What Elizabeth Warren Says About Larry Summers

Posted on April 17th, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The New Yorker’s review of Elizabeth Warren’s new autobiography, A Fighting Chance, contains this anecdote:

In 2008, Warren joined a five-person congressional-oversight panel whose creation was mandated by the seven-hundred-billion-dollar bailout. She found that thrilling and maddening, too. In the spring of 2009, after the panel issued its third report, critical of the bailout, Larry Summers took Warren out to dinner in Washington and, she recalls, told her that she had a choice. to make. She could be an insider or an outsider, but if she was going to be an insider she needed to understand one unbreakable rule about insiders: “They don’t criticize other insiders.” That’s about when Warren went on the Jon Stewart show, and you get the sense that, over that dinner, she decided to run for office.

Fascinating, don’t you think? I love the fact that, in the most arrogant and patronizing of ways, Summers tried to teach the woman how the world works—which inspired the woman to go out and do something that made her considerably more powerful than Summers, and also ensured that she would oppose his nomination to replace Ben Bernanke at the Fed should that ever have happened.

This is why, when people so routinely and unthinkingly characterize Summers as “brilliant,” I generally demur: This is the most ham-handed and boneheaded of power plays. And while you can’t say for sure that Summers felt comfortable engaging in it because of Warren’s gender—it’s possible Summers would be just as arrogant with a man—it’s hard not to think that gender played some role here. Another reason why I am unconvinced of Summers’ all-around brilliance: Did he learn nothing from the women-in-science fiasco?

And one final point on insiders versus outsiders: I expect that Summers’ insight is correct, but what a noxious modus vivendi!

In this particular instance, Summers appears to be suggesting that Warren should shut up cease her criticism of a hugely important, $700 billion program…in order to maintain her status as an insider.

Makes you wonder what public goods Summers has bartered in order to do the same.

Are Sox Fans Getting Worried?

Posted on April 13th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

Judging from the comments below, I’d say so. You guys are touchy!

Let me give Chris, who asks why I continue to harp on David Ortiz’s steroid use, a serious answer.

Chris says, “Your steroid fixation with Ortiz is getting old. Why don’t you focus on guys who really used them—Afraud, Clemens, Pettite [sic]…”

Afraud? I’d go with Aroid, but that’s just me.

In any case, the answer is this.

Pettite says he used steroids once to come back from an injury, and nobody really seems to argue that; Clemens is a former Red Sox, so you know where that trouble started (and besides, he’s out of baseball); and A-Rod, well, I still think there’s more to that story. How A-Rod became the most hated man in baseball, I’m still not sure I understand.

But what bothers me, Chris, is the double standard here. Sox fans go ballistic about A-Rod, what a terrible guy he is and all that. Hell, if you polled Sox fans, I’ll bet at least 50 percent would approve of Ryan Dempster deliberately throwing at Rodriguez multiple times. Just because, you know, he used steroids.

But out of all the players we’ve mentioned here, the only one who’s actually failed a drug test is David Ortiz. And Ortiz’s ridiculous numbers, both in the mid 2000s, the height of the steroid era, and more recently certainly suggest that he was/is a ‘roid user. From 2004-2006 Ortiz drove in 424 RBIs and hit 142 home runs, or about 47 a season. There’s no way those are not artificially inflated numbers.

And, Chris, the three other players you mention are out of baseball, at least for now. Ortiz is still playing. And, possibly, still using. Let’s be honest, last year was weird.

Yet Sox fans give Ortiz a pass. They don’t want to know. And the main reason they don’t want to admit it is because they’d have to admit that their World Series victories in 2004 and, very likely, 2007 are completely tainted.

Hey, I don’t blame you. That’s a tough thing to come to terms with, given how important those championships were to the Sox. And Ortiz is an immensely likable guy who’d probably be a very good hitter even without steroids. Just not the monster hitter that he was.

Alex Rodriguez, however, is not a likable guy. By almost all accounts, he’s an insufferable jerk. (I say “almost” because I know someone who knows him and swears A-Rod is just misunderstood.)

So Ortiz gets a pass, while A-Rod gets ostracized and thrown at—when they both did the same thing.

That’s not right. That’s high school mentality. We let the cool guy off the hook and pick on the unpopular one. Because we can’t admit Ortiz’s transgressions, we’re just going to pile on A-Rod that much more. To prove to ourselves that, no, really, we take this steroid stuff seriously. There’s no place for it in baseball!

Except when it was the foundation of the Red Sox’s first World Series victory in a century or so.

So as long as Sox fans are in denial about what really happened in 2004 and afterward—or as long as they keep vilifying A-Rod while canonizing Ortiz—I’ll keep harping on David Ortiz’s steroid use.

The Sox Are Struggling. Boo-Hoo.

Posted on April 11th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

They were crushed by the Yankees last night.

I know, I know—every time I write something like this, the Sox go out and crush the Yankees in return.

But I’m going to enjoy this satisfying victory in the first Yanks-Sox matchup of the season.

“Obviously we’ve got to have better at-bats,” said Dustin Pedroia, who was 0 for 4.

Yup.

There was a little controversy as Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda was apparently using pine tar on his hand to help grip the ball. But since the Red Sox do it also, no one made a big thing of it.

Said David Ortiz: “Everybody uses steroids pine tar in the league. It’s not a big deal.”

Tonight looks to be Jon Lester vs. CC Sabathia. Should be a good one.

Quote of the Day

Posted on April 10th, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

“Those of us who have enjoyed [Al Sharpton's] scoundrelly company have always assumed that he was untrustworthy. But we never thought he was crazy.”

The late Newsday columnist Murray Kempton, who would not have been surprised at recent reports that Al Sharpton became an FBI informant after he tried to serve as a money launderer for an FBI agent posing as a drug kingpin.

What a biography someone could and should write of Sharpton…

Can Harvard Do Better?

Posted on April 4th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

The Crimson posts this chart comparing Harvard policies on sexual assault to those of peer schools—hilarious, because, when it comes to rape culture, it’s all about how you compare to the other Ivies—and a group called Our Harvard Can Do Better suggests this demonstrates how poorly Harvard is doing.

(Sorry, Crimson, I can’t find the link to this on your site.)

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To me, though, it looks like everyone is doing more or less the same…

Meanwhile, the case of the anonymous letter writer to the Crimson has now been decided in the court of public opinion: The anonymous woman is a martyr and there’s no question that she was raped.

So, anyway, writes a Harvard grad named Winnie Li, who is herself a rape survivor, and writes this on the Huffington Post:

Some might say my own experience of sexual assault is very different from that of the anonymous Harvard student. I was raped by a stranger in Belfast, Northern Ireland, who followed me when I was walking in a park in the middle of the day. She was raped by a friend in his dorm room, after a night of drinking. My rape was the stuff of lurid headlines — newspapers afterward screamed: “Tourist dragged into the bushes and brutally raped.” Her rape was the kind no one wants to talk about, even though it happens all the time, behind closed doors.

Note how the anonymous letter writer’s story has now evolved and settled into a cultural paradigm; I don’t think that even she described what happened to her as “rape.” But in some ways, Li writes, what happened to the Letterwriter is worse than what happened to her.

My point: We still don’t know for sure what happened to the Letterwriter. Only one side of the story has been presented, and it was presented with a significant degree of ambiguity. And yet, people with their own agendas have hijacked her story for their own purposes. (They may think they’re helping Letterwriter, but how do they know?) Linking what happened to another person with what happened to you may seem like an act of solidarity, and I’m sure it can be. But it can also be an act of narcissism.

Nonetheless, a narrative has been created, based on one person’s ambiguous and anonymous story, that is now assuming cultural power. A lot of people read the Huffington Post—particularly when the words “rape” and “Harvard” appear in a headline.

Li, for example, concludes with this admonition:

I’ve heard a lot recently about the success of the Harvard men’s basketball team, the launch of HarvardX (the online learning experience for alumni), Harvard’s Global Month of Service. Yet, for all this outward broadcasting, Harvard should be looking inwards, first and foremost, to its own students, to make sure they’re offering the right kinds of services to them, no matter what the situation. It’s time to replace a culture of success and winning, with a culture of justice and understanding.

Our educational institutions have failed to truly offer an honest, safe, nurturing environment where students can explore their potential and not be afraid to speak up. In that sense, they have failed in their primary purpose. Because if universities like Harvard pride themselves on shaping the world’s future leaders and thinkers, then they need to start by teaching the right lessons.

So there are a lot of issues embedded in this manifesto. First to me is the idea that Harvard lacks and ought to have a culture of justice and understanding. I’ve wondered often of Harvard: Can it be the world-beating institution that these young people are desperate to attend, sacrifice their childhood to get into, and still satisfy their emotional needs for “nurturing” and “empathy”?

Because Winnie Li isn’t being entirely honest here: She didn’t go to Harvard because she was looking for on-campus understanding. She went to Harvard, as does pretty much everyone who goes to Harvard, precisely because of its culture of success and winning–and she got what she came for. Just look at her blog, which is more or less a recounting of her various successes. Lis is one of 25 women who contributed essays to a small book called Sushi and Tapas, a fact which appears on her blog under the tab “Books.” She describes its publication in Singapore as “my book launch.” Is that a rejection of Harvard values or a display of them?

Li also writes a blog called “The Fag Hag,” a term which some people think should be abolished. But Li explains that “The Fag Hag” is the title of her “forthcoming” novel—though the book does not seem to be written and there’s no evidence of it having a publisher. More power to Li for her confidence in describing an unwritten novel as “forthcoming.” But again—is that presumption a rejection of Harvard values, or an internalization of them?

Does Harvard actually lack a culture of justice, as Li says? I don’t know. I do wonder where is the proof of this serious assertion? It’s not in the chart above. Is it in the Letterwriter’s story? We can’t know, particularly as long as she remains anonymous. But nothing in what I’ve read establishes that she was done an injustice by Harvard officialdom. One of her biggest complaints is that Harvard administrators didn’t seem to feel her pain, but the complaint presumes the validity of her story, and that assumption is not compatible with the administration of “justice,” a term that Li equates with the presumption of guilt.

Third: Are people afraid to speak up at Harvard? I guess…kinda? Since the Letterwriter hasn’t identified herself, we don’t know if she’s faced harmful repercussions—she’s certainly received a lot of public support. Is she protected? Well, The Crison disabled comments on her letter—a newspaper censored free speech, think about that—in order to protect her; it presumed that someone would name her; it presumed guilt. If, after this kind of response, she still doesn’t feel safe, is that Harvard’s fault? I don’t see how it could be. Maybe students who don’t speak up are afraid of jeopardizing their career prospects. But if there’s somewhere in the world where it is safer to “speak up” than at Harvard, you should move there instantly.

As a general matter, yes, every student on every campus should feel safe, nurtured and protected. And it takes real courage for Li to speak so honestly about her horrifying experience of rape—that can not be easy, and I applaud her for doing it. She put a name and a face to her story.

Which reminds me—and should remind Li—that we still don’t know for sure what happened to the Letterwriter, and we should be careful about drawing conclusions about Harvard, American universities, or “rape culture” based on emotion rather than knowledge. In the long run, this kind of caution will only help the cause of justice and understanding.

More on the David Ortiz Scandal

Posted on April 3rd, 2014 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

The Boston Globe looks at Ortiz’s ethics:

Ortiz on Wednesday expressly denied that Samsung put him up to the photo. But his remarks about getting the photo, in which he exclaimed, “Yeah baby, cha-ching,” probably summed up the moment better than Ortiz had intended.

Is the Globe calling Ortiz a liar? Am I? (Probably not; probably.)

Call me old-fashioned—increasingly I feel that way—but I hope that if I ever meet the President in the White House, I don’t sell out the moment to a cell phone company….

Derek Jeter wouldn’t do it, that’s for sure.

If I Tweeted…

Posted on April 2nd, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

…I would Tweet that I just walked out of the door of the Harvard Club and bumped into Drew Faust….

Typical Red Sox Behavior—and Literacy

Posted on April 2nd, 2014 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Deadspin posts this pic of yet another well-educated Red Sox fan:

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One would like to think that this is a commentary on HFT, but..nah.

In other typical Red Sox behavior news, you’ve probably seen the selfie that David Ortiz took with him and President Obama at the White House:

selfie

Nice moment, right?

Wrong!

Turns out that Ortiz was just doing it because he’d just signed an endorsement deal with Samsung, the maker of his phone. Way to pimp out your visit to the White House, David! You stay classy.

Typical Red Sox behavior…

At Harvard, A Sexual Assault Controversy

Posted on April 2nd, 2014 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

The Boston Globe reports on “the Letterwriter,” a female Harvard student who wrote a letter to the Crimson detailing an episode of alleged sexual assault.

“I was intoxicated, I was in pain, I was trapped between him and the wall, and I was scared to death that he would continue to ignore what I said. I stopped everything and turned my back to him, praying he would leave me alone. He started getting impatient. ‘Are you only going to make me hard, or are you going to make me come?’ he said in a demanding tone.”

It did not sound like a question. I obeyed.”

Oh, man. I hate this stuff. Because from the description given, this is hardly a clear-cut situation. She’s drunk, he’s aggressive—maybe—she turns her back to him, he says something vulgar, she “obeys.”

There’s a lot of ambiguity in this recounting, and a frustrating lack of specificity. (”I obeyed.”) There’s also an attempt to write the story artfully, almost breathlessly, rather than literally; “It did not sound like a question. I obeyed.” (Wasn’t that in 50 Shades of Grey?)

Do you think this story would win a conviction in a court of law? She’s drunk, she “stumbles” into his dorm room, and something happens. I’m not saying she isn’t telling the truth, or at least what she believes to be the truth, but—there’s not a lot to go on here, evidence-wise.

And this is the crux of the matter: By the woman’s own admission, there is a huge amount of doubt about what happened that night. If the guy ever had to defend himself before some sort of interlocutor, presumably he’d say, “I was in my room, she came in to my room, she was a little tipsy, we fooled around by mutual consent.” The only claims we know to be true are the first three.

The original letter contains both more specificity and more ambiguity. The description of what happened is more specific, but the writer characterizes the event as “pressured me into sexual activity” and “sexually assaulted,” which I think are not the same, because “pressured” and “assaulted” do not mean the same thing. But people disagree on that, I’m sure; it’s a grey area that I suppose depends on what the woman really means by the term “pressured.”

Rightly or wrongly, the Letterwriter doesn’t seem to think that legal standards should apply; instead, she decries what she terms a “broader rape culture” that leaves victims of sexual assault with few good options. As the Globe describes it (emphasis added),

The Letterwriter continues to say Harvard took an “innocent until proven guilty” approach following her request to have her assailant moved to another residence House on campus. The formal investigation would follow the aforementioned definitions of rape and assault. The school suggested, “[in] an attempt to comply with Title IX regulation—which requires universities to provide a safe environment to survivors of sexual assault,” that Letterwriter should move to a different house herself. Letterwriter decided that moving would have given a sense of vindication to her assailant and decided to stay in her residence, with friends and tutors she believed would support her and prevent her from “descending into mental illness.

Two things: First, it’s fascinating that the student in question appears to be offended that Harvard takes an innocent until proven guilty approach.

Second, if Harvard really did suggest that she move, that suggestion seems on its surface wrong. But I can imagine a scenario in which Harvard says, “Look, we haven’t yet proved that the guy did anything, and it isn’t going to be easy to prove that, so we can’t force him to move, so if you want to pursue it we will and in the meantime if you’re uncomfortable we can move you.”

I say this partly because that scenario seems more plausible than the description of rank insensitivity; with all the attention paid to sexual assault cases on campus these days (and rightly so), administrators who handle these matters know that their actions are likely to be closely scrutinized. And so they are careful. I can imagine that caution can translate into the appearance of insensitivity to a young woman who believes she has been sexually assaulted, but the university does have an obligation to be sensitive to all parties involved. Innocent until proven guilty, etc.

The Letterwriter argues that because Harvard’s policy on sexual assault contains obsolete 20-year-old language, her alleged assailant is getting away with his “assault.” She is also devastated by “seeing how university officials refuse to validate how upset you are.”

The last time I met with my resident dean, I told my dean about my depression, and how I thought it had been caused by the lack of validation and empathy I had received from the Harvard faculty. I said that it would be immensely helpful for me to know that my dean, not as a school official but as a human being, understood my pain and empathized with it. I asked my dean to take a step back from the situation and to admit that I had not been served well by the Harvard system. My pleas were met with a refusal to comment and an argument that it was not an administrator’s role to criticize Harvard’s sexual assault policy.

I feel bad for the dean in this scenario. First, he or she may not agree with the student. Second, anything he or she might have said, no matter in what “human being” context, could subsequently have been used against him/her and Harvard in any potential lawsuit. (Because you know that if the woman decided to sue, the fact that the remark was made “as a human being” wouldn’t keep her from using that comment as evidence of Harvard’s malfeasance.)

Unfortunately, it’s very hard to tell from a one-sided account what really happened here. Was this sexual assault? Where Harvard administrators insensitive? Did Harvard “win”?

You just can’t say.

So I suppose this post is a caveat to the inevitable outpouring of support for the Letterwriter and praise for her “courage.”

I’ve made this point before, but I think it bears repeating: Since when is writing an anonymous letter courageous? You know what’s courageous? Saying something difficult and putting your name to it.

Harvard’s staff needs better training,” writes a woman in Slate.

And here’s a Harvard student named Grace Mahoney on Time.com: “’There’s a lot in the [Harvard] culture that’s very male-dominant,” she said, adding that tough academic standards pressure students to put on a brave face.

Snookums.

(Was that male-dominant? Sorry.)

Note the student’s connection here of a male-dominant culture and tough academic standards and a “brave” face; this is not exactly leaning in.

The headline on that Time piece: “Harvard Student: School Made Me Live with Attacker after Sex Assault,” which is highly misleading. (Sigh: Web journalism.)

Read the Devastating Letter by a Harvard Sexual Assault Survivor,” says Mother Jones.

And so it goes.

The Globe article itself is a lousy piece of journalism—not even close to objective, and there’s no sign that the author, a woman, tried to speak with anyone in Harvard officialdom (they can’t talk, but still, you have to make the calls), and there’s no acknowledgement of the fact that Harvard is legally required to protect the confidentiality of this person and therefore can’t say a word in order to do the right thing. It is legally incapable of defending itself.

As always seems to be the case in these matters, the “truth” is hard to know, and if anyone does know it, it certainly isn’t going to be me or you or any of the thousands of other people who read the Letterwriter’s story.

I just wish we—and journalists in particular—could acknowledge this uncomfortable fact before rushing to judgment. And also that Harvard not be lambasted for, apparently, doing just that.

Is That Why I’ve Been Feeling Poorly?

Posted on April 2nd, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

In Politico, Ben Schreckinger writes on “The Death of the WASP,” an article that probably hasn’t been written in, oh, a year or so.

It’s an ignoble end for a proud people. Once upon a time, climbing to the top of New England politics practically required membership in a mainline Protestant church, the remnants of an old shipping, banking or textile fortune, and your family’s name on either a nearby town or a building at the local Ivy League campus, preferably both (as in the Lowells, the namesakes of the Massachusetts municipality and the Harvard hall, among many other things). As Richard Brookhiser wrote in his 1990 book The Way of the WASP, “They wrote the rules; everyone else played by them.

If you were to really track the declining influence of WASPs in American politics, this phenomenon has been a long time happening; I’d trace it back to the election of JFK (Henry Cabot Lodge to Vietnam—off you go!) and the discrediting of the best and the brightest in that war. Who was the last influential WASP in politics that you can think of? (Bill Weld, maybe?)

This does point up an interesting thing about web-based journalism, though. Ben Schreckinger, from what I can tell, appears to be about 25. Now, I’m all for young journalists, and I don’t want to sound like a defensive old guy when I write this, and a web search suggests that Ben Schreckinger is a talented guy with a great future. But because of the economics of web journalism—it makes little to no money, so the people who do it are poorly paid young people—the journalists involve tend to be young, and don’t have a great sense of history….