Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The 7 Best Monsters Society Should Be Fearing/Pretending Are Symbolic Of Stuff.

It's a SemiDaily List!

Is there a shortage of monsters and symbols I am unaware of? I ask because if there isn't a shortage, or some sort of government-imposed limitation on which monsters society is allowed to be afraid of and/or make symbolic of whatever it is that needs symbolizing (stupid socialized monstering!), if that isn't the case, then we as a society, and writers/creative types as a breed, are woefully lacking in imagination and creativity.

And, as usual, by we I mean you, or, more particularly, you, and Grahame-What's-His-Name, and Stephen King.
Every week I wait anxiously for my Entertainment Weekly to arrive on Saturday, so that I can see what entertainment my week has in store for me (and avoid the constant Lost spoilers they sprinkle throughout that magazine like jimmies on a cupcake), and I especially look forward to the book reviews, because I like to see what books I might not be able to afford to buy, and what books are selling right now so that I can either (a) congratulate myself for being absolutely correct about what it takes to make a best-seller, or (b) think to myself, how does this book get published when my book can't?

But lately, Entertainment Weekly has been disappointing me, and not just by putting Lost spoilers into every single column, and not just by continuing to pretend that Diablo Cody has talent, and not just by pretending that anyone watches 30 Rock.

No, lately Entertainment Weekly has been disappointing me because it continues to promote and protect the use of roughly two types of monsters in popular culture -- and by continuing to promote and protect those types, Entertainment Weekly encourages others to continue to use those monsters in their own creative works, which Entertainment Weekly will then promote, and which will continue the whole vicious circle.

Let me put it more clearly: All the magazine talks about anymore, it seems (besides Lost and pushing Diablo Cody/30 Rock) are vampires and zombies. If there is something out there in Entertainmentland that has a vampire or a zombie in it, you can bet that Entertainment Weekly will push that thing like...

... I don't know. Like someone who really really wants to push a thing that doesn't need to be pushed and ought not to be pushed.

It's not just Entertainment Weekly that does this; virtually every outlet for information or opinion about entertainment goes nutso over zomb
ies and vampires, in any form and no matter how nauseatingly, boringly often we get yet another rehash of vampires and zombies (and, probably soon, zombie vampires or Zombies vs. Vampires...)

Oh, man. It just occurred to me that that last one is probably in production right now, so I checked, and it turns out it was made already.

In doing that, in focusing on zombies and vampires to the exclusion of every other type of monster, ever, Big Entertainment feeds the beast -- it creates the perception that zombies, and vampires, are the only thing that people want, which then sends producers and directors and publishers scurrying to find more zombies and vampires, which then get made into books and TV shows and probably kids' pajamas, which then get talked about by Big Entertainment, and so on.

It's a version of the Number One Draft Pick dilemma -- that dilemma being this: When sportscasters and sports media anoint someone as the "Number One" pick, as they did Greg Oden and Reggie Bush and some others, over time, that person becomes, in everyone's mind, a consensus number one pick in that sport's draft, which then forces the person who has the number one pick to either go along with that, and begin talking up the "Consensus Number One pick," feeding the perception that this person is the Number One pick, or, if the person bucks that trend and resists, he or she will be constantly defending his or her views and trying to explain why he or she feels as though he or she knows more than everyone else in the world.

In that way, sports media creates the Number One pick: they tell the teams who they're going to pick, and affect the very thing they're reporting on.

Entertainment Media is no different. Zombies, and vampires, are hot right now... because Entertainment Media says zombies and vampires are hot. So imagine that you're a literary agent, and you're shopping around a book that features a monster, and it's not a zombie or vampire-based monster. Here's how that might go:

Agent (calling publisher): I've got this great new book by a fantastic author to sell you. It's got monsters...

Publisher: (Interrupting): Vampires? We'll take it.

Agent: No, it's not vampires, it's...

Publisher: (interrupting): Zombies. Got you. Let me start writing out the check for a million-dollar advance. How did you say you spell the author's name, again?

Agent: I didn't. I didn't even mention the author.

Publisher: Doesn't matter. Zombies are gold. Not literally, you understand. They're actually rotting flesh. But they're literary gold. I'll have your author on the cover of Entertainment Weekly next week.

The book isn't about...

Publisher: Isn't about to not get published, am I right? Would your author like to appear on Ellen? And let's talk movie rights. I'm seeing Tom Cruise as a jet pilot hired to firebomb the zombie scourge, only then he gets assigned a zombie co-pilot and learns a valuable lesson about not judging people simply by their background and/or undead status. We can make the zombies symbolic of, say, Afghanistan.

Agent: You don't understand...

Publisher: Nobody does. Say, I've got the head of ABC here in my office. They want to do a TV series about your zombies. They're going to call it Zombie High, with a student who happens to be a zombie enrolling in a prep school and trying out for the glee club, only to face discrimination about his sexuality, and the fact that he's also undead and eats brains at lunch. So I'll add a couple of zeroes onto that advance and you have your author, what's-her-name, knock out a script.

Agent: See, actually, this book is about ...

And we can have your guy get together with Stephanie Myers to write a book about a zombie falling in love with a vampire, and the vampire
makes the zombie into a vampire. This is genius! You've just invented Zombie Vampires.

Agent: Look, that all sounds absolutely stultifying...

Publisher: Thanks!

Agent: But my writer's book isn't about zombies, either. It's about this new kind of monster... hello? Hello? My phone went dead. Are you there?

By the way, Zombie Vampires is my thing. I call dibs.

What brings on this latest bout of depression over the state of monsterdom in entertainment circles is the glowing tongue-bath that Entertainment Weekly gave to a comic book, co-written by Stephen King (whose weakest book, ever, was Salem's Lot), about ... vampires. That's right: The guy who came up with killer St. Bernards, a possessed car, that clown thing, and whatever the disease was in The Stand (which I loved), has now started writing about vampires.

That review/pushing of blah, so-so scaredom came shortly after Entertainment Weekly went all nuts over the Abe Lincoln-vs-zombies book that is the latest in a genre of mash-ups for which I really, honestly, cannot see a market. Who are the readers of historical fiction/slasher-monster-mashup books, and can we please stop people from buying books ironically so that paper stops getting wasted on those things?

In the former book, apparently -- I got bored just reading the review -- vampires are a stand-in or symbolic of alienation in America, or maybe teens. I don't know. In the latter, zombies are a stand-in for... I guess... white supremacists. Or maybe socialists. I don't know, either. I have no intention of reading either book and in fact may boycott anything that even remotely resembles vampires or zombies in the future if this continues.

I'm sick of vampires and zombies, as you may now have guessed. I can't believe that in our whole human history, those are the only two monsters we keep going back to as something to fear and/or symbolize things. Nearly 2 billion years (or 2000 years, depending on who's counting) and that's all we've got, vampires and zombies? For crying out loud, "scientists" are ahead of entertainers in the field of "making up things."

I'm not saying that everyone who sits down and thinks up a story involving a monster -- whether that monster is there just to scare someone, or is there to symbolize the Federal Reserve and/or Antioxidants In Food -- has to invent a new monster, although that wouldn't be a bad rule to impose: come up with at least one new monster, or go home. (I'd be free to go on writing, or not "go home," however you want to measure it.)

I'm saying, instead, that we could dig a little deeper -- or wider, whatever-- and use monsters that aren't vampires, or zombies. There are tons of monsters out there that can easily scare people and/or stand in as a representative of corporations, or consumerism, or anti-American sentiment in the Balkan region, whatever your deal is. There are a plethora of monsters who can be in love with your heroine but not want her to love them back, or be hacked apart by the intrepid explorer, or even win in the end, if that's what you're going for. There is a whole cast of generic monsters just waiting to have you, the creative type, breathe life into them and adapt them to the modern world, and the broad array of those monsters available just emphasizes how uncreative the continued use of zombies and vampires is.

As usual, it falls on me to point these out to you, in hopes that my provision of this vital public service will encourage you to adopt these monsters in your own way, and begin promoting them, so that Big Entertainment will then be forced to consider the fact that not everything has to be zombies or vampires, and we'll finally have diversity in the area of things that scare us/symbolize real life things.

So read this list carefully, and then, when you sit down to write or cast or direct The Great American [Whatever It Is You're Writing/Casting/Directing], feel free to use one or more of them in any way you want. Have one of them make out with Kristen Stewart. Have two of them team up to open a small hamburger joint just outside of Barstow. Take all of them and have them compete in the Olympics as a team from Monstervania to make a point about how the Olympic rules don't adapt to modern times... whatever it is you do, just use them, instead of zombies and vampires, because I really don't want to watch Zombie High.

Here are your Seven Best Monsters Society Should Be Fearing/Pretending Are Symbolic Of Stuff.

In the interests of creativity, I've thrown in a few of my own ideas that aren't generic, long-standing monsters, but which I've invented myself. I'm throwing those to the Public Wind, and giving you permission to use those monsters in any way you want... provided that you don't in any way involve even a hint of zombies or vampires in that work.

(And if you do use one, let me know. I'll give you a mention here -- and a nonsarcastic one, I swear!)

1. Mummies. The Mummy has been around forever, at least since 1933, which is when the world started according to the Texas Legislature, but what's that longevity ever gotten it? A couple of fights with Abbott & Costello, and a brief trip to the limelight back when Brendan Fraser wasn't yet curing diseases-of-the-week with Harrison Ford.

Mummies -- which might fare better if their name didn't sound kind of funny -- have a great scare/symbolism potential. Do you know how mummies are made? According to this site, which presents the mummification process in 3rd-grade level style apparently intended for actual children -- mummies have their organs removed from a slit in the side of the body -- all except the heart, which the mummy will need in the afterlife. The brain isn't removed through a slit at all; instead, a big hook through the nose smashes the brain and pulls it out. The body is then filled with fluid, then set aside for 40 days before going through some more processes that I'm too busy to read up on now but which probably involve, at some point, the same powders put in Cheeseburger Pringles, and which definitely involve wrapping the organs in cloth and putting them back.

Hello? Can anyone say Health Care Reform? Talk about scaring people and making symbolic points: What about a movie in which people voluntarily undergo the mummification process, asking for only the finest oils and bottled waters and haute coutoure linens (that's important, right, Susan Saperstein?), only to realize that as part of the process, they didn't get the eternal life and beauty they were promised, but instead became slaves to the corporation/government/Hollywood producer that popularized the process? You could even have the requisite parody scene when, early on in the movie, Dad brings Mom home after the procedure, and Mom's not responding to the kids the same way, and one kid asks what's wrong, and Dad says "Mummy's a mummy now," prompting uncomfortable laughter among the audience, and also a guest appearance by Heidi Montag.

2. Will O' The Wisps: Alternatively called "Ghost Lights" or "What the *#@(@#*$ was that?", Will O' The Wisps have a feature which ought to be coveted by those who can't seem to break away from vampires and zombies, that trait being they can be any thing you want them to be, and can exist in any time you want them to.

That is, the Will O' The Wisp can be Marfa's Ghost Lights, or aliens, or angels or something more exotic and imaginative yet -- they could be, if you wanted them to be, a Higgs Boson, or the next stage of human evolution. They're just light; that's all we know about them, that and that some guys can make them in their microwave oven:

There's your set-up right there, lazy screenwriters: Guy (played by me) decides to try that on his own at home, only when he does it, the little energy thing doesn't disappear, it shrinks down, so that when the guy (me) goes outside to let the NO2 out, he inadvertently lets the Will O' The Wisp out, at which point it begins... I don't know, terrorizing the city, or trying to attend high school, or something. I can't do everything for you.

3. Gargoyles. No area of Monsterville is more ripe for updating, and more susceptible to clumsy symbolism, than Gargoyle Lane. Horror and monster features have already exhausted all the possibilities offered by demons and The Devil (once Winona Ryder has shot the Devil with a handgun, what's left?), and have moved on to making angels alternatively sexy or frightening (beginning with the scary angels of Raiders Of The Lost Ark and moving right into Nicolas Cage, as the creepiest angel ever, seducing Meg Ryan, and now ending up with Fallen (but still sexy, in a safe, young-adult-y way) Angels.

If angels, demons and devils are out, where is a writer (who doesn't want to bother making up her own stuff) to turn for homogenous religious imagery? Gargoyles -- those statues made to defend the churches from evil spirits.

I've already done some of the heavy lifting on updating gargoyles, via my story, Rage, but any creative types out there can see the possibilities for scariness -- the tortured visages! Monsters caught in stone! -- and for symbolism: the church using evil images to ward off evil? Fighting fire with fire? Could that possibly corrupt someone in some church somewhere?

And the possibilities don't end there: What if people are slowly turning to stone, becoming statues themselves, and those statues, once the person becomes stone entirely, continue to morph to present the person's true self -- so that evil ugly people become evil ugly statues, while beautiful kind people become glorious monuments? Or what if all statues were coming to life, and we had to beg the gargoyles for help?

Come on, people, I'm trying here. Work with me.

4. Vicious Circle: This is one of those I promised, throwing in a monster I just now made up, on the spot, for you to use. A vicious circle is one of those.

No, it's not Pac Man come to life -- although that'd be pretty cool, and maybe someone should have virtual creatures come to life in the real world, except that getting all the legal permissions would be really tough to do... unless it's a parody? -- the Vicious Circle is far more than that.

The vicious circle is a line drawing created as a doodle -- but a line drawing that then comes to life in a bizarre sort of way. It appears to flicker on the page, causing the Doodler (played by George Clooney)(fingers crossed!) to momentarily think that he's seeing things. As time goes on, the vicious circle begins doing more than that: it shows up not just on his doodle, but wherever he sees circles: the letter O on a printed page. The stain left by his coffee cup. The smoke ring blown by a guy at a bar. Wherever it turns up, the Vicious Circle begins to act up and talk more and encourage the guy to do things, things he wouldn't ordinarily do, like pilfer money from work or run a red light, or cheat on his wife. And then, when the guy balks, the vicious circle lives up to its name and begins doing stuff for him -- like, say, an extension cord in his garage that falls on the floor into a circle, which then begins crawling up the stairs to strangle the man's kids.

Is George Clooney going crazy? Is this some sort of extra-dimensional being? Does it tap into the hatred of geometry I had for most of my life? You'll get all those answers and more... in The Vicious Circle. To be released this fall. (Fingers crossed!)

And you can cross-match these concepts, you know: Just like Vampire Zombies, monsters can be mix-and-match. I once began (but never finished) a story called Jeremy's Angel, in which Jeremy begins to hear voices talking to him from the tiny spot of light reflected off his watch in sunlight; he thought it was an angel, but it kept telling him to do evil stuff. Nary a zombie or vampire in sight, and yet it was a great, um... three pages.

I really ought to get back to stuff like that instead of all this blogging/not actually working.

5. Computers. You know what's been lost in the decades-of-vampires-and-zombies? Just how scary computers really are, that's what's been lost. It used to be that you couldn't pick up a book or watch a movie or record a TV show on your Beta VCR without being reminded that these new-fangled "com-puters" were going to, ultimately, betray the human race and enslave us or eat us or delete all our emails or fall in love with our sexy next-door neighbors:

But now that we've all got computers, now that there are computers in our cars, computers that may be infected by cosmic rays and going nuts -- and cosmic rays, remember, are what made Doctor Doom all Doom-y -- now that all that's going on...

... we're writing cautionary tales about Abraham Lincoln and the slaves. How did we go from turn-of-this-latest-century movies about how computers turned the entire human race into batteries, to books about Jane Austen slicing up brains? Are you reading this blog via the palatial English estate sitting atop your work desk? I didn't think so.

Computers are where the scares are at -- if done properly, which means no more Trons and no more Sandra Bullock looking at computer screens. To properly scare someone -- and symbolize just how our reliance on computers, and how their ubiquity may be our downfall, you've got to do something like what they did in such classic horror-ish movies as 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Wall-e:

Computers have the potential for devastatingly personal effects on human life -- as shown by the real-life couple who neglected their real-life baby in favor of virtual-reality games -- and a large-scale attack that would rival Godzilla: they ordered the stock market to crash in 1987.

Back in about 1910, or something, Ray Bradbury wrote a brilliant story that appeared in The Illustrated Man, about a guy who had a lifelike robot doppleganger, a robot he'd pull out to take his place whenever the guy wanted time away from his wife. Ultimately, [SPOILER ALERT! ALTHOUGH IT DOESN'T REALLY MATTER BECAUSE I BET YOU WON'T GO READ THE STORY ANYWAY], the robot and the wife fall in love, and the robot puts the man back in the box.

That's brilliant. And scary. Now consider this: Your computer knows more about you than anyone else... what if it decided to use that information for its own good, and to hurt you. If my computer emailed my boss everytime I googled "Naked Jennifer Aniston," -- or emailed Sweetie that -- I'd ...

... well, I'd be in no trouble at all, because of course I've never done that.

And, as an aside, I'm going to take a short break here and go get a software upgrade and memory expander for my computer, and also clean out the keyboard. Just because.

Also, speaking of...

6. Dopplegangers, why not use them as a monster? A doppleganger in mythology is your own ghostly double, a visage that can be a bad omen or your evil twin -- a barely seen identical copy of you when no reflection should be appearing. A doppleganger in Dungeons & Dragons, though, was even worse: it was a shapeshifter that could appear to be anything, really, including your own best friend, or Naked Jennifer Aniston.

Those images showed up on this post entirely by accident.

Kind of like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only worse, imagine what life would be like if you began seeing glimpses of yourself here and there in the big impersonal city you've just moved to as the star of this movie, and then, after seeing glimpses of yourself, you start to slowly realize that there are other yous out there doing stuff: Your new boss in the big impersonal city where everyone is anonymous (getting this symbolism?) congratulates you on a presentation... when you were stuck in traffic at the time. Your new girlfriend meets... not you for drinks. How many of them are there? What do they want? Why'd they pick you? Why'd you ever move to this big impersonal city in the first place.... aiaiaiaiiargh!

Like your horror Twilight-y and safe, with a mix of romance spun in? I'll give you Dopplegangers: The Young Adult Kind Of Twilight-Y Romance Series. A young man -- let's call him Stewart Christian moves to a new town, where at first he's taunted and teased by the regular kids, and scorned by the hot girl in class... or so he thinks, because the hot girl visits him at night and when he's alone and says she loves him. He can't figure it out until one day he learns about dopplegangers and realizes that he's being visited by Hot Girl's doppleganger...

Man, I'm good. But is it really me writing this, or...

7. Naiads, Dryads, Nymphs, Sprites, Sylphs, and other Sexy Female-y Creatures: Traditionally, in literature, naturistic women who embody the spirits of the things around us -- the Dryads that are the spirits of trees, the Naiads that are the spirits of water, or something like that -- are presented as either sex toys, or sex toys with a hint of slight danger, the danger usually being that men will forego the 'real' women and get trapped into some sort of enchanted life with the natural spirit.

That would be terrible, right? Being forced to be a slave for a sexy woman, and not being able to live in the real world with its traffic jams and talk-radio-hosts and antioxidant-infested food? It would be terrible, because...

... I've got nothing.

But if we, as creative types, are looking for ethereal supernatural creatures to embody some sort of kind-of-threatening but enticing sexuality, why keep going to the vampire well? There's not exactly a shortage of sexifying creatures out there looking to entice mortals into eternal slavery.

Which would be bad, right? Someone's got to convince me of that.

And, if you think about it, why would these creatures be anything but evil or at least opposed to humanity? We think of them as largely being like forest-spirit versions of Playboy bunnies: there to look sexy and maybe dally with a while before ultimately moving on to... real life. But why would they be like that? Why wouldn't they be, say, at war with us?

If vampires are at war with us because they survive on our blood, and if zombies are at war with us because they need our brains to eat, why wouldn't the living embodiments of nature want to be at war with us because we, I don't know, keep paving over their habitats and filling them with sludge?

And why wouldn't there be more spirits than just trees and lakes? Why wouldn't grass have a spirit, and roses? Why couldn't a guy be attacked by millions of tiny little sexy women who are the living embodiment of the spirits of the blades of grass he just mowed that day? Imagine a guy mowing his lawn, then later going to bed, only to wake up from a sound sleep to see, on his chest and his bed and in his room, 150,000 tiny green women, all naked, and all holding their decapitated heads under their arms -- the spirits of the recently-mowed grass come to get vengeance on him.

That'd be cool.

Also, in searching for images for this post, I came across this:

So maybe I didn't invent the idea of a vampire zombie... but I certainly deserve credit, because I didn't call it anything stupid like a vambie. What's up with that?

I'd have gone with Zampire.


I mentioned The Illustrated Man in The Five Best Books Schools Should Have Kids Read (And The Five Crummy, So-Called Classics They'd Replace.)

I decided who The Best Undead Creature was, here.

Click here for all the SemiDaily Lists!

Click here for an alphabetical list of every topic ever discussed on this blog!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Third Best Alli Millstein Song

Remember how I declared November, and then December, 2009, the Alli Millstein Months to feature her EP, "Human Nature?"

And then remember how I lost track of that and didn't finish?

Well, I'm finally getting back to that, and song three of the Month of Alli Millstein is "Skeletons," which has a different sound than her other two songs. I asked Alli about it, as follows:

Q: Next song, how about "Skeletons?" Whatever you feel like telling about it, plus, why you chose a moog, and what "Tape Manipulation" means and how it's achieved.

So my producer had a lot to do with guiding the sound of this tune. I knew I wanted something saturated, distorted, dreamy, and he kind of made it come true. Moogs are great synthesizers, a classic, and I told my producer I wanted layered synthesized sounds, so I think the moog is a product of using a great synth.

Tape manipulation (as far as I know) is just a product of using distorted tape sounds, sort of like taking an analog tape and just distorting it. (You might not want to put this in the article as I'm not sure haha). Bob Mallory (my friend and producer) was responsible for that call and whatever it is, I love how it sounds.

Skeletons is sort of funny because it's lyrics are a combination of some of my experience in college, and a situation my mother and father went through. The descriptive beginning "a broken heater, an old wooden chair," my friend and room mate always smiles when I sing that part live, because she knows it references the wooden chair and broken (often loud) heater in my Sophomore year dorm room. I listened to a lot of the Arcade Fire when I wrote that song, and I was trying to achieve a bit of that saturated sound. Originally, the song was more uptempo, but my producer suggested I slow it down, and I agreed.

And, here's the song:

Song one: "Our Love Is Underground."

Song two: "Mend My Heart."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Whodathunkit?!: The 64 Best Things You Want To Know About the 2010 NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament.

NOTE: I know that the Tournament started yesterday, but I had computer trouble. So just read it and pretend like some of the games didn't already happen! (Or pretend that you are a visitor from the future reading a blog from the past and chuckling at the foibles exhibited by your primitive ancestors. That's what I do. All the time.)

It's Tournament Time! It's Month-After-February-Madness! It's the Postseason, the Final Four, the Big Show, it's what's basketball's all about, right?

Wrong! At least, according to Chauncey Billups, basketball is not about the postseason or winning or championships or even (as you might think) dribbling. It's about...

... high fives.

That's what Chauncey told reporters in a recent ground-breaking story on the history of the high-five. As printed in Sports Illustrated, Chauncey, when asked about the high-five, said this:

"It shows your brotherhood out there... It's beautiful, man. In a way, I think that's what this game is all about."

So there you go, young college students toiling away in game after game, earning millions for your school while getting paid nothing in return* (*Ohio State and USC athletes excluded): That is what it's all about, according to an actual professional basketball player who, having played hard in college for free for years, has now earned the right to phone it in nightly by refusing to defend, pass, or dribble but opting to dunk the ball at every possible opportunity while getting paid millions:

The game is all about high-fiving.

That's what the NCAA Tournament and other basketball may be about to the players. But that's not what it's about to me. To me, the NCAA Tournament -- the only basketball I ever routinely pay attention to -- is about one thing this year: A new quest.

For a long, long, long time, I had a sports quest. I actually had lots of quests; what's life without a couple dozen quests to spur you on and give you a reason to get up in the morning? (I also have lots of reasons to get up in the morning, ranging from Sweetie and the kids to the possibility that there is leftover pizza in the 'fridge to the new Saturday installments of Wonderella, but it's helpful to have some quests, too, to get me going on those days that I just know there's no pizza waiting.)

Among my many quests were "Someday see the Amazon river but for God's sake do not under any circumstances swim in it" (Piranhas, and worse), "Attend the Academy Awards," "Get To Go Into Space," and "Perform a live rock show at my high school reunion as lead singer of the band "Critical Mass." Sports-wise, I also had two quests: Start at quarterback for the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl, and See a Team go 0-16 in the NFL regular season.

That latter one was on my mind every year at the start of the NFL season: Would a team finally have the lack-of-guts to go 0 for Everything? I wondered each year, and each year I'd get more and more excited as some team lost more and more games, only to be let down each year as the teams in question pulled out a meaningless victory in game 14 or something.

Then, two years ago, Detroit did that: They went 0-16, 0-for-Everything, and I was... suddenly down a quest. (And also strangely unfulfilled; it turns out that someone else's ignominy isn't really all that fun to celebrate. I mean, it was fun, but not all that fun.)

Since then, I've been sort of adrift, missing that quest, wondering what could take its place, and looking around for a new record to root for a team to win, somewhere, somehow, and I've now hit on it, The New Quest, and, weirdly, it kind of relates to my old quest, numerically speaking, making me think that there's something to all those wackos and nuts who believe in numerology.

(No, I don't really think that. I'm just being nice to the nuts.)

(Because they're nuts. I don't want a bunch of numerology-believing nuts coming after me. So as far as they're concerned, I believe in numerology. And I don't have to worry about them reading this sentence because they won't read any sentence that doesn't have exactly 33 letters in it, unless that sentence also has 7 spaces between the words and no word is longer than 5 characters.)

(That's also how the Mayan calendar worked.)

So my New Quest is this: Sixteen To One: The Quest For A 16th-Ranked Team To Win The Entire NCAA Tournament!

No 16th-ranked team in the history of the NCAA Tournament has ever won a single game. Now, you might say, if you are a casual observer of the Tournament, "Wait, what? They put in 64 teams, which means that four of those teams are ranked at number 16, and those four teams play their first game against a 1-seed, and never in the history of the 64-team Tournament has a 16-seed so much as won a game? Why are they in there, then?"

You might say that, but I wouldn't say it too loudly, because if you do, people like me will roll their eyes and say "TV Money, der," and people like the Murray State team that managed to take their game against a 1-seed to overtime (but still lost) in 1990 will say "Well, we almost won" and sound like whiners, and people like the NCAA Selection Committee will have you picked up by ex-CIA operatives and renditioned off to countries where they don't get the Tournament live and have to watch grainy videos of it on Youtube.

It's true, though: No 16 seed has ever so much as won a single game in the history of the NCAA Tournament, and that creates an opportunity for the Greatest Sports Achievement Ever: having a 16-seed not just win a single game, but win the whole tournament.

To do that, a 16-seed would have to win its first game -- always against a 1-seed -- and then win an additional five more games: a 16-seed would have to win six games in a row, beginning with beating one of the top four teams in the country. No other sport can set up that kind of almost-insurmountabl hurdle. No other sport can demand such a hard-to-achieve feat. No other sport demands six consecutive wins to win the championship -- and no other sport sets it up by beginning with the lowest-ranked team in the playoffs starting against the highest-ranked team.

So that's my new quest, my new raison d'etre, or raison d'watching le tournament, if you will. (I will): Sixteen To One: I'll be watching each year to see that magical 16-seed rise up and take it all.

Why will you be watching? Probably because everybody else is. And as always when there is a major even in the world, I'm here to help you make it through the next couple weeks of basketball in style -- by presenting not the usual sports "analysis"* (*guesswork and redundant talk) but instead by giving you the actual things you really want to know about the 2010 NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament -- in whopping, American-sized form: A key fact about each team in the tournament, so that no matter who is playing, no matter which game is distracting you from your work and costing America an (entirely hypothetical unscientific, completely-unfactually-based, what-now-shamefully-passes-for-"news"-and-"science") estimated $1.8 billion in lost wages, you'll be armed with something to say about that game!

Let's begin!

Kansas: Kansas, which last year I noted was the only NCAA team entry that had once appeared in a porn film, is this year said to be the first number one team to face a serious challenge from a number 16 team. That "serious" challenge is explained, in almost-coherent form, on by someone named Chris Chase, whose credentials are, apparently, that his name is "Chris Chase" and that he has a keen understanding of coincidences, but not a keen understanding of how coincidences fail to effect life.

Chris notes that Lehigh has a chance to beat Kansas because five years ago, Kansas (then a number 3) lost to a number 14 team, in a game that, like this year's 16-vs-1, was played on March 18?

Coincidence? I think not. Or, rather, I think so. Chris Chase thinks not.

(Note to Chris: Given that the NCAA Tournament is played at the same time each year, there will almost always be a game on March 18... which is, when you think about it, chilling.)

Here are other things that happened, sinisterly, on March 18, which point towards a Kansas win:

1810: The first US Opera ("Converse") appeared in New York... and Converse is a basketball shoe.

1925: The first Tri-State Tornado ever hits Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. And Kansas is known for tornadoes!

1961: Poppin' Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy, was introduced. That has nothing to do with basketball, but I thought it was interesting. I like that guy.

and, of course, in the year 37, the Roman Senate made Caligula emperor. Caligula won on that day -- overcoming a crippling pornographic past to proclaim a new pornographic future for Rome.

A 16-seed! Will they be the first to win an NCAA game? Not likely, judging from the foregoing list of coincidences. (Coincidenci? What's the plural of coincidence?)

Lehigh adheres to what might be called the emblem of the flannel shirt -- and I didn't make that up; Catherine Drinker Bowen (remember what I said about the trend, in the 1800s, of naming your kid after socially acceptable habits? Did you think I was making that up?)(I was, but I was also right), a "famous biographer" (?) said that the theory at Lehigh is this:

"Ask any college professor which brand of boy he would prefer to teach, the cigarette brand or the flannel shirt variety. Right here we offer ten to one the flannel shirts. . . Lehigh still holds to the emblem of the flannel shirt—long may it wave!"

I don't know if that means that Lehigh students will wave flannel shirts at the Kansans who are going to beat their team by 60 points, but they should.

The UNLV Runnin' Rebels -- parsimonious with the g's in their gerunds -- have at their school the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering. Howard Hughes -- who is famous for lots of things, including hating germs and making balsa-wood airplanes -- has a lot of mystery surrounding his birth: nobody is very clear where he was born, or when he was born. You'd think the life of the billionaire son of the inventor of the two-cone roller bit would be better documented, especially when that life has been the subject of a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Romeo + Juliet).

The "two-cone roller bit," by the way, is not the infamous Madonna bra; it's a drillbit used to dig for oil.

Northern Iowa: Here's a tip for determining if you go to a good school or not: good schools don't put directions on how to find them right into their name. So if you attend Northern or Eastern or Southern anything, you're not going to a good school. (Northwestern, I'm particularly concerned about you, because not only does your name consist solely of directions, but it also doesn't say Northwestern what, and, in fact, you're not Northwestern anything.)

Northern Iowa is in Cedar Falls, Iowa, which is not to be confused with Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which is in turn not to be confused with Cedar, Iowa. There's also a Cedar County, which has in it the cities of Cedar Bluff and Cedar Valley. In all, there are 10 cities in Iowa beginning with the word Cedar. (And there are eight with some version of Center in the name.) (And there are three with Clark in the name.)

Was there a shortage of words when people were naming stuff in Iowa? I'd like to go start Central Cedar Clark City in Iowa. I'm assuming it would be a mecca for Iowers.

Michigan State:
This just in... the Detroit Free Press is reporting that President Obama predicts that Michigan State will lose in the Sweet 16.

I just thought I'd mention that, in case you were wondering why you don't have health care reform, a consumer protection commission or a new jobs bill yet. Hopefully, some of those Michigan State players will go on to become doctors and will move to your community and save your life.

New Mexico State: Whenever I think of New Mexico, the only word that comes to mind is adobe, and the result is that I constantly picture everything in New Mexico being made of adobe, including, probably, the basketballs that the New Mexico State Aggies use to play on their home court (also made of adobe.) But I just found out this morning that New Mexico is also home to the World's Largest Scrap Metal Roadrunner

But, while the roadrunner attracts all the attention, there's also a much-less-heralded metal kokopelli on that same property.

The Kokopelli is a god of fertility, tricks and music -- a natural as a college mascot, right? So instead of going with the Aggies as a nickname, I hereby propose that New Mexico State University name its teams the Kokopelli and use this as their logo:

Although that actually looks a little like the Phillie Phanatic:

Maryland: Maryland is best-known for being passed over in the Wayne's World green screen joke in which Wayne and Garth green-screen their show through a variety of places and then end up in ... Delaware. It must suck to be not as funny as Delaware.

also was recently banged around for not graduating many of its basketball players, something the coach took issue with, pointing out that 9 of the last 11 basketball players graduated, which he said was an improvement.

Anything, though, would be an improvement over Maryland's 1999-2003 graduation rate for basketball players, which was zero percent.

Of course, low graduation rates should be expected from any school which, on its website, ranks business/government/industry ahead of students and faculty -- on Maryland's official site, if you read the headings from left to right (you know, the way them educated college grads do), you'll see that alumni are first, business second, and faculty rank a distant seventh.

Houston: You can, if you want, follow the adventures of the Houston Cougars, as they prepare to lose their first-round game, on Twitter: Coach Tom Penders has a Twitter feed. It's got all the pulse-pounding action you'd expect from a Twitter account maintained by low-paid academic assistants under the name of a coach who's (probably) hoping to parlay an NCAA appearance into a job coaching at a real school, including this, from February 28:

Good team meeting after last night's game. We all know what we need to work on.

I'd say you need to work on more exciting Twitter posts. Like this Twitter post labeled the "Most Exciting Tweet Ever:"

Most exciting tweet ever. I'm in A&E with a broken right arm having fallen on ice. Ambulance and everything. It hurts. A lot. But I'm ok.

That is from someone who also needs to work on more exciting Twitter posts.

I don't use Twitter, because I don't even like the idea of boiling everything down to 140 characters; I need at least 3000 words to tell what I ate for breakfast. But I will, as a public service, give you the most exciting Tweet ever: Feel free to repost this as your own:

Giant robots eating soldiers alive in city; have armed self using nuclear-powered exoskeleton and am going to fight. Also, Ellen hilarious on Idol tonight!

Tennessee: Tennessee -- which uses more than its share of consonants and vowels and should, rightly, give up an n, an s, and maybe an e, -- named its team the Volunteers, and then named the women's team the Lady Volunteers. I'm not sure of the distinction. If the women's team had been around first, would the guys be the Men Volunteers? I think announcers should, to avoid a Title IX problem, refer to the men's team as the Men Volunteers.

They should especially do so because Tennessee carefully groups and labels all the volunteers: they have not only the Lady Vols but the Junior Vols, as well, for those kids who really want to volunteer but don't quite measure up to be real volunteers, which everyone knows is just for men. (Sorry, ladies!).

The mascot for the Junior Vols is "Junior Smokey,"

Which is just... how can I say this? Stupidly incorrect. Assuming that Smokey is the mascot, then Smokey, Junior would be the secondary mascot.

And, could you have snapped a shot where Junior Smokey's tongue was not attempting to escape his mouth violently?

It costs $25 to join the "Jr. Vols," and in exchange for your twenty-five smackers, you get:

* Official Jr. Vol Club T-Shirt
* Personalized Membership Card
* Birthday Card from JR. Smokey and special offer
* A Bi-Monthy newsletter from Jr. Smokey
* Exclusive events for Jr. Vol members only
* Promotional items and games
* And FREE admission to select UT sporting events

The "Bi-Monthy" is on the original site. So if you attend Tennessee (which graduates only about 30% of its basketball players), you're getting a slightly better education than if you went to Maryland.

But slightly worse than if you just stayed home and watched Web Soup.

San Diego State: Today, March 18, has been declared "Red & Black" day by San Diego's mayor, Jerry Sanders, in honor of the Aztecs making it to the NCAA Tournament. I found that out by clicking a link on San Diego State's website's front page. I also, on that same site, found a link to a groundbreaking study that found that today's young college grads, and I quote,

"are significantly more likely to value leisure and time off from work than the Baby Boomer generation did at the same age in the 1970s, according to the study published online this month in the Journal of Management. They were also more likely to value rewards such as higher salaries and status."

Which tells me that today's young people-- along with the Baby Boomers -- got it all wrong. Boomers valued work more than leisure. Today's young people value leisure more than work.

But my generation -- the Real Generation X -- valued most highly leisure while pretending to be working.

My generation is awesome.

The Georgetown Hoyas prompted me to ask: What's a Hoya? And the answer is: Nothing! What's a hoya with you!

Ha! I love that joke.

According to (Motto: An independent web site not affiliated with Georgetown University. All rights reserved.), Hoya came about because the team, originally called the Stonewalls (and later the Hilltoppers) was occasionally cheered on by Latin-esque cries of hoia saxa, which, translated to English, means what rocks.

That ability to speak Latin marked a high-water mark in Georgetown's academic history. The low-water mark came when Daniel Porterfield, Ph.D., spoke to incoming freshman in 2003 on the topic What's a Hoya, and gave them some celebrity advice on how to survive at Georgetown, advice that he garnered from noted ... person... Anna Nicole Smith, who he quoted as saying Put a Web-cam in your dorm room."

What's a hoya, indeed.

Ohio: No high-falutin' stripper quoting for Ohio, which, despite sharing the name of the state its in, is maybe the third best-known college in Ohio, after Ohio State and Miami (of Ohio)(which is itself maybe the most-famous Miami, nowadays).

No, Ohio University mentions only the biggest, most profound, most noteworthy, most credible famous alumni, people like:

Linda Georgian, BSEd ’68, former Psychic Friends Network host and “psychic to the stars” whose clients have included Liza Minelli, Bob Hope and Regis Philbin.

They also mention that Terrence McDonnell is an Ohio U. grad; Terrence is noteworthy, to me, for winning an Emmy as a writer... on Jeopardy! I didn't know you could get a writing award for writing questions, but now I want to set up that as an additional quest of mine -- not just getting on Jeopardy!, but writing a question for Jeopardy!

Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State refers to itself all the time as "OSU," which everyone knows actually means Ohio State University. So can't Ohio State sue Oklahoma State for using OSU?

I'm not sure. Maybe. But OK State -- a better nickname than OSU, and one I just coined -- doesn't stop with just ripping off Ohio State's initials. They also rip off Syracuse's nickname and mascot: OK State has the "Orange Peel," an annual pep rally named to "honor the school's primary color" and presided over by this mascot:

That's "Pulp," the Orange Peel Mascot, and he sure looks a lot like Otto the Syracuse Orange:

Who in turn bears a passing resemblance to Evil Otto, from Berserk:

What I'm saying is that OK State is not very creative.

Georgia Tech: How great is this? Georgia Tech (the Georgia Institute of Technology) got its brightest professors together to design a computer ranking system, the Logistic Regression Markov Chain, or "LMRC", to predict Tournament champ, and that computer -- run by Georgia Tech guys-- picked Kansas beating Duke in the final game. (Thereby going contrary to the prediction-by-coincidence that led off this Whodathunkit!?)

The LMRC is right 74% of the time and last year predicted several upsets. This year, asked about Georgia Tech chances, the computer said (in the cold, calculating voice that computers always use) Georgia Tech has a basketball team?

Then it shut down life support systems across campus.

Ohio State: Because I am easily distracted and because I really have not much else I'd rather do, I went to check and see if Ohio State had trademarked OSU and was even now getting ready to sue OK State. Before I could get the answer to that, I learned about The Gold Pants Club, a tradition at OSU in which any player who participates in a win over Michigan gets awarded a miniature gold pants charm:

This tradition began back in 1934, when the then-coach was asked about beating Michigan in a football game, and that coach (Schmidt) replied that he didn't think it would be a problem, because Michiganders “put their pants on one leg at a time same as everybody else.” The Ohio State team beat Michigan 34-0 that year -- a margin of victory made even more remarkable when you consider the OSU Buckeyes won despite not wearing pants.

I made that up. But the story about why it's the "Golden Pants club," based on the one-leg-at-a-time comment, is true, and also is proof that most college traditions and lore are stupid.

UC Santa Barbara: "Santa Barbara" was not just a minor California campus, but also a long-running soap opera... or, as Wikidiotpedia would have it, a "television soap opera," because there are, of course, lots of other kinds of soap operas. Like, um... Morse Code Telegraphic Soap Operas:

... _ _ _ .. _

Oh, man, that's hot.

Is life at UC Santa Barbara similar to life on the soap opera? I've never been to Santa Barbara, and I never watched the television soap opera, so I'm uniquely qualified to jump to conclusions based on a hasty skimming of the UCSB website.

The results are: Sure, why not? UCSB in the next month or so is hosting everything from a concert by Elvis Costello to a lecture on "The New Century of Exoplanets," and I'm pretty sure I recall pretending to have once heard of an episode of Santa Barbara (the television TV show soap opera that was on television) in which Elvis Costello went to another planet. It went like this:

... _ _ . _ _ ...

Syracuse: Go to the Syracuse website and you'll be greeted with this mission statement:

Scholarship in Action is the bold vision that propels Syracuse University — a vision for education that's not static or for its own sake, but breaks out of the traditional "ivory tower." It drives us to forge innovative and sustained partnerships across our local and global communities. And that makes SU a place where students become leaders, scholars become collaborators, and the community is continually energized by new ideas.

That's a mission statement that makes no sense. Scholarship in action ... is... not static. And it's not "education for its own sake." But whose sake is it for? And what is the action being proposed?

That mission statement is the kind of horrible groupspeak that can be rearranged without losing any meaning:

Action in Education is the bold partnership that breaks Syracuse University out of the traditional vision for education, innovating partnerships that sustain the forges of global communities not for its own sake, but for new communities that will energize the ideas in a way that is not a static ivory tower: Collaborators become student scholars who are leaders at SU.

Someone got paid to come up with that mission statement, and here I came up with the same thing in 30 seconds.

And 10 minutes from now, Oklahoma State will post one of those mission statements on their own website.

Vermont: Vermont's website proclaims that "We Are The Catamounts." A "catamount" is a cougar. Or, sometimes, a lynx. If you're not good enough to become a varsity team member Catamount (the school recommends you start trying to make the college varsity teams when you're a junior in high school), you could always play on the Inner Tube Water Polo Intermural team -- there's currently no champion listed in that sport at the school, so the field is wide open.

Vermont is a sixteen seed: Will they be the first-ever 16 To One? We'll see! (No. They won't. But don't tell them that; it'll just bring them down.)

Gonzaga: Do you know a lady? Or are you a lady? And this lady you know or are, does she have a purse that needs hanging up? And this lady with the purse that needs hanging, is she a huge Gonzaga fan?

Well, you're in luck, because right now you can get the Gonzaga Bulldogs purse hanger:

For just $12.95 -- and while that might seem a little steep to pay for something that serves the same purpose as a doorknob, keep in mind that the Gonzaga Purse hanger works on any flat surface.

Any. Not most, or some, or a select few, but any flat surface you can think of. So if you were able to shrink yourself down and drop into Kandor, the Bottle City that survived the destruction of Krypton:

And also shrink down your purse, and your Official Gonzaga Bulldog Purse Holder, and then find a flat Kandorian surface, you could totally hang your purse there.

Florida State: Florida State bills itself as The Florida State University, which copies Ohio State, long (and stupidly) known as The Ohio State University. Florida State meets OK State in the Copycat Bowl!

For some reason, FSU's website links to the Ringling Circus Museum site, and clicking on that link leads you to a site where you find out there are actually two circus museums on the grounds, as well as the Ca d'Zan Mansion, a 36,000 square foot, 41 roomed mansion built in 1924-25 and costing, originally, $1.5 million, and which is proof that back then, being a circus owner was worth big bucks.

There's no explanation why that site is linked to by Florida State's site, though -- and no explanation why the link to the circus museum site is only found on the FSU Vice President's page.

Butler: Butler has the Dawg Pound, and man, I hate people who think it's cool to say Dawg.

The Dawg Pound is a group of students who pay money to join up, and then get free admission to Butler sporting events... that is, students who don't understand that if they're paying money, the admission is not free. The students also get a Dawg Pound card and that card helps them earn points by attending the athletic events, with the points generating tickets for the students to win something in a year-end lottery. This year, Butler Student Rebecca Davies led all other Dawg Pounders with 161 points. Rebecca might be one of these students:

...or she might not. Who knows? This guy, on the other hand:

Is Jake Skierkowski, the president of the "Dawg Pound" and a pharmacy major. So someday he will be responsible for ensuring that your heart medication is properly mixed. Feel better about your future now?

UTEP: UTEP has a ghost, and a spelling problem. In this article, Justin Minerez recounts a variety of ghost stories surrounding UTEP, from barely-seen shadowy figures to ghostly tea parties to re-enacted ghostly murders, there is a rich history of ghosts abounding at UTEP.

The title of the article is "The Hunted Halls of UTEP."

Vanderbilt: One key alumnus of Vanderbilt is the mouth-twisting James Tayloe Gwathmey, who is probably best known for writing the first complete text about anesthesia in the US, but who should be best known for having been a circus acrobat-turned-doctor: before graduating from Vanderbilt, Gwathmey had dropped out of Virginia Military Institute to travel with the circus.

Murray State: The only thing that marks your school as lower, academically, than having directions in the name is having a name that, technically, does not exist. There is no state named Murray, and there never was.

Murray State, having just made the 2010 Mens NCAA Basketball Tournament, has as its opener on its athletics website a story about their baseball team.

Xavier: Here's something I didn't know until now: There are two Xavier Universities: one in Ohio, and one in Louisiana. The Xavier in Louisiana apparently is the one that didn't make the NCAA tournament... but what if they just showed up and acted like they were supposed to be there, walking onto the court in their "Xavier" uniforms?

Both Xaviers have cool nicknames: The Musketeers for the Ohio school (or, "Real Xaviers") and the Gold Rush for the Louisiana Xavier... although it's not clear to me why there's a team named gold rush in Louisiana.

Minnesota: Isn't it time to update some university songs? Here are the lyrics to the U of Minn Fight song, written in 1925:

Minnesota, come on, let's go!
It's a loyal crowd that's here;
With a Sis-Boom-Ah and a Ski-U-Mah,
For the varsity we cheer! Rah! Rah!
The old fight gang, on your marks, Slam! Bang!
Hit 'em hard and hit 'em low,
So fight, Minnesota, fight!
Minnesota! Come on, let's go!

Ski-U-Mah? Is that a thing? Maybe: According to the website "Ask a Male Cheerleader" "ski-u-mah" came from a distortion of an old Sioux chant, drunkenly created and repeated by two Minnesotans, John W. Adams and “Win” Sargent, to the dismay of their neighbors, the delight of their teammates, and the future confused consternation of a blogger.

Pittsburgh: The Pittsburgh athletics website has a link to something called the "Panthers Automart," which, when clicked, turns out to be a link to the website I just thought I'd mention that.

Pitt doesn't have a fight song, they have a victory song -- so they're one step ahead of schools that just want to fight, like Minnesota. It includes these memorable lyrics:

Da da da da da-da Fight, Pitt, fight!
Da da da da da-da Fight, Pitt, fight!

Oakland is the Golden Grizzlies, and what is it about mascots that they're deemed better, or tougher, or more acceptable, if they're golden? The Golden Grizzlies join the Golden Eagles (Marquette and Southern Miss and Auburn and Tennessee Tech), the Golden Panthers (Florida International), and, most ridiculously, the Golden Gophers (Minnesota).

BYU: I always like to check out a university's "Fun Facts" section to see if the University and I agree on what actually is a fun fact. BYU's fun facts include this:

Q: Who was BYU's starting quarterback in 2001, when BYU went 12-2? A: Brandon Doman. Brandon Doman went to the NFL and played two seasons, before returning to BYU in 2005 to be the Quarterback's Coach.

I'm not sure what's fun about that. Or even remarkable.

By the way, the 12-2 record was 12 wins, then 2 losses to finish the season. And Doman, known as the "Domanator" went on to spend three years in the NFL -- including one season on the Bills' roster!
Florida: Tim Tebow. It's my understanding that nobody is allowed to say anything about Florida these days other than Tim Tebow.

Kansas State:
Kansas State was recently picked by Seventeen magazine as one of America's 100 Coolest Colleges, which comes as a surprise to those of us who weren't aware that Seventeen magazine still existed. But it does exist, and if you go to their site, you can watch a video of Zac Efron bungee jumping!

That, in turn, comes as a surprise to those of us who didn't know that Zac Efron still existed.

North Texas: The directions are right in the title... and it's in Texas, telling you all you need to know about the quality of this "institution."

But they do have a cool team nickname, the Mean Green, which means, of course, that there's also a kids' version of that team, the Jr. Mean Green -- but no explanation of why the Mean Green mascot is Scrappy The Eagle. "Scrappy The (Mean Green) Eagle?" I don't get it.

The story behind the name is even better, though: In the 1960s, the school's defense was dominant, and one of the players on that defense was "Mean" Joe Greene, who would go on to NFL/Coca-cola commercial fame. Apparently, the school adopted the nickname based on him -- so Mean Joe Greene played for the Mean Green.

Kentucky: Kentucky, which should have been on the list of schools that got probation from the NCAA for poor graduation rates, but wasn't, for some reason, may lag behind in actually educating people but they are first among schools with an "official" blog, where, among other "officially boring" posts, they proudly note that Obama picked them as runner up in the tournament, describing that as a "presidential seal of approval," and thereby continuing the national trend of claiming losing is winning.

Eastern Tennessee State: A 16 to reach number 1? Not likely... and, since it's got a direction in its name, there's very little to recommend this college, athletic or otherwise. Especially when you consider that their new motto, as expressed on their website, is "Hospitality, Choices, Opportunities."

Not to nitpick, but should hospitality be the first thing people want in a college?

Not to nitpick, too, but where's education in that list?

Last year, I pointed out that ETSU's motto was that they were becoming a good school. It seems they've opted to give up on that lofty goal, and instead just be nice. I tried that, in high school: I thought if I stopped trying to be cool, and just was nice (as my Mom suggested) I'd become more popular.

I went to two parties in high school. Both were thrown by my brother.

Texas: Texas has a yoga club. Has anyone told Chuck Norris?

Wake Forest: Wake Forest is not in Wake Forest. The school moved from Wake Forest the city Winston-Salem, the cities/cigarette brands in 1956, presumably keeping the name "Wake Forest" because even in 1956 you couldn't name a school after a couple of packs of smokes (aside from "Lucky Strike U: It educates ya' good like a college should").

I bring this up because Wake Forest's website says the move from Wake Forest to Winston-Salem is the reason behind "rolling the quad," which is not (as you'd guess) a sequel to Pineapple Express but is instead the "tradition" of students covering the entire campus in toilet paper after athletic victories.

See, in Wake Forest, the campus had a bell students could ring after a victory. Whereas, in Winston-Salem, the students couldn't reach the bell... so they had to come up with something, anything, to celebrate, and what they came up with is a massive waste of resources:

Someone should introduce them to Chauncey Billups, and he can explain about high fives, and the Wake Forest custodial staff can quit working overtime.

Temple: Speaking of stupid traditions, Temple has its owl mascot. Temple claims to be the first school to use the owl as a mascot, with the legend being that since Temple began as a night school for poor people, the owl -- a nocturnal hunter -- was seen as a fitting symbol. The founder of the University, Russell Conwell, said: "The owl of the night makes the eagle of the day."

it doesn't: An owl during the day is simply a sleeping bird. Also, owls make owl pellets, which are chunks of undigested animals that owls barf up from time to time. They're not only gross, but apparently big business: I found at least three websites that will not only sell you owl pellets ("The one biology lab your students will never forget!") but which will also pay you for sending in the ones you collect.

So the next time you're walking in the woods and see an owl vomiting, grab that pellet, send it in, make some money, and think of Temple University.

Cornell: The Cornell team is nicknamed the "Big Red," which would be awesome to see meet the Mean Green -- something that could only happen in the final, since they're on opposite sides of the bracket.

Cornell announced that it hopes to "live up to" the pick made by Obama -- who selected them to win one game. Aim high, Cornell! No, wait, aim kind of a little below average!

Wisconsin: Wisconsin is home to this:

That's not a fossilized pile of owl pellets, but it may as well be. That "statue" graces the outside of Camp Randall Stadium, where the Badgers play football. It's meant to be a pile of footballs on top of a pedestal, I'm told.

If Bo Ryan's Badgers ever win the Tournament, we in Wisconsin can look forward to more statues commemorating piles of equipment. I'm dreading "Pile of Dirty Laundry: The Statue."

Wofford: Wofford, which plays Wisconsin in the first round on Friday, boasts that "taking chances is all part of the plan" at their school. Their admission office promises that at Wofford, you'll "discover the unexpected you!" The "unexpected you" better have "unexpected cash reserves," as a year at Wofford will cost you $30,000-$40,000, or $120,000 for a four-year degree.

Wofford's website says it has about 1400 students, and in its endowment -- money that people give it with instructions that Wofford never spend it -- it has $126 million. That money would pay for the full four-year educations for 1,050 students. So if those people who gave to Wofford had instead set up a scholarship fund, 1,050 students would have gotten a free Wofford education. Instead, that $126 million is locked away and will never be spent.

Just sayin'.

Marquette: Marquette invites you to "Be The Difference." The period is in the original, making the effect of that invitation curiously flat. Sure, you can be the difference. Or don't. It doesn't really matter to me. Periods abound in Marquette's website: A link for its new engineering building says Marquette is "Changing the game. Now." (If you read the articles -- I don't recommend it -- it won't be clear how the building is Changing the game. Now. It will be clear that Marquette wants you to help pay for that game-changing buzzword-building complex.

Washington: Forget basketball; there's ground-breaking news from the University of Washington, which recently announced that sometimes... well, I'll let the researchers tell you:

"In a surprise, researchers have found that this [the smell of sea salt in the air], thought to be restricted to sea spray occurs at similar rates in air above Boulder, Colo., nearly 900 miles away from any ocean. What's more, local air quality measurements taken in a number of national parks across the United States imply similar conditions in or near other non-coastal metropolitan areas. "It's there. We know it's there. But we don't have a good handle on where that chloride comes from," said Joel Thornton, a University of Washington associate professor of atmospheric sciences and lead author of a paper documenting the findings, published March 11 in Nature."

I've been very critical of "science" lately, and just to be clear why, let me point this out to you: The U. of Washington did a study in which they examined why people sometimes smell salt in the air, and concluded "we don't know why."

And that study was published.

So now, "science" is taking "things we don't care about," not explaining them, and calling it a day. Is it too late to change my career?

New Mexico: New Mexico's mascot are the lobos -- and, as guys who went to only two parties in high school know, Lobo is an interstellar bounty hunter/biker -- pretty much a stock character, these days.

Montana: Montana boasts on its website that its cheer squad and dance team has won the national championship twice... and then boasts that the team has lost that competition five times.

They don't say "lost," they say runner-up, but runner-up is a fancy way for saying you didn't win.

You can't get a Youtube video of the cheer team, which I was going to put in here, because if you try to find "Montana Cheer Team" on Youtube, all you get are Hannah Montana clips. When Miley Cyrus' show began, Montana's long slow slide into obscurity sped up a little. Or would have, if Montana hadn't already gotten to obscurity after the Unabomber was caught.

At Clemson, the tradition used to be "Rat Caps," which aren't (as I first thought) a cap made of rat skin (or Elaine's nutria-based Rat Hat from Seinfeld.) They're those beanies that used to be worn by college freshmen when college freshmen sucked even more than they do today. Students would wave them at football games, and if the team lost, would wear the cap for an entire week.

Today, to keep that tradition alive, Clemson students wave their hands -- but not just any old wave. The Clemson website instructs that the wave must be done "with thumb folded underneath so the fingers appear to be holding a cap."

Missouri: I like that Missouri calls itself "Mizzou." I'm not sure why, but I like it. I also like that Mizzou has a "scholar in residence" (aren't all students at a school 'scholars in residence'?) and that the latest, at Mizzou, is a sketch comic by the name of Emily Wilson. Here's Emily at work:

West Virginia: West Virginia U. doesn't get a pass on the "name includes directions" downgrading; instead, the entire state gets downgraded for that reason. (Same with you, North and South Dakotas/Carolinas). Future students at the West Virginia can anticipate "The WV Experience," which hopefully doesn't include having to choose sides in Hatfield-McCoy 2010.

They can also look forward to having their degrees watered down by WVU's practice of handing out degrees to the politically-connected and well-funded: In 2008, WVU gave a degree to the then-governor's daughter, who happened to work for the University's largest donor, without the daughter having actually earned it. (The degree was later rescinded, but you see what I mean about colleges with directions in the name.)

Morgan State: Fake state alert! Morgan State is actually located in Maryland, but they couldn't use that as a name for their school because (a) Maryland is taken, and (b) Maryland doesn't sound very tough, does it? Maryland?

Morgan State's athletic department has a Boxing Hall of Fame listed on the site -- but you can't get into it. I didn't see boxing listed as a sport that can be pursued there, now, which made me wonder: Does the NCAA allow boxing?

It did -- until 1960. Then, for 16 years there was no collegiate boxing, until the National Collegiate Boxing Association took up the mantle.

Tops among boxing champs? Air Force Academy, which has won almost every title. Military schools account for almost every boxing title -- only three non-military schools have won a National Boxing Championship since 1976. And one of those is, unsurprisingly, UNLV.

Duke: earlier this week urged people picking NCAA pools to "Act like a hedge fund manager and pick Duke to win it all." The idea was to remember -- contrary to most popular thinking now -- that losing big is the same as losing small, that if you don't win the pool, you don't win no matter how much you lost by -- so Slate urged people to pick contrary to public opinion, to go against the "wisdom of the crowds" and take the upsets because if you pick what everyone else is picking, you'll end up in the middle of the pack, whereas if you pick contrarily, going with key upsets, you'll either lose big (but losing big is no worse than losing small: lose by a point or lose by million and you still lose)(unless you're the US Olympic team, in which case losing is winning so long as nobody asks what medals you're counting), while if you win, with a contrary method, you'll... well, you'll win.

That strategy isn't really new, though. It's unpopular, but it's not new, and going against the "wisdom of the crowds," betting that people don't really know anything, made Nassim Taleb a really rich man when he bought stock options betting that the stock market would go way up, or way down, or way off to the left. He bought options for pennies on the dollar, on both sides of the issue: He didn't know whether the stock market would shoot up or crash, but he bet that nobody else knew that, either -- and that ultimately it would do one or the other. When the market crashed, Taleb's old, unpopular strategy had him loaded with options that made him extremely well-off.

And, applying Taleb's philosophy to sports analysis isn't new either, Slate -- I did it back during the 2009 NFL Playoffs.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff: I'm unique among people, in that I'm not afraid to ask "How'd that place get its name?" and I'm not afraid to then spend the better part of a workday (or work week) looking up the answer.

Here's what makes me wonder this: Arkansas was admitted into the Union in 1836; Kansas wouldn't become a state until 1861, when Admiral John Paul Jones started the Civil War by marching on the City of New Orleans. So Arkansas is not a derivative of Kansas the way we have Virginia and West Virginia; which made me wonder why Arkansas?

Investigating that soon made me wonder What the heck is going on with that state, in that when it was named, nobody appears to know what, exactly, they had just named the state. That is, two Senators from when Arkansas first became a state had a disagreement... over how to pronounce the name of the newly-formed state.

Had that never come up in the debate about admission? Had nobody ever pronounced the name of the would-be state ever before?

The senators settled their disagreement not by the usual methods in vogue in the 1830s (dueling, or by dying of typhus) but by agreeing to be stupid: the name would be spelled Arkansas but pronounced Arkansaw.

The name itself apparently comes from an Indian word meaning "south wind," a word used to describe Indians living in the area before we kicked them all out and then used their faces as logos on our sports teams.

California: Cal's teams go by the Golden Bears, and Berkley is just a shoot-n-holler away from Oakland's Golden Grizzlies, which makes me wonder just how many bears there were in that area in the past.

Cal is an enterpreneurial dream school: Want some Cal gear? There are nine different shops online, including a School of Business shop and a library shop (and you can apply online for a Cal Credit Card to use at them.) Being a cheapskate -- not working and excessive blogging doesn't pay as well as you'd think -- I went to the Cal Overstock & Surplus Den, which disposes of extra UC-Berkeley property, where they were selling something called "Rolls of Glass" for only $55.50 each. With my anniversary coming up, that's a bargain I can't afford not to take advantage of.

Has two official songs: "Fight, U of L," and "All Hail U of L:"

"Fight U of L" goes:

Fight now for victory and show them
How we sure will win this game
Fight on you Card'nals and prove to them
That we deserve our fame.
Rah, Rah, Rah!
Roll up the score now and beat the foe
So we can give a yell
With a FIGHT! give them all you've got
For we are with you U of L.

"All Hail U of L" goes:

All hail to thee our U of L
As we stand up for her fame.
All hail to thee our U of L
As we fight to win this game.
Sing praises for a victory,
We wish our heroes well.
All hail the Cardinal Spirit.
All hail our U of L!

And neither of them is what you'd call stirring, or great. The Fight Song does encourage running up the score, though, so give it kudos for encouraging a lack of sportsmanship.

The Fight Song was written by Robert Griffith, who had more than 75 marches published in his lifetime -- including The Courier Journal March:

Texas A&M:Texas A&M is home to the George Bush Presidential Library -- the first George Bush, at whose library you can pick up political memorabilia like the Cow Hinge Box:

That's got to be a popular item on any college campus. I don't know about your college days, but back in mine, I definitely needed a small, discreet hinged box in which I could keep...

... the miniature ceramic milk jug that comes inside that cow. Only $6.95!

Utah State: Last year, the state of Utah lost its number-one ranking in the list of "people who do Frodo and/or porn-related searches on Google," getting edged out by Zagreb, Croatia (which I'm pretty sure isn't even a place.) This year, Utah didn't even make the top ten on that list.

Meanwhile, the number one language used to search for porn these days? Tagalog. See? I search these things out so you won't have to. (And so I won't have to do any real work.)

Strangely, when it comes to doing searches for Utah, the top 8 cities are all in Utah, which makes sense. But then, Boise, Idaho ranks ninth, and Boulder, Colorado, ranks tenth. Why are they so interested in Utah? There's probably a border war brewing.

Purdue: Purdue claims to have the "world's largest drum." Standing 10 feet tall, the cleverly-named "Big Bass Drum" has four band members and two beaters handling it:

But is it the world's largest drum? I'm not so sure, as you can guess by the fact that I asked the question. Consider the Giant Drum For World Peace -- a real thing:

...that was created, and beaten, in 2006 to send messages of world peace. It weighs two tons and is 4.8 meters in diameter. (I don't know what that means.) The maker, Hiromi Ishioka, bragged that six months after that he was going to make a bigger drum, but I couldn't find confirmation that he ever did that.


Notre Dame: Notre Dame is beginning a scientific study of generosity, in which proposals will be given up to $1.2 million in funds to study why people donate blood, or give gifts at Christmas, or, I assume, grant $250,000 to study generosity.

I have already drafted up my proposal for one of the research grants. It goes like this:

Dear Notre Dame University:

I intend to study generosity as follows: You give me $1.2 million. I will then ask you why you did that, and write it down, and hand that paper back to you.

I will need a control group, so if you'd like to not give me $1.2 million, drop me a line.

Old Dominion: Old Dominion doesn't just talk about school traditions like other schools do; they do something about it. Specifically, what they do is sell you pictures labeled "traditions" but which really are just pictures of cheerleaders: of the twelve photos shown on the front page of their "Traditions" Photos page of the store, six are of the cheerleaders (and one is of some fans, mostly female.)

But these aren't just some skeevy cheerleader photos you downloaded off the web, printed up, tacked onto the wall by your bed, and then had to take down when Sweetie didn't believe that they were art. No, these are classy, blue-matted skeevy photos:

Let's see Sweetie claim that's not art. Especially when she never sees it, because I'll hang it on my office wall.

Baylor: Baylor is named for Judge R.E.B. Baylor, who won out over such competitors as "San Jacinto," and "Ben Milam." So who was Judge R.E.B. Baylor? And what did he do to deserve three initials?

Judge Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor was a preacher, representative, lawyer, and school founder -- it's my opinion that back in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was easier to be everything; when not dueling and dying of typhus, everyone back then had at least three occupations, which is especially amazing when you consider that nobody lived past age 30.

Proving how different things were back then, Baylor would judge during the day and preach at night; nowadays, judicial candidates have to file federal lawsuits to win the right to say what they think about the law.

Baylor also helped write the Texas State Constitution, being, I believe, responsible for the part about how Thou Shalt Not Mess With Texas.

Sam Houston State: Speaking of Texans not to be messed with, Sam Houston (which plays Baylor in the first round) was nicknamed "The Raven" and was governor of not one, but two separate states. As a man in the 19th century, you just know he had, like, fifty occupations, and you're about right: soldier, attorney, attorney general, congressman, part-time Cherokee Indian...

...wait, what? That's right: Sam Houston, after divorcing his first wife almost immediately upon marrying her later took up with a Cherokee woman, "Tiana Rogers," and obtained Cherokee citizenship (the Cherokee still believing they had a nation, at that time, it seems.) He later married a third time, with not much said about what happened to wife number 2.

Having essentially created Texas-- he led the army that won its independence from Mexico and then was governor for two terms before being one of Texas' senators upon statehood -- yes, Texas, home of the cowboy, was created by an Indian -- Houston should have been proud of his country-come-state, right?

Wrong: He said about Texas: All new states are invested, more or less, by a class of noisy, second-rate men who are always in favor of rash and extreme measures, But Texas was absolutely overrun by such men."


Richmond: How smart is the student body of a school if the school's website has to teach you how to order your coffee? I'll leave that up to you to decide, which you can do as you ponder why the University of Richmond's website needs an entire page titled "Help Me Coffee Girl," designed to help ease students into the intricacies of ordering a cup of joe.

The page even features sample orders. With footnotes:


" I'd like to have an iced (1), decaf (a), triple (b), Medium (c) (2), sugar-free vanilla (4), skim(a), light ice (b)(4), Latte (5)."

"May I please have a large(1) quad (2) Raspberry (3) latte (4), with extra whipped cream(5)."

By the way, that semicolon after Example is in the original. So, U of Richmond students, you need help ordering coffee and using punctuation.

St. Mary's (CA): St. Mary's is designated as "CA" because there are one zillion "St. Mary's" schools in the US, and (as noted before with the Xavier problem) the NCAA can't just have them all showing up.

St. Mary's mascot is the Gael, and you'd think that such an unusual name would be theirs, and theirs alone, but you'd think wrong: "Gael" is a fairly popular moniker as team names go. (The Iona Gaels were in the Tournament in 2000, for example.)

A "Gael" is anyone of Irish-Catholic ancestry, according to that Iona school. Or it may be an Irish warrior, according to a newspaper that did a story on Iona in 2000. Or it's a Scottish Highlander, according to online dictionaries.

I suppose Fighting Irish was taken, Fighting Scotch sounds kind of dumb, and the highlanders wasn't used because there can be only one highlander!

Did you know Queen did music for Highlander? They did:

Speaking of Queen, and thereby making me think of "Flash Gordon" makes me wonder: How long until they remake Flash Gordon? I'm guessing two years, tops: Jude Law will star as Flash Gordon, and Colin Farrell will make a comeback as "That Guy Who Kind Of Looked Like Robin Hood." I expect Megan Fox will be Dale Arden.

Villanova: To help support its athletics department, Villanova runs an "auction" page, on which you can bid on almost anything you can imagine, ranging from a British 5-pound note signed by Jack Nicklaus (currently going for $400), to a trip with the basketball team to play Louisville (which went for $4,400!) to a trip to Cancun for two -- the current bid on that being only $1,000.

That's right: Villanova fans would rather -- four times rather -- go to Louisville to see a basketball game than to Cancun. I don't know whether to be impressed, or to go bid on that Cancun trip before I post this entry.

Villanova grads. Did you know that you could always tape this:
And watch it when you got home from this:

Robert Morris: Why don't the schools named after a person ever name their teams after the person? Wouldn't it be great to have the Robert Morris Robert Morrises playing in the Tournament?

Well, I think it would be, and it's my blog, so you take that back.

Instead, Robert Morris' teams are the Eagles, named, I assume, because the school wasn't intended at all for night students without money. And, the school chose "Eagles" because, as Robert Morris once said, "An eagle would kick an owl's ass and throw it down a flight of stairs for bus money."

Robert Morris University says it has 30,000 living alums. Not "over 30,000" or "nearly 30,000" or "about 30,000" but exactly 30,000. Living. It makes me wonder how they keep such close track of the exact number of living alumni (chip implanted in your skull) and why they keep such close track of them.

So, doing a little research, and some snooping around, and after a few phone calls, I learned that there is indeed a very good reason for Robert Morris to keep such close tabs on their alumni. A very good reason indeed. It turns out (and I'm not supposed to reveal this, so keep it a secret) that at Robert Morris, behind the facade of their Institute of Culinary Arts, the university is engaged in something so...

... Hey! Who are you guys, and how'd you get into my house? What? No, I never... I've never attended... let go of me. Put that down. I wasn't going to type anything...