Yesterday the local university, self-described as an “Ivy League-parallel” institution, published an intriguing story in the student newspaper. I heard about this story through a friend and while it is easy to be interested in this news, I find the entire situation riddled with more telling problems than the story itself. Six months into her college career, one of the university students realized that she did not quite have enough money to meet the tuition payments, which approach $60,000 a year. Yes, that’s right. One year at the school costs far more than the majority of American citizens earn from a year of work. Having not planned ahead, seemingly at all, the student needed a way to make money. Work at the library? Or the field house, like I did as an undergraduate? Nah, why not do the modern thing and copulate on camera with a stranger and get paid handsomely? That is more like it! Sex sells, and it also alarms. Her peers are predictably worked up, as demonstrated by comments on the newspaper article and those posted in online forums. My initial reaction was to wonder how different my college experience would have been if everyone had a device in their hand that could post images, and videos, to a global web of wi-fi servers. College is inherently an experimental, and excessive, time in the life of many students. Or, at least those fortunate enough to attend college as a cushy eight-month camp, full of partying, cutting classes, sleeping in at every opportunity, and generally not acting like the adult the time is intended to train you to be. Live it up, on someone else’s tab. But, this soul didn’t have quite enough money to attend the “Ivy-parallel” university so she did what just about, er, what most people would not do – she turned to one of the oldest trades available to women, which is trading their body for money. Interesting choice. Secondly, I wondered how the wi-fi and smartphone culture had shaped her sense of self and privacy. If you’ve been photographed, video recorded, and plastered on the internet for the majority of your life, is it a major step to then allow strangers to record you, as long as they pay you well? You’ve been doing as much for free, so why not cash in on that experience? Sure, not everyone makes this choice, but I think the parallels between a lived life and a recorded, posted life draw closer and closer when you have come to feel completely comfortable operating in front of a camera. I wonder how this modern existence shaped her decision. Aside from the troubling myopia of the student, and the fact that she’s likely changed her life for the worse forever, I was deeply troubled by the reaction expressed by many of her peers. And her own contradictions expressed in the interview were disturbing as well. She claimed she needed money for tuition, but showed the journalist her designer handbag and expensive, new laptop. She also decried those students who would judge her and place labels on her. But then she immediately turned around and labeled her previous job as a waitress as humiliating and exploitative. Hmm, are those not labels? College is promoted as being training for life, but in fact I realize it is actually an escape from the reality of life and a synthetic experience, especially when it is a top-tier university (sorry, Ivy-parallel) with the brightest, and richest, young adults around. It is not a microcosm or a training ground, but an escape from the wide world. Yes, many of these students will in fact go on to inhabit a small world that has little, or no, correlation with the wide world and the experience of the majority of humans. Still, I could not get over how narrowly she, and her peers, saw the world and interpreted their place in it. A fellow journalist bemoaned the Scarlet Letter of attending the university, since it has made scandalous headlines in the past. The poor guy. Tough, tough breaks, having to fly home to California for holidays and feeling the stigma of attending his “Ivy-parallel” university. What became apparent is that despite the ultra-expensive education most of these students have received, from grade school through the “Ivy-parallel” university, is that they still perceive their lot in life as being unfair, the world stacked against them, and have the nerve to ask for special treatment, which they have no intention of return to the rest of humanity. They inhabit a bubble of extreme privilege, yet don’t want to be judge, don’t want to be labeled, but cannot get beyond thinking that attending their “Ivy-parallel” university should provide a label of intelligence, future success, and being smarter, and somehow better than, the masses. If these teenagers, benefitting from all the finer things in life that money can buy, can’t relate to the world in a conscientious, compassionate way, how can the person who truly has been disadvantaged operate in such a fashion? The horrors of attending, say a state university, meant the only option this first-year student had was to sell her body for money. Talk about living in a fantasy land where one is unable to see beyond their own conceptions of how world operates!

Yes, there are some folks living and breathing who are making a push for Fat Acceptance Studies to be granted a spot at your local university, as a new field and department.

The idea is pretty self-explanatory – fat (this word might not actually be acceptable to use, but I’ll have to ask the Department Chair) people suffer discrimination at the hands of the public and their peers. Thus, we need a new academic discipline to study these creatures and their experiences.

You’ve been warned. I wonder where this will lead.

My brother has lots of money and is on the short side. Might he endow a Short Acceptance Studies Department and elect me as the chair? He’ll never become the U.S. President because of his height, or lack of verticality, so his plight needs some academic attention.

Just when you thought fixsters had the market cornered on the Form Over Function market, road cyclists elbowed their way into the fight.

Behold, the Giro Empire cycling shoe:

Giro Factor shoes

 

I can see the nostalgia for classic cycling shoes. Oh wait, no I can’t. Just like I can’t see the nostalgia for say, wooden rims, no derailleurs, and natural chamois sewn in wool shorts.

Pony up your good money for shoes that require you to tuck the laces into…the rest of your laces, just like you did when you were ten and cutting them shorter didn’t cross your mind.

Do you know why none of the PROs (aside from MiniPhinney and I bet he’s getting a lot o’ cash money to wear them) wear them? Imagine dropping back to the team car and your Director Sportif asks what for…and you have to tell him you need to tie your shoes?

Or, imagine you are out in -5*C weather and you decide you shoes are a bit too tight? Have fun sitting in the bank of snow, pulling off your overshoes and readjusting the lacing tension.

Or better yet, imagine calling the significant other to pick you up 65 kms from home and telling her you need a ride…to the dentist. Did you crash? Yes. Did you hit some ice? A crack in the pavement that grabbed your front wheel? Nah, my shoelaces got caught on my chain ring and pulled me off the bike and face first into the pavement. Oh, I see. Was it those expensive, neon new shoes you told me you had to have? Yeah.

These look pretty cool and I’m all for sharp fashion while in the saddle. But, these make absolutely no sense when numerous vendors sell fancy road shoes affixed to your foot with Velcro straps or straps with buckles or a Boa “lacing” system.

I have yet to see these shoes in person. I hope they continue to live only in the fantasy world of cycling photo blogs.

 

Amongst the numerous attributes possessed by many fellow academics which displease me (a shocking lack of social skills, for example), I think what frustrates me the most is just how stupid most of you are, outside your narrow discipline. The unwashed masses, well, what can be done about them? They’re supposed to be vile. Yet, after spending over twenty years acquiring an education, many academics are downright selfish, inconsiderate, and careless. How can you be this stupid after all those years of supposedly spending time expanding your mental powers?

For example, I live in between the two campuses of Duke University, the “Harvard of the South.” I’m surrounded by faculty members and graduate students from the university. One of them lives directly across the street from me. I have never, ever seen him leave his house or exit his automobile without his phone pressed to his ear. This distraction causes him to miss the little things – he checks to make sure his car is locked numerous times because he isn’t paying attention to what he’s doing when he just, seconds ago, locked his door. He also misses the big things. Despite an email to the neighborhood listserve, notes left on his automobile, and pounding on his front door, he managed to be completely unaware that an enormous, hundred-year-old tree in our front yard was due to be removed. His car just sat their, forcing the treemen to waste time navigating their tools and machinery around his go-kart of a car.

Aside from taking an inordinate amount of time to exit his car, since beyond the locking conundrum he only has one hand with which to lead his life, what truly pisses me off is that he ignores all the safety issues involved in distracted driving. He’s been in school for twenty years and he thinks it’s acceptable to drive around at all times with the use of a single hand? If this educated person is such a self-centered, worthless fucking jerk, what hope is there for someone who maybe hasn’t seen the countless public safety messages regarding driving and cellular phone usage?

Dear Academics: Don’t let the obsession with your one, likely esoteric topic, obscure you from using your brain on a regular basis! Take your brain outside your office! Take it outside your research laboratory! Use it at more than academic conferences. Feel free to show off just how powerful your brain is to commoners, to neighbors, fuck, even show it to my dog!

As an objective human being, it is very, very difficult to not feel cynical about the world these days. Corporations are people. Global warming is a hoax. Shipping oil from Alaska to Mexico by pipeline is a wonderful idea.

Please, to all your academics who cruise through life beyond your narrow discipline acting like total fucking selfish assholes, don’t add to the problems of the world. Use that powerful brain you’ve spent most of your life developing.

I was cycle commuting home from work the other day, a beautiful autumn afternoon with sun, multi-colored leaves, and pleasantly warm air.

As I pedaled, a nice silver colored sedan rolled by, heading in the other direction. At first it caught my eye, with its sleek lines and compact, powerful body. Then I realized that an otherwise beautiful car had tasteless matte black rims.

German sports cars now wear the same tacky rims matte black rims that you might see on a late-model, dented Ford Probe.

Successful, wealthy people now wear embroidered denim and gold-flecked t-shirts, as if this was a sign of their prestige. The only problem is that the same clothes are worn by the guy at the MMA fight.

The desire, or even ability, to speak eloquently is also dead, it would seem. Highly educated mothers now talk just like teenage girls. I’m sure we’ve all heard an appalling statement begin with something along the lines of, “I’m so not happy right now.”

The excellent historian Lawrence W. Levine wrote one of my favorite books, entitled Highbrow/Lowbrow, about the emergence of class and a cultural taste hierarchy. He looks mainly at the 19th century and tries to find if cultural moved up from the masses, or down from the elites.

From where I sit in my saddle, culture now seems to be one morass, where the talented, wealthy and successful people act, dress, and speak nearly the same as the indecipherable masses. We’re now one big middle class, and each day we all are losing grip on that rope that ties us to a ledge where decency, modesty, classiness, and respectability dwell.

Enjoy this song during our collective slip to the bottom!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIycEe59Auc

A cycling pal today mentioned there was a big college football game on tonight, two highly ranked teams in the same conference. I thought about meeting him out at a bar to see it, but I think the football-crazed crowd would have appalled me.

I decided to tune in and watch online. I made it exactly one minute and twenty-two seconds before I was bored. Florida State scored, the play was controversial, the announcers prattled on and on about whether or not it was a touchdown, and then the went to commercials. Commercials about automobiles and cell phones.

What a fucking boring sport. There is far, far more dead air than action.

To top it off, most of the “scholar-athletes” are getting paid illegally and the coaching staff, and athletic department is in on the heist.

I got one, then two big middle fingers for the sport of American football.

The Department of Motor Vehicles has long existed as a punching bag for the general American public. The experience of being inside of one is supposed to be a universally acknowledged torturefest. Everyone hates the place.

Well, I have been inside of one exactly twice and I have to say, I had a pleasant experience during the only visit I remember. My first trip to the DMV was to take the test and apply for my New York State learners permit. I do not remember this experience at all, which I think means it was something less memorable than torture. My second trip was a few years ago when my original license finally expired, after a good decade-long run. I rode my bike, meaning I was able to combine a ride and the reapplication in one trip. Not bad at all, and actually very nice. There was no line and I was still sweating by the time I reemerged.

Thus, I cannot help but scratch my head. Who are all of you folks that hate the DMV with visceral disdain? And, why are you going in there so often?

Last week my computer was having some trouble and I had to venture to the Apple Store at the Southpoint Mall in Durham, North Carolina. I had been there once before, nine months ago, to purchase my computer. I recall feeling as if I had traveled through time and space to another planet.

This same feeling coursed through my veins and rattled my brain last week as I waited to speak with a “genius.” It was just past noon on a Friday, yet the store was crowded with an array of folks who seemingly had something better, more important, or more pressing to attend to, such as high school, a job, or sipping tea at the retirement center. Who were all of those people? Watching them was further evidence that the world is completely doomed. People were walking around looking at all the products as if they were seeing the future. It was as if they were viewing machines that might save the world, when in reality texting and  playing with one’s phone is nothing short of public masturbation. Since you are no longer capable of interacting with humans in a meaningful way, you play. And you play some more. And then your life coach, Siri, tells you how to live your life and you smile as you follow her instructions.

A grey haired mother of around sixty years old was next to me with a bleary eyed, tooth picked arm young man, a person I think was likely her son. His skin was as white as paper, his t-shirt hung on him as if he were a scarecrow, and his eyelids were red and irritated, as if someone had squirted lemon juice in his face. He looked as if he had not been outside a dark basement in months and that he had never done anything remotely athletic that might have stimulated at least one single muscle to develop in his body. He had to be around twenty-five years old, but there he was, flanked by his mother at the mall.

His fancy phone was not working properly. He looked like he might burst into tears any moment, unless his life could be saved with a fixed phone.

I like the DMV. I do not like the Apple Store. A new gadget will not save your life, but it may end up dooming you to a life spent as a chronic public masturbator.

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