Sunday, March 27, 2011

Maxwell's Equations

If you were on the MIT campus for any length of time, sooner or later you would encounter Maxwell's Equations. Usually the moment occurred in Spring semester of the freshman year, in 8.02 class, which was Electricity and Magnetism and was a requirement (Well, it or one of the other related classes - 8.021, 8.022 or 8.023; we always called them Physics for Poets, Eight-oh-Two-Screw or Physics for Pre-Meds). Those who entered Course 6 would live with them for the rest of their undergraduate years. There were four of them, and they all had significance in the field of electromagnetic theory. They were named for James Clerk Maxwell, and they described electromagnetic fields. The first was Gauss's Law, the second was Gauss's Law for Magnetism, the third was Faraday's Law  and the final one was Ampere's Law.

In their ordinary physics form, the integral form, Maxwell's Equations looked like this:
[Maxwell's equations]
In the form that most electrical engineers found them, which was the differential form, they looked like this:
Or they could be found like this:
\nabla \cdot \mathbf{D} = \rho_f
\nabla \cdot \mathbf{B} = 0
\nabla \times \mathbf{E} = -\frac{\partial \mathbf{B}} {\partial t}
\nabla \times \mathbf{H} = \mathbf{J}_f + \frac{\partial \mathbf{D}} {\partial t}
But there were other forms of the equations, as demonstrated by Ross:
There was one final form:
By the way, the funny round black object is called a long-playing record. It was used to play recorded music on something known as a record-player (hip-hop and techno DJ's call them turntables or wheels of steel and use them to make scratching sounds in noisy nightclubs where alcohol, hookahs and funny green tablets are passed around and consumed). Records were popular back in the days before compact discs and MP3 files existed and they played strange music called rock-and-roll that certain religious officials objected to. There were even claims you could play records backwards and hear voices from Satan, but everybody knew it was just Ozzy Osbourne. No one has yet tried to play an MP3 file backwards.

A popular shirt, sold by the Hillel Society, had the following message printed on it:

And God Said:
\nabla \cdot \mathbf{D} = \rho_f
\nabla \cdot \mathbf{B} = 0
\nabla \times \mathbf{E} = -\frac{\partial \mathbf{B}} {\partial t}
 \nabla \times \mathbf{H} = \mathbf{J}_f + \frac{\partial \mathbf{D}} {\partial t}
and there was light
and there was much rejoicing.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pud Meets His Maker

The common assumption of most Stickles readers is that Pud was related to me in some sort of way. And there may have been a small grain of truth to that. However, I did appear in one cartoon, dispensing beer at a Strat's Rat, the Student Center Committee's once-a-fortnight mixer. It was the only time Geoff Baskir was seen in cartoon form in Stickles or anywhere else. And probably the only time Chris Tracey (Class of '76, crew jock and also an SCC honcho) was seen in a cartoon, also. She's the lady next to me in the first frame.
One thing you'll notice is the goatee. I had hair on my face, dating from the time I slipped and fractured my ankle on the East Campus ice and decided I didn't have time to learn how to shave my face while standing on one leg. I also parted my hair down the middle - the better to impress record distributors (I wrote record and concert reviews for thursday, and all the major labels had representatives in the greater Boston area). Both of those affectations ended as soon as I entered the job market. Till then, my nickname on the intramural flag football gridiron was "The Weasel". Today, I am clean-shaven, and some in my family claim my hairline is receding.

The beer of choice at Strat's Rat was not Miller, but Tuborg Gold. Tuborg was imported - all the way from the Carling Brewery in Baltimore. There could have been worse beers on tap, but there couldn't have been anything cheaper. When the drinking age in Massachusetts was raised to 21 in 1979, Tuborg was off the menu, and Strat's Rats were no more. I'm not sure if many people were crying in their beers over that.

Spring Training

Baseball season is almost upon us - which means that all good Red Sox fans will soon go into their annual vigil that will be disturbed not once by such trivia as eating, sleeping or proper hygiene. It also means that it's Spring, when the trees bud, the birds sing and the clocks spring forward. Daylight Savings time used to begin in mid-April, but global warming has caused it to gradually appear much earlier in the year - like the second weekend in March.

Spring weather in Boston is famously unpredictable. It can be hot and unbearable one day, say, 90 degrees in the shade, and then the breeze comes in off the Bay and the next day is only 55. There can be fog, rain, snow, sleet, thunder, lighting, hail and even volcanic eruptions - all in the same week (actually, the nearest volcano is in Iceland, and the prevailing winds carry the ash plume over Europe instead of New England). But there is one blessing - the layer of snow that covers the MIT campus from December to March finally melts away, revealing such wonders as sculptures that the students buried under snow in January. One of my dorm-mates also took note of the freeze-dried dogshit that appeared in the grass when the snows had melted.

Snowmelt meant it was possible to play softball. We could get in a good practice on the oval in front of the Green Building, where a few of our mighty sluggers would try to bounce a fly ball off the Sail. But because the weather was tricky, we never knew when practice could be held...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Characters: Meldrim Thomson, Jr.

Today's New Hampshire is a suburb of Boston known for its breathtaking mountains and winter skiing, but in our day, New Hampshire was a wild frontier just north of the Massachusetts border. It was perhaps best known for its liquor stores, which were tax-free and therefore cheaper than those in Massachusetts - a fact that lured many an MIT undergraduate to visit the bucolic town of Nashua, back in the days when the drinking age was only 18. Revenue from liquor sales (and a crappy schools system) meant that New Hampshire did not have an income tax, and every governor was required to Sign The Pledge that he would not introduce an income tax if elected. Property taxes were another thing altogether, and residents of New Hampshire paid dearly for their property. Nonetheless, New Hampshire would forever sing the siren song of "no income tax" to residents of the metropolitan Boston area, hoping to lure them over the border.

Fiercely independent and hide-bound conservative, New Hampshire was fertile territory for loopy extremists, although it broke Ronald Reagan's heart in 1976 by dallying with him before ultimately casting its vote for President Gerald Ford in the primary (the Democrat it picked was Jimmy Carter, and we know the rest of that story). New Hampshire also played footsie with Pat Buchanan in a couple of elections, and it even cast couple of votes for a candidate named Vermin Supreme (he finished ahead of Tom Tancredo in the 2008 GOP primary). New Hampshire has a town called Dixville Notch, and every Election Day, its citizens - all 40 of them - march down to the polls at midnight to cast their vote.

New Hampshire had also voted Republican in just about every election - until John Kerry and Barack Obama came along. Lately, the state has been trending Democratic, having elected two of them governor in the past ten years and having cast one of them, Jean Shaheen, into the Senate after she defeated a favorite son of MIT named John Sununu. Current governor John Lynch seems destined to be around as long as Queen Elizabeth,  but in the time I was at MIT, the governor was a fruitcake named Meldrim Thomson, Jr., and he kept the governor's chair warm for six years. Thomson was militantly conservative and militantly anti-Massachusetts (Taxachusetts, he called it). His patron was William Loeb, the slightly less wacky and slightly more dopey publisher of New Hampshire's biggest and most conservative newspaper, the Manchester Union Leader. Loeb's anointment routinely nominated the Republicans who would run in the Fall elections, and most times they won.

Meldrim Thomson was proud of New Hampshire's motto, "Live Free or Die". It was on their license plates. If you covered it up, they'd throw you in jail. Thomson also expressed the desire that the State of New Hampshire should acquire nuclear weapons. But he was perhaps best known for trying to quell a demostration against the building of a nuclear powerplant in Seabrook, New Hampshire, by throwing everyone involved in jail. I thought it only prudent to warn the incoming Class of 1981 all about Meldrim Thomson. Only I spelled his name wrong.
In 1978, New Hampshire held an election and unceremoniously threw Meldrim Thomson out on his ear, in favor of a Democrat named Hugh Gallen. A few years later, they would elect John Sununu (the father of the Senator) as governor, and he would serve there before ultimately being called to serve George Herbert Walker Bush as Chief of Staff. In 2001, Meldrim Thomson was inducted into Heaven, a place teeming with liberals.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Controversies - the Lecture Series Committee

Some of you may remember the Lecture Series Committee. They were a student activity group that showed movies on the campus every weekend. These were usually feature films that had recently finished their runs at the box office, at a time when VHS and Beta had not yet finished duking it out for supremacy as THE format for home video. LSC was the principal source of cinema on the MIT campus, charging a nominal fee to students for the privilege of sitting in Kresge Auditorium (or Room 10-250, when circumstances warranted) to see "Dirty Harry" or "Star Wars". As a result, LSC was among the elite of the service organizations, along with the Technology Community Association (TCA), service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and the Student Center Committee (SCC), which ran the Stratton Student Center (naturally). The SCC, which I was privileged to become a member of in my senior year, also ran the Coffehouse in the Student Center and sponsored a number of free events, such as Strat's Rat (all the beer and chips you could consume and all the disco you could stand), occasional live acoustic music performances, and their own Midnight Movies, which were free (just bring a blanket).

Running the campus movies was a major enterprise for the LSC, but that was all in support of their primary mission, which was (wait - it will come back to me soon enough) bringing guest lecturers to MIT. In that vein, they had brought us Henry Kissinger, David Frye (a comedian who sounded like Henry Kissinger on occasion) and Peter Schickele of PDQ Bach fame (he played music like Henry Kissinger). These were serious thinkers and policymakers, and without the money raised by those feature films, LSC could not have brought them to the campus.

At least that was their argument for retaining a monopoly on the showing of feature films at MIT. And they had a nice, lucrative racket going - one that the Social Action Coordinating Committee (remember them?) wanted in on. In 1976, they challenged LSC's monopoly before the Assembly of the Undergraduate Association. This seemed like a slam-dunk; one of their own, Phil Moore, had just been elected Undergraduate Association President, and he had reconstituted a defunct representative parliament of undergraduates elected from all the dorms, fraternities and living groups on campus, to legislate on such matters. Even Bexley had a representative in the Assembly. It couldn't lose. But somehow it did. The proposal to let SACC show feature films in competition with the LSC was voted down by the only deliberative democratic body comprised solely of MIT undergraduates. SACC skulked off and returned to its primary mission in life - harrassing the editors of thursday into running another serialized feature on the Battering Ram.

Of course, it made perfect sense for LSC to have a monopoly. After all, there were only a limited number of films that could be had from New Line catalogue, and two organizations showing films on the same night would have split the campus apart. I think the argument was summed up like this:
Back in 70's, the phone company was AT&T and AT&T was the phone company. It was a monopoly. It controlled all the local service, it controlled long distance and it provided all the phones. In 1983, a lawsuit ended this monopoly and broke AT&T up into multiple pieces, in an effort to foster competition (actually, AT&T agreed to the split-up; they gave away the local services and retained the more lucrative long distance). This effort worked so well that today there is a monopoly phone company. Its name is AT&T.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rite of Spring

Winter in Cambridge, Massachusetts, could be especially cruel to plants as well as students. One afternoon in 1977, several crates of turf arrived on the MIT campus, destined for the Kresge Oval, which was a greenspace in between the MIT chapel and Kresge Auditorium, a domed performance space designed by Eero Saarinen.

Spring at MIT was always unpredictable. In March 1976, after a horrendous winter in which the temperature dipped to 4 below zero, we awoke one Saturday afternoon to a temperature of 94 above zero. In May of 1975, there was a late season snowstorm that brought down trees in Burlington, Mass. And there were occasionally thunderstorms in April. But if you stuck around until June, you would occasionally be rewarded with a nice sunny day that was just right for picnicking - or for melting vinyl records in the exposed sunlight, as one unlucky member of the Student Center Committee found out.

John Silber

One of the more curious cause celebres for MIT's small but vocal coterie of Ayn Rand worshipers was John Silber, who became president of Boston University in the '70s and later ran for governor of Massachusetts in 1990 - and lost. His defeat brought in Massachusetts' first Republican governor since the Cabots had stopped talking to the Lodges, or at least since the days of Richard Nixon. The reason Silber was such a favorite of the pointy-headed purveyors of ego(t)ism was that he was seen as the Rugged Individual determined to bring Academic Excellence to his campus, even if it meant running roughshod over his faculty, which had exhibited the audacity to actually form a union and demand its collective bargaining rights. Excellence, in Silber's case, meant pocketing a nice little retirement package worth about $6 million, which he did in 2006, after having paid himself $800,000 a year, a salary that would normally only be permitted to the football coach at the University of Texas (in the humble opinion of those who preach Libertarian thought and Selfishness as a Virtue, nothing connotes Academic Excellence like having a university president who gets paid huge gobs of money while pleading poverty for his school).
The reason I mention the University of Texas is that John Silber was a professor of philosophy (no wonder the Objectivists all loved him!) and the Dean of the Arts Department there, before he ended up at BU. This was in his more liberal years, when he actually promoted ideas like racial equality and ending capital punishment. Ideas like that could get you skinned in Texas in 1970, but that's not what ended his tenure in Austin. Silber, the rugged individualist, happened to run afoul of an even more rugged individualist by the name of Frank Erwin, who ran the Board of Regents and was the nearest thing to God that anyone could think of (these days his name adorns a basketball arena - one that the local wags used to call the Super Drum because of its round shape, until Erwin threatened to sue). Silber was outta there like spit through a tuba, landing on the BU campus.

Because his exploits made him a hero to the Ergomaniacs, I felt compelled to knock John Silber down a peg. The voters of Massachusetts would not get that privilege until 14 years later.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Point of Beginning

When the first Stickles cartoons were published in thursday, Pud was still a high school student. I'd been drawing cartoons about my high school and posting them on the bulletin board in math class for almost two years, so when I had an actual newspaper in which to get them published, I decided to stick with what I knew.
I went to a performing arts high school in Houston, Texas. In fact, I was in the very first graduating class. We were already regarded as misfits and oddballs, but I took it even further by being the one student in the high school who successfully got into MIT - a fact that was noted obliquely by one of the local newspapers, which wrote that not only was our class sending graduates off to places like Berklee and Julliard, but also MIT (we also sent our share of students to the University of Houston, but that was expected; "Cougar High" claimed many of the college-bound locals, as did the University of Texas).
For those who can't remember back that far, the jingle is from a commercial for Contac Cold Capsules ("give your cold to Contac!") I think you can still buy the Tiny Time Pills at your local pharmacy.

Obviously, a campus full of MIT undergraduates was not really going to be interested in comics about high school students, especially high school students from Texas. So I had to find generic subjects to draw cartoons about, including the terrible stagflation of the '70s.
I even drew a couple of cartoons about Akira Endo, who conducted the Houston Symphony Orchestra for a brief stint, prior to ending up in the orchestra pit at the American Ballet Theatre. He didn't quite have the heft of Seiji Ozawa, but his concerts certainly left their mark.
But I knew I would have to shift the locale, which meant Pud had to graduate high school and get himself into MIT.
It was not easy for him; in what was a true-life story, there was a city election in my senior year that placed the school board in the hands of what today we would call members of the Tea Party. Only then, they were called the Concerted Action for Responsible Education (CARE, get it?). They did not get our high school at all. Or MIT, for that matter. 
One of them ran a car dealership and one of them was a minister who had actually been elected on the slate that previously held power, but then switched sides.

And then, there was Hazel Bracken. At a time when Sarah Palin was still in her chubby stage, Hazel Bracken was the equivalent. She was a batty right-wing extremist given to making off the wall comments on any number of subjects and proudly demonstrating her profound ignorance of all things cultural and intellectual, and she had a daughter whose great ambition in life was to go to Lamar High School and sing with the Choralettes. She could not tell a flute from an oboe, but she claimed to love rhythm and blues. Places like Harvard, Yale and Princeton were just too pointy-headed for her, and MIT was a place she could not fathom. All she knew was that dinosaurs had walked the Earth with humans just like the Bible said, and any book learning that taught otherwise was just un-American poppycock, and she was not going to stand for that. She also didn't understand high schools devoted to the performing arts, perhaps because neither of the two (no, make that three) "Fame" movies had been released yet, and no one had come up with either "Glee" or "High School Musical".

All of this made her an easy caricature, much like the real Sarah Palin. I did several cartoons about a radio interview she once gave. But she lived in a time when there was no Fox News Channel (well, there wasn't even cable TV), so being on the school board was her only source of power, and a heady source it was. She made all kinds of noises about closing down our high school, but after we'd won a raft of artistic honors and our students had brought home any number of academic awards and National Merit scholarships, she left the school alone. I'm not sure how many students my high school has sent to MIT over the years (for a time it was sending one a year to the 'Tute), but I do know that Beyonce Knowles had other plans after high school.
By the way, there really was a Whataburger Institute of Technology, a fact that was documented by the Texas Monthly in its 1974 "Bum Steer" Awards.
Pud eventually did find himself at MIT, despite the odds. I'm still trying to find that strip of him on the airplane with his dad.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ping to the Pong

I was a half-decent table tennis player. At least I thought I was. We had a fancy table at home that my dad built (the base was all lumber, with sturdy four-by-four legs; none of that folding metal crap for him), and that's where I learned to play. I also honed my skills on the table at the Y Camp of the Rockies, which was in rarified air 8,000 feet above sea level in Estes Park, Colorado. If anyone was going to get a nice bounce out of the ball, that was the place to do it.
But then I found myself at MIT, and I couldn't compete with the Chinese students who dominated the tables in the Student Center. For that matter, I wasn't even at the top of the depth chart on Second East. That honor belonged to John Richardson, who graduated in 1977, after having beaten most of us into submission over three years. Not only did he play barefoot, but he could put an English on the ball that was unbelievable. And he had hair like Andre Agassi.

Ping-pong was a pastime we all indulged in - frequently when we were stoned, or drunk, or trying to forget an upcoming thermo exam. We also played variations, such as Fling-Flong, which reversed all the normal rules of ping-pong by requiring players to bounce the ball once on their side of the net and once on the other side, and a game that was half ping-pong and half Chinese fire drill (no, the Chinese students who dominated the tables at Stratton did not play it), in which players would hit the ball while running around the table. But mostly, we played conventional ping-pong. Most of us used the "shake hands" grip that every kid learns starting out. Some were practiced enough to use the "pen-holder" grip that made the Chinese such ferocious competitors. And then there was Paul Alfille, who found a broken paddle with no handle on it and played every game gripping it around the outside edge with his fingertips. He got so good at it that he never played ping-pong again with a paddle that had a handle.

When I was a senior, I actually got to manage a ping-pong tournament for the Student Center Committee. I almost regretted it. At the last minute, I let in a Chinese player who hadn't signed up by the deadline; when I did, his colleagues shook their heads, "You know he's going to win the tournament..." He would have - except after demolishing three successive foes, he took a lengthy lunch and missed his quarter-final match, for which he was disqualified.
I drew my share of Stickles cartoons that featured ping-pong ("Jump the Net", for example). I also drew my share of cartoons whose humor was slightly blue. However, because I still entertained dreams of cartooning in family newspapers when I got out of school, I had to make them family-friendly...which meant I had to Bowdlerize a few of the off-color words.
This was not even the final version; I changed the word to "lucky", just in case someone knew the homonym to that word. If I ever draw the strip again, though, I'm not going to f%$#&^g sanitize it.

So who was really the best player in our dorm?

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Some of you may remember this as a riff on a famous Cheech and Chong routine. Some of you who ate Commons at MIT for any length of time probably regard this as the truth. Commons was not something to be savored, like fine French cooking or vintage wine, but something to be endured. And the same was probably true of any college campus in those days, and true even today. Commons was probably the one thing that could make Domino's Pizza seem like a blessing.

Commons was an activity that MIT largely contracted out. ARAServ must have been the low bidder because they were responsible for everything - including Flank Steak (we always called it Flake Stank), Raunch (er, Ranch) Style Stew and the one Indian dish that I'm sure must shame every Indian who has ever eaten it - Mulligatawney Stew (I am convinced "Mulligatawney" means "leftovers" in whatever language it was coined). Commons was famous for chopped sirloin burgers that looked like hockey pucks, oatmeal that would glue the roof of your mouth to your tongue, and vegetables that always included a surprise seasoning in them (the spiced rice appeared to have been seasoned with floor sweepings, while the flaky green stuff that flavored the peas appeared to be grass clippings). Breakfasts were okay if you stuck to the packaged cereals and the skim milk (which some wag changed the spelling of by changing the "i" to a "u"), but the eggs...
Not only was Commons just plain awful, it had a great effect on those students who ate it. Undergrads fed a steady diet of Commons starting at the beginning of September had usually gained 10 pounds or so by Christmas.

That was about as long as it took most students to develop defensive eating habits. When I arrived on the campus, I had fretted because the most comprehensive meal plan covered only 19 meals a week, leaving breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings off the menu. In the end, I opted for 15 meals a week, on the theory that I had enough money to get a cheap pizza in Cambridge on the weekends. At the end of the year, I opted to buy a book of meal tickets instead, and when I found I wasn't using very many of my tickets, I went off Commons for good. To facilitate the transition, I bought a hot plate, a can opener and a mini-fridge. I ate like a king...and so did the roaches. On the weekends I would leaven my home-made fare with burgers from Pritchett Lounge (their milkshakes were heaven, but their Frispos must have been the only fries that were not actually fried, but rather extruded from a Frispo machine) and pizzas from the truck that visited our dorm late at night. And there was ice cream from Steve's, which at the time was the best in the area. By the time I left MIT, my weight had ballooned - all the way up to 130 pounds. And I had developed a skill that would take me through my single years. Microwave ovens would be invented a scant two years later, forever changing the game of cooking in the dorm room.

My mini-fridge, by the way, was bought for $25, American. When I graduated, I sold the same fridge for the same $25, so I considered that a decent return on investment.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

More Strips About Roaches and Food

Did I mention we had a lot of roaches in our dorm? Did I mention that all the dorms had a lot of roaches? In 1975, East Campus became the national test-bed for the rollout of the Roach Motel, a little cardboard box with two openings, one at each end, and a super-powerful bed of sticky glue inside. A roach crawled in, got stuck and stayed stuck until death. Which could be a while; have you ever seen a roach poop? This method has proven so successful that they've now made mouse-traps on the same principle. I still prefer traditional killing methods - like a cat.
Of course there were roaches in the dorms. How could there not be? We had lots of food - on shelves in our rooms, in the lounge areas and in the wastebaskets half-eaten. We also had garbage of various types, dirty piles of clothing and even such delicacies as loose leaf paper, newspapers and, of course, textbooks. Did I mention that a roach can subsist on almost anything?

Roaches are different from one part of this country to the other. I know that because the Texas cockroach - which we euphemistically called a palmetto bug - was easily twice the size of the traditional MIT roach. What the MIT roaches lacked in size, however, they made up for in just plain old toughness. They always knew when danger was coming, and they never moved in a straight line. Try to stomp them and they were already under the refrigerator before you could get a shoe on them. They didn't fly, which was fortunate because the Texas roaches did, but they could get into any small space. And they ate whatever they found. I know that because I could occasionally hear them chewing.

But there were some things that even a roach could not eat.

Spring Break

Spring break. At MIT, it usually occurred in the second or third week of March, at about the midpoint of the semester. For us, it was a week off when we could escape the campus. Some of us would head south to the beaches, others would go skiing. My freshman year, I went to visit relatives in New York and took a train trip to DC to try to get a summer position with the FAA. In the Spring of 1975, global warming had yet to set in, and it had snowed in DC the day I went down there. In subsequent years, I would return to my home in Texas, and in fact I did some rehab on my fractured ankle by doing some bicycle touring around Houston.

These days, Spring Break is the busiest time of the year in places like Daytona Beach, rivaled only by the annual visit of the Harley Davidson enthusiasts. Those of us who were students in the '70s are probably the biggest market for Harley Davidson motorcycles of any age cohort, which is odd, because we would have had trouble balancing a Harley in our younger days. Besides, Bob Seger was a relatively new phenomenon on Top 40 radio in the '70s and "Don't Fear the Reaper" would not be released on record until Spring 1976, so the cachet of a lone dude on a hog cruising down A1A had not been established.

Those who stayed behind had lots of free time to engage in hacks. In fact, when the hall tutor was away, some of the floor residents put their carpentry skills to work and proceeded to plasterboard over his doorway, so that he could not find his room when he came back. A more famous story involved the owner of a nice sports car who came home to find his car had been dissassembled and transported up to his fifth floor dorm room, where it was reassembled. Sometimes the hacks were well received, but in one case, a student had come home to find his dorm room completely filled with computer paper. He proceeded to remove it in a most inelegant way - he set fire to it. Not only was the paper completely gone,as a result, but so was his room, which was later converted into a second lounge. If you went up to Fifth East, the Goodale Lounge was not in its customary spot, having been shifted by the fire.

My Spring Break is going to be spent at a conference in Chicago, which isn't quite Daytona Beach, but it promises to be interesting nonetheless. I'll have more cartoons to post after that.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Campus Radicals and Social Action

In addition to the usual collection of Marxists, Maoists, Spartacists and Objectivists, MIT had just plain old garden-variety social activists. The origins of the Social Action Coordinating Committee (SACC, for short) predated my arrival at MIT and probably predated the origins of thursday. They probably were motivated to action by the Vietnam War in the '60s, and since every other college campus was ablaze with unrest, they didn't think MIT should be left out of the party. However, the most they could muster was the invasion and occupancy of the President's Office, which was accomplished when a small group of students, no doubt inspired by outside agitators (like Richard Nixon), proceeded to break open the door with a battering ram one evening. If anyone got killed, maimed, arrested, investigated or even had their chocolate rations suspended as a result of this action, it certainly was not Kent State or Berkeley by any stretch of the imagination.

When I got to MIT, Nixon had just resigned and the Vietnam War was over for the US (and would soon be over for the Vietnamese in a few months). That left SACC with nothing really to complain about. Campus controversies, such as MIT's decision to train nuclear engineers for the Shah of Iran in 1975 and missile technicians for Chiang Kai Shek in 1976, failed to ignite the student body the way Transparent Horizons did when it showed up at East Campus.
Lacking a motivating cause, SACC decided that their purpose in life was to prevent backsliding at thursday. To that end, they waged epic battles for control of the editorial content of the paper between 1975 and 1978. They also led an effort to elect one of their own President of the Undergraduate Association, which succeeded in 1976 (as good and well-motivated a UAP as Phil Moore was, nothing really changed). SACC would not find a raison d'etre until Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Three Cheers for the 'Tute!

It has come to my attention that not only is it possible for Caltech to win a basketball game, but that MIT has made the Division III playoffs of the NCAA. And beaten their first round opponent, Ithaca College (a subset of Cornell, I presume). I am almost certain this phenomenon occurred because the intrepid roundballers were expert in calculating the precise trajectory that a basketball departing the hand at a certain speed and at a certain vector angle would travel when acted upon by the forces of gravity, and how to plot that angle of decay so that the spheroid would pass precisely between the metal rim of a hoop without touching either side, given the circumference of a basketball is known and allowing for a certain amount of wind resistance. Either that or they just knew how to throw down on those wusses from New York.

Since 1983, MIT has been busily expanding its athletic facilities, and students from our day and age (1978) would not recognize the place. For us, athletic facilities consisted of at least one gymnasium, the Rockwell Cage, which had a dirt floor that Steve Tyler of Aerosmith once puked on, so I am told. It was a great place to play flag football and intramural lacrosse. There was a basketball court on top of Walker Memorial, too, and while it didn't have the panache of the Boston Garden, it certainly had the parquet floor - loose floorboards and all. Walker also had some tennis courts, on whose surfaced played some of the greats of macroeconomics. And there was a tennis bubble on the West Side of Campus that collapsed in the Great Blizzard of '78.

There is also the Steinbrenner track, which annually hosts the alumni reunions.
As I explained earlier, Steinbrenner's name is not on that building. And so far, MIT has been fortunate not to be gifted by Donald Trump.

Friday, March 4, 2011

More Characters: Evan the Red

I've been having a bit of a debate. Not with myself, mind you, but with the various members of the Ayn Rand Worship Society. When they were much younger, they had their own publication dedicated to flanneling free market principles, Romantic literature and Star Trek (I think I told this story already). Today, they are all alumni, they publish blogs and run endless debates on MIT's Linked-In site devoted to the postulation that  they are so much smarter than everyone else when it comes to economic thought, and therefore policymakers should take them seriously.

What separated the denizens of Ergo from the denizens of thursday was that whereas we were a bunch of smelly, hairy, pimply-faced leftists in flannel shirts and bluejeans, they were a bunch of smelly, clean-shaven, pimply-faced libertarians in short-sleeved button-down shirts and khaki pants from JC Penney. And they had discovered Brylcreem. Not that either of our respective groups was ever going to find romance with a partner of the opposite sex. We were just two sides of the same bad penny.

Speaking of flannel shirts and blue-jeans, there was one particular Marxist who happened to live on Second East - next door to me. And he was as dyed-in-the-wool as it gets. If you've ever seen the Young Ones on BBC America, the most obnoxiously leftist member of the foursome, Rick, can be recognized by the Soviet-style heroic paintings that he applied with a brush and a roller to his wall. This is not exaggeration. My Marxist neighbor actually did that to his dorm room interior.

So who was this person? We called him Evan the Red.
He really was everyone's favorite socialist. He was always telling us oppressed masses how we could better ourselves. In addition, he had liberated himself from Food Service by acquiring a hot plate and buying in bulk.
Evan had been doing this long before Costco made it popular with the bourgeoisie. The only problem was that Evan had developed a cooking style that was essentially to put a pot of vegetables on low flame and then rush off to the Marxist Lecture Series. This form of cooking was known as The Slow Burn. Evan had been blackening food long before Paul Prudhomme had perfected the technique and made New Orleans a gastronomic landmark.
However, when Evan made a blackened dish, it remained blackened for a long time. And the Fire Department usually had to be called in.
But when Evan was around, nothing went to waste.
A final note: the old joke among Jews is four rabbis, five opinions. Among the small community of radical activists, it was 12 leftists, 13 different (and fiercely distinct) leftist groups...
The only thing that united them was Doctor Marten's boots. Never, ever get them confused...
One day, I will have to explain the Social Action Coordinating Committee. They were a bit more, ahem, mainstream.