What's Eating Crow?

Our eagle-eyed scribbler talons Commander Crow, the Dalai Lama's merchandisers, columnist Jon Talton and the artful Phoenix City Council

Arizona State University president Michael Crow's stepped up his campaign to turn the most populous main campus in the nation into America's most sterile institution of higher learning.

Having already neutered ASU's unruly fraternity community and squashed any display of politically oriented window decorations in dorm windows (because college kids should be studying quantum physics, not promoting a safer environment or backing a political candidate -- what do they think this is, the '60s?!), the pugnacious prez has set his sights on making sure students keep their rooms neat and tidy.

Last month, officials from the university's Residential Life division pumped up inspections of campus dormitories and began nosing around for sanitary, security and safety violations. Where these pop quizzes previously occurred during winter break (when most students have taken their trashy selves back home to Mommy), ResLife officials now plan to sniff sheets once every semester.

Don't believe what you hear about birds of a feather flocking together, because Crow didn't return any of this prying pigeon's phone calls on the subject. Crow crony (and Associate Vice President for Public Affairs) Virgil Renzulli referred this acerbic avian to Residential Life spokesperson Susan Mulligan, who blathered that "President Crow wants to enhance safety, security, and sanitary conditions all around campus, so [the inspections] are an initiative we undertook to address that."

Mulligan says ResLife is on the lookout for grimy countertops, spoiled food, and piles of trash (read: the contents of most college dorm rooms) more than it is weapons, drugs, or alcohol (read: all the things that make college fun). Does this mean Joe College can hide his bong in plain sight? Potential scofflaws, Mulligan claims, will have a week's notice to disappear any unkempt or illicit activities.

In other words, stash your stash, kiddies! Students who don't will be subjected to an Orwellian behavior education system that requires paying a fine and completing multi-hour interactive computer courses on the evils of drugs, alcohol and other college staples.

Dorm rat mutterings have been heard, most of them pertaining to this "invasion of privacy," which this middle finger extended takes to mean the kids are angry because -- just when they thought they'd gotten away from Mom and chores! -- they still have to clean their damn rooms or be grounded.

"And anyway," The Bird can imagine these teens whining, "where will we find time to devote to Emperor Crow's big-money scientific studies if we have to take the trash out?"

Indeed. And shouldn't Crow and company be less concerned with turning out good little housekeepers and more concerned with Big Brother's latest attempts to muscle his way onto campus?

Word has reached The Bird that the computer nerds from ASU's Information Technology division are being bullied by both the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission into a billion-dollar systems upgrade that would permit wiretapping of computer networks at universities nationwide. Because, as any fool knows, the best place for a potential terrorist to hide out while he plans the destruction of our nation is in Professor Goldfarb's Anatomy 101 class.

William Lewis, ASU's chief disinformation officer, says America's favorite party school has jumped onto a multi-college lawsuit filed in the federal court that will make ASU exempt from this nosy upgrade.

But Lewis, like all the college kids who must shirk their studies in favor of housekeeping duties, is wasting his time. Doesn't he know that Commander Crow sits on the board of trustees for In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit research organization created by the CIA to find and develop cutting-edge technology?

If The Bird were running this dirty-dormed school, it would just call Crow's connections and ask the feds to back off from potentially sorting through ASU students' e-mails. Or maybe, instead of asking students to change their underwear more often, ASU eggheads could use their recent research in implanting microchips into the brains of rhesus monkeys and zap them into the noggins of average college slobs.

Well, Hello, Dalai!

No doubt about it: His Holiness the Dalai Lama has had a hell of a run, what with marauding Communist Chinese chasing him out of Tibet and killing thousands of his friends and followers in the process.

In fact, if the Chinese had their way, "Mr. Lama," as a local TV station recently dubbed him, would be in another phase of his eternal reincarnation: He'd be dead.

But here he was this fall, a delightful and brilliant older gent spinning ancient yarns and considering eternal truths in the tony surroundings of Tucson's J.W. Marriott Starr Pass Resort. Tickets for the long-awaited three-day event sponsored by Arizona Teachings, Inc. started at $285, a price tag that didn't dissuade the thousands of supplicants who filled the huge banquet room for six two-hour sessions.

Out in the lobby, The Bird heard dozens of vendors hawking Buddhist-themed merchandise: "Hey, get your prayer wheels! Two-for-one sale!" Tee shirts and $12 ball caps that commemorated the spiritual leader's Tucson appearance sold out quickly, despite the fact that, according to the label sewn inside each of them, these billed caps were "Made in China."

Now there's some bad karma!

Getting Our Phil

The Bird loves Jon Talton. In fact, this owlish beaker can't figure out how Talton gets away with writing such a coherent, entertaining public policy column in the Arizona Republic. Perhaps Talton's editors don't read his copy, and therefore don't realize he's not keeping up the snooze-inducing standards of that newspaper, which The Bird often lines its cage with.

Too bad Talton was a no-show at a recent speaking engagement where he planned to dish the downtown dirt on the "dynamics of the downtown Phoenix transformation." Sounding more like Norma Shearer than a daily news columnist, Talton told The Bird that he skipped his appearance at something called the Phoenix AM Breakfast Discussion Series because he "had the most ghastly stomach flu!"

Talton's replacement? Mayor Phil Gordon. Which The Bird finds hilarious, and not only because Gordon advocates the city's "If you build it, they will come" view of downtown reclamation, while Talton campaigns for a more cautionary approach to same. (So much for checks and balances.)

"Look, you know, as a politician, he has to put as positive a face as he can on things," Talton tweeted about Mayor Phil. "And I think he absolutely gets what we need to do downtown. [But] government is not particularly good at either creating inspiring architecture or the fine-grained human connectivity that make a downtown delightful."

Fine-grained human connectivity?! Never mind.

So how come Talton recently wrote that Gordon is "one of the few denizens of City Hall who 'gets' urban," a dubious opinion considering Phil was quoted on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ-FM last week as saying graffiti is "psychologically damaging." Find The Bird a city where "urban" doesn't include gangsta tagging, and it will quit squawking on the subject. Apparently, despite Talton's pro-Phil huckstering, the good mayor is planning a downtown renovation that's urban but not messed up by evidence of urban brown-skinned people. Can't wait to see how he pulls that off -- round-the-clock graffiti spies? Twenty-four-hour repainting crews?

Talton stands by his man, telling The Bird that Phil was a perfect replacement. "It was no conspiracy; it was no breach of protocol. If Phil and I were in cahoots, that might be another matter."

Okay. But if Phil and Talton aren't "in cahoots" (The Bird really likes the sound of that word), how come Talton is asking Phil's people for permission to present the politician in the best possible light regarding recent police-inspection troubles in the downtown arts district known as Roosevelt Row?

In an August 8 e-mail to Ed Zuercher, Phil's senior deputy chief of staff, Talton wrote, "Can you give me any 'tone help' for a column I am working on? Don't want to beat up the city. But also don't want to see Roosevelt Row crushed." To which Zuercher replied, "As far as tone . . . we have to work hard to rebuild trust now."

You certainly do, Jonny.

Just Plane Artsy

What do you do if you want to buy $9 million worth of old military airplanes, but you don't have an extra $9 million lying around?

If you're the Phoenix City Council, you just call the planes "art."

Since 1987, The Bird discovered, the city's earmarked a whopping 1 percent of all new capital-improvement-project money for public art. A group of wanna-be docents calling itself the Phoenix Arts and Culture Commission picks the projects and the artists meant to spruce up our fair city -- which, because we're talking about 1 percent of the capital improvements budget, usually buys stuff made from old shoestrings and used plastic spoons.

Anyhow, no matter how cool a bunch of old planes may be, they're not likely to catch the eye of an Arts Commission. Especially when they cost $9 million. Which might explain how Councilman Dave Siebert got the bright idea of starting an Aviation Museum at Sky Harbor Airport. And why, when he decided that the percent-for-art budget was an easy source of money, he sidestepped the Commission entirely.

In April, the City Council transportation committee quietly gave the idea of using percent-for-art money to buy the planes a preliminary okay. A few months later, the Aviation Department hired a consultant with that same money, inking a contract for just under $40,000, because anything higher than that requires full City Council approval.

And last week, faster than The Bird could say "pandering to veterans," the four transportation committee members unanimously voted to move the plan forward. Now they're hiring an appraiser and getting ready to buy a bunch of rusted-out dive-bombers.

This is wacky shit, even for Phoenix.

And while this feathered fiend loves anything with wings, it's hard to imagine that art or airplane fans will deal with the rigors of airport parking to get to a museum. Fact is, museums have hardly been an easy sell in the Valley; just two years ago, Mesa's 22-year-old Champlin Fighter Museum closed its doors and shipped its planes to Seattle, citing poor attendance.

But here's the real question: Why did council members authorize using our already-limited arts money for such an airheaded project?

Susan Copeland, a member of the arts commission, thinks she has the answer: Because they can.

"If this project, in its current vague state, had gone before any one of our bond committees, it would not have been approved," Copeland snarls.

But the City Council was an easier sell. After all, it's only arts money.

At the council meeting the other day, members Siebert, Peggy Bilsten, Claude Mattox, and Doug Lingner appointed a new ad hoc group to oversee the project. And who's surprised to learn that this nine-member committee has just one arts commission member on it? Not The Bird. (To be fair, Phil Jones, executive director of the city's Arts and Culture Office, will also be a member. That brings the arts-to-slobs score to 7-2. And Mattox probably has a paint-by-numbers kit stashed in his coat closet or something.)

Jones told The Bird that this "fly me" project has him baffled:

"To some people, this is art. We've always used the definition that art is created by artists. If they'd asked me, I guess I'd have said that airplanes could be considered cultural artifacts, but not art."

But, of course, no one asked. The Bird guesses that's because they didn't much care to get an answer.

"I'm not going to qualify what is and isn't art," came Councilman Lingner's zingy final statement on the subject.

Okay, Doug. Don't. But isn't that the point of sending projects to the arts commission?

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