Archive for October, 2006

Actually, I Might Read That

Posted on October 31st, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

From the list of self-published books printed in the New York Times Book Review:

What!! You’re Pregnant Again!! Bite Me!!

An inspiring and humorous story in coping with the frustration of miscarriages and infertility. This book takes you on a roller coaster of emotions. It’s a truly comedic approach to how one woman copes through her own struggles and fears; however it will make you laugh out loud.

Chatting with Al Franken

Posted on October 31st, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

If you’re interested in hearing me talk with Al Franken about the 2006 election, here’s the audio from my Air America interview…..


Posted on October 31st, 2006 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The Politics of Dancing

I’ve always thought that the ’80s were an underrated decade, particularly musically. The outrageous, electronic music of the decade can really be appreciated in retrospect as a reaction against the conservatism of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. And, somehow, it has become relevant again. Consider, for example, this video of the ’80s classic, “The Politics of Dancing,” in which dancing is presented as a form of protest against authoritarian government. (Not such a crazy idea; yesterday’s Times had a piece about the dangers of dancing in Iraq.) Not the best video, but it shows that the more things change….

Anyway, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy this video other than its politics. The electronic drums! That keyboard player! Those sideburns!

Those were the days…

Monday Morning Zen, Daylight Savings Model

Posted on October 31st, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Department of Small Worlds

Posted on October 30th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

As readers of this blog know, I paid some attention to the story of Andrei Shleifer, who was recently stripped of his endowed chair, the Whipple V.N. Jones Professor of Economics.

When Shleifer gave a quote to the press that said “I was a Professor of Economics last week, and I am a Professor of Economics this week,” I noted that this was something of a diss to Whipple V.N. Jones, whoever that was.

Turns out that Whipple VanNess Jones is—wait for it—my step-grandfather.

I discovered this yesterday, while having lunch with my father and stepmother, whose maiden name is Jones. At some point during lunch, she turned to me and said, “Richard, I have a Harvard question to ask you….”

She had heard something about a scandal involving the chair her father had endowed at Harvard.

And suddenly, it clicked: I’d only met her father, whom I knew as Whip Jones, once. But of course—he was Harvard class of ’32, and had made a fortune investing in Aspen real estate. He founded and owned the Aspen Highlands ski resort, which in 1992 he donated to Harvard, which later sold it for some huge amount of money. Whip Jones had also endowed the Whipple V.N. Jones chair in economics.

He passed away a few years ago, at the ripe old age of 92—a remarkable man, maker of an honest fortune who gave much of it away.

I asked my stepmother what her father would think of the current scandal.

“He would probably be amused,” she said. “He had a good sense of humor.”

Larry Summers in the FT

Posted on October 30th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 19 Comments »

Larry Summers’ first column for the Financial Times appears today. It’s an interesting piece of work. I wouldn’t say that Summers is a natural writer. This article feels more like a speech than a column, which is to be expected given that Summers has done far more speechifying than he has column-writing. It’s a little stentorian, a little Olympian.

The subject is the fate of the global middle class under globalization, and why that middle class is feeling economic anxiety. An interesting and worthy topic.

Summers writes:

From the failure to complete the Doha trade round to pervasive Wal-Mart-bashing, from massive renationalisation in Russia to the success of populists in Latin America and eastern Europe, we see a degree of anxiety about the market system that is unmatched since the fall of the Berlin Wall and probably well before.

Summers attributes this anxiety to the growing recognition that the vast global middle is not sharing the benefits of the current period of economic growth.

Instead, two groups are benefitting from globalization: the very poor, who are finding new work as a result of international outsourcing and the demand for cheap labor, and those businesspeople and financiers in a position to take advantage of globalization.

I find one line particularly noteworthy:

Certainly those in the financial sector in a position to benefit from the asset revaluations associated with globalisation have prospered.

Let me extrapolate what I think Summers may be getting at here. Part of the middle class anxiety people feel, at least in this country, stems from the awareness that some Americans are getting immensely rich, richer than anyone has ever been in the scope of human history, and that this wealth is not generating opportunities for economic advancement for the middle class.

For example: David Shaw, Summers’ new employer, made $340,000,000 last year. One could say that he has “prospered.” This money is not going to build factories or create jobs. It is going into the bank of David Shaw.

While Americans may not know this specific example, they are aware that financiers such as Shaw are making obscene amounts of money, and they worry that these profits are coming at their expense. While old businesses such as Ford are closing plants and laying off thousands of workers, new ones such as the D.E. Shaw Group are making huge fortunes for a very small number of employees, with no apparent economic trickle-down whatsoever. Dollars are being sucked out of the hands of the middle glass by a great vacuum wielded by those fortunate enough to play the hedge fund game—who, by and large, don’t appear to have any particular sense of social responsibility. (Anyone heard much about foundations started by hedge fund billionaires? Me neither.) And they are hiring former Treasury secretaries to help them fend off federal regulation, so that their vast accumulation of wealth can continue unabated.

At least, that’s my impression. I’m not an economist, and so I would be curious to hear someone who thinks about these things on a more rigorous basis than I do analyze the issue.

Once upon a time—perhaps when he was giving economic advice to presidential candidate Michael Dukakis—this is exactly the sort of economic problem that liberal economist Lawrence Summers would have tackled. Would he do so now that he is nursing at the hedge fund teat? Or has his intellectual integrity been compromised by his desire to make millions?

The answer, as a Summers FT column might say, remains to be seen. Consider again that sentence. On the one hand, it’s pretty tepid, and softpedals the issue. On the other hand, at least it’s there.

Summers is always an intriguing man, and it will be interesting to watch the development of his future writings.

Plagiarism: Everybody’s Doing It!

Posted on October 30th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

A Crimson cartoonist has been ripping off, well, almost everyone.

Perhaps it’s time for a multi-part Crimson series into plagiarism on campus? If there have been two recent examples at the paper, and Charles Ogletree committed plagiarism twice in his book, then there must be more of it going around….

Radio Daze

Posted on October 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

If anyone cares, I’ll be on the Al Franken Show on Air America at 1:30 EST …talking about the environment in my role as political editor of Plenty magazine.

White Not?

Posted on October 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Have you read about all the hubbub over the racist ad Republicans are airing against Tennessee senatorial candidate Harold Ford?

From the Times:

The spot, which was first broadcast last week and was disappearing from the air on Wednesday, featured a series of people in mock man-on-the street interviews talking sarcastically about Mr. Ford and his stands on issues including the estate tax and national security.

The controversy erupted over one of the people featured: an attractive white woman, bare-shouldered, who declares that she met Mr. Ford at a “Playboy party,” and closes the commercial by looking into the camera and saying, with a wink, “Harold, call me.”

I’ve read a lot about this ad, and none of the reporting points out one of the subtexts the ad manipulates so grossly: Harold Ford does like white women.

How do I know this? A female friend of mine, who is white, dated Ford…and it was her strong impression that white women were Ford’s girlfriends of preference.

Let’s be clear: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this.

My point: The ad is even more vile than the press has reported, because it uses an innocuous truth which is probably somewhat known in Tennessee to manipulate and exaggerate racial fears.

The Book on Aleksey Vayner

Posted on October 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Two Yalies have submitted a book proposal about con artist Aleksey Vayner to Suzanne Gluck, at ICM, according to IvyGate.

(In a weird coincidence, Suzanne Gluck happens to be my agent.)

The story of Aleksey Vayner is both sensational and seemingly apocryphal. On the one hand, Aleksey and his family, penniless, emigrated from Uzbekistan to the United States; at eighteen, he gained admission to Yale University as a tennis recruit. On the other hand, Aleksey Vayner sexed up his accomplishments one time too many: recently, he single handedly became the laughing stock on Wall Street after sending an eleven page résumé and promotional video to UBS AG, the world’s largest asset wealth manager.

Ah, yes—not only sensational, but seemingly apocryphal.

Well, I literally can’t believe it. I have this weird hunch that the whole Aleksey Vayner thing is a big meta-joke—an ironic commentary on modern ambition, snark, higher education, Wall Street, the media, and indeed irony itself. A performance art piece, like in The Shape of Things. Or Borat.

More from the proposal:

But Wall Street erupted with laughter. And they have not stopped. Aleksey is being bombarded with requests for interviews. The calls have not stopped. Wall Street circulated Aleksey’s video and résumé because, Aleksey, whether we like it or not, is simply entertaining.

“But Wall Street erupted with laughter. And they have not stopped.”

Now, that’s good stuff. Just imagine it with an exclamation point: “And they have not stopped!”

It’s a fine line, reality. What with the plagiarism epidemic, Aleksey Vayner, and staying the course, I think I may have crossed/lost it.