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Thursday, March 31, 2011

A box of thread

This Weeks Fingertips picks...

The Unthanks


Pleasantly off-kilter and yet still lovely folk revivalism from a pair of sisters from the English countryside. “Queen of Hearts” is a traditional song, first recorded by Cynthia Gooding in 1953 and brought to a wider audience by Joan Baez 10 years later, and the Unthanks honor the song’s heart but expand its soul with their uncanny gift of arrangement.
From the glockenspiel’s carefully tinkled opening notes (and note the odd tension the trumpet quickly introduces) it is clear that we are in exquisite musical hands. Keep your ear on the bottom of the mix, as it’s the drumbeat—resolutely minimal, reinforcing the song’s rapt sway—and its bass partner that lend the song its peculiar sense of magical menace, or maybe menacing magic. The interaction of the players—piano, trumpet, strings, percussion—is all but three-dimensional; they sound like they’re playing with each other both musically and spatially. Notes and chords are both thrillingly precise and yet seemingly just come upon. (A favorite moment: the chord that appears on the word “love” smack in the center of the song, at 2:13, on the line “If my love leaves me what shall I do?”)
And let’s not forget the central lure, which is the two sisters’ voices. Becky takes the lower road, Rachel, eight years senior, the higher, and the intertwining is such that they are hard to separate. Thankfully there is no need to. Unthank is their actual last name, by the way. And also the name of a village near where they grew up, west of Newcastle.
“Queen of Hearts” is from the album Last, the Unthanks’ fourth, which will arrive on the Rough Trade label in the US next month. MP3 via the Beggars Group. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.
TV on the Radio


Alternating between a stompy, fuzz-tinged verse and a silky groove of a chorus, “Caffeinated Consciousness” may well be aiming to reproduce the very feel of being juiced on caffeine: there’s the oh-wow-hey-pay-attention part and then there’s the I’m-just-gliding-along-as-smooth-as-can-be part. And they kind of fit together and kind of don’t.
In any case, it’s a curiously addictive vibe. As soon as the ear gets tired of the harsh, riff-heavy, sample-fueled first part, we slip with relief into the groovy second part, with its happy blend of mellow-funky guitars and pipe-organ-y synthesizers. When that gets maybe too easy-going (I’m wired, man, I need to bust up something), squonk we go, back into the noise. But it’s kind of a happy noise in its own way—”I’m optimistic!” sing/shouts Tunde Adebimpe, over a delightfully rubbery bass and (wait for it; it’s in the second half of the verse, not the first) a stuttery, metallic, low-register guitar melody that (okay, maybe I’m hearing things) wouldn’t sound out of place on a Grateful Dead record.
TV on the Radio has been doing musical business out of Brooklyn since way back in 2001. They were one of the earlier bands featured here on Fingertips, in 2003, for a song off their first EP called “Staring at the Sun,” back when they were still a duo. (And hey, it’s still available!) They are five men strong these days. “Caffeinated Consciousness” is a track off the album Nine Types of Light, the band’s fourth full-length, due out in April on Interscope. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.
The Ladybug Transistor


Always with a vaguely nostalgic sound, The Ladybug Transistor by now operates kind of meta-nostalgically, since the band itself dates back to an completely different musical age—born out of the Elephant Six Collective in 1995: pre-Napster, pre-MP3, very nearly pre-WWW. They disappear for such long stretches at a time that I’d pretty much forgotten what an appealing sound they have, all sad-sprightly and ’60s-pop-influenced. Belle & Sebastian comes to mind also; although different bands in many ways, there’s a common vibe, both atmospherically and melodically, between this Brooklyn ensemble and Stuart Murdoch’s Scottish gang. Both bands offer up a powerful kind of nostalgia that remains somehow, also, both of-the-moment and timeless.
What has me in love with this song in general is the juxtaposition of the rapid pace and the melancholy air, which is not a natural combination. The song’s fleetness also disguises its unusual construction: it seems to be built around a meandering, two-tiered chorus, without any otherwise repeating element in the song. I don’t hear a verse. What has me in love with this song in particular is the aforementioned chorus, which stretches beyond something simple and immediately singable, accumulating a quiet sort of grandeur as we are led to a truly wonderful melodic moment: front man Gary Olson singing, “And now that I’m not/It’s all coming apart” (first heard at 1:07). This is worth the price of admission. More goodness: the striking titular image, which implies an entire story in those two concrete words.
Always something of a free-floating outfit, the Ladybug Transistor has experienced any number of lineup changes over the years. One of them was tragic, as drummer San Fadyl, on board since 1997, died of an asthma attack in April 2007. The band has not recorded since then, until now. (Their last album, released in June 2007, had been recorded with Fadyl.) Three new members have joined three LT veterans; the end result is Clutching Stems, due out on Merge Records in June. The band was previously been featured in 2003 and 2007. MP3 via Merge.

“You can’t cite a worse example of third hand reportage and comment,” he said. “How can you ban a book you haven’t read?”

India state bans book hinting Gandhi had gay lover

A state in western India banned Pulitzer-Prize winning author Joseph Lelyveld’s new book about Mahatma Gandhi on Wednesday after reviews saying it hints that the father of India’s independence had a homosexual relationship.
More bans have been proposed in India, where homosexuality was illegal until 2009 and still carries social stigma.

More related to this story

Gujarat’s state assembly voted unanimously Wednesday to immediately ban “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India.”
The furor was sparked by local media reports, based on early reviews out of the U.S. and U.K., some of which emphasized passages in the book suggesting Gandhi had an intimate relationship with a German man named Hermann Kallenbach.
The book has not yet been released in India, so few here have actually read Lelyveld’s writings.
Lelyveld has said his work was taken out of context. “I do not allege that Gandhi is a racist or bisexual in ‘Great Soul,“’ Lelyveld told the Times of India. “The word ‘bisexual’ nowhere appears in the book.”
Still, several previous reviews “Great Soul” detailed its sections on Gandhi’s relationship with Kallenbach.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Andrew Roberts said that the only portrait on the mantelpiece opposite Gandhi’s bed was of Kallenbach.
“How completely you have taken possession of my body,” reads one widely quoted letter from Gandhi to Kallenbach. “This is slavery with a vengeance.”
Britain’s Daily Mail ran an article under the blaring headline: “Gandhi ‘left his wife to live with a male lover’ new book claims.”
The Mumbai Mirror on Tuesday ran a front page story under the headline “Book claims German man was Gandhi’s secret love,” which quoted the same passages as Roberts.
Politicians in the state of Maharashtra, home to India’s financial capital Mumbai, have also called for a ban on the book and, along with Modi, have asked the central government to bar publication nationwide.
“It has become a fashion to tarnish the image of great Indian leaders for self publicity and sale of books,” said Sanjay Dutt, spokesman for the ruling Congress Party in Maharashtra. “The government should invoke a law to severely punish anyone who tarnishes the image of the father of the nation.”
Ranjit Hoskote, a writer and general secretary of PEN India, which fights for free expression, condemned the ban and said local media had misconstrued both Lelyveld’s intentions and the nature of Gandhi’s relationship with Kallenbach.
“You can’t cite a worse example of third hand reportage and comment,” he said. “How can you ban a book you haven’t read?”
He said Gandhi’s correspondence with Kallenbach has been available in library archives for decades. “There’s no secret. There is no scandal,” he said.

Ravicher said that it is not possible for organic seed to co-exist with Monsanto’s GM seed

Organic farm groups file legal challenge against Monsanto

PUBPAT has filed Monsanto-Complaint.pdf” target=”_self” rel=”nofollow”>the suit in the southern district of New York on behalf of about 60 farmers, seed and organic organizations, which claim that Monsanto has sued farmers in the United States and Canada in the past after its patented genetic material has inadvertently contaminated non-genetically modified (GM) crops.
PUBPAT’s executive director Dan Ravicher said: “This case asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto’s transgenic seed or pollen should land on their property. It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement, but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement, so we had to act to protect the interests of our clients.”
The case asks that organic farmers be protected from being sued for patent infringement if their crops should accidentally become contaminated with GM materials.
However, in an emailed statement, Monsanto disputed the allegations, saying that many of them are “false, misleading and deceptive”, and calling the lawsuit a “publicity stunt”.
“Monsanto has not ever sued and has publically committed to not sue farmers over the inadvertent presence of biotechnology traits in their fields,” the company said.
Monsanto also said that it rejects plaintiffs’ allegations regarding patent validity, saying that legal precedent supports the validity of its patents.
“These efforts seek to reduce private and public investment in the development of new higher-yielding seed technologies. While we respect the views of organic farmers as it relates to the products they choose to grow, we don’t believe that American agriculture faces an all-or-nothing approach,” the company said.
Ravicher said that it is not possible for organic seed to co-exist with Monsanto’s GM seed and that it is in Monsanto’s financial interest to eliminate organic seed so the company can have “a total monopoly over our food supply”.
Anti-GM groups have argued that the long term impact of genetically modified crops on the environment, human and animal health is not well known, and may not be for decades. And organic advocates have also argued that cross-contamination of organic crops with GM material could devastate their industry.
Tensions over co-existence of GM and non-GM seed have intensified in recent months, as the US Department of Agriculture has continued to approve GM crops, including alfalfa, sugar beets and a type of corn intended for ethanol use.
Global area planted with biotech crops increased by 10 percent last year to reach 148m hectares, making it the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. Commercial planting of GM crops began in 1996, with 1.7m hectares planted that year, and over 15 years of cultivation, the total area devoted to GM crops has increased 87-fold.
The United States still uses more GM seeds than any other country.

Spring wild flowers

Taken at Port Angeles, WA

Pelican "folk art"

Taken at Port Angeles, WA

This wooden troller is almost 90 years old!

Taken at Boat Haven (Port of Port Angeles)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Maverick is still in the marina

Taken at Boat Haven (Port of Port Angeles)

Sex in these lines is both delicate and animalistic.


Published on Monday, March 28th, 2011
by Traci Brimhall
Southern Illinois University Press 2010
Reviewed by C.J. Opperthauser
“it sings for no reason”
Traci Brimhall’s strong debut collection, Rookery, is littered with images of birds. A gorgeous line about a bird or birds or something having to do with birds–a dead chickadee found on a porch, an owl frightened by a person’s nightmare–inevitably finds its way into the fabric of almost every poem. These recurring bird images, though sometimes fleeting and often quite minor, suggest both a connection with nature and a realistic view regarding the flighty, temporary aspects of emotion and love. The birds, then, imply a larger devotion: finding the eternal in the fleeting.
This means a significant amount of focus on tensions that result from love and sex. Brimhall consistently establishes such tension with simple conflict, but also with vivid, precise, often haunting details. The very end of “Chastity Belt Lesson” reads: “He kisses the back of her neck and makes a joke. / She clears her throat, slides her knife through a tomato.” The last line, while a simple image, is powerful in conveying withheld emotions. The guts and ooze and redness of a sliced tomato during a tense moment between two people rattles the senses and the nervous system. There is violence in that seemingly innocent scene. Anger.
Throughout Rookery, Brimhall exposes both a tenderness and dirtiness in sex, as well as the greed and hunger that it can elicit. Here are four lines from “To the Tall Stranger Who Kept His Hands in His Pockets, Fourteen Years Later”:
Maybe you wanted to teach me the wind’s easy reach
of my thighs. Or maybe you needed me to know
you could crush me to the corkscrew hairs
on your chest, if you wanted to, you could hold me.
Sex in these lines is both delicate and animalistic. Key words promote this–neededcrushcorkscrewhold. Yet the image of wind on skin is soft. It’s compelling, even rational, to think of sex as both of these seemingly incompatible qualities. Sex is both fleeting and eternal–“if you wanted to, you could hold me.” These poems are very carefully crafted to handle competing ideologies.
So Brimhall takes unexpected whacks at God and religious ideation when she has the chance, but also approaches devotion with care and grace; the world can be holy if specific conceptions of God are delusional. In “Prayer to Delay the Apocalypse,” use of the word “Hallelujah” is mostly ironic, but more than a little sincere: “The saguaros swell with rain. / Hallelujah. The mysteciti’s heart is big enough to crawl / through and it sings for no reason, hallelujah.” The poet includes praise for male seahorses carrying their young and for avocados clinging to trees. It is as if Brimhall understands impassioned devotion and wishes to worship, instead, the simple, the overlooked, the soon to depart but eternally real–which is not a new devotion in poetry, but one handled here with deftness and intellect.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Master berth (detail)

Literary Mixtape: Elizabeth Bennet

Literary Mixtape: Elizabeth Bennet
4:30 pm Monday Mar 28, 2011 by Emily Temple
If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite literary characters might be listening to while they save the world/contemplate existence/get into trouble, or hallucinated a soundtrack to go along with your favorite novels, well, us too. But wonder no more! Here, we sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters. What would be on the personal playlists of Holden Caulfield or Elizabeth Bennet, Huck Finn or Harry Potter, Tintin or Humbert Humbert? Something revealing, we bet. Or at least something danceable. Read on for a cozy reading soundtrack, character study, or yet another way to emulate your favorite literary hero. This week: Jane Austen’s beloved heroine, Elizabeth Bennet.
Elizabeth Bennet, the second eldest in a family of five daughters, is possessed of “a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in any thing ridiculous” and a healthy dose of scorn for her silly sisters. Her father’s favorite, Lizzy is headstrong, sharp-tongued and quite proud of the fact that she has what her father calls “something more of quickness than her sisters.” To that end, she has a — dare we suggest — hipsterish tendency to judge everyone around her. But she’s still a romantic to some degree, rejecting the notion that she should marry for money, and wanting instead to find a man she actually likes. And one who isn’t her father’s cousin. Seeing as she’s a savvy, smart-aleck of a girl with a good head on her shoulders, we think she’d be into wry, intelligent indie rock and all the hipster classics. Here’s what we think she would scheme, scold, and judge her peers to.
“Panda Panda Panda” — Deerhoof
Well, she’s got to have something to blast in protest when her silly-ass sisters are playing Ke$ha and jumping around the house. This would bug the crap out of them.
“Girls” — Marina and the Diamonds
The anthem of ladies everywhere who live to please themselves and not their society. Come on, Kitty is definitely a calorie-counter.
“No Children” — The Mountain Goats
As one of our favorite heroines of all time, and a spunky one at that, we have to believe that Elizabeth would like the Mountain Goats as much as we do. But if nothing else, she would probably think this song was hilarious.
“Wild World” — Cat Stevens
Everyone knows that Lizzy is her daddy’s favorite, so we think it’s a safe bet she’d be listening to this track. After all, it’s every daddy’s girl’s favorite song for when she’s feeling sad about leaving home.
“Oh What A World” — Rufus Wainwright
Despite all the trials and tribulations, Elizabeth is a pretty happy girl at ease with herself and her world. And we think she and Rufus Wainwright would be best friends if the borders of reality just gave them a chance.
“Curly Teeth” — Micachu & the Shapes
Elizabeth would be into the happily irreverent oddness of Micachu & the Shapes, with all their squeaky instruments and sleepy female vocals. Plus, everyone loves a song about a tough girl.
“Two Weeks” — Grizzly Bear
This song is cheery, pleasant and cooler-than-thou all at once, just like Miss Bennet.
“Absolutely Cuckoo” — The Magnetic Fields
The Magnetic Fields are the smart indie girl’s favorite band, it’s true. But since they’re pretty much ridiculous (and we mean that in the best way possible) and fairly straight-shooting, we think Elizabeth would like them even more than your average bear.
“Little Bit” — Lykke Li
Even the tough girls fall in love at the end of the story. But only if you fall in love with them first.

For some reason London-based photographer Rob Matthews decided to print out all 2,559 of Wikipedia’s “featured articles”

What Wikipedia Looks Like ed Out

For some reason London-based photographer Rob Matthews decided to print out all 2,559 of Wikipedia’s “featured articles” — which is about 5,000 pages worth of content — and this supersized tome is the end result. So what do you think of the project: Total waste of paper or a useful demonstration of how much information the internet helps us store? More importantly: How much do you think that sucker weighs?
[via Braiker]

Good morning from Whale Song!

Monday, March 28, 2011

An old steel troller

Taken at Boat Haven (Port of Port Angeles)

Last night's flight from Seattle to Port Angeles

Springtime on Whale Song

Taken at Boat Haven (Port of Port Angeles)

Fellow traveler- I prefer this crop

Taken at Houston TX

Special potatoes from the farmer's market in Port Angeles

Taken at Boat Haven (Port of Port Angeles)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fellow traveler-

Taken at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) ✈

Last leg! It's been a LONG trip...

Taken at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) ✈

Oysters Baton Rouge

Taken at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen


The view at lunch

Taken at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen

Friday, March 25, 2011


Taken at Central Pennsylvania

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The commercial waterfront, downtown and Lake Washington

Taken at Seattle WA

Public art at Seatac

Taken at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)

Seattle space needle on approach to Boeing Field

Taken at Boeing Field/King County International Airport (BFI) ✈

Reflections of Saturday's farmer's market

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sunday, March 13, 2011

While other women’s colleges in Massachusetts, such as Smith and Mount Holyoke, have come to be known for large lesbian populations, Wellesley has sought to avoid that image.

The Highly-Charged Erotic Life of the Wellesley Girl

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The Highly-Charged Erotic Life of the Wellesley Girl

First appeared in Rolling Stone, March 15, 2001.
At first, Ross Franklin didn’t notice that Wellesley College women were stalking him. They would bump into him as if by accident as he came out of his classes and casually strike up conversations. Sometimes they would ask him out on study dates. Ross thought it was all just par for the course. He didn’t realize until a friend pointed it out to him that the women were actually planning these coincidences. “Anywhere else, if a girl likes you, she’ll come up to you and be very direct about it,” says Ross. “Here, the girls are so intelligent, they go about it in a different way.”
As a visiting student from Wheaton College studying at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, for one year, Ross enjoys the unique position of being the lone full-time male student at an all-women’s school. “I really don’t have to introduce myself too often,” he says. It’s established wisdom on campus that the “token guy” who comes to Wellesley every few years will get as much attention as he can handle. David Kent, who spent a year at Wellesley in the late Seventies, wrote about the experience for Esquire: “I became incapable of talking to a girl without thinking how much she craved me and what she’d be like in the sack.” He dated three women a night, he writes, and rarely slept in his own room. Neil Schiavo, a Connecticut College graduate who spent part of the 1994-95 academic year at Wellesley, says, “The first week, it took me forty minutes to get to classes because people were so friendly. I felt like in this one little area in the world, I was Tom Cruise.”
Ross won’t put a number on how many Wellesley students he’s slept with, but admits he’s been dating “a lot.” One group of students placed bets on who could sleep with Ross, and there was also an informal competition to see who could get him into bed first. “Wellesley women are different from other women,” Ross says. “They plan everything out in their heads.”
HENRY FOWLE DURANT FOUNDED Wellesley College in 1875 to provide women with college opportunities equal to those available to men, declaring that God was “calling to womanhood to come up higher, to prepare herself for great conflicts, for vast reforms in social life, for noblest usefulness.” The women who went there were chosen not only for their intellectual competence but also for their good health, and the first women who attended were said to look “very rosy and healthy.” In the early years, exercise was strongly emphasized because of a widespread belief that rigorous study could be harmful to a woman’s health. Students were allowed only one day at home per term and could not receive young male callers under any circumstances. On Sundays, no guests were permitted at all. In 1914, the rules were relaxed to allow students to receive their fathers, but no other men, and only on Sundays.
Even in the early Sixties, Wellesley women weren’t expected to have their own careers. “When I went to Wellesley,” says writer-director Nora Ephron, a 1962 graduate, “it was pretty much assumed that if you were interested in medicine, you should marry a doctor.” Marnie Henretig, a social worker who graduated in 1965, says, “The only reason I picked Wellesley was because I thought it was the best location to meet the man I wanted to marry.” And the very idea of women dating other women was taboo. As Ephron told the class of 1996 at their commencement, “While I was here, Wellesley actually threw six young women out for lesbianism.”
But then came the sexual revolution. “When I arrived in ‘67, men could be in the rooms just for an hour or two in the afternoon—and you had to have a box of matches in the door—and we had sit-down meals, where we had to sing hymns and get dressed up on the weekends, and have tea once a week,” recalls Kate Cornwell, a social worker. “By my senior year, ‘71, men could be in the rooms twenty-four hours; there were no more sit-down dinners, no more singing of hymns, and I think they might have had tea once a month.”
Since then, Wellesley has tenaciously fought pressures to enroll male students. Meanwhile, the profile of the Wellesley woman has evolved. No longer are Wellesley women expected to marry society’s leaders; now they aim to be leaders themselves. The college is universally recognized for its academic excellence—it consistently ranks among the top five liberal-arts colleges in the country, and the school has produced a disproportionate number of CEOs. “Corporate” is a word that often comes up when people talk about the reputation of Wellesley grads. As one Wellesley humanities professor puts it, “The public perception is that someone from Smith is more likely to go on to head the National Organization for Women than someone from Wellesley, and that someone from Wellesley would be more likely to be the head of Citibank than someone from Smith—and the business world tends to be pretty conservative.”
Of course, the sexual mores have changed drastically from the days when men were allowed in dorm rooms only if the door was left open and the caller’s feet remained on the floor. While other women’s colleges in Massachusetts, such as Smith and Mount Holyoke, have come to be known for large lesbian populations, Wellesley has sought to avoid that image. “In the admissions tour, parents ask. I know tour guides have said before that Wellesley doesn’t have an exorbitantly high amount of people who are gay,” says ‘99 grad Betsy Hanna, “It’s just that people who are feel more comfortable being out.”
Still, Wellesley’s sexual culture has more in common with that of its sisters than it would like to admit. “One of our slogans at Wellesley is `Independent women, amazing women,’ ” says sophomore Alyssa Robinson. “Part of that independence is liberation from boxes that women might have been placed in. A lot of Wellesley is about breaking out of those boxes. That encourages a more liberated, a more independent attitude among the students.” The result is a climate of sexual experimentation where no woman, or man— including professors, kitchen staff and campus police officers— is off-limits.
“It was a challenge to be straight at a school like that,” says Melanie Herman, a 1999 graduate who now works on Wall Street. So women at Wellesley who do choose to date men but have given up on the “Fuck Truck”—the student nickname for bus that runs to Harvard and MIT, both about forty-five minutes away—have to find whoever is available. The most alluring candidates are the professors. Different academic departments have different reputations. “Some of the departments are a little racy and some are a little more tame,” says senior Sandra North. “Some professors are notorious for having sex with their students. Everyone knows who they are.”
Understandably, professors are not cheered by the sometimes unkind stories that are spread about them. “I knew a guy who used to pick up a baby sitter on campus, and people said he was picking her up for a date,” says professor Aaron Girard, “And it wasn’t anything like that. So you can get injustice done pretty easily.” Many of the rumors are completely untrue, he points out—although he admits he has had relationships with students. “I’ve heard rumors about me and several students that had no basis in fact whatsoever,” Girard says. “And the one that was true, no one knew about.”
For a straight male professor, a women’s college offers obvious temptations. In every class, there are at least a few admirers, especially if he has that “professor sex appeal.” And having that appeal doesn’t necessarily mean he’s good-looking—indeed, says a student, many of the most sought-after professors “definitely do not fall into the good-looking category.”
Former Wellesley professor Ian Randolph admits that he had relationships with students (he’s since left the college for unrelated reasons). He says his students would come in during his office hours and talk to him openly about sex. “It wasn’t uncommon to get a lot of students coming to my office hours only to talk about who they slept with recently and what had been going on in their lives, how many drugs they did the night before, or how much homework they had that they hadn’t been doing,” he says.
In his case, he maintains, it was always the students who signaled their interest. Women would come into his office and talk to him about the details of their sexual experiences, about “sexual positions and the number of orgasms.” One student would show him pictures of herself, he says, “naked, with pierced nipples and bondage equipment.” Soon, says Randolph, “one student became more directly flirtatious, telling me she was attracted to older men all the time and asking me questions about what I thought about students and professors sleeping together.” Eventually, says Randolph, their intentions became obvious. “These people essentially came out and said, ‘I would like to have sex with you.’”
Randolph had three sexual relationships with students in one year. Two of these began the same night, in the middle of final exams. He’d gone out for coffee with two of his students who were dating each other. As they drove back to Wellesley, the women said, “Oh, we want to stay up. We don’t want to go to bed.” Randolph had liquor left over from a party he’d thrown for a bunch of students the previous week. “We can go back to my office, and make drinks and hang out there,” he said. So they did. Back in the office, says Randolph, “They started sort of making out, and one thing led to another, and there I was joining in, and many hours passed.” By the end, he’d had sex with both of them. “And then everything became very confusing, because one was my thesis student and the other was in another of my classes.” In fact, Randolph was actually dating another student at the same time—in addition to being married—but soon broke up with her and started dating one of the two women from finals week. Later, he broke up with her and started dating the other.
How often does this kind of thing go on? Nobody really knows. Presumably, the vast majority of student-professor relationships are kept secret. “There are rumors about every young faculty member on the campus, and I think about one in ten are true,” says professor Girard. “It’s not something that’s rampant. But there certainly are relationships between young faculty members—both men and women—and students.”
The Wellesley College administration discourages intimacy between professors and students. “Relationships between students and faculty and between students and staff are discouraged, but they’re not banned. And we don’t police or monitor that,” says Mary Ann Hill, director of public information and government relations for Wellesley.
Professors are breaking the rules, however, if they have relationships with students in their own department or classes. The policy also explicitly prohibits a pattern of promiscuity among professors with regard to intimacy with students. Finally, a tenured professor can be fired for “moral turpitude.” Says Hill, “When supervisory relations are present between a student and faculty or staff member, sexual relations are unconditionally unacceptable.”
“It’s got to be very discreet,” says Professor Girard. “Once it’s known, one of the things that works against it is, 2000 women, lots of talk. A junior faculty member wants more than anything to get tenure. You get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, and it’s over real fast.”
So professors who sleep with students take precautions. “It had to be conducted secretly,” says Professor Randolph of his first affair with a Wellesley student.
Valerie Wexler, a member of Wellesley’s class of 2000 and one of the women who had a sexual relationship with Randolph, rejects the stereotype that a professor’s power unfairly influences students. “I think there’s this myth that the younger person is always seduced by the older person,” she says. “These types of relationships can be misconstrued to be some sort of seduction and power situation, but I didn’t feel that way at all. In fact, a lot of the time, I felt like I had the power.” It seems that most of the student-professor relationships at Wellesley are started by students. “It would have been a disaster if I had instigated a relationship and it was unwanted,” says Randolph. “That would be the very definition of sexual harassment: unwanted sexual advances.” Students and professors agree that Wellesley does not have a big sexual-harassment problem—in fact, the school has not had a sexual-harassment complaint for four years.
Senior Claire Denning explains that when women at Wellesley have crushes on professors, the attraction is expressed in terms such as, “He’s so intelligent. He made eye contact with me today in class. He calls on me more than he calls on the other girls.” And the attraction is not usually based on appearance. “Some of these professors are chubby, short, dirty-looking,” says Claire. “But there’s something about them that’s very attractive, and I don’t think it’s necessarily the way they look.”
By contrast, she says, when women are attracted to dining-hall workers, it is purely physical. “It’s like, ‘Oh my God, he’s so fucking sexy, I want to get in his pants.’” Heather Gay, a class of 2000 graduate, mentions a dining-hall worker who dated someone she knew. “He would get off work at the dining hall and just roll on over to her dorm every night,” she says. “The guys in the dining hall—if they’re young and attractive—they get a lot of attention.” Stacy Drummond, another 2000 graduate, knows of many women who’ve had relationships with dining-hall workers. “The guys would take breaks, and go upstairs to these girls’ rooms, and fool around with them and come back down,” says Stacy.
Many working-class men staff the dining halls. “There are some definite class issues on this campus,” says Claire, who worked at a Wellesley dining hall for several years. “I think there’s kind of like that, ‘Oh, I’m such a bad girl, I’m dating this working-class guy.’”
John Flaherty, a twenty-one-year-old dining-hall worker from the Boston area, says, “My friend said he screwed about twenty-six Wellesley girls. And that was in the four months that he worked there. I know it’s true of about at least half a dozen girls. I guess he’s just a ladies’ man.”
Police officers on campus also attract some students. “I have two close friends who have had relationships with two different campus police officers,” says Heather. Stacy was friends with a man who worked in the campus police department. While their relationship never went beyond a few kisses, she was privy to the goings-on in the department. “I know a couple of guys who are still there and are having affairs with students—or at least, they were when I graduated in May,” Stacy says. “For the most part, they’re honest guys. Most of them aren’t having affairs. It’s probably one or two officers, and the rest look down on it and think it’s pretty despicable but don’t do anything about it. So not a lot, but enough to make it interesting.”
“Yeah, it goes on,” says Wellesley College police officer Peter Murphy, referring to relationships between students and officers. “I don’t know how much it has to do with the fact that a lot of women find that attractive, a man in uniform.” Murphy knows five officers who, over a twenty-year period, have married Wellesley students.
OF COURSE, ROMANTIC LIFE DEPENDS largely on the individual. For junior Colbie Paulson, a Mormon and the president of the Wellesley Alliance for Life, a pro-life group, Wellesley’s single-sex environment means taking a step back in time. “For me, I find that the fact that our school is single-sex makes it more of a traditional dating experience. The guy comes to my school, he comes to my door, he picks me up, he takes me out, he makes a real effort to get here. So for me, it just reinforces my conservative upbringing.”
Some women end up not dating at all. Others may turn to their classmates. “I call it the ‘prison effect,’” says Jess Eason, a sophomore from Alaska. “You know how once you’re around the same thing for so long, it starts to appeal to you? That’s sort of my theory on Wellesley College. After a while, you start finding women more appealing.”
Jess’ story is fairly typical. When she arrived her freshman year, she had a boyfriend. But she saw women involved with other women all around her. She joined the rugby team and, she says, “The team was at least sixty percent bi or dyke last year, and this year it seems like it’s ninety percent.” Even so, she says that at first, she “wasn’t getting into the homosexuality thing.” But eventually, her attitude changed. At the beginning of her sophomore year, she broke it off with her boyfriend—by then her fiancé—and started dating a woman.
Sandra North explains the process: “For a while, someone might go around telling people she’s asexual, saying, `I’m not attracted to anyone,’ which sometimes is a cover for starting to become attracted to women.” If she develops a crush on somebody, she might check the woman’s “résumé,” the electronic profile on Wellesley’s e-mail system. “That’s actually a pretty big part of Wellesley’s sex culture,” says Sandra. “That’s where a lot of flirtation goes on.” It can also act as an informal registry of who’s straight and who’s gay or experimenting. “One girl wrote on her resume, ‘I am now open to dating women. If you want to talk to me, here’s my extension,’” Sandra explains.
It helps that dating women is so convenient. “You just run upstairs and there’s your girlfriend,” says Jess. “Here, you can practically have an apartment set up with your girlfriend. At most coed places, a girl would probably have trouble getting a room with her boyfriend.”
And the atmosphere is so open that even the more conservative groups on campus tend to be socially liberal. Sarah Spurgeon, a member of the Wellesley Republicans, says, “I don’t care what someone does in their bedroom or whom they marry, and I also think women should be able to play like men do in the battle of the sexes. It is simply a matter of personal freedom.” Heather Gay says, “It’s an environment where being a lesbian is considered almost cool.” Growing up, Heather was always embarrassed about her name. “But once I came out at Wellesley, it became a big joke,” she recalls. “We’d have posters advertising the Café Hoop that would say BE GAY and just have a big picture of my face.”
Michelle Carby, a class of 2000 graduate, recalls how she and some of her friends lived in a dorm called Lakehouse, then known for its heavy lesbian concentration. Michelle and her friends were just friends, but they had an odd sort of sexual tension with one another. “We had a party one night, and we all wound up in a room sort of making out with each other,” says Michelle. “Then we all went and had breakfast together at the dining hall like it was nothing. We never did it again. It was like we needed a sexual release, and we got that.”
The supportive atmosphere at Wellesley also tends to build sexual confidence. “It’s an environment where sex is fun, sex is good, and you’re not supposed to be ashamed of your body,” says Michelle. “It’s like something changes over in you from being at Wellesley.” As a result, a lot of women are having sex who might not at all at a coed school. “I think of couples that I knew at Wellesley, people who never dated in high school, people who may have been overweight or not that attractive,” says Michelle. “And they wind up meeting someone who they can be that way with, and who is fine with it, and they end up getting it on. So therefore they’re having sex, whereas if they’d gone to a coed environment, they might not be.”
The waiting period between meeting someone and having sex is also diminished. “For women to be with other women, there’s not that threatening aspect, like, ‘Maybe he won’t stop when I want him to stop,’” says Michelle. “So therefore it happens more often, and people are more likely to sleep with someone on the first date than they would be with a guy.” Heather agrees: “Time is so sped up. The cycles of getting to know someone, dating them, breaking up are on hyperspeed.”
Wellesley has an atmosphere that professor Randolph calls “erotically aware,” where sexuality, sexual practices and sexual orientation are openly discussed all the time—on radio shows, on campus panels, and in classes. The Dyke Ball, a dance put on by Wellesley Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenders and Friends, is an all-out celebration of female sexuality. “There’s no such thing as a normal formal dance like there are at other schools,” says Melanie Herman. “Instead, it’s more normal to see ten girls wearing wings on their backs.” The dress code for the Dyke Ball is “creative black tie,” which means that women show up either dressed extravagantly or practically naked. Women routinely arrive nearly topless, or wearing only Saran Wrap or body paint (which inevitably sweats off by the end of the night). The few men who show up come in drag. And over the course of the night, women are “all crazy getting on each other, stripping off their clothes and getting it on with each other,” says Michelle. Says senior Charlotte Boutz, “I’ve seen more T&A at the Dyke Ball than in the locker room.”
From the day they set foot on campus, Wellesley women are told that they are equal to men, that they can do anything men can and more, and that the old rules don’t apply to them. Nora Ephron told the class of 1996 at their commencement, “I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.”
Could it be that this sense of empowerment bleeds over into sexuality? Michelle thinks so. “It’s like, `Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to do a certain thing because you’re a woman.’ I think that translates to every aspect of life.” Alyssa agrees: “It’s an extension of their liberation—to go out and be just as sexually aggressive as you would see a male be. It’s about defining your own self instead of being defined by others.”
Many names have been changed.
See also:
Wellesley College Statement in Response to Rolling Stone article
My hastily written counter-press release responding to the president’s statement
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