Monday, May 4, 2009

SUMMER: Ah, much better

So I'm sure many of you noticed how picturesque the weather was today. 70 degrees, sunny, a little breeze . . . while I took down a club sandwich and fries on the Legend's patio, I felt a huge sense of relief.

They have this new thing called Seasonal Affective Disorder, and while I look at the medical merits of such a syndrome, I usually chalk it up to a load of you know what. Think about it though - winter can be downright miserable. Being outside can chill you to the bone in less than 60 seconds, and the sun hibernates longer than usual, leaving your waking hours half light, half dark.

Then, one of the most underrated days of the year occurs - when we move the clocks forward! At this age I haven't had to worry about waking up that early, so whether the sun is up at 6:00 a.m. is not of my concern. But when the sun stays up until 7:30, then 8:00, then those wonderful 8:30 p.m.'s in July, it is oh so nice.

It is during the winter months where everyday routines become a grind; during the summer, though, everyday routines feel more like a nice, structured life.

During winter sporting events like the Super Bowl, people go to a bar or friend's place bundled up in their North Face, only to trudge home after the game. During summer sporting events like baseball games, you bust out the grill, cooler, and soak in the rays in your shorts and flip flops.

During the winter months, you can see your favorite band in the Assembly Hall or United Center - that is, after you slide your way into the arena from the ice covered parking lots. During the summer, you can pull into a grass lot, go into an amphitheater, sit on the grass and watch the stars come out while the music plays.

Okay, okay - enough cliche-ridden sentimentality.

Long story short: I love summer. There's something every weekend that takes place outside. Your favorite baseball team plays basically EVERY DAY - as opposed to the weekly Bears game or the two Illini basketball games a week. When you get to your car in the morning, there is no scraping of ice and five-minute warm-up session necessary before you hit the road.

So, in honor of summer, I will be celebrating it to its fullest. Concerts, a couple baseball games, grilling out for dinner as much as possible, finishing up my summer classes by doing homework outside any chance I get.

I made a pledge after last winter - no more would I ever complain about the heat in summer. I didn't complain once last summer, and I am pretty confident this summer will be the same.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

GRADUATION: The Good, the Bad, and the Richard Herman

So I suppose it's about time to leave a sentimental goodbye. This, of course, on a blog that admittedly I have abandoned for long stretches at a time. Nonetheless, there has been a therapeutic feel to each post, and perhaps I will take this up full time after the academic requirements are lifted.

Still, it is probably appropriate at this time to reflect a bit on college as a whole. And, if I were to be completely, utterly honest, I would lose many friends, alienate acquaintances with vulgar language and brash judgments, and God knows what other repercussions would come as a result if I tried to encapsulate this whole experience.

We will find ourselves asked many times throughout our lives, "So how awesome was college?" Perhaps not the same words, but the same idea. There will, inevitably, come a time where we say "Oh, man, it was awesome." I would even say that now.

Still, it has to be said, and it feels as if our bureaucratic academia-minded administration could care less about ANY of this . . . what about what goes on outside of the classroom?

See, the hardest thing for me to reconcile from the get go was that these four years are, in fact, the biggest transitional phase in any of our lives . . . period. There are high points, but there are just as many heartaches, heartbreaks, and damn near nervous breakdowns. I know I'm not the only one of that opinion.

I didn't know it coming in, but these past four years have felt like I've been put through the wringer with mixed results. It will all end up benefiting me as a person, but in the present, as we young adults face certain things for the first time, it is downright exhausting.

When I hear of the importance of attending class (and I attest, it is important for the classes that are relevant to your future, but Drug Use and Abuse? Why would I attend that amateur dog and pony show with any regularity?) I feel compelled to ask the academia-minded, high horse-riding administrators if they EVER, in their lives, had times where frankly some dopey elective didn't mean a damn thing to them?

Their honest answer would be "Yes" . . . at least I would hope.

But for the sake of fundraising, they wouldn't dare. For the sake of political correctness and portrayal of our fine, yet flawed university, as a beacon of knowledge, they will diplomatically address any issue as politely as possible. For instance, the University Police arrested 25 people on drug charges last Tuesday. Robin Kaler, spokesperson for the Chancellor, said the U of I doesn't condone any drug usage. Thanks Robin, how enlightening - I take this as an admission you never smoked a joint in your life?

Cynicality is not a trait I desire to carry, but damned if the powers that be don't exacerbate notions that would encourage such pessimism.

To my friends, fellow students, and, to be honest, the vast majority of teachers . . . you have all been great people, great influences, and people that have taught me at least one thing about myself or the world in general.

To the University . . . I look forward to when you send me the first letter for the alumni association. Depending on my mood, I'll either send it through a paper cutter, or I'll burn it with my charcoal before I plop on some T-bone steaks and smoke a Cuban.

Construe it however you like, and label me a budding Anarchist (ahem, trust me, I'm not at all) but the bigger the business, the less genuine the message.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Don't forget your flu shot . . .

Swine flu season is here!

Well, obviously it isn't a recurring event, so such an off-the-cuff headline usually reserved for cheap employee newsletters and mailing lists really makes no sense. Nonetheless, a pandemic is upon us, and boy are we screw . . . . wait a second.

No, we aren't screwed.

Despite the outlandish coverage of this pandemic, at the end of the day we are facing a strain of influenza that, despite having just appeared, is little more dangerous than most strands of the flu that come and go every year. Some people are freaking out at the prospect of the Swine flu wiping all humans off the face of the planet, but it is best to step back and take a bit more restrained and relaxed of a view.

I'll preface, without any shame, that I was absolutely scared to death by the movie Outbreak, the Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman thriller about a killer Ebola-like virus wiping out mass amounts of humanity. Honestly, to this day, the first 30 minutes of that movie still irk me. It shows the relative ease with which a virus could spread across an entire continent.

Likewise, there was Stephen King's The Stand, which, for about 200 of its 1200 pages is excellent as it depicts a killer virus wiping people out. Of course, King went the usual route, taking a fantastic horror idea of a killer epidemic, only to turn it into a farcical, dopey supernatural story about the ultimate battle between good and evil. When L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth starts losing Scientologist's interests, don't be surprised if the Tom Cruise's and Will Smith's of the world flock to another ridiculous novel, The Stand.

But I digress. Does anyone find it slightly (and, no doubt, disturbingly) amusing that the majority of deaths have been old people and babies? What does this remind me of . . . hmm, I can damn near put my finger on it . . .

Oh, right - the FLU. As in, "I had better go to Walgreen's this month to get my $10 flu shot, or, God forbid, I'll be reduced to a diet of Campbell's soup and 7-Up for a few days."

Viruses are a scary thing, to be sure. The fact that 11 cases have popped up in our state is a bit troubling. But this all reminds me of the SARS "outbreak" of 2003. So, too, it reminds me of a favorite South Park episode:

An Indian casino just outside of South Park tries to buy up the town so it can build a superhighway through it to maximize profit. However, the citizens of South Park stand up to the owners of the casino, forcing Cheif Runs-With-Premise (clever name) to give a peace offering of blankets to the citizens - only, the blankets are infected with SARS.

The townspeople become ill, but Cheif Runs-With-Premise was not careful enough in his plan - his son contracts the feared virus as well. But, with the help of Stan Marsh, the fourth grader in a blue poof-ball hat, the townspeople heal and promise to reveal the cure to Cheif Runs-With-Premise, only if he promises to not demolish their town for construction of a superhighway.

The cure? Campbell's soup and 7-Up.

Here's hoping this Swine flu goes the way of SARS and disappears with a little common sense and little panic.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

SEINFELD: The Greatest Sitcom of All-Time . . . any questions?

I think most everyone has certain things they go to when they need a mental break, when they need to get away from the humdrum crap of everyday life. For me, it's my favorite TV shows, movies, and music.

South Park was my getaway show for all of college - I grew up with its inappropriate humor and amateurish animation. Cartman's pudgy figure and insensitive remarks were the perfect combination to get me to laugh. Don't get me started on Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo. Absurd humor is a personal favorite.

Then, I rediscovered a show that I also remember growing up with: Seinfeld. TV Guide called it the best sitcom of all-time, and I wholeheartedly agree. For nine seasons, Seinfeld was nothing but quality comedy, great characters, and the best observational humor of any comedy ever.

And nonetheless, as a proud owner of all nine seasons ( seriously is an addicting site) I find it remarkable the jokes that went right over my head. The most notorious example, of course, is a season 4 episode "The Contest" in which Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer enter a bet of who can hold out the longest without . . . ahem . . . pleasuring themselves. I remember watching that (with my parents, no less - I'm sure their faces were red) when I was in elementary school.

But that is where the show's brilliance shines. I was maybe nine years old when I first saw that episode, and I laughed plenty of times. And yet, its tasteful, restrained treatment of rather lurid subject matter somehow averted any situation of me going to my parents and asking, "So why did they make a bet after George got caught with a Glamour magazine?"

Comedy shows are hit or miss, and I have my select few that I am absolutely in love with - Seinfeld, South Park, The Simpsons from the early days, and most recently Entourage and The Life and Times of Tim on HBO - but the pinnacle is, and always will be, Seinfeld. It had characters you could relate to, situations you probably found yourself in, and more laughs in a half-hour than any other show ever.

So as we approach the end of the semester and feedback is important in our peers' blogs, I ask you who is your favorite Seinfeld character, or your favorite Seinfeld episode / moment? Everyone has a different one, and that speaks even further to the show's brilliance.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Senioritis? Hell yes.

The majority of us in Journalism 420, I think it's safe to assume, are Juniors and Seniors. Our academic careers are at the very least half-over, and for many it is winding down to the very end. There is no doubt I'll be a little sentimental when I finally get my diploma in August (and if you're looking for extra tickets to the commencement, I'm not sure if I'm walking or not, so STOP SENDING MASS E-MAILS . . . . thanks ;-)

The College of Media has been pretty good to me. There have been a couple classes in the college that I've disliked, but the majority of them have been well taught and, even though I do not plan to go the newspaper reporter route, my skills were refined and increased enough where I feel comfortable going along the Marketing path I feel my career will take.

Nonetheless, and I preface by saying that I am NOT a pessimist - the requirements we need to graduate as a journalist are in major need of reevaluation.

To begin, I am taking six hours of Philosophy this semester. SIX. Alongside the fact that Philosophy is "the study of thinking" and is so mind-numbingly dull I want to tear what little hair I do have right out of my head, 40% of my workload this semester is in two courses that literally will have no bearing on my life once I'm done with them.

Likewise, there is a heavy emphasis, I've found, on 300-400 level classes as opposed to 200-level courses. What is the difference? It is an arbitrary number, because I know from experience some 200-level courses are in fact harder and have a heavier workload than a 300-400 level class. Nonetheless, as I started last semester to figure out how I was going to get out of her by August, I kept running into this whole conundrum where an arbitrary number would potentially dictate if I would have to take 8 or 11 hours this summer (I ended up on the short end of the stick - 11 hours this summer, ugh). Granted, that's my own fault for some weak schedules Freshman and Sophomore year.

I think I am just a little bummed at how mechanical these requirements are, and how arbitrary a lot of them are. I would love to ask someone in charge of delegating what constitutes a Quantitative Reasoning I as opposed to a II. Knowing how inept a lot of the upper-echelon administrators are at the U of I, I would expect I would get a roundabout answer, if any at all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

March Madness: Welcome back, Illini

Tomorrow is one of the best days of the year. That's right - the first round of the NCAA tournament, one of the rare instances where the early rounds with some fairly mediocre teams almost always seems to top the later rounds with the higher seeds playing each other.

Even better, the dark cloud that rested atop the Illinois basketball program seems to have been lifted. Illinois is ahead of schedule, notching a very impressive 5 seed in a season where most projected another down year for the team. To be honest, I was even ready to impose a "self-exile" from Illinois basketball if there was to be, yet again, a crappy year.

However, after Illinois football did it's usual incontinence in their pants after ONE good season, I was a little less reluctant to jump on board. It started with a surprise victory at Vanderbilt, which, at the time, was a huge boost for Illinois and evidence that this team may have something. Then it continued through a one-loss non-conference schedule that included the 9th straight win against Missouri (God, I hate their fans so very much). To top off the great start, Illinois beat then #10 ranked Purdue . . . at Purdue . . . in overtime.

Sure, there were some nasty blips along the way: 33 points at home against Penn State, 38 points at Minnesota, and another loss to Penn State who, by the way, has the best record of any Big Ten team against Bruce Weber (who woulda thunk it?) But there were great wins, too - a drubbing of Purdue at home, a solid by-the-books win against a hungry Wisconsin team, two wins against our arch-enemy, the Indiana Hoosiers, and a tremendous offensive display in the second win against Ohio State - four days after the 33-point PSU debacle.

So here we are, tipping off at 9pm from Portland, Ore. tomorrow night against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. I remember Dee, Deron, and Augustine's freshman year, along with Brian Cook's tremendous senior campaign, that saw a first-round matchup against the same program. Things have changed, of course. One thing that separates this year, however, is the fact that nearly every "expert" predicts Western Kentucky to win. After all, they say, at least one 12-seed beats a 5, and Illinois is the weakest of the 5-seeds.

Really? Utah? Purdue (who Illinois beat twice, once quite handily)? Florida State? I don't buy it, and it's not just the orange-colored glasses. Illinois should, and WILL win tomorrow, if they bring their A-game. Given the fact that there is a wealth of bulletin board material predicting them to lose, and that WKU was average-at-best away from home this year, I'll take Vegas' word over the experts: Illinois by 4.5 points.

Not the biggest of spreads, of course. But trust in Vegas. They know their stuff, and, sorry, Seth Davis - you know little more than Coco the Monkey.

So, Go Illini, let's get this first win, and see what happens Saturday. Either way, a great season, and the best is yet to come.


Illinois 68, WKU 53

Thursday, March 5, 2009

UNOFFICIAL 2009: A lot of fun, and too much damn fuss

Well, predictably so, in the last week and a half we have seen a slew of news articles featuring our local policy makers and our university's spokespersons taking hard stances against a pseudo-holiday.

Since my freshman year and the 2006 version of Unofficial, more and more enforcement has been ushered into the campus area to police the drunken participants. Letters have been written to parents, e-mails sent to students and faculty, and here we are, 2009, and reading a forwarded letter from a member of the Interfraternity Council, get this: deans from each college will be in patrol cars.


First off, I find it hard to imagine the Dean of the College of Media, Ron Yates, would really care to spend the day in a patrol car. Second of all, what is this, high school prom where every guidance counselor shows up to see if they smell booze on anybody, while the janitor is stationed around the punch bowl to make sure no one spikes it with a little vodka?

I guess my main point is, where are the priorities? Unofficial has seen trips to the hospital for alcohol poisoning, and I'm not downplaying the fact that some people are just stupid and will do stupid things while drunk. Yes, I know one person died back in 2006, but, forgive me if I sound like George Costanza, underwhelmed after learning the Andrea Doria shipwreck had a mere 40-some casualties - one person, and the letters to parents reference it as if it is ultimate damning evidence of Unofficial?

Here's another priority: it's the economy, stupid. Our economy sucks, the government keeps spending cash, and we'll see it here tomorrow. Hundreds, and I do mean HUNDREDS of officers from all the different agencies - University, cities of Champaign and Urbana, and even agents from the Illinois Liquor Control Commission - are going to swarm around campus. At least the navy uniforms contrast nicely with green.

Our state will have spent tens-of-thousands of dollars enforcing this event, while the city of Champaign will gleefully cash in on the underage tickets (which, mind you, are up to $365 for March 6) and go on to waste the money on their crap school district or God-knows-what.

I will happily participate tomorrow, my last and final Unofficial, and I'll dig out whatever green clothing I have, and bask in the surreal glory of campus being overtaken by drunken college students. It always hits, every year, around mid-afternoon, when you look up and down Green Street and observe the controlled fervor. From my perspective, Unofficial is not some huge menace to society.

Here are some imparting words of advice:

Chancellor Herman - I used to like you, man, but after you folded like a schoolgirl during the Chief decision and continue ignore ACTUAL problems instead of spending University cash on mailing nearly 40,000 letters about a pseudo-holiday, I think you should go back to teaching math.

Police officers - man, you were all pumped to have the weekend off, and you get a call to come in and look for underage kids with beers in their hands. I can only imagine the temptation you must have to take off that uniform, slip into some jeans and a green shirt, and join in on the festivities.

Mayor Schweighart - I met you once, and you were a pretty cool dude. With a pack of Pall Mall's in your shirt pocket and a blue collar aura about you, I get the feeling you, deep down inside, don't mind this Unofficial thing too much. Better yet, you think the drinking age should be lowered to 19. Bravo! Oh, and enjoy the loot the city will pull tomorrow. I wouldn't blame you if you go corrupt on us and keep some dough for yourself.

And to Scott Cochrane, hardly a mastermind but more just a cocaine-induced entreprenuer - major props, my friend. I'm sure tomorrow, in between lines of powder and liasons with 19 and 20 year old employees, you'll have enough time to reflect on how one little idea back in 1995 has become such a big deal.