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Thursday, August 31, 2006
  Maybe They Should Ask Harvey Mansfield
"What is a man?"
—from the cover of the new Barney's fall catalogue, which I just received.

The catalogue then includes various quotes purporting to answer the question.

"A wise man puts his eggs carefully in one basket and then watches the basket."
—Andrew Carnegie

Or this:

"Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to."
—Mark Twain

Although if you ask me, Twain is referring to "man" as a species here, and not a gender, in which case his quote doesn't really belong. On the other hand, perhaps I am asking too much of the Barney's catalogue people.

But here's the really interesting thing: Watch how these quotes take on a new dimension of moral authority and existential despair when you add to them a small image of a hideous albino monster living deep in a cave.

"The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions."
—Alfred Lord Tennyson




"No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness."
—Aristotle



"The average man has carefully cultivated ignorance about household matters."
—Chrystal Eastman (Ed: Who the heck is Chrystal Eastman?)



"Manly men defend their turf, just as other male mammals do."
Harvey Mansfield



(Okay, Barney's didn't really use that last quote. I found it online. But it kind of works, no?)

Your thoughts welcome on this important topic. What is a man?
 
  The Woes of Being a University President
Every so often, someone writes an article about how tough it is to run a university these days—they've been doing it for at least the last ten years, and probably the last 50. One interesting change is that a standard requirement for these articles is that they must now include a reference to Larry Summers.

Case in point: this Los Angeles Times piece, "PhD in Patience Required." (Registration also required.)

The writer, Elizabeth Mehren, focuses on the case of Ralph J. Hexter, a classics professor and dean at Berkeley—three nouns which, combined, would give Larry Summers a coronary—who became president of Hampshire College. The search process, Mehren argues, is mortifying.

"It is almost incomprehensible to business people why we go through this," said Deborah Raizes, head of the committee seeking a new president at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. "They ask me, 'Why would you let people who are going to be working for someone have a say in who their boss will be?' "

Well, that's one view of the world, isn't it? Imagine, letting people who will be working for someone have a say in who their boss will be.

Here's my favorite part of the article, though:

At a "meet the candidate" forum, the slender, gray-haired classicist said, he was taken aback by how brash some students were. The first student who interrogated him, Hexter said, wanted his vision for Hampshire, admonishing him not to "use any of the usual cliches, like 'excellence,' or 'distinctiveness.' "

When I was writing Harvard Rules, trying to explain President Summers' vision for Harvard, I grew increasingly frustrated; the man's every speech seemed a vine-like collection of cliches. Pull the vines apart one by one, and...and...well, there just wasn't much there at the end. And yet, every time I picked up the paper, Summers was being congratulated for his bold vision. Was I missing something? One wanted to be fair—Summers is, after all, an extremely smart guy, and he certainly had proposals—but there just didn't seem to be any there, there.

I would like to have heard Summers answer this student's question.
 
  A Post to Remember
Occasionally I put posters' comments on this main screen when they seem just too good not to highlight. The post below, about the Harvard Magazine features on Larry Summers, very much falls into that category.

It’s one of the last gorgeous nights of the summer, but who could resist the invitation to comment….

First, in response to anonymous above: OK, maybe the editor’s retrospective pulled its punches. But two points: (1) Although HM is independent of HU, it is reliant on the contributions of alumni for a large share of its budget. And how many alums are anxious to read yet another retrospective dumping on a president who was fired? (2) The retrospective does make the very important point that one of the major legacies of LS is the massive growth in the presidential-provostial bureaucracy (ironic given LS’s complaints in the accompanying interview about how bureaucracy prevents change and leadership). It is good to see the count of increase in provost and vice president positions. Even better would be to see a full count of the number of staff employed by these new offices and the budget devoted to them.

So I think that HM has adopted a brilliant strategy: let LS talk long enough and he’s bound to say something that makes him look bad. His interview is an amazingly clumsy exercise in revisionist history. Let’s take a closer look:

• The vision that LS “articulated” “was a product of a great deal of deliberation within the Harvard community during the search process.” A contorted definition of community, maybe. There was essentially no faculty or student input into the search process. What community is he referring to here, exactly?
• The second part of LS’s vision of the future involves the “transformation in human nature” brought about by progress in the life sciences. This is either nonsense or seriously scary. No serious life scientists that I know believe that their studies are creating a transformation in human nature; instead, their efforts are about understanding basic biological processes, including perhaps insight into human nature. If LS is suggesting that the point of life sciences today is to effect a transformation in human nature, this is deeply unsettling, for reasons that hardly need to be elaborated.
• After talking in completely anodyne terms about the importance of global inequality, progress in the study of biology, and the need for leadership (institutional or individual?), LS goes on to assert that these observations constitute a challenging “vision” for the future of Harvard. Come on.
• Simple factual error number 1: it is not the case that “we now do have freshman seminars for all students….” Only about half of all College freshmen take freshmen seminars. Not enough seminars are offered to accommodate all freshmen. Doing so would involve either reducing the number of lecture courses offered (increasing yet further the enrollment of each lecture course) or staffing freshmen seminars with visitors, lecturers, etc. Beyond this, many freshmen continue to find the demands of their concentrations (particularly in the sciences) so intense that they cannot spare the time to take an entertaining but not required seminar in their first year.
• Second factual error immediately follows: we now do have “faculty led junior seminars in all the major departments.” What exactly constitutes a “major” department? Surely that classification should include the Economics department. And it is true that Economics has just introduced junior seminars. But these are only “faculty-led” if you adopt a pretty generous definition of “faculty.” Just check out the 2006-07 course catalogue.
• Student-faculty contact is a big problem at Harvard, all agree. But LS’s suggestion that this “will be helped by the major expansion of the faculty” is misguided. As his comments suggest, this expansion will largely occur in the sciences. In intellectual terms, fully justified. But it completely misses the fundamental problems of faculty-student contact. One is just sheer numbers: if Harvard wanted to get the same faculty-student ratio as someplace like Princeton, it would need to increase the number of FAS faculty by something like 500, not the 50 being contemplated. (Never mind LS’s desire to increase the size of the undergraduate body, exacerbating the faculty-student ratio issue.) Second is distribution. FAS faculty are about evenly distributed among the 3 divisions (sciences – social sciences – humanities). But half of Harvard undergraduates concentrate in the social sciences. This is where the huge crunch in faculty-student arises, with big concentrations like Government, Economics, and History simply unable to provide the small courses, good advising, and close contact with faculty that students demand. Really want to address this problem? Give each of those departments 30 more faculty, at least, and require all faculty in those departments (including Economics) to teach at least 2 undergraduate courses a year.
• LS says the concept of general education has to change so that students actually learn more science. I couldn’t agree more strongly. But during the period that he was closely involved with the curricular review, he opposed any reform that would actually forward this agenda, instead focusing on more showy reforms like sending students abroad for a few weeks or making them take a freshman seminar.
• Another factual error: LS refers to “the decision we’ve made to create a new school of engineering.” Who is this “we?” Yes, the DEAS plans to transform itself into an SEAS, and that will probably in the end happen. But to claim this as a done deal is way premature.
• LS complains about departments that allow one or two faculty to block “great appointments.” Just can’t resist pointing out the irony that his department, Economics, is probably the major offender in this regard.
• The claim that there has been no change in departmental structure in 40 years is silly. Departments have split, created wings, created joint concentrations, etc. The biological sciences this last year just reformed themselves to offer 6 rather than 2 concentrations. Yeah, some of the smaller humanities departments should probably be consolidated. But this is hardly a major governance issue. And how surprised could someone who worked in DC be that established institutions protect their interests?
• The statement about “our students’ desire for a common calendar in all the Harvard schools” is just laughable. I thought LS was an avid reader of the Crimson. How did he miss all the articles and editorials bloviating about how horrible a change in the calendar would be? Exactly where has this student demand for calendar change been expressed?
• The charge that FAS is somehow protected from the competitive pressures that the professional schools face is absurd. FAS finds it harder than ever to recruit and retain faculty and students. We are in a highly competitive environment, and struggling to adapt to it. To suggest that somehow the KSG, HBS, or HLS are more responsive to a competitive environment seems far-fetched – just ask students who have defected to their competitors. If there is one school at Harvard that seems to have kept its competitive edge in objective terms, it’s the College.
• The interview concludes, as it begins, with an allusion to the growth in the endowment. This should make us all very happy. But it doesn’t, because of the artificial and punitive approach to budgeting that has been adopted under LS. I’ve gone on far too long to elaborate on this, but let me try to put the point sharply: if a major goal of the university is to enhance faculty-student contact, why is FAS being taxed and subjected to non-negotiable budget demands rather than being allowed to share in this lovely increase in the endowment to engage in a major increase in the size of its faculty?
• Overall, the tone of this interview, with its laudatory treatment of the professional schools, is astounding. Given LS’s testy relations with most of the professional schools, it seems downright disingenuous. It is the case that LS has had or has appointed deans of some of the schools – HBS, KSG, HLS – who are willing to put up with being publicly bullied and humiliated by him in exchange for a few bones, like their nice treatment in this interview. Suggesting that this model of “governance” is appropriate for structuring the education of undergraduate and Ph.D. students at Harvard is just pitiful.

Sorry to post this anonymously, but I am truly embarrassed to be spending one of the last beautiful nights of the summer getting worked up about the dear departed leader.
 
  Whole Lotta Manliness Going On
In Human Events, the conservative journal, Harvey Mansfield is interviewed by one Benjamin Van Horrick, who really ought to be a character in a 19th-century novel. The subject: Manliness.

I am fascinated by the obsession conservatives have with this subject; liberals just don't seem to think about it as much (at least, judging from the differing receptions Mansfield's book has received in conservative and liberal circles). At the risk of sounding partisan, I would suggest that manly men don't spend quite so much time thinking about being manly. They just are. One wonders if, as they go on and on about why women aren't manly, and why liberal men aren't manly, conservative guys aren't reflecting some greater insecurity. One thing the sexual revolution has accomplished: it has given liberal men the opportunity to come to a fuller understanding of sexuality, which is a) something conservatives lack, and b) explains why all the real sexual pervs (with the possible exception of Jeffrey Epstein) are right-wingers.

In any case, it's a bit of a nutty interview. Mansfield has a frustrating tendency to make provocative, declarative statements without providing the slightest evidence to support them. (He' s the Naomi Wolf of conservatism.) We are supposed to believe them because they emanate from...him, Mansfield, about whom there is a conservative cult of personality. But if you haven't bought into that idolatry, Mansfield's pronouncements just seem a bit silly.

For example:

"Manly confidence and manliness means an ability to take charge or to be authoritative in that situation. Women also have confidence, but they don’t seek out situations of risk the way the way that manly men do."

"Boys are being raised in such a way as not to cultivate their manliness. Their manliness is being neglected or ignored or put aside in favor of a gender neutral quality, which you might call feminization, but is meant to be between the sexes, or at least in no way sexist."

"Women are great critics of men. Under feminism, they’ve lost their faculty or at least their vocation for criticizing men, and I think that’s a great loss."

I don't think everything Mansfield says is loopy; some of it is sort of interesting. But if you stumble around in gender politics long enough, throwing out broad generalizations and sex-specific declarations, you're bound to get something right after a while.

My great question about Mansfield's work is, what is the point?

I disagree with him about manliness; I think you can find that quality of risk-taking in both men and women, and so I fail to see the sense in trying to define it as a male-specific quality. But even if you agree that "manliness" can be defined and categorized as something generally limited to men...so what? I've never heard Mansfield delve into the larger importance of the subject, but I'd like to.
 
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
  Coming Soon
As soon as the pain in my wrist fades just a little, I aim to write about the very interesting new issue of Harvard Magazine, which looks at the Summers presidency and contains an interview with the man himself. Lots to talk about.... If you have thoughts before I get to pen mine, please, post them below.....
 
  If You Could See Me Now...
...you'd see a sizeable bandage on my right wrist, like two overlapping starfish. Looks kind of dramatic and hurts a bit—you wouldn't want to take a ballpeen hammer and smash it down with all your force upon my wrist right now, that would really smart—but everything seems to have gone A-okay. Doctor John Adams and his trusty assistant Nils shot me up with some painkiller (they should have that stuff for life, not just surgery) and cut out my skin cancer. (I wish I could say that I miss it already, but I don't.) Good thing it wasn't a vine. Or, for that matter, a hideous albino monster living deep in a cave, like the one below.



If cancer were a
monster, it might
look like this.



While Doctor Adams and Nils worked, we talked about mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which apparently no one does anymore. (Nils had taken a course as an ambulance attendant, is how the subject came up.)

Did you know that there's only a five percent survival rate for people who get mouth-to-mouth? Me neither.

Anyway, these days, people intubate the patient and then fill their lungs with a hand pump. I'm not sure if that works better, but it seems to spare everyone some awkward moments in those rare instances when people regain consciousness.

About the time that that conversation was wrapping up, Doctor Adams put a bunch of stitches in me, and then Nils showed me my lesion, which, along with a circumference of surrounding tissue (they have to make sure they got all the cancer), now resided in a clear liquid in a sample jar. It's headed off to a lab at NYU for testing, to make sure that the surrounding tissue is cancer-free. Whoo-hoo! Got you, you little bastard.

Anyway, I can't play piano for a couple weeks, but that's okay, because—oh, hell, you know what I'm going to say. Sadly, I can't play tennis for the same time, and I'm not supposed to type, which restriction I understand, because at the moment my wrist is starting to throb like you did smash that hammer down upon it....

The sacrifices one makes...to blog.
_____________________________________________________________

P.S. I have really come around on this doctor's office, by the way. Before the surgery, Nils asked if I needed some water. I inquired about a cup of coffee. (It was only ten in the morning, which, to my mind, is early to be operated on.) Two minutes later, someone brought me a darn good cup of coffee, with packets of sugar and a small pitcher of milk, on a bamboo tray, like something from a boutique hotel. If I had to lose some blood, dammit, at least I was going to be well-caffeinated.
 
  Another Republican for Joe Lieberman
Now Jack Kemp plans to campaign with Lieberman. What does this man (Lieberman, not Kemp) stand for, anyway?

Meanwhile, over at MediaMatters, they report that the AP continues to cite a poll showing Lieberman up by twelve points, when in fact the poll is two weeks old and there are at least four newer ones. In fact, the race is neck and neck.... (But that's not the impression you'd get from reading the New York Times, either.)

I have to say, I'd love it if Lieberman lost twice.... Probably too much to hope for, but I will anyway.
 
  Shots in the Arm
I'm off this morning for a little cancer surgery. (Nothing serious—just that little patch on my wrist.) I'll be back later today....
 
Monday, August 28, 2006
  Joe Lieberman's Secret Friend
In this week's (9/4/06) New Republic, a correspondent named William C. Danvers writes to defend Joe Lieberman from any suggestion that Lieberman has "gone national" and forgotten the people of Connecticut. According to Danvers, "Joe Lieberman just does what he thinks is right." Etc.

What Danvers, who lives in Arlington, VA, doesn't say in his letter—and the New Republic apparently doesn't bother to ask—is that he happens to be a political consultant who used to work for Lieberman in the Senate.

Relevant information, wouldn't you think? It took me exactly six seconds (I'm not boasting, it's just typing) to find that out on Google. You'd think the editors of a political magazine might check. And if they weren't so deeply in the tank for Joe Lieberman, they probably would.

By the way, remember how Lieberman used to accuse Lamont of trying to buy the election? Lieberman has now raised almost $7 million in 2006 alone. How much of that money is in-state? Not much, I'll bet. But he has outspent Ned Lamont by almost $3 million.

If he wins, Lieberman is going to have a lot of debts to repay.

The corruption of a senator continues....
 
 
Ann Coulter Walks Off Hannity & Colmes


I'm not sure what's the most interesting part of this video: the fact that Ann Coulter says that catching Osama Bin Laden is "irrelevant" and "things are going swimmingly" in Afghanistan; the fact that she seems lost and defensive in the interview; the fact that Sean Hannity lets her twist in the wind; or the fact that she actually appears to walk off the set. As always with Ann, it's great TV...but for her, this time, it's also ominous TV. Is the tide turning against her at last?
 
  Joe Lieberman: A Good Democrat, Not
The Times reports that, by pulling Republicans to the polls, Joe Lieberman's quixotic run for Senate may doom the chances of three Democratic congressional candidates, which might in turn doom the Democrats' chances of winning back the House of Representatives.

Which is funny, in a way, because it is Lieberman who claims that he is running for "the good of the party."

Meanwhile, Republican congressional candidates are campaigning with Lieberman, who has hired a Republican media firm....
 
  Daniel Golden Takes on Harvard, et al
The New York Post yesterday ran a big take-out on The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges—And Who Gets Left Outside the Gates.

(I'd link to it, but the Post website is too dysfunctional for me even to find the article online.)

"One of the last taboos among America's aristocracy is talking—or writing—about pulling strings in college admissions," Golden writes.

He cites several examples quoted in the Post:

—Super-agent Michael Ovitz's son was admitted as a "special student" at Brown, but "didn't last a year."
—Lauren Bush, the babe-alicious niece of the President, was admitted to Princeton even though her application was a month late.
—Al Gore's allegedly not-that-impressive son, who "preferred partying to homework," got into Harvard.

This book is sure to get a big push from Random House; it comes packaged with glowing blurbs from, among others, Skip Gates and Lani Guinier. (Gates: "I was bowled over by The Price of Admission.")

It's not out till September 5th...anyone out there got an advance copy?



Lauren Bush:
Perhaps not
as smart as
her uncle...



...but strong
extracurriculars.





Would you
admit her?
 
  Monday Morning Zen
 
  Harvey Mansfield Fights Back
A few weeks ago, I wrote of Martha Nussbaum's devastating New Republic review of Harvey Mansfield's new tome—well, sort of—called Manliness. (I'd link to it, but TNR online is subscriber-only.)

Now Mansfield has responded in the letters section of TNR. I reprint his letter, in full, in the interests of fairness.

Among the many errors and misrepresentations in Marha Nussbaum's review of my book on manliness is the statement that I have retired from a chair at Harvard. Not so. Apart from that, I say that I did not follow her instruction for writing my book because I did not want a product quite as earnest as the books she has done lately. Nor do I desire the servile future of caring males listening raplty to righteous females that she has in mind for us.

That sure does sound like a grim future. One wishes, though, that Mansfield would follow up the accusation that there are "many errors and misrepresentations" in Nussbaum's review with more than one specific.

If only, of course, because it would make for a more entertaining letter.
 
Friday, August 25, 2006
  When Capitalism Doesn't Work
Here's an economics problem that I'd like to see some hotshot young economist work on: Why capitalism sometimes doesn't work. Specifically, why technical innovations that should lead to price cuts for consumers actually wind up costing consumers more money.

Three examples.

Remember when gas stations first started making some gas pumps "self-serve"? They justified the cutback on customer service by pricing self-serve gas lower than full-service pumps. The idea was, okay, you might have to get out of your car on a freezing cold day, or in a rainstorm, but doing so will cost you seven cents less per gallon.

Over time, of course, that price savings vanished, even with the advent of credit card machines that fully automate pumps. Now everything is self-serve except in New Jersey and (I think) Oregon, two states which mandate that gas station attendants pump gas. (It's a silly full-employment law.) But does gas cost less as a result?

Example two: Ordering movie tickets via the web. It's a feature that benefits both movie theaters (they can sell more tickets and cut down on labor costs) while obviating the need for people to wait in line. But for some reason, theaters charge you about $2.00 for the privilege of...buying a ticket! When in fact they should give you a discount, as airlines do when you buy a ticket online. This may be one reason why people don't go to movies as much as they used to...because the basic amenities of movie-going can, totaled up, make the whole experience considerably more costly than renting a dvd from Netflix (whose customer service is fantastic).

Here's the latest outrage: When you buy tickets online from Ticketmaster, the site now gives you an option of having your tickets e-mailed to you, for you to print out. "TicketsNow!", it's called, or some bogus name like that.

Obviously, this saves Ticketmaster money; they don't have to print and mail the tickets, and once the computer program is written, there's no human cost whatsoever. Yet for some reason (i.e., greed), Ticketmaster charges $2.50 to send you the e-mail containing your tickets. (This on top of the $9.50 service charge for $49.50 tickets to see The Killers at Madison Square Garden.) That's better than the ten bucks Ticketmaster charges to actually put your tickets in the mail, but still.....

Of course, there's probably nothing illegal about any of this, at least when the federal government doesn't look into anti-trust actions with any vigor. No one has to buy movie tickets online; no one has to go to concerts. (Though if you do, you pretty much have to use Ticketmaster. Thanks, Justice Department!)

But I wonder if it's occurred to people in either the film or concert industry that such price-gouging probably has a lot to do with why both their businesses are in such dire straits....
 
  It's Kagan, 3-1, at Harvard
In the Globe, Marcella Bombardieri reports that the gambling website bodog.com is taking bets on who will be Harvard's next president; law school dean Elena Kagan is the current favorite at 3:1; provost Steve Hyman is at 7:2; Radcliffe Institute dean Drew Faust is at 15:1.

(Hmmm...I would lower the odds on her signficantly—she seems at least as likely a choice as Steven Hyman.)

Some of the names are a little silly: Lee Bollinger, for example. Harvard's not about to admit that it should have chosen Bollinger the first time around. Ditto with Harvey Fineberg. And Shirley Tilghman isn't about to leave Princeton. But would Ruth Simmons leave Brown? I think she might. But would Harvard choose a black woman and risk appearing politically correct? (A black woman from Brown, to boot...and think of those cranky alums who think Larry Summers was driven out of town on a PC-rail.)

There's not a chance in a million.

Kagan's a very impressive woman, and very ambitious as well. But one wonders if that wouldn't feel pretty much like appointing a more diplomatic Larry Summers. (On the other hand, that might be just what the Corporation is looking for....)

The plot thickens.....
 
  Allen: "Macaca" Not Racist
George Allen's campaign aides have come up with a new explanation for the word "macaca," which the senatorial candidate and presidential aspirant repeatedly and publicly used to describe an Indian-American man who worked for his opponent.

The Hotline reports: According to two Republicans who heard the word used, "macaca" was a mash-up of "Mohawk," referring to Sidarth's distinctive hair, and "caca," Spanish slang for excrement, or "shit."

Said one Republican close to the campaign: "In other words, he was a shit-head.
"

Just in case you forgot, George Allen wants to run for president.

The problem with this explanation is that Sidarth had a mullet, not a Mohawk, and the two hair cuts are quite different. Could the candidate, who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, have gotten the two confused? Nuh-uh. Trust me—they know mullets in Virginia. If you wear a mullet in Virginia, chances are you drive a pick-up truck and root for the Redskins. If you wear a Mohawk in Virginia, you probably try to avoid having the crap beat out of you on a regular basis....

In any event, isn't it reassuring to know that George Allen wasn't using a racial slur—honest!—to refer to the young campaign-worker, but was merely calling him a shithead?

http://blogs.smh.com.au/entertainment/archives/2005/11/index.html
A mullet: so
very wrong
.




A mohawk: only
marginally better
.
 
Thursday, August 24, 2006
  Lieberman: WMDs Weren't the Real Reason
While the Times continues to pretend that Ned Lamont doesn't exist, it runs yet another piece on Joe Lieberman today. I know Lieberman is the better-known name, the higher visibility figure here, but really—the Times' coverage of this campaign is awful.

Anyway, the story is actually kind of interesting, as it shows how Lieberman is cozying up to conservatives (and vice-versa), and how his rationale for the war in Iraq is changing with the passage of time and the acquisition of wacky new right-wing friends.

If we leave Iraq too soon, Lieberman said in an interview with Don Imus, another MSM-friend, "It will be an all-out civil war. The Iranians will rush in and control probably at least the southern part of Iraq."

During a radio interview with conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, according to the Times, Mr. Lieberman seemed to agree with Mr. Beck that the struggle against “Islamist terrorists” was similar to the campaign to contain fascism on the eve of World War II. During that interview, Mr. Beck said that invading Iraq on the basis of a perceived threat of weapons of mass destruction was a “nice side benefit,” but that the broader goal was to “go and pop the head of the snake in Iran.

Going into Iraq for WMD was "a nice side benefit"?

“I don’t think anybody had the courage or could actually come out and say that with world politics the way they are,” Mr. Beck added.

Mr. Lieberman responded: “Well, you’re right. And I think if I fault the administration for anything before the war — because I think we did the right thing in going in to overthrow Saddam — it’s that they oversold the W.M.D. part of the argument.

The reason, of course, that the administration "oversold the W.M.D. part of the argument" is merely that, without it, there was no argument for invading Iraq.

Let us look closely at what Lieberman has said. One of the reasons we invaded Iraq, apparently, was to deal with the threat of Iran. (How exactly the one is connected to the other, I will allow Lieberman to twist-and-shout his way out of at some future date.)

But then again, if we leave Iraq now, Iran will take over part of the country. Which it wasn't actually threatening or even able to do before we invaded Iraq.

This is intellectual mush on the part of a senator who is supposed to be intellectually serious.

Let us also look closely at who Lieberman is keeping company with. The Times refers to Glenn Beck as a "conservative" talk show host. Not exactly. He's nuts. Beck has called survivors of Hurricane Katrina "scumbags" and said that he "hates" 9/11 victims. Beck, who is Mormon, also believes in the apocalypse and expects "a world war of biblical proportions."

Joe Lieberman's personal apocalypse continues.
 
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
  Sorry, Folks
I'm on deadline and unable to blog today...but I'll be back tomorrow....
 
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
  On a Lighter Note
I saw "The Descent" last night, a horror flick about a group of women who go cave-exploring and run into some really, really creepy monsters who want to, well, eat them. (And I won't be giving away too much if I say they are not entirely unsuccessful.) Scared the daylights out of me. And as some of you know, I'm no stranger to this kind of film. (Saw 1, Saw 2, Hostel...not to mention all the "Alien" films, multiple times.)

But there is something about caves, about making your way through narrow tunnels hundreds of feet under the ground, that really unnerves. Perhaps the film's most upsetting scene has nothing to do with monsters; one woman simply gets stuck while crawling through a tiny space and starts to panic.

If you've ever had a panic attack, you'll note that her reaction is remarkably well-demonstrated. I have twice while diving—once on the very first dive I ever took, when I suddenly decided that I was sinking into a bottomless ocean and couldn't stop, and once when I donned a hood for the first time, felt incredibly claustrophobic, and realized that I couldn't take it off underwater without removing my mask and regulator. Your mind racing...your heart speeding up...the loss of reason...your lungs going in-out, in-out, so fast that you realize you're on the verge of hyperventilating....the urge to bolt, to get the hell out of there as fast as you can....

If you like a good scare, see The Descent. It's just terrific. And like all good horror movies, it succeeds at making you feel better about your own life: Whatever else may be happening, at least you are not stuck in a tiny tunnel a mile under ground, being assaulted by slimy albino creatures with mottled skin, blind eyes, and long, sharp teeth....
 
  Has Joe Lieberman Sold His Soul to the Devil?
I've been holding off writing about Joe Lieberman because his current campaign so appalls me that I'm afraid that, once I start writing about him, I'll go on and on and on, boring you folks to tears and distracting me from the stuff that actually pays the bills.

Pause. Deep breath. Attempt at self-control.

Lieberman has become the de facto Republican Party candidate for senator from Connecticut. He's been endorsed, in so many words, by Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Dick Cheney, and Mary Matalin. Meanwhile, the Democrats' most prominent figures are opposing him: John Kerry, both Clintons, John Edwards, even Connecticut senator Chris Dodd.

For the Republicans, Lieberman is a useful idiot. His presence on the ballot divides the Democratic party both in Connecticut and nationally, making the Dems look fractious while taking attention away from the GOP's troubles. If he wins, he'll be a more frequent supporter of the president than Ned Lamont would be. And, who knows, he might even defect and become a Republican.

And yet, Lieberman continues to insist that he's running for "the good of the party" and the good of the country. The man's arrogance knows no bounds.

(Meanwhile, the media continues to play into Lieberman's hands, giving him far more attention than it is paying his opponent.)

Lieberman is also becoming increasingly disingenuous and dishonest on the campaign trail. On "Face the Nation" on Sunday, he claimed that "I don't think there's anyone who wants more to end [the war] than I do." This is clearly not true. The parents of every deceased soldier want the war to end more than he does; the relatives of every dead Iraqui civilian want the war to end more than he does. Ned Lamont wants the war to end more than he does.

Lieberman, meanwhile, argues that setting a withdrawal date for the removal of our troops in Iraq would increase sectarian violence.

When Bob Schieffer (in an otherwise softball interview) sensibly pointed out that sectarian violence is already on the rise in Iraq, that it's basically out of control there, Lieberman could say only, "Well, we have to look at different things to do to help [violence] go down."

Like what, Joe?

"The United States and our allies the Brits, particulalry, ought to try to convene an international crisis conference on Iraq, bringing in the Europeans and particulalry the other Arab countries..."

An international crisis conference.

This is a deeply dumb idea. What would such a conference achieve? Does anyone think for a second that any other country is going to commit more troops to Iraq? Truth is, Colin Powell was right about our involvement in Iraq: You break it, you own it. Right now, the United States is like a big dumb kid who's picked up a rabid raccoon in his bare hands and doesn't know what to do with it. You loosen your grip, it bites you. You put it down, it bites you. And no one else is going to say, "Here, give it to me..."

Lieberman's other prescriptions for winning the war in Iraq? Fire Don Rumsfeld, which is about as bold a position these days as saying that you have a strong suspicion that Barry Bonds used steroids. "Put severe pressure on the Iraquis to contain the sectarian violence that is there." Yeah, because they just love that violence now—even when it kills their friends, family members and themselves!—and don't care about stopping it. "And then we've got to get the other Arab countries and hopefully some of the Europeans in with us to help to reconstruct Iraq." See above.

Would any of the inside-the-Beltway pundits who have so vociferously supported Lieberman—they all know him, after all—claim that these are the words of a serious and intellectually honest man? Or the desperate dissembling of a craven politician clinging to power?

Joe Lieberman has become a profoundly dishonorable man who is bringing shame to his party and staining what was once a credible record in politics. He may win this election battle, but he is losing the war for his own soul.
 
  Quote of the Day
“Everybody in the system is scared to death. Professors are scared of department heads. They’re just scared little people hiding out. And these other scared little people come and sit in a scared little class and tremble. I didn’t want to do that. Let’s do something memorable, and if we can’t do something memorable, then let’s go home. Or we’ll go across the street and get a drink.”
"Aging wild man" writer and former professor Harry Crews

Your thoughts?
 
  Sweep...and Memories of 1978
The Yankees have taken five straight from the Sox in Fenway, the first time that's happened since 1943, and Sox fans are in despair. How quickly the memories of the Curse return!

Well, I can understand why. The Red Sox were humiliated over the weekend, beaten in every possible aspect of the game—pitching, hitting, defense, base-running. (The Yankees won yesterday because of a run on a passed ball.) Yankee hitters feasted on Boston pitching for three games...and then, when Curt Schilling and David Wells pitched well, the Yanks somehow scratched out wins. A number of Yankees picked the perfect time to have big moments: Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, even Melky Cabrera. And then you have A-Rod, Jeter, the newly acquired Bobby Abreu... It's hard to remember that the Yankees were thoroughly trounced by the Orioles, 12-2, the day before the Sox series began.

So...is it over for the Sox?

Well, you could certainly make a suasive case to that effect. The Yankees seem to have gelled at just the right time, while the Sox have fallen apart at just the wrong time. And the series showed some of the Sox's weaknesses: starting pitching and relief pitching, to name two. Beyond that, you have to wonder: When you get past David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, just how good is this team? Especially—especially—without Jason Varitek.

But to play devil's advocate...the Yankees have their weaknesses as well. Their hitting onslaught this weekend obscured the fact that their pitching wasn't exactly stellar. Randy Johnson's ERA is 4.98; Cory Lidle isn't exactly a dominating pitcher; Jared Wright is an ongoing question mark; and Mike Mussina has tailed off since the first half of the season. Only Chien-Ming Wang is consistently outstanding. (And even he got pounded by the Orioles.)

Then you have A-Rod's ongoing mental problems, and the possiblity of injuries, and the fact that the Red Sox have to be a little pissed. If they get a couple of breaks, and a little bit of heart...this divisional race could be a dogfight yet again.

Sportswriters and commentators have been bringing up memories of 1978, which I enjoy, as that's the subject of my next book. It was in that season that the Yankees came from 14 games down to win the division, thanks in large part to a four-game series at Fenway in which the Yankees just obliterated the Sox. "The Boston Massacre," it was called, and there's been a lot of invoking its memory recently.

But what people seem to forget is that the Sox recovered from that massacre to win 12 of their last 14, including their last eight straight, to tie the Yankees and force the one-game playoff at the end of the season......
 
Monday, August 21, 2006
  Monday (Late) Afternoon Zen


Aspen, Colorado, September 2001
 
  Monday Afternoon Zen
 
Sunday, August 20, 2006
  Destruction in Baghdad
I don't know about you, but for me the violence in Iraq has deteriorated into a blur of grim headlines; there are so many bombs, so many acts of violence, that I can't keep up with who's doing what to whom and how.

Still, yesterday's events stand out.

In Baghdad, as many as 200 insurgents attacked religious pilgrims on one of Shiite Islam's holiest days.

Just to repeat: As many as 200 insurgents.

An estimated 16 people were killed and 230 wounded.

I'm just curious: What newspaper reporter will have the guts to start comparing Iraqi civilian casualties during the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and civilian casualties since the U.S. invaded Iraq?

Why does that matter?

Because surely it matters to Iraqis who may start pining for the old days. It's hard to imagine, I know. But then again, there were Russians who longed for Josef Stalin for decades after his death.... And in Iraq, the order of a dictator may be coming to seem preferable to the violent unpredictability of anarchy. If the United States can not keep civilians from dying at a faster rate than they died under Hussein, then what good have we done?
 
  "The 9/11 of Global Warming"
Was Hurricane Katrina the "9/11 of global warming," as one researcher quoted in the Washington Post describes it? Another adds that the 250,000 Katrina victims who won't be returning to their homes are "the world's first climate refugees."

This debate about the connection between hurricanes and global warming is far from over, of course. But I do think that seeing global warming as a kind of war is, though a limited analogy, a provocative one. I don't know how many people died during and because of Hurricane Katrina, but surely the number must be comparable to the number of people who died on September 11th. And yet, consider the comparative reactions. 9/11 led to a mobilized nation in which everything is secondary to the "global war on terror." Katrina led to the resignation of one hapless federal bureaucrat.

Why the difference? Because while 9/11 was the work of "evildoers," the president and vice-president see Katrina as an act of God, toward which we contributed nothing and about which we can do nothing.

But what if they're wrong about that? What if we're causing global warming, and global warming really is contributing to more powerful hurricanes?

Imagine if the Bush administration put all the resources into fighting global warming that it has put into, say, the war in Iraq. Is there anyone who can doubt that the planet would be better off as a result?

And, in fact, fighting global warming—cutting down on our energy consumption, reducing oil imports, developing renewable energy sources, working with other nations on a common problem—would do much more to promote stability in the Middle East than our intervention in Iraq has accomplished....
 
  For the Red Sox, the Heat is On
After a trading deadline where the Yankees improved themselves considerably and the Red Sox stood pat, it was only a matter of time till the Boston media started reconsidering the brilliance of Theo Epstein. That the Yankees have now crushed the Sox in three straight games, with lots of help from weapons that the Sox could have had but chose not to (i.e., Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu), only made criticism of Epstein more imminent. Moreover, some of the moves that Epstein has made—signing Marlin's pitcher Josh Beckett, for example—aren't working out so well.

Now Dan Shaughnessy of the Globe weighs in.

The SS Red Sox is sinking fast in the American League. The sun no longer shines on the handsome head of young Theo (wonder if he's signed his much-celebrated contract yet). The computer-geek management style has been thoroughly exposed in the last two days and there's a perfect storm brewing upstairs on Yawkey Way.

Epstein, of course, is saying nothing, and no one on the team will admit that the season's over. (Nor should they; if they take the next two games against the Yankees, it's only a 2.5 game deficit with 38 left to play.)

But Seth Mnookin's Feeding the Monster is instructive here. Mnookin portrays Epstein as being so obsessed with the pressure, so worried about the hype, that he'd rather have a losing season or two and build for the future than encourage fans to think that the Sox can win it all every year.

As I read, I found Epstein's attitude curious. Certainly there's nothing wrong with not trading away young players and minor-league prospects for an aging superstar who'll give you a boost for three months, as the Yankees used to do. (That hasn't happened since Yankee GM Brian Cashman started to get freer rein.)

And yet, Epstein conveyed the sense that he would be almost relieved to have a season or two when the Sox weren't in contention, as if it were a little mental down-time—a vacation not unlike the one he took when he quit the team for a few weeks.

And, of course, here in New York George Steinbrenner has promulgated the notion that the Yankees should win every year, that there needs be no such thing as a rebuilding year.

Epstein would say that he's working with a much more limited budget than is Brian Cashman, and I'm sure that's true. Still, you have to wonder if there isn't something in the Boston GM's mental composition that is now contributing to the Sox's breakdown.

Concludes Shaughnessy, The cruise is over and so is the free ride for Theo. No disgrace in that, it happens to all of them, but the Sox need a quick turnaround to keep Epstein out of the shark-infested waters that devoured the likes of Lou Gorman and Dan Duquette.

Hard to believe that 2004 was only two years ago....
 
Thursday, August 17, 2006
  Jeffrey Epstein Gets Dumped
New Mexico governor and presidential hopeful Bill Richardson is giving campaign contributions from pervy billionaire Jeffrey Epstein to charity.

Writes Steve Terrell in the New Mexican, "Epstein, who owns a 26,700-square-foot hilltop mansion in southern Santa Fe County, allegedly had sex with five teenagers as young as 14 in his Palm Beach home after luring them to give him massages."

What will Harvard do with Epstein's millions?
 
  The Times Breaks the Silence
So someone has finally done it: written a piece about the worst-kept secret in sports journalism, George Steinbrenner's bizarre and somewhat sad retreat from public life.

If you follow the Yankees, you know that the 76-year-old owner, once omnipresent and involved in virtually every aspect of the Yankees' operations, hasn't been around much lately. When he goes to games, he is guarded by New York City police, who keep reporters at a distance. (Weird, huh?) The rest of the time, he is guarded by PR flacks and the executives who cash his checks.

When Steinbrenner does make public comments, they are monosyllabic: "A good win," that kind of thing. Not too long ago, he nearly fell walking down a short flight of stairs. And when he appeared yesterday at a ceremony to mark groundbreaking for the new Yankee Stadium, his remarks constituted fewer than 25 words, and he said—not once, but three times—that the stadium was being built for "you people."

Asked about a halting and awkward interview Steinbrenner gave on the Yankees YES network last year, team president Randy Levine said, “His performance was a question of subjective opinion. I can tell you that his interview on YES was one of the highest rated.”

Boy, is that an interesting quote.

And yet, until today, the New York media hasn't written a thing explicitly addressing the question of Steinbrenner's health. Why? It isn't out of sensitivity, as Paul Lo Duca will tell you. It's because reporters feared that if they wrote the piece, they'd suffer a backlash from the Yankees' press machine. That's why the two reporters bylined on the Times piece aren't the Times' regular Yankees beat writers; to try to cushion the inevitable pushback. But the piece is clearly informed by the observations of the beat writers....

Steinbrenner's new absence—and reticence—are surely a good thing for manager Joe Torre and general manager Brian Cashman; dealing with Steinbrenner has probably been the toughest part of their jobs. Both men are among the finest in baseball at what they do; both have come perilously close to leaving the Yankees because of Steinbrenner's role in the past.

And yet, there's something sad about Steinbrenner's current condition. It's hard, of course, to see any human being reduced to a fraction of his former capabilities. But Steinbrenner was, for better and worse, particularly engorged with life. He was rich, powerful, insecure, egomaniacal, obnoxious, generous, blustering, and caring; Steinbrenner was every adjective, and he was its opposite. This is not a simple man.

Now time is whittling away at him. He is reduced to a shell of his former self, at a relatively young age. He got all that he seemed to want: fame, admiration, attention...winning. Above all, winning. And yet one wonders, if Steinbrenner were to look back on his life, if he were ever truly happy.

And in the answer to that question, George Steinbrenner, slipping into the lonely winter of a life devoted to the boys of summer, might serve as a lesson for all the rest of us.
 
  Quote of the Day
"Let's give a welcome to Macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

Virginia senator and presidential aspirant George Allen addressing S.R. Sidarth, a young man of Indian descent, at a campaign rally; the man works for Allen's Democratic challenger, Jim Webb. "Macaque" is a French Tunisian slur for people with dark skin; Allen's mother is French Tunisian. Spelled "macaca," the word means either a monkey from the Eastern Hemisphere or a town in South Africa. Allen says he has no idea what he meant by the term.

Sidarth, by the way, was the only non-white person present in a crowd of about 100.....
 
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
  Feeding the Monster....
Charles McGrath reviews Seth Mnookin's Feeding the Monster in this week's NYTBR. Since some of you faulted me for saying that Mnookin was not the most graceful stylist, I will quote:

The publisher presumably hopes that “Feeding the Monster” will catch on with the same audience that made “Moneyball” such a hit, but the real news here — the triumph of analysis and statistical study over instinct and sentimentality in the running of a baseball team — may be a bit old now, and Mnookin, though an excellent reporter, is not as stylish a writer as Michael Lewis. He has also chosen to lard his book with copious footnotes, some of which appear to be a homage to David Foster Wallace, while many others — defining the terms E.R.A., on-base percentage and the like and explaining the workings of the wild-card playoff system — seem to suggest that his intended audience is Martians, or else archaeologists investigating baseball sometime in the distant future.
 
Monday, August 14, 2006
  More on "Who Needs Harvard?"


When I first posted about Time's story, "Who Needs Harvard?", I wrote that I doubted it would have any impact on the university's reputation. I didn't know at the time that it was the magazine's cover....and on CNN.com, the link to the story reads, "Smart students looking beyond Harvard."

Which makes me think that I may have been wrong, and this isn't such a great piece for the university....
 
  One Candidate for Harvard President
Wick Sloane, a columnist for InsideHigherEd.com, nominates himself for the Harvard presidency. The column's a little incoherent—I think it's supposed to be funny—but he does have one quote that sounds right, from my observation:

"Simple kindness...is in short supply at Harvard."
 
  Quote of the Day
"That may be the way the vice president sees it, but I don't see it that way, and I don't think most Americans see it that way."

Former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge, a Republican, asked about Dick Cheney's comment that Ned Lamont's primary win over Joe Lieberman would encourage "Al Qaeda types."
 
  Monday Morning Zen



Daybreak Moon over the Sea of Cortez, Baja California
 
  Way to Go, Northeast!
A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that, in the Northeast, George Bush has a 28 percent approval rating. 28 percent! Not only is that 12 points below his national average, it's just really, really, really low. (I doubt that even Jimmy Carter was ever at 28 percent anywhere.)

The president is so unpopular that he's going to bring his party crashing down with him come this November. And you can't help but think that Dick Cheney speaking out on Joe Lieberman's behalf didn't do Lieberman any good. If I were Ned Lamont, I'd put up a new ad right away: "Joe Lieberman: The Man Dick Cheney Wants to Reelect"....
 
Sunday, August 13, 2006
  It's Not London Bridge That's Falling...
...it's the Alps.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier that has held a Swiss mountain-top together is vanishing, and the top of the mountain—about the size of two Empire State buildings—is about to fall.

Everyone else in the world gets it. When will George Bush and Dick Cheney?
 
  Weisberg on Lieberman: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong
In his piece on Joe Lieberman for Slate—which some of you remarked upon below—Jacob Weisberg (full disclosure: Jacob was a college classmate and is a friend) invokes just about every cliche of Lieberman-Lamont campaign coverage there is.

According to Weisberg:

Joe Lieberman is a "highly regarded, well-ensconced Democrat"...

Translation: Joe Lieberman is a long-time incumbent known and approved of by the MSM.

Ned Lamont is "a preppy political novice from Greenwich."

Hmmm. What exactly does that mean? There's at least three insults in there, only one of which—novice—really has anything to do with Lamont's political qualifications, the other two of which are clearly supposed to contrast Lamont with Lieberman in (what is to Weisberg) an unflattering way. In this context, the description of Lamont being preppy and from Greenwich has as much to do with what Lamont is not (Jewish) than with what he is (Protestant, wealthy). It's the old canard that preppy WASPs are not serious people.

Lamont's campaign "was made plausible by Web-based 'Net roots' activists"...

Even if that's true...so what? Since when do journalists get upset when a grass-roots movement propels a political novice into the limelight? Only when it's a candidate taking on one of their annointed favorites. (It'd be as if someone dared challenge John McCain.)

Connecticut is uncharacteristically liberal, even for a blue state.

No, it isn't. It's not California or Massachusetts or Rhode Island or the District of Columbia. Its last three governors have been two Republicans and an independent, Lowell Weicker, who once was a Republican. (Almost throughout the 20th century, Connecticut governors alternated between a Democrat and a Republican.)

Southern Connecticut, especially the suburbs such as, um, Greenwich, leans Republican. When I was a kid, my congressman, Stuart McKinney—a good and honorable man—was a moderate Republican. So is his replacement, Chris Shays. Connecticut has two Democratic representatives...and three Republican.

Weisberg would be right if he said that Connecticut's cities—New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford—are liberal. (Although if I recall correctly, Connecticut went for Reagan in the '80s, and voted for GHWB in 1988.) Otherwise, he's wrong.

And remember—back in the early days of the campaign, one of Lieberman's criticisms of Lamont was that he voted too often with Republicans.....

But Weisberg's main argument is that, in voting against Lieberman, the Democrats are making a Vietnam-style mistake, and neglecting the seriousness of the worldwide "war" against Islamic terror and fundamentalism.

I disagree, for two reasons.

The first is that Weisberg misunderstands—or misrepresents—why people voted against Lieberman. Sure, some of it was about the war. But as I've written previously, many Connecticut voters are sick and tired of Lieberman. His sanctimony hasn't aged well, and neither has his lust for power, his incessant ambition. (Could you believe it when Lieberman said that the good of the country required him to run as an independent? The hubris.)

Many Connecticut voters also feel that Lieberman has lost touch with his state and that he prefers the company of inside-the-Beltway types. And Republicans.

Because it's not just the war that anti-Lieberman voters are protesting; it's the president and his administration. It's the sense that this country has gone down a seriously wrong path, and that President Bush is the person who has led us down it, and that those people who have facilitated the president's incompetence are complicit in it. That describes Lieberman perfectly.

And here's the second reason why I think Weisberg is wrong about the Democrats' repeating Vietnam-era mistakes. It's not that they're soft on terrorism. It's that they feel that the president's kicking-the-campfire approach isn't working; it only spreads the sparks of terrorism further around the world.

There's a serious argument to be made that, in the end, it isn't military force that undermines terrorism; it's peaceful foreign policy. Which isn't at all to say that force isn't sometimes necessary. But as we learn, force can negate an immediate terrorist threat, but inevitably, it creates more such threats. The war against terror isn't working...as the New York Times reports today, it is provoking more new apostles than ever before.

So why did Connecticut Democrats vote against Lieberman? Let's recap.

It's not because they are soft on terrorism. It's because...

1) They disagree with his support for the war on Iraq—which, we all know now, had nothing to do with terrorism.

2) They don't like him anymore.

3) They feel he has lost touch with his home state and become an inside-the-Beltway politician.

4) They think that his support for President Bush in various areas has helped the President take the country in the wrong direction, and they want to see a senator from Connecticut who will stand up to the President, rather than suck up to him.

It's not complicated, really.
 
  Who Needs Harvard?
Not necessarily anyone, concludes a lengthy article in the new issue of Time. Not when there are so many fine colleges around the country that may be a better fit for many kids who currently spend thousands on college counselors and drive themselves nuts to get into Harvard. Or, the article suggests, corrupt themselves, like Kaavya Viswanathan.

This article is manifestly true, of course, and has been every year for decades. Will it have the slightest impact on the number of kids grabbing and clawing to get into Harvard? Probably not. All it does, really, is build the Harvard brand....

One other note: Admissions dean Bill Fitzsimmons is quoted in the article discussing the percentage of students at Harvard from low-income families. ""The word has gone out that if you are talented, the sky is the limit," Fitzsimmons says. "If we don't take advantage of that energy, America will languish."

Fitzsimmons is usually pitch-perfect with the media, but I think he strikes an off-note here: The United States will survive if Harvard doesn't take a few dozen more low-income kids every year. The real point is that Harvard will languish without the energy and diversity of those students.....
 
Friday, August 11, 2006
  On the Road Again
I'm headed up to Boston for work, so the blog will be a little light today. Blog-lite, as it were.

But let me plant a thought before I go: When Dick Cheney said on Thursday night that the vote against Joe Lieberman might embolden "Al Qaeda types," was he already aware of Britain's impending action against the terrorist plot to blow up planes?

Which is to say, was Cheney using classified information for political purposes?

It wouldn't be the first time....
 
Thursday, August 10, 2006
  Mel and the Ladies
Here's another problem for Mel Gibson's Christian apologists, like Bill Donohue of the Catholic League: his philandering.

Gibson has always presented himself as a devout Catholic and faithful family man, married 26 years to wife Robyn and father of seven kids; that's been an integral part of his identity, and surely helped in the promotion of The Passion of the Christ.

But the Philly Daily News is reporting that, while shooting Signs outside Philadelphia in late 2001, Gibson was regularly shagging not one but two young lovelies in his suite at the Rittenhouse Hotel. One was a "stunning Jewish grad student at Penn"; the other was "a 31-year-old woman he first met at Rouge (205 S. 18th), where he gave her a back and shoulder massage."

It seems a safe bet that there are more such paramours out there. What would his Christianist supporters say?
 
  She's (Almost) Back!
DNA World of India—don't ask, I have no idea—reports that Kaavya Viswanathan is headed back to Harvard this fall. Not only does her plagiarism not appear to be an issue for the college, but Viswanathan has been chosen to be one of 190 "peer advising fellows."

I leave it to you to consider the wisdom of all this.

The Indian website reports that Viswanathan "has been busy throughout the American summer boosting her self-esteem."

No, really—it says that.

To be fair, it adds that she has been working at a group called 85 Broads, a women's organization for former Goldman Sachs employees founded in 1999. (And if I'm not mistaken, is that Kaavya herself in a picture in the slide-show on the website, over the caption "Broad2Be Advantage," whatever that means?)
 
  Scary News
The Washington Post is reporting that U.S. and British authorities have broken up a terrorist plot to blow up "at least" ten planes in mid-air.... The Times has it too. As does the LA Times.

Not the Globe, though...the newspaper with the worst website of any major paper in the U.S. Currently featuring breaking news about a plan to promote engineering education.....
__________________________________________________________________

P.S. Half an hour later after I originally wrote this, the Globe still doesn't have anything online.
 
  Panic at Fenway?
Here's the Globe's Nick Cafardo on last night's 5-4 Red Sox loss to the Royals:

Remember when Red Sox Nation was ready to panic in the streets? It was premature. But maybe now . . .

The Yankees almost blew a 7-0 lead before hanging on to beat the White Sox, 7-6, last night, increasing their lead over the Sox to three games. Two nights ago, the Yanks lost to the White Sox and the Red Sox had a chance to cut the gap to a lonely game, but they lost the first of two straight to the Royals, who are, frankly, abysmal.

What's going on here? What say you, Red Sox Nation? Panic time?
 
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
  What a Sturgeon!*
On the Swannee River near Wildwood, Florida, yesterday, a four-foot long sturgeon jumped out of the water and hit a man riding a jet-ski. The man had to be airlifted to the hospital.

To which one can only say, good for the sturgeon....


story.sturgeon.jetski.ap.jpg
A sturgeon and his special friend.
________________________________________________________________

* With apologies to E.B. White.
 
  More on the Ann Coulter Video
After listening to the below video again, I noticed a couple of things that I didn't focus on the first time around.

First, in making her absurd case that Bill Clinton is secretly gay, Coulter describes Clinton as having "a whiff of the bath-house about him."

Which is, of course, the defining characteristic of male homosexuality...if you're a bigot.

Note also Coulter's retort to the young, dark-haired, olive-complexioned woman who asks her how she can call herself a good Christian and use the word "fag."

(A reasonable question.)

Coulter shoots back, "And you're a good Christian, I suppose."

What does that mean, exactly? Is Coulter saying that anyone who questions her is automatically "godless," to use her word? Or suggesting, in a derogatory way, that the woman is Jewish or Muslim?

Why doesn't Chris Matthews just have David Duke on his show and be honest about it?
 
 
Ann Coulter Calls Al Gore a "Fag"

On Hardball, Ann Coulter calls Al Gore "a total fag," then insists it was a joke. "A smart lady," Chris Matthews says. "We'd love to have her back."

Ugh.

_____________________________________________________________

P.S. Check out the shot of Elizabeth Dole at the very end. Um...plastic surgery much, Liddy?
 
  How Weird Is This New York Times Caption?

Thelma Arnold’s identity was betrayed by AOL records of her Web searches,
like ones for her dog, Dudley, who clearly has a problem
.
 
  Lamont Wins—What It Means
So Ned Lamont has narrowly eked out a victory over Joe Lieberman. The difference was about 3.5 percentage points.

I don't think Lieberman can take much positive away from the tightness of the race. He's an incumbent U.S. senator, and beating a Senate incumbent in a primary is immensely difficult and almost never happens. The senator has advantages of money (largely negated here), media exposure, experience in campaigning, infrastructure, party support, and so on. He should win handily.

What's important is that, even with all that, Ned Lamont beat Lieberman.

Here a few thoughts on the victory.

First, the race has been framed as a referendum on the war. That's true, but it is insufficient. Several other factors mattered as well.

1) Again and again, Connecticut voters said that they thought that Lieberman had lost touch with them. It's true; he did. (Which is, frankly, a tough thing to do in a state the size of Connecticut, a 45-minute flight from Washington.) The proof of that is how much Lieberman was beloved by inside-the-Beltway pundits. When those folks love you, you've spent too much time at fancy luncheons with them and not enough time at diners with your constituents.

A corollary: Lieberman's personality has grown tiresome over the years—the constant moralizing, the holier-than-thou tone, the aura of self-anointed gravitas. Comopare that to his counterpart, Senator Chris Dodd, who is—or at least used to be—a boozer and a poonhound. But he's a good legislator and a good senator, and people like him. Chris Dodd isn't going to lecture anyone. Joe Lieberman, it sometimes seemed, did little else.

2) Lamont has been portrayed as a lightweight rich guy riding the wave of anti-war sentiment, propelled along by bloggers. This overlooks the fact that the guy ran a very smart—and most important, mistake-free—campaign. Can you think of a Lamont gaffe? I can't either. That's extremely rare for a political novice. Lamont even held his own in a televised debate with a guy known as a ferocious debater (except, perhaps, when it comes to debating Republicans like Dick Cheney). Despite the fact that the national press seemed determined to portray him as an empty suit, Lamont fleshed out his personna and his platform over the course of the campaign, making it much harder for Lieberman to eviscerate him, which the senator was surely dying to do.

3) Lamont has also been faulted for being a Greenwich preppie, but in fact, his WASPiness is not an inherent political liability and may even be a plus. In the best WASP tradition, Lamont went to good schools, made a lot of money, gave away a lot of money, volunteered, raised what appears to be a close and healthy family, became deeply engaged in public life, and ran for public office in a state known for electing thoughtful politicians. (When I was a kid, the governor of Connecticut was an impressive woman named Ella Grasso, the first woman elected governor in the U.S.) So the fact that he's a prepster—an object of skepticism elsewhere—doesn't really matter in Connecticut, where we've seen this sort of thing before, and realize that sometimes these people make fine public servants. If that's bland or lightweight, more of our politicians should be that way.

4) The New York Times reports that Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman "is planning to give a speech in Columbus, Ohio this morning in which he will use Mr. Lamont’s victory to portray Democrats as a party weak on national defense, and his affiliation with blogs to present the Democrats as captive to the extreme wing of the party."

I think this is a huge mistake for Mehlman, in the sense that he's tying his party more closely to an unpopular war. Lieberman's loss doesn't mean that the Democrats are weak on national security; it means that people really, really don't like the Iraq war. And that's going to hurt Republicans and politicians like Joe Lieberman.

5) Lieberman says now that he'll run as an independent. I would be surprised if he sticks to that, but if anyone would, it's Lieberman. Why? Because his ambition knows no bounds. It is that ambition that got him into trouble in the first place—that sense of unceasing opportunism that Lieberman always tried to portray as principles, but was, in fact, a desire to cozy up to power even when that power (Bush/Cheney) was subverting American principles of justice and decency.

Lieberman has sounded in recent weeks like a classic Washington type: the politician who has grown so accustomed to the pleasure and privileges of power that he can not believe the voters might actually reject him. The logic, the inevitability, the rightness of his position is so self-evident to him, he can not believe anyone else might disagree. He is in shock, a state of denial that reminds me of what people supposedly say they feel when having a heart attack: How could you do this to me?

But already, there are signs that powerful people want Lieberman to call it a day. John Edwards, Evan Bayh, and Hillary Clinton—moderate Democrats and presidential contenders all—quickly telephoned Ned Lamont to congratulate him. In Washington, people run from a loser; they want to avoid the contagion.

If Lieberman really cares about his party, as he claims to, he'll abandon his independent bid, and fast. If he doesn't, it will be apparent that the only real rationale for his campaign is pure, unadulterated, overweening, out of control ambition.
 
  Lieberman Loses!
DailyKos has a nice roundup of the other losers—and the winners—in this remarkable election.
 
  Quotes of the Day
Lieberman "said he was staying in the race because Mr. Lamont had run a primary campaign of 'insults' and 'partisan polarizing.'”
—NYT

"Meet Ned Lamont. He's a Greenwich millionaire."
A Lieberman campaign ad

"This shows what blind loyalty to George Bush and being his love child means."
Congressman Rahm Emanuel, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

"How many lobbyists are there for every single Congressman in Washington, D.C.? Sixty three lobbyists for every Congressman … all fighting for the special interests. Let's send some leaders to Washington D.C. to start fighting for the common interest."
—Ned Lamont, in his acceptance speech

"Today, Mrs. Lieberman is Senior Counsel for Hill & Knowlton’s [Washington] health care and pharmaceuticals practice, where she addresses the constantly changing dynamics of today's global health care market."
—from the entry of Hadassah Lieberman on the website of the Harry Walker Lecture Agency

"I am disappointed not just because I lost, but because the old politics of partisan polarization won today. For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand."
—Joe Lieberman, in his concession [sic] speech

“What he’s really saying is, ‘I don’t think I’m wrong, but I don’t explain myself well enough.’ ”
an anonymous Lieberman aide
 
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
  Bad, Biased Journalism
The Lieberman campaign is still claiming that Lamont supporters have "crippled" its web site--and the New York TImes is playing along, posting a story to that effect about 15 minutes ago. (You can find it here:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/08/nyregion/08cnd-campaign.html?hp&ex=1155096000&en=6e7fe1fab055b2ed&ei=5094&partner=homepage).

Too bad DailyKos has already figured out that the reason the Lieberman site is down is because the campaign is only paying $15 a month for hosting capabilities, and it can't handle the traffic it's been getting. (Daily Kos, by comparison, pays $7,000 a month.)

(I"m away from the office and can't hyperlink; the DailyKos thing is here: http://www.dailykos.com/.)

Writes Kos: "They are paying $15/month for hosting at a place called MyHostCamp, with a bandwidth limit of 10GB. MyHostCamp is currently down, along with all their clients."

The Times doesn't mention this. Patrick Healy, the reporter covering Lieberman, is usually very good. This is not his finest hour.

Oh, and by the way--Lieberman's losing.
 
  It's Primary Day...
...in Connecticut, the day when people finally get to vote on the Lieberman vs. Lamont choice. By most accounts, Lieberman has the momentum. A new poll shows him pulling to within six points of Lamont, the margin of error. (It's 51-45, Lamont; a week ago, it was 54-41.) Despite his cries of not having enough money, he's blanketing the state with TV commercials and paying his get-out-the-vote staffers almost twice what Lamont is paying his. Lieberman's tone has, as expected, gotten considerably nastier. The Lieberman campaign is even claiming that left-wing bloggers hacked their website, which crashed. Typical Lieberman: A blogger captures a screen shot showing that the campaign simply forgot to pay its web-hosting service.

A slight digression: Though the Times actually endorsed Lamont, its news coverage seems decidedly slanted towards Lieberman—something which is important in Connecticut, where lots of people read the Times. In the past few days, there have been several stories about Lieberman and virtually nothing on Lamont. And look at the web version of this page one story: It opens with a big picture of Joe Lieberman—but has none of Lamont—and in the first sentence, it hyperlinks Lieberman's name and not Lamont's. It'd be interesting after this is all done to go back and look at the coverage, which has given Lieberman an enormous amount of attention while virtually ignoring the man who may well unseat him.

I was confident that Lamont had this primary well in hand; it's highly unusual for polls to swing six or seven points in a week. Now, I'm not so sure. And you can argue the polls either way. Narrowing the gap obviously helps Lieberman, but it might also make Lamont supporters even more determined to vote.

That's the wonderful thing about politics: You just never know what's going to happen until the votes are counted. And sometimes—as with, oh, certain presidential elections—not even then.
 
  Are the Red Sox in Trouble?
Murray Chass writes in the Times that the Sox are "a poor excuse for a good baseball team." Failing to put the Yankees away when the New York team was playing terribly, the Sox, Chass argues, have squandered their lead and are now at serious risk of not making the playoffs at all.

Chass is right; it's remarkable that the Yankees did not fall out of the race when they were playing with Melky Cabrera, Bubba Crosby and Miguel Cairo instead of Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield and Robinson Cano. The Sox during that time went without injury to any of their starters (although pitcher David Wells has been hurt). Now the Yankees made some smart moves at the trade deadline, while the Red Sox stood pat—and then catcher Jason Varitek, having a sub-par season but still a great team leader, got hurt and will miss at least a month. Adding insult to injury, the Sox starting pitching has picked a bad time to fall into a slump.

Sox fans should be nervous...but then, this is the Yankees and the Red Sox. Anything can happen, and probably will.
 
  Quote of the Day
“I am a gun collector and I have lots of weapons, as do most Americans.”

Suspected serial killer Dale S. Hausner, asked why he kept rifles, ice picks, a blow-dart gun and other weapons in his apartment.
 
Monday, August 07, 2006
  Monday Morning Zen
Plazas islands, Galapagos
 
  Pop Pick of the Week
I just finished Scott Smith's terrific new novel, The Ruins, and if you like a good scare, you should snap it up. Back in 1993, Smith published A Simple Plan, the story of three friends in a small-town who stumble across a crashed plane carrying $4.4 million in cash. When they decide not to tell anyone about the money, everything starts to go very wrong... (The book was turned into a gripping film starring Bill Paxon and Billy Bob Thornton.)

The Ruins is about a group of tourists in Mexico who go looking for a missing friend and a mysterious archeological dig. But when they stumble onto the ruins—and the remains of their friend—everything starts to go very wrong.

Smith is so good at this; he ratchets up the tension inexorably, he has a rich imagination, and he is merciless: The Ruins is absolutely one of the bloodiest, darkest books I've read in a long time. (This may be one reason why it seems to be unpopular with a good number of Amazon readers; "Made me feel physically ill for days afterward," one wrote, and I can see why.)

It also has a serious subtext. Like the recent (and incredibly bloody) horror film, "Hostel," it's about the dangers of globalization, of ignorant American travelers wandering cluelessly around a foreign land as if the world were a great big theme park.

Some of the most interesting popular culture now being created is based upon that theme...which is is primarily a result of the Bush administration's cavalier attitude regarding American interventionism and the rest of the world. It's not that the world hasn't always had its secret dangers. (Transylvania, anyone?) But they were more remote, and we were more cautious.... It took Dracula weeks to reach England's shores via boat; it takes the young tourists in The Ruins and Hostel a day to get wherever they want, convinced that their American passports and their American credit cards will protect them. They are wrong. And in that sense, both The Ruins and Hostel are cautionary tales....
 
  You Heard It Here First: Ann Coulter Is Over
In her latest column, Ann Coulter says that there's about a 50% chance that Hillary Clinton will "come out of the closet." Not too long ago, she suggested that Bill Clinton was a latent homosexual.

Ann poses a dilemma for me. I know her from my days as an editor at George, when she wrote a column for the magazine. (It was outrageous, but not nearly as bilious as her more recent writings.) In person, she is unexpectedly fun, funny and charming. Seriously. She's good company.

But I'd be hard-pressed to find a single thing she's ever said that I agree with, and I think that the nastiness of her commentary is a negative force in the culture. (I do give her the credit, though, of thinking that she means what she says. She is completely consistent in public and in private.)

So, trying to analyze Ann dispassionately...I have to say that I think she has peaked; her cultural moment is passing; and her cultural influence will diminish steadily.

Consider the remarks above as an example. Ann has lost her power to shock; her put-downs and caricatures have become boring and predictable. Which puts her in an unfortunate dynamic; she must either try to become more serious, in which case she alienates her nutty right-wing base, or she must become ever more outlandish, pleasing the base but losing more general appeal. It's the same thing that happened with Father Coughlin and, more recently, Rush Limbaugh.

I'm not saying she won't still sell lots of books and be a talk-radio presence. Her latest, Godless, is at #5 on the NYT bestseller list. Rush Limbaugh still has an audience of millions too; yet his ability to have an impact on those who don't already agree with everything he says has become minimal to nil.

Ann's act has grown stale. And in this time when the country has so many serious challenges, that development is long overdue. Name-calling won't cut it anymore.
 
Sunday, August 06, 2006
  Lieberman: What Does It All Mean?
Joe Lieberman seems assured of losing on Tuesday, and that possibility has the national press in a tizzy. Everyone's trying to figure out what the primary defeat of a senator revered inside the Beltway means.

Writing in the Boston Globe, David Greenberg says that it's not the bloggers who are beating Lieberman, it's the fact that both parties have become more ideologically rigid, and Lieberman's adherence to principle has made him "a party of one."

Writing in the subscriber-only New Republic, Peter Beinart argues that "in the '90s, Lieberman proved a crucial check against his party's worst instincts. In the Bush era, by contrast, he has proved a poor check against the GOP's." Beinart also mentions that he went to Yale, and he likes Lieberman because, when Lieberman voted for the first Gulf War in 1991, his house was picketed by lefties, whom Beinart thought were wrong.

Meanwhile, in the New York Post, Lieberman himself continues speaking in that pathetic self-pitying tone he's adopted recently, which only makes the smell of defeat cling to him like the smell of sickness in a hospital ward.

According to Lieberman, "What I didn't calculate was that I would have not just an opponent but a very rich opponent . . . and that allowed him, in my opinion, to distort and smear my record." Lieberman added that there's "too much, really, hatred on the blogs," although he admitted that he doesn't really read them.

Well, let's discuss. In reverse order.

First, Lieberman's cry against Lamont's wealth is silly. Connecticut is a very small state. You can drive from top to bottom of it in about 90 minutes, assuming there's not too much traffic around New Haven or on I-95 near New London, where the highway becomes a two-lane road and the folks visiting Mohegan Sun create far more traffic than there used to be. (Sigh.) Running a campaign in Connecticut is not expensive, as far as these things go, and a three-term senator should have no problem raising abundant sums to fund such a campaign.

What Lieberman really means is that he didn't expect to have a credible opponent, that he assumed the advantages of incumbency would scare away plausible challengers. This is about the best argument for rich people getting into politics that I can think of; these days, they're about the only ones who can unseat incumbents like Lieberman, who act like it's an offense against the world if someone dares to actually run a serious campaign against them.

As for "the hate" on the blogs...that is just too pathetic. Coming from a man who has, when necessary, played some of the nastiest politics since Lee Atwater, this lament is literally incredible. I've seen Lieberman talk a lot about "hate" and how awful the blogs are. I've never heard him give a single example.

Peter Beinart makes an interesting case, but ultimately I think it's wrong. Or at least his conclusion is wrong. I like the idea that Lieberman was a check on Democratic goofiness in the '90s—although that sanctimonious speech he made about Bill Clinton was truly hideous—but that he has failed to challenge the GOP's worst instincts in the '00s. It's a little stronger than that, actually; Liebeman has promoted some of them.

To me, that's an argument against a Lieberman victory. Democrats should be fighting the Bush administration, not cozying up to it. But somehow Beinart comes to the other conclusion. Perhaps it's because the experience of seeing protesters scarred Beinart; New Republic editors (and Washington journalists in general) are uncomfortable with popular participation in politics. Protest makes them uncomfortable. They don't know how to report on it, and they certainly don't understand it. Beinart, whose liberalism has more than a little Ivory Tower quality to it—he's a smart guy, but sometimes you feel like he lives in a study, and he's always neat—wouldn't understand.

David Greenberg is also a very smart guy, and he happens to be a friend. I haven't read his book on Nixon yet, but everyone says it's very interesting. Here, though, I think he's wrong. As are all of the pundits who are saying that the fight against Lieberman shows how dogmatic leftie Democrats have become.

Here's why.

I've heard people who support Lieberman making intelligent cases, and people who oppose him making intelligent cases. That's the thing about Lieberman; he's taken so many different positions, you can, as a friend of mine likes to say, argue it round, or you can argue it flat.

To inside-the-Beltway journalists, who think everyone should be more reasonable, and who distrust emotion, this flexibility is evidence of Lieberman's principle.

But to Connecticut residents—and though I don't live there now, it's my home state, I went to college there as well, and my parents still live there—Lieberman's Devo-esque politics ("you've got me jerking back and forth") aren't evidence of principle, but evidence of opportunism.

For a while, Lieberman's centrist positioning did strike Connecticut voters as principled. After all, they did elect him three times, so it's not as if he hasn't done well in Connecticut politics. The state has a history of electing centrist pols (although congressmen from the cities, like New Haven and Bridgeport, tend to be more leftie). Remember, Lieberman won originally by running against a liberal Republican, Lowell Weicker, whom Lieberman mercilessly caricatured as fat and out of touch.

But we are, I think, at a moment in politics where voters on both sides feel that the country is seriously fucked-up—and that the Bush administration (remarkably, even more than Osama Bin Laden) is the reason why. If you're a Republican, you—well, I don't know what you do exactly. (In the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne argues that you're imploding, and that conservatism is dead.) In all likelihood, you stay home this November.

But if you're a Democrat, you want people in office who are going to fight for you—who recognize that the Bush Administration has done a miserable job of governing, and won't hesitate to say so, and present a constructive alternative.

That's not Lieberman, and that's why he's going to lose on Tuesday. No matter what all the Washington pundits have to say about it.
 
Friday, August 04, 2006
  Meanwhile, in Apparently Unrelated News
China is commencing a slaughter of an estimated half-million dogs because of a rabies scare, its second such extermination in the past few days....

...while pervy billionaire Jeffrey Epstein has been charged with soliciting sex from prostitutes.

The Crimson points out that New York gubernatorial and attorney general candidates Eliot Spitzer and Mark Green have both returned donations from Epstein. You'd think that would be enough hard news for a NYT story, no? No.

Now, here's a quote that I don't get at all.

But a grand jury found the witnesses in the affidavit released by the police department not credible, according to Epstein ‘s defense attorney, Jack A. Goldberger.

In an attempt to discredit the reliability of the girls’ testimony, [Alan] Dershowitz gave the police copies of two myspace.com profiles of girls who testified in the affidavit against Epstein, according to a Palm Beach Police report,

One girl’s profile showed messages from her friends that “contain some profanity,” according to the report. The report further says that the other girl’s profile “states that her interests include music, theater and weed (Marijuana).

Wait a second. This is 2006. A lawyer is attacking someone's credibility because she likes to smoke a little dope? Or received posts on a webpage that contain profanity?

It is Dershowitz's nature to throw mud whenever he thinks it will be effective, that's clear. What I don't get is how a grand jury finds that convincing.

There must be more to this story....
 
  Bad Baseball Journalism
According to the Boston Globe, David Ortiz has hit 37 homers and driven in 105 runs because he likes a good helping of rice and beans before every game and because he likes to play with children.

Could there be no other explanations?

Don't get me wrong, I think Ortiz is an astonishingly good player. But you have to wonder if this isn't one of those pieces of baseball journalism that's going to make you wince in a couple years. (And in all fairness, any questions asked of David Ortiz would also have to be asked of Jason Giambi.)

Meanwhile, the New York Times continues its pro-Mets bias. Last night, the Mets lost, 4-1, to the woeful Florida Marlins. The Yankees, who are in an exciting pennant race against a very good team—which the Mets are not—beat the very credible Toronto Blue Jays, 8-1, and opened up a narrow one-game lead over the Sox. While the Mets are 5-4 in their last nine games, the Yankees are 8-1.

So, naturally, guess which team dominates the front page of the NYT sports section?

I would love to know the reason why a Mets loss to the Marlins—the Marlins!—is considered more newsworthy than a Yankee victory that puts them in first place.....
 
  Lieberman: He's Losing
Five days before the primary, Ned Lamont has taken a 13-point lead over Joe Lieberman in a new poll.

That's significant for two reasons.

One, it almost certainly means that Lamont is going to win the primary.

And two, it's a decisive enough victory (or looks to be) to cast some doubt on the rationale for Lieberman's independent run. If he lost by five points or fewer, he still looks like a strong independent candidate. But when you're headed towards 15 points, the decision to run as an independent makes Lieberman look like a sore loser.

You can't help but wonder if, behind the scenes, some bigwig Dems won't be putting heat on Lieberman not to run.

By the way, this new poll shows that Lieberman has actually lost ground since Bill Clinton campaigned with him in Connecticut. That is not a good sign for Hillary's Clinton's problematic presidential bid; it shows the depth of anti-war feeling among Democratic voters.
 
Thursday, August 03, 2006
  At Harvard, A Telling Poll
Many years ago, I wrote a profile of Bill Weld, who had just resigned as assistant U.S. attorney general to protest the various nefarious actions of Attorney General Ed Meese. I don't remember why it came up, but Weld told me a little story about how he hired people to work in law firms: He called their assistants and asked them to tell him confidentially what they thought of their bosses. It's a test of character, Weld said—to see how somebody treats the people who work for them.

Which is one reason why I was particularly interested to see a Harvard publication called "The Harvard Community Resource," which bills itself as "news and information for faculty and staff." (If you can find it online, let me know; I can't.)

For its July issue, the Resource conducted a poll of Harvard staff to determine their feelings about the university compared with a "best employer average." In many ways, Harvard did very well; 78% of the respondents favorably rated Harvard's benefits, 75% favorably rated the "day-to-day" work, 70% favorably rated the diversity of the workforce.

But then respondents were asked whether they rated the university leadership favorably or unfavorably. And the numbers plunged. 22% favorable in the FAS; 37% in the business school; 32% in the VP and general counsel's office; 30% at the Kennedy School; 35% at the law school.

And what percentage of the people working for the president and provost had a favorable opinion of the university leadership?

Twenty-nine percent.....

When outsiders talk about Harvard—hell, when insiders talk about Harvard—they often neglect to consider the opinions of the people who work there, but are not professors or deans. That's unfortunate. Because Bill Weld was right: You can tell a lot about someone by asking the opinion of those who work most closely with him.
 
  I Blog, You Post
My item a few days back about Larry Summers speaking to 250 or so of Rupert Murdoch's closest friends on "how to reform institutions" prompted some interesting responses. Let me quote a couple below.

One poster—let's call him/her "Regular Reader"—took issue with my suggestion that Harvard should be concerned about Summers' appearance at the event, which is, I argued, yet another way for the ex-president to spread the message that his ouster was a result of Harvard being "scared to change."

The event that Summers will be attending in Los Angeles is private, and he will be speaking to 250 executives at News Corp. That's it. Sure, they're influential, but the whole thing strikes me as extremely unimportant. Looking at the other expected speakers, it seems clear that for the most part, Murdoch invited folks who precisely conform to his worldview. So what if Summers tells Rupert's boys that in order to reform an institution, you need to shake things up. He'll be wrong if he says that, but the only possible effect will be on a corporation far removed from Harvard....

The poster also faulted me for suggesting that the Corporation should have imposed some sort of gag order in its termination settlement with Summers.

On the issue of restricting Summers' ability to discuss Harvard in public, I will only say that such a restriction, even if they have been employed before, would run counter to every academic ideal for which Harvard stands. And as a journalist, Richard, doesn't it run counter to every ideal you stand for, too?

(The quick answer: Pretty much, yes. But the Corporation people believe in secrecy; secrecy is their currency, their oxygen. The fact that they did not employ a tool commonly used in the corporate world suggests again that, in their negotiations with Summers, he got the better of them. You can say it's against academic values if you want, but since Summers doesn't play by academic values....)

Meanwhile, a couple of posters have written eloquent responses.

Here's one anonymous one:

"Regular Reader" may be right about this particular event. But he is naive if he thinks that Summers and friends are not trying (and to some extent succeeding) in doing damage to the university (and higher education). This goes beyond the playground ethics --don't kick a guy while he is down. There is a lot of prejudice out there against academia, even among alumni, and much of it is based on misunderstandings that Summers is exploiting. Of course there should be no gag order, but shouldn't the corporation, the faculty, even the interim president be defending the institution more?

And classics professor Richard Thomas weighs in with a signed opinion, adding that he hopes that putting his name to his post will encourage others to do the same.

The proposition that Lawrence Summers' talking in a "private" forum with 250 executives should not create concern about the damage he can/will do by peddling his views about the resistance to change that exists in university faculty is absurd. And the damage will be inflicted on higher education in general precisely because of the ignorance, prejudice, and anti-intellectualism that already exists in the forum in question, which cares only about immediate results, not about broad, long-term educational goals.

Anon 11:10 has it exactly right. President Summers is working for himself right now, all the while disguising his self-promotion behind assertions that those of us who work hard to make our institution succeed were simply resistant to his brillant visions for change.

Easy game to play given the general anti-intellectualism of our culture, but it's a shame to see Lawrence Summers outdoing even John Silber in this game.

I put my name under this in the hope others might come out publicly on this issue.

Richard Thomas

Your thoughts?
 
  Thank God for South Park
Which just nominated the brilliant Tom Cruise/Scientology episode for an Emmy with the following hilarious ad in Daily Variety:


And speaking of Mel Gibson...Christopher Hitchens eviscerates him, in Slate.
 
  Happy Animal News
What do you do if a bunch of penguins start mysteriously showing up in your tropical city? Well, if you're Brazil, you put them on a C-130 transport plane and take them back to the Antarctic...or at least close enough to float there.

It's understandable why the penguins might want to show up in Rio...but good for Brazil to save them.

http://www.awi-bremerhaven.de/Eistour/pinguine-e.html

Penguins: good.


http://psg.com/~walter/brasnet.html

Penguins in Rio: While
not without a certain charm,
on the whole, not so good
.

Meanwhile, NBA basketball star Yao Min, who is Chinese, has publicly renounced shark fin soup, which is, in fact, quite a big deal. Shark fin soup is hugely popular in China; it's considered a delicacy. Problem is, there are more Chinese than there are sharks, and the ratio is getting more and more pronounced; scientists estimate that in recent decades some shark populations have declined in number by as much as 99%. Moreover, shark fin soup is barbaric. Chinese fishermen bring the sharks on board, quickly slice off their fins, and dump the animals back in the water to die. It's a hideous practice.

As Yao said, "Endangered species are our friends." He's making commercials to that effect to air in China. Good for him.

Meanwhile, we Americans—who are not without our own environmental sins—can do our part
by not ordering mako or any other shark when it's on a restaurant menu, and expressing our displeasure over its presence there to the chef......







Killing sharks for their fins:
Really, really bad
.
 
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
  Sullivan Versus Kaus
Andrew Sullivan and Mickey Kaus have often clashed on their various websites (AndrewSullivan.com and Slate), particularly about Kaus' reaction to Brokeback Mountain. (He thought straight men wouldn't want to see it, and that was okay.) I've often wondered whether this intellectual jousting was more than that—just how personal it became.

Well, I don't think there's much doubt any more: Andrew Sullivan clearly doesn't like Mickey Kaus.

(He's not so crazy about Ann Coulter either. Good for him.)

For what it's worth, on the question of gay v. straight promiscuity, I'm with Sullivan: I think plenty of straight men would be just as promiscuous as many gay men apparently are...if they could be. The fact that conventional mores and, um, women don't permit men to do that is the greatest check on straight male promiscuity. (And, I hope, the fact that when you're married and have kids, you prioritize those things over sex.)

It's the desire to have sex just as much as gay men want to—and the inability to do that—which leads to perversions like those of Jeffrey Epstein.
 
  And Speaking of Heat
Does it sometimes seem to you as if the only people left in the world who don't get the reality of global warming are the Republicans (and, yes, a few Democrats) on Capitol Hill?

Consider a few of today's New York Times headlines.

Colorado Resort to Invest Heavily in Wind Power


(Vail is doing its part to promote renewable energy, in part because the ski business is expected to be devastated by global warming.)

Senators Vote to Open Drilling in the Central Gulf of Mexico

(Because clearly oil is the solution to our energy problems.)

Unions Say E.P.A. Bends to Political Pressure

(Because toxic chemicals in pesticides is a good thing.)

Well, there may be one place left other than Washington that doesn't understand what's going on in the world: Detroit.

Toyota’s U.S. Sales Edge Past Ford’s


 
  The AL East Heats Up
And not just because of this heat wave, which is, of course, President Bush's fault. But because the Yankees and the Red Sox are in a virtual tie for first place (the Yankees are up by .002 points).

Did anyone else sense a subtle turning of the tide in the past few days? The Red Sox, until last night, had been in first for 44 straight days. The Yankees were hanging around, but they frequently flailed, as when they lost to the Devil Rays, baseball's worst team, by a score of 19-5.

But just before the trade deadline, the Yankees acquired outfielder Bobby Abreu and pitcher Cory Lidle from the Philadelphia Phillies, giving them help at two positions where they really needed it. They gave away four low-level minor leaguers to make that trade. Then they dumped pitcher Shawn Chacon, whose every gentle toss made batters' eyes widen with delight, for first baseman Craig Wilson—another area where they needed help.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox made no trades. Last night they served up a pitcher with a record of 1-8 and an ERA of 7.38, who, predictably enough, lost. Worse, catcher Jason Varitek, a Yankee-killer, hurt his knee and will be out for at least a month.

Red Sox fans are surely nervous.

Incidentally, I finished Seth Mnookin's Feeding the Monster. (Why it's called that, I have no idea.) I stand by my earlier concern that the writing of the book is pedestrian, but in fairness, that's not really the point of this work, which is more about taking you inside the business workings of a baseball team. On that, it's pretty strong. Mnookin nicely captures Theo Epstein's cautious approach to building a team, his refusal to sacrifice the future for the present (something the Yankees, in the past, were frequently guilty of). You can see that conservatism manifest itself in the Sox's current decision not to make any moves....

Of course, the book does make you wonder about sourcing. It's very kind to Epstein and principal owner John Henry; it's not so nice to Larry Lucchino and PR man Charles Steinberg. (In fact, it's brutal to Steinberg.) But it could be argued that Epstein erred in allowing Pedro Martinez and Johnny Damon to escape to New York teams....and it could also be argued that what happened in the last week has tilted the season decisively towards the Yankees. We'll see.

Epstein talks frequently in Feeding the Monster about how the Sox can't expect to win every year and they shouldn't condition fans to expect that. Some years will be for rebuilding, he argues; it's inevitable.

That philosophy, of course, is the exact opposite of George Steinbrenner's; the Yankees owner wants to win now, especially given his age. But he seems to be sticking to his promise to let GM Brian Cashman run the team, and Cashman, who's well-liked and respected in the baseball world, is doing a great job of not trading away the team's top prospects.

The question I wonder is whether accepting that you can't win every year make it easier to live with defeat? And is that a good thing?
__________________________________________________________________

Another caveat about Feeding the Monster: In the entire book, Mnookin mentions steroids in just two contexts. The second is the fact that the crackdown on steroids made it harder to judge whether players were having an off-year or simply had been juiced in the past. The first is the implication that Nomar Garciaparra used steroids, as suggested by his statistics and the type of injuries he suffered.

In other words, the only Red Sox Mnookin discusses as a possible steroid user is one who happens not to be on the team any more...which, given by what you hear of the widespread use of steroids in baseball, would be a statistical freak on a team obsessed by statistics.
 
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
  Why Is No One Covering Jeffrey Epstein?
All right, the Crimson finally weighs in with a piece on the pervy billionaire, noting that Alan Dershowitz has become part of Epstein's defense team.

Dershowitz's first public move: Arguing that the girls can't be believed because some of their MySpace pages make reference to alcohol and pot. Attaboy, Alan! Go straight for the character assassination! Just so long as Epstein didn't force himself on your 16-year-old daughter.....

But otherwise, the MSM is steadfastly ignoring this story. Um...why? A billionaire friend of Bill Clinton's, a mega-donor to Harvard, is arrested for successfully soliciting sex from minor girls. There's the possibility of favorable treatment from the police. And yet, as Jossip.com points out, nothing in the New York Times....

...which, by the way, today covers the Mel Gibson freak-out not as a story in and of itself, but because of its business ramifications. Huge Hollywood Star Goes on Anti-Semitic Rampage—no, that's not a story. But Huge Hollywood Star's Anti-Semitic Rampage Causes Consternation at Disney—all right, we can live with that.

(It is pretty funny, though, that Disney was actually partnering with Mel Gibson on a Holocaust mini-series. Next up: Louis Farrakhan tells the story of Israel.)

And how's this for news judgment: The Times mentions that Gibson uttered "a barrage of anti-Semitic remarks."

It just doesn't bother to tell its readers what they were....
 
  Quote of the Day
"In due course, we'll argue for opening up more, then more, then more, then more."

—New Mexico Republican Senator Pete Domenici on Republican plans to open the nation's entire coastline to oil drilling.

(House Republicans have already passed a bill doing exactly that.)
 
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Name:richard
Location:New York, New York
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