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educationJoshua Goldowsky blames a fictional character

I blame Thornton Mellon for the decline of modern education

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Watching the news of a sit-in at NYU last week got me thinking about how lame today’s college students are and, of course, what fictional character can be blamed. Sure, it would be easy to point to the men of Delta house as the example to which some collegians aspire, and fail, to emulate by wearing t-shirts that read “College.” But, that’s not quite accurate. The culprit behind the decline of modern education is actually even less subtle.  

Our man is Thornton Mellon, from the film Back To School, one of the most underrated films of the 1980s. I say he is less subtle because he has the unique distinction of being the only fictional character that I can think of that is actually accused of in the film what I am actually accusing him of. In an early part of the film, Mellon’s economics professor and romantic rival, Dr. Phillip Barbay — a stuffy middle aged man with some sort of British accent, whose fetishes includes having women dress up as Wonder Woman and tie him up with the golden lariat and force him to tell the truth — sums it up: “That… is Mr. Thornton Mellon. The world’s oldest living freshman… and the walking epitome of the decline in modern education. The stupid clod thinks he can buy his way out of the gutter,” he quips to Sally Kellerman’s character, who is the love interest of both men. (I mean, Sally Kellerman? As Rodney Dangerfield said in another movie — “She must have been something before electricity.”)

People of a certain age always complain that the kids today aren’t as smart as they were or don’t take school as seriously as they should. [Read more →]

moneytrusted media & news

The crisis of credit visualized

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If you have 11 minutes and some questions about how the credit markets got the way they are, you might like to watch The Short and Simple Story of the Credit Crisis by Jonathan Jarvis.

The 11-minute-long video is interesting not only because it attempts to define some fairly complicated financial terminology and processes, but also because of how it attempts to do so.  Jarvis says, “This project was completed as part of my thesis work in the Media Design Program, a graduate studio at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.”  Sure, it looks and sounds a bit like a PSA filmstrip from half a century ago.  But even ten years ago, what adult would have exposure to that sort of thing?

I find it fascinating to see this project specifically designed for the internet and aimed at adults.  As print newspapers are dying and the entire media industry is evolving to the new conditions of connectivity, this type of video may represent a large part of the future of educational journalism.

ends & oddmoney

Pay to pee: Ryanair may offer one more reason to borrow a pound note

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As multinational corporations have expanded the variety of fees, charges, and incidental methods for slipping their fingers into your pockets, maybe you’ve naively thought that a few common courtesies would remain beyond their reach. Perhaps you’ve assured yourself that no company with a firm grasp on reality would cross certain boundaries and that a few simple courtesies would continue to be offered free of charge.

Then again, perhaps we’ll soon reach the point of no return, where every human act — even taking a whiz if you’ve had a little too much to drink — will become directly subject to some minor transaction fee.

Think I’m exaggerating? Check out Ryanair’s potential plan to charge European customers a pound or so to use the loo. Granted, cities like New York have already employed a similar strategy. But, let’s keep in mind that none of the five boroughs are enclosed spaces thousands of feet in the air.

Maybe, after all, those companies don’t have such a firm grasp on reality. Too bad there’s not a Bethlem Royal Hospital for corporations.


The drooping point

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Do you remember that point your parents reached when they suddenly stopped being able to dance? I mean they could still do the steps — of the Jitterbug or the Lindy or whatever it was they did, but something had tipped — was it you? Was it just your embarrassment, or did something stop working? Suddenly, even when they were just tapping their feet, the hair stood up on the back of your neck. You were desperate for them to stop.

I’m asking because I’m pretty sure I’ve hit that point. I was trying to josh around in the car with my teenage son during that magnificent dance song, Let’s Groove by Earth, Wind and Fire, and I went into my trademark car seat boogie (a daily occurrence), and it felt all wrong. Just wrong. I pointed my finger — like who? John Travolta? What was that? — and I was doing some sort of Egyptian maneuver with my head that, let’s face it, I’ve never been able to do well, even at 19. Tonight in the Tahoe, in one regrettable funkectomy, it all fell away from me. Every sad little ember of dance floor mojo, gone. I embarrassed myself. [Read more →]

art & entertainment

Joaquin Phoenix impression even funnier than Stiller at the Oscars

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Not sure if you saw Joaquin Phoenix on David Letterman. My husband and I watched it the night it aired and figured he’d either gone crazy or it was all an act to prop up his new rap career. I don’t know which it was but he has provided fodder for some great comedy. My favorite is this impression, done the night before the Oscars, at the Independent Spirit Awards. It joins a bizarre Phoenix with a very angry Christan Bale. It’s way better than Stiller’s bit at the Oscars and great for a really good laugh.

 Hat Tip Gawker via Twitter.


Obama family will choose a rescue dog as first pet

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I am so pleased that the first family is choosing to rescue a pet rather than paying a high price for a pure bred dog from a breeder. There is one very lucky Portuguese Water Dog out there and so many other animals in desperate need of a home. I have learned a lot from my friend Beth Bates who runs a site called GoodDogz.org.

Dogs are surrendered for all sorts of reasons. Maybe their owner can’t physically take care of them anymore or maybe they have been taken from abusive homes or puppy mills. The most heartbreaking abandonment, which is happening more and more frequently, are owners who leave behind their pets because of home foreclosures. If you can’t feed your family and pay your mortgage, it’s hard to justify the expense of a pet.

I am proud of the example the Obamas are setting and I hope this helps lead the charge in a wave of adoptions. When my kids get a little older and we are in the market for a new dog (because really, the dog will complete the family) I will definitely get my pet from a shelter.

books & writing


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David Orr’s recent New York Times Book Review essay on greatness in poetry is a bland bit of punting. I’ve read it twice and I still don’t understand what he’s trying to say. The main thesis, that defining greatness in poetry is very difficult to do, is obvious enough, but he never makes the attempt himself. 

Taking John Ashbery as his last great poet — apparently just because the Library of America has chosen to release his collected works — sets the essay off on the wrong course from the beginning. Richard Wilbur, anyone? 

He also seems to believe that quantity of work should be a necessary element in defining greatness. Though, it seems to me, Shakespeare would be great if he’d written only the sonnets; Eliot if he’d written only the Four Quartets and/or the Waste Land; Stevens if only Sunday Morning, Peter Quince at the Clavier, Anecdote of the Jar and a handful of other poems; Keats if only the odes; Rilke if only the Duino Elegies. 

Greatness in poetry has become difficult to define because we live in a time when the very notion of Quality itself is being challenged, which is a point Orr fails to stress. How, if we don’t exert judgment and taste, can we ever hope to make distinctions such as good versus great, or even good versus bad? 

Of course, it isn’t what is said, but how it is said, that’s most important in poetry. For example, this, one of Richard Wilbur’s greatest poems: 

Praise in Summer 

Obscurely yet most surely called to praise,

As sometimes summer calls us all, I said

The hills are heavens full of branching ways

Where star-nosed moles fly overhead the dead;

I said the trees are mines in air, I said

See how the sparrow burrows in the sky!

And then I wondered why this mad instead

Perverts our praise to uncreation, why

Such savour’s in this wrenching things awry.

Does sense so stale that it must needs derange

The world to know it?  To a praiseful eye

Should it not be enough of fresh and strange

That trees grow green, and moles can course in clay,

And sparrows sweep the ceiling of our day?  


I’ve never found anything in Ashbery to match it, to even come close. So, others might say, that’s your opinion. To which I answer, show me a poem of the last 50 years any better. Having that discussion just might be the only way to define greatness in our time. 

Kelly Conaboy saves the worldmovies

Live-thinking the Oscars, a few days later

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Word around the blogosphere is that the president gave a speech the other night. Unfortunately, I already had plans to watch The City and had to miss it.  I also had to pregame The City with a bunch of past episodes of The City, so I wouldn’t fail to pick up on any of the emotional nuances which may arise from knowledge you’d had to have accrued during previous episodes. Totally worth it, guys. 

The speech probably aired during that time. I don’t know what kind of audience Obama got, but he should rethink when he puts these things on TV next time. I’d suggest either 1:00PM or 7:00PM, unless there’s a marathon on of something like Jon and Kate Plus Eight or Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. And there’s like a 60% chance of that happening all the time. I guess it will just have to be a case-by-case type of thing.

Anyway, I have no idea what the speech was about. Probably the economy? In any case, I’ll give some advice and then we can get to what I really need to talk about. Ok, basically what you need to do, Obama, is I guess whatever you want. You’re the boss.

Ok, now on to what’s really important: The Oscars! [Read more →]


Cheater’s Row, take 1

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Cheater’s Row:

Hi, my name is Alex Kudera and although I am running for President, certainly by 2023, I write today to humbly welcome you to my “blog in brief” Cheater’s Row. Our main concern will be the unethical, illegal, and more overtly theft-oriented aspects of American culture, so expect the current lineup of liars and cheats to get an ample share of our meager webspace.

But before we get into all of that, since we really don’t know each other — and therefore, I could be your broker — I thought I’d start with some inspired financial advice.

“Keep all assets liquid” is one of my favorite lines from “A Wife’s Story” by Bharati Mukherjee as well as sage advice offered by the Oracle of Oligarchs, George Soros. But rather than merely recommend you sell your house, rush your bank, sleep in a mobile home with cash and gold stuffed in your night shirt, I instead offer a more flexible approach.

In all cases, keep doing what you are doing!

1) If you are prone to live for the moment and spend it all anyway, keep living and spending! You’re not getting any younger and imagine what delight you can have blowing coin across town when the prudent stock investor next door has lost half his nut and is worried to tears or even death. Savor those moments when you caught his condescending frown as you returned from a shopping expedition laden with transient plastic possessions for your dining or living experience. [Read more →]


Should movie theaters charge admission based on budgets?

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With all the cutbacks that are going on everywhere right now, I think it would make sense for movies to adopt a pricing system based on individual films.
I was recently lying in bed listening to a caller on sports talk radio discuss the fiscal advantages of big market teams like New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. Since those are the markets that tend to have the highest ticket prices, their attendance figures translate into big bucks for the franchises. Nobody questions the sanity of teams like Kansas City and Pittsburgh charging less, even though prices for baseball games and sporting events in general can still be considered ridiculous.
So why can’t the big theater chains like Loews and United Artists consider charging less for flicks based on budgets? You’re generally charged a flat fee at the theater. Whether you go see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Prom Night, it’s usually something like $10.50 in evenings, $6 for a matinee. Given the budget behind the former, it would make sense for the film to need more money per ticket in order to make back its costs. Movies with smaller budgets could charge less, and if they happen to be clunkers, they might even draw more eyeballs. Who’d pay $10.50 to go see The Hottie and The Nottie? Not many people, unless they were really bored. I know there are discount theaters out there and other places that specifically focus on indie films with low price tags attached, but with everyone doing their part in today’s economic climate, maybe it’s time the big boys of cinema thought about following suit… not that I’d expect the powers that be to ever allow such a thing to happen.
Fred's dreams


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October 27, 2008
I dream an alien from another planet calls and offers to give me eternal life and make me “one of him.” I am repelled but fascinated. I don’t think I’m going to say yes. I am in my home and a normal looking man I presume to be the alien is hanging around outside and he wants to come in. I want to call 911, but I can’t find the phone.

May 15, 2008
I dream I am on a small planet decorated with plant life donated by an alien race. The plants are rectangular and sparkly and beautiful, but I have a bad feeling about them. Suddenly, through a psychic flash, I see the home planet on which squads of aliens are in charge of maintaining the plants. It is labor intensive, and requires a lot of running. People are punished harshly if they neglect the plants. I see that these supposed “gifts” are part of an elaborate plot to keep us in line.

April 25, 1999
I dream I am in California with Gail, who is preoccupied with a paranormal event. There is a huge, raised pedestal with obscure signs on it indicating that either aliens or gods were meddling in human affairs. A human woman’s necklace has disappeared from a mall and Gail feels she has unraveled the mystery. I go with her to verify the story. Gail is convinced, but I am not.


art & entertainmentmoney

I am a naughty, naughty blogger

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Oops, that may not be the best title. Oh well, it’s been typed & I am not going back. When was my last post? I don’t know. I think I was writing about getting a band going & being over 35. Somehow, I have kept the band thing up (do you live in the greater Tampa Bay area & play drums? check out http://www.myspace.com/tragedybecomesher.) In some ways the band may be keeping me sane. So that was where I left off. And then I got all Jobed. Minus, you know, the boils. Suddenly I was on the brink of divorce, laid off & dealing with the possibility of foreclosure. Suddenly I was an episode of Oprah with lots of layers & no focus. I was at home with my son, trying to make his days full & happy. Mostly trying not to just cry all the time. Or at least shut the bathroom door.

The file is too big, or I would have cued Dr. Dog‘s song “The Beach” right here. [Read more →]

recipes & food

Easy vegetarian weeknight dinners: fried tofu with escarole, tomato soup with grilled cheese

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1. Fried Tofu with escarole and white beans; Serves 2

Ingredients: one package of firm organic tofu (there is a Hudson Valley brand that I prefer); 1 1/2 heads of escarole; one (16 oz) can of drained, rinsed cannellini beans (you can of course use dried cannellini beans if you have the time to soak them); 2 cloves of garlic; canola oil; salt and pepper; 1 cup of all purpose flour; 1 cup of ice water; 2 Tbsp of cornstarch.

Fill a large stock pot with water and a little salt and let it come to a boil as you cook your tofu.

Slice up the square of tofu and drain the slices very well on paper towels. (If you skip this step they will never fry up nice and crispy!). Heat 2-3 inches of canola oil in a cast iron, or other heavy, deep skillet. If you have a thermometer, your oil is ready at 375 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, just drop a little water in the pan — it should sizzle and jump, but not go too crazy.

Combine the flour and cornstarch in a bowl with a generous pinch of salt. Whisk in the ice water (you do not have to whisk out all the lumps). Coat the tofu on all sides with this batter. Let the excess drip off and then VERY CAREFULLY drop the tofu into the hot oil. If the temperature of the oil seems to go down a lot, raise it a bit to keep the tofu frying nicely. It should only take 2 minutes on each side for the tofu to be nicely brown and crisp. Remove from the skillet and drain very well on paper towels. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper as it drains. [Read more →]

religion & philosophythat's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Maybe man is the ‘imagining animal’

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I had never heard of Gaston Bachelard until a few weeks ago, when I read an article by David Cooper called “Art, Nature, Significance.” What Cooper says about Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, as well as the quotes from it, sounded so interesting that I immediately ordered a copy of the book from Amazon and am now slowly reading it. (I am reading it slowly not because it is difficult, but because it is too beautiful and thought-provoking to read any other way.)

Before the book arrived, however, I had come upon something Bachelard had said in another book, The Poetics of Reverie: “Man is an imagining being.”

Classical philosophy defines man as the “rational animal.” This has always seemed to me a self-serving definition — serving the self of the philosophers. [Read more →]

moneypolitics & government

How I’m going to spend Obama’s tax cut

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I’ll share upfront, I like Barack Obama. I like the way he talks in front of an audience, his ability to motivate and inspire. I like his, “yes, we can!” and the whole hope thing. I tend not to trust politicians, Barack is a politician, but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect his delivery, his skills as a rhetorician. It doesn’t mean I can’t be inspired.

Having said that, I’ve decided what to do with my tax cut, the $13 a week everyone making under $75,000 will be allowed to keep come April; I’m going to give it away. [Read more →]

all workmoney

Layoffs keep coming — here’s hoping we keep our house

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As I mentioned in a previous post, the changing economy has been relatively unkind to my family. In mid-December, I was laid off from a copy-editing job that had made small diversions like buying two or three books once in a while, eating out at a mid-priced restaurant, and seeing an occasional show feasible. Since then, the job market in Cincinnati has been — to be kind — brutal. Luckily, my wife still had a great job that made the necessities possible.

Then, last Tuesday, I got that long-awaited call. I had an interview. Maybe the economy here in Cincinnati wasn’t as bad as I had thought. Maybe the stimulus package and the housing bill had already started working its hermetic magic. Maybe, if the interview went well, my wife and I could once again look forward to the uncertain future.

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Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingmovies

Top ten things overheard at last night’s Academy Awards

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 10. “I hear Frank Langella used the same makeup for Nixon that he used for Dracula.”

9. “I love Price, but I never much cared for Waterhouse.”

8. “I’m sorry, but those seats are reserved for the two people who actually saw Frost/Nixon.”

7. “Michael Moore? I’m sorry, Mr. Moore, but you’re not allowed to bring any food into the auditorium.”

6. “They gotta be fixed; I mean, Beverly Hills Chihuahua deserved something!”

5. “Did anybody find out why Heath Ledger’s a no-show?”

4. “I’d like to thank the Academy. And for those of you who think it’s an honor just to be nominated: What a bunch of losers!!!!

3. “Now that Wolverine has hosted the show, can Cyclops and Storm be far behind?”

2. “I love that new ‘anatomically correct’ Oscar; it’s so much easier to carry!”

1. “I hear they’ve already started torturing that kid from Slumdog Millionaire to find out how it won.”

books & writing

The future of literary fiction

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I’ve had this habit for years. Now and then I search the book section of Amazon.com for the upcoming books of a certain list of authors. It’s how I know that Kazuo Ishiguro has a book coming out on September 22, Thomas Pynchon on August 4, and Nicholson Baker on September 8. (For a while Amazon was listing a new Philip Roth book for the fall, but that’s disappeared.) As I say, I’ve been doing this for years, ever since Amazon started up more than ten years ago. The list of authors is made up of novelists or fiction writers of high literary quality (I make no apologies whatsoever for that qualification), who have written at least a few excellent novels or short story collections, who, for the most part, can be relied on to turn out another great book every few years. Here’s the list, 46 in all, in no special order: 

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Kazuo Ishiguro

Thomas Pynchon

Lorrie Moore

Martin Amis

Annie Dillard

Ian McEwan

T.C. Boyle

Milan Kundera

George Saunders

Nicholson Baker

Jeffrey Eugenides

Nathan Englander

Shirley Hazzard

Salman Rushdie

Jane Smiley [


If you think Marley’s cuter than Owen, raise your hand

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Dear Ruby,
We’re watching the family budget pretty closely these days and it’s getting mighty boring. I’d like to add a 2nd dog to the family to spice things up a bit, but my husband’s against it because of the added expense. I say it will add some fun to the kids’ lives and ours, especially since we’ve discontinued most other outside entertainment that involves money. At least, it will get us away from the TV. What do you think?

Sincerely, Not an Empty Nest

Dear Empty,

You’re not an empty-nester yet, but you can smell it, can’t you? It smells like puppy feet.

Something happens to certain women of a certain age — they start looking at cute mutts like they used to look at babies, and before that at Chippendales, and before that at Leif Garrett. They really, really want one. Before they know it, they’re emotionally fraught, cutting pictures out of magazines, haunting the Petfinder site, pulling over to look at other people’s dogs . . . Way. Too. Long. It’s the damnedest thing. Who knows which hormones can be blamed for dog lust?

When you think about it, though, it’s really a pretty practical and serious commitment. You only have a baby for a few sweet months. Husbands aren’t always forever, either. And, these days, what would you do with Leif Garrett or a Chippendale if you had them — besides update your Hepatitis vaccine?

No, dogs are the real deal. Let’s figure out how to get you one. [Read more →]

technologytrusted media & news

Siskel and Ebert and goodbye to all that

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There is a characteristically gracious tribute by Roger Ebert in today’s Chicago Sun-Times to the memory of his colleague, counterpart and rival, Gene Siskel, who died ten years ago.

Part of what makes this encomium so affecting and sincere is that Ebert makes no secret of the fact that he and Siskel fought constantly and pretty much hated each other, though they genuinely loved and respected each other as well. They were like ill-matched brothers.

I was a witness to the “hate” half of the equation, having taken a couple of classes from Ebert in the early 80s, one of them on the films of Hitchcock and his imitators, and the other devoted entirely to profoundly esoteric and unclassifiable movies that Ebert was smart enough, and brave enough, to champion. During the classes, during the breaks, and even once while he and I were at adjacent urinals, Ebert compulsively uttered nasty but very funny cracks about Siskel that struck at the very core of Siskel’s personality and his predilections.

Ebert rarely alluded to what I suspect was his real objection to Siskel: While the two of them were for many years yoked together in the public eye as the pair of bickering film critics on their TV show “At the Movies,” there was nothing symmetrical about the relationship whatsoever. And I don’t just mean this in the clichéd sense that Ebert was “the fat one” and Siskel was “the skinny one.”

Ebert was, and remains, one of the best short-form essayists in America today, on any subject. The quality of his movie reviews over the years — written, remember, on a very strict deadline and in response to movies that are, in a few cases, literally beneath comment — has been close to miraculous.

Siskel, on the other hand, was a terrible writer. I used to know a Chicago Tribune reporter who would say, “you think his stuff is bad? You should see it before the editors get ahold of it.” [Read more →]

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