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Columnist Outtakes

The Long View

By Adam I. Arenson

As a child, being slowly weaned off cartoons, my favorite part of the newspaper was the columns. Not editorial colums--these pieces, arguing policy against an angry band of letter-writers, were rather arcane fare for the 12-year-old reading the paper over the cereal bowl and rushing to make the bus. Instead, it was the city columnists and their "items": the short quip, the humorous event or the milestone in the life of one individual that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. These are often the kernels of stories which don't deserve a fuller telling but are too interesting merely to leave out. Such columns are an art form, and Herb Caen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of this stripe at the San Francisco Chronicle, was a master. Caen, who died four years ago this month at the age of 80, wrote a columns with items held in a perfect balance. He shaped the image of Baghdad-by-the-Bay for generations of San Franciscans, long before anyone thought of the swampy South Bay as some sort of silicon valley. These items are in Caen's honor.

• • •

Last week, I found the one thing around here faster than a Cambridge police officer writing you a parking ticket: a dining hall manager on the prowl for angry diners. I had barely circled the "L" for lunch on the yellow card when I was set upon by two dining hall higher-ups, asking what prompted me to feedback-cardhood. I explained my annoyance, they pledged to fix it; Harvard Dining Services triumphs again in responsiveness. Now, if only Mass. Hall could set up a similar feedback system with similar results--I have my first 10 yellow cards ready!

• • •

Seen at the Coop: framed posters of a man leaning over a woman in the Widener stacks, with the appellation: "Libraries--for those who love books." My question is, who buys these posters and what do they do with them? Do graduates hang in their apartments, a subtle in-joke that just demonstrates their nerddom? Do undergrads put them in Harvard common rooms, and if so, isn't it suggesting foreplay must be curtailed by library hours? The posters seem to send a confusing message. Hardly the sort of thing you would buy framed.

• • •

In the past week, Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield '53 has shown his dedication to academic discourse, sitting down with the Black Students Association and the Institute of Politics to discuss his comments on the link he sees between grade inflation and African-American enrollment, historically. As Mansfield himself has said in the aftermath, he is pleased his comments received such a strong reaction. I am heartened to find controversial statements can get students riled up about what they hear from the Faculty out of the classroom. The more pressing question is whether similarly provocative, and perhaps untrue, statements can energize students in the classroom, discussing Confucian thought as well as affirmative action.

• • •

Wondering why you couldn't get tickets to The Vagina Monologues? Saturday's talented cast performed as part of the National V-Day College Initiative, which limited each campus to one performance, according to co-director Debby A. Rin '01. Since the show sold out before intersession, clearly there was demand for more, but a contract is a contract in show business. For those of us who planned ahead and braved the cold in formal wear, it was worth it; for everyone else, Rin suggests there is a local professional cast who can help your vagina know what to wear.

• • •

A few prescient comments that came my way in the last month: First, the observation by a TF that she had never seen a place that offered so many opportunities to its students as Harvard, and then placed so many obstacles in the way of getting to do them; second, a friend who, musing on a similar quandry, said some people seem "too human" for their own good around here. Finally, a fellow thesis-writer, coming up on deadline, said that he felt "lobotomized" by the process. Is that the sort of medical condition you should have documented before midterms?

• • •

In the past week, the crack of the bat has again been heard in the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues, and spring training, if not spring itself, fills the air. As always, there is the heady talk of the preseason, the look at new signees and new prospects. Look hard this year; you may not see America's pastime for a while. The owners are likely to cause trouble when the bargaining agreement expires at season's end. A long lockout may mean the end of baseball as we know it, while retirement may grab other greats, like my hometown hero, Tony Gwynn. Cut class and hit the ballpark in April and May.

• • •

Speaking of things personal, city columnists add a personal touch to these sorts of items. So I'll wish my sister a happy birthday here--though I bet she wishes her brother would have been a photographer instead of a columnist. That's right, Aliza, isn't it?

Adam I. Arenson '00-'01 is a history and literature concentrator in Lowell House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.

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