Where the Blog Went
Sorry for being off yesterday, folks; I had to take a sudden business trip to Florida. (No, seriously.) Left for the airport at 6:45 AM, got back at 11 PM. On the plane home, in the row in front of me, a young woman had triplets, who screamed in baby harmony. Yikes.
Quote of the Day
"They're smart and often unhappy. They feel they have to live up to hype. Harvard chooses people who are specialized in one thing, so they're not well-rounded. But they learn fast and work their ass off."
—Yale grad and Harvard expos instructor Josh Barkan, talking about Harvard students
¶ 12:47 PM2 comments
Jet Takes Off
There's really nothing like a good, old-fashioned rock 'n' roll show, is there? Guitars, bass and drum; light show; stacks of speakers; and a band from a far-away place.
I saw Jet at Irving Plaza last night, and am still slightly recovering. What a terrific concert! Plus, it's possible that I drank too much.
For those of you not familiar with them, Jet is an Australian foursome, a straight-up rock band from Melbourne who, in rock's grand tradition, rips off just about everyone you can think of: AC/DC, the Stones, Aerosmith, Steve Miller, the Beatles, Oasis, even Bachman Turner Overdrive. And yet they put their own spin on things and somehow come out sounding new.
They are also young, loud, energetic and brash. At the beginning of their second song, the shirtless drummer announced that they'd just heard "that Justin Timberlake song" on the radio. Pause. "This is how you write a real fucking song, Timberlake, you cunt," he announced.
Why is it that Brits/Aussies can use the c-word humorously and Americans can't?
The question actually goes to the heart of some profound differences in the various streams of Anglo-culture, relating to the sense of bittersweet irony that comes either with being a post-imperial nation or descendants of convicts. After January 2009, perhaps we will have a greater understanding of this.
But I digress.
Meanwhile, lead singer/lead guitarist Nik Cester prowled the stage in classic rock star garb, scarf around his neck, playing a beautiful Gibson guitar...beautifully. As the show went on, the band got locked in, playing faster, tighter, and, it seemed, louder. Increasingly covered in sweat, Cester urged the crowd to clap, played fiery solos, and stepped in front of the microphone into the crowd. The climax came when he launched into a long, solo intro to "Cold Hard Bitch," one of the greatest rock songs of the past decade, and climbed up onto a small ledge near the balcony, the spotlight chasing to catch up to him. About a minute of staccato power chords, then a second guitar, then drums and bass, leading to a musical crescendo, and a primal rock scream, before a single lyric is sung: "Yeah!" A full-throated roar, stretched out for about ten seconds.
I am not so far removed from adolescence—or adolescence is not so far removed from me—that this kind of thing doesn't send shivers down my spine.
Stanford Blasts Back on Early Admissions
I missed yesterday this very interesting Times op-ed by Stanford provost John Etchemendy on the subject of early admissions.
Etchemendy takes aim at some of the reporting on Harvard's and Princeton's decision to end non-binding early admission, and he also questions the merits of that policy change. His argument is nuanced and pretty well convincing: Early admissions don't "advantage the advantaged," he says, unless a) colleges have lower standards for early applicants and b) early applicants are wealthier than standard applicants.
At Stanford, Ethchemendy says, neither is the case.
He also torpedoes the argument that early admissions adds to the craziness of the admissions argument by pointing out that, for those who gain acceptance early, it actually can make the rest of their senior year quite pleasant. (That was certainly my memory of what it was like for my high school classmates who were accepted early; the rest of us wanted to punch them.)
The best way to decrease the frenzy of the admission season? Have colleges universally adopt nonbinding early admission programs, and then apply the same or higher standards to the early decisions as they do to the regular round. It’s a solution that’s fair for the students and practical for the colleges.
I'd like to hear some counter-arguments. And by the way, the Crimson points out that the editorial effectively removes Etchemendy as a candidate for the Harvard presidency. No offense, but I can't blame him: Would you want to leave sunny Palo Alto for Cambridge?
¶ 8:55 AM8 comments
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
The latest e-mail from the Harvard Alumni Association tells me that, in March 2007, they'll be hosting a panel on "Harvard in Journalism."
At the risk of being immodest, I'd like to nominate myself for the panel. After all, I went to Harvard—that's why I get the alumni association e-mails—and I'm in journalism, more or less. Blogger, magazine writer. Heck, I even wrote a book about Harvard. You can't get much more Harvard in journalism than that.
Harvard's absurd policy is this: You can't bring alcohol into the university parking lots, and only those with Yale or Harvard IDs can buy the alcohol that will be on sale.
My policy would be this: People who are driving, don't drink. Everyone else, knock yourself out.
Truth is, The Game has always been more fun in New Haven, because the campus parties are better and there's more room for tailgating in the fields around the Yale Bowl than there is in Allston.
Harry Lewis began this anti-drinking mania by banning kegs at The Game—a mistake, I thought, which would probably lead to greater consumption of hard alcohol. Benedict Gross seems to have solved that problem by making it so little fun to drink any alcohol at all, no one will want to go.
If I were a Harvard College alum, I'd withhold my annual contribution for that reason alone....
¶ 8:46 AM4 comments
George Allen and the N-Word
Did Virginia Senate candidate George Allen—and, until recently, likely presidential candidate—routinely use the N-word in college at the University of Virginia? And if he did, should it matter now?
First, he calls for the number of US forces embedded with Iraqis to be doubled or tripled, so that we may hasten the training of the Iraqi forces and accelerate our withdrawal from Iraq.
That's a tortured (no pun intended) argument to begin with...but then Lieberman goes on to say that that doubling or tripling could come from redeployment of forces, rather than actually committing additional troops.
I am still trying to understand that line of reasoning. If you double or triple our number of embedded soldiers, without decreasing the number of soldiers elsewhere, then you are increasing the number of soldiers, period. What difference does it make where they come from? (Well, of course it makes a difference if you're the soldier involved.)
Lieberman continued his old argument that he does not support an open-ended commitment to staying in Iraq, but that he opposes setting a timeline for withdrawal.
And I continue not to understand how, if you oppose a timeline for withdrawal, you are not supporting an open-ended commitment.
Finally, Lieberman responded to the recent intelligence report saying that the Iraq war has increased the threat of anti-US terrorism by saying that the increased threat would make troop withdrawal too dangerous.
In other words, we sent troops in, which increased the threat of terrorism. But now we can not take them out, because of the threat of terrorism that they have created. This is a prescription for a permanent US military presence in Iraq.
It is, I think, in the nature of a bad war, a fundamentally ill-conceived war based on lies and false premises, that it promotes Orwellian rationalizations. "We may have created the danger, but we can't leave now because it's too dangerous."
I am not a military historian, but it seems to me that history judges favorably those who resist the twisted rationales and labrynthine language of a bad war, while those who succumb to it—intelligent people who compromise their intelligence and integrity to defend their mistakes or attempt to further their ambitions—forever stain their records.
This is exactly what Joe Lieberman is doing. I wonder if he ever lays awake in bed at night and thinks, My God, what am I saying? What am I doing?
Maybe he does, maybe he doesn't. I don't know which option is worse.
¶ 8:15 AM1 comments
Quoting Golden, the magazine writes, "No less than 60% of the places in elite universities are given to candidates who have some sort of extra 'hook', from rich or alumni parents to 'sporting prowess'".
Let's just examine that, shall we? Golden cites that figure in his book, attributed to a single source, who claimed that it was true for one—you got it, one—Ivy League university. The source wouldn't say which university—perhaps because that, of course, would mean that you could then check it out and prove it wrong. Because as anyone who knows anything about college admissions will tell you, the idea that 60% of a class is slotted for legacies is absurd.
In other words, it's a stupid statistic, and Golden was irresponsible to quote it. But The Economist translates that into 60% of the places "in elite universities"—not even just Ivy League universities, but elite universities generally. This is what you might call bad journalism.
If that suggestion were true, of course, legacy admissions would indeed be a dire problem. But it isn't.
The magazine concludes: There are a few signs that the winds of reform are blowing. Several elite universities have expanded financial aid for poor children. Texas A&M has got rid of legacy preferences. Only last week Harvard announced that it was getting rid of “early admission”—a system that favours privileged children—and Princeton rapidly followed suit. But the wind is going to have to blow a heck of a lot harder, and for a heck of a lot longer, before America's money-addicted and legacy-loving universities can be shamed into returning to what ought to have been their guiding principle all along: admitting people to university on the basis of their intellectual ability.
This may sound contrarian, or anachronistic, but to my mind, there are quite a few reasons for admitting people to college, of which intellectual ability is just one. A specific talent—the arts, writing, perhaps even athletics—might be another. And character—yes, character—could be another still. This person might not have gotten 1600 on his or her SATs, but what might he or she contribute to society?
I am probably old-fashioned, but to see universities as solely places for the kids with the best grades is to vastly reduce the scope of their mission, and in the process, lessen their value.
¶ 7:59 AM4 comments
Women in Science: It's Getting Hot in Here
In the Times, columnist John Tierney blasts the recent report of the National Academy of Sciences blaming sexual inequities in the sciences entirely on discrimination.
Writes Tierney, "I never thought the academy was cynical enough to publish a political tract like 'Beyond Bias and Barriers,' the new report on discrimination against female scientists and engineers." He then describes the report as "the kind of science you expect to find in the Onion."
Is it because everyone agrees with the report...or because everyone's ignoring it?
¶ 7:49 AM2 comments
Monday, September 25, 2006
Arianna's Party Causes TroubleA blogger over at fishbowlny went to Arianna's party and promptly started taking pictures of Tom Freston's house—his bookshelves, his desk, his family photos—then tried to defend himself by saying he (she?) was cleared to take pictures when he arrived. Pictures of the guests, I'm sure.
Tom Freston threw the guy out.
I'm with Freston on this one. Going to a book party at someone's house and taking pictures of their family photos? No matter how you try to spin it, that's just wrong.
¶ 8:36 PM2 comments
Arianna and the Problem of Fabulousness
Inbetween my more meaningful weekend experiences, I dropped by Arianna Huffington's book party on Saturday night. The book is called "On Becoming Fearless...in Love, Work, and Life." Meghan O' Rourke ably reviews it, and Arianna herself, here, in Slate.)
(A digression: Slate is now running hideous ads that start playing video and sound some time after you click on the page, so that you won't immediately click away. The ads have a tool bar that looks like the Quicktime tool bar, with a button for pausing and a button that says "close." The only problem is, when you click either the Pause or Close buttons, they take you to another ad. Sleazy—and makes me hate the advertiser.)
The party took place at the glorious East 66th Street manse of Tom and Kathy Freston, who know Arianna from...well, God knows, because Arianna knows everyone. Tom Freston is the media executive who was just ousted from Viacom by Sumner Redstone. Kathy Freston—and you'll be shocked, shocked by this—is a former model. (She is now a writer and blogger for Huffington Post who describes herself as "a self-help author and personal growth and spirituality counselor.")
Kathy Freston: Knows how to pose.
But it was sort of nice that Kathy Freston is a former model, because it meant that her friends, other former models, were also there. I was chatting with one of them, a lovely woman of about 35 with a massive engagement ring, when she turned and declared, "I'd like you to meet my fiancee." It took me a moment to realize that she was talking about the 70-something year old man standing quietly next to me.
But I shouldn't have been surprised: Such are the laws of beauty, power and money in New York City, and an Arianna party is nothing if not an invitation to watch the machinations of all three. What makes Arianna interesting, in part, is that she is both part of this world, and yet removed enough to remain something of an outsider, fascinated with its codes and rules. (The tell-all Arianna could write!)
I know Arianna from my days at George—she was the epitome of a George story, and I'll never forget being invited to her 40th birthday party, held at a massive suite in the Waldorf, and seeing Arianna work the room while her husband Michael played, alone and happy, with their two children. Also, I've blogged for her site. But I stopped doing it months ago, because it seemed like all we bloggers there were doing was providing Arianna free content while she used the site to help maintain her high-profile. And here's an interesting story: When I said hello to Arianna on Saturday, she kissed me on the cheek and said, in that lovely Greek accent, "Darling! You haven't been blogging!" Which meant either an impressive level of familiarity with her site, or a level of pre-party preparation that is simply astonishing. Both possiblities intrigue.
While I drank white wine and fended off overtures from clean-cut waiters bearing vegan appetizers, I checked out the crowd. There's Naomi Wolf! (She's working on a book about...well, she wouldn't want me to say.) There's Barry Diller! Society photographer Patrick McMullen! And journalists in abundance: Joe Conason from the New York Observer, Eric (ugh) Alterman, Alex Starr of the New York Times Magazine, Steve Roderick of New York, Kevin Buckley of Playboy, Jamie Steen of the Baltimore Sun and Nina Burleigh of People. It was one of those parties where you may not know everyone, but they all look vaguely familiar. I bumped into an ex-girlfriend, the ex-boyfriend of my ex-agent's ex-assistant, and a young woman who's helping make a documentary about the global water crisis. Such are Arianna's parties.
As Meghan O'Rourke points out in her review above, it's sometimes hard to tell whether Arianna really believes in anything, or whether she just loves to be in the mix—lives to be in the mix. Nonetheless, she is a character, and she has a remarkable amount of energy, and there is no question that she has overcome adversities in her own life to get where she is. Which is another way of saying that as long as she keeps inviting me to her parties, I'll keep going.
¶ 9:40 AM6 comments
The Need for Zen
Apologies for my multi-day absence, and thanks for your patience. It was quite a weekend, and I need a little zen this morning—hence the pensive-looking Galapagos land iguana featured below.
My Friday involved helping a friend excavate her parents' apartment the day after she had helped move them to an assisted-living facility—a private situation for my friend, so I won't go into it, but it was a tough thing for all involved. That was followed on Saturday night by a book party for Arianna Huffington at the imperial townhouse of Tom and Kathy Freston, about which more later.
And yesterday, one of my oldest friends and I traveled back to Groton, our high school, to attend the memorial service of our old friend, Rogers V. Scudder. "Mr. Scudder," to us, died a few weeks ago of pneumonia, I think, but he was almost 94 years old, so you could probably just call it old age.
He lived a quietly remarkable life. Born in 1912 in St. Louis, he graduated from Harvard in 1934, earned a diploma in classical archeology from Oxford in 1955, and got a master's from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1958. During World War II, he served as an ambulance driver. In the 1960s, he and collaborator Charles Jenney, Jr. wrote a four-volume series of Latin textbooks that would become the best-selling Latin texts in the country for 20 years. From 1976-1983, he served as the director of the Library at the American Academy in Rome.
But really, Mr. Scudder was a teacher, and for we students who didn't know the details of his biography, that's how we thought of him—as a teacher and friend. He taught at the Brooks School in Massachusetts from 1934 to 1966, when he retired for the first time. Brought to Groton to fill in for a teacher on leave, Mr. Scudder stayed on as a teacher of Latin and part-time dormmaster until 2005, when he was 92.
He was perhaps the kindest person I have ever known, and at a boarding school, where the social life can be brutal and escape difficult, his warmth was much needed and much appreciated. He was self-deprecating and funny and a gentleman in the best sense of the word; his grace and manners were extended to all, even those who did not immediately appreciate them. He tended to turn a blind eye toward harmless misbehavior—someone told a nice story of Mr. Scudder taking a group of students out to dinner and ordering them all a beer, and then, midway through the evening, remembering that they weren't supposed to drink. "Oh, well," he chuckled. "Just one then." Mr. Scudder's laughter and his generosity created the best kind of incentive for positive behavior; you didn't want to disappoint him. You wanted to make him proud.
The actor Sam Waterston, who also attended Groton, was Mr. Scudder's godson; Waterston's parents taught at Brooks, and knew Mr. Scudder there. Waterston spoke yesterday of Mr. Scudder's humility, which was profound, and of its rarity in our modern culture. He spoke of how Mr. Scudder taught him the meaning of perspective, without which we so easily slide into egocentrism; perhaps, Waterston suggested, this is a trait that comes from having lived through two world wars. And he spoke of the importance of teachers, of people who devote their lives to the instruction of others. As one of the school's teachers said to me afterward, "That was good of him. It's not the kind of thing another teacher could have said of Rogers, because it would have looked self-aggrandizing, but it's true."
We couldn't be too sad at our loss; 93 is a ripe old age, and Mr. Scudder lived his life brilliantly, with dignity and grace and, for a remarkably long time, wisdom. But we can be sad that there are fewer and fewer like him.
¶ 7:51 AM1 comments
SITD Goes Mobile
I'm helping a friend move today, so the blog will have to wait till later today...
Meantime, there's a great discussion going on in the comments area of the post on Dan Golden's book, focusing on Harvard's admissions policies and, specifically, the question of whether it's a good idea to favor faculty children in admissions. Thanks to all who've been contributing, and if you haven't taken a look yet, you should.
Will Skip Jump Ship?
Now that Princeton has created a Center for African-American Studies, the Princetonian wonders if Harvard's Skip Gates will head south. I wonder too. The rumor earlier this year was that Cornel West would actually be leaving Princeton to return to Harvard, but Gates-to-Princeton seems just as likely. He's not department chair any more, it'd be a chance to build another program, closer to New York, a place Gates loves—and loves to do business in.....
¶ 8:20 AM6 comments
Weighing the Price of AdmissionMy take on Dan Golden's book, "The Price of Admission—How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way Into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates" appears in the New York Sun today.
Here's a hint as to how I felt about the book: "'The Price of Admission'" isn't really a work of reportage. It's a jeremiad masquerading as an exposé"....
¶ 7:59 AM30 comments
I wonder if anyone else finds it noteworthy that the ostentatiously self-identified "Dr. Bill Frist" is leading the fight against the McCain-Graham-Warner bill that would prevent the US from engaging in torture or other similar procedures not defined as such by the Administration (but identified as such by most of the rest of the world)?
A-Rod is having by most standards a terrific year: He's hitting .286, with 34 homers and 116 rbi's. But his season has been plagued by mental problems on the field and at the plate; he's made more errors than ever before in his career, and he's failed at the plate repeatedly—consistently, you might say— in crucial situations. As a result, the New York media have gotten on his case pretty severely.
And now, so are his teammates. Jason Giambi is quoted in the SI article as saying, “Alex doesn’t know who he is. We’re going to find out who he is in the next couple of months.”
In return, Rodriguez expresses his frustration that other well-paid players don't get criticized as he does. “[Pitcher Mike] Mussina doesn’t get hammered at all,” Rodriguez is quoted as saying. “He’s making a boatload of money. [First baseman Jason] Giambi’s making ($20.4 million), which is fine and dandy, but it seems those guys get a pass. When people write (bad things) about me, I don’t know if it’s (because) I’m good-looking, I’m biracial, I make the most money, I play on the most popular team.”
Ouch on so many levels.
Rodriguez isn't entirely wrong; Mussina is a chronically underachieving pitcher, probably the most talented pitcher in baseball never to win 2o games. I love Giambi, but he's hitting .250, which is about .40 points lower than A-Rod, with similar home run and RBI totals.
On the other hand, Rodriguez's analysis of why he gets criticized is just inane. Because he's good-looking? Bi-racial? I suspect most Yankee fans never give much thought to either one. Nor do they care much about what he gets paid: So many Yankees get paid so much, one becomes inured to multi-million dollars salaries.
The reason A-Rod gets so much attention is the disparity between his great talents and his ability to perform in clutch situations...particularly because his teammate, Derek Jeter, says so little but always seems to come through in tight spots.
Now that the Yankees have pretty much clinched the division, A-Rod has been hitting .345 in September. Giambi's right. The next month is going to be hugely important for him...
¶ 9:35 AM4 comments
Bob Dylan and Kaavya: Like Minds?
About a week ago, the Times published a piece noting that, in the lyrics to his new album, Bob Dylan borrowed extensively—and without attribution— from a little-known poet named Henry Timrod. Does this make him a plagiarist? Or just a musician working in the folk tradition?
A correspondent to the Times named A Subrahmanyam thinks it's the former. Subrahmanyan writes: The reaction to Bob Dylan’s borrowing from the Civil War poet Henry Timrod appears to reflect a double standard in society.
There is no attribution to Timrod anywhere on Mr. Dylan’s new album, “Modern Times.”
Therefore, it is no different from the cheating by Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard sophomore whose first novel was attacked when readers discovered that many passages in it nearly exactly replicated portions of novels by Megan McCafferty. Yet Ms. Viswanathan was vilified and publicly humiliated.
Bob Dylan no different than Kaavya? That's a bit extreme. But whether we let Dylan off too easily—tolerating his plagiarism even as we revere his lyricism—I think that's a fair question.
¶ 8:38 AM7 comments
Writes Steven Syre, Harvard's returns outdistanced most investment benchmarks, but will probably fall short of the top tier of performers among leading university endowments. Harvard Management officials said they expect the 16.7 percent gain will be modestly above the average performance of those endowments, but not rank among the best 25 percent.
From the Globe article, it sounds like one of the reasons the endowment (relatively) underperformed is because of the transition from Jack Meyer to Mohamed El-Erian.
It's also a sign of how remarkable Meyer's performance was that Harvard's portfolio earned 16.7% last year and that can still be considered a disappointment....
When someone writes the definitive history of the Summers period, the story of Jack Meyer's departure should certainly be a chapter.
¶ 8:32 AM0 comments
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
It took a week, but Princeton has followed Harvard's lead and abolished early admissions. Meanwhile, the Yale Daily News worries that Yale president Rick Levin is worried that, if he makes a change, he'll be seen as following Harvard's lead. The YDN doesn't actually think that abolishing early admission is a good idea...but on the other hand, it doesn't want Levin to be a wuss.
Meanwhile, Harvard's endowment grew by about $3.3 billion, but its return was only (only!) about 16.7 percent, down from 19.2 percent and 21.1 percent the previous two years. The Crimson gives in to a little cheerleading at the expense of journalism, headlining its story University Endowment Reaches Record Highs. Well, it does that every year, and if it had gained a dollar from the year before, it still would have been a record high. The drop in the rate of return is the real story here... Did disagreements between Larry Summers and Jack Meyer cost the university between 2.5 and 4.4 percent on its rate of return?
Women in Science: We Want Them
According to the New York Times, "women in science and engineering are hindered not by lack of ability but by bias and 'outmoded institutional structures' in academia, an expert panel reported today."
Here is its first finding: "Women have the ability and drive to succeed in science and engineering. Studies of brain structure and function, or hormonal modulation of performance, or human cognitive development, and of human evolution have not found any significant biological differences between men and women in performing science and mathematics that can account for the lower representation of women in academic faculty and scientific leadership positions in these fields."
In other words, take that, Larry Summers.
Or, as the Times puts it, "The panel dismissed the idea, notably advanced last year by Lawrence H. Summers, then the president of Harvard, that the relative dearth of women in the upper ranks of science might be the result of 'innate' intellectual deficiencies, particularly in mathematics."
The Times reports that "a spokesman for Mr. Summers said he was out of the country and could not be reached for comment."
We know the first part of that sentence is true. Since Summers commented via Blackberry to today's Crimson on the news that he is writing a column for the FT, we know the second part is not true.
I would expect this panel to generate some controversy. Its members included Donna Shalala, who knew Summers from the Clinton days; Elizabeth Spelke, who loudly disagreed with Summers after 1/14; and Ruth Simmons, who would be politically disinclined to agree with Summers on this issue. The Times points out that the 18-member panel had just one male member. As it were.
This would be a good moment for Steve Pinker to weigh in on the new academic blog, Open University. (Or Summers himself, for that matter.)
It seems that our theological disputations of last week have rested with Jacob Levy letting himself get rolled by Brad DeLong because Brad quoted some hippie theology at him and, in passing, called the Protestant God evil. I don't normally like to get all Leviticusly Deuteronomous on people, but this seems like a good place to mount a defense of the old-time religion....
I don't like to get all Leviticusly Deuteronomous on people either. But sometimes, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.
Joe Lieberman Doesn't Like Handicapped People
Not only did Joe Lieberman recently give a half-hour speech on national security without mentioning Iraq...he also parked in a handicapped space. Both of which are very, very bad.
Joe Lieberman's car.
Meanwhile, the Lieberman campaign is trying to make a big deal of the fact that Ned Lamont received an unsolicited $100 check from the Democratic Socialists of America. Here's how it works: The Lieberman campaign has someone dig up Lamont's campaign finance records, finds the check, then leaks it to the New York Post, which is the only paper that would consider that a story. The Post runs a piece. Then the Lieberman campaign posts the Post piece on its blog with a big headline: SOCIALIST GROUP BACKS JOE FOE IN CONN.
That's kind of like running a headline saying "Joe Lieberman Doesn't Like Handicapped People."
Or like pointing out that it's illegal to post an entire newspaper article to your website.
Larry Summers Has a ColumnThe Financial Times has hired Larry Summers to write a monthly column. That makes sense, and not just because it's the kind of place where Summers would want to be read—international, business and economics-minded. The FT was one of just a few outlets to which Summers would consistently grant interviews on background....
And remember, too, that Summers pressured Harvard Magazine to run a monthly column "written" by himself, which he then abandoned after one month.....
...which means I'm on deadline again. But SITD will be back soon.....
¶ 11:52 AM4 comments
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Harvard's "Dirty Money"?
That's the headline on the New York Post's Page Six story about Harvard deciding not to return Jeffrey Epstein's money, which the paper calls "Harvard's cash grab." The Post item is based on this Crimson story.
I suppose I have to side with Derek Bok on this one: The money was taken before anyone knew of Jeffrey Epstein's proclivities, and what good does it do to return it?
But what if Epstein wants to give more? Seems to me that in order to be consistent Harvard would have to take the gift. After all, the argument holds: Better to use Epstein's money to fund research at Harvard than to pay for rub-and-tugs from underage girls, no?
Sorry to be crude, but that's about what it boils down to.
Of course, Epstein wouldn't put Harvard in that situation, one wouldn't think. But what if he did?
¶ 3:23 PM1 comments
You Can't Beat That
I know I'm late with this, but I just didn't know what to say about the anniversary of 9/11, or whether I wanted to say anything at all. It's not as if there weren't plenty of voices filling that particular space, and if I didn't have anything that seemed original or worthwhile to add, better to keep quiet. No one has to have an opinion on everything, not even bloggers.
But this morning I happened to come across this old clip of Jon Stewart's post 9/11 speech, and it struck me that this was exactly the kind of thing that I wanted to remember about 9/11—how for a while it brought out the honesty and the emotion, the sorrow and the hope and the love, that survive beneath our culture's slick and cynical surface. In trying to remind people of what satirists do,the freedom that satirists enjoy in this country, Stewart reminded us that we can use the vehicles of our culture to express not just irony, but passion. And eloquence: At the end of his monologue, Stewart explains that the view from his apartment had been the World Trade Center, "and it's gone." But what view had taken its place? The Statue of Liberty. Just saying those words makes Stewart choke up. "The view from the south of Manhattan is now the Statue of Liberty," Stewart says, "and you can't beat that."
Parents Gone Wild
The Times reports on how obsessive "helicopter parents"—they hover—are using Facebook.com to check out their kids' roommates, and sometimes object to them.
Apparently some parents have forgotten that one reason to go to college is to learn from other people who are different from you.
For example, I learned from one of my freshman year roommates that if you don't shower at least once every two to three weeks, you will, in fact, smell. And a valuable lesson it was....
Roommates! But will they be BFF?
There's another question, of course, about whether young people put way too much information on Facebook and MySpace....I haven't seen a piece on employers checking out MySpace pages, but if it hasn't happened yet, it won't be long.
¶ 9:57 AM3 comments
Continuing to Exploit Our National Obsession with Blondes
As we progress along our journey from the high to the low...a journey you will not find on Open University! (which had a whopping one post yesterday, three the day before—why is it that the more contributors you have, the fewer posts you get?)....
Anna Nicole Smith's son Daniel died two days ago, as you may know, in his mother's hotel room just after she'd given birth to a baby girl.
On September 7th Anna Nicole gave birth to a healthy 6 pound, 9 ounce baby girl. Her son Daniel was in the Bahamas with her to share in the joy of his baby sister when he passed away suddenly on the morning of September 10th. We have yet to learn the cause of death but do not believe that drugs or alcohol were a factor. Anna Nicole is absolutely devastated by the loss of her son. He was her pride and joy and an amazing human being. Please do not make any press inquiries at this time so that Anna Nicole can grieve in peace.
I am trying to get my head around the idea of what it would be like to have Anna Nicole Smith as your mom.
¶ 9:17 AM2 comments
The Globe Takes A StandThe Boston Globe's editorial today about Harvard's decision to end early admissions is just the kind of writing that has made newspaper editorials irrelevant and ignored in general.
Harvard's end to early admissions is a good thing, the Globe says. (On the one hand...)
But (on the other hand) college costs are still too expensive.
Ready for the big conclusion?
"Making college more affordable must be a national priority, to boost academic success and long-term economic well-being."
Not only is that a ghastly sentence, it is a truly banal thought.
¶ 9:01 AM0 comments
The Kyle Paxman Question, Resolved
There seems to be some debate about whether a certain blogger has "a crush" on jilted bride Kyle Paxman, so let me come clean: No. I don't really go for that emotionally vulnerable California blonde in a black minidress type.
Truth is, I've been bemused by the coverage Ms. Paxman's plight has received. Google her, and you get page after page of hits. In the chick blogosphere, she's become the next Ellen James. She is a symbol of hope for jilted brides everywhere—more, for people anywhere who consider themselves a victim. I predict a television gig in the very near future.
But let me pose a question: Would Kyle Paxman have gotten a front-page story in the New York Times, and all the subsequent follow-up, if she weren't white, pretty and blonde? If she were fat and had bad skin? If she were African-American?
So when I reprint all the images of Kyle Paxman, I'm actually exploiting our own obsession with pretty blondes—you're reading this, aren't you?—while trying to make a point about the media and our own racial/aesthetic subtexts. Just as when I reprint the subterranean albino monster, I'm doing so to use it as an avatar for the existential dread and despair that we feel in this George Bush "we do not torture" era.
And I don't have a crush on the monster either, by the way.
This is a fascinating interview of President Bush by Today's Matt Lauer, who presses Bush on the question of whether we've been torturing our prisoners. Bush clearly resents Lauer for persisting. He says he won't get into specifics because "we don't want the enemy to adjust," a response which defies credibility. And watch Bush's body language, as he grows testy and tries to intimidate Lauer.
There seems little doubt that our president is a liar of the most dangerous kind: The kind who has convinced himself that what he is saying is true.
Here's my favorite question: "If these alternative techniques are used, are you at all concerned that at some point, evne if you get results, is there a blurring of the line between ourselves and the people we're trying to protect against?"
Kyle Paxman turned her would-be wedding reception into a charity event in Vermont.
Kyle Paxman shows off a ring her mother gave her as a gift after Paxman canceled her wedding at Basin Harbor Club and turned it into a fund-raiser. MARIANA SEARS,Free Press
¶ 10:05 AM6 comments
Harvard's Admissions Masterstroke
Harvard announced an end to its early admissions policy yesterday, garnering page one headlines in the Times and the Boston Globe. The university shows its complete mastery of the Times, which puts Harvard on its front page at every available opportunity. Too funny.
On the merits, Harvard's decision is the right one. The argument for early admissions is that it "locks in" the best students. But people who want to go to Harvard are going to go to Harvard even if they have to wait until April to decide, so there's no downside for the university. And there's plenty of upside. Early admissions programs are a hurdle for poor and minority applicants, so it's a good idea to get rid of them.
From the PR side of the equation, I marvel at how good at this stuff Harvard can be. (Who was responsible for the timing here? Bill Fitzsimmons? Alan Stone?) First, you drop the news on September 11th, when, let's face it, there's not going to be a lot of breaking news. (Anna Nicole Smith's son died, but somehow I don't think these two stories are competing for the same real estate.)
Quote of the Day
"Maggie Gyllenhaal is a superb actress willing to give her role everything she has, including undressing and often baring her breasts." —former New York City mayor, now movie reviewer, Ed Koch
¶ 5:42 PM2 comments
"I do not remember a time, even during the '60s, when there was such uncivil discourse. Even at Harvard." —Marty Peretz, the New York Times, 9/11/06
Where could such incivility be coming from? One wonders.
Derek Bok "has chosen as his dean of arts and sciences an oleaginous retread, Jeremy Knowles..." —Marty Peretz, the New Republic, 6/15/06
"In the mean Cambridge game...of electing people to 'the academy of the overrated,' [Nan] Keohane will always win by a landslide. She is known as a scholar, but I am not sure why. She displays nothing resembling erudition about anything. ...But she is a recognizable type in the academic cosmos: the professor who disguises mediocrity with status." —Marty Peretz, the New Republic, 6/15/06
Kyle Paxman's Big Day
On Friday, the New York Times ran a piece about a bride-to-be, Kyle Paxman, who discovered her fiancee was cheating on her. And so Ms. Paxman, 29, canceled the wedding. But so that it wasn't a total loss, both financially and emotionally, Paxman decided to turn the event into a charity benefit for "strong women." According to Paxman, "We needed to turn this into something positive and start the healing process."
(Blogger's pet peeve: The use of the first person plural to suggest collective action when such is not the case. C.f., Joe Lieberman: "We needed to run this campaign because...")
Here's a picture of Paxman, who certainly looks like a nice person who shouldn't be cheated on.
Did Kyle Paxman send out press releases? Or does the Globe just take dictation from the its owner, the Times?
Here, from the Globe, is another picture of Kyle Paxman, with her mom. Still lovely.
Well, all laughing about the media aside, good for Paxman to try to turn lemons into lemonade. It's more than I was able to do in a similar situation.
And a note of class: Paxman refused to indentify her fiancee. I think that's quite elegant. (Compare that to, say, "firecrotch.") Whoever he is, he must be rueing the day he decided that infidelity was a good idea.
¶ 9:35 AM7 comments
Germaine Greer Kicks Steve Irwin When He's, Um, Dead
It had to happen: The sorrow over Steve Irwin's death was just too great, and so someone was going to have to come along and rain on his funeral parade. Now Germaine Greer, Australian feminist scholar, has trashed Irwin, accusing him of invading animals' space for the sake of being macho.
She writes: There was no habitat, no matter how fragile or finely balanced, that Irwin hesitated to barge into, trumpeting his wonder and amazement to the skies. There was not an animal he was not prepared to manhandle. Every creature he brandished at the camera was in distress. Every snake badgered by Irwin was at a huge disadvantage, with only a single possible reaction to its terrifying situation, which was to strike. Easy enough to avoid, if you know what's coming. Even my cat knew that much. Those of us who live with snakes, as I do with no fewer than 12 front-fanged venomous snake species in my bit of Queensland rainforest, know that they will get out of our way if we leave them a choice. Some snakes are described as aggressive, but, if you're a snake, unprovoked aggression doesn't make sense. Snakes on a plane only want to get off. But Irwin was an entertainer, a 21st-century version of a lion-tamer, with crocodiles instead of lions.
Now, she concludes, the animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin, but probably not before a whole generation of kids in shorts seven sizes too small has learned to shout in the ears of animals with hearing 10 times more acute than theirs, determined to become millionaire animal-loving zoo-owners in their turn.
Ouch. That Germaine Greer—she floats like a butterfly, stings like—well, like a stingray. With words that break your heart when you pull out the barbs...
Ruth Simmons Says No to Harvard
The Brown president said last week that "she intends to carry out her term as Brown's leader," according to the Brown Daily Herald.
Other university presidents thought to be top candidates for the Harvard job - including Shirley Tilghman of Princeton University, Amy Gutmann of the University of Pennsylvania and Lee Bollinger of Columbia University - told student newspapers at their universities that they were not interested in leaving for Harvard. Nannerl Keohane, the former president of Wellesley College and Duke University and an oft-mentioned candidate to succeed Summers, told the Boston Globe in March that she too was not interested in the position....
¶ 9:30 AM3 comments
Papa Rubin's Got a Brand New BagThe Times reports that Bob Rubin, Larry Summers' mentor and current Harvard Corporation member, has started a new endeavor: The Hamilton Project will endeavor to generate policy ideas for Democratic presidential candidates "as well as elevating the next generation of Democrat-supporting financiers."
The project will be run out of the Brookings Institution, a liberal thinktank in Washington.
(I know it well; back when I was a young and broke Washington intern, I used to illegally park my car in its lot on P Street NW. The parking lot attendants would spray the windshield with glue and put a big red sticker over the driver's side. Liberals!)
The group sounds like part of Rubin's continued effort to promote the influence of neoliberal financiers such as himself and Larry Summers—who is part of this group—over the Democratic Party, about which one must be of two minds. If there are to be obscenely rich people in this country, I suppose it's good that not all of them are Republicans. At the same time, one worries about a Democratic Party where the most influential economists make $15 million a year at Citigroup, or hundreds of millions a year from private, secretive hedge funds.
Summers' role is predictable, and not just because he and Rubin march in lockstep. The Times doesn't note this, but Brookings is where Summers went after leaving the Treasury Department; he doesn't appear to have done much there other than go skiing and quietly aspire to attain the presidency of Harvard, but still, the connection is relevant.
Rubin, as usual, downplayed his influence. "I am a little pebble of sand on the beach," he says, the transparent disingenuousness of which makes one want to puke. Interestingly, it also seems to make reporter Landon Thomas Jr. want to puke; he takes an almost sarcastic tone regarding Rubin's false modesty. "So self-denying was the assertion that it bordered on self-aggrandizement," he writes.
Thomas notes that Rubin, who is on the board of Citigroup and is paid the aforementioned $15 million a year, has served as a stalwart defender for its embattled chief, "Charles O. Price III."
Rubin defending the executive who put him on the board...sound familiar?
Meanwhile, his position there sounds like nice work if you can get it.
As an executive at the company, he has no operational responsibility, and as a director he sits on no board committees (the executive committee, of which he is chairman, rarely meets). And partly it is a function of his personal style.
“He has this enormous influence and yet he is not on the radar screen when people are looking to assign credit or blame,” said Michael Holland, an investor and longtime shareholder of Citigroup. “I presume it is very comfortable for him that way.”
...As part of his contract, he is given free rein to indulge himself in this regard and to use Citigroup’s planes to do so.
(Anyone know if Rubin took/takes Citigroup planes to Corporation meetings?)
In 2005, Rubin used $330,000 worth of travel time, roughly three times as much as Price, the CEO, did.
I keep waiting for some journalist to take a more serious and sustained look at Bob Rubin. Is he really the kind of guy we want guiding the Democratic Party? Or Harvard? He is hugely wealthy, lives a privileged life, conducts as much of his business as he can in secret, and continually downplays his influence even as he labors to extend it.
The journalist who examines that sacred cow will have written a story worth reading....
¶ 8:51 AM4 comments
Why Poll Numbers Matter
I noted yesterday that Joe Lieberman's pollster could be going to jail for making stuff up, basically. (Take note, ABC miniseries producers.)
Two thoughts: The poll's obviously been leaked to make it look like Lieberman has the momentum. Was it also faked?
In other Lamont-Lieberman news, Lamont attacked Lieberman yesterday for Lieberman's hideous speech weighing in on Bill Clinton's morality. Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the GOP's biggest backers, is running pro-Lieberman ads....
¶ 8:26 AM0 comments
Pretentious Quote of the Day
"Original Intent and the Founder's Constitution was the second (after only Bernard Bailyn's Ideological Origins of the American Revolution) scholarly book I ever read; I think it was the summer before my junior year of high school. It vastly multiplied my knowledge of legal, constitutional, and intellectual history...."
Couple of things. First, this committee is an interesting barometer of life at post-Summers Harvard. Derek Bok and Jeremy Knowles clearly support it...but they've also delegated it to a person with credibility, Theda Skocpol, who's powerful enough to make sure that this thing is taken seriously. (And forceful enough, as well.) The committee membership is impressive, a sign that faculty members are buying into it. All good indicators, though hardly determinative, of a successful project. I don't ask this rhetorically: Could this have happened under Summers?
And second, the piece is filled with thoughts of how to provide incentives for better teaching. An interesting challenge, because the incentives to publish books and hit the lecture circuit may always be greater (at least in terms of prestige and money) than the rewards of good teaching. But here's one suggestion: How about providing a disincentive for bad teaching?
I don't know if Harvard already does this—somehow I suspect it doesn't— but how about posting student evaluations of their professors online, accessible to all, whether inside or outside Harvard? That would certainly provide some incentive to teach with enthusiasm. Also—and this could be related—how about a Harvard-sponsored website devoted to teaching? (And it wouldn't have to be limited just to Harvard, the site could look at teaching techniques and great teachers wherever they may be.) I bet you could find a donor for that....
¶ 9:21 AM6 comments
Mitt Romney. Bleh.
Yup, Romney's running for president all right; he not only attacks the Kennedy School for its decision to invite Mohammad Khatami to speak, he links that invitation to the same lefties who ousted Larry Summers and didn't want Ronald Reagan to receive an honorary degree at the school's 350th anniversary. Yes! A perfect trifecta of demagoguery. When a Republican starts bashing Harvard, you know he's dreaming of the Oval Office.
Martin Peretz, a longtime Harvard lecturer and Cabot House associate, said Khatami is "a front for a despicable dictatorial regime" and that the event would not provide an opportunity to rigorously challenge the former leader.
"Why don’t they invite him to a tough seminar?" he said, adding that he believes the often-crowded question-and-answer sessions at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum are “bullshit.”
I frequently disagree with Peretz, but I admire and respect his willingness to say exactly what's on his mind.
Plus, Peretz is right; those K-School q-and-a's are pretty soft. Why, I remember going to see Lawrence Summers at just such an event in 2003. For a brief moment during the question-and-answer part of the evening, after only a couple young people had asked things of the new president, it appeared that there would be no further questions. It was on the verge of being embarrassing. So I watched as a Kennedy School employee hastily whispered in the ear of one young man in the crowd, who quickly stood up, made his way to a microphone, and asked something entirely innocuous....
¶ 8:58 AM0 comments
It's Lonely at the FlopJoe Lieberman went to the Senate yesterday and was more or less ignored by his fellow Democrats, which is pretty much as it should be. Meanwhile, Republicans such as Trent Lott volunteered their willingness to have him as one of them. Good luck with that, Joe....
In all seriousness, what's striking is how many of Lieberman's fellow Democrats seem to dislike him. Perhaps all that sanctimony never went over so well.....
¶ 8:49 AM1 comments
Houston Rockets star Tracy McGrady went to Hong Kong on a promotional tour for Adidas the other day, and while he was there, he happily supped on a bowl of shark fin soup. This just weeks after his more enlightened teammate, Yao Ming, called for his fellow Chinese to stop eating the "delicacy," which results in the slaughter of millions of sharks every year. Ugh. Tracy McGrady, evildoer.
"There are people in this state who have suffered from terrorism, and taking even a dollar of their money to support a terrorist is unacceptable," Romney told the Boston Globe. "The shock of the commemoration of a great tragedy coinciding with the visit of a terrorist to our state was too great to go unnoticed. For that reason, I have directed state resources not to be used to ease or encourage his visit."
Romney must think that trashing someone, anyone, from Iran will help his presidential chances, but his demagoguery isn't an encouraging sign for diplomacy in a potential Romney administration. Khatami, after all, was a reformer; when he was elected president in 1997, he promised greater freedom for women and liberalization of the press in Iran, and promotes dialogue between the United States and Middle Eastern countries.
Granted, things haven't exactly gone that way; Khatami was defeated last year by conservative theocrat Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has shown much less interest in civil relations with the West (to put it mildly). If Romney were to get upset about Ahmadinejad coming to Harvard, he'd have a stronger case. (But even then, far from a conclusive one.)
But if we can not speak to Middle Eastern leaders like Mohammed Khatami, we are isolating ourselves from reasonable and progressive (at least by their standards) Islamic leaders...and we are betraying America's most essential principles.
Perhaps this is another reason why Americans are actually coming to believe that Democrats would be better for national security than are Republicans....
¶ 7:56 AM18 comments
Lieberman's New LookJoe Lieberman has a new website, and it's, well, really bad. "Vote Joe for Senate"!
The whole site has a similar rah-rah-sis-boom-bah quality. There's state rep Jim Amann, who explains "Why I'm Sticking with Joe." And "coming soon!" is an attack on Lieberman's opponent, Ned Lamont: "THE FULL LAMONTY—The Whole Truth About Ned." On the website's blog, Lieberman hatchet man Dan Gerstein criticizes Lamont's "more juvenile supporters," then, two sentences later, refers to Lamont as "the Nedster."
Are Connecticut residents voting for U.S. Senate, or president of the sixth grade?
What we are doing is clearly not working. That is why I have called for new leadership and direction from the Pentagon. We also have to demand that the new Iraqi unity government do a better job of containing the sectarian violence, and working with our allies, the British in particular, we should convene an international crisis conference on Iraq, bringing in the Europeans and particularly the other Arab countries that arenow worrying about what happens if Iraq collapses.
Yes! We have to demand that the new Iraqi unity government do a better job of containing the sectarian violence! That ought to put a stop to it. And then we'll have a nice conference, with tea. Pity that we'll be the only ones there.
And here's another whopper from Lieberman:
I am opposed to an indefinite, unconditional deployment of American troops. ...But if we rush to meet some arbitrary, pre-set political deadline, as bad as things are now they will definitely get much worse.
So...let me see if I understand this: On the one hand, Lieberman is opposed to an indefinite deployment of American troops. But on the other hand, he's opposed to a deadline for removing American troops.
As long as we're employing the grade school metaphor, let me suggest that Joe Lieberman is methodically taking an eraser to the blackboard of his once-serious reputation. This is what happens when you've been in Washington for so long that you can't imagine any other life.....
¶ 6:32 AM1 comments
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Larry Summers Has a Blog!
Well, kind of. He's agreed to contribute to a New Republic-sponsored blog, Open University, according to the Crimson. It's appropriate that TNR's site advertises the blog with a photo of Harvard—that is Harvard below, isn't it? Looks like the Yard, with University Hall on the left and Memorial Church unseen on the right—because the list of contributors reads like a Summers kitchen cabinet: There's Summers himself, his wife, Lisa New, his ally, Steve Pinker, the wife of an ally, Abigal Thernstrom, an ally he wanted to hire, John McWhorter...(and they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on....) It's all a little incestuous, eh?
Anyway, speaking of incestuous, I know a couple of contributors to this blog, Ted Widmer and David Greenberg, both of whom I think very highly of. Super nice and smart guys. But as I told the Crimson, I'm not very optimistic about Open University's future. First of all, why would anyone contribute to this unless a) they are mildly nuts, like me, or b) they got paid? The novelty wears off fast, I can assure you. Second, these group blogs don't usually work; everyone's too afraid they'll make a fool of themselves in front of their fellow contributors, and it all gets very stuffy. Shoot, I can't even bring myself to read the entries that are already posted, much less think about coming back for more.
Having said that, I think it'd be fascinating to read a Larry Summers blog, if he actually wrote what he thought and felt....which he wouldn't. But if he did, I imagine it'd be intelligent, idiosyncratic, and highly provocative.....
¶ 6:54 PM2 comments
Bombardieri quotes Derek Bok, who has long emphasized the consideration of pedagogy: ``I think the quality of education is going to get more and more important," said interim Harvard president Derek Bok, noting that globalization has boosted the competition that American graduates face in the workforce. ``We see this as a real opportunity to try to improve what we do for undergraduates."
But Bombardieri also writes that "Harvard officials also hope to spur changes at universities around the country."
To my frustation, she doesn't source that suggestion. I wish she had, because it's actually a provocative one. There are many places around the country where professors teach more and better than at Harvard—Knowles himself admits that— and to say that Harvard is going to teach other places about teaching is, for that reason, mildly irritating.
In any case, Knowles' group, headed by GSAS dean Theda Skocpol, seems like an impressive group. They don't have much time; their report is due next spring. Apparently Larry Summers isn't the only "man in a hurry."
¶ 3:17 PM2 comments
That American higher education is not a pure meritocracy is, of course, hardly news. But Golden’s book has a level of detail about the degree to which he says some colleges favor the privileged that will embarrass many an admissions officer. Golden names names of students — and includes details about their academic records before college and once there that raise questions about the admissions decisions being made. For good measure, he attacks Title IX (saying that the women’s teams colleges create favor wealthy, white applicants), preferences for faculty children (ditto, although substitute middle class for wealthy), and accuses colleges of making Asian applicants the “new Jews” and holding them to much higher standards than other students.
¶ 11:44 AM1 comments
The Second Coming of Jeffrey Epstein
The Times finally picks up the case of Jeffrey Epstein, the pervy billionaire who likes rub-and-tugs from underage girls. The piece focuses on the preferential treatment Epstein clearly received from the Palm Beach district attorney, but breaks little news. It is rare, though, that you'll find paragraphs like the one below in the New York Times:
Most of the girls, according to the police, said Mr. Epstein had masturbated during the massages, and a few said he had penetrated them with his fingers or penis. They identified him in photos and accurately described the inside of his home. Some recalled that his employees had fed them snacks or rented them cars.
That whole paragraph is creepy...but perhaps the creepiest part is the line, "some recalled that his employees had fed them snacks." Like what? Milk and cookies?
Meanwhile, here's another interesting point: Epstein, says the Times, has "pledged" $30 million to Harvard.
I was under the impression that Epstein had already given the money to Harvard. Is this wrong, and Epstein is just another Summers' friend who pledged enormous amounts of money only never to make good on his promise? And if Epstein hasn't already given the university the money, should Harvard now decline the pledge?
Goodbye to Two Geniuses
Andre Agassi lost to 25-year-old Benjamin Becker yesterday, ending his tennis career. When it was over, the fans gave him a standing ovation, and Agassi blew kisses to each side of the court.
“You have pulled for me on the court and also in life,” Agassi said. “I found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed, sometimes even in my lowest moments. And I’ve found generosity. You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I could never have reached without you."
Andre Aassi grew up in front of all of us who watch tennis, and became a good and gracious man. I'll miss him.
I'll also miss Steve Irwin, better known as the Crocodile Hunter. Irwin was the Australian naturalist who hosted a television show of the same name. Yesterday, he was killed when a stingray's tail whipped across his chest and pierced his heart; he died on the way to the hospital.
Irwin's was a remarkable story. When he was a boy, his parents started a small attraction, the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park, where young Steve worked from an early age. By the time he was nine, he was trapping crocodiles to remove them from populated areas. In 1992, Irwin started to host "The Crocodile Hunter," a show featuring his close-up interactions with wildlife.
Did you ever see The Crocodile Hunter? I loved it. Irwin was immensely genial, likeable, self-deprecatory, and a little nuts. (Watch him run and grab a poisonous snake by the tail, then drop it in a pillow case!) But his enthusiasm—"Crikey!" he'd blurt at particularly dramatic moments—and love for nature were a constant, and his message wasn't that nature was dangerous and menacing, but that nature is beautiful and astonishing. Irwin was a hunter who never killed anything. He bought land for preservation in countries around the world, including this one. And he urged people to boycott products made from rare animals, such as turtle shells and the hideous shark-fin soup. "Since when has killing a wild animal, eating it or wearing it ever saved a species?" Irwin said.
Today in Australia Irwin was killed by a stingray while working on a new documentary, which is not a great way to go, partly because it's got to hurt to have your heart pierced while scuba-diving, partly because it takes a lot of work to get stung by a sting ray. (Only two or three people in Australia's recorded history have died from stingray barbs.) It's a fluky way to go. Stingrays are pretty shy creatures; in my experience, as soon as you get close to them, they flap away, staying at least just out of reach. Irwin obviously pushed things too far.
Steve Irwin was just 44; he was taken too soon. But give him credit: The man packed a lot of life into those 44 years, and did a lot of good.
Quote of the Day
"The subject of the human memory is a fascinating one. Memory is what keeps the years of our past from becoming meaningless blurs. For years scientists have studied the human mind, trying to figure out exactly how memory functions. Andrew Lloyd Webber even immortalized...."
—From a student SAT essay on the topic, "Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present?" The student received a perfect score on the essay. (The quote, along with two other quotes from perfect-scoring essays, below, were reprinted in the New York Times.)
Andre the Giant
Last night was a big television night for me, thanks largely to two simultaneous pop culture events: the MTV Video Music Awards and Andre Agassi's match against Marcos Baghdatis at the U.S. Open. The contrast between the two couldn't have been more striking.
I don't watch MTV, having aged out of its demographic about, oh, 20 years ago. But the Video Music Awards can have some dramatic spectacle and, occasionally, pretty good music, and I like to check them out just to feel that I have some tiny knowledge of what kids these days are into. Occasionally, something totally weird and memorable happens—Britney Spears with the snake comes to mind—that's fun to watch.
Britney, before she married the snake.
But last night's show was ghastly. First, of course, you have to indulge the paradox that a channel that doesn't actually show videos is staging an awards show for videos. From the start, that means accepting a foundational level of artifice.
But as the show went on, I found the degree of artificiality overwhelming; I started to feel like Morgan Spurlock in Supersize Me. Everywhere you looked, MTV had stacked the crowd with employees in bright yellow t-shirts whose sole job was to scream and feign enthusiasm. Meantime, every time someone said "fuck," which is a pretty important word in popular music, MTV bleeped it out. Um...why? This is cable, right? Or is MTV, which is owned by CBS, still haunted by the memory of Janet Jackson's breast?
The show was hosted by Jack Black, an incredibly successful "actor" whose success makes one feel profoundly alienated from American culture. Black is nothing but schtick; compare his over-the-top, trying-too-hard zaniness to, say, the natural craziness of the late, great John Belushi. Black is irritating, Belushi is wonderful. And the fact that there was a whole segment devoted to his joke band, Tenacious D? Painful to watch.
Then there were the awards themselves: Best Ringtone? (For real, as they say, which in this case means the opposite.) And what in God's name was Lou Reed doing onstage with Pink, other than looking awkward? I'd bet a hundred bucks he'd never even heard of the band he gave an award to. Reed was being used to give the show some street cred; he should never have played along.
As for the music—well, the new Killers song has potential, but much as I like the Killers, it doesn't say much about the state of popular music that they are the next biggest thing, after one pretty good but not great record. The best music onstage came from the Raconteurs, who were sort of the house band for the night...but everytime they started playing, MTV would cut to a commercial. I really wanted to see ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons playing "Cheap Sunglasses" with Jack White. (Billy Gibbons is the real deal.) But no—cut to commercial.
There were three interesting moments in the show, as follows:
1) When "Chamillionaire" won for best rap video, or something, for a song about racial profiling, and talked about how he'd been scheduled to be interviewed on the subject by 20/20, which had canceled the interview at the last moment.
2) Al Gore's appearance. The kids get it, don't they? Global warming sucks.
3) The weird protester who jumped onstage to talk about how MTV had refused to give him a show, then urged everyone to visit his website. "Uncool," Jack Black intoned. Well, maybe. But I think it was the only unscripted moment on the entire show, so I kind of liked it. (I kind of liked Soy Bomb too.) Besides, it's not like he interrupted anything important. I like Panic! At the Disco well enough, but they are deeply forgettable.
Soy Bomb and Bob Dylan: At least one of these guys is weird.
After watching the VMAs, I felt like I'd eaten about four bags of Cheetos. Bleccch.
Ah...but then there was Agassi in his remarkable match with Baghdatis.
The backstory is crucial: After a 21-year career, Agassi has announced that this will be his final tournament. He's 36, he has a bad back, and he plays a sport dominated by players half his age. He was in so much pain after his previous match, he required a cortisone shot. Baghdatis is 21; he grew up watching Agassi play.
During the first two sets, Agassi looked as if he had a handle on the younger player. Both men were socking the daylights out of the ball, but Baghdatis was making a lot of unforced errors and Agassi leapt ahead, 6-4, 6-4. Baghdatis was also hitting a lot of winners, though, and during the third set, he came to life. Repeatedly pounding his chest above his heart to fire himself up—reminding himself of where he needed to draw strength from—he took the third set 7-5. You had to admire his—well, his heart.
Agassi came back strong in the fourth set, winning the first four games. But Baghdatis refused to give up—even though only once before in his career had he come from two sets down to force a fifth set. He stormed back, winning the set, 7-5. When he broke Agassi in the first game of the fifth set, it looked like the match was over. He was on a roll, and Agassi looked tired, fading.
But then Baghdatis had to take a medical time-out because his left leg started cramping, and Agassi used the time to regain his strength. He broke Baghdatis back, and the two stayed on serve till 4-4. The level of play was just astonishing. As the match neared the four-hour mark, the two men were slugging away from baseline to baseline; one rally went for 26 shots. These guys are simply great.
And then Baghdatis started to cramp again—only this time, in both legs, and the rules forbade another medical time-out. The man was literally collapsing to the ground inbetween points. But during them, he played his heart out. His first point back after the worst of the cramps, he returned an Agassi serve for a winner. When it was his turn at service, his serve hit 128 miles an hour—after 225 minutes of play.
Which was even more impressive considering that the crowd—virtually none of whom left, despite the late hour—was passionately behind Agassi. The emotion in that stadium was palpable, powerful. You could feel the crowd keeping Agassi going, giving him strength.
And he pulled it out; he won, 7-5, at around 1 AM. It was a remarkable feat, and Baghdatis graciously recognized that in a post-match interview. Agassi, he said, was "a legend," and you could tell he meant it. Agassi was equally gracious to Baghdatis, and deeply thankful to the fans. When one of them shouted out "We love you, Andrei," he smiled and called back, "I love you, too," and you know, it was just wonderful—the emotion, the authenticity, the honesty of the moment, the purity of the connection between Agassi and his fellow New Yorkers. Agassi was so clearly moved, it was impossible not to feel the same way.
A wonderful night in sports—and a reminder that, for all the artifice in our popular culture, there are still moments when we can revel in the beauty of excellence, the humanity of struggle, the joy of community. There is still that; there are still heroes.
¶ 8:20 AM3 comments