Archive for March, 2007

Chocolate Jesus

Posted on March 30th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

A New York artist has fashioned a sculpture of Jesus on the cross—made entirely out of chocolate. He’s calling it “My Sweet Lord.” As NY1 reports, “He’s inviting people to have a taste of it before it’s taken down on Easter Sunday.”

Catholics are shocked, outraged, and so on.

Actually, I think there are a lot of potentially interesting messages one could derive from such a work. A satire of Easter’s weird affiliation with candy? A statement on Christians and temptation? (On priests and temptation?) A reflection on the sensuality of spirituality?

Here’s my litmus test: Would Jesus be offended? Somehow, I don’t think so. So if Jesus can live with it, why can’t we?

Two More Decanal Candidates

Posted on March 30th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Robert Sampson
Chair, Dept. of Sociology
Interests include “crime, deviance, and stigma”
(where to start?)

Photo of Mike Smith

Michael Smith
Assoc. Dean for Comp. Sci.
and Engineering
Involved in the Center
for Research on Computation
and Society
(i.e, pro-blogger, highly qualified
to be dean)
Also: quotes Dr. Seuss on his homepage

The Deanship

Posted on March 30th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

Well! Yesterday’s post about the Crimson article certainly sparked a vigorous discussion. Thanks to all for participating.

Meantime, some new names have cropped up in the race for the deanship. To wit….and in no particular order….

Jeff Frieden logo

Stanfield Professor of International Peace
Is interested in Brazil

Jorge Dominguez's logo

Vice-provost for international affairs
Recently spoke at “Harvard in Canada,” following Drew Faust

Professor Nancy L. Rosenblum

Nancy Rosenblum
Chair, Department of Government
Currently working on a theoretical study of political parties
(possibly useful knowledge in an FAS dean)

James Engell
Professor of English and Comp. Lit.
Co-author, Saving Higher Education in the Age of Money
Member, every committee at Harvard

Henry Louis Gates
Director, W.E.B. DuBois Institute,
etc., etc., etc.
apparently knows a lot of people

Allan Brandt
Professor of the history of medicine at HMS
and the department of the history of science
Author, No Magic Bullet: A Social History
of Venereal Disease, also potentially useful
for an FAS dean (i.e., the spread of disease/rumor)

Charles Rosenberg

Charles Rosenberg
Professor of the History of Science
Reportedly in bed with president-elect Drew Faust

billclinton lawrence summers

Lawrence Summers
Former Treasury secretary
University professor
(On leave, 2006-2007)

Deval Patrick Reveals the Existence of Brain Cells

Posted on March 30th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Deval Patrick just announced that he wants to overturn the restrictions on stem cell research promulgated by his predecessor, Mitt Romney.

It may be the first smart thing Patrick has done since he became governor.

The Democrat has not exactly impressed to date. He’s gotten mired in mini-scandals over his use of government funds to redecorate his office and his phone call to Bob Rubin on behalf of a mortgage lender on whose board he sat.

And he’s also been sidetracked by his wife’s serious struggle with depression.

For Patrick supporters, it’s all been disheartening.

Patrick needs to remind those loyalists that, for all his problems, he could be worse; he could be…Mitt Romney. The former governor’s approval ratings were in the low 30’s when he left office a couple months ago.

So this move to junk Romney’s ideologically-motivated restrictions on stem cell research is a smart one. It’s right on policy, and it’s right on politics—and it’s the first thing I’ve seen Patrick do that suggests there’s a functioning brain in his head.

Let’s hope the new governor is beginning to get his sea legs….

Rudy Giuliani Starts to Smolder

Posted on March 30th, 2007 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

…because soon he’s going to go up in flames.

First, it emerges that he actually knew that his top cop, the dirtball Bernie Kerik, had ties to a Mob-owned construction company before he nominated Kerik to be New York police commissioner.

Kerik would later cloak himself in glory by bedding not-yet-disgraced book publisher Judith Regan—cheating on both his wife and another mistress—in an apartment near the fallen World Trade Center that was supposed to be used for on-site workers who needed a rest. Kerik had actually solicited use of the apartment from a local real estate firm.

Later, the owner of the apartment crushed a woman to death with his Ford Expedition. What a shock! Police decided not to file charges. The driver, real estate exec Anthony Bergamo, told the cops that he couldn’t see her, even though she was directly in front of him when he ran her over.

So that’s one Giuliani issue. The other is that he just told the New York Times that if he were elected president, his wife would sit in on cabinet meetings. Even Bill Clinton never said that Hillary would attend cabinet meetings….

Rudi, no one’s saying that your wife can’t have a valuable role. But no one elected her to the White House…

Giuliani sounds like J. Howard Marshall or Jack Welch—an old man whose combination of lust for a younger woman and fear of the loss of his own virility cause them to abandon all judgment and start acting like silly old fools. Not the best quality in a president.

Dollar Bills

Posted on March 29th, 2007 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Wow—Bill Gates and Bill Clinton will be speaking at Commencement this year.

Is that a capital campaign I smell?

The Crimson Takes Aim at Theda Skocpol

Posted on March 29th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 42 Comments »

Ouch! What did Theda Skocpol ever do to the Harvard Crimson?

In one of the toughest pieces I’ve ever seen in the paper, Sam Jacobs and Javier Hernandez report that Skocpol’s resignation from the GSAS deanship….

coincided with what appeared be a wave of uncertainty about her candidacy for the deanship of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), one of Harvard’s most powerful posts.

In recent weeks, the prospect of Skocpol’s promotion has stirred strong opposition among professors advising President-elect Drew G. Faust in her search for a new dean of the Faculty, according to an individual close to the faculty advisory committee and a senior FAS faculty member. The criticisms of Skocpol have caused Faust herself to express skepticism, the individuals said.

Interesting. I haven’t sensed this myself, but Hernandez and Jacobs are good reporters, so if they write it, I’ll take them at their word.

The only quibble I would have is when they use the term “wave of uncertainty,” but base this on the accounts of only two anonymous professors.

All right, not the only quibble. I also think the two overstate their case when they suggest that Skocpol is Larry Summers in a skirt.

To some, Skocpol came to mirror the controversial president that she once opposed, in equal parts praised both for her brilliance as a researcher and derided for her authoritarian and divisive approach to leading.

Judging from what I hear, I’d tone this down. “Derided” is too strong; I’ve never heard of anyone who doesn’t respect Skocpol, and she’s never invited the kind of vociferous criticism that Summers attracted. And I’m not sure that it isn’t also going too far to say “authoritarian and divisive.”

To me, there are two very interesting suggestions in the piece.

First, that Drew Faust has cut Skocpol loose. (Does Drew Faust have a cold streak? Discuss.)

And second, that Skocpol “is considering significant leadership positions at other universities.” (Did this come from Skocpol herself? She is not quoted in the story, but neither do Jacobs and Hernandez say that she declined to comment.*) No one is irreplaceable, but her departure would be a real loss for Harvard.

Recently on this blog there was a discussion of objectivity, and I raised my doubts about its possibility. In that context, I wonder if it isn’t relevant that this article was written by two men. Consider their description of Skocpol’s tenure battle.

Hernandez and Jacobs characterize Skocpol’s ascent at Harvard as “defined by controversy.” They note that she was denied tenure in sociology, sued, and actually won when a Bok-led “investigation” found in her favor.

One could imagine this framed as a gutsy and inspiring story. It takes courage to fight a tenure fight like that. It’s no fun, there are real downsides, and virtually never does the plaintiff come out a winner. More often, her career is severely damaged. Particularly when the plaintiff is a woman, she may be forever characterized as “divisive” and “headstrong,” in the Crimson reporters’ words. (“Headstrong” is particularly unfortunate, I think—it’s insulting and probably sexist. “Oh, she’s a headstrong little lady, she is…”)

Might two female reporters have presented this episode differently? Couldn’t Skocpol’s battle also be written up as “courageous,” “principled,” and “valiant”? After all, Skocpol won, and how often does that happen?

Instead, Jacobs and Hernandez cite only an old quote from sociology prof Harrison White that “it was not a happy story,” with absolutely no context. Did White have anything else to add? (For example: “It was not a happy story, because Skocpol was right: the sociology department did discriminate against her.”) Was White involved in the tenure battle in some way? Whether he was or wasn’t, we should be told that by the Crimsonites.

I’m not saying that Jacobs and Hernandez are wrong; if they report strong anti-Skocpol feeling, then it’s there.

But it would be interesting to read a piece about what Skocpol has actually done as dean, before reading the “news analysis” casting doubts on her leadership style….

*My mistake: Skocpol did decline to comment, and the article clearly says so.

Can Fred Thompson Run?

Posted on March 29th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Current actor and former senator Fred Thompson is strongly considering running for president as a Republican.

This can only be seen as good news for Democrats. But it’s also good news for Republicans.

The same reason for both: It’s a reflection of how unhappy Republican voters are with their current choices. John McCain is being dragged into oblivion by the war; Rudy Guiliani and his wife have been married six times between them; Mitt Romney flip-flops more than a dolphin at Sea World.

In that context, Thompson is as strong as anyone.

But his entry wouldn’t address the real issue: Everyone hates President Bush. And no Republican presidential candidate dares acknowledge that truism.

The GOP needs an insurgent candidate—which the party traditionally frowns upon, preferring to anoint the tried-and-true—who can position himself as reclaiming the conservative mantle. And that ain’t Fred Thompson; he is an inside-the-Beltway figure if ever there was one.

So I encourage Thompson to get into the race. He won’t be prepared for it, not even close, and for any devoted politics-watcher, the inevitable train wrecks are always entertaining.

Summers on the Economy (Kinda-Sorta)

Posted on March 29th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Larry Summers’ most recent column in the FT is not the most vivid op-ed you’ll ever read. When talking to the world of finance, Summers adopts a far more sober tone than when lecturing to academe. Truth is, if you didn’t see that famous byline at the top of the column, you probably wouldn’t get very far into prose like this….

While it would be premature to predict a US recession, there are now strong grounds for predicting that the US economy will slow down very significantly in 2007. Whether in retrospect 2007 will prove to have been a “pause that refreshed” a nearly decade-long expansion like the growth slowdowns in 1986 and 1995 or whether it will see the end of the expansion is not yet clear.

Tough sledding, eh?

Summers’ main argument is that a number of events prophesied by economic naysayers are now coming to fruition: mortgage crises, diminished foreign lending to the U.S., lessened consumer confidence and spending. These and other phenomena could lead to “further downward pressure on investment in plant, equipment, and commercial real estate.”

In other words, a recession.

Not much new there; people have been saying this for weeks if not months.

But Summers’ more original point is the question of how to respond to such a potentiality—and I wonder if, as he writes, he isn’t also talking about events in Cambridge.

Good economic policies operate counter-cyclically, slowing booms and mitigating downturns. It follows that when the dominant risk changes from complacency and overheating to risk aversion and economic slowdown, the orientation of policy must change as well.

Economic policymakers who seek to correct past errors by doing today what they wished they had done yesterday actually compound their errors. They are in their way as dangerous as generals fighting the last war. We do not yet know how much economic conditions will change or whether current concerns will prove transitory. But if recent developments mark a genuine change, let us hope that policymakers look forwards rather than backwards.

In warning of fighting past battles, is he talking about the economy…or is he giving advice to Harvard?

After all, the choice of Drew Faust is generally seen as a response to FAS complaints with Summers, and her leadership style is seen as a 180-degree reversal from his. As Morton and Phyllis Keller write in their history, Making Harvard Modern, the choice of each Harvard president seems to be a reaction to his (now her) predecessor. If that cycle is now coming true again, Harvard needs to be careful not to go too far.

Summers’ FT column may be dryly written…but embedded within that dryness is a dramatic warning to Harvard: Don’t turn your back on what I was doing. Don’t fight the last war.

He’s using the economy as an allegory and the FT as a Trojan horse. Clever man!

Only a few more months till Summers is back at Harvard full-time….

Dizzy Deans

Posted on March 28th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 38 Comments »

In the Crimson, Johannah Cornblatt reports on Theda Skocpol’s decision to step down as GSAS dean. A very fine article, but one line caught my eye:

Skocpol was widely considered a candidate to replace Knowles, who is serving as interim dean until July 1, but her announcement suggests that she will no longer vie for that post.

Really? Why? That’s an important assertion, but it lacks context and supporting evidence. Why, exactly, does the move suggest that Skocpol will no longer vie for the deanship? (After all, we can all think of a certain Harvard figure who said no to one deanship because she was interested in a bigger job.) Tell me more, Johannah…..

Who will be the next FAS dean? Here are the three candidates whose names occasionally drift downwind from Cambridge to Manhattan…..

Theda Skocpol
Gov/sociology prof
Current GSAS dean
Senior adviser at
the Radcliffe Institute

Jeremy Bloxham
computational scientist
Dean for the physical sciences

Prof. Huth photo
John Huth
Chairman, Dept. of Physics

These are the names I hear. What about you?

Just to sweeten the pot a little…let me announce a contest. The first person to correctly guess (i.e., post) Drew Faust’s pick for FAS dean will receive from me, in the mail, a silver pen with “Harvard” inscribed on it. (They were giving ’em away at the “Harvard in Canada” conference last weekend.) It’s a lovely pen with a Yale-blue grip (I know, weird) and it comes in a nice box with a little red string around it.

Vote now! And when the time comes, e-mail me and identify yourself (we’ll have to use the honor system here). I’ll send you this top-quality Harvard pen, value at least ten bucks, yours free for the simple matter of being right and being first….

And don’t let this stop you from voting, because as am employee of this blog, I can not enter the contest, but…my guess? Jeremy Bloxham.