Category Archives: University of Chicago

Hot Air

Caffeinated Philosophy

Overheard at Soma Coffee, one barista speaking to another:

Life is more than fish sticks.

Fish Sticks

So, so true.

Magic, Tragic Formula

As a student at the University of Chicago, Kurt Vonnegut wanted to let academe know that the plots for fictional stories can be represented as graphs. You know, the visual aids that we normally associate with economists, behavioral psychologists, and other illusionists.

Vonnegut

Vonnegut In The Army

Huh. Who’da figured the likes of Truman Capote and James Patterson are, at heart, mathematicians?

Vonnegut pitched this concept for his master’s thesis at the august institution. He was told, forthwith, to kiss off. The late Indy native once explained the dons didn’t dig his brainstorm “because it was so simple and looked like too much fun.”

Anyway, Open Culture tells us about Vonnegut’s proposal, which he went on to espouse and further explain throughout his life. Plus, his own novel plots reflected the basic assertion he wanted to make in his thesis paper.

And, since we’re larcenous hoodlums here at Pencil World HQ, we’ve copped the chart that Open Culture commissioned designer Maya Eilam to draw up, illustrating V’s idée. Here it is [broken up so you can read the text]:

1)

Eilam Infographic Detail

2)

Eilam Infographic Detail

3)

Eilam Infographic Detail

Vonnegut would have had us believe that the stories a culture tells about itself also can be plotted thusly. And in that we we can learn about said society. Cool, no?

Living Dolls

I’ve always thought the Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit edition is stupid. SI takes inhumanly glamorous dames and poses them in faraway and gorgeous locales, all the while cladding them in eensy-weensy bikinis that expose as much mam, camel-toe, and bootie as can be displayed on a Kroger magazine rack.

For the boys, right? If the giggly, sweaty lads of this holy land want porn, there’s plenty of it on the Internet. They don’t have to pretend they’re buying this particular issue of the weekly sports news pub just for the articles.

Plus, there’s the whole creation of impossible standards of beauty for young girls to fail to live up to and young boys to be sorely disappointed in their future girlfriends and wives for. All in all, the swimsuit edition is nutty.

Now it’s deranged. Guess who is adorning the pages of the 2014 one-handed reading edition?

Barbie.

The doll.

Doll

Yes, This Barbie®

A hunk of plastic that, too, has been making girls feel like crap about their bods for 50 years.

Boys, it’s time to grow up.

But even more weird than grown men turning Japanese over a sports mag are the rationalizations SI and Mattel are spewing left and right. For instance, some copywriter, who obviously downed an LSD-and-crystal-meth-laced latte before he started clacking his keyboard, authored the following words that supposedly came out of Barbie’s mouth:

I, for one, am honored to join the legendary swimsuit models. The word “model,” like the word “Barbie®,” is often dismissed as a poseable plaything with nothing to say. And yet, those featured are women who have broken barriers, established empires, built brands, branched out into careers as varied as authors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. They are all great examples of confident and competent women.

Notice I said the copywriter was a he. Because it couldn’t have been a woman, could it? Can any female human being be that unhinged?

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“That isn’t writing at all; it’s typing.” — Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac‘s work

ZOMBIE MORNING

A courtly hat-tip to the one of the demi-bosses over at Soma Coffee, Lindsay Taylor.

She turned me on last Sunday to the fabulous Zombies disc, “Odessey and Oracle” (sic). I immediately ordered it online and it came in the mail yesterday.

The Loved One and I listened to it in part on the way to my Sunday morning headquarters.

Do yourself a favor and get it. Trust me.

LOVE KILLS

I was re-reading a part of David Halberstam‘s indispensable history of the 1950s entitled, appropriately enough, “The Fifties.”

One of its chapters covers the Beats, natch. Halberstam tells the story of how Allen Ginsberg met a fellow named Lucien Carr in his dorm room at Columbia University. Ginsberg immediately fell in with other Columbia students and hangers-on like William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and the rest. Carr was acknowledged as the untitled leader of the gang, then referred to as the Libertine Circle, that eventually became the Beats.

Burroughs, Carr, & Ginsberg (1953)

A dramatic episode in Carr’s life brings to mind one of the biggest news stories in Bloomington in years — the stabbing death of IU English professor Don Belton.

The Belton story broke a mere three months after T-Lo and I arrived in Bloomington. He may or may not have had sex with some kid who was a former Marine and had served in Iraq. The kid went to Belton’s house one morning, stabbed him repeatedly with his hunting knife, and allowed him to bleed to death on his kitchen floor.

The kid was convicted of murder in short order, despite claiming that he was driven to a murderous rage only after Belton had made sexual overtures to him.

Don Belton & Michael Griffin

When Lucien Carr was a teen, he was involved in a similar manner with a man who was 14 years older than he was.

This fellow, David Kammerer, was the leader of a youth group that Carr had belonged to isn St. Louis, where he was raised. Apparently, Kammerer fell head over heels for the tender teen. Carr’ mother moved him to a number of private prep schools in New England to get him away from Kammerer but the man followed the youngster to each new locale.

After high school, Carr enrolled at the University of Chicago and Kammerer again moved to be nearer him.

Carr attempted suicide by sticking his head in an oven while at Chicago. He told school officials it was an act of “art.” He told his mother he wanted to kill himself because Kammerer was driving him batty. Carr was committed to the psych ward at Cook County Hospital for a few weeks after the incident.

Carr’s mother transferred him to Columbia in New York City. Kammerer followed.

Carr swore up and down to his new Columbia chums that he’d never had sex with Kammerer but some historians suspect otherwise.

Jack Kerouac And Lucien Carr

In any case, Kammerer became a fringe member of the Libertine Circle. He and Carr often hung around together but, just as often, Carr would freeze the man out.

Anyway, one night in August, 1944, Carr and Jack Kerouac got drunk together in the Libertines’ hangout, The West End. Kerouac left the place and ran into Kammerer on the street. Kammerer asked where he could find Carr and Kerouac directed him to The West End.

Kammerer and Carr went for a walk and wound up in a park near 115th Street and the Hudson River. The two lolled there for a while and, according to Carr later, Kammerer came on to him. A scuffle ensued, Carr pulled his Boy Scout knife, and stabbed Kammerer to death.

Carr bound Kammerer’s body, weighted it with rocks, and dumped the corpse into the river. He buried Kammerer’s glasses in the park.

Carr immediately went to William Burroughs’ apartment and told him what had happened. Carr even brought a blood-soaked pack of Kammerer’s cigarettes as proof. Burroughs disposed of the pack and advised Carr to go to the police. Carr didn’t care much for that idea.

Instead, Carr went to Kerouac’s place the next morning and told him about the killing. Kerouac and he went out and dumped Carr’s Boy Scout knife down a subway grating. Then the two went to the movies and the Museum of Modern Art.

Finally, Carr went home and told his mother about the slaying. She brought him to the New York DA to confess. The cops fished Kammerer’s body out of the river and found the dead man’s glasses. Carr was charged with second degree murder.

Newspaper coverage at first tended to be hostile to the wealthy college boy killer. Then, his story of fighting off the advances of the older homosexual before resorting to homicidal violence touched the sympathies of a homophobic public. One newspaper termed the incident an “honor” killing.

Carr eventually copped to a manslaughter plea and served a mere two years in the juvenile section of the Elmira state prison.

A Monroe County jury last spring hung a murder conviction on Michael Griffin for the killing of Don Belton. Griffin is now serving a 45 to 65-year sentence in state prison.

Things change — or do they?

Men still kill men for the “sin” of homosexuality but at least we’re putting those killers away for a good long time now.

SKY KING

Hey, don’t forget about today’s solar eclipse. We may be able to see the moon’s disc cover a small part of the sun’s from our vantage point in South Central Indiana, although our sky won’t be darkened to any appreciable extent as it will be in the southwestern United States.

But you can follow its progress on a number of websites.

Sky & Telescope Viewing Map For Today’s Eclipse

This particular eclipse is classified as annular, meaning because of the particular points in their orbits at the moment of totality, the moon’s disc is smaller than the sun’s. Ergo, a dramatic circle of the brilliant sun’s orb will surround the moon.

How cool.

An Annular Eclipse

Oh, and don’t forget, the planet Venus will transit the sun’s disc in two and a half weeks. It’s another rare sky spectacular. I’ll remind you about it as we get nearer the date.

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