Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thighs and whispers

Item 1: Bootcamp, hereafter referred to as Buttcamp. Done two nights so far and can hardly sit, stand, climb stairs, put on socks, tie shoes or anything else that requires bending from the waist or the stretching of the tight strings of ham on the bag of legs. Jeesh. I haven't been this sore since my short-lived attempt to try out for cheerleader in eighth grade. One week of 7 a.m. workouts took all the pow out of those pompom dreams. Buttcamp meets in the early evening on a stretch of public park on a very exclusive boulevard. Tonight our drill instructor told us that the just-cleared plot of prime corner property across from our workout spot will one day be occupied by the Idiot-in-Chief and his wife, the First Chainsmoker, with occasional visits from the Twit Twins. I can't get away from them... At tonight's Buttcamp it was a thick 77 degrees. By the time I got home and peeled off the sweatwear, it was 55 and dropping. Winter arrives, meaning tomorrow night's Buttcamp could include ice hockey. Camp meets rain or shine. Drill Instructor brooks no absences.

Item 2: If you're a James Taylor fan, you'll love his son Ben's 10-song CD "Another Run Around the Sun." The boy inherited his dad's pipes and his crisp diction. Gorgeous stuff.

Item 3: Ricky Gervais has two free podcasts up on The Guardian website. I'd listen to them again--as always, he's assisted by writing partner Stephen Merchant and their halfwitted sidekick Karl Pilkington--but I'm afraid if I laugh too hard I'll snap something I might need later.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sleepy Kitten

Monday, November 27, 2006

More about the pyramid of power

Arianna Huffington, that red-headed goddess of blogdom, puts in her two drachmas about the Bush lie-berry. And here it is.

Excerpt of La Huff:

Will there be a Heckuva Job Memorial Wing saluting W's sterling political appointments? A Hurricane Katrina Photo Gallery, with each image housed in its own airplane window frame? An exact recreation of Dick Cheney's secure undisclosed location (try to step inside and a recording of the Veep tells you to "Go fuck yourself!")?

Will visitors to the Iraq War Wing be handed rose-colored glasses before entering and having flowers thrown at their feet? Or will they don blinders as they stagger forward, sinking deeper into a man-made quagmire?

Will there be exhibits on waterboarding, illegal wiretapping, and the quaintness of the Geneva Conventions? A room devoted to the nobility and greatness of the Hanging Chad? A holographic image of Osama bin Laden (try and grab him and he slips right through your hands)? The Abu Ghraib Game Room (must be over 18 to enter)?

Dave Letterman weighed in tonight, too. Re: the library's "think tank." Said Dave, "Because when you think George W. Bush, you think thinking."

The incredible hubris of GWB

His presidency is shameful. The man himself is shameless. Now he wants the public to pay for his half-billion-dollar erection. Here's the story from the New York Daily News today.

There are rich people willing to give $10-$20 million to this idiotic thing. That's scary.

Calling anything with the name Bush on it a "think tank" is akin to naming a weight-loss clinic after Nicole Richie.

Horrors. If they build where they say they are, I'll be living so close to it, I'll be able to smell the stench--like living next to a coal plant or a pig farm.

How many copies of My Pet Goat can we donate?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Chronicler of Life at the Drive-Thru

This piece by reporter Charlie LeDuff can be found in the NYT and the Dallas Morning News. Interesting that the DMN credits only the "NYT News Service" and omits the byline. Bad enough that a DMN staffer didn't do it--they couldn't give credit where it's due?

The subject is the employee at a Burger King drive-through window on a rough side of Dallas. She's a woman struggling to make it on $200 a week, putting up with drunks who throw fries at her and a cook who sneezes on the meat patties.

Yes, it's a fine piece on first read, full of colorful phrases such as this: "The night is busy, and a mustache of perspiration breaks across her lip."

But read it again. Do you detect any sense of the smarter-than-thou reporter looking down on his subject with a hint of disdain? Of pity? Of even an ounce of empathy?

Notice that LeDuff mentions in the first graf that the woman he's profiling is overweight and wears pink lipstick. Read the line about how she feeds her kids. Don't have to be Columbo to detect the air of disapproval.

What do you think of writing like this? I'd really like to know.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The JFK story...from another angle

Today is the 43rd anniversary of the JFK assassination. I was 10 when it happened just after lunchtime a few miles from the elementary school where I was in fourth grade. I remember teachers crying and that we were let out early on that cold autumn day and told to go home. We didn't go back to school until the following week (it happened on a Friday). That Sunday was when we saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot by Jack Ruby on live TV. Everyone stayed inside and watched the JFK funeral...and in black and white, if you're old enough to remember.

It's the event that changed the way we get our news. Before that, Americans reached for newspapers in the morning and afternoon to see what was happening. After the JFK assassination, it was TV.

One of my favorite writers of daily journalism, Jimmy Breslin, did something more reporters should do when writing about these big stories. He stepped to the back of the crowd. He found one person on the sidelines, out of the spotlight, who had a different and very poignant point of view of the whole thing. And this is what he wrote.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Get up, sit up

You know that dream where you find yourself suddenly back in a high school math class? The one where you realize in a panic that you somehow never knew you were supposed to be in Calc II instead of hanging out in study hall and now it's one day till finals and you have no idea how you'll pass. And if you don't pass Calc II, you'll never graduate and then you can't go to college and your life will be one long series of horrible jobs that require the wearing of aprons and hairnets.

Or there's an even scarier dream, the one where you find yourself back in high school PE, lying on one of those smelly gray mats, waiting to gutting up into 100 sit-ups for the monthly fitness torture-test.

Yeah, that's a nightmare and a half. So why am I signing up for a four-week fitness bootcamp that sounds exactly like a grueling PE class? It's for grown-up ladies who haven't done 100 sit-ups since Carter was in the White House.

And it's outdoors. At 6 p.m. three nights a week.

Me skeered. But me also feeling flabbo, so I'm doing it. Progress reports will be duly posted. My typing fingers will probably be the only joints that won't be too sore to use.

Thanksgiving break approacheth. Had lunch with a prof pal the other day (not Prof. Lunch-Guy, who has vaporized into the ether, where his weirdness can commune with the weirdness of my other weirdo datemates of this year and yesteryear). She regaled me with tales of her undergrads who began cooking up excuses last week for why they should get a full week off for turkey day and not just the scheduled Thur-Fri-Sat-Sun. Some students left last Thursday, skipping this week's classes entirely. When they return, they'll have just two more class days, then reading days, then finals. It's all over by the first week of December.

My prof friend summed up the early-extended-vacation syndrome this way: "They don't realize how insulting it is to teachers when they ask if it's OK to skip our classes. No, it's not OK! Why ask?"

Look, kids, you've paid for college. Gut it up and go to class. All of them. You won't be sorry. That hour might be the one where the lightbulb goes on and it all begins to make sense.

Real life awaits you in all its flabby splendor on the other side.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

UCLA Student Tasered by UCLA Police for not showing ID

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

No news is stolen news

Reports of campus newspapers being stolen in bulk are on the uptick. So reports Inside Higher Ed, which is reporting on a report from the Student Press Law Center.

Reporters of truths that administrators and sorority girls don't like--you have been warned.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Fall flies

The fastest semester ever. Winding up the film class, all I can think is how fun it is to show great movies to students who love movies. This fall we've seen Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, Sabrina, Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. Nobody does film noir, comedy or romance like Billy Wilder did.

If you're a fan, or if you're just discovering this director, see the movies and read Cameron Crowe's fascinating Conversations with Wilder, a book that transcribes a year or so of interviews that Crowe (who directed Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire) did with the elderly Wilder. Great stuff.

On the home front, well, there's a long story I could write here about the end of a year's worth of whatever-it-was with Prof. Lunch-Guy. But in the interest of time, I'll cut to the chase:

...and I never heard from him again.

The end.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

And the guy who went as Jeff Propst...

...painted his face bland.

Yes, college students did the ol' blackface trick again. Said they were having a Survivor party. So the school canceled classes today to teach some lessons in diversity. Read on....

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why you should vote today

Friday, November 03, 2006

News you can use: Hazing story and "Development Admits"

ORLANDO, Fla. -- School officials investigating an apparent hazing ritual at a fraternity house on the University of Central Florida campus in which pledges were found in diapers, fairy wings and women's panties told Local 6 News that there is evidence that several of them may have been sexually assaulted.

Or at the very least, extremely humiliated. Here's the rest of the story.

Now this, as they say in the news biz.

A Tricky Process: Children of Prominent Alumni Versus Hardworking Students Versus 'Development Admits'

Nov. 2, 2006 — Jian Li was the perfect student. Incredibly, he got a perfect score on his SATs.

He should also be a perfect example of how second-generation immigrants can transform their lives when they work hard in the land of meritocracy and opportunity.

But he doesn't see it that way.

"I was completely naive," said Li, now age 19.

He applied to Harvard, Princeton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford, among other places, and didn't get into any of those colleges.

Yet, he soon became aware that other high school students with lower SAT scores had sailed past him.

"There are lots of preferences given to academically unqualified individuals." he said. "For example, George Bush. I doubt he had the academic qualifications that would have gotten him into an elite university [Yale], but because of who his father was, he had the advantage over other applicants with better academic records."
[Can we hear a collective "DUH!"?)

So why was Li shut out from some of the most prestigious colleges in the country?

Watch a special two-hour edition of ABC's "20/20" Tonight (Nov. 2) at 9 p.m. ET. And read more about the story on

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Graduation plans? Hold on there, sister

My young friend and former student "Delia" is getting hosed by the university. She's a senior with several impressive majors and makes excellent grades. She did a semester abroad last year and came into her penultimate semester of college thinking she was on track for grad-jee-ation.

Then she started getting her chain jerked by various advisers. One said, sure, you're all set, with enough credits and upper level hours to get that sheepskin next spring. Then another adviser says bah humbug to that and tells Delia that she's a whopping 21 hours short of her upper level credits. That's more than another full semester of college to deal with--and tens of thousands of dollars that dear Delia would have to come up with between now and mid-2007.

Of course, it's all just another load of booshwa from a school that tries to squeeze as many dollars out of its undergrads as it can. Delia is no dummy. She plotted her college career with diligence, getting all the core courses out of the way early and ripping through those majors with relative ease. She's worked like a little demon at off-campus and on-campus jobs and lived on next to nothing while her well-off classmates jazzed past her in their new cars on their way home to condos their parents bought for them.

So what's the deal? Well, back when I worked at the uni on the hill, I heard many stories like this. Seniors would get midway into what they thought was their final year of college and be told that, oh no, more hours were needed or that there were NEW requirements in place that they would have to adhere to before they could get outta the joint.

Regularly, the department secretary would inform juniors and seniors that because of the limitations on class size, they would have to stick around another year or TWO to get their upper levels done. There just weren't any more seats in those last few courses (which was never actually true), so they'd have to take them next year.

This is all ridiculous, of course. But I learned early on that nothing is more important than the retention of the paying customer. So what if scholarships run out and loans have reached six figures? Delia was told by her advisers that she could "transfer to another school to graduate" if she was unhappy with having to do more time.

Transfer? During her senior year?

I want to hear your stories about this ugly trend. Are colleges really hurting for money this badly? Do they really need to penalize good students for getting through in a mere four years?

Leave comments. Long as you want. Vent! Venti!