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College-wide Cost Cutting Efforts

This post is a summary (and archiving) of all the recent comments regarding cost-cutting that have appeared on “Speak Up”  in the last few weeks. They are all below the fold.  

Transferring the comments involves cutting and pasting, resulting in a sloppy presentation. I  welcome any suggestions as to how to do it more efficiently.

Please feel free to add to the discussion at any time.

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Same issues, different times

An interesting read on the abolition of fraternities at Williams. If you look at the problems that the College was trying to address- drinking, integration and social learning-  not much has changed. The development of the Neighborhood System is an attempt to deal with similar issues. Same issues, different times. It is worth a read.  



David : Fourteen Fun Facts (7) Evangelist

Dave’s fiery sermons on morality have established him in the major leagues of blog evangelism. My favorite is ‘Jesus would have been the best little player in the history of NESCAC squash”.

Today’s two part question:

a. Do you find any religious slant in EphBlog?

b. Do you think college presidents emulate Elmer Gantry in their fund-raising activities?


Nostalgia for Neon …

as a nine year old, looking up at the Wrigley sign on Times Square, as a sophomore prowling the bars on that same Square before returning to Billville after Christmas break, ‘Neon’ the Sign of the Times. An inert gas enclosed in bent glass tubing. charged with a DC current and producing an ert effect on its target!

The thousands of signs across the country, regardless of the size of the city, town, hamlet, crossroads.

When a very close relation of mine first moved to the States, she attended neon school, drove to Las Vegas and bought the equipment of a neon shop that was going out of business. Reinstalled in our small town and yclept ‘The Gas Station – Pumping Neon’, it was the only place for neon in town. It turns out that in the early nineties, there was not a large demand for neon art and custom open/closed signs. Beer signs were the cash cow but an awful lot of work for fat-free milk. Finally, a green card came through and the sign shop was traded to Dale Chihuly for a very nice Sea Form.

Yes, I know this is a personal reminiscence and the only connection to Williams is that Wrigley’s begins with a ‘W’.

But has inert neon had an ert effect on your gaseous cosmos?


David : Fourteen Fun Facts (6) Social Scientist

Oh, no! Another photo of him with his chin in his hand. He must have been born a dust jacket.

Anyway, with his pioneering work ‘Houses and Neighborhoods of Williamstown: How the Other Quarter Lives’, Dave has established himself as the premier social scientist of this remote location in northwest Massachusetts.

2 parter for 2day:

a. Do you agree with Dave that Neighborhoods are a sure disaster?

b. How did/does it work for you when you were/are on campus?

(I’ve often wondered if there was any relationship between Riis and ‘The Other Half” and Reese and his Pieces)


How to stimulate the economy on $8 a week

The WSJ recently asked a bunch of economists, including Kenneth Kuttner of Williams College, how they would go about spending their new stimulative tax cut in order to have the greatest multiplier effect on the economy. A few of the better responses are below:

Tyler Cowen, George Mason University: In my view, fixing the banking sector is more important than getting the stimulus right. So if you can afford to lose the money, go to a large bank (more likely to be insolvent), find their most overpriced service, and buy as much of it as you can. That way you are doing your part to recapitalize our banking system.

If you’re stuck for ideas, just keep on using ATM machines, owned by other banks, so you can pay large fees to take out small sums of money from your checking account. When you need to, take all of your withdrawals and deposit them back in the account once again and start all over with the process.

Justin Wolfers, The Wharton School: Find a cash-strapped soup kitchen. If they are looking at having to make cutbacks, then your $8 donation really will yield $8 worth of extra soup purchases. A good Keynesian will point out that this $8 in extra spending will enter the circular flow, creating the much-needed economic stimulus. (By contrast, university giving may simply prop up a sagging endowment.) But more importantly, the $8 you spend helping the hungry really can have a big bang-for-the-buck at a time when food spending is plummeting and unemployment rising.

Doug Cliggott, Dover Investment Management: You should invest it, not consume with it. Preferably a venture capital investment that will have a significant multiplier effect. This is why tax cuts are the worst type of stimulus. They are usually consumed or invested in a secondary market with little or no multiplier.

Greg Mankiw, Harvard: How about buying a good economics textbook?

Ken Kuttner, Williams College: $416 [a year’s-worth of $8 paycheck boosts] might be just enough to replace a leaky skylight window in our house. That would be a pretty good choice for stimulating the economy: it’s a non-tradable durable good produced in an industry which, I would guess, is flat on its back at this point. Not that there’s anything wrong with tradable goods, mind you…

Robert Shiller, Yale University: I suggest using it to give an extra-generous tip to taxi drivers. They talk to lots of people, especially active business-oriented people, and they will be feeling more upbeat, sensing that some people are feeling flush, and they will communicate this feeling to numerous people, thereby helping restore confidence. If you don’t take taxis, give it to your barber or hairdresser. They talk to a lot of people too. This will also help people feel that Americans care about each other, not just about rich people.

Personally, I like the way Robert Shiller is thinking – along those lines, I would suggest spending all of it in the informal sector of the economy – using cash rather than plastic, to pay people like taxi drivers, waiters, and street food vendors. Since cash payments are far less likely to be taxed or saved, I would suspect that $8 in paper currency spent is a good deal more stimulative than an equivalent debit card transaction.

Share your suggestions in the comments.


Wallace Stegner would have been 100 today …


‘The Angle of Repose’. The writer of the American West! Too often overlooked east of the Rockies.

This article in the Times:

Sharp-eyed readers will have noted the book is by Phillip Fradkin ’57.

Always a smart, funny guy, Phil has gone on to become a premier writer on the West himself.

Your favorite writers of the West include …?

OK – Cormac McCarthy …

A tip of the Stetson to Ronit for showing me how to put in a link!

Screw it. This is purely operator error. Both refs are worth-while. The links are live in the first comment or cut-and-paste.


David : Fourteen Fun Facts (5) Publisher

Dave has published EphBlog since 2003! This is a heck of an accomplishment. No matter what you may think of this blog, this is a heck of an accomplishment! Great job, Dave! (now do I stay president for another week, or what?)

2day’s 2-parter:

a. In 25 words or less, what do you think of EphBlog?

b. Besides Ephblog, what other blogs are you reading?


Hoops Update: NESCAC Playoffs Edition

The men’s hoops team had a dramatic road victory against Amherst last Friday night to clinch their first outright Little Three title since 1996 — a testament to just how competitive the rivalry is, considering the Ephs won a national championship and played in four final fours during that time period.  The Ephs were sparked off the bench by young guns Troy Whittington and frosh Australian import James Wang (both of whom at least one commentator would like to see garner more playing time).  Unfortunately, the up-and-down Ephs fell back to earth against Trinity the following day.  You can watch the Ephs host Bates in the first round of the NESCAC tourney live on  your computer.  If the Ephs win, they will likely face Amherst again in a NESCAC semifinals rubber match.  Meanwhile, the Eph women face the daunting task of trying to win at perennial power Bowdoin in the first round of the women’s NESCAC tourney.  That game will likewise be webcast.

Two more basketball related tidbits.  First, here is a nice article on Pat Duquette ’93, longtime associate head coach of BC and the Eph next in line for a D-I head coaching gig.  Second, who knew that one current Eph was victimized in this classic Youtube clip?  (NB, there was a feature article about the kid in this video, now a first year Eph, in last week’s record, but the archives seem not to be functioning).


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67 – Part X


In this, the final segment, we have an encore of Boston College- Miami, “no Hail Mary” that one, instead, “one more work of art”…

…and a return to Williams College, a tribute in itself.

(Special thanks to Adam Gopnik for taking me on a journey I will not forget.)


The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part X

By July, the doctors had passed him right out of even the compassionate trials and were into the world of guesses and radiation. “It’s a Hail Mary,” he said of a new radiation therapy that they were proposing. “But, who knows, maybe I’ll get the Doug Flutie of radiologists.” Then a slight ache in his back that he thought was a disk he’d hurt water-skiing turned out to be large tumor in his spine, and the end came quickly.

His wife, Elyn, had to be out of the city, and I spent the last Saturday afternoon of his life with him. In the old way, I went into his office to work on something I was writing. Kirk went to see what was on television. He had, I noticed, a team photograph of the Metrozoids at their last practice propped up on the coffee table. By then he could hardly walk, and his breath came hard.
But he called out, “Yo. You got to come here.”


“You won’t believe this. Boston College-Miami.”

Damned if it wasn’t. ESPN Classics had a “Hail Mary” Saturday, all the great games decided on the last play, and now, twenty years late, they were showing the game from beginning to end: the whole game, with the old graphics and the announcer’s promos, exactly as it had first been shown.

So we finally got to watch the game. And it was 1984 again, and the game was thrilling, even though you knew what the outcome would be and how it would happen. Kirk’s brother, Sam, came around, and he watched, too, the three of us just enjoying a good game, until at last here we were at that famous, miraculous, final Hail Mary, Doug Flutie dropping back and rolling out to heave the ball desperately downfield.

“Look at that!” Kirk cried, and the ball was still in midair out of view, up above the television screen.

“What?” I asked, as the ball made its arc and fell into the hands of Gerard Phelan and the announcers went wild.

“That’s no Hail Mary. Watch it again and you’ll see. That’s a coverage breakdown.” The old defensive-backfield coach spoke evenly, as, twenty years before, the crowd jumped and screamed. “Safety steps up too soon because he doesn’t think Flutie can make that throw on the run. What he doesn’t see is that Flutie has time to square around and get his feet set on the rollout, which adds fifteen yards to his range. Safety steps up too soon, Phelan runs a standard post route, and that’s it. That safety sees Flutie get his feet set, makes the right read, and there’s no completion.” Turning to us, he said, “That is no Hail Mary, friends. That’s no miracle. That is just the play you make. That is one gentleman making the right read and running the right pattern and the other gentleman making the wrong read.” And for one moment he looked as happy as I had ever known him: one more piece of the world’s mysteries demystified without being debunked, a thing legendary and hallowed broken down into the real pattern of human initiative and human weakness and human action that had made it happen. We had been waiting twenty years to see a miracle, and what we saw – what he saw, once again, and showed us – was one more work of art, a pattern made by people out of the possibilities the moment offered to a ready mind. It was no Hail Mary, friends; it was a play you made.

He turned to me and Sam, and, still elated by the revelation of what had really happened all those years ago, we began to talk about Ralph Emerson and Richard Serra. And then Kirk said heavily, “There is nothing in the world I would rather be doing than taking part in this conversation. But I have to lie down.” He died four days afterward, late at night, having spent the day talking about Hitchcock films and eighteenth-century hospital architecture.

Luke and Elyn and I went up to the football field at Williams last fall and, with some other friends, spread his ashes in the end zone, under the goalposts. At his memorial, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Renee Fleming sang and the violinist Arnold Steinhardt played and the art world of New York turned out and listened and recalled him. I think a lot of them must have been puzzled, in the slide show that Elyn had prepared to begin the evening, and which recapitulated his career, from Savannah to Princeton, to see toward the end a separate section gravely entitled “The Giant Metrozoids,” with the big figure surrounded by small boys. But I’m sure he would have been glad to see them there. The Metrozoids are getting back in business again, with an inadequate coach. I’ve thought about finally making the motivational speech, but I don’t think I need to. The Metrozoids don’t need to learn how to separate the men from the heroes. They know.

The End


Cheap Date

Guy Creese’s comment on the Planetarium post, got me to thinking about social life at Williams. In particular, what are the options when you want to have a different kind of evening with a special someone, albeit on a student’s budget? Something affordable, but fun, maybe even romantic, and definitely far-flung from the typical dorm party? 

The planetarium seems to be a good date destination, especially when the lights are out. ;-)

And here is another inexpensive suggestion, although I have a feeling there won’t be a lot of lip-locking at this riveting event, all the more so considering the setting no longer exists. (Scroll down for an interesting clip.)

 Moonlit hikes, dinner for two cooked in a dorm, a picnic in a secret spot, a tent under the stars? How about a few memories and suggestions for current students?


An Interesting Record Ad

Page 13, Arts Section:

Is there anyone at Williams that has not been completely brainwashed by the Left?

Are there any students or professors at Williams that call themselves Conservatives?

Are there any people at Williams who appreciate true diversity and would be interested in promoting a Conservative voice on campus?

Please reply to Sloane Graff ’80 at sloaneDELETE THISgraff@insightbbDOTcom

Name added at 6:50 PM


Paul Danielson ’88 – Address in Afghanistan


Paul Danielson ’88 MD’s address in Afghanistan is

Paul Danielson

FOB Salerno Hospital

APO AE  09314

Thank you for your support of our deployed Ephs.

Stewart Menking ’79

Williams College Adopt An Eph Program


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67 – Part IX

(image of Torqued Ellipse by Richard Serra)

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die.

The line above comes from Blade Runner. It was quoted by Varnedoe in his final Mellon lecture, when he himself knew he was close to death.

I feel the need at this point to say very little, indeed, to speak in hushed tones, to give Gopnik’s words, the setting and reverence they, and their subject matter, deserve.

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part IX

If this story were the made-for-television movie that every story about early death threatens to become, we would have arranged one fiery game between the Giant Metrozoids and another team, a bigger, faster, slightly evil team, and the Metrozoids would win it for their coach. It didn’t happen like that. Not that the Metrozoids didn’t want a game. As their self-confidence increased, they kept urging us to find another team of eight-year-olds that they could test themselves against. I was all for it, but Kirk, I sensed, was not. Whenever the boys raised the possibility, he would say diffidently, “Let’s wait till the fall,” knowing, of course, that the fall, his fall, would never come.

I understood the hold he had on the Metrozoids. But when I thought about his hesitation, I started to understand the hold that the Metrozoids had on him. I had once said something fatuous to him about enjoying tonight’s sunset, whatever tomorrow would bring, and he had replied that when you know you are dying, you cannot simply “live in the moment.” You loved a fine sunset because it slipped so easily into a history, your’s and the world’s; part of the pleasure lay in knowing that it was one in a stream of sunsets you had loved, each good, some better, one or two perfect, moving forward in an open series. Once you knew that this one could be the last, it filled you with a sense of dread; what was the point of collecting paintings in a museum you knew was doomed to burn down?

But there were pleasures in life that were meaningful in themselves, that did not depend on their place in an ongoing story, now interrupted. These pleasures were not “aesthetic” thrills – not the hang gliding you had never done or the trip to Maui you had never taken – but things that existed outside the passage of time, things that were beyond comparison or, rather, beside comparison, off to one side of it. He loved the Metrozoid practices, I came to see, because for him they weren’t really practicing. The game would never come, and the game didn’t matter. What mattered was doing it.

At the last practice of the school year, the boys ran their plays and scrimmaged, and the familiar forms of football, of protection and pass routes and coverages, were all there, almost magically emerging from the chaos of eight-year-olds in motion. At the end, the boys came running up to him, and he stood in place and low-fived each one of them. “See you in September,” the kids cried, and Kirk let the small hands slap his broad one and smiled. “We’ll work again in the fall,” he said, and I knew he meant that someone would.

That Sunday he did something that surprised me. It was the last lecture of the Mellons, and he talked about death. Until then I had never heard him mention it in public. He had dealt with it by refusing to describe it – from Kirk, the ultimate insult. Now, in this last lecture, he turned on the audience and quoted a line from a favorite movie, Blade Runner, in which the android leader says, “Time to die,”, and at te very end Kirk showed them one of his favorite works, a Richard Serra Torqued Ellipse, and he showed them how the work itself, in the physical experiences it offered – inside and out, safe and precarious, cold and warm – made all the case that needed to be made for the complexity, the emotional urgency, of abstract art. Then he began to talk about his faith. “But what kind of faith?” he asked. “Not a faith in absolutes. Not a religious kind of faith. A faith only in possibility, a faith not that we will know something, finally, but a faith in not knowing, a faith in our ignorance, a faith in our being confounded and dumbfounded, as something fertile with possible meaning and growth…Because it can be done, it will be done. And now I am done.” The applause, when it came, was stadium applause, and it went on a long time.

(Part X, the final one, tomorrow)


David : Fourteen Fun Facts (4) Child Psychologist

“How else are we to shape the hearts and minds of future Ephs if not by publicly praising behavior which is good and criticizing behavior which is bad?”
… David in a recent comment

David is an eminent child psychologist! And he is using ephblog as a ‘natural consequence’.

The two-parter:

a. Do you think ephblog is an appropriate tool for shaping the minds of future ephs or do you think this David’s super-ego talking?

b. What do you think of ‘the family constellation’ as an operative? Maybe you were raised with this book at the family meetings, maybe you are using it now.


Oh, to be a legacy…

I still remember the first time I met a legacy at Williams. It was first days, and I was talking with a few people about our various backgrounds, something I had interest in as one of Williams’s fairly rare southerners from a majority-minority public high school.

My new friend paused after describing her parents’ occupations, leaned forward, and then half-whispered, “I’m a legacy,” as if it was somehow something to be ashamed of, or a secret not revealed lightly. Until that point, I hadn’t really conceived of the notion that legacy was a burden, or something to hide, but we certainly don’t talk about it much here and now. In fact, the only time I’ve heard a legacy identified publicly was when the Octet brought one of its founding members on stage last semester, a man who spoke of the Octet’s founding and the grandfather of a current Williams senior.

Partly, it may have to do with stereotypes about what that means in terms of family wealth, but I think there is a greater factor involved. Following in one’s family footsteps is no small task. If I am walking the same halls and learning in the same classrooms as a parent, I likely have no choice but to compare myself to them and their accomplishments at Williams. Furthermore, legacies know that they have a minor leg-up in admissions – could that give rise to some fear that they don’t belong at Williams, and that they were only admitted because of who came before?

Yet at the same time, a legacy may have been raised with Williams decorating their home. They might have been to the College for a reunion or two, and could be, by the nature of their birth, a better Williams student (and/or a better alum).

As the old Williams, a place of almost exclusively white men, fades away into the yellowed pages of history, what will become of the legacy in this modern era?

Text in italics is edited in @ 8:36 PM


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67 – Part VIII

(for original post, please go here)

One of the things I truly love about this essay, is how beautifully it pays tribute, not just to Varnedoe, but to the mentor-protege relationship. Gopnik begins the piece with the back story of how he and Kirk first came to know one another as teacher and student, and seamlessly illustrates the transition into a deep and lifelong friendship.

It seems fitting at this point, to reflect on Lane Faison. In speaking of his mentor, Varnedoe once said:

“No single thing about Lane was so impressive, and so decisive in my life, as his pleasure. A sense of the obligatory, the routine,the bored – all those things that so often color a course taught for the umpty-umpth time, and all those things that can chill a student at a hundred paces – never intruded in anything he did.”

And Gopnik, in turn says of Varnedoe:

“[Kirk] loved life in its most tangible forms, and so for him art was as physical and pleasurable as being knocked down by a wave. Art was always material first – it was never, ever bound by a thorny crown of ideas.”

And so we have it. A handing down of what is learned, the nurturing of a way of seeing and living, a recognition of  the pleasure to be had in it, all qualities that make a life, a work of art in itself. Gopnik’s beautiful essay, yet more evidence of the value of this blessed tradition.

In this segment, Gopnik returns us to Metrozoid Field, and to the secret of great teaching.

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik

That Friday, out on Metrozoid Field, Kirk divided the boys into two teams. “A team runs the play, and B team defends,” he said.

“But they’ll know what we’re gonna do,” someone on the A team complained.

“That’s okay. Most of the time the other team knows what you’re gonna do. That’s called your tendency. The key is to do it anyway.”

“But if they know-”

“Just run the play. Most of the time the other team knows. The hard part is doing it right even when you know exactly what’s coming.”

The offense boys ran their one play, the flea flicker, and the defense boys ran around trying to stop it. Standing on the sidelines, I was amazed to see how hard it was to stop the play even if you did know it was coming. The boys on defense ran around, nettled, converging on the wrong receiver and waving their hands blindly at the ball. The boys on offense looked a little smug.

Kirk called them together. “You know what they’re going to do. Why can’t you stop it?”

The boys on the B team, slightly out of breath, shrugged.

“You can’t stop it because they know what they’re going to do, but you don’t know what you’re going to do against it. One team has a plan, and the other team doesn’t. One team knows what it’s doing, and the other team knows what they’re doing, but it doesn’t know what it’s doing. Now let’s figure out what you’re going to do.”

He went to work. Who’s the fastest kid they have? Okay, let’s put the fastest kid we have on him. Or, better, what if each guy takes a part of the field and just stays there and knocks the ball down if it comes near him? Don’t move now; just stay there and knock it down. They tried both ways – man-to-man and zone – and found that both ways worked. The play lost its luster. The boys on the B team now seemed smug, and the boys on the A team lost.

“Maybe you need another wrinkle,” Kirk said to the A team. “Let’s work on it.”

Watching him on Metrozoid Field, you could see what made him a great teacher on bigger questions for bigger kids. Football was a set of steps, art a set of actions. The mysterious, baffling things – modern art, the zone defense – weren’t so mysterious or baffling if you broke them down. By the end of the spring practice, the eight-year-olds were instinctively rotating out of man-to-man into a zone and the offense audibling out of a spread formation into a halfback option, just as the grown-ups in Washington were suddenly seeing the differences and similarites between Pollock’s drips and Twombly’s scrawls.

One particularly bright kid, Jacob, was scared of the ball, the onrushing object and the thousand intricate adjustments you had to make to catch it. He would throw out his arms and look away instead of bringing his hands together. Kirk worked with him. He stood nearby and threw Jacob the ball, underhanded, and then got him to do one thing right. When he caught it, Kirk wasn’t too encouraging; when he dropped one, he wasn’t too hard. He did not make him think it was easy. He did not make him think that he had done it when he hadn’t. He made him think that he could do it if he chose.

It is said sometimes that the great teachers and mentors, the wise men and gurus, achieve their ends by inducting the disciple into a kind of secret circle of knowledge and belief, make of their charisma a kind of gift. The more I think about it, though, the more I suspect that the best teachers – and, for that matter, the truly long-term winning coaches may offer a charismatic model – they probably have to – but then they insist that all the magic they have to offer is a commitment to repetition and perserverance. The great oracles may enthrall, but the really great teachers demystify. They make particle physics into a series of diagrams that anyone can follow, football into a series of steps that anyone can master, and art into a series of slides that anyone can see. A guru gives us himself and then his system; a teacher gives us his subject, and then ourselves.

(Part IX tomorrow)


David : Fourteen Fun Facts (3) Professor


Dave teaches a Winter Study class. Econ 18. “Well-rounded Economic Models”. Well, heck, I’d take that class.


a. After this exposure to Dave – your guess on what the students come away with (this is no worse than any of the suppositions Dave throws out almost daily in his posts).

b. Assuming no splinters on your end of the log, Your favorite class and why?


Time Permitting, Next Stop, Milky Way!




I have yet to experience the Milham Planetarium, but this announcement served as a reminder to put it on the list for my next visit.

Who has been there? What’s it like? Want to go with me?

Here’s a teaser if you need to be convinced:

Time permitting, the audience will also explore our Milky Way Galaxy and the Universe beyond via the Ansible MicroDome digital planetarium. The Ansible is based upon flight-simulator technology and can be used to fly (virtually) from planet Earth to anywhere within 1000 light years, in addition to many other features. This versatile digital planetarium complements the high-resolution capabilities of the Zeiss projector.

Come on, it’s free and hosted by students! Meet me there in time for take-off. Bring a snack because it’s a cross-universe flight and Heaven knows (!!), flying isn’t what it used to be.
Make your reservations here.



Art, the Infrastructure, and the WPA …


“Put more money into our crumbling infrastructure and it will create jobs” is a commonly expressed belief.

Even before Paul Krugman wrote this am in the NYT “If you want to see what it really takes to boot the economy out of a debt trap, look at the large public works program, otherwise known as World War II, that ended the Great Depression”, The TVA, the Hoover Dam, and countless CCC projects were in full swing.

And of course, the WPA with its’ life line to artists, musicians, and writers.

The Arts and art are linked to the economy. As art prices go into a nosedive, it is interesting to consider this relationship This BBC article puts the need for consideration of this at this time.

I wonder what the Williams Art Mafia thinks? Or even just us wise-guys on this blog?

(Above: ‘Earth and Sky,’ a 1935 painting by Paul Meltzner featured in the Oceanside Museum of Art’s “Art of the WPA Era from Collections of the San Diego Region.”)


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67 – Part VII

(image from painting by Cy Twombly)

Varnedoe, unlike many in his position, did not set himself apart as judge and critic. He connected with artists in the same way that he connected with their work.

Chuck Close said of him:

“As an artist it was thrilling to have Kirk describe your work. He was a dazzling speaker, but it was not just wordsmanship. He got to the heart of things fast. He had a genuine rapport with artists. He even married one.”

In the Mellon lectures, we see full evidence of not only this wordsmanship, but also in his ability to understand the experience of the artist in producing the work. Note the deference he gives his wife (accomplished artist Elyn Zimmerman) in this particular description of a painting by Cy Twombly. It’s worth mentioning that the work he describes (of which you see a tiny snippet above) is, in reality, approximately 13 feet by 21 feet.

“Drawn with what looks like chalk but is actually an oil crayon on gray ground, it is one of his so-called blackboard series; […]. In fact, it is not a blackboard, and this forces us to deal with what it is. But what is it? It is a kind of furious scribbling, a seemingly mindless repetition of the same hand-drawn gesture. But the gesture is repeated so often and on such a scale that it begins to vault into a different set of references. We lose sight of the arm or the wrist, and begin instead to be aware of the scale of the whole body. And then, because the overlays and densities begin to create a sense of space or depth that is nowhere cued by perspective but is suggested by the blurring, cloudlike structure, we lose awareness of the scale of the body as well. My wife, who is an artist, said of this picture that it’s so large and complex that it has its own weather. We sense that it has a kind of energy to it, a pulse like that of a cosmic nebula. And we keep reaching for analogies – weather, night sky, the impulsiveness – for a vocabulary that in the end describes nothing other than this picture, We grapple with the combination of things the picture presents: with minute, intimate, and grand scale; with flatness and depth; with huge energy and vast, dissolving serenity. And we continually wind around something that never becomes any particular thing but itself, that has all of the complexity and energy that only it has, and that did not exist before.”

In today’s segment of Gopnik’s essay, Kirk is in the final weeks of the Mellon lectures. And given his beautiful powers of description (indeed, art in and of itself), it is not surprising,  that the crowd was overflowing.

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part VII

By the fourth and fifth weeks of the Mellons, the scene at the National Gallery was almost absurd. People were lining up at nine in the morning for the two o’clock lecture; I met a woman who had driven down from Maine to be there. The overflow room had to be supplied with its own overflow room, and the museum finally printed a slightly short-tempered handout. (“But what if I need to use the restroom while standing in line?” “If you need to use the restroom while in line, ask your neighbor to save your place.”)


The fifth lecture would, Kirk thought, be the toughest to put over. He found it easy to make an audience feel the variety, the humanity, of abstract art, even an art as refined and obstinate as the art of Judd or the young Frank Stella. But it was harder to make people accept and relish that art’s perversity, and harder still to make them see that its perversity was exactly the humanism it offered. In the lecture hall, he explained that, as E.H. Gombrich had shown half a century ago in his Mellon Lectures, representational artists were always making forms and then matching them – taking inherited stereotypes and “correcting” them in the light of new things seen. Leonardo, for instance, had inherited the heraldic image of a horse, and he had bent it and reshaped it until it looked like an actual animal. Abstract artists were always making forms and then trying to unmatch them, to make sure that their art didn’t look like things in the world. Sooner or later, though, they always did, and this meant that, alongside abstraction, there was a kind of sardonic running commentary, which jumped on it anytime that it did look like some banal familiar thing.

Pop art was the most obvious source and form of this mockery: Roy Lichtenstein made fun of the abstract Op artist Victor Vasarely for making pictures that looked like the bottom of a sneaker, and Andy Warhol thumbed his nose at Barnett Newman for making pictures that looked like matchbook covers, and so on. But this countertradition wasn’t more jeering. It was generative, too: It forced and inspired new art. It kept abstraction from wallowing complacently in a vague mystical humanism. In the parody and satire of abstraction, its apparent negation, lay its renewal.

This process,Kirk explained, easiy visible in the dialogue of minimalism and Pop, was just as vital, if less obvious, in the relationship between Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly, two of his heroes. Twombly’s squiggles and scribbles were not dutifully inspired by but actually parodied Pollock’s method: “Everything that Twombly achieves, he achieves by the ironic distancing of himself from Pollock. Everything that is liquid is turned dry. Everything that is light is turned dark. Everything that is simple and spontaneous and athletic is turned obsessive, repetitive, self-conscious in Twombly. By this kind of negation, he re-realizes, on a completely different scale and completely different terms, the exact immediacy of energy conveyed to canvas that Pollock has.” Negation and parody were forms of influence as powerful as any solemn “transmission” of received icons. Doubt led to argument; argument made art.

(Part VIII tomorrow)


For those following Sophmom’s excellent serialization of the Varnadoe article by Gopnik …


and I hope everyone is, this, which Steve would have projected on the wall and a genially smiling Faison might have simply written under it ‘Compare and Contrast – 30 minutes’.

I invite Lawrence Hall regulars to recall the challenge and readers from other disciplines to savour the flavour

Sign the Honor Statement.

(Hint: this am’s NYT for left side image)

Oh. alright:

The pattern of possible simultaneous attacks by terrorists in Mumbai and Kabul in a technique described as “swarming” is an interesting counter point to Ellsworth Kelley’s study of shadows descending a staircase presented as simultaneous and, of course, the reference to Duchamp’s famous although not particularly erotic nude descending some other staircase all at once or at least left to right.

In either case, the point is made of the confounding of the powers that be, whether security or art establishment.

And were Ellsworth and Emmett Kelley separated at birth?


Paul Danielson MD ’88 – Deployed to Afghanistan

Paul Danielson MD ’88 is now deployed to Afghanistan.

He doesn’t have a snail mail address yet, but I will pass it along once he gets it.

What deployed soldiers appreciate more than the support sent directly to them is the support sent to their family left behind.  Paul and his wife have three young children, ages 7, 5 and 2.  Adopt An Eph has and will send packages to Paul’s family.

If you would also like to support Paul’s family, please contact me, and I’ll send you the information.

Thank you for your support of our deployed Ephs and their families.

Stewart Menking

Williams College Adopt An Eph Program


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)


David : Fourteen Fun Facts (1) Economist. The series begins …


David Kane. The Man and The Mystery. While David remains in seclusion for the next fourteen days, EphBlog will take a penetrating look at the man of whom Howard Hughes (or was it Leonardo DeCaprio) remarked ” A mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a burrito”.

Yes. Fourteen aspects gleaned from the EphBlog archives and the rumours so rife about this contraversial figure.

Separating fact from fiction? Well, I hope not!

David the economist! Not surprising to regular readers. But did you see this picture of Dave yucking it up with these other two Davos attendees? Hey, who are those guys with Dave Kane!

And so, a two-part question:

a. What do you think of Dave’s economic analyses?

b. How is this economy working for you?


Direct from Shenzhen: more iPhone than iPhone

In the “Blade Runner” category:

–, –, all,

Just finished sitting down with a Genuine Apple Employee(tm) — the piece of equipment I have is an — ingenious– fake. Copy. Facsimile; replicant, counterfeit, a genuine contre-fait.

The achievement strikes me. This device is running Apple firmware– or close. It mounts as if an Apple device. Normally, I expect it connects to iTunes as– as if-

The Apple Employee(tm) was so kind as to point out some of the clues, starting from the obvious– the manufacturer didn’t copy the Apple connector at the bottom– to the minor issues of quality– the screen is not as responsive, pixelates differently, has poorer colour quality… the Apple emblem is a few centimeters to the left… there are…

This strange creature– it’s slow. The digitizer– the thin membrane layer above the cells which project the display– has nothing of the sensitivity of the Apple device. The slide function halts and jitters, as if in a sort of schizophrenia– the processor inside cannot have nearly the power of the device used by Apple’s production line.

!Imagine. Imagine the engineers who designed this replicant, who, perhaps, speak and comprehend little of English… how close the replicant is, how hard to detect.

I am itching to tear it apart– to take my scalpels and dissect it– what is inside, what does it reveal? What are the chip numbers? Where did they come from? Did whomever made it, have access to a supply chain of actual Toshiba 16MB Flash– does it really have 16MB inside, or do they only put in 4MB and hope the end user won’t notice– or– perhaps more amusing– is the flash memory inside itself “a fake”– did the people who made this fake, perhaps not know the “Toshiba” chips they were purchasing were themselves fakes?

Apple, I heard, has purchased a few batches of those. How many of those replicants are among us– on “genuine” iPhones distributed by Apple? What do those devices do– how to they differ from the originals? Do they contain– transport– across our impermeable borders– threats, unknown, unanticipated?

Moreover– how intriguing!– the thing is used. The soft plastic molding on the back shows three or six months of wear. It was clearly sold to someone; possibly and probably returned due to defect; resold. The phone is SIM-locked to a Thai carrier, and has other personal settings: the music and video files, and pictures, of an individual life. Someone — someone in Thailand– purchased this– probably– thinking it was an iPhone!

Did he ever know, that… it was… a fake?

If I turn around, leaving it on my desk alone… will it … bite me? Transform into a little monster and scurry across the floor, to do some evil? Sit there appearing so attractive, then drop a trojan package onto my PC?

It also came to me, during the above– it’s locked to a Thai carrier!– why would you make a replicant of an iPhone, and then lock it to a carrier? That carrier, or their subsidiary, must be selling these things, somewhere. As “New.” Wow.

“Replicant iPhone, spotted in wild. Do we shoot?”

@—: So: I imagine a description of this and the take-apart photos (the Apple guy is taking some home to Austin tomorrow) would garner some attention. I’m emailing Pogue; damn it, I’ve lost the Wozniak’s email, but he was in Nashville a few months ago handing out cards…


Shots of the same (3)

Here I bring back one of my crowning photographic glories. It is from a time when I was spending most of my procrastination on Willipedia, and also reading EphBlog and taking Photo ID pictures. So I combined these lofty pastimes, and took a photo of the Paresky Center that was almost identical to the artist’s rendition (except more true to life because the campus was covered in snow). Behold:



The third photo is the official Williams photo of the completed building. See this Ephblog discussion for a compare-and-contrast of the sketch vs. the reality. Here ends this shameless self-promotion of my photographic prowess.


A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67 – Part V

"The less there is to look at, the more important it is that we look at it closely and carefully." K. Varnedoe

"The less there is to look at, the more important it is that we look at it closely and carefully." K. Varnedoe

(image from a painting by Ellsworth Kelly)

In this fifth segment, Varnedoe delivers the first of his Mellon lectures (Pictures of Nothing). Gopnik writes that Varnedoe’s strength was in how he “walked people through.” That his methodology, whether he was coaching eight-year-olds at football, or lecturing an art crowd on how to look at an Ellsworth Kelly, involved “breaking it down” and “build(ing) it back up”; examining the seemingly simplest of things, “closely and carefully”.

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part V

That Sunday of the first Mellon lecture, Kirk walked to the lectern after an introduction. The room was sold out, and the overrflow had been sent to another lecture room. “Can I have the lights down, please,” he said, and I saw that he had kept his word: He had no text, no notes, just a list of slides. He began to show and describe objects from sixties American minimalism – plywood boxes and laid-out bricks and striped paintings. He didn’t offer a “theory” or a historical point. He tried instead to explain that a landscape  that looked simple – there had been Abstract Expressionist splashes, and then there were all these boxes – was actually extraordinarily complex: There was a big difference betweenthe boxes of Donald Judd, elegizing New York Canal Street culture,and the gleaming body-shop boxes of the West Coast minimalists, glorifying California car culture.

“The less there is to look at,” he said, pacing, as he always did, “the more important it is that we look at it closely and carefully. Small differences make all the differences. So, for example, the next time somebody tries to sell you on the mechanical exactitude of Frank Stella’s stripes, think again about the beautiful, delicate breathing space in these stripes, the incredible feathered edge of the touch of the picture, which has everything to do with its kind of espresso-grounds, Beat Generation blackness that gives the picture its particular relationship to its epoch and time.”

So he walked people through it. There were the bright Matissean stripes of Ellsworth Kelly, made from the traced shapes of Parisian shadows, and those dark espresso-bar simplicities of Stella. There was the tradition of the Bauhaus diaspora, all those German refugee artists who had been forced to go to South America and who had proselytized for a kind of utopian, geometric abstraction – which had then appeared in New York just as New York artists were using geometric forms to indicate a cool-guy stoical distaste for utopian aspirations, creating a comedy of misunderstanding and crossbreeding. An art that had seemed like a group of quadratic equations set by a joyless teacher had been revealed as a sequence of inventions thought up by people. Where there seemed to be things, there were stories. The audience, at the end of the hour, was riveted. Someone was breaking it down and then was going to build it back up. You didn’t want to miss it.

(Part VI tomorrow)


I’m the last one? Yes, a cab please (14). Valentine’s Day …

and it was a great party! You know Jim Dine’s Heart at the Opera, the one with the tools? Well, here’s the thing. Puccini’s La Boheme is #2 in performances. Yes. Tosca‘s #1, Flute and Butterfly are 3 and 4.

So Puccini’s Art Nouveau Paris becomes alphabet city and TB becomes aids in Rent and Johnathan Miller’s new staging for ENO puts the scene in the 30’s. In spite of disease and changing social conditions and opera tix at $100 a pop and up, love seems eternal.

What’s the nicest thing that has happened to you on Valentine’s Day?

Come on, we’ll share a cab.


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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