Archive for November, 2006

Two More Dems

Posted on November 30th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

A poster reminds me that I’ve neglected to include Bill Richardson and Wes Clark among my list of potential Democratic candidates. They’re both interesting figures, but I don’t see them as having the stature of Hillary Clinton or Al Gore. Richardson always felt to me like (Bill) Clinton-lite, though it’s certainly politically helpful that he’s Latino. He’s also from the West, which some politicos are arguing is a new Democratic stronghold, so that helps him also.

Clark used the title of my book, “American Son,” for his 2004 campaign bio, so he certainly used good judgment there. And his military credentials could help him speak with credibility about the war. In a race against McCain, that might prove important.

But these guys have the constituencies to mount credible campaigns? And just as important, the money?

Harvard and Yale by the Numbers

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

It’s fascinating to see how Ivy League universities spin their application numbers in their favor..and how the campus press plays along.

Today’s Crimson boasts, “Harvard’s Early Apps Rise as Yale’s Plunge.” And indeed they have—the number of early applicants to Harvard increased by 3.5 from last year, while Yale’s number dropped by 13 percent.

The question is why.

If you listen to Harvard’s Bill Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s numbers are up because of Harvard’s recruiting, its generous financial aid policies, and, regarding foreign applicants, “an improved perception of American hospitality to foreign students.”

(Fitzsimmons is really a master at this stuff, isn’t he? Whatever Harvard pays him, it’s not enough.)

Why are Yale’s numbers down?

According to the dean of Yale college, Peter Salovey, it’s a reflection of the fact that Yale is so hard to get into, people are just giving up. (A thought one will not find in the Crimson article.)

Admissions dean David Brenzel adds that it’s a mistake to put much emphasis on any individual yearly fluctuation.

I agree…and I’ll venture my guess as to what’s going on.

Harvard and Princeton both got a huge amount of attention for their decisions to drop early applications. Yale largely stayed below the radar; its response was a very muted “we’ll think about it.”

Harvard and Princeton get publicity; their applications go up.

Yale doesn’t; its applications go down.

We’d all like to think that there’s more to it than this, that the best students are immune to such things. Of course, they aren’t. (However smart and accomplished they are, they are still products of their time.)

It’s all PR, baby. And no one does that better than Harvard.

And as you’ll see in the forthcoming issue of 02138, the early application announcement was carefully stage-managed to ensure the maximum PR value…..

The Democratic Dilemma

Posted on November 30th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

I’ve been taken to task by some posters over the past few days for being tough on the GOP presidential candidates while saying nothing about the Dems. Is it because I’m trying subtly to create negative impressions about the Republicans?

Not really—I just don’t think that the GOP has a strong group of candidates for 2008.

But…the Dems have their own problems as well.

The National Journal’s Chuck Todd outlines some of the potential problems with a Hillary Clinton campaign here. They include the fact that allegedly she doesn’t have a base of passionate fans—I’m not so sure about this, actually, that Todd is a man blinds him to the fact that some women really do love her—the fact that she’s no Bill Clinton (yup), her hawkish position on Iraq (not good in the primary), and her gender (Iowa doesn’t like to vote for women).

Todd’s talking about the Democratic primary, so he doesn’t get into the biggest problem with a national HC campaign: So many people hate her. As Andrew Sullivan points out, she’s the one person who could unite the Republicans. Andrew pleads with her not to run. Don’t waste your time, Andrew. She’s running. She’s never believed what her critics said about her in the past, she’s not about to start now.

That leaves Barack Obama, John Edwards, Tom Vilsack, and possibly Al Gore. Hmmm. This is not a crowd without its negatives either.

For Barack, it’s inexperience, and not just that—it’s ambivalence. Every time I read something about Obama, he emphasizes how it’s almost accidental that he’s in politics, and his wife hates it, and if she wanted him to he would quit tomorrow. If this is genuine at all, it strongly conflicts with his obvious ambition. (Obama cooperated with a profile for Elle magazine lately; politicians don’t talk to Elle unless they’re running for something.)

I have a general rule about people trying to be president: They have to really, really want it. Bill Clinton, the Bushes, Reagan, Carter, Nixon—these men were burning with ambition. Ambivalence may play well in the press, but ultimately the voters want someone who wants the job. They don’t want someone who talks about how he could quit tomorrow.

Then there’s Edwards, who I like very much, but I think he hasn’t helped himself in the past four years. Tough enough to run for president from the Senate, which is not, in modern times, a very successful launching pad. (Not since 1960.) But where has Edwards been the past four years? Well, he wrote a book which is so cheesy he has to be running for president. And, on the one hand, he directed a center for the study of poverty, but he also joined the Fortress Investment Group, a massive and secretive hedge fund with about $26 billion in assets.

As you know, I think candidates for higher office and hedge funds just don’t mix. (That means you, Chelsea Clinton.) A trial lawyer who works for a hedge fund? That’s a double whammy. You think Bobby Kennedy would ever have gone to work for a hedge fund?

Tom Vilsack. Who? Well, he’s the governor of Iowa, but yes, exactly. (I do like that he has a v-blog, though. Not to mention videos on You-Tube and pages on Facebook and MySpace.)

That leaves…Al Gore. In my opinion, Gore could win this thing. He’s got gravitas, he’s been useful since 2000 leading a campaign to raise awareness about the most important problem in the world, and he’s a much less partisan figure than Hillary. He’s never been a great campaigner, but from all I hear, he’s been terrific over the past years when speaking to audiences about global warming. I think Hillary Clinton is impressive and underrated, but Gore would be a far more viable candidate than she.

The only problem is, Gore really hasn’t shown many signs that he wants to run. Democrats should hope that he does.

One (Republican) Down

Posted on November 29th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Bill Frist just announced that he won’t be running for president in 2008, thus saving us all the trouble of not voting for him.

(But what will he do with that mansion he’s building to look like the White House?)

This leaves McCain, Romney, Giuliani, Hagel, and maybe Newt. It’s McCain’s to lose, but this is a weak group. If I were the RNC chair, I’d be beating the bushes for someone else….

Bill Frist lives here. Seriously.

Of the Giants, Body Language, and Dead Girls

Posted on November 29th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Yesterday I promised to say something nice about Giants coach Tom Coughlin. Here it is: He’s not the worst coach in the history of football.

Okay, I feel better.

Today, on page one below the fold, the Times runs one of the stupidest articles ever written, called “Language of a Losing Team? Read Their Bodies.”

In the article, the Times showed a videotape of the Giants’ ghastly loss on Sunday to two “experts” on body language, two women who admittedly know next to nothing about football.

Among the expert conclusions:

—When wide receiver Plaxico Burress stopped running for a pass that was subsequently intercepted, “It was an indication he had given up.”

When Jeremy Schockey curses and screams, “It makes me blush.” Also, he looks “mean and very tough.”

When it’s apparent that the Giants are completely choking, coach Tom Coughlin looks upset. “The guy is suffering.”

Whereas winning quarterback Vince Young is “so joyous, so joyful. You can feel his joy just watching him.”

One suspects that body language expert Maxinne Fiel would indeed like to feel his joy.

The article attempts to imitate Malcolm Gladwell’s pop sociology, but shows only that Gladwell’s techniques are harder than they look, and that executed poorly, they are inane. (Or, perhaps, that Gladwell’s skill as a writer ably masks their inanity.)

But here’s another reason why this may be the stupidest article ever printed on the Times’ front page. It replaces far more important news.

In Iraq yesterday, U.S. troops inadvertently killed five girls, including a baby.

How can we win a war in which we are killing girls and infants?

That news appears in the Times on page A16….

A Modest Proposal

Posted on November 29th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 26 Comments »

Harvard Ed School prof Howard Gardner has an interesting letter in today’s Times on a recent article about how wealthy people are abandoning their service professions (medicine, scientific research) in order to go into businesses where they do no one any good but make themselves even wealthier.

Gardner writes that those “who have made such choices are undermining the professions for which they are trained. They are depending on others who are less greedy than they are to serve clients and to carry out the work for which philanthropic support is needed.”


At the same time, the Globe has a piece on how the Ed School is losing its Civil Rights Project, whose director is moving to California.


Perhaps there is some synchronicity here. An opportunity, perhaps.

Here, then, is a modest proposal. Harvard should start a new center on a topic that (and here I blaspheme) is of greater importance to the health of modern American democracy than civil rights issues are: a Center for the Study of Wealth, Class, and Democracy.

Why is this more important than the current study of civil rights? Because the main arguments about civil rights—i.e., equal rights—are over. The questions now are really how to get there. Hugely important, yes, particularly about gay rights issues. But not as important as the great dividing line currently splitting this country apart, which is class and the concentration of wealth. It’s the greatest threat to American democracy since Joe McCarthy, and before that the Gilded Age, and perhaps even the Civil War.

So let’s make this a joint center, operating out of the Kennedy School, with representatives from FAS, the Div School, the Ed School, the business school, the law school and the med school. (Because access to medical care is certainly a primary division between the rich and everyone else here in the U.S.)

As for funding? Well, that’s easy: Rich liberals who feel guilty.


Posted on November 29th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Not so fast, haters—there’s something to this.

I was all prepared to scorn this piece by Pulitzer Prize-winner Diane McWhorter (full disclosure, she’s a friend) on why we need to seriously consider comparisons of the Bush administration to Nazi Germany. Why are Bush comparisons to Hitler drummed out of the marketplace of debate?

Well, because they’re so absurd, I thought at once.

The funny thing is, this is actually an issue—don’t laugh—that has affected me in a major way. A few years back, my book, American Son, was on its way to being turned into a TV movie. Would have been great for the book, and helped to put a little money in the 401k, or to subsidize less profitable ventures, such as this blog.

The co-producer of the TV movie was a guy named Ed Gernon, part of the Canadian company that produces all the CSIs. Another of Gernon’s projects was a TV movie for CBS—which was the destination for American Son as well—about young Hitler. Ed’s a nice guy, smart, thoughtful, and creative. He’s also political.

You know what’s coming, right?

So a few weeks before the Hitler movie is to air, Ed gives an interview to TV Guide in which he says that part of Hitler’s rise to power was a result of fear—of foreigners, of protest, of instability—and the same could be said of George Bush’s grip on the U.S. (Ed’s Canadian, by the way.)

“It basically boils down to an entire nation gripped by fear, who ultimately chose to give up their civil rights and plunged the whole nation into war,” Gernon said. “I can’t think of a better time to examine this history than now.”

Sounds pretty reasonable now, don’t you think? Actually kind of smart. Prescient.

So naturally, all hell breaks loose. The New York Post starts tossing Gernon around like King Kong with Naomi Watts. Gernon’s production company, Alliance Atlantis, fires him. CBS president Les Moonves announces that his network will never work with Gernon again.

Which means, of course, that Gernon is blacklisted in Hollywood. And so is everything associated with him. Including my book. So much for dreams of a TV windfall.

Apologies for the digression. But I think it’s relevant to McWhorter’s piece, which turns out to be serious and ambitious and disturbing and, to my mind, convincing. Here’s the key graf:

The [Hitler] taboo is itself a precept of the propaganda state. Usually its enforcers profess a politically correct motive: the exceptionalism of genocidal Jewish victimhood. Thus, poor Sen. Richard Durbin, the Democrat from Illinois, found himself apologizing to the Anti-Defamation League after Republicans jumped all over him for invoking Nazi Germany to describe the conditions at Guantanamo. And so by allowing the issue to be defined by the unique suffering of the Jews, we ignore the Holocaust’s more universal hallmark: the banal ordinariness of the citizens who perpetrated it. The relevance of Third Reich Germany to today’s America is not that Bush equals Hitler or that the United States government is a death machine. It’s that it provides a rather spectacular example of the insidious process by which decent people come to regard the unthinkable as not only thinkable but doable, justifiable. Of the way freethinkers and speakers become compliant and self-censoring. Of the mechanism by which moral or humanistic categories are converted into bureaucratic ones. And finally, of the willingness with which we hand control over to the state and convince ourselves that we are the masters of our destiny.

For me, the proof of McWhorter’s argument lies partly in the fact that I had such a first-hand experience with this phenomenon, and I still reflexively dismissed her argument.

A very interesting piece of writing…..

Nancy Pelosi: Flirting with Disaster

Posted on November 29th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Times, the Globe and just about everywhere else report today that Nancy Pelosi has backed away from her choice to head the House Intelligence Committee, Florida congressman Alcee Hastings.

The real story, though, is not that she didn’t follow through on a stupid pick; it’s why she was pushing the scandal-tarred Hastings in the first place. After all, back in 1988, Pelosi herself had voted to impeach Hastings from his position as a U.S. District Court judge (a fact unreported by either the Times or the Globe); Hastings was accused of taking a $150,000 bribe from two alleged mobsters in exchange for return of their seized assets and a lenient sentence. Hastings had previously squeaked out of a criminal conviction when his accused co-conspirator went to jail rather than testify against him. (Hmm. Wonder what he was afraid of?)

The Globe reports (and the Times didn’t, but should have) that…

Hastings…had been scrambling to secure the intelligence post in recent days. Last week he circulated an angry, rambling letter to his Democratic colleagues in which he accused the FBI of evidence-tampering and conservative commentators of making uninformed judgments.

“I hope that my fate is not determined by Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Michael Barone, Drudge, anonymous bloggers, and other assorted misinformed fools,” Hastings wrote. “I have been entrusted with America’s secrets. And, I have never violated that trust.

Love that punctuation, Mr. Congressman. And, here’s something else that may have been a factor for Pelosi:

The decision to bypass Hastings could damage Pelosi’s strained relations with the Congressional Black Caucus. The caucus clashed with Pelosi earlier this year over her efforts to press Representative William J. Jefferson of Louisiana to resign his primary committee post when investigators found $90,000 in his freezer.

90k in your freezer? Nah. Nothing wrong there. I’ve got about $75,000 in mine. But I’ve been eating out a lot lately.

The Times quotes Hastings saying that he would continue to have a role in public life.

“Sorry, haters, God is not finished with me yet,” he said.

Well, don’t blame us for being optimistic.

The reason Pelosi needed to appoint someone to the post is because she does not like the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, California representative Jane Harman. The ostensible reason is because Harman did not criticize Bush administration intelligence analyses before the war in Iraq.

But then, lots of people made that mistake. And Harman has appeal to moderate and conservative Dems, as well as being good on TV. You’d think Pelosi would see the value in that.

So I think there’s something else going on here…maybe the fact that Harman is, like Pelosi, a high-profile, attractive female politician from California. And unlike Pelosi, Harman is blonde.

You guessed it—it’s a catfight!

Mitt Romney, Mormonism and the Republicans

Posted on November 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but over at his blog, Andrew Sullivan has been going off on Mitt Romney for his Mormonism.

That’s not exactly how Andrew would put it—he’s very careful to insist that he’s not anti-religious—but I think if you look at the steady stream of posts on the subject, it’s a fair description. His posts have included topics such as Mormons and race, Mormon underwear, Mormons and tithing, and Mormons and miscegenation.

This is fine by me, as I think that even by the standards of organized religion, Mormonism is pretty nutty. And I don’t think that the country is ready for a Mormon president. (Not to mention that Romney, of course, has other problems.)

Also, I’ve always thought that Andrew, despite his classical conservative political heritage, would be more comfortable as a Democrat than as a Republican. In his younger days, he just liked to be contrarian for its own sake, and as a marketing tool. IMHO.

So here’s a thought about the GOP field. Mitt Romney will never be the Republican nominee for president. A Mormon Republican from Massachusetts? No way.

Nor will Rudy Giuliani. A mistress-keeping, gay-roommating Republican from New York? No way. Plus, Giuliani’s used to unquestioning adulation on the speaking trail ever since 9/11. (Ugh. Enough, Rudy.) In the heat of a presidential campaign, he’ll lose it.

That leaves McCain, Hagel and Frist. (Am I forgetting anyone?) This is underwhelming. Frist is a hack. I kind of like Hagel, and he may be the dark horse, but Republicans tend to discourage first-time candidacies.

McCain’s never run a really strong national race—he’s too much of a Beltway insider. (My litmus test: Anyone who’s tight with Don Imus is a Beltway insider, and thus will never be president.)

Not to mention the fact that McCain has been a steadfast supporter of the war.

The GOP is in trouble…this is a very weak field of candidates.

Not Much Going on Over at Open University

Posted on November 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I thought I’d say something nice about the New Republic’s academic blog, “Open University,” because it’s the holiday season and it’s important to be nice, especially now.

So…here goes.

There’s a remarkable level of collegiality over at Open University.

Everyone who posts at Open University is very intelligent.

All the hyperlinks on Open University are functional.

That felt kind of good, actually. Perhaps I will make a habit, this holiday season, of saying something nice every day here on the blog.

Tomorrow, I will try to say something nice about Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

Meantime, here’s some dueling headlines.

Coughlin levels rip at Eli

New York Newsday, 11/27

Giants Coach Coughlin Says He Hasn’t Lost Confidence in Manning
Bloomberg, 11/27