Archive for April, 2005

Please, Make Him Stop

Posted on April 29th, 2005 in Uncategorized | 16 Comments »

Fabricator Jayson Blair has written a column for bp, a magazine for people with bipolar disorder. (Blair, you will remember, was the New York Times reporter who plagiarized other people’s work and claimed to be reporting from places he’d never even visited.)

In the past, Blair has blamed racism for his downfall at the Times. Now he says it’s because he suffers from bipolar disorder. This strikes me as an insult to people who really are the victims of racism or bipolar disorder.

I don’t believe that journalists who make mistakes should be driven from the business forever, doomed to life as a publicist or monk. I’m glad that former New Republic plagiarist Ruth Shalit has been given a second chance, and I was willing to be open-minded about former New Republic (and George) fabricator Stephen Glass when he returned with a novel, The Fabulist. But still…would it be so hard to say, “I was young and incredibly ambitious, and I responded by lying and making things up”?

Apparently, yes. Better to blame the disease.

Harvard Rules…in the Wall Street Journal

Posted on April 29th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Michael Steinberger, a senior correspondent for the American Prospect, has a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal on why Harvard gets so much ink. He mentions Harvard Rules and Ross Douthat’s Privilege, of course, as examples of the media paying attention to Harvard. But before launching into his explanation, he first argues that Harvard doesn’t deserve all the attention it gets.

According to Steinberger, Harvard:
–doesn’t produce presidents the way it used to
–doesn’t produce business leaders very often, and when it does, they underperform businesspeople from other schools
–doesn’t lead in technological innovation
–it isn’t as intellectually influential as it used to be

In short, “Harvard is diminishing in importance as a factory for ideas and a breeding ground for future leaders.”

But what do you really think, Mr. Steinberger?

Well, apparently he thinks that the prevalence of Harvard grads in the media (he’s not one) helps explain the media’s attention to Harvard.

Sometimes, certainly. Another reason, I think, is the name brand quality of the university. A third reason is that the university is still excellent in so many ways.

But say for the sake of argument that Steinberger’s right about Harvard’s diminishing centrality. The question then becomes, is Larry Summers’ presidency addressing these issues?

And I don’t ask that question rhetorically… It is, really, Harvard’s most important question, and I don’t think there’s a simple yes or no answer.

The Harvard AIDS Scandal–400 Dead?

Posted on April 29th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Crimson estimates today that up to 400 people may have died while waiting for AIDS drugs from Harvard—drugs that never reached them, because Larry Summers delayed the purchase of those drugs for five months after Harvard received grant money from the federal government.

As reporter May Habib puts it, “Mass Hall delayed the funding until it imposed a structure that placed more administrative control over the grant in the hands of University officials.”

For “University officials,” you can substitute the words “Larry Summers.”

(Come to think of it, you can substitute “Larry Summers” for the words “Mass Hall,” too, so that the sentence should really read: “Larry Summers delayed the funding until he imposed a structure that placed more administrative control over the grant in the hands of Larry Summers.”)

But Summers has done a remarkable job of distancing himself from this story. He’s never been quoted (that I’ve seen) on any aspect of it. Instead, he’s gotten provost Stephen Hyman and even Corporation member Jamie Houghton to speak to the press. He even has his new spokesman, someone named John Longbrake, speaking on the record. Everyone but the ultimate authority.

As I’ve noted before, Hyman has given a multiplicity of excuses to explain the five-month delay, one of which directly contradicts a quote from Jamie Houghton, the Corporation’s senior fellow.

This Crimson article adds yet another: “Hyman has said that the University was concerned that anti-retroviral drugs purchased through the grant…would end up on the black market and that patients who began treatment would have to stop because of shortages or supply chain problems.”

So…the logical option is just to let them die?

The most heartbreaking thing about this article is the plaintive quality of the quotes from those who had hands-on contact with the African patients. “They basically held us hostage,” Nigerian program director Robert Murphy said of Mass Hall. “They didn’t draw down on the funds, they delayed until the very end….”

Meanwhile, many of the health care workers in Nigeria were working without pay for months because Harvard wouldn’t initiate the program…but they knew that without their help, people would die.

This One’s for the Birds

Posted on April 29th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

How can you not love this story? An ivory-billed woodpecker, thought to be extinct for 60 years, is spotted deep in an Arkansas swamp. Naturalists keep the sighting secret for a year while they work to confirm the sighting. And—good heavens—Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, who’s generally more interested in pillaging the environment than protecting it, announces that the government is going to contribute ten million bucks to preserving land for the bird.

We will always need wonder and mystery in life, and a story like this helps make us feel that, as much as we’ve trashed the planet, perhaps there’s still hope left. Here’s my favorite quote:

<<"Frank Gill, former president of the National Audubon Society, said of the news, "You get so depressed by the state of things, to suddenly have this happen in your backyard" is wonderful, "just the thought that there are places in the world still—deep wilderness—harboring a secret like this.">>

Well said, Mr. Gill.

The Harvard AIDS Scandal, Cont’d.

Posted on April 28th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In John Donnelly’s April 24 Boston Globe piece on the AIDS scandal at Harvard, provost Stephen Hyman gave this explanation for why the university waited five months after receiving a federal grant before beginning to purchase AIDS drugs for dying Africans:

<<"One major concern for Summers and members of the Joint Committee of Inspections, a Harvard audit board, was whether the US government or patients could sue Harvard for any perceived future problems, Hyman said. In 2000, the US government had sued Harvard for alleged misuse of federal funds in a development grant in Russia. 'That lawsuit sensitized [Larry Summers] enormously for the need for Harvard to do this right,' Hyman said.">>

But just three days before that, on April 21, Corporation senior fellow Jamie Houghton told the Crimson something very different.

<<...James R. Houghton '58 said the University's actions on the Kanki grant were not related to the HIID investigation [of Harvard in Russia]. "It was a large grant that we just felt in that part of that world needed controls," Houghton said. "I don't think that that's an abridgement of academic freedom at all.">>

Well, gentlemen—which is it? A “major concern” or a non-issue? If you’re going to craft a message to explain this tragic inaction, everyone involved has to stick to it. Otherwise, it looks like you’re not telling the truth.

Regardless of whatever impact the HIID fiasco had, one can’t help but wonder: If those people dying of AIDS happened to live in, say, Boston, instead of Africa, would Harvard have waited for five months before purchasing medicine that could have saved their lives?

One suspects that legal concerns, if any actually existed, would probably have mattered less if it it were white Americans who were dying, rather than black Africans.

Allston and Science, Part 2

Posted on April 28th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Perhaps I was too glib before. Because the more I look at the Task Force on Science and Technology Report, the more I think it requires careful annotation. Turns out there’s another between-the-lines implication that I missed at first glance: the further centralization of power in the hands of Larry Summers.

It works like this: the task force issued a “call for ideas” to the Harvard community, with a particular emphasis on proposals that cut across several schools and departments. (And here’s a wonderful line:) “Meritorious proposals with a scope no greater than a single existing department were referred back to the relevant school.”

What a lovely way of saying “rejected out of hand.”

So only cross-departmental or -school proposals were considered. Aside from whatever intellectual merits this may have, it also promotes the dismantling of Harvard’s every-tub-on-its-own-bottom structure and centralizes decision-making.

By making future projects cut across departments and schools, the individual department chairs and school deans become less powerful, and Larry Summers accrues more…especially since he’ll be the one doling out the real estate. Those proposals, chairs, and deans which please him will get space. Those which don’t…won’t.

Tricky, eh? Larry Summers must have learned this tactic while back at Treasury, sneaking things through Congress by burying them in pages of legislation too numerous or boring for most people to read…

Schadenfreude, Part 2

Posted on April 28th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Time’s Matt Cooper, still going through legal hell trying to protect his sources, has dumped lawyer Floyd Abrams. Not that Matt cares, but I couldn’t be more delighted. Abrams is—you heard it here first—a pompous, overrated hired gun, more interested in getting his name in the papers than being a careful and good lawyer. (Go ahead, Floyd, sue me.)

I have some firsthand experience here; Abrams once delivered an unhelpful opinion on a legal matter I was involved with, despite a blatant (and unacknowledged by him) conflict of interest.

Since then, though, I’ve paid some attention to what Abrams really does—primarily, coast on his reputation from his long-ago glory days as a guy who truly believed in freedom of the press. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Matt Cooper had discovered the same thing.

A Little Spinach with Your Pop Culture

Posted on April 28th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Meanwhile, back at Harvard, the university “Task Force on Science and Technology” has released a report on the development of the Allston campus. It’s too dry for me to sum up, so I’ll just quote the Crimson’s article today: ” A Harvard task force will recommend today that future Allston development be anchored around two science complexes of 500,000 square feet each, in which faculty from different fields will work collaboratively on several broad areas of interdisciplinary research.”

The twelve-page document has a lot of filler, with lines like, “The Task Force found extraordinary variety in the subject, scale, and organization of research being conducted at the University.” (Shocked, shocked.)

But between the lines, the implications of this report for Harvard are fascinating and profound. First, the projects it advocates will require staggering sums of money—in the billions of dollars, surely. Brace yourselves, Harvard alums—you know what’s coming. But it will be interesting to see if the university develops new fundraising methods, and particularly closer partnerships with the private sector, to pay for all this.

Second, and perhaps most important, if anything like these proposals get built, the identity of Harvard will change fundamentally; it really will look a lot like MIT. From all I can tell, the Allston development includes no new growth for the humanities. So consider all the science that would be conducted on both sides of the Charles, and you can see that the identity of Harvard would become primarily that of a science and technology-oriented research university.

With particular emphasis, I should add, on the word university. This massive science complex would primarily engage graduate students, post-docs, and scientists. The importance of Harvard College—the sense that it is the university’s crown jewel—would surely diminish.

The plot thickens, doesn’t it?

The World’s Most Annoying Trend

Posted on April 28th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Pop-up ads that make noise, like the buzzing of a fly or the clicking of a camera shutter. Yes, ad geniuses, they get your attention—and make you instantly click away from the page that contains them.

(No link here, but don’t worry: they’ll find you.)

Sometimes I Get Out of My Apartment

Posted on April 28th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Last night I was invited to the opening of a new downtown boutique called…Butik. I wish I could say that I was invited because of my great friendship with its owner, Danish model Helena Christensen, whom you may remember from the Chris Isaak video “Wicked Game,” but no—a friend was organizing the event.

The long and narrow store is at 605 Hudson Street, but I could tell when I was getting close because of the crowd of smokers standing around outside. (Fashionistas are one of smoking’s last holdouts in New York, perhaps the last upmarket profession where people still consider it chic to puff away.) Inside was a bar serving apple martinis and bottled water. The place was so crowded, I picked a spot and tried not to be moved.

I am a terrible guest at such things, because mostly I just stand around and gawk. But truth be told, there was a lot to gawk at, especially for someone who works from home most of the day. At 36—decrepit by model standards—Ms. Christensen is still stunning, and for a while she was standing with Iman greeting guests. (A gay man next to me was obsessed with Iman’s voice, so I encouraged him to introduce himself. “I loved her in ‘Out of Africa,'” he raved.) Every other guest seemed to be a model, which has the effect of making one realize just how much one does not. Even the men were models…or guys who looked like they make so much money, they don’t need to be handsome to date models, which is another well-defined New York genre.

As for the merchandise…I couldn’t see very much of it—some wrought iron chairs, a couple of old skirts—but from what I could see, it looked like a lot of stuff that I’ve thrown away over the years. (Well, not the skirts.) Nonetheless, I am told these objets d’art are very glam right now. If you’re in the market for it, and price is no object—or if you just hope to catch a peak of Helena Christensen—you could do worse than dropping by Butik.

After about half an hour, Iman left, and the spell was broken. I pushed my way through the crowd, past a harried waiter holding a tray of salmon tartare above his head while a horde of men clambered hungrily through the door. (Question: What kind of hors d’oeuvre do you serve a room full of models. Answer: No thank you, I’m not hungry right now.)

“I admire you for that,” I told him. He winced and said, “It’s not a very admirable position.”

On finally getting outside, I passed a group of four men who looked like investment bankers just as one was saying, “Show me the money—I couldn’t agree more. Show me the money. Show me the money.”

New York! It’s a great city.