Another one I didn't make up

From IvyGate:

The D reported yesterday on lecturer Priya Venkatesan (also undergrad '90 and a Med School researcher) who, in a series of strangely passive-aggressive group emails, announced a plan to sue her students for workplace harassment based on "intolerance of ideas." The emails—reported first in Dartlog and forwarded to a zillion email lists within seconds—also contain info on Venkatesan's upcoming Academy X rip-off where she plans to "name names." Venkatesan tapped into the email list from her Winter 2008 Writing 5 class:

Date: Sat, 26 Apr 2008 20:56:35
From: Priya Venkatesan
Subject: WRIT.005.17.18-WI08: Possible lawsuit

Dear former class members of Science, Technology and Society:

I tried to send an email through my server but got undelivered messages. I regret to inform you that I am pursuing a lawsuit in which I am accusing some of you (whom shall go unmentioned in this email) of violating Title VII of anti-federal discrimination laws.

The feeling that I am getting from the outside world is that Dartmouth is considered a bigoted place, so this may not be news and I may be successful in this lawsuit. I am also writing a book detailing my eperiences as your instructor, which will "name names" so to speak. I have all of your evaluation and these will be reproduced in the book.

Have a nice day.

The phrase "anti-federal discrimination laws" made me think she was emailing drunk; follow-up messages and press statements indicate that Venkatesan is, in fact, serious.

Few of Venkatesan's students deny disliking her; they just say it had nothing to do with race, gender, or any other federally-protected characteristic. Rather, the lecturer embodied that special brand of neurotic pedagogical tyranny that includes making rules against questions, refusing to interact with students, and, according to the D,

cancelation of class for a week after the class applauded a student who contradicted Venkatesan’s opinions about post-modernism

Spontaneous applause during a class on literary criticism? Obviously, there is something very wrong with this picture, so outrageously shocking as to shake Venkatesan to her very core: In a class at an Ivy League university, students were paying attention. Worse: They were engaged, and they cared.

"I was horrified," Venkatesan said. "My responsibility is not to stifle them, but when they clapped at his comment, I thought that crossed the line ... I was facing intolerance of ideas and intolerance of freedom of expression." ...She canceled class because the incident caused her "intellectual and emotional distress," she said.

Then again, being outsmarted by a room full of eighteen-year-olds must be pretty humiliating. A kinder choice would have been emitting a spontaneous snore or two, then preoccupying themselves with a more innocuous form of disrespect, like text messaging during class or ostentatious yawning.

Possibly awesome turn of logic: If the students' crime was "intolerance of ideas," and the idea in question was post-modernism, does that mean post-modernism is Venkatesan's religion? In which case academia has finally curled so far inward as to truly out-po-mo itself. "Where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain," indeed!

After the jump: More emails from Venkatesan and Dartmouth authorities, and a sample of Venkatesan's evaluations.

The objects of Ventakesan's suit received two more emails, both of which were also sent to "editor@dartmoth.com," probably a mixed-up attempt to get a hold of the D, whose editors occupy "editor@thedartmouth.com." It is still unknown how Venkatesan chose these students; student evaluations are, in theory, anonymous.

From: Priya Venkatesan
Sent: Friday, April 25, 2008
Subject: Class Action Suit

Dear Student:
As a courtesy, you are being notified that you are being named in a potential class action suit that is being brought against Dartmouth College, which is being accused of violating federal anti-discrimination laws. Please do not respond to this email because it will be potentially used against you in a court of law.

Priya Venkatesan, PhD

From: Priya Venkatesan
Sent: Friday, April 25, 2008
Subject: Class Action Suit

Dear Student:

Please disregard the previous email sent by Priya Venkatesan. This is to officially inform you that you are being accused of violating Title VII pertaining to federal anti-discrimination laws, by the plaintiff, Priya Venkatesan. You are being specifically accused of, but not limited to, harassment. Please do not respond to this email as it will be used against you in a court of law.

Priya Venkatesan, PhD

Shortly thereafter, members of Venkatesan's writing course received support from freshmen dean Gail Zimmerman:

Dear Students,

It has come to my attention that many of you have been receiving emails from Prof. Priya Venkatesan as a former student in one of her Writ 5 courses. I understand that these emails have been rather distressing for you.

So that you can be informed of how the College is proceeding in response to these and to understand your own concerns, I and Tom Cormen, Director of the Writing Program, will meet with you today, Sunday, April 27 at 12:30 p.m. in Parkhurst Hall, Room 9B (located in the basement of Parkhurst). Robert Donin from legal counsel will also be joining us.

If you are unable to make this meeting, I am happy to meet with you at a later time.

Dean Zimmerman
Gail M. Zimmerman, Ed. D.
Dean of First-Year Students
Dartmouth College

The content of the above meeting is as yet unknown, though we assume it went something like this: "Don't worry, kids. Though the word 'class' is in both 'class-action' and 'class list,' your teacher can't actually sue you for being smarter than she is. We'll just sic that well-oiled machine of right-wing Dartian blowhards on her, and this whole thing will resolve itself."

Speaking of right-wing Dartians, Venkatesan wrote in to Dartlog to explain she is "not bitter at all about teaching evaluations," because she is not a teacher at all, but a research-minded lab rat now employed at some "undisclosed" institution that is even better than Dartmouth, so she doesn't even need you guys anyway, so there! Let us pray to the gods of tabloid fodder that this "undisclosed" employer doesn't actually exist, and Venkatesan is in truth living in a Super 8 Motel outside of Hanover, biding her time until this book deal comes through. Which would probably make the deal even sweeter, as fake memoirs from delusional paranoiacs are all the rage of late.

Was she really so bad? Let's shake the tip jar and see what falls out...

Venkatesan taught two sections of Writing 5, a course mandatory for all Dartmouth students who don't make some cutoff point on the SATs. Her Writing 5 course was apparently offered in two terms - Fall and Winter - and was something to do with science. My friend in the Fall07 course told me she was a ridiculous teacher - she assigned a bunch of readings about postmodernism, but three weeks into the term, nobody in the class could explain what postmodernism was.

Yeah, but who can explain what postmodernism is? Casualty of the field, really.

Last we checked, Venkatesan's course had fourteen reviews on the Dartmouth Student Assembly's student evaluations website, under the following titles:

Worst teacher I have ever had - Written by a 2011

Interesting - Written by a 2011


save yourself now - Written by a 2011

a tad ridiculous - Written by a 2011

Interesting Material but Prof. is hard to follow - Written by a 2011

Terrible class, terrible prof - Written by a 2011

Interesting Material, Bad Prof. - Written by a 2011

If she teaches here... - Written by a 2011

WORST CLASS EVER - Written by a 2011

interesting topic, boring prof - Written by a 2011

Do NOT take this course - Written by a 2011

HORRIBLE - Written by a 2011

insecurity, ego, and more - Written by a 2011
Excerpts from the above evals:

Professor Venkatesan refuses to answer questions, does not respond to questions, and lectures by reading off her notes in front of her. She did not make me a better writer, she did not explain the concepts well, but she did manage to make my life a living hell.

She offered no help in class or in office hours for papers. When handed a hard copy she read the paper, said it was great, but then gave terrible grades to many students. Later on she began refusing to grade papers and gave the reason that judging by our peer editing abilities we didn't need her help on papers. She missed/cancelled 5 or 6 classes and as a result the syllabus was squished into 3 weeks and she changed the final project about 4 times. A TERRIBLE CLASS.

In terms of who will be most damaged by this ordeal, Venkatesan's students are mostly out of the question, since wisecracking a flustered professor isn't illegal, nor are negative course evals. (Though, yeah, it must suck to have a profession that requires listening to our gripes, and we extend honest apologies to every teacher who has been forced to deal with us.) No, the real race-to-the-bottom will be between Venkatesan and Dartmouth's writing program: Is she the villain, for dealing with her inability to teach by sending smugly gloating emails about "naming names" and civil law? Or is Dartmouth, for hiring this litigious trainwreck in the first place, and inflicting her on innocent freshmen?

Of Reverend Wright and Bosnian Bullets

Allen Gurganus on "Housekeeping"

A blog post in today's New York Times online.
When the Book Review asked writers and editors to name the greatest novel of our last quarter century, I felt flummoxed proposing one book that good. Which of Philip Roth’s novels might we call his best? Hadn’t Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor been dead too long to qualify? Then I thought of “Housekeeping.”

I had read this slender volume more times than any other work by a still-living writer. For me, just reading the first chapter was like taking a strong multivitamin. It reminded me why I am a slow writer myself, why I care so immensely about craft and all that a single page of human work can offer.


Things that Make Me Smile

As I know some of you are reality-show afficianados, I thought I would relate this, so you can root for this fine young fellow.

Pete was one of my best friends growing up. I used to say (quite often), that if I wasn't me, or Prince, I would have wanted to be Pete -- he was the most talented actor I ever knew (he went to NYU's Tisch School, but quit because "he wasn't learning anything actually useful to the world," his elbow appears in Dazed and Confused); the drummer of our high school band (The Flaming Faggots -- a punk band named after a Shakespearean reference to piss off the meatheads and scandalize The Man -- we thought we were pretty clever); a guy who basically introduced himself to my future wife by asking her, in all earnest seriousness, about a woman's feelings on giving blowjobs; a guy who every time I saw him while I was in law school seemed to be wearing some clothes he'd borrowed from me in high school; a guy who looked up into the clouds (apparently believing God was talking to him) when Kerry tried to stop him on the street; the guy who got to hang out with the Replacements and got quoted in the Houston Chronicle for the beer bottle I took to the head (thrown by Paul Westerberg); a guy who torched his final history paper and never graduated college because he felt he hadn't really learned enough to deserve it, then showed up at my apartment with a bottle of bourbon and a James Taylor record on vinyl; etc., etc. I'm actually looking at a picture I have of him in my office, staring down from a tree at me, on a camping trip we took out to Pedernales State Park. I realize you can never really do someone you've loved justice in trying to quickly describe why you loved him or her, because it just starts sounding canned no matter what you do. Especially with those who died young (as Pete did, killed by a drunk driver while planting trees in Washington State).

So, when Pete died, my friends and I set up a scholarship fund at our old high school (putting my recently acquired law degree to good use). I got an email the other day from an old friend, sending me a link to the first scholarship winner from years ago, Nick, photo above, description below, who is now on "Step It Up and Dance on Bravo."

"At the age of four, Nick was so inspired by Kevin Bacon's performance in Footloose, he knew right then that he wanted to be a dancer. His mother, an author/librarian, and father, a painter/graphic artist, both supported his love for dance and instilled a strong work ethic and sense of determination. A Houston, Texas native and graduate of Oklahoma City University, Nick now resides in Los Angeles as a technically trained professional dancer and actor. He has appeared in several music videos including: Jessica Simpson's "Boots," My Chemical Romance's "Helena," Finger Eleven's "Paralyzer," and Duran Duran's "Falling Down." Nick can also be seen in a variety of roles on television, film and stage, most recently appearing as Theodore's dance double in the Alvin & The Chipmunks movie. Described by his friends as energetic, funny, charismatic, and always looking for trouble – this single (and straight) dancer may just spice things up with the girls in the house."

So, root for the boy. Pete would have loved this -- especially the chipmunk dance double and "straight" part.


Like LiveAid, but way better

Periodically, I think I should do something to help my fellow man. I've been blessed in many ways (devastatingly handsome, 16-inch pythons, a fine pelt of body hair that keeps me as warm as Chewbacca in Han's loving arms on a long Kessel run, ability to play many Van Halen songs on the banjo), and sometimes I think I should help the less fortunate. But what to do? What will play to my strengths? What could I do better than others? What has God put me on earth to do?

And then I see this, and my questions are answered:


I didn't make this up, but it is genius

Fixing Mommy: A Book Explains Plastic Surgery to Children

Stephanie Kaster said her body is a temple -- one that needs to be redecorated every so often: In recent years, the 39-year-old mother of three has undergone liposuction and a breast reduction. "I tell my kids, 'Bob the Builder fixes buildings, and there is a doctor that fixes parts of mommy,'" Ms. Kaster said, referring in a single breath to an animated character of children's television and to her Upper East Side plastic surgeon.

But the next time she fields a question from her 6-year-old daughter about surgical scars or the like, Ms. Kaster, who lives in Midtown, need only open a book: A Bal Harbour, Fla., plastic surgeon has written "My Beautiful Mommy" (Big Tent Books, $19.95), which explains cosmetic surgery to school-age children. The story focuses on a teddy bear-clutching little girl whose mother is about to go in for a nose job and a tummy tuck. In the book, the mother tells her child: "You see, as I got older, my body stretched and I couldn't fit into my clothes anymore. Dr. Michael is going to fix that and make me feel better."

Dr. Michael is the book's author, Michael Salzhauer, a plastic surgeon who said the majority of his patients are young mothers coming in for a series of procedures -- a tummy tuck and a breast lift, among them -- that he calls "the mommy makeover." He said the book isn't meant to glamorize plastic surgery, but to allay children's fears about their parent's hospitalization and postoperative recovery. "Kids tend to associate a doctor's visit with being sick," Dr. Salzhauer, a father of four, said. "They come in with this puzzled look on their face and ask questions like, 'Is mommy dying?'"

A Park Avenue plastic surgeon, Paul Lorenc, said his patients today are much younger than they were when he started his practice 19 years ago. Early on, most of them were in their mid-to-late 60s; these days, they tend to be in their 30s and 40s, he said.
Of the 11.7 million people (mostly women) who went in for a cosmetic procedures last year, about 70% percent were under 50, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. As a result of the demographics, Dr. Lorenc said he sees a lot of mothers who want to know how to discuss plastic surgery with their children. Dr. Lorenc encourages parents to talk about how the operations will impact their appearance immediately after the operation and long-term -- giving more specifics to older children and fewer details to younger ones. "If the child is 14, 15, or 16, you can give a very rational answer," he said. "If they're 3, 4, or 5, it's unhealthy to say, 'Mommy has excess skin because I delivered you and your brother and sister, and now I need a tummy tuck.'"


Barnes & Noble Buys Prairie Lights

Kidding, kidding. But there are some ownership changes in the works.

Also, for non-IC residents who haven't heard the news: the Iowa legislature passed an indoor smoking ban which becomes effective July 1st. I'm trying hard to envision the Foxhead with fresh air. It's difficult.


Formerly local boys and girls make good

The first novel by '05er Sugi (or, as I like to call her, VV Ganeshananthan) is out! It's called Love Marriage. Buy it! And check out her book tour dates.

'04er Katherine is now a senior editor at HarvardBusiness.org.

And '04er Sam has a segment on this week's This American Life. It'll air Friday, 4/18; Saturday, 4/19; and/or Sunday, 4/20, depending on your local NPR affiliate's schedule. For a full station guide, go here.

Read, listen, and learn!


The Karate Chimp

I think the li'l feller is holding back. I have heard a chimp could tear your arm off if he wanted to. More of Charlie's antics here.


The Free Market of Ideas: Now With Subsidies!

It's important that the ruling class know why they're so much better than poor people, after all.

I'm kind of amazed that the schools took these deals. Should I be?

Do it for the Poets!

I think I better keep the author of this email anonymous...

Dear Friends,

Many of you have probably heard that Dean is leaving Iowa for Austin. As I understand it, this is coming about not because he's hustling for more money, but simply because Iowa is refusing to up him to full-time after he's put in years with the Workshop, and he's tired (after 8 books and a Pulitzer nomination) of cobbling together a career from part-time gigs.

I don't know what your experience was with Dean. For me, he came along when I was hugely confused about my work and my life, and he helped me open up, and calm down, and get energized about poetry again.

Even if you didn't have a transformative experience with him as a teacher, it seems plain that the Workshop could get to be a pretty somber place in his absence. That's not to mention the fact that he's done a fuck of a lot for the Workshop as an institution and the people who make it up. (Remember those handwritten, publication-worthy lectures every seminar?) And that's not to mention the fact that he's one of the best-known contemporary American poets, and a big draw for prospective students.

If Dean ever helped you in any way, or if you have some connection to the Workshop and feel that it would be a stronger program with him than without him, please take ten minutes to write the following people a paragraph or two asking that they please reconsider their position and offer him a full-time job. (Dean, by the way, had nothing to do with this email, and doesn't know I'm writing it. Let's keep it that way.)

Connie Brothers, Program Associate

Lan Samantha Chang, Director of the Workshop

Linda Maxson, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Lola Lopes, Provost

Forward this to anyone I missed.


Yo Quiero

I think I've said it before- it's not really baseball season until they play at Fenway. So once again: happy baseball, folks.

On the taco: I missed it when this happened in October, but I think the point stands: cross-promotion is the new stand-in for cultural ceremony. He stoleth the base and so we scarfeth the tacos.

The upside? Free tacos. The downside: a schizophrenic and petty discourse. It's not just the tacos, of course. It's the practice of journalism as it is so depressingly evoked by this image.

Because the only way you're going to get that many mics shoved in John Yoo's face is with photo shop.

(Note to photoshoppers-please leave in the reporter under the table. She's my favorite part.)


Fishy, no?

Soldiers’ Remains Secretly Exhumed in New Mexico


Published: April 9, 2008

Working in secret, federal archaeologists have dug up the remains of dozens of soldiers and children near a Civil War-era fort in south-central New Mexico after an informant tipped them off about widespread grave looting. The exhumations, conducted from August to October, removed 67 skeletons from the desert soil around Fort Craig — 39 men, 2 women and 26 children, according to two federal archaeologists who helped with the dig. They also found scores of empty graves and determined that 20 had been looted. The government kept its exhumation of the unmarked cemetery near the historic fort out of the public’s eye for months to prevent more thefts. The investigation began with a tip about an amateur historian who had displayed the mummified remains of a black soldier, draped in a Civil War-era uniform, in his house. Investigators say the historian, Dee Brecheisen, may have been a prolific looter who spotted historical sites from his plane. Mr. Brecheisen died in 2004, and although it was not clear whether the looting continued after his death, the authorities exhumed the unprotected site to prevent future thefts. The remains are being studied by Bureau of Reclamation scientists, who are piecing together information on their identities. They will be reburied at other national cemeteries.


Poking the toxic beehive in gnome shorts

I went to a Bikram yoga class in Amsterdam yesterday at the invitation of a new acquaintance. This is the "hot yoga" -- 105F, 40% humidity -- literally wrings out toxins while you're in ludicrous, excruciating postures. With plenty of toxins to spare, I thought I'd put the technique to the test.

I arrived, signed up, went to the dressing room ... and found I had forgotten my shorts. (If this were a live story, here is where T would mention how I once went solo camping, brought my three-foot pet cactus, forgot the tent.) Men are to wear shorts -- women, leotards. I brought a towel, a shirt, change of underwear, shampoo, water, my iPod, a book -- everything but the thing I actually needed. Armchair psychiatrists, read into that what you will.

Back at the counter, with a cheerful shrug, I explained the fact that I am an idiot. "So, I guess maybe next time--"

"Oh, I think we might have a pair." The instructor, a sturdy blonde Dutchwoman with staring blue eyes, dragged boxes out of lost and found. I went through them. No shorts.

"I'll just go naked."

"Okay! Why not?" She seemed serious.

"Well, actually I can think of a few reasons."

"Wait," she said. She disappeared and came back with what looked like a black handkerchief. On closer inspection, it turned out to be shorts that might fit a gnome. I held them up, wincing toward her.

"They stretch," she affirmed.

Indeed they did. But at what cost? I regarded my reflection with hair-raising dismay. Was I smuggling hacky sacks? And given my build, which conceals all evidence of my skeleton, the gnome shorts appeared as a sort of mid-body tourniquet.

But it seemed I had committed, and my new pal had arrived, the Bikramites were gathering, and it was time to start. The studio was a large room containing 20-25 people. Blowers in the wall blasted hot air, and I was dripping sweat before I had even arranged my mat and laid the towel over it. Immediately the instructor began the breathing exercises, which involve interlacing the fingers and stretching them as high and as far backwards over your head as possible and trying to look at the wall behind you, while standing on tiptoe. Of course the notion of breathing in such a position is preposterous. And I had not exercised, besides riding my bike, for three months. By the end of the breathing exercises, I was speculating on the chances of a heart attack.

But I kept on, trudging dutifully through approximations of the 26 postures (skipping the ones that could worsen my damaged knee), some of which tangled my limbs into impossible pretzels, and all the while the drip drip drip of sweat, the pounding of my heart, the hot pumping of my blood into outpost regions that had not seen it since the Clinton Administration. My vision went dark, and dark also was the feeling of the toxins being roused in their lairs. I turned off my mind. I became a dying lizard writhing in scorched desert sand. "Ninety minutes is the length of a movie" is the one thought I had to keep beating back down into the murky depths of what was left of my sputtering consciousness.

But it did end. And a line formed for two dozen glowing red people to use three showers. I returned the soaked gnome shorts to the instructor, who told me I did a good job. "Many beginners flee the room before the halfway point." Staggering outside, I blinked at the pitiless sun, and scanned right and left. Okay, a street. I remember those. They are long and you can go two directions on them. Concentrate. Pick one direction and go. I waddled off like a hypnotized penguin.

At home, the headache began before I'd even climbed the stairs. Wretchedly recalling that we were out of ibuprofen, I collapsed and slept like a corpse for two hours. I woke disoriented and cranky, my sleep-wrinkled face scowling at T when she asked how it had gone. I felt like I had been hit by a semi. The headache persisted.

I don't think it rid me of toxins. I think it merely stirred them up, hassled them out of their hiding places to rampage through my body every bit as grumpily as I shambled into the Irish pub later that night. I needed to placate them, to soothe their anger by replenishing their ranks -- before they could do real damage. Thanks to Arthur Guinness and the product of his extraordinary vision, it seems I succeeded at least in that. I woke up today at the crack of ten-thirty feeling, more or less, normal. I don't know if I'm going back. I need to finish the job, but am I up to it? If you strike at the king, you had better kill him. Merely dredging up the toxins to go wilding through my kundalini was like catching a wolf by the ears: You don't dare let go.


Black holes and strangelets and monopoles, oh my

Will the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) destroy the earth when it comes online this summer? The odds that the new super duper fancy really crazy powerful particle collider, built beneath the border of France and Switzerland, will create mini-black holes that could combine, burrow to the center of the earth, gain mass, and be all over the planet like Elvis on a chili burger are not zero. Chances that the LHC will generate an artificial supernova, or create weird new forms of matter that could turn us all into those forms of matter are not zero. There is some small chance those things will happen. How small? Depends on whom you ask.

A lawsuit in US District Court now seeks to forestall scientists from starting up the thing until the potential cosmically catastrophic dangers are "reassessed," and a Web site is now devoted to expressing concerns which, while remote, would be the end of you and me and everything we ever knew if they turn out to have been justified.

Whether or not science is about to accidentally grab hold of some dangerous live wiring inside reality that could fry us all to a crisp, what's amazing to me is the fact that at some point, someone will make the assessment that the risk is worth it. There will be a meeting. And heads will nod, and then they will adjourn the meeting and bring their coffees back to their desks. Similar concerns about unlikely but dire consequences were raised about the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider in New York back in the late 90s. They weighed the potential conclusion of life on earth, and then in the end, they went for it anyway. And they will go for it this time, too. Isn't that just so, quintessentially, like, us? And each time will make the next time easier!

It's now proven to be within human nature to voluntarily risk our very existence in order to, among other things, find something called the Higgs Boson particle. Therefore, extending the non-zero chance to infinity, isn't that just another way of saying that it's now a matter of time before some experiment does, in fact, unleash bad, bad things we don't understand, can't control, and didn't predict well enough? And that will be all she wrote.

They are now saying June will be the grand opening. Actual full-power collisions are scheduled to begin in August.

Oh well! Hey listen, you guys have a great day!!!