Posts Tagged ‘education’

Bothersome ‘facts’ don’t square with governor’s claim

September 22, 2011

To those who have wondered how Tea Party types with limited comprehension of subjects like “science” and “facts” would govern if elected — look no further than South Carolina.

Our governor, Indo-Hottie Nikki Haley, was swept into office last year after out-stupiding Republican opponents in her party’s primary, then cruising against a Democrat in the general election. She rose from being an obscure legislator to the state’s top office after getting an endorsement from fellow-dunderhead Sarah Palin.

Touting her experience as bookkeeper for her mother’s clothing firm, the former Nimrata Randhawa has staked out what she calls a pro-business agenda. This apparently includes a trip abroad costing in excess of $100,000 to lure European companies to move to South Carolina, an effort which not surprisingly has yet to yield results.

Though she spouts the standard anti-government rhetoric of the Tea Party — even to the point of refusing federal funds that might mitigate the state’s horrendous education and employment rates — she’s all too ready to insert the state into people’s private lives through the drug-testing business. She wants those receiving unemployment and other government benefits to generate a drug-free stream of urine before they are qualified to avoid starvation and homelessness.

Haley bases this cornerstone of her public policy on a conversation she “thought” she had while campaigning at the Energy Department’s Savannah River nuclear site.

“We were on the site. There were multiple people in there. And that comment they made had a huge impact on me,” Haley told the Associated Press recently. “It’s the reason you’re hearing me look into whether we can do drug testing. Somebody can’t say that and it not stick you in the gut.”

The “that” which Haley vaguely remembers is this: half the people applying for work at the site failed their pre-employment drug test, and half the remainder couldn’t pass reading and writing tests. Since “learning” that “fact,” Haley has used the illustration to justify her attempt to link drug tests to benefits.

Haley said she’s probably repeated the story “a million times” since hearing it. Trouble is, the story is not even close to being true.

Department of Energy spokesman Jim Giusti says that less than one percent of workers failed pre-employment screening tests. This matches up with reports by Quest Diagnostics, a national drug testing company, that show on average less than two percent of people test positive for drugs nationally.

Haley now admits that she’s “frustrated” that she can’t document something that has so shaped her policy perspective.

“I’ve never felt like I had to back up what people tell me. You assume that you’re given good information,” Haley said. “And now I’m learning through you guys [the press] that I have to be careful.”

The people who misinformed her are “now all backing off saying it,” Haley offered. “And they know they said it. But now they don’t have the backup.”

“I’m not going to say it anymore,” Haley finally conceded.

As for the other half of applicants who allegedly couldn’t pass reading and writing tests, Haley has offered no similar concession. But it’s probably true that, thanks to education budgets gutted by successive Republican governors, close to half of a random sampling of South Carolinians could be illiterate.

One interesting footnote: Quest’s annual survey did show that the overall drug test failure rate for South Carolina was 6.5 percent, about four times the national average though still well short of Haley’s 50 percent claim. But all that proves is that you have to be stoned to voluntarily live in the Palmetto State.

South Carolina governor Nikki Haley

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Congress reluctantly returns from summer break

September 7, 2011

Fresh off their summer recess, congresspeople returned to Washington this week with a mixture of enthusiasm for the new year and the usual spate of confusion following such a long layoff.

As might be expected, Tuesday’s first day was filled more with uncertainty than with getting down to work, as legislators struggled with new schedules, new subjects and becoming comfortable with new routines.

“It’s natural that there’s a bit of disorder on the first day,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “But by the end of this week, I feel confident we’ll be back to the same dysfunctional body we were before the recess.”

There are no new members in the returning 112th Congress. However, the five-week August vacation has always caused some rough patches, and this year’s return could be especially bumpy because so many freshmen Republicans were not especially bright to begin with.

“We planned on the first few weeks being remedial work, with lots of review,” said House sergeant-at-arms Bill Livingood. “It can be tough getting the guys back on task after they’ve spent the summer swimming, camping, playing stickball and such. I’m confident they’ll be back to square one by no later than Thanksgiving.”

Evidence of bewilderment was not hard to find Tuesday.

“I couldn’t find my new committee room,” complained Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.). “I thought it was on the second floor but I couldn’t find the ‘up’ staircase, and a guy on the ‘down’ stairs gave me a noogie when I tried to get past him.

“It hurt,” he added. “I’m telling.”

Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.) said he didn’t know representatives were going to be assigned new lockers over the break, and was disturbed to find that authorities had cut off his old combination lock and given the space to someone new.

“I had that combination memorized, too,” Berg said. “Now my mom is going to have to buy a new one, and she’s going to be mad.”

Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) said he brought the same supplies he did on the first day after the spring recess, but these turned out to be all wrong.

“Apparently, I have to have college-ruled notebook paper, not standard-ruled,” Price complained. “Also, I’m not sure I have enough crayons in the 24-pack that I bought. And to top it off, I got my compass confiscated at security because it was too pointy.”

On the other side of the Capitol, incoming senators were also wrestling with the after-effects of vacation.

“They gave me a new bill to read and, when I opened it up, there was a big wad of gum right in the middle of the enacting clause,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kent.). “As a good fiscal conservative, I didn’t want it to go to waste so I dug it out and started chewing on it rather than appropriating funds for a new piece. But I didn’t like it. Sour apple is not my favorite flavor.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who inherited a desk used earlier this year by Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell, grumbled that graffiti carved into his hardwood desktop made it difficult for him to do his penmanship exercises.

“All over the top, there’s ‘I ♥ Sarah’ and ‘Mr. Mitchell M. Palin’,” Schumer told reporters. “He should get in trouble for that.”

As rough as it was in the morning of the first day, things got even worse when lunchtime arrived. Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) forgot his lunch money, while Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) discovered a baloney sandwich in his lunchbox “even though my mom knows I hate baloney.”

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) complained that fellow Republican Reid Ribble of Colorado tried to cut in front of him in the lunch line “even though I told him ‘no butts.'” And the House’s only openly gay legislator, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), was confused about where to sit under the new boy-girl-boy-girl seating pattern mandated by reforms passed last year.

By the afternoon, though, some semblance of normality seemed to be returning. Several subcommittee meetings went off with barely a hitch, despite complaints from a handful of junior members that “the chairman hates me” or “I didn’t know that subject (commerce, manufacturing and trade) would be so hard.”

“You could tell by the end of the day that we’re already getting back to usual,” House sergeant Livingood said. “We were down to the petty stuff by then, stuff like ‘those super-committee guys (members of the joint select committee on deficit reduction named as part of the debt ceiling compromise) are so conceited.’

“I bet by the end of the week, we’ll be completely back to normal,” he continued. “And, of course, by ‘normal’ I mean totally out of touch with the American people, concerned only about their re-election and how much partisan bickering they can get into without being called into someone’s office.”

Reps. Chris Smith, left, and John Mica discuss legislation to ban cooties.

Revisited: I do declare I’m pursuing some happiness

July 4, 2011

I thought I’d engage in the “pursuit of happiness” today by doing one of my favorite leisure activities, criticizing the efforts of others. My neighbors look like they have a grand cookout going next door, and the people down the street are loading up their boat trailer for an outing on the lake. Later tonight, there will be several fireworks displays to choose from.

I won’t be enjoying my holiday with any of these frivolous pursuits. Instead, I think it’s important that someone point out the awkward and archaic writing style of our Founding Fathers, as exemplified by their 1776 term paper entitled “A Declaration of Independence.”

I’m not positive it’s a term paper, but it sure reads like one, what with all the run-on sentences and pretentious word choices and calls for armed insurrection. The Declaration is one of America’s most hallowed documents. This is not because it’s concise and well-reasoned but rather, I think, because it’s handwritten in calligraphy on yellowed parchment and contains lots of words like “usurpation” and “consanguinity.” It eventually gets to the point (King of England bad, New England good), however, it uses such a circuitous route to get there that a reader’s attention is easily lost.

I’ve spent my entire adult career as either an editor or proofreader, and so I take great pride in knowing how to properly use the language. Despite recent debate on this site as to whether or not it’s okay to use “summit” as a verb, and my own internal debate about whether I should counter this challenge from my old college roommate by urging him to “eat me,” I think of myself as an able writer. I probably could’ve even been an English teacher if I’d wanted to.

What follows, then, is my attempt to critique the document that paved the way for this great nation of laws, in which people are free to pursue their dreams for well-being and happiness, as long as that doesn’t include having a secure job or reasonably priced healthcare. The sacred words of the Declaration appear below in black, and my notes follow each paragraph in red.

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When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. [This should be broken up into at least three sentences, which would then enable you to drop one completely. Also, instead of “when in the course of human events,” I might suggest the more colloquial “every now and then” or “from time to time.”]

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. –Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world. [Where do I begin? I know what you mean by “inalienable” but your average reader is going to think they’re getting a science fiction short story. I’d soften the reference to “absolute despotism” so you don’t lose any readers who might be on the fence, and instead go with something like “annoying inconvenience.” Don’t use “usurpation” twice in the same paragraph when “being grabby” might do just as well. And this “Prudence” you introduce needs to have her character fleshed out if the reader is going to sympathize with her.]

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. [I like where you’re going here. People love bullet points. You’ve got the makings of a great PowerPoint slide in these next few punchy lines.]

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. [I’d lose the semicolon. Though it might be technically proper, most people these days think it’s an emoticon, and a forceful call for freedom and justice is only diminished by a winky eye.]

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. [I don’t know what “inestimable” means so you better take it out.]

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. [Criticizing the King’s choice of hotels tends to diminish his other negative traits, like the tyranny and such.]

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. [I’d make the same point about “manly firmness” that I did about “inalienable” — this is not a bodice ripper and it’s not sci fi.]

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. [I like the sense of action you’re trying to portray here with words like “annihilation” and “convulsions” and “invasion” and “exercise.” Keep this up, and you may find yourself writing the screenplay for the next Vin Diesel movie.]

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands. [If you’re trying to make a point about immigration here, you’ve lost me. Also, you should consider a synonym for “hither,” and I wouldn’t recommend “thither.”]

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers. [Good to see you back on the snappy bullet points.]

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. [Now you’re cooking.]

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. [Again with the “hither”? Also, note that “eat out” has at least two unintended meanings you might want to avoid.]

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature. [Would you be happier if they took a seat? JK :) ]

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power. [Timely stuff, in light of the McChrystal story. Way to keep it current.]

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation: [Okay, and that would include…?]

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: [I hope all these colons are just a conversion error. Did you start out in Word Perfect then switch to Word?]

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states: [You might be getting a little carried away with the bullet points.]

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world: [Or might each of these be individual slides?]

For imposing taxes on us without our consent: [Hope you’ve got some clip art]

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury: [My favorite is the one with the guy holding a pointer.]

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses: [Some sea gulls could probably work here.]

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies: [Don’t bring Canada into this unless you’re looking for a big fight on your hands.]

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments: [Serial comma preceding the “and” is not used in American English.]

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever. [Can’t use a period here — it’s not a complete sentence].

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us. [Are you sure you don’t mean “advocated”?]

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. [Are we talking Vin Diesel here or King George III?]

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation. [“Perfidy” will be like, zoom, right over most readers’ heads.]

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands. [Suddenly this is a pirate story? Focus!!]

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. [Very politically incorrect. A more frightening modifier of “savage” might be “Michael”.]

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. [Finally, I see you’re getting to the point. We don’t ask that these essays be a minimum of a thousand words just so you can draw things out. We want instead a thorough argument.]

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends. [You’ll change your feelings once the Beatles come along, trust me.]

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor. [Do you think 18 commas in one sentence might be a tad excessive? There’s also a lot of what I call “la-di-da” in here — sounding all high and mighty and self-important. It’s like the office memo that begins “it has come to my attention” — totally off-putting.]

[All in all, you have some very strong messages here but they tend to get lost in your attempt to show how many big words you know. Breaking free from the powerful English empire is admittedly a difficult enterprise, and you need strong language to accomplish such an effort, though bullets and guns are also going to be helpful. Don’t fall for that old bromide about ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ — that’s a load of crap. Speaking of which, I’m taking off an automatic ten points for submitting your work in longhand rather than in an electronic format. How am I supposed to submit this to TurnItIn.com?]

A pre-school commencement

June 2, 2011

Graduation season is here, and students everywhere are preparing for that next critical step in their lives.

Some will be pounding the pavement, looking for careers that will use their newly acquired skills while providing them with fulfillment and a sense of self-worth, then settling for that greeter opening at Walmart.

Some will leave high school for college in a faraway town, finally emerging as independent adults, at least until they need their roommate to hold their hair while they vomit drunkenly into the john.

Others are merely moving down the hall, from the fun and games of preschool to the academic rigor of K-4.

It’s for this latter group that I was invited last week to deliver a commencement address. I know, I know — it’s preposterous that the trend of endlessly promoting self-esteem has led to formal graduation ceremonies for those barely able to control their bladders.

But more preposterous still is the idea that a 57-year-old blogger would have much in the way of advice to offer a bunch of three-year-olds. A few knew what a “blogger” was; one said he had played his older brother’s “Frogger” game, and looked forward to jumping in front of cars with me. Another noted that I resembled his grandfather, while a third said his grandfather was a “doody-head.”

Despite this rampant lack of maturity among my audience — I won’t even begin to talk about the manners of their parents — I plunged ahead with my address to the group of about 25 graduates of the Richmond Drive Child Enrichment Center. The following is a transcript of my remarks:

Boys and girls, please settle down. I need everyone’s eyes up here on me, and your hands in your laps. Aiden, we’ll get to the cake in just a minute. Sophia, please sit in your chair like a big girl. Mrs. Harrison, please stop hitting Mr. Harrison.

Honored guests, we are gathered here today to recognize a remarkable achievement. Only nine short months ago, you were a bunch of bratty two-year-olds, crying all the time and barely able to feed yourselves.

Now, with the patient help of Miss Carol and Miss Samantha, and the vigilance of your headmaster, who was able to recognize Mr. Bob as a registered violent sex offender and get him imprisoned by the second semester, we have arrived at this day of celebration.

Sophia, please sit down. I am not going to tell you again.

Webster’s defines the word “commencement” as “the beginning of something; as in ‘the commencement of open hostilities.'” Today, you leave the sheltered cocoon of pre-school and go out into the world of four-year-old kindergarten. It is a hostile world, full of challenges and trials and disputes and confrontations. There may even be a few monsters that will want to kill you.

Bailey and Abigail, please stop crying. You need to pull yourselves together.

As I was preparing for today’s address, I Googled the term “commencement speech” and found a lot of good advice. I wish to pass along some of that to you now.

You know, my favorite animal is the turtle. The reason is that for the turtle to move, it has to stick its neck out. There are going to be times in your life when you’re going to have to stick your neck out. There will be challenges and instead of hiding in a shell, you have to go out and meet them.

No, Caleb, I don’t know what’s going to happen to your class’s pet turtle Shelly. I imagine the janitor will flush him down the toilet.

As you head out into the world, you must knock on doors until your knuckles bleed. Doors will slam in your face. You must pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and knock again. It’s the only way to achieve your goals in life.

Yes, Noah, I think it’d be okay to ring the doorbell instead of knocking, assuming you can reach the button.

Never give in to pessimism. Don’t know that you can’t fly, and you will soar like an eagle. Don’t end up regretting what you did not do because you were too lazy or too frightened to soar. Be a bumblebee, and soar to the heavens! You can do it.

Harper, I know you’re afraid of bees, but you’ll just have to stop crying.

Gavin, please step away from the window and return to your seat. I didn’t really mean that you’d be able to fly. It’s what we call a metaphor. You’ll cover that in fifth-grade English.

Kids, you must believe that the sort of life you wish to live is, at this very moment, just waiting for you to summon it up. And when you wish for it, you begin moving toward it, and it, in turn, begins moving toward you.

Emma, I’m not sure where you look for job openings for “princess,” but I’d suggest starting with CareerBuilder.com, and stay away from those leeches at Monster.com.

It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes. It’s so easy to take for granted the color of the azaleas, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the way a melody rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of live.

Grayson, if you don’t get your finger out of your nose, you’ll have to visit the nurse. I knew someone once whose finger got stuck in there permanently. You don’t want to walk around the rest of your life like that, do you? Now, now, stop crying.

A great philosopher once said: There’s no there. That elusive “there” with the job, the beach house, the dream, it’s not out there. There is here. It’s in you … right now.

Addison, I’m sorry if that’s confusing. Ask your mom about it on the drive home. What? You say you’re mom is deployed in Iraq? Then ask your dad for his Skype password.

Always remember that the person who you’re with most in life is yourself, and if you don’t like yourself, you’re always with somebody you don’t like.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Yes, Miss Carol, I realize that “naked” reference was probably inappropriate. Sorry. I forgot about Mr. Bob.

In conclusion, let me urge you all to just keep trying! Never give up. Never, never give up! Because the only person that can stop you is you. And, of course, the state police. But I swear, I didn’t know about that outstanding warrant.

Now, go out and make something of yourselves. I know the job market is tough right now. Unemployment among those under 5 years of age is at an all-time high. But the world will always need at least a few child actors, and science will always need subjects for much-needed medical experimentation.

Congratulations to everyone. Now let’s go eat some cake.

Revisited: A look back at high school writing

January 22, 2011

The 1960s were a great time to be in high school, as opposed to, say, fighting in Vietnam or dying in a race riot. Sure, we had the rumbles and shoulder-punch-outs that seemed earth-shattering to us, but it was mostly a time to try being free and creative in ways we were never allowed before.

My senior year at Miami Norland High School was when I first got interested in creative writing. Mrs. Massey taught a journalism class that seemed to cover everything but journalism. Inspired by the ground-breaking social upheaval of the times, she didn’t take attendance and she didn’t mind taking guff from her precocious students, most of whom were Jewish, upper-middle-class and looking for intellectual trouble.

She ran her class as something of an educational experiment, giving us the freedom to talk and write about whatever we wanted. My first essay for her was a call for America to give equal rights to broccoli. Later, I attacked a grading system that allowed me to get a 93 while my friend scored only a 79. “Does this make me 117.7% better a person than he?” I asked, quite the profound question when you stop to think in those pre-calculator days that I had to use long division

And then there was the horrible but creative (but, more than anything, horrible) poetry. A favorite stanza I wrote still lingers in my memory over 40 years later.

When I at last have breathed my final breath
And my remains are lowered in the ground
I wonder what will people think of me?
When I like them had walked upon the earth?

Heavy. And not at all like the man I’ve become, who doesn’t even care what people think while his remains are still up and walking around, cutting people off in traffic and sighing loudly as that lady in front of him pays with a check in the supermarket.

Little of that early writing has survived. However, I think I can create a replica, and thought it might be fun to try. What follows is the essay I might’ve written for one of her final assignments of that last year of high school: Pick a topic, any topic, and write a minimum of 500 words.

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Any topic, you say? ANY?

“Any” is such an expansive word and yet also so limiting, a mere three letters in a language replete with words of considerably greater length. There’s an “A”, and then there’s an “N”, and then there’s a “Y”. Why, indeed?

(I’m assuming that letters count as words in your arbitrary call for a minimum of 500 of such fleeting entities).

Webster defines “topic” as “something dealt with in a text or in discussion.” He tells us to also “see subject, theme, matter or issue.” But one must ask, who is he to be telling us what to see, with his eighteenth-century perspective and prejudices?

No one is really sure who he is anyway, whether he is Daniel or Noah or perhaps another Webster entirely. Or maybe he is some yet-to-be-conceived Webster, a man-child who will inhabit a space in the media of the future, perhaps an urban Chicago setting in which his parents were recently killed in a car accident and he’s adopted by George Papadapolous, played by Alex Karras. And perhaps he shall be known as Emmanuel. You never know.

These are times that demand more focus than to throw open a discussion such as this to the whims of high school seniors. We are but buds, still unformed, still uninformed, still uniform in our adherence to societal demands, not to mention the school dress policy. Mere buds, I say!

Speaking of nature, we should consider the moon and the stars and the galaxies that swirl around us in their impromptu dance of celestial wonder. They would qualify as a topic, certainly, but what good would it do to attempt to put them into the categories, the restrictions that language demands? Plus, it’s daytime, and even if it were dark out, my telescope is broken, and my stupid younger brother now uses its tubular length as a baseball bat. His naivete is so sad that it makes me weep.

I qualify not, though, as a crybaby, for I am a sensitive lad. Even my mother says so.

You label this class as “journalism”. I repudiate your labels, as we have not been asked to keep any journal whatsoever. (I’m not suggesting it; I’m just making an observation.) I heap derision and disgust on your provincial concepts of “objectivity” and “facts.” I do this by putting certain words in “quotes,” as is the literary fashion. Fashion, though, is of little concern to me and my generation, as the afore-noted reference to the dress code infers.

In closing, I stop to take a look at myself in the mirror and at the mask I wear which society — and my acne — has demanded. I see in the reflection a challenged soul, a primordial man, an adolescent in a shirt that is really too tight, though it claims to be a husky. In the background of the reflection, I see a can of Right Guard deodorant next to the bathroom sink, and its implied assertion that I need to eliminate all traces of nature from my essence. It’s an effort that is doomed to failure.

Maybe I should switch to a roll-on.

Fake News: Constitution reading not easy

January 11, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Overlooked during the political theater in last week’s reading of the U.S. Constitution in the House of Representatives was another story: a story of courage and compassion and, ultimately, redemption.

Newly elected Republican Congressman Mick Mulroony was a Tea Party favorite during last fall’s election campaign. He ran on a platform of stridently conservative views that aimed to take America back to its roots. He opposed the rule of the intellectual elite. He wanted creationism taught alongside evolution in the public schools. He didn’t want the federal Department of Education deciding what two plus two equals — he wanted the poorly educated but good-hearted parents of his South Carolina district to decide what their children would learn.

He yearned for a simpler time, when simpletons ruled the land. He wanted a return to a strict interpretation of the Constitution though — okay, if you insist — blacks and women and those who weren’t property owners could maybe have a couple of rights too.

So when it was his turn to read the hallowed words of our nation’s founding document aloud, he was filled with a mixture of eagerness and trepidation. Eagerness, because this was his chance to stand tall for those fundamentals he and fellow conservatives held so dear. Trepidation, because he was a product of South Carolina schools, and barely knew how to read.

“The Cong–, uh, Congress,” he began in halting tones, “when–, when–, whenever … two things … two thicks … two thirds of both Hou–, Houses shill … shall deem it nec–, nec–, uh, necessary?”

The usual bustle of the House floor ground to a halt. Fellow Congressmen of both parties became quiet, turning from their BlackBerrys and their papers to watch their new colleague gamely struggle with words that were somehow, at the same time, both meaningful and meaningless to him.

“…shall purpose, shall porpoise, shall … PROPOSE!” he continued. “Shall propose amend–, uh, amendments to this con–, this constipation, no, this consti–, constitution …”

House members, clerks, congressional aides, spectators in the gallery, everyone strained forward, hoping they could collectively will Rep. Mulroony to the fifth-grade reading level. Though some didn’t agree with his politics, all of them could sympathize with the shame and embarrassment that is illiteracy.

“On the apple, appli–, application of the leg–, the leg–, the legis– …”

Finally, one representative could stand it no longer. Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, one of the most liberal members of the House, strode quickly to Mulroony’s side, joining the right-wing whack-job at the podium. He whispered briefly in his ear — some who sat close by said they thought they heard “let me help you” — and the two men began reading together.

“… amendments to this constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states,” they read as one, Mulroony gradually gaining confidence, Frank obviously taken with the boyish former real estate developer.

As their voices became even stronger, others in the chamber joined in the recitation.

“…. shall call a convention for proposing amendments which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this constitution,” they recited, “when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states.”

By the time they had finished the clause, there was hardly a dry eye in the House.

“There should be no shame in illiteracy,” commented Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) after the emotional scene had played itself out. “Reading is both fun and fundamental. We need to step up our efforts in the field of adult education so that every American can possess this most basic of skills.”

“I commend Rep. Mulroony for his brave attempt,” said Minority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). “Though a dimwit, he stood tall for his convictions.”

After the session had ended, Mulroony told reporters he appreciated the help of his fellow legislators, saying he would “dust off that old ‘Dick and Jane’ book and make my family proud.”

Mulroony then announced he would sponsor yet another symbolic gesture by the House, as soon as his reading skills improved.

“I think we should read aloud the names of each and every American citizen, right here in Congress,” he said. “They are the people that put us here, and we are responsible to them. I know we might not get much other business done on the floor, considering there are probably thousands of these names. But I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Mulroony said he “called dibs” when congressmen got to “all the Dick Janes.”

Recharging the ol’ batteries

December 27, 2010

Back in college at Florida State, I had several good friends who were studying music at the university. Though it may come as a surprise to many who tend to associate FSU more with football than any sort of artistry, the college at the time had one of the top music schools in the country, second only in some rankings to Juilliard.

Two of these guys excelled on keyboard instruments, one on piano and one on organ. So it came as no surprise for the latter of these, that a common joke was told.

“His major is organ,” his friends would tease, “and his organ is major.”

No matter how many times it was said, it was always funny.

+++

Some regular readers of these postings — I’m looking at you, Paul — have noted what they perceive to be a certain change in the quality of the blog.

Perhaps it shows itself in word choice. What I think of as a creative stretching of the rules of language may come across to some as simply awkward phrasing. So turning “mayonnaise” into the action word “mayonnaising” to describe the act of applying that eggy condiment to my sandwich is seen by some as questionable. Changing “prehensile” into the adverb “prehensiley” to tell how my cat picks up food bits with his claws is viewed as dubious.

What can I say? I love words and enjoy playing around with them. I’m still trying to figure out a way to work my two favorites — “jubilee” (a time or season of celebration) and “bolus” (a soft rounded ball, especially of chewed food) — into the same sentence. I’ve even considered staging an annual festival to honor gnawed, sodden masses of nutrition, just so I can promote the First Annual Bolus Jubilee.

Then there was the incident this past Friday, where I re-posted a biography of the artist Christo that had run only five days before.

“Wow, Davis,” wrote one commentator who claims to have roomed with me during my freshman year of college, though I recall no such living arrangement. “You re-gifted your blog from Dec. 19th. This might be the first re-gifting in the brief history of blogging. I guess we can all count our blessings twice.”

Well, maybe I intended to republish the piece so quickly because there was such a demand. Maybe it’s like those “instant classics” they show on ESPN, when a particular athletic event is so enthralling that it demands to be watched again only several days after it originally aired. Maybe I intend to run the Christo post every day from now on. He is, after all, the preeminent fabric-draper of buildings and geographic features of our time, and would be thoroughly deserving of such recognition.

The reality, however, is that I probably need a break, or a “hiatus” as they call it in the broadcast television and hernia repair industries. Excluding the weekends, and the unfortunate incident Friday that ruined several people’s Christmas Eve, I have posted original content in this space every single weekday for almost two years. Regardless of whether or not I felt funny, whether or not I’d had a tough day at work, whether or not I’d had a root canal on the number 12 lateral incisor, I showed up every day on WordPress with a unique offering. Occasionally, it was even humorous.

Now, after an estimated 520 essays, I’m going to take this week between Christmas and New Year’s off. Starting tomorrow and continuing until January 3, I’ll be re-running classic Website Reviews and other works that first appeared in late 2009 and early 2010 in this blog. Think of it as something akin to the various TV marathons we’re seeing a lot on cable over the holidays, only (hopefully) a bit more entertaining than back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back episodes of Top Chef: Boiling Water.

Given the chance to recharge my batteries, I am confident that I can return in the New Year with fresh and amusing compositions, many of which will use real words. Look for other changes as well here at DavisW’s Blog, as I attempt to remain current and keep up with all the latest in online technology. For example, all new posts appearing in January will be dated in 2011, whereas I had only used 2010, 2009 and 2008 in the past. I’m also thinking of publishing a picture of myself in which I’m wearing something other than a T-shirt.

So hang in there, you 162.17 average daily readers. Enjoy the “revisitings,” as I’m calling them, for the next week. Or find something more constructive to do with your life, like getting up from your computer long enough to recall that you have loved ones living in the same house that you can say “hi” to.

I hope to see you back in January.

My life as a public speaker

September 24, 2010

Surveys have consistently shown that the two everyday activities Americans fear most are death and public speaking. So imagine the stress facing the convicted murderer anticipating his imminent execution. Not only must he compose his thoughts into an organized and compelling presentation that will make a satisfactory set of Last Words, but he has to die too.

“I want to say I’m sorry to the victim’s friends and loved ones. I’m sorry to my own family for the heartache I have caused them. This PowerPoint slide shows some of the other things I’m sorry about. But most of all, I’m sorry that I’m about to receive a lethal injection. It’s not going to hurt, is it?”

This being Friday, it looks like I’m about to make it through another week without facing my ultimate demise. However, I did not manage to avoid public speaking.

As part of a project I’m heading up at work, I had to do what the corporate world refers to as a “stand-up”. This is not at all like the stand-up routine you might see a comedian perform on TV. For one thing, it’s not funny. Continuous process improvement rarely is. The main reason it’s called a “stand-up” is that my dozen or so coworkers get to stay seated, while I have to stay on my feet and speak coherently at the same time.

I don’t find this exercise especially easy, but I’m better at it now than I once was. I still remember the terror I faced delivering a simple oral report in elementary school. Probably the worst thing about it was that, since my name begins with a “W”, I was always one of the last in my class to speak. It was like being Yugoslavia after World War II, and watching as the Soviet Union subjugated all of Eastern Europe under the iron fist of communist enslavement, if the Soviets had extended their authoritarian hegemony in alphabetical order.

In junior high school, I foolishly volunteered to take a small part in a play titled “The Plot to Steal November.” The story centered on an effort to change the calendar in a way that would deprive us of our eleventh month, eliminating such American institutions as election day, Thanksgiving and my birthday (Nov. 6, for those of you who like to do their gift-shopping early).

I played a boy selling newspapers, and my part consisted of striding onto the stage, announcing “Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Read about the plot to steal November,” and then crouching next to a group of my fellow actors as they read the story. More out of blind terror than any kind of creative choice, I decided to lean on a table instead. The teacher managing the stage direction had a fit, loudly whispering “squat, Davis, squat” throughout my entire 30-second performance, further damaging my confidence in front of audiences.

When I went off to college, I considered majoring in education until I realized that would eventually involve speaking to a room full of students. I opted instead to pursue a degree in history, and spent most of my time at university in a mode of public listening rather than public speaking. This meant attending Timothy Leary lectures and Stephen Stills concerts, both of which I only vaguely remember. Any oratory I did was limited to late-night, drug-fueled bull sessions with a handful of roommates and friends, where I frequently made the extemporaneous argument that wouldn’t it be cool if you could fly.

After my schooling was complete, I began a 30-year career in financial document analysis. I got good enough at my job that eventually, I was asked to train others. This started out easily enough as a one-on-one affair, but soon blossomed to include more and more students. When my company decided to outsource some of its operations overseas, I was asked if I’d be willing to train what ultimately seemed like half the subcontinent of India, and a similar percentage of the eastern Pacific. I wanted the free travel opportunity, so I figured I better get over any lingering stage fright pretty quickly.

One of my first large-scale sessions was in Manila. I carefully reviewed all my material the night before. I browsed the internet for tips on public speaking. I imagined the audience would all be wearing underwear, though this would ultimately backfire thanks to some particularly attractive Philippine women. I reminded myself they’d probably be more afraid of the graying American than I’d be afraid of them. I took handfuls of klonopin.

I thought the training went really well. After the first few minutes in front of a room full of people, I felt surprisingly at ease. I only needed to occasionally glance at my notes, I made lots of eye contact with various faces around the room, and I successfully avoided wetting myself. I waved my arms around a lot, which they seemed to like.

Arm waving can capture the attention of your audience

The only real stumble came with a lame attempt at humor. I was trying to make the point that it was important for them to know how to spell the names of certain key players in the financial services industry, and how one of our people had once mistakenly read some illegible handwriting as “Goldman Sucks” instead of “Goldman Sachs”. I thought this was pretty funny, but they didn’t get it at all. Of course, this was in 2006, before the worldwide financial crisis made even the most primitive tribesmen of New Guinea aware that Goldman Sachs sucked.

Now, it’s 2010, and I’m quite comfortable doing this much smaller session with my coworkers. I have a one-page script I wrote, but it was rewritten by my boss and, if I follow it too closely, I’m afraid I’ll say the “(adlib)” that she’s sprinkled throughout. I hit all the introductory points, then dive into a quick overview of the “big themes of the project: communication, efficiency and workflow”. I reference the handout they received earlier that morning in their email, which one person has actually read. We’re changing the way we do certain things, and I remind them that change isn’t always easy. That cliché, and the request for any questions anyone might have, are fortunately met with blank stares – just the response I was hoping for.

I wrap up the session with the announcement that I’m supplying a pizza lunch in a blatant attempt to bribe them into compliance, and suddenly everyone is loose and smiling.

“I hope the pizza will grease your creative juices, and that you’ll continue to offer suggestions for improvements,” I say, later regretting the metaphor when I got a look at my particular slice of Domino’s pepperoni.

Once everyone is busy chowing down, I have a chance to evaluate my performance, and I think I did pretty good. A friend who witnessed the presentation, who happens to be a member of the Toastmasters speakers club, said I used a few too many “uh’s” and “ah’s”, though I avoided the “so’s” that are the real sign you don’t know what you’re talking about. And he liked the arm waving.

I’m just glad no one tried to get me to squat.

Star review: The Sun

July 16, 2010

Ask most people what they think about the sun, and they’ll likely be confused by your question.

They may respond in a meteorological context, thinking that you’re asking how they like the summer heat. Some may answer that the cloudless glare of a typical July day is just what they wanted for their beach vacation, that their tan will soon be a beautiful bronze. Others may be more confused than most, saying that The Son isn’t quite as great as The Father, but He’s certainly preferable to The Holy Ghost in your top three favorites of the Holy Trinity.

If you clarify the issue further to focus on the star at the center of our solar system, the average person may not have much of an opinion at all. The sun is just there, it’s always been a part of our lives, such a routine presence that we barely give it a second thought. It’s like asking if you’d rather have something other than a head at the top of your neck stalk, or if gravity ever gets on your nerves. You’ve never really considered if you’d prefer the sun to be a different color, closer to or further from the earth, shaped like a triangle rather than a circle, or made out of congealed meat rather than mostly hydrogen.

I asked my son (the one with an “o,” not a “u”) what he thought about the sun. Daniel responded “meh,” which the dictionary defines as “an expression of apathy, indifference, or boredom.” Even no less an authority than the Beatles were hard pressed to care one way or the other.

“Here comes the sun,” they sang on their landmark 1969 album Abbey Road. “It’s alright.”

I wanted to learn more about our closest star, that source and sustainer of all life on our planet. So I’m making the sun the subject of this week’s Friday Review.

Most weeks, I devote this space to a critique of websites. Occasionally, I’ve ventured farther afield, reviewing everything from the literary merit of the operating instructions for a box fan to movies (“Avatar was beamed through a projector”) to decades (absolutely loved The Aughts). I’ve even evaluated the worthiness of entire nations, for example giving England eight ampersands on a scale of one to ten, since the British isle is shaped like an ampersand and I very much enjoyed my 2005 visit there.

This being the height of a summer heat wave throughout much of the East Coast, and considering that we just had a solar eclipse across a narrow band of the Southern Hemisphere, and considering that two days from now is “Sunday,” let me tell you a little about our sun.

Obviously, when you’re talking sun, you’re bound to be talking about extremes. It has a diameter of almost a million miles, it weighs about 330,000 times what the earth weighs and, as you might expect, it’s very hot. While its surface temperature is a toasty 10,000° F, its core approaches 22 million degrees, rivaling even my hometown of Miami in August. Once regarded by astronomers as a relatively insignificant star, it recently got a status upgrade, being called brighter than about 85% of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. (Take that, Luyten 726-8 AB!) By fusing hydrogen into helium, it releases tremendous amounts of energy, with estimates ranging as high as 384.6 yottawatts. That’s a lotta watts.

Though we tend to think of its location as being in “the sky,” it’s technically positioned close to the inner rim of the Milky Way’s Orion Arm, in what’s called the “Local Fluff” or “Gould Belt,” about 28,000 light years from the Galactic Center. Its neighborhood is known by cosmologists as the “Local Bubble,” a space of rarefied hot gas possibly produced as a remnant of the supernova Geminga. If you wanted to go there, you’d travel about 150 million kilometers (hang a hard right at Venus, you can’t miss it). Don’t rely on Yahoo maps to give you reliable directions. When I typed in “The Sun” as my destination, it sent me to Sun, Louisiana, and, even worse, had the nerve to route me through Atlanta.

The sun is a near-perfect sphere, with an oblateness of about 9 millionths, for those of you who care about oblateness. About three-quarters of its mass consists of hydrogen, with the rest being mostly helium. It exists in a plasmatic state rather than being a solid, so you couldn’t walk on its “surface” even if you had really thick soles on your shoes. Its color is white, although from the earth it may appear yellow because of atmospheric scattering.

And check this out: it’s rich in heavy elements, which could most plausibly have been produced by endergonic nuclear reactions during a supernova, or by transmutation through neutron absorption. Is that cool or what?

Looking beyond such dry technical specifications, let’s examine a little of the history of humans’ relationship with the sun. Most ancient cultures regarded it as a deity, as they did with most things they couldn’t understand (imagine what they’d think of Ke$ha or Rand Paul). Their most fundamental understanding of the sun was as a luminous disk in the sky, whose presence above the horizon created day and whose absence caused night. Many civilizations constructed monuments to the sun, from simple stone megaliths to more elaborate floorplans such as Stonehenge and the Aztec pyramids of Mexico.

One of the first people to offer a scientific explanation for the sun was the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras. He reasoned that it was a giant flaming ball of metal even bigger than a chariot. While today’s academia might’ve rewarded him with an endowed chair in the astrophysics department for such a revolutionary theory, he was instead imprisoned by the authorities and sentenced to death. A kind of tenure, you could argue, but probably not what he had in mind.

Later scientists refined these early ideas, usually at their own peril. Copernicus was the first to offer a mathematical model that put the sun rather than the earth at the center of the solar system. Galileo made the first known telescopic observations of sunspots. The Islamic astronomer Maghribi first estimated the sun’s size, and got it wrong only by half. For their troubles, all were teased mercilessly by their respective cultures.

Today, much of what we know about the sun comes from solar space missions, begun as early as 1959 with NASA’s Pioneer series of spacecrafts. Skylab and the Space Shuttle both delivered equipment into orbit that allowed for surveillance unfiltered by our atmosphere. Former President George W. Bush famously proposed a manned mission to the sun during a late-night party in 2006, when he suggested that the danger of such an attempt could be mitigated “if we go at night.” That plan was later scuttled by budget constraints and sobriety.

Earth-based observations have long been problematic, as looking at the sun with the naked eye for even brief periods can be painful. The refinement of light-concentrating optics like binoculars and telescopes seemed promising at first, though these came with the unfortunate side effect of making you blind. Kids still enjoy makeshift experiments out in the yard, proudly giving ants and other insects a close-up view of earth’s nearest star with a magnifying glass. This attempt to educate rarely turns out well for the bugs.

As for the future, earth’s fate in relationship to the sun is precarious. When it eventually enters its red giant phase (similar to adolescence in its trouble-making capacity), the sun will have a maximum radius beyond earth’s current orbit. This sounds bad but could be offset by the fact that the sun will have lost 30% of its mass due to stellar wind, and all the planets will have moved outward. “If it were only for this, earth would probably be spared,” notes Wikipedia hopefully. However, “new research suggests that earth will be swallowed by the sun owing to tidal interactions” and that, even if the earth could escape incineration in the sun, “still all its water will be boiled away and most of its atmosphere would escape into space.”

Despite these dire predictions, I think we can all agree that we’re much better off for the sun’s existence than we’d be floating in the icy void of interstellar space. Through photosynthesis, the energy of sunlight supports almost all life on this planet, with the only exceptions being creatures sustained by deep-sea volcanic vents, most toenail fungus and the aforementioned former president Bush. Because of these nutrients, because of the light and the warmth it provides, and because we all feel happier on a sunny day than we do on a cloudy one, we should do more to appreciate our local neighborhood furnace.

All hail, mighty Sol! I give thee one star on a scale of zero to one stars, because you’re the only star we need.

I hate to tell you this, but you just went blind

Revisited: Remembrances of college

March 13, 2010

While my 17-year-old son considers his options for college in the fall, I’m reminded of the exhilaration of my own post-secondary educational experience some 35 years ago. As I’ve recounted to him numerous times — I’m hoping at least one account will make it past the iPod — it remains to this day one of the greatest experiences of my life, right up there with Daniel’s birth, my marriage to my wife, and the day I found 57 cents under a park swing when I was four years old. (It seemed like a big deal at the time.)

I graduated from Miami Norland High School in 1971, about 150 in a class of 991. As such a successful senior, I had my choice of virtually any public college in the state, primarily because they were legally bound to accept me.

I chose Florida State University in Tallahassee, over 400 miles northwest of Miami. My reasons were not the soundest: I longed for cooler weather, it had an active countercultural movement, and it was the farthest I could get from my dreary teenage life without leaving Florida. I was interested in pursuing a journalism degree but failed to notice in my research that such a program was not offered at FSU. Oops.

Since I couldn’t major in the field I wanted, I decided instead to work on the student newspaper. The Sunday before my first official day as a freshman, I showed up at the student union offices of The Florida Flambeau, wanting to be a reporter. I remember sitting in the hallway outside the newsroom, too scared to walk in and introduce myself but too overweight to avoid being in the way of the scurrying journalists who kept tripping over me. One of them finally asked what the hell I was doing on the floor, and my career in mass communications was launched.

I absolutely fell in love with the place and rose quickly through the ranks. My very first news story, on a new sleeping concept called the waterbed and students’ reaction to it (“they’re not allowed in the dorms”), soon gave way to meatier stories about all the political activity on campus. Both the draft and the Vietnam War were still in full swing at the time, and student protests had caught the attention of the state’s media. About the same time, a member of the state Board of Regents heard that male and female students were commingling, shall we say, in state-funded dormitories, which she colorfully labeled “taxpayers’ whorehouses.” By reporting on these events as an outsider instead of as a participant, I could share in the excitement without experiencing any of the risk (a good thing in the case of anti-war protests, not so good with the whorehouses.)

By the end of my sophomore year, I had become editor of the paper. I was spending all my free time in the newsroom, as well as a good bit of the time that I should’ve spent in lecture halls, laboratories and the library. We clustered around the ancient AP teletype machines and watched as the demise of the Nixon presidency unfolded in smeared black ink. We yearned for a similar scandal in our own corner of the world, so we found some faculty members who didn’t like the university president and started giving them press. But the excitement of the era was definitely on the wane. We could tell our chances of being shot by National Guardsmen were rapidly diminishing.

With the fad of opposing an unjust colonialist war losing its luster, it was time for a new craze, and I had an idea. I’d read a small article on the wire about a so-called “streaking” incident at a Midwestern school but the most compelling part of the story – photographic evidence – was missing. We ran the item, then I planted a fake meeting notice in our paper of the FSU Streakers Club for the following Friday night. Organizer Ed Mims failed to show up for the meeting, primarily because he didn’t existent, though about 20 others did come, including me as the reporter. When the group finally got tired of waiting for Ed, someone else took charge and recommended that FSU put itself in the national spotlight.

Within a few days, we got a tip to have a photographer ready at 1:30 p.m. in the parking lot near the Chemistry Building. In the interest of providing written documentation of the event, I went along and, sure enough, a naked guy emerged from a car and ran across a small grassy median before ducking into another car and driving away. We got five shots, two of which were genitals-free, and the least fuzzy of these made it into the next day’s Flambeau. The following day it was reproduced in the Jacksonville and Tampa newspapers and by the weekend, it made the pages of Newsweek magazine. FSU was being credited with starting the latest college fad as streaking broke out at campuses all over the country.

These were heady times as we attempted to capitalize and build on our new-found notoriety. We scheduled a mass “streak-in” on the campus’s main quadrangle, Landis Green, which brought out more local families and their picnic baskets than any actually nude people. Several locations did attract small aggregations of mostly male naturists – I still have a photo taken outside my freshman dorm of probably 50 or 60 streakers milling around the bicycle stands, frozen in a miraculous moment reminiscent of the Austin Powers openings, with all naughty bits hidden.

Soon the thrill and novelty of streaking began to wear off, despite our desperate attempts to lengthen its duration in the national consciousness to something more akin to Vietnam. We convinced a cub reporter to borrow his roommate’s cane so we could feature him on the front page as the nation’s first blind streaker. On April Fool’s Day, me and another editor got a guy to lie naked on the ground and we dragged him by his four limbs in front of the camera as the first dead streaker. For reasons that make sense in hindsight, we had to abandon attempts to record the first bicycling streaker.

Through it all, I never once participated in any actual streaking, not because of any quaint notions I had about journalistic integrity (ha, ha) but because I was rightfully ashamed of my own personal body. We had a ton of fun, nobody got hurt, and we all ended up with great stories to avoid telling our children.