from one's job for something written on a blog. A blogger named Heather B. Armstrong coined the term and she serves as a sort of patron saint of anonymous bloggers.

When I began blogging as the Phantom Prof in the fall of 2004, there were an estimated 4,000 personal blogs (or 40,000 or 400,000... I'm getting your emails on conflicting research numbers here) on the internet. Today there are 40 million. Blogs have changed journalism, created stars and spawned spin-offs all over media.

What's good about that: More people writing about life in our times.

What's bad about it: Everybody thinks they're Samuel Pepys; like everything else, 90 percent of blogs are crap.

Newspapers came late to the trend -- as they do to every trend -- and started making their reporters, editors and columnists write blogs. That misses the point, doesn't it? The best blogs have nothing to do with mainstream media. Instead, they reflect the personality, quirkier the better, of their writers (instead of the tightly controlled institutional personality of an employer) and give readers a peek into someone else's world. One of my current faves, Fresh Pepper, writes terse, witty entries daily, chronicling conversations at work, things not to say on dates and stuff he's cooking while living in his parents' basement. Trivial perhaps. But fascinating.

I started blogging in the journal style, writing about how it feels to be one of the small, underpaid army of adjunct profs in a private university where money and social status (of students, not profs) rule. College has become a service industry, if you hadn't noticed, with teachers like me expected to give special treatment to the paying customers.

At the lowest-rung level of academia, I felt like a phantom, floating from classroom to classroom, getting little recognition from my tenured colleagues other than the occasional reminder that I was not one of them and never would be. And when there were problems with whiny students demanding that grades be raised or unfinished assignments overlooked, I got no support. Like cops, there's never a tenured prof around when you need one.

Blogging let me vent. And, I thought, if I wrote the stories down, maybe in a year or two I’d have a book.

Then came the dooce. How students found my blog and when, I’ll never know. While I was teaching, not one person on campus ever asked me if I was a blogger or if I was the mysterious Phantom Prof.

When I received a letter from the head of my department telling me my contract for another year of classes was not being renewed, it was a sock in the solar plexus. I never expected it. It actually took me a few days to make the connection between blog and firing. They couldn’t be that petty, I thought. These are media people. These are my friends.

Funny, they teach courses in PR and they couldn’t even manage their own PR when the media began writing the story of the lowly adjunct fired for writing funny (but true!) stories about the spoiled rich kids, their awful parents and the decline of college education. These days stories of bloggers being fired seem like yesterday's news. From flight attendants to lawyers to dental assistants, the doocing of bloggers has created a whole new chapter for the employee handbook: Blogging, policies regarding.

Did I suffer from the doocing? Can’t say I have. The university tried to shame me, but failed. They couldn’t keep me from getting another teaching job (part-time but wonderful). And they only exposed their own hypocrisy in trying to punish me. I’ll never forget the words the esteemed department chair said to one of the reporters doing yet another story on the Phantom Prof: “Words can hurt.” Yep, a Ph.D. plays the sticks-and-stones card.

So as I continue to speak to corporate groups about what to expect from the Me First Generation of college students, as I juggle more writing assignments than I’ve ever had, as I work feverishly to finish my book, The Phantom Professor: Telling Tales Out of School, I don’t regret one word I’ve written here.

My community of readers has grown beyond my craziest expectations. And your encouragement is the honey on the biscuit. When I get mail from Lebanon, Israel, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada – golly, y’all. I don’t know how you found me, but I’m glad you did.

After the test of getting dooced, it’s come up aces.

Boozing: A How-To

From the Washington Times:
"My belief is that we have to face the fact that a certain percentage of college students will drink. So, what can we do to reduce the likelihood of them getting into trouble?" asked Steve Benton, a psychology professor at Kansas State University who has studied the negative patterns of collegiate boozing.

"Students who tend to have attitudes that make them greater risk takers are more likely to get into trouble when drinking," Mr. Benton said. "Even when controlling the amount of alcohol, it's not how much you drink that affects the amount of trouble, but how risky you are."

Indeed, social drinking has devolved into a full-contact sport among party-hearty students, even on campuses that have banned alcohol. The students simply go off-campus to imbibe, often resorting to coarse drinking games such as "bar golf," which sends them to different establishments, brandishing a scorecard to record how many gulps it took to polish off a beer.
The statistics resulting from such behaviors are sobering.

A 2005 study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that 1,700 college students from age 18 to 24 die every year, either from alcohol poisoning or alcohol-related injuries.

Rest of the story....

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Winners of the errata contest

I love "hoi aristoi." And whoever found that, you get extra dessert tonight. The error in that sentence (see two entries below this one for the contest) was placing the "hoi polloi" (working classes, the great unwashed) in a high-priced hotel. Because it sounds a bit like "hoity-toity," the term "hoi polloi" often is misused. The hotel probably was not flattered to be referred to as a place where the plebs gather. (That can also be "plebes," for you Latin scholars. Right?)

Four of you did such a good job at quickly correcting the media's errors that I'm awarding prizes to: Jeff, K.B., Superholmie and Chris. Send me your snailmail addresses: You'll get some goodies from the prize closet. Don't get too excited. Everything I give away is either a freebie from a press packet or something I'm tired of looking at among (never amongst...that's archaic) the detritus around my desk. Also, I'm moving next month. I may start giving away old copies of Flaunt magazine and some of the dozens of copies of Strunk & White's Elements of Style that I seem to have accumulated over the years.

But Jeff, K.B., Superholmie and Chris don't need the latter because they're smarty-rompers.

Thanks to everyone who played. More contests to come. And please feel free to forward any more media bloopers that you run across.

One of my favorite blooper heds of all time: Mayor Fights Erection in City Park.

And from a newspaper's food page: How to Put Pickles Up Yourself.

Talk about a dill-do.


Ringing endorsement

From the White House's own transcript of an interview of Dubya by a German reporter:

Bush: And if I'm going to be ringing my hands and if I'm all worried about the decisions I make are not going to lead to a better tomorrow, they'll figure it out.

Try diagramming that sentence.

And it should be "wringing."

I'm reading your entries from Sunday's mistake-fixing contest. Back later today to announce the winner.

Meanwhile, here's my latest column for Mediavillage.

And for the Dallas Observer.

I've been a writing machine lately. Call me Smith Corona.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sucking the err out

Sunday morning papers. I've been reading for 10 minutes and have seen the following in print :

  • "they sicked the lawyers on him"
  • "recently released from a Hawaiian hooskow" (referring to jail)
  • "the [name of high-priced hotel] is a favorite spot for the hoi polloi"
  • "and it's still not clear what effect the restrictions will have on we, the media, ..."
  • "he plums the depths of depravity in a new role"
  • "One out of five are overweight..."
  • ''caused him to bear his fangs over that..."
  • ''known as a card shark among his poker buddies"
  • Headline: "Dolphins whistle each others names"

First to post the corrections in Comments here will get a (semi-)fab item from the prize closet. USA readers only (sorry! postage!). And previous winners are eligible.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Alma mater

I've been at the beach all week. You can't beat the Texas beaches. First in sunshine, first in waves (more per minute than Cali or Hawaii, which is good for surfing), first in smelly brown sargassum. The seaweed crop this year is coming in beautifully. You have to wade through the stuff knee-deep to get to the water. But we overlook such things when you can rent a sprawling hotel suite with kitchen and two TVs with HBO a mere block from the water for about a C-note a night. Oh, and the breakfast buffet featured cinnamon rolls so good that people were stuffing their pockets with them. "Falata rolls," as old ladies say. As in, a little nosh for lata on.

Driving back yesterday, I took a detour to my alma mater in San Antonio, picked up a college friend who now teaches there and we lunched in a trendy dive near campus. To get there we drove under the "new" freeway that they were building when I was a student. Every morning, KABOOM! at 7 a.m. as the dynamiting started, clearing the limestone layers to create the 181. All day long, BOOM! BOOM! You could feel the shockwaves. And you could hear the screams of the frightened orangutan in the zoo just down the hill.

You think students are edgy now -- try a year or two of all-day close-range dynamite. We were like rats in a shock-maze. Though thinking back, that was my thinnest year of college. Who could eat when every 20 minutes it was "Fire in the hole!"

So over burgers and iced teas, Old Friend and I did the speed-convo to catch up. He loves his teaching post but lacks the Ph.D. that would get him a shot at full-time. He's also an arts consultant to state arts commissions, and he writes and directs, so like most of us adjuncts, he makes a living to support his teaching habit.

We rehashed where-are-they-nows and remembered some gems from the theater department's fave acting teacher, the exotic Mary Ann, the woman we all wanted to be (even the boys).

(Digression: I'm writing this at Starbucks, where a young homeless guy just walked by outside. He looks exactly like Ryan Seacrest and he seems very, very sad. He's leaning on the wall as he walks, like he's about to fall down. If he comes back by, I'm giving him money... oh, wait, here he comes and he's talking on a cellphone. So he's probably not homeless, just sorely in need of a scrubbing. Maybe he's just really hungover. He drinks because people keep laughing at him and yelling "Seacrest out!")

Back at my old campus, I drove past my old dorms and saw the new tennis courts and the new student union (they had a new one when I was a freshperson, which means they tear them down and build a spanking new one every two decades). They've moved the fountain and there are new sculptures by the new library that look like anorexic "Moai" from Easter Island.

I saw the auditorium where I walked the stage for graduation. Handing out diplomas that night at the end of the Paleozoic Era was one George H.W. Bush, then chief at the CIA and unknown to any of us. He made some minor remarks at the ceremony and then, wearing half-glasses, his hair Brylcreemed back from his forehead, he doled out the sheepskins. As I got back to my seat, tassel shifted, the grad next to me pointed back toward the stage at Bush and whispered in my ear, "Whoever that guy is, I think he's drunk."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Arizona "opt out" bill defeated

Let's all drink to this!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Iowa, Ohio, Uzbekistan...whatever

They know how to set up TiVo. They can text-message, pop open a Red Bull and drive 90 down the tollway simultaneously. But can America's young adults find Iraq on a map?


Yet another survey has found that 2/3 of America's young adults are geographically clueless. These are some of the questions asked of participants in the Roper Public Affairs study. Test yourself! (Answers at the end.)

1) Which of the ranges on this card contains the correct population of the United States today?
A. 10 million - 50 million
B. 150 million - 350 million
C. 500 million - 750 million
D. 1 billion - 2 billion
E. Don't know

2) In which of these countries did a catastrophic earthquake occur in October 2005, killing over 70,000 people?
A. Sri Lanka
B. Japan
C. Pakistan
D. Mexico
E. Don't know

3) If it is noon in New York, New York, what time is it in Los Angeles, California?
A. 3:00 a.m.
B. 9:00 a.m.
C. Noon
D. 3:00 p.m.
E. Don't know

4) The most heavily fortified border in the world exists between which two countries?
A. China and Russia
B. United States and Mexico
C. North Korea and South Korea
D. Syria and Lebanon
E. Don't know

5) Which city would be LEAST likely to be threatened by a tsunami?
A. Honolulu, United States
B. Manila, Philippines
C. Tokyo, Japan
D. Mexico City, Mexico
E. Don't know

Correct Answers: 1. B; 2. C; 3. B; 4. C; 5. D

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Tom Cruise, Scientologist, superstar, lousy writer

Were he in my writing class, Tom Cruise would earn a "check double-minus" (the current voguish way of grading without numbers) for this Time mag essay about Mission: Impossible III director J.J. Abrams.

I know Cruise is dyslexic, but really, it's no excuse for this level of incoherence: "From the very beginning, there was an insouciance that promised anything was possible. He's a creative juggernaut and someone who recognizes the joy of creating. We had great fun laying waste to the specious barriers and the each-person-does-his-own-job structure of filmmaking."

Insouciance. Juggernaut. Specious.

Bad ghostwriter or an errant Thetan?

Monday, May 01, 2006

A contest for copy artists!

The Morning News site wonders not “why does anyone plagiarize,” but “why aren’t more people better at plagiarizing?” (I plagiarized that from their lead today.)

And so they are launching a contest to see if there is a “writer” out there who can create a coherent and original piece of fiction completely made from the works of others.

The Rules of TMN “Sloppy Seconds With Opal Mehta” Contest:
—You are limited to 750 of somebody else’s words; none of those words may be your own.

And for the rest, go here.

Peter Mehlman, former Seinfeld scribe, apologizes on Huffpo for plagiarizing a certain Russian novel. High-larious.