Tag Archives: David Leebron

Story About Evan: Episode II

Kyle continues what promises to be the greatest work of literature in the entire human canon:

Evan effortlessly guided himself through the plane’s rear cargo door, switched off his jetpack and came to a soft landing. A few moments later President Bartlet came spiraling through the same entrance and crashed to a stop next to Evan. Bartlet frantically removed his jetpack as the heavy cargo door shut behind them.

“Let’s never do that again,” the President said, pushing himself up off the cold metal floor.

“Maybe next time I’ll invite the House Speaker instead. He’s good at jetpacks.”

“Hmmph. Here.” Bartlet handed Evan a holster. “You almost left this with the raptors down there.”

“My lightsaber!” Evan exclaimed. He fastened the holster around his waist. “Thanks, Jed.”

The President—eager for Evan’s validation and trust because Evan is such a cool guy—smiled.

“No, thank you for having me, Doctor Captain Executive Editor Mintz, Esq.”

The two proceeded through the plane toward the control deck. They passed the petting zoo, the Treasure Room, the Additional Treasure Room, an onboard replica of the Starship Enterprise’s main bridge that was also a ball pit, the Animorph petting zoo, and finally made it to the heavy blast door separating them from the control deck.

Evan tapped on his communicator.

“Stephen,” Evan began, “it’s me, Evan. Open up the bridge door so we can come in and talk about how I was just riding raptors around with President Bartlet.”

There was no response.


“Evan, look,” President Bartlet said, quickly tapping Evan on the shoulder.


Evan turned around to see a familiar, sinister figure emerging from the onboard Executive Washroom that was reserved for Evan and Evan only.

“What are you doing here?”

“Using your bathroom, Evan,” a high-pitched, nasally voice replied.

“Look!” Bartlet shouted, pointing toward the knocked-out body sitting on the floor of the bathroom. “He’s knocked out the pilot and left him sitting on the floor of the bathroom!”

Evan upholstered his lightsaber and activated the blade.

“Nobody mistreats my talented staff of sports writers slash airplane pilots but me!”

President Bartlet cowered in a corner and called his intelligent, liberal-minded cabinet for encouraging words as Evan and the mysterious yet oh-duh-I-wonder-who-it-is figure prepared to do battle.

“You couldn’t defeat me back in college,” the small man said, snorting with laughter. “My scouter says your power level is pathetic.”

Evan made a serious face. Suddenly the air around him became charged with static and the clouds passing outside darkened to pitch. The scouter fixed to the stranger’s face beeped frantically as Evan’s power level climbed over 9,000.

“Auuuuuggggnnnhnnnn,” Evan said. “Aaaaauuuugnnnnnnnhh!”

He charged toward the intruder, lightsaber in one hand and a drawn fist in the other.


March Madness and the Tournament of Everything

So I filled out my March Madness bracket. My method was based around favoring schools that friends support or attended. Also, my distaste for Duke. Usually I suppress Texas A&M, but they haven’t done anything too awful in a while, and I recently had some quality interactions with some A&M folks. Anyways here is my hastily filled bracket:

But of course, March Madness is also time for another wonderful tournament: the Tournament of Everything!

I did the first Tournament of Everything when I worked on the St. John’s Review. Honestly, Joe Mathlete had done it before and I just stole the idea from him. In high school, I actually created a big chart and had people vote for a winner every day until we completed the entire bracket. I think when Joe did it, Luby’s Macaroni and Cheese won. And this is before Pappas Restaurants bought Luby’s and grossed up their delicious Mac and Cheese.

The Tournament was continued to the Rice Thresher Backpage, where I just kinda made it myself. The general concept is a competition between the best things of everything. Of course, it is somewhat limited by the author’s own provincial knowledge, but I tried to include some great universal concepts. (pdf: ToE 2006ToE 2007)

That is a bit grainy, here is a closer view of the bracket.

And the 2007 version:

I’m not entirely sure which year was better. 2007 doesn’t have the quirky breakdown and analysis that was in the 2006 version. This difference is probably because I was busy with my expanded role in the Thresher after the March staff turnover.

However, one of the critiques about the 2006 version was that it was too much of a “Tournament of Evan” rather than something more universal or accessible. While I still think it was an inspired joke to have Males ages 18-35 be the winner in Adult Swim v. Guitar Solos, in what universe would Mountain Dew go that far? Answer: The Evan Universe! If you compare, I did try to fix it a bit in 2007, eliminating some inside jokes and expanding the number of Rice jokes. Though the Magic Flute from Mario 3 was my favorite carryover. Alas, I was slowly learning my lesson that the Backpage was supposed to be for everyone and not just a bunch of Evan jokes.

This blog thing, on the other hand, can be nothing but Evan jokes! Which is why I am planning the first annual Tournament of Evan. In it, I would lavish myself with naval gazing, self-obsession, and inside jokes as I compete the various aspects of my life and attention against one another, breaking down the safety barrier between character schtick and actual personal issues, blurring into a grey mush of neuroses and spelling errors.

The 4 Categories for the Tournament are, so far: Women, Popular Media, Funny Third Thing, and Politics/History. If you have any recommendations or submissions or critiques or personal insults, please feel free to contribute in the comments or just yell at me IRL.

A David Brooks column about the Rice KTRU Sale

Yesterday, the New York Times contained an article about universities selling their radio stations, notably Rice University and KTRU. Of course, I wrote a blog thing about it, including hypotheticals about what various New York Times columnists would write about the matter. However, one very important columnist was missing.


Bohemian bourgeois find truth on Facebook.


David Brooks has a special place in this whole thing. Not only is he one of the utterly worst New York Times columnists, but he is the commencement speaker at Rice University this year. So it is only appropriate that he write a full column about the KTRU sale.

Here it is, a fake David Brooks column about the Rice University KTRU sale:

Sometimes you make stuff up.

Yesterday evening I was interviewing Rice University President David Leebron in preparation of my commencement speech there, and we were talking about the university selling the student radio station KTRU. His voice was nasal and fatigued, and he was taking those little sighs that people take when they’re frustrated with being criticized even though the criticisms don’t have any actual effect on the result.

Out of the blue I asked, “Have you ever read Reinhold Niebuhr?”

Leebron’s tone changed. “What does that have to do with anything?”

I continued to list random names and philosophical concepts, hoping he would react to one and I could write a column about it: “C.S. Lewis, Gestalt Theory, Steven Quartz, Ewan Moontz, Friedrich Schleiermacher, bobo chic, Rick Warren…”

I went on for a bit and he stopped me at Milton Friedman.

“I generally don’t agree with his views,” President Leebron said. “For example, there is certainly such a thing as a free lunch, Rice got one by secretly selling KTRU. We get the proceeds while KTRU did all the work.”

As part of my contract with the New York Times, I’ll take this point to state a thesis that disagrees with a notable conservative icon but agrees with someone in power in a way that gets the result I wanted anyways.

Unlike 90 percent of America, I am cheering for the sale. This is widely cast as a students v. administration conflict — the powerful Board of Trustees against the ragtag KTRU community. If this were a movie, KTRU’s arguments before the FCC about localism and education would be successful, and KTRUvians would be weeping with joy.

But this is why life is not a movie. The Board is not always wrong. They do not always exploit student efforts without any discussion. The Rice administration — to the extent that they are paragons of power, which I dispute — won through hard work.

For the first time in university history, the rich and powerful work harder for student interests than the students. KTRU supporters would have gotten what they wanted if only they had worked harder, even if the university was keeping the sale secret. And even though I have never had a job besides working for various upper crust publications, I have no problem lecturing about hard work.

This lack of labor by university students explains why non-profit radio licenses are now essentially dominated by Christian religious stations and NPR.

Notice the dichotomy between the two remaining systems. Blue State NPR asks its listeners for money, while Red State Christian stations only ask their listeners to pray and be better people. Even though I was born in Toronto and have worked almost exclusively in Washington D.C. and New York City, I am an expert on the differences between Red States and Blue States. And what’s the deal with airline food?

You can look back on the history of the KTRU sale many ways. It was callous, at least, to call students lucky in any context of this secret sale. The Rice Board and President Leebron could have done something wonderful if they had engaged students and the KTRU community at the beginning. They didn’t. And it is obviously true that this secrecy played a role in the opposition to the KTRU sale.

But Neibaour wouldn’t listen to KTRU. How do I know? Because I’m on the New York Times opinion page, so I must be right. Sure, I generalize and make stuff up in a way that may sound good if you already support my positions but is utterly lacking in hard facts.

And the same could be said about Rice’s justifications for the KTRU sale. Therefore, it was only appropriate that Rice University invite me, David Brooks, to be the 2011 Commencement Speaker.


BURN DOWN RICE!: Selling KTRU violates the V2C

The sale announcement was contrary to the Vision for the Second Century

KTRU is not an investment. It is a Rice institution. Since 1967, it has served as Rice’s student radio station, and since 1991 it has served Rice and Houston at 50,000 watts. It is completely integrated with the Rice and Houston community. Selling KTRU with no warning is contrary to the ideals of President David Leebron’s Vision for the Second Century, which was unanimously adopted by the Rice Board of Trustees in December 2006.

The Vision for the Second Century was preceded by a Call to Conversation, which launched a sustained, vibrant and thoughtful dialogue about Rice among all the university’s constituencies. Given the vast scale of the planned changes to the university under the Vision for the Second Century, such a conversation was not just a good idea, it was absolutely necessary. While not everyone may have agreed with the end result, everyone could agree with the process. However, now Rice violates that process of open discussion.

The KTRU sale threatens to eviscerate a university institution and change the public face of the university, all without any conversation. Alumni, students, faculty, and KTRU DJs learned about the sale not from a university-wide conversation about financial concerns, but from rumors on a Houston Press blog. Such secrecy about a massive change like the one at hand is contrary to the underlying procedure outlined in the Call to Conversation. In selling KTRU, Rice held no conversation. There was not even a call announcing the sale. Rice learned from the local newspaper.

In addition the method being contrary to the Call to Conversation, the end result of selling KTRU also contradicts many of the goals stated in the 10-point Vision for the Second Century.

KTRU benefitted students

KTRU provided a unique opportunity for the students themselves to run a fully functioning and extremely popular radio station. Rice students could learn not just how to write papers under pressure or cram at the last minute, but how to manage a fully functioning business. The university trusted students to organize and oversee KTRU, and the university was awarded with a critically acclaimed station unlike anything else in Houston. KTRU’s reputation attracted attention nation-wide, and was a major selling point for potential students otherwise worried about Rice’s nerd-oriented, library like a rockstar reputation. KTRU turned students from amateur music lovers into professional members of the music industry, and sports fans into professional announcers.

In his Vision for the Second Century, President Leebron stated:

“We must provide a holistic undergraduate experience that equips our students with the knowledge, the skills, and the values to make a distinctive impact in the world. This requires that we reexamine the undergraduate curriculum, as well as focus on enhanced research opportunities, training in communication skills, and leadership development for our students.”

KTRU was a unique opportunity for students to both hone their communication skills and develop leadership talent. Whether through managing a staff of DJs, arranging yearly concerts, building contacts with local bands, or many other duties of working at KTRU, students built skills through real world application in a way that Rice otherwise cannot offer. By selling KTRU, Rice is eliminating this fantastic opportunity to develop the very talents that Rice should want in its students. Indeed, Rice is defaulting on its responsibility to future undergraduates. Preplanned leadership classes pale in comparison to the experience that KTRU offers. Nothing can match the feeling of turning a radio dial to 91.7 FM and hearing one of your peers DJ at 50,000 watts, blasting student-run Rice radio throughout Houston, radio waves emanating away from earth at the speed of light. If Rice students can do that, then we can do anything. Indeed, It is no surprise that KTRU can claim venture capitalist John Doerr and State Representative Scott Hochberg as among its alumni.

Even students who were not directly involved in KTRU could take pride in knowing that their very own campus housed an award-winning radio station. Now Rice has sold that pride for $10 million.

KTRU benefitted the Rice campus

Besides helping students, KTRU was a boon for Rice as a whole, serving as a key tool for public relations. As President Leebron stated in his Vision for the Second Century:

“We must fully engage with the city of Houston—learning from it and contributing to it—as a successful partnership with our home city is an essential part of our future. We should do so by continuing to integrate Houston into the educational experience of our students […] and by continuing to provide innovative educational and cultural resources to the broader Houston population.”

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, KTRU provided Houston with new and exciting music, contributing to Houston a sort of musical art that is not available on any other Houston radio station. This radio signal was a constant advertisement for Rice University. We provided a benefit for the city, solidifying Rice’s role as a city leader not in merely as a research institution, but an artistic one as well. Local bands with no other resource could turn to KTRU, and Rice, and have their songs played for the whole city. Local artists knew that Rice was an ally and a positive influence on the city. With the sale of KTRU, Rice loses message.

Indeed, KTRU built relationships with the local community not just through music, but through KTRU News. KTRU News actively built working relationships with nearby researchers in the Texas Medical Center, and with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Houston branch. As the Vision for the Second Century states:

“We must aggressively foster collaborative relationships with other institutions to leverage our resources. This is particularly important in light of our comparatively small size. Our geographic location offers excellent opportunities, and we are especially well situated to develop substantial strategic research and teaching relationships with the other members of the Texas Medical Center. We also can expand our teaching and research achievement in the arts in part through effective partnerships with the cultural institutions of the museum district.”

KTRU was merely beginning to expand its news program, complete with its collaborative relationships with other institutions. However, this sale destroys KTRU’s listener base, and undermines arguments for why other organizations should work with KTRU and Rice.

Furthermore, KTRU’s world music show helped build Rice’s reputation as an international institution. As President Leebron stated in his Vision for the Second Century:

“We must become an international university, with a more significant orientation toward Asia and Latin America than now characterizes our commitments. The great universities of the 21st century will inevitably be global universities, and although we are comparatively small, that ought not be seen as an obstacle to our global reach. We should begin by increasing the number of international students in our undergraduate student body […] and foster the international learning (both here at Rice and around the world) of our faculty, students, and staff.”

Unlike any other station in Houston, KTRU consistently played a regular repertoire of international music. KTRU’s musical choices demonstrated that Rice truly was an international university. Students could expand their horizons by listening to KTRU, and know that there was a greater world to engage. International students and faculty could listen and know that they fit in at Rice. While Rice may have to fight the stereotype of Texas provincialism — not to mention its own history of provincialism — KTRU stands as a beacon of a global community. KTRU reached out to the world and tried to educate Rice about what was out there. By selling KTRU, Rice backtracks in its international endeavor, and may cost more than $10 million to make up the lost ground.

Additionally, KTRU provided art for campus enjoyment. As President Leebron stated in his Vision for the Second Century:

“We must provide the spaces and facilities that will cultivate greater dynamism and vibrancy on the campus and foster our sense of community. […] We should make a greater commitment to incorporate art into the campus landscape and interior public spaces.”

KTRU provided a sense of community, creating a joint pride that despite our research-oriented ways, Rice was one of the hippest places in Houston. KTRU’s eclectic music requirements ensured that it constantly played music that was on the edge. More so than any other Rice institution, KTRU provided new and exciting art to anyone with a radio. Not just the Rice campus, but all of Houston benefitted from KTRU’s artistic endeavors. By selling KTRU, Rice is selling one of Houston’s most valuable artistic centers, and it was located on Rice University.

KTRU benefitted Houston as a whole

To understand how Houston benefits from KTRU, one merely has to read an explanation for one of its many awards for Houston’s Best Radio Station. As the Houston Press explained in 2006:

“Somewhere on the dial, among the Blue October and Laura Ingraham, there’s a little college radio station pumping out 50,000 watts of pure uncommercialized goodness. From the excellent MK Ultra DJ sets every Friday night to the generally upbeat morning drive, Rice University’s KTRU gives Houston the very thing most other radio stations lack: quality. The kids cutting their teeth on indie rock, hip-hop and electro manage to pull off a better radio station than Clear Channel could ever dream up.”

KTRU gave something that no other station in Houston can offer. While some may not understand KTRU’s music, it is not difficult to understand how a city as large as Houston can benefit from something like KTRU. Houston strives to be a world city, and Rice benefits from that growth. However, Houston is often mocked for its art scene, or lack thereof. KTRU provided Houston with a desperately needed outlet for local talent. Now, Houston loses that artistic outlet, and Rice loses the constant praise that came from hosting that outlet. It may cost more than $10 million to get that kind of praise again.

The sale sets a bad precedent

KTRU was a time-honored institution for Rice University, and at 50,000 watts it became a powerful tool for Rice and a boon for Houston. However, if Rice can sell KTRU for the financial benefit, it sets an inappropriate precedent that Rice institutions that are not profitable or do not directly contribute to research can and will be sold if necessary. Perhaps other art programs could be sold. Willy’s Statue looks nice, but it renders little direct benefit for the university and could certainly fetch a pretty penny. Rice’s sports programs fail to make a profit. While their existence is often justified by claims that they provide publicity, the same arguments can be made for KTRU. Under this regime of secret sales, Rice’s art and athletic programs can live with the knowledge that a poor fiscal year and a potential buyer are all that stand between them and elimination.

The Vision for the Second Century states that “we must identify and preserve those things that make Rice a distinctive and special place.” KTRU was one of those things. And while the Vision for the Second Century also instructs that “we must be strategic and selective in our choices,” KTRU undeniably provided numerous benefits that will cost more than $10 million to replace.

Edgar Odell Lovett imagined a university with No Upper Limit. By selling KTRU, Rice has stated just where the limit is.