Category Archives: humor


Dear President Herbst: Here’s What This UConn Professor Did Today

A little ceiling leak's gonna slow things down? Nah. (Photo by Sam Ferrigno)

UConn President Susan Herbst’s recent article in the Huffington Post defending the role of full-time scholars and teachers was encouraging to those of us who work at the place where she’s the new  boss. Herbst seems like she’s doing a good job: The last time she met me she remembered my name. Pretty much that’s all it takes to be my best friend.

Apart from spending too much time–as does everyone else–talking about sport…


Bad Movies Week, Cont.: 5 Reasons I Also Hated ‘Titanic’

(If you haven’t seen the film, this version will give you the executive summary.)

Of course I discussed The Hunger Games in my classes this week, comparing it in its loathsomeness to Titanic. “You didn’t even like Titanic?!” yelled one outraged young woman from the back of the room. “How is that possible? Don’t you have any guilty pleasures?”

Let me explain my problems with Titanic, which just happened to be playing right next to The Hunger Games when I went to the multiplex last weekend thereb…


12 Things Tenure-Track Faculty Can Learn From ‘The Hunger Games’

"During my comprehensives, they barely touched on Trollope. You're screwed, Katniss." (Still from official "Hunger Games" movie site. Click on the pic to get there.)

I saw The Hunger Games and hated it. The film version of The Hunger Games was more sentimental than Titanic, more misleadingly tough-chick than Pretty Woman, and less well-written than Happy Feet.

But I do believe that there are lessons to be learned from the movie, important ones, and ones, most crucially, that will make the cinema…


Spiro Agnew Speaks to a New Generation of Young Patriots

Like many people, I often like to relax after work with a cool drink and a vice-presidential speech on the stereo.  And these days, the album getting the heaviest rotation on my playlist is Spiro T. Agnew Speaks Out.  Call me nostalgic; call me a prisoner of the 1970s; but for my money, a better compilation of vice-presidential speeches has never been made.

I discovered the Agnew album at Hymie’s Vintage Records last week.  It was in a bin marked “Difficult Listening,” along with other n…


Emotional Affairs vs. Crushes

You’re an average-aged person in a committed relationship but one day you suddenly discover you’ve got a crush on somebody. You’re infatuated by a co-worker, a student, or even—why now?—an old friend. Life gets a little fizzy and a little fuzzy. You’re checking electronic devices for cute text-messages and searching for nuances in e-mails. You discover flirtatious implications whether or not they’re actually there; that’s the foolish part. Like the flu or a bout of colitis, the b…


Slacking for a Living

As a professor, I am a professional slacker. After all, professors like me hardly work, are way over paid, and are the source of ever-increasing tuition at institutions of higher ed.

At least that is the conclusion of David C. Levy, a man who works for something called the Cambridge Information Group, does not list a single teaching position in his biography, and yet was somehow allowed to describe himself as “a career-long academic” in The Washington Post last week as he exposed me and my slack…


“How to Be an Academic Failure” Revisited

The problem started with a phone call from the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.  It was the winter of 2001, and the guy from the Loft was calling about an essay I had written called “How to Be an Academic Failure: An Introduction for Beginners.” That anyone had actually read that essay was a mild shock.  I had written it in a moment of self-loathing while on sabbatical in New Zealand, and it had appeared in an obscure, now-dead magazine called The Ruminator Review.   The greater shock, ho…


Teacher, Student, High School, College

So, in terms of teaching high school English how would I, someone who’s been teaching upper-division English literature classes for 25 years and has won the major teaching award at my university, do?

As a first year high school English teacher from one of the great Western states–I’m calling myself Cat Ballou here, although the TFA calls me by another name–I can give you a few pointers.


Not so hot.

First of all, you didn’t have a posted objective or demonstration of learning…. So…


Skirt Day 2012

Photo by Flickr CC user Joseph Gray; model, Sara Foust

So my friend Tim comes to visit. I don’t let just anybody into the office today because I am in official Grading Hell (all grades done, but not all comments completed–this is how I torture myself), but Tim is not just anybody. He’s the Knight in Shining Technical Armor. He’s the one who rescues everybody in my Department (but especially me) when strange intergalactic stuff enters my hard drive. Or whatever it is that happens when my computer…


That’s Right, You’re Not From Texas (but Texas Wants You Anyway)

If Texas ever decides to secede from the Union, I’d be mighty tempted to go along. Lightnin’ Hopkins, Molly Ivins, Bob Wills, Kinky Friedman, the 1966 Texas Western basketball team: Without the Lone Star State, American life would look pretty anemic. When Steve Earle declared, “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that,” I nodded and said, “Amen.”

Most of all, I like Texas crazy. There is no better val…


Spring Break: The Instructor’s Manual

1. You gave them exams and/or papers to complete right before spring break, didn’t you? Why? You know better. You do this every year, thinking that they’ll be especially motivated to do a good job right before they get some time off. You believe, too, that you’ll be able to read and assess their work in a thoughtful and meaningful manner, since you’ll have a week to yourself. You forget that they are motivated not to do a good job but to get their carry-ons as filled with sunscreen, cover-ups, s…


It’s Funny ‘Cause It’s Racist

We live in a postracial America. NOT! But alas, this is what a large number of white Americans believe. In fact, polls consistently show that blacks and Latinos see discrimination in their daily lives even as whites deny such discrimination. For instance, in the U.S. over 80% of blacks experience “day to day discrimination.” Meanwhile 56% of whites say there is “too much attention paid to racial issues” and whites were 235 times more likely to rate blacks as “lazy” than they were whites.

Given t…


Does Science Teach Us to Eat the Rich?

When we were very young and very snarky, my friends and I wore buttons on our ratty backpacks that said “Eat the Rich.” In retrospect, now that I am not young at all and far less snarky, this sort of dehumanizing behavior of an entire class of people seems indefensible. Unless, of course, we take science into account.

According to a recent study

conducted by psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley… people who are socially and financially better-off are more likely to lie, cheat, …


The Female Orgasm Speaks For Herself

Official logo for Global Orgasm Day

Hi there! I thought I’d introduce myself. You probably weren’t expecting me–so few do–and yet since I’ve been so often on your tongue in “Brainstorm” these past few days, I thought I’d just pop in.

I’m not a mystery once you get to know me–and I certainly hope you will.

Why am I here? I like a good time. When I know people are relaxing, having intimate conversations, really enjoying themselves both cheerfully and intensely, you’ll find that I’m drawn to the mo…


Screaming Mimi, the White House Intern

Here’s my new goal: I want to write a tell-all book and be widely celebrated for how well I keep secrets.

That’s a trick I’d really love to a master, like sawing the last thin remnants of a reputation in half and having it appear whole.

Yes, of course, I’m talking about Screaming Mimi, the JFK intern who decided to wait until everybody was dead (guess daughters don’t count, huh, Mimi?) and write a book with information nobody can prove but that fascinates us all. It doesn’t say much for he…


Weird Valentine’s Greetings

Life isn’t always the kind of thing you can celebrate with greeting cards. Valentine’s Day, especially, often evades responsibility for the kinds of events crying out for attention on February 14th especially if they don’t include candy, balloons, and something with sparkles.

Even doggerel  should have its day, and we believe its day is February 14th.

For example, one of my brother’s best friends in the world is having surgery on Valentine’s Day. There’s no card for that. There’s nothing you can…


Bleep You, You Bleep!

I can’t help but be fascinated by the bizarre nature of bad words and naughty gestures. Some words we can’t say because they’re just plain offensive, like the “n” word or now the “r” word. In my house, the “r” word is a point of contention between my daughters since one says it cannot be uttered while the other says it just to annoy her older sister and poke holes in her holier than thou attitude.  As you can see, the whole situation is a slippery slope that makes us skate around painful histor…


Political Aphorisms for 2012: Chicken or…

For years, everything I believed about American politics could be summed up in the following Gore Vidal bon mot:

America’s not the only one party system, but it’s the only one party system with two right wings.”

That more or less held true till the Dubbya years, when one of the wings went so far right it was no longer accurately described as a political party as much as a social movement fueled by Christian conservatism and funded by corporate interests.

Fortunately, another political aphorism a…


The New-Semester Checklist


  1. No more late-night movies or TV. Forget the fact that you’re telling everybody else in your household that you’re up working late, because we know the truth: no more half-movies once remembered being watched when you are supposed to be doing other things. The semester is starting and you need to get back to your regularly scheduled programming, literally and figuratively. Get your DVR ready, or TIVO, and do it now. If you’re teaching at 8 a.m. or even 9 …

If The Night Before Christmas Had Been Written for the Occupy Movement

Tonight at a marina  holiday party, our neighbor and dear friend, Roger Thiel, treated us to his annual gift of a Christmas poem and reading. Roger has lived in our marina for more than 20 years and has entertained uncountable numbers of live aboards and visitors with song, oratory delights and, of course, his annual holiday poems. The shop of which Roger speaks in this poem is his own, and it makes Santa’s workshop look pretty boring by comparison. In it he runs a professional printing business…