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The Webb GI Bill Passed

Yes! It pays an amount equal to the most expensive in-state public school.  

The Bill also creates a new program in which the government will agree to match, dollar for dollar, any voluntary contributions to veterans from institutions whose tuition is more expensive than the maximum educational assistance provided.

  I wonder if Williams will create a program for matching voluntary contributions to meet the cost?

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McLean ’92 on Productivity

Worth the diversion on social media: a recent essay by Bethany McLean ’92, author of “The Smartest Guys in the Room” and “All the Devils are Here,” on LinkedIn. She writes “In Praise of Being Unproductive.”

A subject after EphBlog’s own heart!

Whenever I read something about the glories of productivity, I wince.

I am not productive. In fact, sometimes I waste entire days. I talk to people for hours, and not one thing from that conversation makes it into anything I am writing now — or will ever write in the future. I expend tons of emotional energy mustering up the nerve to call people who do not call me back. I work on stories that die a deserved death. Sometimes — may the gods of productivity forgive me — I even take an extended online shopping break because I’ve decided that my attempts to make sense of something are resulting in nonsense. I read things that have nothing to do with my work. I daydream. A lot.

Never afraid to tell the truth, McLean uses this opening to rail on journalism’s business pretensions and the idea that writing is an industry in which productivity can be measured:

I’m not sure journalism is meant to be quantifiably productive. You need to call everyone … need to spend hours talking to people because it’s as important to understand what you don’t use and why you don’t use it as it is to understand what you do use… [and] be able to chase a story and be honest about the fact that it isn’t working… The best story is not necessarily the one that gets the most bang for the buck, at least if you think that “best” means something other than cheap click bait.

I read McLean’s essay as somewhat tongue in cheek: even if the activity inputs she describes may not be directly productive, that doesn’t mean a writer’s output can’t be measured in some way.

But it’s a good reminder: in the ideas business, the work of producing ideas is often orthogonal to the objective rather than linear. If you’ve never gone back to read your James Webb Young, put it on your reading list.

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Which Presidential Candidate is the Most Eph? (Democratic Edition)

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There may be nearly two dozen declared presidential candidates for the two major parties, but America remains as far from electing the next James Garfield as ever.  It falls to EphBlog to consider who, in the absence of a real William College alum in the field, has the best claim to being an Eph.  Dissenting opinions welcome. Let’s begin with the Democratic candidates.

Hillary Clinton.

Education: Wellesley, then Yale Law.

Comments: Resembles a college administrator: old, corporatist, falsely  populist, disdainful of transparency. Her liberal arts background (albeit at an institution that continues to exclude an entire gender) would make her a favorite, but when it came time to take Chelsea shopping for colleges, Amherst was on the list, but not Williams.  And if — as appears to be the case — she’s on the verge of squandering an overwhelming nomination advantage for the second time, aren’t we glad she’s not an Eph?

Martin O’Malley:

Education. Catholic University, University of Maryland Law.

O’Malley was one of the inspirations for the fictional mayor Tommy Carcetti on “The Wire,” which was exceedingly popular among Ephs and became the subject of a course taught by Professor Manigault-Bryant of the Africana Studies Department.  And he has musical talent.

Lincoln Chafee.

Education. Brown University, Montana State University.

Once a liberal Republican, now a Democrat, Chafee went to graduate school to become a farrier, and then shoed horses for seven years. Kind of an Eph thing to do. As governor of the state that contains Roger Williams, could he be mistaken for an Eph? Probably not.

James Webb.

Education. USC, then the U.S. Naval Academy. Georgetown Law School.

Webb served in Vietnam as a Marine, the military service favored by EphBlog for its storied tradition of Ephs in service. And he rose to prominence on the strength of his critically-acclaimed 1978 novel about the Vietnam War, Fields of Fire. He later taught literature at the Naval Academy.  A literary Marine — that’s kind of Eph-y.

Bernie Sanders.

Education. Brooklyn College, then transferred to the University of Chicago. Not very Eph choices.

Former Senator from Vermont, a very Eph-y state — and into which the Williams campus spreads. A socialist, which has earned him early grassroots enthusiasm at Williams, like this July 29 potluck, and makes him popular in Eph-y places like Portland and Somerville.  That carries some weight, but enough to offset his urban education?

Verdict: Let’s face it, none of these folks has “I’m a secret Eph” written all over them.  Does Eph enthusiasm for Sanders and his New England career outweigh Hillary’s educational background?  Let’s call it a tie.

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Williams & the Civil War: The Wrong Side, Part Two

One of a series of posts, as explained in “Williams & the Civil War: The Wrong Side – Introduction“:

At long last, 150 years after the Union prevailed “with a brave army, and a just cause” in the American Civil War, one of the most visible remaining markers of that conflict is on everyone’s lips and coming down…

Williams College, and most Ephs, reflect on the Civil War through a Union lens — correctly so, from both a moral and historical perspective… [s]o let’s use this occasion to learn more from and about Ephs on the subject of the Civil War and especially on the other side: the Confederacy.

Williams College produced three Ephs who ascended to the rank of General for the United States during the Civil War. James Garfield became President of the United States. But Williams also produced high-ranking officers who fought for the Confederacy. Two brothers, Joseph Lovell, Jr., and William F.S. Lovell, may be the most interesting of these men.

William and Joseph Lovell were two of the sons of Joseph Lovell, the 8th Surgeon General of the United States Army, and the first with the “Surgeon General” title:

Lovell was appointed Surgeon General to date from April 18, 1818, with Hospital Surgeons Tobias Watkins and James C. Bronaugh, assistants, one for each of the two divisions of the army. Apothecary General Le Barron was retained in his old position. Though only in his thirtieth year, his services in the hospitals on the northern frontier during the war and his appreciation of the needs of the service as evidenced by his reports made Lovell the logical choice for head of the service. Thus was established for the first time a permanent medical department organization. For the first time a career medical officer was made chief of the service. All of the former chiefs had been appointed to meet the emergency of war, real or expected, with an organization to serve the forces in the field. Again, for the first time was bestowed upon the service chief the title of surgeon general, which has survived to the present day.

Serving in the post for 18 years, Lovell founded its library, which today is the National Library of Medicine.

Son Joseph, Jr., entered Williams in 1840, where he spent only his freshman year. He moved on to Yale, graduating in 1844, then became a lawyer in New York State.

William entered Williams in 1845. He too lasted only one year at Williams, and soon thereafter entered the United States Navy as a midshipman, graduating from the Naval Academy in 1855.

In the 1850s, the brothers’ gazes turned south, towards Natchez, Mississippi. Through a third brother, Mansfield, a West Point graduate and the Streets Commissioner in New York City, the Lovells’ lives became entwined with that of General John Quitman, two-time governor of Mississippi. As a second lieutenant in the Mexican-American War, Mansfield served as an adjutant to Quitman, and they became close. This eventually brought Joseph, Jr. and William together with the Lovell family, and when General Quitman died in 1858, Joseph and William F.S. Lovell married two of his daughters. William resigned his commission in the Navy, and the brothers became cotton plantation-holders as partners.

Monmouth Plantation, Natchez, Mississippi - onetime home of Gen. John Quitman

Monmouth Plantation, Natchez, Mississippi – onetime home of Gen. John Quitman

Not surprisingly, when the Civil War broke out, both brothers entered Confederate service — as did Mansfield, who was named the Confederate general in command of New Orleans. Joseph, Jr. joined his staff as a General. William F.S. Lovell became a lower-ranking officer in the Confederate Army, where he rose from Captain of Artillery to Lieutenant Colonel of Ordnance, and ultimately to Assistant Inspector-General.

As an ordnance colonel, William put his naval training to use, taking command of a 200-foot sidewheel river liner, the William H. Webb, and two smaller vessels, and fought them in naval action on the Red River. William was later captured at the battle of Vicksburg, paroled, and then dispatched by the Confederacy on a mission to England, where he remained from 1864 until the end of the war.

The Lovell brothers were not forgotten to Eph history. They merited a footnote in it, or, more precisely, in. Leverett Wilson Spring’s “A History of Williams College,” which notes that “eight non-graduates entered the Confederate army.” And they appear in the Catalogue of Non-Graduates. But otherwise, they have been forgotten. And perhaps that is as it should be, except as an instructional to heed David’s advice: “Marry an Eph.” If the Williams of the 1840s had been coed, and the Lovell brothers had done so, maybe they wouldn’t have ended up on the wrong side of the Civil War.

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Commencement Week Round-Up

In honor of commencement, several stories of note from recent weeks related to this week’s ceremonies and/or the graduating seniors:

  • Be sure to read this Williams feature highlighting some of the future plans for this year’s graduating class.   Great to see so many seniors interested in serving their country and/or the world.
  • Another must read: this interview with senior Mopati Morake’11, who has clearly thought deeply about higher education.
  • Talented writer Andrew Triska ’11 will be finishing his novel after graduation.
  • Of course, for baby boomers, the most famous “graduate” of Williams is Benjamin Braddock (the novel was written by Eph Charles Webb shortly after his own graduation, and although Williams is not mentioned in the movie, he does wear a purple-and-gold tie).  Apparently a new adaptation hones closer to the novel.
  • One of my favorite Williams traditions is the Olmstead Award for Secondary School Teachers.  Read about this year’s recipients here.
  • Congratulations seniors, and enjoy what should be a wonderful weekend highlighted by tremendous Commencement speaker Cory Booker.
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Ducks, Dogs, and Peter Abrahams ’68 …

Yet two more books upcoming from Peter.

One on Baseball. From Amazon

it’s opening day at the ballpark, and Thumby Duckling is nervous. He hopes it won’t be one, two, three strikes, he’s out! Trailing by three in the bottom of the ninth, the Webbies are counting on Thumby to save the day. Can Thumby shake his jitters and show his team that he’s a star player?

A nice review in School Library Journal

This  note from Peter  in Speak Up:

“May I speak up about the subject of me? At one time, in bad taste; now de rigueur. Anyway, today is pub date for my first picture book. It’s called Quacky Baseball and the illustrations are terrific. I can say that with no conscience pang, because I didn’t do them. Frank Morrison did, and he’s great. It’s published by Harper Childrens.

Book 4 in the Chet and Bernie series (written under my pen name, Spencer Quinn), The Dog Who Knew Too Much, comes out Sept. 6 (Atria).

I’ll also have a new middle-grade series starting next year for Philomel. Book one is Robbie Forester and the Outlaws of Sherwood Street. It’s about a 12-year-old Robin Hood in contemporary Brooklyn.”

Frank Morrison, the illustrator is a whole separate read!

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Who wants this job anyway?

As some of you may have seen, Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia) has stated that he will not run for re-election in 2012. This has set off an explosion of blog posts about his departure, like this and this, and thanking him for his service.

There have also been lots of posts speculation about his possible successor, both on the Democratic side (see here, here, and here and Republican sides (here and here).

Senator Webb was “drafted” to run in 2006 with the encouragement of many Democratic “outsiders” (see here, as well as some Democratic insiders, like Chap Petersen ’90. Chap was also involved very early on in the Webb campaign in 2006, when Webb was a long-shot to win the Democratic nomination and an impossible long shot to beat then-incumbent Senator George Allen, and he has posted a short piece in response to Webb’s retirement notice. Chap’s name has been floated from time to time as a possible candidate for Webb’s seat, including in the comments to his own post. In response, Chap wrote:

I’m announcing for re-election to the State Senate in a few weeks. Does that count?

I’d need a frontal lobotomy to work on Capitol Hill. Or a bottle in front of me.

Not a fan of Capitol Hill, apparently.

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Gleeful Amatuer: Sam Crane in Our Town

From the Eagle:

A professor from a small town plays a smalltown professor in a play aware of its audience.

That local man is George T. “Sam” Crane, a Williams College professor now on stage in “Our Town,” a classic 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning work by Thornton Wilder that Crane considers an anthropological study of “big questions of finding eternal in the every day.”

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Picture of Moore and Scandal Name/Song

mooreFirst, this is the only picture of Professor Bernard Moore that I have been able to find. (He is on the left. Source is Williams Record.) A Williams faculty member suggested to me that Moore may have actually avoided having pictures of himself taken (e.g., here) because he was concerned that someone might recognize him and, thereby, discover his various frauds. Can anyone point to other photos?

Second, can we settle on a scandal name and graphic, as we did for Nigaleian, Mary Jane Hitler and Willy E. N-word? See this morning’s discussion. Leading suggestion (with two votes!) seems to be “Catch Moore If You Can.” (Hat tip to Batman.) (The graphics possibilities are fun.) Moore’s cyclist hobby might prove relevant. I wish that there were some way to incorporate his lousy teaching and suspect academic work, but there is only so much we can squeeze into a scandal name. Moore is, obviously, the Leonardo DiCaprio character in the movie poster. But who is chasing him? Ephraim Williams? EphBlog? A purple cow? Give us your suggestions in the comments.

Third, Jeff has produced the perfect scandal song, based on Mrs. Robinson.

And here’s to you, Mr. Bernard Moore
Williams loved you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
Falk bless you please, Mr. Bernard Moore
Williams held a place for those who stray
(Hey, hey, hey…hey, hey, hey)

We failed to know a little bit about you for our files
Forgot to help us learn about yourself
Look around you, hardly any sympathetic eyes
Please depart the grounds and head back home

And here’s to you, Mr. Bernard Moore
Williams loved you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
Falk bless you please, Mr. Bernard Moore
Williams held a place for those who stray
(Hey, hey, hey…hey, hey, hey)

Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes
Put it in your bank with your false gains
It’s a little secret, just a faculty affair
Most of all, you’ve got to hide it from the kids

And here’s to you, Mr. Bernard Moore
Williams loved you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
Falk bless you please, Mr. Bernard Moore
Williams held a place for those who stray
(Hey, hey, hey…hey, hey, hey)

Sitting in the Congress on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Ev’ry way you look at it, you lose

Where have you gone, James McGregor Burns
A college turns it’s lonely eyes to you (Woo, woo, woo)
What’s that you say, Mr. Bernard Moore
McGregor Burns has left and gone away
(Hey, hey, hey…hey, hey, hey)

But, with his permission, I think that we could improve the lyrics a bit by incorporating some more specific references to his various Williams activities. The chorus and the last stanza are perfect.

UPDATE: I only just realized how much of a genius Jeff is! Mrs. Robinson is, of course, appeared in the soundtrack of The Graduate, which was based on the book by Charles Webb ’61. We can combine this song with the slogan by just having it as “Catch Mr. Bernard Moore.” Thoughts? Assignment for better lyrics goes to Seth Brown ’01 of Rising Pun.

Below the break is the full Record article on Moore from October 29, 2008. (The Record archives are busted, so this was retrieved from the Google cache.) The article meets the Record‘s usual high standards in terms of investigative reporting. (Read: My daughter’s middle school paper produces harder-hitting copy.)
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Movies Every Eph Should See

Esquire presents (pdf) 75 Movies Every Man Should See. Vaguely amusing, especially the one sentence summaries, e.g.

The Warriors: Bloodthirsty mimes, clown-faced baseballers, and barechested men in leather vests—kind of makes you miss pre-Giuliani New York City.

Glengarry Glen Ross: Because no matter what line of work you’re in, first prize is a Cadillac, second prize is a set of steak knives, third prize is you’re fired.

How about 10 movies every Eph should see? I’ll start with:

The Graduate: Going home to live with your parents after graduation has its advantages.

The Human Stain: Why couldn’t Nigaleian have featured such a surprising ending?

Not nearly clever enough. Readers should provide better sentences for these two movies as well as other suggestions. All movies should have a meaningful connection to Williams. (The Graduate (the book) was written by Charles Webb ‘61. The Human Stain was filmed at Williams.)

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A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67 – Part VI

(for original post, please go here)

Though Varnedoe seemed to recognize the value of a systematic approach to work, one requiring close examination and long hours, he also knew that real opportunity often came knocking in the random moment. Whether it be Richard Serra’s impulse to splatter hot metal on his studio floor, or William Web Ellis’s zany urge to tear ass across a soccer field, ball in hand, Kirk knew that after all was said and done, a fine disregard for the rules, and taking advantage of the unexpected, was the key to innovation. He chronicled this theory in his book (funded as a result of his 1984 MacArthur Foundation award) and he encouraged this practice in life, even on Metrozoid Field.

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part VI

“Okay, we’re going to learn a play,” he said the next Friday at Metrozoid practice. The boys were standing on Metrozoid Field in their Metrozoid shirts in a semicircle around him. He showed them the play he had in mind, tracing it in the dirt with a stick: The quarterback takes the ball from the center and laterals to the halfback, who looks for one of three downfield receivers, who go in overlapping paths down the right sideline – one long, one medium, one short. The boys clapped hands and ran to the center of the field, terrier-quick and terrier-eager.

“No, no. Don’t run. Just walk through it the first few times.”

The boys then ostentatiously walked through the play, clowning around a bit, as though in slow motion. He laughed at that. But he had them do it anyway, five or six times, at a walk.

“Now let’s just amble through it, same thing,” The play took on a courtly quality, like a seventeenth-century dance. The boys did it at that pace, again and again: Hike and pitch and look and throw.

“Now let’s just run easy.” The boys trotted through their pattern, and Garrett, the chosen quarterback, kept overthrowing the ball. Gently but firmly, Kirk changed the running back with the quarterback – Ken for Garrett, so that Garrett had the honor of being official quarterback but wouldn’t have to throw – and then had them trot through it again. Ken threw hard, and the ball was caught.

After twenty minutes, Kirk clapped his hands. “Full speed. Everybody run.” The boys got in their stances, and took off – really zoomed, The ball came nervously back, the quarterback tossed it to the halfback, he turned and threw it to the short receiver.

“Great!” At top eight-year-old speed, the ball had been thrown for a completion. The Metrozoids had mastered a play.

“Now let’s do it again,” Kirk said. I heard him whisper to Matthew, the short receiver, as he lined up, “Fall down!” They started the play, Garrett to Ken. Matthew fell down. Ken’s eyes showed a moment of panic, but then he looked up and saw the next boy, the middle receiver, Luke, waiting right in line, and he threw there. Complete.

“Nice read,” Kirk said, clapping his hands. “Nice read, nice throw, nice catch. Well-executed play.”

The boys beamed at one another.

“You break it down, and then you build it back up,” Kirk said as they met at the center of the field to do the pile of hands. “The hardest play you learn is just steps put together.”

(Part VII tomorrow)

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A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67 – Part IV

(For original post, please go here)

(image from A. Warhol’s Elvis series)

In 1990, while still fairly new in his position as Director of the Department of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA, Kirk launched a controversial exhibit titled “High and Low”. It was inspired by an article written by Gopnik, which traced the influence of caricature and cartoons on some of Picasso’s portraiture. In defense of  initial reaction, Varnedoe asserted to writer William Grimes in this March 1990 interview, that “the relationship of high art to mass culture is one of the great subjects crucial to what made modern art modern – and is still the source of high contention and interest with younger artists today.” He argued that “if you’re interested in Lichtenstein, then it would be hard to deny that his openness to comic books was important in what he did. If you’re interested in Cy Twombly you must recognize – I’m not inventing this – that there’s some connection there to the language of graffiti.”

 Gopnik elaborates on this, by writing: “[Kirk] thought that modern art was a part of modern life: not a reaction against it, or a subversion of it, but set within its values and contradictions…”

Whether it was Dylan he talked about, or Elvis… Picasso or Twombley, Varnedoe saw the connectivity between the individual and community, between art and life.

Today’s segment begins with the boys’ practice sessions at “Metrozoid Field”, and then segues into discussions Varnedoe and Gopnik had during the chemotherapy sessions that took place between these practices.

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part IV

“I think I’m going to make the motivational speech,” I said to Luke as we walked over to Metrozoid Field the next Friday. I had been working on the motivational speech for several days. I didn’t see a role for myself on the Metrozoids as a leader, and I thought I might make a contribution as the Tommy Lasorda type, raising everyone’s spirits and bleeding Metrozoid blue.

“Okay,” he said, relenting for the moment. “Tell it to me again.”

“We’re here to separate the men from the boys,” I said, stopping at the Miners’ Gate entrance to the park, at Seventy-ninth Street,  and trying to growl like Gary Busey as the Bear, “and then we’re going to separate the warriors from the men.” I paused to let this sink in. “And then we’re going to separate the heroes from the warriors – and then we’re going to separate the legends from the heroes. And then, at last, we’re going to separate the gods from the legends. So, if you’re not ready to be a football god, you don’t want to be a Metrozoid.” Long pause. “Now, won’t that make the guys motivated?”

He reflected. “I don’t know if they’ll be motivated. They’ll certainly be nauseated. Nobody wants to be motivated to play football, Dad. They want to play football.

Kirk ran another minimalist practice on this second week, and he missed the next because he was too sick from the chemo. I ran the session, and I thought ambitiously that it would be good to try a play at last, so I set about teaching them a simple stop-and-go. I got them to line up and run short, stop, and then go long. They ran it one by one, but none of them could get the timing quite right, and the boy who was supposed to be quarterbacking the thing couldn’t get the right zip on the ball. Everyone was more annoyed than motivated, so I stopped after ten minutes and sent them back to scrimmaging. They were restless for their coach. 

It wasn’t any surprise that he missed a practice; the surprise was that he made as many as he did. The chemo he was getting was so caustic that it had to be infused gradually,over sessions lasting three or four hours. Years of chemotherapy had left the veins in his arms so collapsed that sometimes it took half an hour for a nurse just to find an entry. He would grimace while being poked at with the needle, and then go on talking. He had the chemotherapy at one of the midtown extensions of the hospital, where the walls were earnestly decoratd with Impressionist posters, Manet and Monet and Renoir – the art that he had taught a generation to relish for it’s spring-coiled internal contradictions and tensions there as something soothing for dying patients to look at.

He would talk for hours. Sometimes he talked about the Metrozoids, and sometimes about Dylan or Elvis, but mostly, he tried to talk through the Mellon Lectures he was to give in Washington. He was, he said, going to speak without a text, just with a slide list. This was partly a bravura performer’s desire to do one last bravura performance. It was also because he had come to believe that in art history, description was all the theory you needed; if you could describe what was there and what it meant (to the painter, to his time, to you) you didn’t need a deeper supporting theory. Art wasn’t meaningful because, after you looked at it, someone explained it; art explained itself by being there to look at.

He thought that modern art was a part of modern life: not a reaction against it, or a subversion of it, but set within it’s values and contradictions, as surely as Renaissance art was set in its time. His book on the origins of modernism, A Fine Disregard, used an analogy from the history of rugby to illuminate the moment of artistic innovation: During a soccer game at the Rugby School, in England, an unknown young man named William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it, and a new game came into being. A lot of people thought that Kirk was celebrating a Romantic view of invention. But his was a liberal, not a Romantic, view of art. It began with an individual and extended to a community. What fascinated him was the circumstances that let someone act creatively and other people applaud instead of blowing the whistle.

That was what he loved to talk about when he talked about Elvis. He revered the moment when, in 1954, Elvis walked into a studio and played with Scotty and Bill and Sam, and everything suddenly came together. Had any of the elements been absent, as they easily might have been, as they usually are – had the guitarist Scotty Moore been less adaptable, the producer Sam Phillips less patient – then Elvis would have crooned his songs, no one would have cared, and nothing would have happened. The readiness was all. These moments were Kirk’s faith, his stations: Picasso and Braque in their studios cutting the headlines right out of the newspapaers and pasting them on the pictures to make collage; Richard Serra (first among Kirk’s contemporary heroes) throwing hot lead in a studio corner and finding art in its rococo patterns.

Toward the end of one chemotherapy session, as he worried his way through his themes, a young man wearing the usual wool cap on his head came around the usually inviolable barrier of drapery that separated one “suite” from the next.

“You are professor?” he asked shyly, with a Russian accent, and Kirk shook his head.

“No, you are professor. I know. We have treatment at the same time, every week. Same three hours,” and he gestured toward his cap with a short we’re-in-this-together smile. “I used to bring book, but now I just listen to you.”

(look for Part V tomorrow)

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It’s Oscar time again …

Oscar Statue

I now, I know – what’s that go to do with Williams?

Every well brought-up alum knows about Elia Kazan and John Frankenheimer. But how many know that Charles Brackett ’15 won three Oscars for screenwriting (Lost Weekend/1945, Sunset Boulevard/1950, and the Clifton Webb 1953 Titanic), or that he won a lifetime achievement award from the Academy in 1959, or that he was president of the Academy from 1949 to 1955?

I thought so!

So here is a sporting contest for cineasts, auteur-admirers, and those who aren’t going to wait for the Netflix release. How many winners can you pick from the Big Six?

BEST PICTURE

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Frost/Nixon

Milk

The Reader

Slumdog Millionaire

BEST DIRECTOR

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon

Stephen Daldry, The Reader

Gus Van Sant, Milk

BEST ACTOR

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor

Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon

Sean Penn, Milk

Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

BEST ACTRESS

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married

Angelina Jolie, Changeling

Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Meryl Streep, Doubt

Kate Winslet, The Reader

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Josh Brolin, Milk

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt

Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams, Doubt

Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Viola Davis, Doubt

Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

Enter in ‘comments’ below. Prizes will be awarded. Yes, maybe those cheesy Hood River pens with the guy on the windsurfer going back and forth! But maybe not … I think the surfer guy is now available on a key chain! Tempted? Want that souvenir and your name up in lights right here on the EphBlog marquee?

Enter now! Vote early, Vote often! Duplicate prizes awarded in case of ties (those pens aren’t big movers)!

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Prison Reform

Senator Jim Webb is working on prison reform.

This spring, Webb (D-Va.) plans to introduce legislation on a long-standing passion of his: reforming the U.S. prison system. Jails teem with young black men who later struggle to rejoin society, he says. Drug addicts and the mentally ill take up cells that would be better used for violent criminals. And politicians have failed to address this costly problem for fear of being labeled “soft on crime.”

It is a gamble for Webb, a fiery and cerebral Democrat from a staunchly law-and-order state. Virginia abolished parole in 1995, and it trails only Texas in the number of people it has executed. Moreover, as the country struggles with two wars overseas and an ailing economy, overflowing prisons are the last thing on many lawmakers’ minds.

They say there is no better messenger on the unlikely issue of criminal justice reform.

“It’s perceived as a great political sin to represent any position besides ‘lock ’em up and throw the key away,’ ” said state Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D-Fairfax). “With Jim’s personality, he’s never going to strike somebody as being soft on crime or any other issue. For that reason, he might be better able to lead this cause. He’s a pretty tough guy.”

Webb is a decorated Marine who served as Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan. He has also been a journalist, a novelist and a Hollywood screenwriter. In an interview last week, he said his experience in the military, a culture that is “disciplined but fair,” led to his interest in the prison system.

Petersen is class of ’90. He is certainly the Eph most likely to hold statewide office in Virginia someday. Previous crime-related debate here. Webb’s book might make for a good Williams Reads choice in 2010.

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Running Scared

Another fine article on war, veterans and education from Wick Sloane ’76 writing in Inside Higher Ed. Read the whole thing, but here is the only Williams mention.

In helping a Bunker Hill Iraq veteran who will attend Dartmouth College this fall, I had communicated with James Wright, president of Dartmouth. Wright, an ex-Marine, has been visiting wounded veterans in Washington hospitals with James Selbe, another ex-Marine leading veterans’ issues for the American Council on Education. ACE last month had a two-day summit, “Serving Those Who Serve: Higher Education and America’s Veterans (see related essay). Dartmouth has wounded veterans attending.

The public institutions are in the lead. I rounded up the usual suspects from the privates, to see if any were following Jim Wright’s lead.

From Princeton: “The University has no records of current American students who are veterans of wars. While we have students who receive veterans benefits, they do so as dependents of service members, rather than as service members who served in the military. Our office of financial aid hasn’t processed any GI Bill benefits in recent memory (dating back the past two decades approximately).” Yale has not yet replied. Yale president Rick Levin and Joel Podolny, Dean of the School of Management, about a year ago, ignored my several queries asking if Yale was recognizing alumni or students who were veterans. From Williams: “As far as we know, we do not have any veterans of the Iraq war enrolled at Williams. We do have Iraq veterans working on staff — one who saw three tours of duty.”

Comments:

1) In our discussion last week on the Webb GI Bill, Frank Uible ’57 wrote:

I would like to hear a McCain supporter’s version of the reason for McCain’s opposition. It appears anti-intuitive.

I am not a McCain supporter, yet I can understand his opposition to this bill. Instead of giving more money to veterans that they can only spend on education, I would rather see us give them the same amount of money that they can spend on anything at all. Not every enlisted soldier wants to go to college; not every office wants a Ph.D. (What I used my GI Bill money for.) Moreover, the extra funding should not go to veterans in general but should be focussed on those serving in the most dangerous, combated positions.

2) Unlike Wick, I am not particularly upset that Williams does not do anything to (specially) recruit veterans. Of course, I would like to see more veterans at Williams and would vote in favor of the College seeking them out. But I recognize this as special pleading on my part. Doing what Jim Wright does for Dartmouth takes time and money, both of which are always limited. It would not be hard for Williams to do more (mainly reach out to the various programs/departments which help veterans transition out of the service), but it is not unreasonable for the admissions office to devote its energies elsewhere.

3) The main change that I would like to see is to have an Eph veteran awarded a Bicentennial Medal each year for the next 5 or 10 years. You can call this quota, if you like, but there is no doubt (in my mind) that Ephs like Bunge Cooke ’98, JR Rahill ’88, Kathy Sharpe Jones ’79 and others have demonstrated “distinguished achievement” in their fields of endeavor. Williams should honor them. Write to Secretary of the Alumni Society Brooks Foehl ’88 if you agree.

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Veterans?

What programs does Williams have to help our veterans afford a Williams education? Does the school offer anything to veterans in terms of special financial aid?

 

It would be really great if Williams offered veterans an education for the cost of the current GI Bill. Bush has promised to veto the Webb GI Bill and it is going to be up to individual institutions to offer affordable education to our homecoming veterans if there is no override. Does Williams have any such program? I do not see any specific programs for our veterans on the Williams webpage.  Could such grants be started by giving alums?

 

Is there special consideration given to Veterans for admission? Anyone have an idea of how many veterans are currently attending?

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How is it done?

How do you track where a person is when they post on this blog? I understand that when you get the IP Address of an idnividual blogger, you can run that through a varitey of webpage programs to see where the person was when they posted- but how do you get their address? Can anyone who visits this site, take a post and find out where it originated from.. or only those who control the domain- those able to see the posters IP Address? I have seen a posters location “outed”  here on Ephblog in the past.

  There are programs that claim to “scatter” a persons IP Address so it makes it very hard or impossible for an someone to see where the person is posting from, and what other webpages they may be visiting if there is a controlling authority in the link- do such programs work, if so, how? Always?

It would be really cool if some of the IT gurus in here gave some insite into the webb, how it works, and how individauls are “tagged” and followed on it by advertisers and others.

 Thanks.

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Braddock an Eph?

We have long speculated that protagonist of The Graduate is an Eph. Does the sequel provide proof?

“Home School” by Charles Webb is the sequel to the popular novel “The Graduate,” written in 1963 and made into what is now a classic film in 1967, starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross — and directed by Mike Nichols.

The story focuses on 21-year-old Benjamin Braddock, a recent graduate of Massachusetts’ Williams College. He goes home to Pasadena where he meets Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s business partner. When she tries to seduce him (nude scene and all), he is shocked — but returns later and initiates an affair with her.

(Actually, Hoffman was 29 at the time while the allegedly much older Anne Bancroft was 35.)

When he meets her daughter, Elaine Robinson, he falls in love with her. That ends dramatically when the affair is discovered. Elaine becomes engaged to a more acceptable young man, but Benjamin can’t get her out of his mind — so he drives a horrendous distance to reach the church in time to stop the wedding.

He is not in time to stop it — but he runs away with Elaine anyway — to the accompaniment of the also famous Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack (“Mrs. Robinson” was the hit single), and the marriage is annulled.

This is the first time that I have ever seen it stated as fact that Braddock, like Webb ’61, is a graduate of Williams. Neither the orginal book nor movie make that claim directly, although the book begins with a line about Braddock graduating from a small college in June. Previous speculation here, and note the part about Mrs. Robinson being inspired, at least in name, by an Eph mom. Was there a Robinson in the class of 1961? We need to get to the bottom of that story.

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Home School

Publishing house St Martins is about to release the novel Home School by Charles Webb ’61, a sequel to his autobiographical tale The Graduate, which he wrote during his time at Williams. Although that early novel was made into a classic film, Webb received only $20,000 for both the film rights and the future film rights to the characters, and he has had a hard life since then:

In April 2006, Jack Malvern, a reporter for the London Times, tracked Webb down to Hove, in Sussex, England. He discovered that Webb, at 66, was about to be evicted from his apartment and that he had written a sequel to “The Graduate” but was reluctant to publish it because the film rights to the characters were owned by Canal Plus. Sidey, an editor at Hutchinson Books in London, immediately reached out to Webb, and within a month a deal was in place. “I read about his plight, and I tracked him down,” Sidey said, adding, “It is very easy for people of quality to slip through the cracks, especially in publishing.” The book is dedicated to Malvern.

The reports on Webb’s life read like a cautionary tale of early success — he has moved almost constantly during his adult life, he has held a series of menial jobs to support himself, he’s been homeless to the point that the check for his advance for “Home School” was mailed to him at a Salvation Army shelter, and he is still in debt while caring for his lifelong partner, who recently suffered a nervous breakdown. Despite the easygoing charm of his novels, one expects to meet a shivering wreck.

Instead, the living sequel to “The Graduate” greeted me not long ago at the train station at Eastbourne, a small town on the south coast of England. At 68, Webb is tall, thin and elegant, with a full head of gray hair, the picture of Southern California languid bonhomie set amid the drizzle and overcast skies of small town Britain. Gulls were flying overhead, the only sign that we were near the sea.

He asked if we could run an errand before talking, and we walked to the local supermarket where he spent $3 on produce (a sweet potato, broccoli and two apples) before calling for a taxi. He talked for a while about a play he is writing, concerning a celebrity journalist who slowly discovers that artists are the minority. He asked about virtual reality and second sight. We taxied to his current home, an old-age hostel of sorts.

Webb explained that the place has been a great help to him and his lifelong partner, a woman named Fred. “It’s a lot like a college dorm, except people keep dying here. Two people have died in the last 10 days,” he said with a shrug. He left me in the communal area — a row of a dozen electric wheelchairs lines one wall — to check on Fred. He came back down to tell me she was not feeling well enough for visitors today. Then he mentioned sunnily that he was wearing his “dead man walking jacket,” an item he recently received from a “deceased farmer.”

It’s a perfectly pleasant and friendly facility, but one can’t imagine Mike Nichols or Dustin Hoffman or Buck Henry even making a movie here, let alone residing here. The fact remains that the film version of “The Graduate” made over $120 million, that Webb received a flat fee of $20,000 for the rights to his book and his characters (in perpetuity) and an additional $10,000 after the initial success. And reading the original novel of “The Graduate,” it is striking to see how much of the novel’s dialogue ended up in the screenplay. Indelicate though it may be, surely he must at times wonder where his mansion is.

Read the whole thing

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Mrs. Ephmom

Did anybody read the Charles Webb ’61 article from two days ago? If so, how could you resist commenting on this part.

Although – to his considerable regret – Webb was never seduced by an older woman, Benjamin in The Graduate was pretty much a self-portrait: same background, same gaucheness, same disillusion with parental values.

Over the decades, Webb has become used to hearing people speculate – often authoritatively – about whom Mrs Robinson was based on.

In fact, she had a pretty hazy genesis. Although Webb’s own mother-in-law might seem the obvious candidate, she couldn’t stand him, regarding him as a quite unsuitable partner for her daughter.

However, there was one occasion when he passed the open door of her bathroom and saw her naked, stepping out of the shower. Webb insists that he wasn’t in the least aroused, but suspects the incident may have flicked a switch somewhere inside him.

Her name, meanwhile, came from a classmate in college whom Webb hardly knew. In adulthood, he met up with the classmate again, and learnt that the boy’s mother had been going around for years proudly claiming – with some justification – to be the real Mrs Robinson.

Mrs. Robinson was an Eph Mom! (I do not think that she is the commentator who goes by “ephmom” in these parts.) Perfect. And the “self-portrait” description means we can conclude that Benjamin Braddock (the Dustin Hoffman character) attended Williams. Too bad we could never confirm that he wears a Williams tie in the opening montage.

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Post Graduate

An update on Charles Webb ’61, author of The Graduate. (Hat tip Newmark’s Door.)

It has taken Charles Webb 40 years to write a sequel to ‘The Graduate’. He made no money from the film, has sunk into the deepest poverty and now lives in a hotel in Eastbourne. ‘I wouldn’t have had it any other way,’ he tells John Preston

Sometime in the mid-1970s, several years after he wrote The Graduate and gave away all his possessions, Charles Webb was working as a clerk in a branch of Kmart.

One day he noticed that there was a new product on the shelves, designed to help children become potty-trained.

It was called The Graduate.

‘I think that’s when I realised this thing was never going to waft away into the distance.

“Although the film wasn’t my hit, my whole life has been measured by it.

“I’ve no idea how life would have turned out had it not been for this phenomenon, but everything would have been very different. That’s for sure.’

Read the whole thing.

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Braddock’s Tie

Is this claim from Wikipedia correct?

Benjamin Braddock, the main character of the The Graduate, is widely believed to have attended Williams College. In the opening sequence of the movie, Dustin Hoffman playing Benjamin Braddock, is wearing a Williams College tie.

Most agree that Braddock attended Williams. The author of the book on which the movie was based was Charles Webb ’61. The book begins “Benjamin Braddock graduated from a small Eastern college on a day in June.” The number of small Eastern colleges with June graduations is not large.

But is Hoffman wearing a Williams tie in the movie? I don’t remember that. If so, we need a picture! Or, better, a video. Please help us, loyal readers.

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Cities of the 21st Century

Frequent EphBlog commentator Webb Collings ’75 writes:

Thought you might be interested in a study abroad program two Eph juniors are doing next fall.

It’s called Cities of the 21st Century and involves a group of 25 students from various colleges and universities plus several faculty travelling to four of the world’s largest cities. Academically, the program involves four courses, all related to aspects of rapid globalization and urbanization — economics & politics, sociology, urban planning, and urban ecology. In each city, the group lives with local families, does field visits, and studies with local academic, government, business, and NGO officials.

The itinery starts at the International House at Columbia in NYC for a week. Then, moves to Buenos Aires for 5 weeks. Then, to Beijing for 3 weeks. Shanghai for 2 weeks. And, finally Bangalore, India for 5 weeks. You might say it’s the “Amazing Race” study abroad semester. Sixty five hours in airplanes.

Next fall’s group includes students from Williams, Swarthmore, Wellesley, Vasser, Barnard, Penn, Berkeley, BU, and Harvard among others. I know that both Williams and Swarthmore have been sending a student or two annually on this and other similar programs for quite a few years now.

Great stuff. It would be fun to have these Ephs do an EphBlog Diary about their experiences.

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Who is More Macho?

EphBlog author David Rodriguez ’06 graduates next month. What shall we get him for a present? How about a rehash of the Barnard/VISTA controversy of three years ago? Perfect!

You can read my prior commentary (here, here, here, here, here and here). Rodriguez commented here and here, but those discussions did not go on as long as they should have.

Too lazy to read all that? No worries. Allow me to summarize. Barnard said some things about Latinos and baseball on a local radio show that some students found objectionable. The key comments were:

1) “It’s not easy for a Latin player to take 100 walks.”

2) “Saturday Night Live used to do a skit called Quin es ms macho? – ‘Who is more macho?’ There is clearly a cultural aspect involved here.”

3) “It’s no secret that Latin American players hate to take pitches so they rarely walk. It’s an ego thing. Machismo. Swing for the fences every time and damn the consequences.”

4) “It’s a cultural thing with Latin players in terms of machismo.”

You can listen to the key portions of Barnard’s interview here. Many thanks to Rodriguez for providing me with this piece of Williams history.

Wait a second! Only two of those quotes are actually from Barnard! The other two are from noted Hispanophobe Sammy Sosa and baseball historian David Marasco.

Now, without looking, which ones of the 4 are most objectionable? If you find them all equal (either all objectionable or all not), then you ought to conclude that, whatever his other faults, Barnard is no less acceptable as a speaker on the topic of the interaction between Latino culture and baseball than, say, Sammy Sosa.

I don’t have anything more to say about this than I already have above. (By the way, Barnard’s quotes are numbers 2 and 4). Read the links if you want more details. The central point is clear:

If it is not acceptable at Williams to discuss the connection between culture and individual behavior, then something is very wrong with the intellectual life of the College.

Who would disagree? In this dispute the claim can be restated as:

If it is not acceptable at Williams to discuss the connection between Latino culture and individual behavior on the baseball field, then something is very wrong with the intellectual life of the College.

Consider a different example. James Webb’s “Born Fighting : How the Scots-Irish Shaped America” argues, among other things, that Scots-Irish culture is more prone to fighting and that some stereotypes, like the “Fighting Irish” of Notre Dame, are accurate. Can a book like this be read and discussed at Williams? What if some students found it offensive?

The correct response is not to doubt those students. They are, in fact, offended. We should empathize with them. But, in the end, the highest value at Williams must be open-minded intellectual enquiry.

By the way, Barnard himself may be Scots-Irish. This raises a delicious question:

Quin es ms macho? Barnard o Rodriguez?

;-)

Happy Graduation David! And welcome to the world of finance.

UPDATE: Edited slightly. An earlier draft was presented by mistake.

UPDATE 2: Two links that I included in the prior draft caused offense and consternation. (See comments below for details.) I have removed them. To be honest, I had considered not including them at all since I knew that people would be offended, but, at the same time, I like to think that most of our readers are intelligent and open-minded enough to consider unusual points of view. Indeed, one of my personal missions is to bring a broader set of opinions to the Williams conversation. There is a balance to be struck, however, and when a link causes someone like (d)avid to resign as an author, the link is not worth the candle.

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Ephs Go to the Movies

The Williams Art Mafia is well known and justly celebrated. We pay less attention to a lesser but still remarkable phenomenon: The small but celebrated number of Williams alums who go on to have success in the movie industry. I was stricken by this when I watched John Sayles’ “Eight Men Out” the other night. Not only did Sayles direct and play a small role in the film, he also included Gordon Clapp and David Strathairn. I love movies as much as the next guy, but I am not a film buff, and I’m sure that others can fill in the blanks, but it seems to me that for a small liberal arts college with no film program, Williams has done remarkably well. Off the top of my head I can think of Sayles, Kazan (who, if his latest biographer is to be believed, did not much cherish his time in the Purple Valley), and Frankenheimer. And this does not take into account folks who have successfully written for the big screen — a more logical and expected accomplishment — such as Charles Webb, whose book was transformed into the screenplay for The Graduate. I would suppose that one possible explanation is both the most self-serving but also might be close to the truth: someone who graduates with a liberal arts degree from a place like Williams is likely to be able to succeed in just about any field of endeavor. Maybe a closer argument isa that Williams actors and directors tend to come from the theater, an art for which Williams is rightly well known. Still, it is striking that Williams has produced several innovative and brilliant filmmakers.

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Plastics

Geoff Hutchinson ’99 notes that:

In the 1967 movie, The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman receives the one-word advice “Plastics.” If Hollywood were to remake the movie right now, chances are that one word would be the hot buzzword “Nano” as in “nanotechnology” or “nanoscience.”

All good Ephs know that Charles Webb ’61 is the author of the book that the movie was based on. We also like to believe that Dustin Hoffman’s character went to Williams, although that is never stated (nor contradicted) in the movie.

Yet, for me, the 2005 version of “plastics” is definitely “statistics.” Learn statistics, young Ephs. Doing so will serve you well in more careers than any other single topic taught at Williams today.

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Sad to note the passing

Sad to note the passing of Kirk Varnedoe, class of 1968 (I think). [Full disclosure: Varnedoe was also my brother’s wife’s cousin, although I never met him.] The NYT noted:

Kirk Varnedoe, the articulate, courtly and wide-ranging art historian who as chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art helped to reshape the museum’s collection and philosophy and in so doing created a broader public understanding of modern art, died yesterday at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. He was 57 and lived in Manhattan and Princeton.

The jury for the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship noticed these qualities, too, and granted him one of its genius prizes in 1984. Among other things, he used the grant to write a history of modernism, “A Fine Disregard: What Makes Modern Art Modern.” He borrowed the title from a plaque near the Rugby School in England honoring William Webb Ellis, “who, with a fine disregard for the rules, invented the game of rugby.” Mr. Varnedoe, a rugby player and avid athlete, proposed Ellis’s mad dash with the ball as a metaphor for artistic innovation. It was an anti-Hegelian, anti-Marxist position, wherein art was regarded not as an inevitable unfolding of progressive events but as a variety of inspired inventions by remarkable and imaginative people. It was also, importantly for Mr. Varnedoe, a visceral and immediate experience.

I believe that Varnedoe played rugby at Williams, but can’t confirm that. Certainly. “A Fine Disregard” would make for some excellent rugby t-shirts, right up there with “Nihil in Moderato” — or whatever the Latin is for the late 1980’s motto of “Nothing in Moderation.” For Eph’s, the nice part of the obituary is:

He became one of many museum professionals to have graduated from Williams College, where, he recalled, Lane Faison Jr. was one of the professors who opened his eyes to art history. “You were encouraged to believe that you should look hard at paintings and that what you had to say about them would be worthwhile,” Mr. Varnedoe said, “which in a sense was a false hope, because many people had said thousands of things about these pictures before. But it was very salutary.”

Although the only thing (my fault and my loss) that I remember about Art History 101 is “soaring verticallity”, the same sentiment that Varnedoe expressed about art history at Williams in the 1960’s certainly applied to philosophy at Williams in the 1980’s. Other nice appreciations of Varnedoe can be found here and here.

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