Monday, August 30, 2010

The Entrepreneurial University, my white ass

UNC has a new chancellor, one Holden Thorp, the winsome lad with the John Edwards hair depicted below.  Apparently, Mr. Thorp, a scientist, has a bee in his bonnet about universities being entrepreneurial.  He even wrote a book about it with some guy named Buck.

In Thorp's view, all classes should have "impact."  That means that they should be "relevant."  To effect this, professors teaching courses about things that happened in the past should as a matter of course analogize to the present, so that kids can see how they have "impact."

I can assure you that, as someone in the private sector who is searching for suitable job candidates, what I'm looking for is ones who can recite for me ways in which their professors told them that things from the past were similar to contemporary life. I certainly am not looking for people who have honed critical faculties, who are creative, or who are able to think for themselves. May sweet little baby Jesus save us from neo-functionalist morons like this.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Something in the Tea

In the NY Times this Sunday, one David Tulanian of LA writes:

I, for one, certainly don’t want anyone — especially the government — telling me what I will eat. As an adult, I should be able to determine my own dietary needs, thank you very much.

Three months ago, a visit to the doctor revealed that at 5-foot-8 and 225 pounds, I had become “obese.” Also, my blood pressure was high, as was my sugar level. In response, I cut my food portions in half, skipped desserts and took brisk 30-minute walks.

Today, both blood pressure and sugar levels have dropped considerably, and I am 30 pounds lighter. Another 30 to go and I’m home free.
I wish I too had such a brilliant doctor.  One who -- all by his lonesome -- would define standards for obesity and conduct research on the correlations between blood pressure, blood sugar levels etc. to let him/her give me good advice on health. Where does this guy think his doctor learned what to advise him?

Public health is one of the best and most important things the government does, and at $31 billion, the NIH is a steal. Long-term, obesity is a bigger threat than the debt, comparable to global warming. If anybody from the Northeast remembers the anthrax scare in the fall of 2001, those people from the NIH were fucking heros, and what Michele Obama and Jamie Oliver are doing now is hugely important. One hopes they can be successful.

This Tulanian guy obviously has great willpower and discipline, and if he can keep his weight off, and remain healthy, he's a true exemplar, but an exception. Keeping off weight is hugely difficult, that's why weight loss is an enormous industry.  One wonders if he's been slipping a little something in his tea over there at the Tea Party.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Just when you think

Your daughter is growing up with her pierced ears, she goes off to the mall and comes back with a ten-pack of plastic earrings in the shape of African animals: lions, monkeys, giraffes, etc. Gotta love it.

Map of the World

Mary's college boyfriend Khalid had a band called Map of the World, based out of Ann Arbor (naturally), together with his sister, whose voice is reminiscent of Natalie Merchant. They sound pretty good.

So when Mary told me she had gotten a "map of the world" shower curtain, I was initially surprised, thinking she had been back in touch with Khalid.  Not that there would be anything wrong with that. We hear of occasional contact with Khalid from Kate or Valery or others who are back in Ann Arbor. And Mary -- to her infinite credit -- doesn't get jealous when I have lunch with or talk to my ex-girfriends, which is something I like to do.  I mean, I stay in touch with my other friends, right?

And if she had gotten a free shower curtain, hey, that's cool too.  Of course, it turns out that it was just a shower curtain with a map of the world on it.  Which is awesome.

Friday, August 27, 2010


When we were young there was a lot of concern with kudzu.  We saw a documentary in Jim Charles's class about how noxious it was.  REM put it on the cover of Murmur back in '83 as a metaphor for the degradation (in all senses of the word) of southern culture.

Wikipedia emphasizes that it is still a menace "Kudzu is a serious invasive plant in the United States. It has been spreading in the southern U.S. at the rate of 150,000 acres (61,000 ha) annually," blah blah blah.

However, coming back to the south after roughly a quarter century either in the Northeast or otherwise preoccupied, kudzu seems less rampant.  Maybe it's because the Triangle has burgeoned and kudzu has been pushed back right here, or maybe it's because kudzu seemed like such an apt metaphor for how we felt about a lot of things coming out of stagflation, Vietnam, Iran, and other traumas of 1973-82.  Or maybe it's just me.  Thoughts?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New books and shelves

Hauled these very heavy but not all that beautiful shelves from my mom's husband's office last week. They were empty and crying out for books, so I am bringing in books one box at a time, emptying shelves at home in prep for renovation. Then I bought two more at the thrift store today, including H.L. Mencken's classic which nobody reads The American Language.  OK, so the guy was an anti-semite. He still did some good work.

In any case, it feels good to see more boox in here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Starbucks -- safe for white people

Is it not curious that it is socially acceptable for middle-class white people to work at Starbucks and its competitors, but at no other fast food places? This was rather clear yesterday morning at RDU at around 7am. Starbucks was run like a tight ship, a bunch of attentive young white people processing order efficiently, expeditiously, and courteously.

Iced joe in hand, I went to the breakfast place down the way to get a biscuit. There, a couple of hispanic people and a black guy were minding the store, doing a perfectly fine job. In front of me, however, was the prototypical angry white man (AWM), fresh off the back 9. He ordered scrambled eggs with country ham, no biscuit or other carb. I got it, a recidivist Atkins diet guy. However, the hispanic guy wasn't quite following him for a second. So AWM snapped at him. Having once lashed out, he moved down to the beverage area, where he asked the black guy for an iced tea. It looked like a 20 or 24 oz cup to me, which in my estimate is pretty big. AWM, though, commented that "I wanted a large iced tea," but when he got no response he acquiesced and paid the bill.

So what is it, then, about Starbucks? Do they pay better and have better benefits?(I think there's a measure of truth to that) Does the fact that it's a premium product with Euro-sizing (tall-grande-vente, if I have at long last mastered it) confer prestige on the task of serving it? Would AWMs heap scorn on servers of color if given the opportunity? Is it the absence of grease that makes the labor more seemly? It's a mystery to me, I must confess.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The world's shyest bass player?

Lyrics (not my translation)

Girls : Why does he act as if he's not interested? x 3

Even if you ask, I can't say anything.

Please don't ask why I put my head down.

I don't know, and there's nothing I can do.

The well inside my heart has dried long time ago.

*Don't think me as a sweet guy. I'm just a normal guy without any taste.

Girls : x3 Repeat

If you ask me again, I do have something to say. My heart used to burn in love. I don't know why not these days. Even a small lit scares me now.

* - repeat

Girls - Repeat

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What I did for lunch today

Went out and got a burrito.  Saw Crabill and Jane Stein.

Then I watched this, and I hunted down and bookmarked a couple of the things he's talking about.  Good stuff.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Afeared of the gnats

So I walked down the hill at dusk and went for a swim in the lake.  At one point in time, a heron flew over my head. Later, I saw the moon through the trees, so I swam further out into the lake to have a look at it.

This was much better than being swarmed by rabid gnats.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Swarmed by gnats

The other night, I went running.  At 8:30 pm, it was 88 degrees out. Because the family was still up north, I decided to go 5 miles or so. Running along North Lake Shore, I heard a strange buzzing sound, which presaged an attack by a swarm of small insects.  My first thought was gnats, though, in the air, they seemed white. When they landed in the sweat on my chest, however, they were dark. I definitely couldn't breathe through my mouth, so I used the nose. To get away from them, I had to accelerate to a near sprint, which wasn't so bad, as I'm training for an 800 meters showdown with Drake in October, but it wasn't really what I wanted to do at that hour in that heat, but then they caught up with me, or perhaps another swarm found me, so I had to speed up again.  After 3 reps, when I headed up the hill, I seemed to have shaken them.

All told, it was straight out of Hitchcock's The Birds, save that I'm not as pretty as Tippi Hedren, nor do I have her diction.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

From Springsteen to Joy Division

On the Arcade Fire's first album, I thought they owed a lot to the Pixies.  On the second, Win Butler often felt like he was channeling the Boss.  This time around Joy Division seems like the key influence.  All good.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


When Mary and I quit Manhattan in '98, we moved to Somerville, NJ, a town with deep roots in what I came to consider New Jersey's legacy ethnicities:  Italian and Jewish-Americans.  These were the people that gave the Garden State good food before the onslaught of the Indians, Chinese, Brazilians, and others that lomade it an even better place to eat.

On main street in Somerville there is a place called Alfonso's, a family-oriented pizzeria and trattoria.  On the wall in the front of Alfonso's is a picture of a couple of plump Italian guys mustaches, sitting in their undershirts in bright sunshine, next to some water.  They are eating what is clearly linguine with clam sauce, and they are eating it out of a metal tray, like what you might use to make brownies.

Although I have never lived like that, I think of that as the essence of summertime.

Tonight, with Mary and the kids away, I made a nice linguine alle vongole, way garlicky, though with canned clams.  The cats went nuts.  I didn't give them any.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Low on ideas

Being away from my kids, and no longer commuting, it becomes tougher and tougher to generate ideas for blogs, as the sources of randomness are largely removed from my existence, being replaced by grinding routine.

At JFK's shiny Jet Blue terminal last week, I sat and watched people walk by, looking for something bloggable.  There was very little, aside from a four-year old boy lagging behind his parents while wheeling a small suitcase in the shape of a hound dog's head, complete with droopy ears.  But we can file that right under missing my kids.

I did note that Jet Blue and Dunkin Donuts have apparently executed a strategic alliance of some sort.  In the terminal and on the plane, there wasn't a dram of Starbucks to be had.

Here at home, I've begun another Alan Furst novel, Red Gold, and must say that it's starting out even better than the first one I read (Dark Star ??).

Also, the guy who looks like Jeff Daniels from Dumb and Dumber at the deli at the supermarket has stooped to new lows of sadistic languor. It's as if he's performed a reverse time-motion study (time-stasis?) of the sandwich-making process, and has sought out and attained new ways of making a sub even more slowly.  I have to give it to the guy for thoroughness.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Back home

Having ditched my family in New York, I'm back in Chapel Hill this evening, enjoying an exciting evening of TV. First, the Premier League season preview show on FSC.  And then, during commercial channel-flicking time, I espied John Huston's classic Victory, perhaps the greatest soccer movie of all time, with Pele and Bobby Moore and Sylvester Stallone wandering around Paris drinking shots of cognac, speaking horrific French, and lounging shirtless in a solitary confinement cell.  When Pele scores the equalizer on a bicycle kick, and then Stallone saves a penalty at the end despite knowing nothing about goalkeeping....  ah yes, that's good TV.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Lifetime achievement award for the Tappett Brothers

I'd like to go on record plumping for Click and Clack, the Tappett brothers, of "Car Talk" fame.  More even than John Stewart, they are probably the most talented entertainers of their generation, and they impart useful information too.  Here's proof:  Natalie, at the tender age of 10, knows nothing about cars, and doesn't want to.  But when the Tappetts are on, she joins Mary and me in shooshing everybody else in the car (AKA Graham) so she can hear them.

There is a growing trend towards "laughology," a belief that laughing is just flat out good for you. There are some guys in India who go out on the beach and just laugh for the sake of laughing.  I'm not going that far.  But the Tappett brothers are both funny and have incredibly infectious laughs. They have it "going on," as the young people say.

And the credits at the end ("our Russian chauffeur is Pickup Andropov") are an incredible exercise in sustained creativity, funny every week, just like the scene at the end of the opening sequence of the Simpsons where the family gathers around the couch. As of May, 2010, Groening and crew had done 464 versions of that, and they're all pretty funny.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Despicable Me

This is a harmless little formula-driven romp for Steve Carell and somebody at one of the factories that makes cartoons.  I laughed, I enjoyed myself, the air-conditioning was working just fine on a hot summer day.  Natalie liked it too. IMAX didn't add to anything but the cost, however.

Afterwards, I took Natalie to explore the charms of New Roc City, including the mighty amusement arcade and the glo in the dark indoor putt putt course.  The latter holds no charms for my high brow girl, however.  I, however, am intrigued...

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

40,000th hit

Today the blog celebrated it's hard-earned 40,000th hit (excluding RSS feeds, of course).  The lucky surfer hailed from.... Kathmandu, Nepal.  I kid you not.  He had googled the phrase "LG sucks", and found my ruminations on that topic.

Monday, August 02, 2010

P531, the 6:30 to from Boston to Framingham

Some things feel familiar, some things dramatically different.  The train car is the same as the older stock in the New Jersey Transit fleet.  On the absolute up side, there is wi-fi service.  What is odd is the ethnic component.  There are a couple of Asian people, but other than that, it's as white as can be.  Rather strange.

I'd like to check in with Mary on the phone, but am afraid I would be sternly rebuked by barrage of arched eyebrows.  Will wait.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Had to Cry Today

Blind Faith is so good, I'm going to have to extend my classic rock spelunking to Cream, Yardbirds, Traffic.