28 February 2009

Put me in, coach, I'm ready to serve...

In today's Hartford Courant, there's a story about "prison coaches" who teach white collar criminals how to survive prison life.

Now there's a job for which having done time would be a condition of my hiring an applicant. No time served, no job offer!

Indeed, I'd have a series of questions, the answers to which would help me determine the suitability of the candidate:

How many times have you seen the following films:

Papillon, starring Dustin Hoffman (1973)

The Birdman of Alcatraz, starring Burt Lancaster (1962)

Carbine Williams, starring Jimmy Stewart (1952)

What prison films should I have been watching all these years to prepare myself -- since I fear these will not help at all?

How many shivs have you made? Out of what materials?

How many shivs have you used? To what effect?

Is there a place I could order a shiv since I'm not all that handy?

Conjugal visits: yea or nay?

If I asked real nicely, what are the odds I can get the top bunk right away?

Preferred cake in which to bake a file: Black Forest, Angel Food, Carrot?

Since I already have one year of law school under my belt, how many sentences need I serve to become a real jailhouse lawyer?

Which image should I have tattooed on my right shoulder to send the appropriate message to my fellow inmates: a Chinese dragon, an axe, or a butterfly (a poignant allusion to Papillon)?

Given my questions, how long do you think I'll survive in prison: 1 day, 2 days, 6 hours?

27 February 2009

Tattoo You!

I just saw a television commercial for a local tattoo parlor, Ride My Needle, which suggested gift certificates because a tattoo is "the perfect gift for any occasion."

Who knew?

Mother's Day make sense...a nice "MOM" inside a heart on a boy's left bicep would, perhaps, bring a tear to anyone, but:





First Communions?

I'm stocking up now!

But God help him if he has any overdue books!

From today's Inside Higher Ed:

Goucher Lets Professor Accused of Genocide Use Library

Goucher College has decided to let Leopold Munyakazi, a visiting French professor who was suspended after Goucher officials learned he is accused of participating in the genocide in Rwanda, use the college library, The Baltimore Sun reported. Munyakazi denies participating in genocide and some human rights experts are skeptical of the charges he faces. Goucher officials said that they decided to let him use the library, despite his suspension, in response to a student-organized petition that argued that scholars should not be denied access to a college library.

26 February 2009

The next questions to answer...

On the CCSU faculty listserv (to offer a brief respite from the incessant rants of a certain professor), a colleague asked about our present reading habits:

"What's on Your Night Stand?"

My answer was Peter Ackroyd's The Fall of Troy, Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader, and A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh.

I humbly suggest these follow-up questions:

"What's under your bed?"

"What's in your trunk?"

"What's buried in your backyard?"

and, of course,

"What's in YOUR wallet?"

25 February 2009

It's a Wonderful Life

My 13-year-old daughter and I have a little game we play each day.

She takes her lunch to school, so each morning I write a line or two or three from a song on her lunch bag, and she has to figure out the song and artist by day's end.

Yesterday the line came from my favorite Simon and Garfunkel album Bookends (Columbia Records 1968).

The line was "How wonderfully strange to be seventy" from "Old Friends"

It was one of the few she hasn't gotten, and I later learned why: she's not fond of Bookends so hasn't listened to it as much as Bridge Over Troubled Waters and the very early Paul Simon Songbook, et alia...

Dismayed, I popped it into the cd player in the car this morning to show her why she should LOVE this album, only to discover that I had misquoted the line from "Old Friends."

It's NOT "How wonderfully strange to be seventy!"

It's "How TERRIBLY strange to be seventy!"

I fear I am getting old.

23 February 2009

Dylan as prophet

Apropos of nothing (or everything) in American culture circa 2009, a little Bob Dylan:

They’re spoonfeeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured.
Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words.

From “Desolation Row,” Highway 61 Revisited, Columbia Records, 1965

22 February 2009

The problem with mandatory press conferences...

Yesterday, at a post-game press conference, University of Connecticut men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun was asked about the propriety of his annual salary. Essentially, "given the economic situation, should you be making as much as you do?"

He quickly, as is his wont, got angry.

He's right, of course, basketball makes a quite a bit of money for UConn both directly (the box office, the t-shirt and sweat shirt sales) and indirectly (the remarkable number of students who enroll because UConn teams have been NCAA champions, etc). Indeed, one could easily make the case that UConn basketball (men's and women's) IS professional sports in the state of Connecticut.

To be blunt, I've NEVER understood choosing a school based largely on their sports teams. If I'm not going to be playing basketball for them, why, when I'm selecting a school, would I care how good they are? I fear, as always, I'm in the minority here.

For example, in my first year in the doctoral program at The Catholic University of America in the mid-1990s (er, I meant mid-1980s...godd catch, Stuart!!!!), I taught freshman composition. On the first day, I went around the room and asked my students why they had chosen CUA? Over half said "Because I couldn't get into Villanova," who of course had recently won the NCAA Men's basketball title!

I attended Xavier University in Cincinnati, which had dropped its football program back in the 60s, before they became a credible national basketball presence. When I was enrolled, we'd have trouble beating Thomas More College from northern Kentucky! Sports simply never played a part in any decision about a school.

But I digress.

These post-game press conferences, I understand, are mandatory.


Rarely do the coaches really want to talk about anything significant, so why make 'em? They've won or lost. They played well or didn't. The coach got thrown out of the game or he didn't. (Remember: this whole thing started with Jim Calhoun.) Are there ever ANY insights at which the esteemed press couldn't arrive on its own?

I doubt it.

And let's not stop at college sports press conferences. The professional ranks have their own mandatory press gatherings. In the case of the esteemed/reviled Bill Belichick, for example, I understand that he doesn't even have to tell the truth in these exchanges ---- top secret strategy and all that.

Once again, that's fine (since none of this really matters to anyone but ESPN), but let's not force him to meet the press to "answer" questions, if, in fact, he doesn't have to.

Coaches have better things to do, I hope.

The press has better things to do, I hope.

And, most importantly, no one has EVER asked me, as I leave my classroom after an early American lit class:

"So, teach, were you pleased by how your class handled the spoon passage in Canto Three of The Hasty Pudding?"

"Do you think they'll be up for Greenfield Hill on Wednesday?"

"How does this class match up with the great Eng 340 classes of the late 1990s?"

If they ever do, then I'll reassess.

Of course, if I can answer in front of a Dunkin Donuts banner, how sweet it would be!!!!"

21 February 2009

My "Bucket List" (Part I)

Not in any particular order:

Get my Dominican cousin to inject me with boli

Get a Dominican cousin with whom I'm comfortable enough to drop my pants for

Write a book on British singer Matt Monro

Re-subscribe to Mad Magazine

Get hired to be the non-famous member of the pair of hosts in a Time/Life music infomercial

Meet Phil Donahue and/or Elvis Costello

Write the liner notes for a John Wesley Harding cd

Get my share of the Obama stimulus plan

20 February 2009

Getting by in Postsocialist Romania

On Wednesday, we had another Central Authors talk; this one by the ever-entertaining Professor of Anthropology David Kideckel on his new book Getting By in Postsocialist Romania.

As he himself admits, it's a depressing book, but his research for it sure sounded fun: sitting in bars with Romanian miners drinking, smoking, and bragging about one's sexual prowess.

Anthropology?! That sounds like an AAUP social to me!

My horoscope for today...

...if I had been born three weeks later (and if I believed Holiday Mathis).

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21). You want to be appreciated, and with some measure of enthusiasm. No amount of praise will make you blush. In fact, you would respond best to thunderous applause. Encourage others to emote on your behalf.

That sure sounds like me.

I can only hope my birth certificate's wrong.

19 February 2009

No Shakespeare left behind...

Measure for Measure

Assessing Student Learning Outcomes across Institutions

Connecticut State University System Assessment Conference

April 24, 2009

Eastern Connecticut State University

Willimantic, CT

The first two proposed titles for the workshop?

A Comedy of Errors and Much Ado about Nothing...

Let me just say this about the chimp incident...

Let me admit this right off: I don't want a pet, and I don't understand pet people. I have enough trouble taking care of myself, my wife, and my two daughters; the last thing I need is the responsibility of taking care of creatures who can't talk to me! (It's hard enough dealing with the ones who WON'T.)

Here's what it all comes down to for me:

The decisive difference between the concepts of "inside" and "outside" is not what Barney taught about the appropriate voices for each. It's that that the latter is where all animals belong.

I don't care if it's a hyena or a tabby cat or a pit bull or a hamster or a chimp.

What separates humans from animals is that we build better homes -- and animals don't belong inside them. And we certainly shouldn't invite them in!

I don't care if it's a tenement or a mobile home or a McMansion. Each is far better than the best bird's nest or beaver's dam or bear's cave. Until the animal kingdom can develop indoor plumbing on their own, they belong outside.

Finally, if there are rules on the books about prohibiting the keeping of "exotic animals," don't make exceptions...exceptions only lead to horrific instances like the one in Stamford, Connecticut.

16 February 2009

I obviously need to design more interesting polls...

Recent results of CT Wit polls (all landslides):

Favorite Sinatra duet partner: Rosemary Clooney

Funniest member of the Rat Pack: Dean Martin

Best non-musical Sinatra film: Manchurian Candidate

15 February 2009

A trio of songs...

...with audible inhaling from the lead or back-up singers:

The Beatles' "Girl" (John sounds more like he's one toke over the line than cooing over some young lady.) 1965

Sam Cooke's "Cupid" (It's the sound of the cherub's arrow going "straight to my lover's heart.") 1961

Bob Dylan's "Caribbean Wind" (Here at least the singers get to exhale loudly too!) 1981

Feel free to offer more examples!

13 February 2009

The sky is falling (well, maybe)

News of the collision of US and Russian satellites in space earlier this week -- and the current watch on how the debris will fall to Earth and/or scatter in space -- transported me back to July 1979 when, a junior at Xavier University, I was working at a Cincinnati chili parlor, Skyline Chili, in nearby Norwood, Ohio.

(Yes, that's the "sweet" chili that's served on spaghetti with shredded cheddar cheese, onions, and beans that's not Texas, Memphis, or any other kind of chili of which most people think when they hear "chili," but don't condemn it unless you've tried it. It's GREAT. )

Anyway, it's 11 July 1979, the day Skylab I is scheduled to plunge to Earth "scattering debris across the southern Indian Ocean and sparsely populated Western Australia." Well, they say they know where it's gonna fall, but I'm no dummy: scientists predict things all the time that might or might not happen, so I'm taking no chances. I wear a hard hat to work at Skyline.

When I arrive at work, running into the restaurant like it's raining outside with my hand above my head, my boss, Corky, looks at me, looks at my hat, rolls his eyes, and asks,

"What's with the hard hat, Gil?"

(Corky was a great boss and put up with me a lot, but I don't think he ever quite understood that I was the kind of employee who, if Skyline had a theme song like McDonald's or Burger King, that I'd sing it all day long, while mopping the floor, wiping down the steam table, or cleaning the grill -- just like they do in the commercials!)

"Skylab's falling today, Cork. I want to be prepared"

"It's falling in the Pacific, Gil."

"So they say. You never know."

"So, you're going to wear that all day?"

"Yep. And I'm not going outside again until it's time to go home. Skylab's falling today."

"In the Pacific."

"So they say."

"What if I ask you to make the deposit at the bank today?"

"I won't go. I can't go. Skylab's falling today."

(If I were better read at the time, I probably would've "Bartleby'd" him, "I'd prefer not to," but I was but 17, and my Latin literary knowledge was better than that of the American Renaissance.)

"Oh, you're going, Gil."

(Somehow I knew he'd say that!)

So when the time comes to make the two-minute trip to the bank across the street, and using my best TV-learned spy/soldier/sneaking-around-teenager moves (slithering along the walls and the store-front window with frequent skyward glances), as the crosswalk signal turns green I dash across to the bank.

You'll be happy, if unsurprised, to know my trip return was without incident -- due, of course, entirely to my caution. Remember: Skylab fell that day.

I enjoyed myself tremendously that day at work. Corky got a headache, but that frequently happened to him when I worked.

Go figure.

For the next couple days, take a glance upward occasionally and watch out for space debris!

12 February 2009

Happy Birthday, Cotton!

Yes, it's Abraham Lincoln's and Charles Darwin's birthday, but let's not forget Cotton Mather -- born 12 February 1663.

In 1713, he became the first and only American clergyman to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and, in 1721, he was the most prominent and vocal proponent for small pox inoculation -- which he learned from his West Indian slave, Onesimus.

Oh, sure, in 1692 he defended the Salem Witch Trials with his Wonders of the Invisible World, but, hey, you can't be right all the time!

11 February 2009

Give me a good venereal disease any day of the week

Today at noon, as part of the Central Authors television series I help organize (official title: producer; actual role: booking agent), I attended an insightful and enjoyable talk by Heather Prescott, a colleague in the CCSU History Department, on her new book Student Bodies: the Influence of Student Health Services in American Society and Medicine. As she traced the history of student health services, developing in response to increasing diversity on U.S. college campuses, the subject of sexually transmitted diseases, not surprisingly, arose.

Then it dawned on me: what exactly was wrong with the term "venereal disease" (or even "social disease," for that matter) that demanded the uninspired, and pedestrian, name of "sexually transmitted disease." Have we, as a culture, become so dim, so poorly read, so imaginatively bankrupt, that any term not patently obvious needs replacement?

"Venereal," after all, is an adjective that derives from the Latin name of the Roman goddess of love and sex -- Venus, Veneris (stem vener-) -- and, as such, specifies that any things so described are sexually related.

When I raised this question after the talk, a young man in the CCSU bookstore (who hadn't even attended the talk) came by, apologized for interrupting, and suggested that perhaps it was because the Latin derivation was gendered -- that it somehow blamed such diseases on women.

Not a bad theory, but hardly convincing. Remember, the Roman philosopher Lucretius in his epic Epicurean poem on atomism, De Rerum Natura, invoked Venus as neither god nor woman but as the driving creative (read: sexual) force in the natural world.

Venereal = sexually transmitted - history/lore/tradition

We continue to fall ever further from the rich poetic/mythic roots of our language, and we're the poorer for it.

Also remember the name for syphilis came from a character, Syphilus, in a 16th-century neo-Latin poem by physician/poet Girolamo Fracstoro.

Before the poem, the French called it the "Italian Disease, the Italians the "French Disease, etc...."

Now THAT'S how you name a disease.

We can't leave this topic without quoting the chorus of "Social Disease," the Elton John / Bernie Taupin composition from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road :

I get bombed for breakfast every morning
I get bombed for dinner time and tea
I dress in rags, smell a lot, and have a real good time
I'm a genuine example of a social disease

But I won't count on that either....

It's 59 degrees and sunny !

THIS is the weather for which schools and businesses should close.

When it's snowy and cold, you have to stay inside anyway, so who cares if you're at work or school?

But, today's the kind of day that it pains one to be stuck inside.

09 February 2009

This should really tick off Christopher Hitchens!


I'm sure a blogger like myself should be excited about a DSL "for quickly creating web-applications in Ruby with minimal effort," especially when it's named Sinatra.

The problem is:

1) I have no idea what a DSL is.

2) I really don't know what a web-application is -- although those iPhone commercials about all the available "apps" do make me feel like I'm missing the proverbial boat to the future.

3) The only Ruby I know of is Jack (and DON'T get me started on THAT!)

and finally

4) Nothing worthwhile about the real Francis Albert Sinatra involved haste or "minimal effort."

06 February 2009

What's in a name?

What's it say that the budget of M. Jodi Rell, governor of the great state of Connecticut, proposes the elimination of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women?

Permanent: It's the New Temporary!

05 February 2009

A Portrait of the President as a Young Man?

Have you heard about the newly discovered painting that some are saying is our new President when he was younger?

Former members of the Bush administration are already criticizing him for not wearing a coat and tie when he posed.

Relatedly, my favorite Presidential portrait of ALL time is that of Richard M. Nixon painted by Norman Rockwell.

Love him or hate him...his portrait is FABULOUS!

02 February 2009

Super Bowl Follow-up

I predicted 24-19, the lower score probably resulting from a safety. (See posting from 1/30).

Actual score: 27-23 with a safety.

This game proved once again that the intentional grounding rule needs immediate attention! (See posting from 1/4).

More importantly, as my wife astutely pointed out:

Anyone else think the Boss is lookin' more and more like Tony Bennett (only with a too-tight leather vest)?

01 February 2009


My introductory year-long bundled cable/internet/phone services offer ends on 2/4/09 (as I knew it would), and the a la carte price is to be almost double (as I knew it would be), so I sought a new bundle with my "provider" (as I was pretty sure I would).

(What a misuse of that word, no?)

Not wanting to wait until the last minute (with three days to spare), I called my provider yesterday and asked what kind of deal I could get.

The price would be a bit higher (as I knew it would be), and I wouldn't get my HBO anymore (a bit disappointing but, now that John Adams is history and my library gets Flight of the Conchords, I won't be needing it anymore really), so I accepted...asking politely

"But I'll keep the HBO until 2/4 when my last payment runs out, correct?"

"Yes, until the 4th," the young man replied.

This morning my lovely wife informed me that our HBO was gone, so I called my provider again.

"Service changes are immediate," I was told.


The long and short of the exchange (heated on my part, coolly efficient on hers, I must admit) was this: Not only was I not going to be refunded the pro-rated amount of the HBO I lost, I was going to have to pay the pro-rated increased rate of the new higher-priced bundle!?!


"Service changes are immediate."

To my customer service representative's credit, while she never admitted that her company's policy was asinine (in its encouragement of customers to act only at the very last moment) or disingenuous (if not downright theft in attempting to deny me service already paid for), she did a) give me back my HBO for three more days and b) deduct the additional cost of the new bundled service for the remaining three days of my old bundle.

I'm not saving any money the next three days, but I'm not losing any either.

Life IS Comastic.

(And before anybody tells me "well, switch to ATT," know I've got a story to tell about them, too. That's how I ended up with this provider.)

Oh, how I miss Ma Bell!!!