Monday, October 22, 2018

The House Might Be ThisClose - Chaos Will Ensue

With all the talk of a "blue wave," there's a much more likely scenario that no one's talking about, and God help us if it happens. That is, the House is won by one party or the other by one or two seats.

Why do I say this? I went through every House poll I could find for any district that is even remotely competitive, and I just added them up. If candidate A is up by even a point, I give the race to him or her. (Obviously, that is within the margin of error but it cuts both ways.)

Here's what I got:

Republican seats flipping to Dems:        26
Dem seats flipping to Republicans:          3

Net Dem pickup:                                    23

Dem pickups required to take control:   24

Yes, that's right. Democrats fall one short. I realize there's a lot of potential error in this, but the possibility is real. The signs point towards a rather average gain for the out-of-power party in a midterm election (which is 25, by the way). No blue wave, just average-ness.

I checked the history books, by the way. There's never been a one-vote margin in the House.

Think about the craziness we'll have to endure if this happens. Neither party will take losing by one or two seats well, but I think it's safe to say the Democrats will take it less well. They fully expect to win this and if they don't, they will take to the streets. They will also send thousands of lawyers out to every district that was within a couple of points. There will be endless recounts. Cries of fraud and voter suppression will be heard across the land (even if they never seem to find someone whose vote was actually suppressed). Next year's House will be called "invalid." (Sound familiar?)

Scorched earth, like the Kavanaugh hearings. I, for one, hope it doesn't happen, but the alternative would be even worse.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

(Don't) Speak Your Truth

Has anyone else notice the rapidity with which this bit of rhetoric - speak your truth - has crept into the cultural firmament? I first took note of it a few months ago, and now, like the proverbial buzzing of a light fixture, I can't stop hearing it. 

Apparently, it was Oprah who first popularized it, saying it is the "most powerful tool we have." By we, I am quite certain she did not mean me, as I do not fit the demographic profile of those allowed to have their own proprietary version of the truth.

Let me explain. What is meant by the phrase, by those who wield it, is that if you have been abused in some way (presumably by a white male), or you have been generally oppressed (again, by white males and the patriarchy), "speaking your truth" is having the courage to give testimony to your experience.

Most recently, we heard the odious Cory Booker use the phrase to describe Christine Blasey Ford's Senate appearance. Her truth was most definitely that Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape her.

I have two problems with all this. One somewhat minor, the other not. Using Blasey Ford as an example, let's say, for the sake of argument, she's telling the whole truth. That would mean it was the truth, would it not? Not her truth. Calling it her truth implies there could be other truths. Isn't there only one truth? That's what I was taught. I am bothered on a lexical level - it undermines our language. Words have meaning.

Aly Raisman, the gymnast (pictured at the top), was in fact abused by the abominable Larry Nassar. We know this to be the literal truth. Why undermine it by calling it "her" truth?

Back to Blasey Ford. Let's now say she's not telling the truth about what happened, or more to the point, is telling a story that, while not being exactly truthful, speaks to her broader life experiences. Not truth, but truthiness. This is where I have a big problem. Perhaps she was abused by someone at some point, someone who wasn't Kavanaugh. She certainly seems troubled by something. Projecting on to Kavanaugh could be an outlet for her anguish or maybe a bogus recovered memory - who knows? In that case what she is doing is making Kavanaugh guilty by association. The left has gleefully accepted this approach, basically because Kavanaugh's a man and they don't like his politics. (His being Catholic doesn't help, either.)

The concept of white privilege ties closely into this. It basically says that all white people harbor subtle forms of racism no matter how enlightened they think they are. It's weaponized political correctness, and it is a growing trend. It means anyone can be made guilty of anything if you run afoul of the left's agenda. 

What did Beria say? Show me the man and I will show you the crime.

So please, don't speak your truth.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Campusland to be Published

Pleased to share that someone besides me thinks Campusland is funny. St. Martins Press has bought the book, and will publish it in September of 2019. Bummer it takes so long (publishing is definitely not like the tech industry), but that's the way of it.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Campusland Snippet #7 - Trick or Treat

Halloween doesn't always go down so smoothly these days at Devon. The following is an excerpt from the Devon Daily...

Devon Daily - November 2nd

                            Costumes Spark Outrage

Thursday night’s Halloween revels were marred by several incidents surrounding the alleged insensitivity of some costumes, with one incident resulting in violence. Accusations ranged from racism and sexism to cultural appropriation.

One student, dressed as prominent transsexual Caitlyn Jenner, attended Wolcott House’s annual “Inferno” event, and was confronted by a number of other students from the Devon LGBT Coalition who were angry that the student in question was not, himself, LGBT, and was possibly making light of Jenner and transsexualism. The confrontation grew heated and drew the attention of some campus Democrats, also in attendance, who were offended over Jenner’s coming out as a Republican. This precipitated an angry exchange between the two groups, described by one observer as a “fight over who was more offended.” Sometime during the exchange, the student dressed as Jenner left the party without ever being identified.

Elsewhere, a party goer at the Beta Psi fraternity, dressed as the “Frito Bandito,” drew the ire of members of the Latino House. Seeing a post of the offending costume on the fraternity’s Instagram page, members of the Latino House demanded entry to the party to confront the offending cartoon bandit. When told they were not on the party’s list, a fight ensued, prompting an appearance by the Havenport police. No arrests were made.

“This is an outrage,” said Vincent Lopez, a member of the Latino House. “The Frito Bandito plays into the worst sort of Mexican stereotypes. And even if it didn’t, what right does this white person of privilege have to appropriate a Latino character?”

Beta Psi president Ted Hutchins stated, “It was a private party and besides, people should just lighten the f**k up.”

Asked to comment, Martika Malik-Adams, the Devon’s Dean of Diversity and Inclusion, stated she was “troubled,” and that her department was forming a committee to set costume guidelines going forward.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Campusland Snippet #6 - The Tarzan of Anderson House

A story from Devon back in the day when her father Sheldon was a freshman. Lulu will find inspiration from it when she hits a low point...

The Tarzan of Anderson House

Late one night, someone lowered a window on the fifth floor of Anderson House, a freshman dorm on the East Quad right across from Duffy. Yelling into the darkness, he executed a perfect Tarzan call, right out of the back lot jungles of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. It went largely unnoticed, but then he did it again the next night. And the next, and the next after that, all at precisely the same time: 11:09. 

After a week or so, a small crowd began to gather, eager for the nightly Tarzan call. That no one knew the would-be Tarzan’s identity added to the crowd’s general ironic self-amusement. (No one liked self-consciously ironic humor more than Devonites.) It was always dark and Tarzan never stuck his head out far enough to be identified. No one in Anderson was talking, either. When the Devon Daily wrote a piece about it, the crowds got larger, numbering in the hundreds each night, their excitement often fueled by alcohol. Tarzan developed a sense of drama, now delaying his nightly calls by a few minutes to build the anticipation. Other pseudo Tarzans would call out from Pope and Ketcham but these pretenders were always roundly booed by the crowd. Only the Anderson House Tarzan was worthy of their adoration. They chanted, Tar-zan, Tar-zan, building in volume until, at last, he would come. 

As the fame of the Anderson House Tarzan grew, someone at the Daily wrote, “I was reminded of those old film reels from Mussolini rallies in the 30s, where the crowd would screamIl Duce’ over and over until he appeared on the balcony.” Tarzan-themed parties sprang up around campus, serving “jungle juice” (naturally) and campus conversation was of little else. Things in East Quad eventually got so unruly that the administration felt the need to intervene. They narrowed the possible Tarzans down to five, and let it be known through the Anderson RAs that Tarzan could have one final call, and then no more. 

That night, over a thousand people gathered in East Quad, many dressed as Tarzan or Jane. There were one or two ape suits as well. The Devon Marching Band showed up, playing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” over and over (it was the only jungle-themed song they knew). Some reporters from the CBS Evening News even came, planning on doing one of those human interest pieces that come at the end of the broadcast, the ones that always start with, “And finally tonight…” All this had the effect of whipping the crowd into a frenzy. One observer later described them as a “mob, coiled as a spring.” Finally, the window opened, and a single hand emerged to silence the crowd. As a midnight calm fell over the scene, there came the most beautiful, perfectly executed Tarzan call that anyone had ever heard. When it stopped, there were a few moments of reverent silence, as if the crowd was moved by what they had just heard. 

And then everyone pretty much lost their minds.

The crowd became a mob in a matter of seconds, starting with throwing rocks at Anderson, smashing most of the windows. Were they angry that they could no longer have their Tarzan? Perhaps. Or were they just whipped up into a frenzy of self-amusement? Those asked later didn’t really have an answer. It just seemed like the thing to do. 

Having dispensed with Anderson, the mob moved out onto Dudley Street, trampling cars, tearing off their shirts, making jungle noises and beating their chests. By the time the Havenport police arrived over a dozen vehicles had been damaged. Two dozen students spent the night as guests of the city. CBS News got its story, but it was no longer of the human-interest variety. Their lead in was, “Violence Erupts on Devon Campus.” 

No one ever did figure out who Tarzan was. Sheldon said at his 25th reunion at least seven classmates claimed the Tarzan mantle for themselves, though Sheldon said the real Tarzan would never be one to take personal credit.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Campusland Snippet #5 - Meet Stillman Weathers, Devon Board Chair

When things at Devon go awry, the Chairman of the Board of Governors has to make an unscheduled visit. Good thing he's got his new toy...

Stillman Weathers

Stillman Weathers poked at his tuna tartare and looked out the cabin window. With a cruising altitude of 42,000 feet, his company’s brand new Gulfstream G650 didn't offer much to see. Even the clouds looked far below. 

Stillman rubbed the soft Spanish leather on his armrest. He loved his new toy, which seated eight, had a crew of four, and a top speed just shy of Mach 1. 

He liked saying that. Mach 1. The speed of sound. The G650 waiting list was long but Stillman’s company had always been a good Gulfstream customer, so they got the fourth one off the line. He noticed it was the only one parked at Davos last month. 

With its final configuration, the tab to his company came to $72 million. This had given Stillman some pause, but he worked hard, and it wouldn’t do to waste half his days in commercial airports, not with what his time was worth. And besides, his company, Loritel Industries, made $3.2 billion last quarter. The shareholders wouldn’t squawk, that’s for sure. Not with numbers like those. 

“Will that be all, Mr. Weathers?” asked Jenny, the plane’s stewardess. 

“Yes, thank you, Jenny. You can knock off for a bit.”

Today, Stillman was the only passenger. As the Chairman of Devon’s Board of Governors, he was heading to Havenport for an emergency meeting of the Steering Committee, which was basically the small subset of the board that actually got things done. The board itself had forty-five members, a size that maximized financial gifts but rendering productive meetings impossible. When you got right down to it, the broader board didn’t do much, not that anyone on the outside had to know. 

The unscheduled trip was an inconvenience, but Stillman was silently pleased to think he was riding to the rescue. Being Chair of Devon’s board pleased Stillman almost as much as being CEO of Loritel…no, it pleased him more. For better or worse, the corporate world was tainted. They were moneymen, strivers, never completely respected in the corridors of media and political power. He’d given over $100 million of his shareholders’ money away last year to various charities to wash himself of the stain, and naturally he signaled his disdain for the current administration in Washington at every opportunity, but still…the stain remained. He felt it. 

Academia, on the other hand, was still the province of an intellectual nobility, where inhabitants toiled in the pursuit of pure truth, not mammon. While Stillman projected an image of serene authority, he was secretly as thrilled as a little boy about his ascendancy to the Devon Chair. It conferred, in the circles he cared about, a legitimacy that couldn’t be bought. And heck, he still loved the place, having spent his undergraduate years as a history major and heavyweight rower. In many ways, those were the best four years of his life. 

The situation with the black students would have to be handled with tact. When he was a student, back in the early seventies, there were minority students on campus, but nothing like today, what with outreach being such a priority. At his last reunion, a classmate of his - whose son had recently been rejected - quipped that back in their day, if you saw a black student you might whisper they were likely a football or basketball player. Now, the joke went, if you saw a preppie white kid you might mutter, “probably a lacrosse player.” Like most successful jokes, it had the air of truth. Times had changed, and it was part of Stillman’s job to help the school navigate that change. He couldn’t allow anything to undermine Devon’s reputation and, not unimportantly, his own. In Stillman’s world, a well-maintained order was the most virtuous state of affairs. 

But he wondered about Milton. What kind of show was he running? Events were spinning beyond his control. Stillman would bottom line this thing and put it in the rear view mirror. That’s what he did. If some knuckles had to be rapped, so be it. 

Since this was his first trip to Devon in his new iron, his people had to call to make sure Havenport Airport’s lone runway had the necessary length. It could, if just barely. Iron. It’s what CEOs called their planes when they were in each other’s company. He loved that word.  

He felt the G650 start its long descent. Maybe he’d tell the pilot to come in low over the campus on approach so he could see how the two new houses were coming.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Campusland Snippet #4 - the Brothers of Beta House

No tale of college life is complete without a fraternity in the mix, right? Meet the Betas. The university hates them, but they're okay with that. In this scene, they're pretty much lying around doing nothing, but things will heat up later.

Excuse the language, but this is college we're talking about.

The Brothers of Beta House

Finn Belcher, a slovenly but tech-savvy brother from the mid-west, walked into the common room, waiving his phone. “I’ve been working on an app.”

Everyone, it seemed, was working on an app. Jimbo Peters had one that required you blow into a breathalyzer - attached to your phone - before calling or texting anyone you had previously tagged as an ex. The default blood-alcohol threshold was .08, same as drunk driving, but you could set it wherever you wanted. Someone else had an app where you could calculate your carbon offset based on how much you farted. You had to take the phone out and notify the app with every fart, which the brothers, who were all recruited as beta-testers, turned into something of a contest. In the end, The Mound didn’t have any real competition.

Unlike most of the brothers, though, Finn was a Comp Sci major and actually had some coding chops. This had the others listening in semi-interest. “You point your phone at someone,” Finn said, “push this red button, and the app randomly pairs a word with “douche.”

“A demonstration, if you will,” suggested Teddy, sitting up with growing interest.

Finn pointed his phone at Teddy and pressed down. The phone suddenly spoke in a high, nasally voice.


He pressed again.


“Again!” Teddy said.


“Or if you want, you can stick with the classic…” Finn pushed a second button repeatedly.

Douche! Douche! Douche!

“You can also change the voice.” He clicked again, this time producing a basso profundo.

Douche! Douche! Douche!

“That is fuckin’ awesome! squealed Digger. He and Teddy high-fived. “I so need that.”

“Of course, it’s not completely random, since you can only pair with nouns, and not every noun is funny when you pair it with douche. Something like douche “motherboard” would, you know, suck…”

“Would suck balls, sure,” Teddy said.

“But a surprising number of words actually work.”

“How many you up to?” inquired Digger.

“Seven hundred and forty-two.”

“Do you have douche “rocket?” asked Digger, intently.

“Nice one! Consider it added.”

“Does this app have a name?” Teddy asked.

“I was thinking of “Douche Buddy.”

“Belch, we are humbled,” said Teddy. “You are a credit to the fraternal order.”

Another brother wandered in, Bryce Hillson from New York. “Hey guys, I know this freshman chick from the city. Smoke show. Mind putting her on the list for tonight?”

“Our man Mound is manning the door. Hey Mound, wake up!”

Mound, a football player of prodigious girth, had been buried in a nearby couch, sleeping. He reluctantly rolled over. “The fuck,” he said. He meant, why did you bother me just now and what do you want? Mound was gifted with an economy of speech. Teddy liked to say he was post-articulate.

“Bryce’s got some chick he wants on the list.”


“Lulu Harris.”

“Done.” The Mound rolled back over.

“Hey Mound, any good hit-and-runs today?” asked Digger. Mound’s thing was to tour Devon’s newly designated transgender bathrooms where he’d lay down a tremendous bowel movement in each. It was about as political as Mound got. The brothers were tracking his progress with great interest.

From deep in the couch: “Fuckin’ a.” Why yes, I had some success in that matter.

“Good man, Mound.”

Mound was an anchor on the Devon football team. Last year, he led the team with forty-eight tackles. He was not, however, destined to be remembered for gridiron heroics, but rather for an academic misadventure of sorts. During last year’s football season, Mound took Art History 101 because he heard it was a blow-off. Students were assigned to pick any artist that was well represented in the Devon Gallery of Art and write a paper about that artist’s stylistic evolution. Venturing to the gallery for the first time, Mound examined the small labels next to each painting with care and picked an artist who seemed well represented, who painted in many different styles, and whose career was extraordinarily long.

That artist’s name was “Circa.”

Mound’s teaching assistant handed the resulting paper back with “Are you a moron? written in big red ink letters. That was it. Are you a moron. No grade. Apparently the “F” didn’t require extra ink to be understood.
Confused and seeking elucidation, Mound made the mistake of showing the paper to his roommate Jimbo, who was also in the class. Elucidation was not forthcoming. Jimbo promptly ran into the dining hall, laughing hysterically and wielding the paper for all to behold. One student wag pointed out that if Mound had turned the same paper in as an ironic statement on, say, the “cultural vapidity of traditional art,” he’d surely have scored an A.

The Mound was less amused.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Campusland Snippet #3 - Meet Red Wheeler

Red is the acknowledged progressive leader at Devon, the most woke guy on campus, but coming events will challenge his status as alpha dog.

Red Wheeler

Red plopped on the faded couch and lit his first joint of the day. It was 1 p.m. Others joined him. Despite the warm weather, Red wore a rainbow knit cap that bulged with the effort to contain his dreadlocks. When he pulled the cap off his Rasta-style braids spilled out like a tangle of cinnamon snakes.

Red wasn’t his given name but it had followed him from birth when he came out of the womb with his unmistakably vibrant scalp. Later, the name gelled nicely with his flavor of politics. He was a product of Buckley and Exeter, educational bona fides unsurpassed in the eyes of the eastern establishment. That Red was a product of that establishment, with a rich grandfather and a trust fund of considerable heft, was something he had dedicated himself to living down, at least outwardly. He loved walking into his grandfather’s Park Avenue offices, dreadlocks screaming defiance as he strolled by all the work-slaves.

But the truth was, having the money freed him from having to make any himself, from being a cog in someone else’s corporate machine. No one was going to exploit Red Wheeler. This rationalization gave him comfort.
Red was one of those people who just always seemed to be around. Every university had a few; inhabitants who found creative ways to extend their collegiate experience far beyond the usual boundaries. Red was in his seventh year, having found Devon much to his liking. He’d been a handful of philosophy credits shy of graduating for some time, a process he managed with care. Technically, he wasn’t enrolled at the moment at all and lived off campus.

Being at Devon relieved Red of any responsibility, from having to figure out what The Plan was. His family was big on planning. Red, not so much. He liked things one day at a time. The pursuit of progressive causes conferred a needed sense of purpose and also acted as a shield of sorts. When you’re saving the world, no one should be on your case about a goddamn plan. Better yet, progressivism came with its own pre-packaged lifestyle of clothes and rallies and pleasing pharmaceuticals. It was a lifestyle Red fully embraced.  
The others usually deferred to Red, as he was older and had seen his share of The Struggle, drifting seamlessly between causes - G7 Summits, Occupy, Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March, Antifa…he was universally acknowledged to be “woke.” When Trump was elected, he rallied four hundred students into the middle of the East Quad for a primal scream at 3 a.m. It got over 200,000 views on YouTube. He really made his name as a sophomore, when he led a student movement to force the endowment to divest from fossil fuel companies. Borrowing from the eighties playbook when Devon anti-partied demonstrators constructed a shantytown, he rallied students to build a “zero net energy village” right in Bingham Plaza. Consisting mostly of unsightly yurts, slapdash lean-tos, and other tent-like structures, it prompted Milton Strauss to announce over a billion dollars of divestment. Red was quoted in The New York Times.

There were always rumors around Red after that, talk of some hacking, maybe even with Anonymous, the infamous hacker collective known for wearing Guy Fawkes masks. Red did little to dispel these rumors, keeping a Fawkes mask lying casually around his apartment. The truth was he never got any further than Comp Sci 101 way back in freshman year.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Campusland - Meet Lulu and the Society of Fellingham

A few days ago I posted the first snippet of Campusland, my new novel. While the protagonist is Ephraim Russell, an English teacher longing for tenure, Devon University is a place filled with strange tribes, each with its colorful members.

Lulu is a freshman - excuse me, first-year - who aspires to be a New York socialite and thinks college, even one as prestigious as Devon, is sidelining her while rivals back in Manhattan jockey for It Girl status.

But then her upper-class friend Shelly takes her to meet an eccentric bunch she can relate to, and things turn for the better...

The Society of Fellingham

“I told Lulu that Devon is not the social wasteland she thinks it is,” Shelly said.

“Well it is, God knows, but there are redoubts of civility,” Win said.

“I take it you mean here?” Lulu said. Win just smiled, eyebrows arching. “So, where is here, exactly?”

“The Society of Fellingham.” It came out Fellingum.

“She wants to know what goes on here, you wanker,” Shelly said.

“What goes on here, what goes on here….How shall I say it? We are a haven, a refuge, if you will, for a certain sort. We value the arts and have frequent soirees, most notably for Lord Fellingum’s birthday. We are comfortable in formal wear, and most of us speak several languages.”

Je vois,” Lulu said. I see.

Ah, très fábuleux, mon cher.” Win clinked his glass on Lulu's, pleased with their mutual fabulousness. “But I really should defer to Frazier.” Turning, he waived across the room. “Frazier, a moment.”

Frazier disengaged from a conversation with an impossibly thin brunette girl with enormous gold hoop earrings and traversed the room. “Hello, Shel.” His eyes turned to Lulu. “Well, whom do we have here?”

“Meet Lulu…Harris?”

“Yes, Harris.”

“Harris.” Win let the word hang there for a moment, as if divining the name’s uncertain origins. “Well, Lulu, meet Frazier Langham, our club historian. Frazier, meet Lulu Harris, freshman.”

“The pleasure is mine,” Frazier said. He sported a blazer and rep tie, perfectly knotted. “And aren’t we supposed to be saying freshperson, or something?”

“Wait, we have an historian?” Shelly asked.

“It’s first-year now,” Lulu said. “The word ‘fresh’ targets us for sexual violence. I got a pamphlet. It’s all there.”

“A pamphlet! How wonderful!” Win declared, clapping his hands. “You must bring us one. One has so much trouble keeping up with the nomenclature.” He laughed, imagining he had made a particularly clever bon mot. “Anyway, Frazier here is, in fact, the society’s historian. I thought he might give you the sordid details.”

“I will go all the way back to the beginning.” Frazier liked few things more than talking about the Fellinghams. “Our little island of civility was founded nine years ago by - “

“Hold on, you sure you can keep track of all that history, Frazier? I mean, nine years…”

“Shut up, Shel, you harpy!” Win blurted. “It’s important for any organization to have institutional memory.”

“Okay, I’ll be good. Do go on.” Shelly smiled and sipped her Pimm’s.

“The Society of Fellingham,” Frazier continued, “was founded nine years ago by Sir Alexander Hargrove. A freshman at the time, he found the university’s social options lacking, at least for one as he, born of the British aristocracy. The society was named for Hargrove’s direct ancestor, Lord Herebert Fellingham, the 2nd Marquees of Fellingham, who lived in the seventeenth century and was a prominent supporter of James II. Sir Alex was a traditional monarchist, you see, and the society’s mission statement asserts that we will strive to reinstate the primacy of monarchic rule, and that America, in particular, should be returned to the monarchic fold. Also, there should be many formal affairs with free flowing alcohol.”

“Long live the Queen!” shouted Win.

The few dozen others in the room stopped what they were doing. Raising their Pimm’s, they shouted back, “Long live the Queen!

Frazier continued. “The scepter was chosen as our symbol, and you can see our sacred scepter, handed down through generations of Hargroves, hanging over the mantlepiece.”

Shelly snorted. “I didn’t know they made cubic zirconium way back then.”

Frazier ignored her. “Sir Alex decreed that only students who were members of the aristocracy could join, but he soon discovered this meant Fellinghams would have a membership of two, himself and Ahmed Farooq. Ahmed was the grand-nephew of the deposed Shah of Iran, so he was a fellow traveler, aristocratically speaking. Regrettably, Farooq’s family had been chased from the family seat by street mobs during the Revolution, but he still qualified. Ahmed aside, though, Sir Alex was distraught to learn that he had arrived in something of an aristocratic wasteland.”

“He did know he was in, like, America, right?” Lulu asked.

“That’s not entirely clear. He was intoxicated for most of the six years he was here, and he may not have technically graduated. Pembroke College at Cambridge had been the family’s scholastic heritage for centuries but they say Sir Alex couldn’t settle on a subject of study, which makes admission at Cambridge problematic, as was the fact he may or may not have written, “Bugger off” as the response to one of his A-Level essay questions. We believe he chose Devon because it’s the closest approximation to Oxbridge, with our gothic spires and house system. But some details of the story are lost in the mists of time.”

“He graduated three years ago,” Shelly offered, being helpful, as always.

“Anyway, Sir Alex decided to grant admittance to others who could at least act with the appropriate social graces, and Fellinghams was founded with nineteen initial members. They had no house, of course, and held meetings at the residence of a former professor, one who professed to be an Anglophile. Regrettably, it turned out he was a predatory homosexual, which made it necessary to make other arrangements. A year later, Sir Alex set his eyes on this very edifice. Lacking sufficient funds for the purchase, as his family was some three generations removed anything resembling actual wealth, he persuaded his now close friend, Ahmed, to foot the bill. Ahmed’s family had managed to escape Iraq with Swiss bank accounts of considerable health, you see, so it was a small matter.”

“To the damn Persian!” Win cried.

To Ahmed!” answered everyone.

“So, how goes it with the whole monarchy thing?” Lulu asked, suppressing a giggle.

“Splendidly,” Win answered. “We’re having a party to celebrate Prince Harry’s birthday next month. Perhaps you might attend.”

“Huzzah!” Frazier cried, in apparent agreement.

Someone turned the music up and the night became a blur of alcohol, toasts, and slightly loosened neckties. In the fullness of the evening, Win removed the scepter from the mantle and led a march around the living room, waiving the scepter from side to side like a drum major. Each time the line passed the bar a slug whiskey was all but required. Presently, it was decided that food was an urgent requirement, and so Win led a small parade to Gino’s Pizza down the block, everyone singing That Gay Old Devon That I Love along the way. Five pies were ordered in high Elizabethan English from Gino, otherwise known as “my good man.”

Gino didn’t mind - this wasn’t the first time. But he did wonder about the university now and then.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Introducing Campusland, a New Novel

You may have noticed I have been posting less frequently over the past months. The reason is my spare time has been devoted to writing a novel, which I have more or less finished. It's called Campusland, and it's a satire about the modern American university. No one else seemed to be doing it, and someone had to, right? Honestly, the biggest challenge was satirizing a subject that is already so self-satirical.

I also wanted to see if I could do this, write a full novel. I always wondered, how do they do that? Novels are such triumphs of the imagination. It was an itch I wanted to scratch, so half my goal has been accomplished. The other half involves discovering if anyone other than me wants to read it.

Another part of my motivation was to poke merciless fun at campus culture, something that has grown completely out of hand. Political correctness is a menace and a threat to our basic freedoms, particularly speech. Nowhere is this more true than the modern university. Hopefully humor can be a weapon in opposition.

So, the Naked Dollar will take a different turn for a while. I'm going to post excerpts from Campusland. Hopefully you like them, and I always appreciate feedback. I should note the book is not available yet. Soon I plan to go out and look for an agent, a process with which I am completely unfamiliar. If anyone knows one, let me know!

Brief plot summary: The story takes place over a single academic year. Ephraim Russell is Assistant Professor of English at the prestigious Devon University, and he's up for tenure. The problem is, he's a cultural outsider, and there are landmines everywhere. Things get crazy.

In this scene, Eph and his girlfriend D'Arcy are wining and dining Sophia Birdsong, who has just been appointed to Devon's tenure committee. She has brought an interesting date named Darrin.

Double Date

Eph stared across the table at Sophie Birdsong and her - their - date, whose name was Darrin. Having learned his lesson in the past, he was hesitant to make any assumptions about Darrin’s genetic provenance. Not out loud, anyway. The longer he spent in the northeast, the more aware he became of the cultural minefields. In his thought bubbles Darrin was “she.”

Outwardly, Darrin was a beautiful woman, although for Eph her completely shaved head complicated the picture. She was considerably younger than Birdsong and had pale, delicate features. A ring pierced her nose while a series of smaller rings climbed the outer edge of her right ear. A tattoo on her neck read, “Do not resuscitate.” Eph silently speculated where Darrin placed herself among Facebook’s fifty-eight genders but decided the exercise would be a distraction.

For dinner, they'd settled on Calendar, a new restaurant that varied its menu based on the time of year and what could be locally sourced. The amateur critics on Yelp liked it, one reviewer saying it was a “fresh newcomer on the burgeoning Havenport food scene, offering a mélange of seasonally correct cuisine.” It was mid-January, so Eph hoped for something other than root vegetables.

The menus were printed on some kind of particle board. At the bottom they said, “Made from 100% American hemp.” Eph was relieved to see a varied selection of meats, game, and vegetables.

“So, how long have you two been together?” Eph asked, hoping to steer the conversation back to how long he and D’Arcy had been together. He shoved feelings of shamelessness into a deep pit where they could not be retrieved. Tenure was tenure.

“About six months,” Birdsong said.

“How did you meet?”

“At a poetry slam in Brooklyn. Darrin is a poet.”

“That is so awesome,” D’Arcy said, looking for a way into the conversation. “I love poetry. Are you published anywhere?”

Darrin fiddled with one of her many piercings, which appeared to be bothering her. “I don’t write any of it down. I don’t believe in it.”

“Where does it go?” D’Arcy asked.

“I only speak it aloud, and only once. Sometimes in front of others, and sometimes all by myself. I spoke my last work to a small copse of trees.”

“How intriguing. Why don’t you like to write it down? I’m sure people would enjoy it.”

Darrin lowered her apple martini, which was disappearing quickly. Her face betrayed the briefest hint of contempt. “True poetry,” she said, “should be as fleeting as momentary gust of wind, relevant only to the moment, the right now, and then as disposable as our culture. I compose for only the present, not for yesterday or next week.”

“I see,” D’Arcy said, not sure she did at all. “That is so interesting.”

“Is it?” asked Darrin, looking absently into space.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Is Yale Lost?

A Yale admissions officer named Hannah Mendlowitz recently penned a blog (an official Yale blog, mind you) that said Yale Admissions would not penalize applicants who took time off from school to participate in anti-gun rallies. Rather, they might be rewarded for it. "We expect students who come to Yale to be versed in issues of social justice," she said.

In other words, if you are active in issues Yale cares about, you'll have a leg up. But what if you take time off from school to march against say, abortion or, God forbid, in favor of 2nd Amendment rights? Good luck winning a ticket to New Haven. High schoolers today are savvy enough to omit such things from their college applications. What a shame.

I encourage you to read every word of Hannah Mendlowitz's piece.

Some Yale friends and I were emailing back and forth about this, and one had a response that I reprint here, with his permission. It addresses how progressives have colonized Yale and just about every other American institution over the last few decades, and it is worthy of a broader distribution than our little email group. He wishes to remain anonymous, lest business colleagues hold it against him (another shame):

I noted the (Yale) story not with surprise, but with the usual dismay. And in fairness to you, Scott, it is necessary to point out the bare facts when people have made up their minds to deny the obvious.

After more than 20 years of Yale Alumni interviewing, I am not surprised that the Admissions Office is signaling preference for budding social justice warriors. I would say 90% of the would-be Yalies I interviewed talked up their Social Justice and associated environmental interests and activism as prime reasons they were interested in going to Yale and as evidence that they were deserving. They got that idea somehow, and they weren’t wrong.

The question is always - so what are we supposed to do about it? A certain amount of complaining is in order, and it could lead the administration to do the usual PR juggling act to hocus inconvenient stories out of sight, only to restore the provocative policy when no one is looking.

The sad reality is that our college was colonized long ago by movement people. Once you have the faculty, the administration, and a compliant board, what else do you need? It is their university, and they will do with it what they want as long as they don’t need our money, and they don’t. The Admissions Office is aware that it is a gatekeeper for entry into an elite, and they want to make sure that those who pass through the gate are as in-line with the movement’s goals and values as possible. Put a drink in them, and they will confess to it. They want what they want; there is no reason to trust them to do anything else. They could be U Chicago, if they wanted. They don't.

I am open to suggestions. Certainly, there are opportunities for subversive political street theatre, though the young dissidents will need to take their game up a notch. Perhaps supportive alums should take steps to help dissidents land on their feet with respect to their postgraduate careers by extending patronage. The Left has been doing that forever, and it one of their keys to making sure that people stay active and in-line. 

Money talks. Certainly, cutting off money for administration activists so that they lose their jobs would change the playing field. That can’t be done at Yale, but perhaps it can be done over time at public universities. Or perhaps conditioning Federal student loans in some way would get their attention. Cutting off (or even reducing) the flow of  public money to activists will be seen as an existential threat, because it would be. If there were no jobs for SJW’s, there would be a lot fewer of them.

The bad news news is that the movement is now working hard to colonize private companies—that’s what the Damore story at Google was all about. The rent-seeking and will to power are pretty apparent. Big Tech is nearly gone. Fortune 500 size companies are completely exposed. Advertising, Entertainment, and Media? ‘Nuff said. Converting big companies into Social Justice vehicles has been an explicit goal for more than 20 years, and the investment is paying dividends. People better informed than I can speak to conditions in Big Finance. Movement penetration in law, government jobs, and the judiciary is obvious enough to everyone. By no coincidence, this is where Yalies go.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Myth of Public Service

Note: I haven't posted for a while, so I apologize. All I can say is it's for a good reason. I've been spending most of my free time working on a novel. It's called "Campusland" and it's a satirical dive into one year at a modern American campus. More details and maybe some excerpts to follow!

Recently, a college classmate of mine posted something on our class's Facebook page. It was a ranking of U.S. colleges by the percentage of grads going into public service. She was very proud as our school was in the top 10.

Here are the top schools by this metric:

1. William and Mary                      32%
2. George Washington                  31
3. Univ. of Chicago                        30
4. Brandeis                                    28
5. Brown                                        27
6. Univ. of Rochester                     26
7. Yale                                           26
8. Emory                                        25 
9. Washington Univ. St. Louis        25
10. Georgetown                             24

Against my better judgment, I couldn't let this pass. I posted a comment to the effect that I'd like to see our school at the bottom of this list, pointing out that "public service" means "government."

My views were not well received.

But, seriously, whose going to make our country great, people in the private sector, ones who take risks, create new products and companies and jobs, or someone going to work for the Education Department or the IRS?

What also sticks in my craw is the implicit message that those choosing public service are somehow making a sacrifice and should be admired for it. What baloney. According to the government's own figures (the CBO), college grads in the federal government earn 5% more than their private sector counterparts. But that's only the beginning. If you include benefits, annual comp for federal employees is a staggering 52% higher. 


It doesn't end there. Government workers have near bullet proof job security, immune to economic cycles and structural shifts in the economy. They also have staggeringly generous defined benefit retirement packages into which they have to contribute little. On the other hand, most people in the private sector have to save for their own retirements. 

When thinking through any course of reasoning, a useful exercise is to take an argument to its extreme. In this case, what if 100% of college grads went to work for the government. Who, exactly, would pay their salaries?

So, college grads, go feed at the public teat if you must, but don't expect my admiration.