Archive for March, 2005

The Dignity of Life, Part 2

Posted on March 31st, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

News flash: the Pope has a urinary tract infection.


Posted on March 31st, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Another African-American scholar is leaving Harvard. Tenured political scientist Michael Dawson, a graduate of Berkeley with a Ph.D. from Harvard, says farewell in this e-mail:

<<Subject: With regrets

Dear Colleagues,
I’m sad to say that for a variety of reasons–including some important
familial ones–[my wife] and I have decided to return to the University
of Chicago. I regret that I didn’t get to work with many of you more
closely than I have been able to, but know that the future of the
department is extraordinarily bright and it will be my loss that I will
be unable to join you in the coming years.
With all my best wishes,

Is this a sign of things to come?

Sloppy Journalism for You

Posted on March 31st, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

This Reuters article about the anti-Semitism debate at Columbia contains the following egregious lines: “The Columbia controversy is one of several freedom of speech issues to hit U.S. college campuses. Harvard University President Lawrence Summers was criticized for comments about women’s aptitude for science…”

The controversy over Summers’ remarks was not a controversy over free speech, despite the attempts of a number of conservative commentators to frame it that way. It was a debate over a university president saying that women in science are held back by genetic shortcomings, which in turn fueled a debate over that president’s leadership style.

No one was saying that President Summers’ 1st Amendment rights have been impaired—no one serious, anyway. This Reuters journalist is editorializing by presenting the Summers controversy that way…

It’s Not Just Harvard’s Problem

Posted on March 31st, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Yale Daily News reports on a contentious faculty meeting at which women and minorities (in particular, though not exclusively) lamented a lack of diversity on the Yale faculty. The story shows just how complicated this issue is, and how the specific issues can break down differently for women, as opposed to people of color. For example: It may be relatively easy to recruit women in the humanities, but not in the sciences. The challenges for minority faculty seem even greater: they appear to be more scarce across the board.

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology chair Stephen Stearns explained that “his department recently hired four new faculty members, two of whom were women, and although the department’s senior faculty helped search for minority candidates, they were unable to find any candidates of color whom they believed would have reasonable chances of attaining tenure. Also, Stearns said it is difficult to identify minority candidates because candidates often do not indicate their ethnicity in their applications.”

It is an irony that, while Larry Summers’ clumsy remarks back in January have been extremely damaging to him, and at least in the short term damaging to Harvard, there’s no doubt that Summers has brought enormous attention to a serious problem at campuses across the country. As he might put it, this wasn’t his intent, but it certainly was his effect.

Summers’ story, like that of the challenge of recruiting female and minority professors, defies simple conclusions….

The Finn Brothers Take the Stage—Sadly

Posted on March 31st, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Neil and Tim Finn, two of the three remaining members of Crowded House, played a gig at London’s Royal Albert Hall the other night, as described by the Financial Times.

Key quote: < And so the masters of catchy tunes and feelgood chord changes found themselves in improbably melancholy mood, one that Neil Finn in particular managed to shake off only during an extended and poignant encore. For the rest of the time, he looked listless and uninspired, while brother Tim took over most of the big stage numbers.>>

The encore was, fittingly enough, “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”

UC-Berkeley Weighs In

Posted on March 31st, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Daily Californian, the newspaper of the University of California at Berkeley, has this take on the women in science issue. You won’t find this article in the “Harvard in the News” wrap-up, but it’s representative of a genre I’ve seen quite a bit of in the past few weeks: college newspapers using Larry Summers’ remarks on women in science to demonstrate how much more progressive their institution/president is than Harvard/’s.

Two thoughts:

1) Individually and collectively, these articles damage Harvard’s reputation. It’s a subtle thing, but Harvard is becoming better known for the off-base remarks of its controversial president than for all the amazing scholarship and remarkable graduates the university produces.

2) One of the striking things about Harvard’s culture is how masculine it is. In ways small and big, obvious and subtle, from the number of female tenured faculty, the coolness of much social interaction, the macho, competitive culture—even the fact that out of something like 42 portraits in the faculty room, only two are of women. And don’t even get me started on the subject of Hanna Gray…

I can’t help but think that this gender-construction at Harvard is unhealthy, and it’s one of the ways in which Larry Summers was a problematic choice for president. He was steeped in masculine cultures from the time he went to college, if not before. More, he’d scorn the intellectual genres—women’s studies, for example—that would provide some insight into this state of affairs…..

Harvard: We’re #27!

Posted on March 31st, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Even though Harvard College is on spring break at the moment, the Crimson follows up the Globe with this story about Harvard’s abysmal ranking in a poll of student satisfaction. I suppose because the students are gone, the Crimson interviews a number of professors—Steve Pinker, Harvey Mansfield, et al—about their opinions on the survey. The professors’ comments are, with one or two exceptions, inadvertently hilarious, as they merely reflect the prejudices of the person being interviewed and they show just how little Harvard professors know about undergraduate life. Steve Pinker, for example, uses the opportunity to talk (yet again) about what a great humanitarian Larry Summers is, while Mansfield blames the problem on—what a shock—the faculty. (I’m surprised he didn’t specify “feminists.”)

Here’s something I’ve wondered: Who leaked this document to Marcella Bombardieri in the Boston Globe in the first place? Was it a Summers opponent who wanted to keep the heat on?

Pope Dope

Posted on March 31st, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

So unlike Terri Schiavo, the Pope now has a feeding tube. “Frail Pope Supports Dignity for the Ill,” headlines the Drudge Report. “Wants Life Support to the End.”

It’s dangerous to overinterpret a headline, of course, but since Matt’s take on the Pope seems supported by consensus, let’s parse that. The Pope apparently can’t speak, so he wanders over to a window for a brief moment to show his believers that he’s still alive. On Easter Sunday, his image is beamed to the masses, but shown only from behind. His illness has become a morbid spectacle watched the world over. He’s being fed through a tube.

This is dignity for the ill?

Given that the Pope apparently can’t speak for himself, it’s hard not to wonder how much this situation is being manipulated by high-ups in the Vatican. Who knows what power struggles and intrigues are taking place behind the scenes?

I’m not a Catholic, but I’ve always had tremendous respect for this pope, a remarkable and inspiring man. Lately, though, I’m just feeling sorry for him. Where is the dignity in having a tube inserted into your stomach just to keep the body functioning past the point where the Lord is calling you home? I don’t find this death-watch inspiring; I find it tawdry.

From a journalist’s perspective, this is a book one would love to write. I’m not qualified to, but someone should: the behind-the-scenes story of what’s happening inside the Vatican during the last months of the Pope’s life. It’d read like The Da Vinci Code….

Pipes Down

Posted on March 30th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Students and faculty at the University of Toronto are protesting a lecture by pro-Israeli academic Daniel Pipes. They’re not trying to stop him from speaking; they just don’t want people to go hear him.

I was skeptical—is this just another example of pro-Palestinian radical chic—until I read this letter in the University of Toronto newspaper…sounds to me like the protesters have a point.

Don’t Dream It’s Over

Posted on March 30th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

That’s the name of a song by the New Zealand band Crowded House, a group I’ve loved for two decades and still listen to frequently, even though they broke up in 1994. Crowded House created bright, catchy pop music that sounded easy but was exquisitely crafted. And on many of their songs, their playful quality was tempered with a dark and subversive take on life, so typical of the art produced by musicians and filmmakers from that part of the world. Plus, they wrote some of the most heartbreakingly honest and beautiful love songs you could ever hear, like the aforementioned “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”

The first Crowded House album came out in 1986, as I was graduating college and moving to Washington, D.C., to start a career in journalism, making $25 a week as an intern at the Center for Investigative Reporting. When I hear Crowded House now, I can’t help but think of those days…the wonderful stale popcorn and cheap beer at Mr. Egan’s, the fire department coming after my roommate and I lit our Christmas tree on fire (on purpose), bailing the aforementioned roommate out of jail after he decided to take his unregistered, unlicensed, uninsured motorcycle for a spin on the Washington Mall….

That year or the next, I got the chance to see Crowded House play at the Bayou in Washington, and they were just fantastic—playful, fun, warm. An extremely likable bunch of guys. But perhaps the one having the most fun was drummer Paul Hester, who, even from behind his drum kit, appeared to be having the time of his life. He was the jester of the group, and he made everyone in the audience laugh along with him. (A friend reminds me that at one point he used his whisks to play bandmember Neil Finn’s guitar.)

Some months after the death of my boss, John Kennedy, in 1999, I traveled to Australia, where Crowded House is hugely popular. I listened to the group all throughout that recuperative journey. You couldn’t really help it; Aussies love their local heroes. Crowded House helped bring some light to that dark period of my life.

But things are not always what they seem. Yesterday the New York Times reported that Paul Hester took his own life at the age of 46, leaving behind two daughters. He hanged himself from a tree in a park near Melbourne, Australia.

This one is tough. Only Crowded House fans will get this, but without Paul Hester, there is a hole in the river. Like the song says, I hope he was dreaming of glory/miles above the mountains and plains/free at last….