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August 9, 2009

Ahlan wa Cheerio has now found a new home here at my own website, the obviously titled You’ll find all new posts there, and yes, they will be more often, as the next year is just me, a laptop, and a whole lot of writing and internet.

The RSS feed, for those of you playing along in Google, is here.



May 22, 2009

In (hopefully) less than a week, we’ll be moving to my new, semi-professional larger site Right now you’ll be looking at a clone of this blog, but the end point is to have my main site, Ahlan, and new, shiny internet place called Above the Scroll in one location.

Think of it as consolidating my internets first, so I can get back to writing ASAP.

That big, life changing news? I’m going to Columbia in August. Oh boy.

Anonymous donations began earlier?

May 20, 2009

Since I posted a highly non-scientific list of possible new targets of the masked philanthropist, four more schools have gotten anonymous scholarship and generation operating funds. But it’s possible they started even earlier.

I talked about the left field choice of UAA, and a succesful prediction of University of Alabama, Birmingham. Now, itt seems that Hunter College (a CUNY branch), also on my “good chance” list received a check, as well as University of Hawaii, Hilo. A .5 average isn’t too bad for only a slightly educated guess.

But now, Inside Higher Ed is reporting that the media attention to the series of donation has made other schools question if recent donations were part of the trend, including University of South Florida (woo, on my list), California State University, Northridge, and at the very earliest, Temple University.

While the earlier donations held the same requirements (one check for whatever, one check for scholarships for women and minorities), there was less legal wrangling to make sure the donor’s identity was kept secret. The narrative of what Temple University received is worth reproducing:

They arrived in January 2008 – in two envelopes from a bank in Arizona, as did the money received by California State University, Northridge. With regular postage. No registered mail. No delivery confirmation.

One held $1 million for the general fund.

The other had $4 million for scholarships for women and minorities.

“The person opening the mail had quite a shock,” Hart said

This was back in January of 2008. Since then, the donor seems to have stepped up the frequency and secrecy of the giving.

Quick, pre-Star Trek viewing thoughts

May 11, 2009

Culture placement, a progression:



“Get a Life!”



“So wait, you’re intimidated by the Trekkies?


In addition, Mr. Pine and Mr. Quinto, I don’t believe you’ve truly come to terms with how you’ve just changed your career. Not badly, just profoundly. For appropriate reaction,  please see, Shatner, Wiliam under “unclassy” and Nimoy, Leonard under “awesome and talented beyond all that”.

Bet this hand, ’cause I’m marvelous

May 6, 2009


Friends, the unthinkable has happened. Innocently stumbling around the interwebs one evening, I came across a lady who I had heard of, but otherwise had passed by my personal cultural radar. First, I was laughing, then I was strangely drawn to see more. I couldn’t stop watching videos, and spent the rest of my work day with her songs on a demented loop in my head. Lady Gaga confounds my powers of critical analysis, and I believe that’s her dastardly plan.

Two videos in particular have captured my interest: “Love Game”, in which Gaga struts around a New York subway clone, getting Fosse-trained street punks to dance with her, and “Poker Face”, where Gaga attends a poolside strip poker game, hangs out with Great Danes, and does a dance number in a deconstructed Power Rangers suit (Blue Ranger, go!).

Gaga has stated that her music is about how “anyone can be famous”. I get the conceit – Gaga does the pop music/dance thing – and wears/does increasingly strange things, as a larger comment to pop culture and fashion. It’s been done, but the fact that’s she making people pay attention in quite a loud and messy media environment, that I can give her credit for. Her pop songs seem to have been grown in a lab, designed expressly to get stuck in your head. But is she anything more than this month’s next big thing? Rich at fourfour thinks so, especially after her American Idol performance:

When I watch that video (as I have frequently over the past few days), I know I’m watching a highly evolved pop star, someone who puts as much time and craft into existing as she does creating music and performing and tongue-in-cheek bantering. It’s clear that she’s in the youth of her stardom — there’s a sense of abandon often found in those who aren’t yet mature enough to realize that they’re mortal. At the same time, I wonder if it isn’t a social experiment, a way to test just how much the obviously rapt masses will tolerate.

He’s talking about Gaga’s performance where she started “Poker Face” acoustically and threw in a bit of jazz piano before she gets up and does the electronic-pop dance bit for the audience that has deemed it a #1 single. Rich calls the performance subversive, and by definition it does subvert expectation, especially if you’d only seen Gaga’s music videos. The grandstanding intro was also done for her performance on the Paul O’Grady show. Have a look:

I have a soft spot for ridiculously attired musicians, especially if they at least attempt some creativity (i.e. No Doubt-era Gwen Stefani, M.I.A., Bowie), but there’s something that’s been bothering me about Gaga. It crystallized when I realized there is significant product placement in both the Love Game and Poker Face videos. They’re blurred out on MTV networks as per their no logo policy (comically mismatched with the channel’s product heavy reality game shows), but very clear in any other versions on YouTube (Internet reality check time: 13 million views for “Poker Face” on the Lady Gaga official account). I’m not criticizing the product placement per se (although I certainly rankle at it), but whether or not if it was a GaGa approved decision.

Quite simply: Is Lady Gaga in charge of her own hustle?

Hustle, not in the con-artist sense, but in the “We all have to have our hustle” sense. (Mine is writing.) Gaga seems particularly suited (and enjoying! perish the thought!) her hustle. She knows how to grab and keep attention, she’s a performer first, and I can’t imagine her current trajectory was 100% record label approved. But when a top-shelf liquor, a hyper-expensive plastic watch, and online poker site get significant screen time in her videos, who put these in there? Is this a Haus of Gaga idea on capitalizing on the trappings of fame or something Interscope required in order to finance the making of the video? It seems silly, but it’s crucial to my enjoyment of GaGa. I can respect a Warholian grab for fame, I can respect selling millions of records to an American Idol audience and then not giving them the performance promised, but I cannot respect subversion which serves a different master than it’s creator.

If Lady Gaga is cashing in hard from product placement in her music videos or any other creative decisions, she is a mad cap genius and deserves every record sale, but if not, she deserves to burn out as fast as pop stars have in the past decade.

(A good sign: Before making her way into singing full-time, Lady Gaga was a songwriter for acts like the Pussycat Dolls. So she’s already made the jump between behind the scenes and way way in front of them.)

Taken aback by Alaska

May 3, 2009

I guess if the past year was any sign, I should have known not to forget our neighbors to the north. No, not Canada, our actual fellow citizens to the north.

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition Alaska. KTUU is reporting that The University of Alaska, Anchorage is the most recent recipient of an anonymous, scholarship based donation. Run by former Lt. Governor Fran Ullmer, the University of Alaska, Anchorage was never even in the running for my list. This is a lesson learned on Wikipedia research; Ullmer is listed under the categories of “Mayors of Juneau, Alaska”, “Members of the Alaska House of Representatives” and “Living people”, among others, but not the crucial “University President” category that I derived my own scorecard of women university presidents.

However, it does expand our donor’s reach further much further west than before. Nearly all of the other schools are east of the Mississippi.

My lost career as a psychic

April 28, 2009

I was quite surprised today to find out that even after specious analysis, my assertion that anonymous donations to women-run colleges would continue, as well as the identities of several candidate schools likely to be in the running, was proven right.

Towards the top of my “good chance” list was CUNY Hunter, aka Hunter College. This morning,  AP ran a story on Hunter College reporting a $5 million anonymous donation, with the same conditions. Ha, ha! Now to begin my lucrative financial speculation career.

Excitement aside, I wouldn’t credit Hunter’s place among my “good chance” schools to any real insight, more like statistical dumb luck, especially considering the number of schools in the running.

And Hunter didn’t receive this gift last week or today. The donation showed up last fall, and they just realized they were part of a trend. I have to go back in check, but that also sounds like Hunter was the first school blessed by the forcefully anonymous benefactor(s). Like many of the others, the $4 million for scholarships and $1 million for general funds was the largest gift the school has ever received.

Hunter’s inclusion into the now 14-school list now makes the Kalamazoo donation look even more like a fluke. It remains the only private school, and as well as having the highest tuition from the selected colleges. Sorry, Claremont Conservative, this only pushes both Claremont McKenna and sister school Harvey Mudd further down my list. If Kalamazoo is, as it stands, the exception to the rule, it’s much less likely that any further donations will go to private institutions.