Tag: Berkeley

Day 996: The Greatest Prank In The History Of History

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“That putz, Bolton. This will totally blow his mind.”

The above may have been uttered between the cool gusts of sharp giggles at a gathering of the Berkeley chapter of E Clampus Vitus, an organization designated either as a “historical drinking society” or a “drinking historical society”, depending on whom you ask. These are folks who are dedicated to the noble history of the American West, though they prefer to cozy up to their history with a frothy glass of smirk. Call them deviant scholars, outlaw students of the distant past and the eternal spirit of yeeha. Practical academics and impractical jokers.

The brass plate left by Sir Francis Drake near the bubbly Pacific coast is little more than a whopping banana peel, left on the ground to trip up one unfortunate mark but soon elevated into an established part of the natural vegetation. The so-called plaque that signifies the terminus of European exploration across our happy little continent is a hoax, a forgery, a one-off gag that exploded into accepted fact.

The lesson here is that history, for all her dates and names and oft-inexplicable motivations, can be a blast. Especially when iniquitous historians with a smirking sense of humor mess it up on purpose.

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Herbert Eugene Bolton was one of the most respected historians of American western expansion, the author of a now-commonplace theory that asserts that we should look at colonial expansion across all the Americas holistically, rather than piece by piece. He was a brilliant man, the fantastic mind who established the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley as the preeminent historical resource it is today. He was also a member of E Clampus Vitus. One would expect he’d have been on the lookout for shenanigans. Read more…

Day 521: The Only Sign Language Most Of Us Know

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Astute readers of this site may have noticed that I often bring up traffic as the most basic example of the deplorable current nature of humanity. I say this living in Edmonton, a city that theoretically has a ‘rush-hour’ that would make most big-city residents chuckle as they would upon seeing a baby owl or one of those little teacup pigs. Our city has responded to such ridicule by deploying an elaborate cluster-squadron of road construction and astoundingly poor planning in order to ensure its citizens are exposed to just as much potential for road rage as folks who live in a bigger city.

I have plodded down an overpopulated 405 in Los Angeles and crawled zombie-like along the freeways in Chicago on a curiously busy Sunday afternoon; I know how aggravating real traffic can be. And while we’re all bundled in a steel-and-fiberglass bushel of a community, we tend to rely on one of three universal gestures to share our thoughts with our fellow humans: the thank-you wave (all too infrequently deployed), the shaken fist of frustration (also displayed as the “What the hell?” open-hand raise, and of course our dearest friend – the finger.

Oh, the finger. How I have longed these past 521 days to unfurl your secrets.

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You probably aren’t aware – I certainly wasn’t – that when you stretch out that offensive digit whilst tucking its neighbors close to your palm, you are speaking a language older than English, borrowed from the golden age of philosophy and thought. The Ancient Greeks called it the katapugon. The finger itself was to represent the phallus, with the knobby knuckles meant to symbolize testicles (of which I assume Ancient Greeks either had three or else they simply ignored the pinky). Read more…

Day 468: The Rad Fads For The Soon-To-Be Grads

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Today I’m writing with a tiny lead weight tugging at my ventricles, that slight but heavy feeling of a closing chapter. I have spent the last three years getting caught up on my Bachelor’s degree, and today I attend my final classes before getting plunked back into the real world of office-dronism. As an adult with a family and pets and a mortgage and all those infernal trappings of grownuphood, I have had to forsake some of the traditional aspects of college life.

I never joined a fraternity, despite having prepped extensively by watching Animal House dozens of times in my life. I joined no clubs, took part in no activism, and experienced zero drunken three-way orgies. I have conducted no keg-stands, joined in on not one hacky-sack circle, and the last time I drank beer through a funnel was four years ago, at my brother-in-law’s wedding.

But now is not the time for regret. It might be time to look at what I’ve missed out on, but I suspect I’ll do so more with passing curiosity than with any morose self-kicking. Take for example the panty raid.

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The first panty raid went down at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. From what I can gather, panty raids also hit their peak with this first effort – it was pulled off with such planning and forethought, its perpetrators should have been given extra credit. The men snuck inside through the heating tunnels under the Women’s Building. They then let their buddies in through the door, locked the housemother in her room, and cut the lights and the phone lines until they had acquired whatever was their requisite number of female undergarments. It was an elaborate job. Read more…

Day 458: Conquering Apathy With The Oregon Experiment

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One aspect that has been lacking from my university experience is activism. Actually, a number of things have been lacking – keep in mind, I’m returning in my 30s to complete a long-neglected academic career, and I have a family, a job, and no desire to drink until I puke ever again. But I got the fun stuff out of my system when it was age-appropriate: the drugs, the frat parties, the keg-stands, the awkward experimental sex with my friend’s life-size stuffed rhinoceros. I’m back for the degree, and for the opportunity to see enough intellectual German art cinema in which people poop on camera so that I can rightly call myself a film snob.

But I’ve watched for signs of activism among my young peers, and I have to say I’m not impressed. Last year there was a planned protest regarding increasing tuition fees, but the savvy University of Alberta staged a free hot dog giveaway at the same time. Most would-be protestors opted for the free anus-meat. Last month there was a rally that marched across the river (well, I’m pretty sure they used a bridge) to protest government cutbacks to education. That one had a good turn-out, especially considering it coincided with the biggest snow storm of the year, likely staged by the University administration.

But I grew up reading about brilliant displays of channeled youth outrage. Stuff that worked. Stuff like the Oregon Experiment.

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In the late 60’s and early 70’s, the University of Oregon in Eugene was like most other campuses around the country: heaving and throbbing with protests and demonstrations. Also with actual heaving and throbbing – it was the Free Love era, after all. Students were upset about a lot of things, like the omnipresent Reserve Officers Training Corps, the logging trucks motoring down a busy street that cut right through campus, and the general state of American foreign policy at the time. Read more…