Archive for May, 2007

Greetings from Mexico

Posted on May 30th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Where things are going swimmingly. It’s a pleasure to be back on Careyitos, the dive boat I return to year after year. Careyitos is run by an absolutely brilliant diver named Ricardo Madrigal, who is more at home underwater than anyone I’ve ever seen. He is quiet, with a dry sense of humor, and doesn’t talk about himself much. I didn’t know until just the other day, for example, that he’d volunteered to fight in Vietnam—he’s 59—and was shot while he was there. It was only through diving, he explained, that he found peace in his life.

Now he glides underwater, in tune with the ocean and its movements, often soaring upside down so as to peer under the edges of the reef, looking for critters. Occasionally we will pass other groups of divers in the water; they all look disorganzed and clumsy compared to the graceful way Ricardo leads us through, under and around the reefs. Occasionally he will see a school of fish and waggle his fingers, waving to them; it is an absolutely unself-conscious act. I think he really believes that the fish recognize it, and when he does it, I’m not so sure that he’s wrong. Ricardo sees an immense amount and points out a lot; he disturbs nothing. It’s not the worst way to go through life.

I was last here about six months after Hurricane Wilma devastated Cozumel and damaged its reefs. Thankfully, the damage is fading; the reefs are coming back to life, there is new growth, and sand that was covering much of the reefs is gone. The problem now, of course, is global warming. Hurricane season is already here, Ricardo says—it seems to start earlier every year. And the water is unusually warm. Anecdotal information, of course. But still….

There is nothing so wonderfully different as being underwater. It is peaceful, relaxing, and above all, humbling. You will not do well in the ocean if you do not appreciate just how much of a guest you are. (It’s because of this that I sometimes think Americans are the worst divers; we tend to think that we own, or dominate, or should dominate, everywhere we go. We want to conquer and transform rather than experience and appreciate.) Yesterday afternoon we got caught in a current that just shot us down the reef; we were flying along like tumbleweed. If you’d grabbed hold of, say, a barrel coral—not that we would—you’d stretch out behind it like a flag in a stiff breeze, and you wouldn’t have been able to hold on for long. So, literally, you go with the flow. This can be quite fun; sometimes I rest in a kneeling position, almost as if on a magic carpet. Not technically recommended, but amusing nonetheless.

So far I’ve had the pleasure of seeing beautiful moray eels—six, seven, eight feet long, they sound scary, but really they’re not; as Ricardo explained, they are so near-sighted, you’d really have to be doing something wrong for them to lunge at you—any number of nurse sharks (that’s about all they get here in Cozumel), turtles, sting rays, lobsters (they’re big), crabs (huge) and incredible tropical fish—trigger fish, barracuda, midnight parrotfish, angelfish, jacks, boxfish, and countless others. Yesterday I spent the first dive of the day with one of the dive masters, Aaaron, who spent the whole dive showing me sea life about the size of a fingernail or smaller—nudibranchs, pistol shrimp, jawfish, I can’t remember everything. All dive masters will point out the big stuff; these guys will find the small things, which are in some ways even more miraculous. The day before, Ricardo pointed out to me a purple stain on a section of coral around which spotted damselfish darted. The purple, he exlained later, consisted of damselfish eggs, and the damselfish were guarding their eggs against hungry predators.

I am of course looking forward to returning to work…but not quite yet. I have four more days of diving. Really, it is never enough.

Oh, Mexico

Posted on May 25th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

…as James Taylor would say. “Sounds so simple, I just got to go….”

So I am.

I’ll be in Cozumel
for the next few days, spending as much time underwater as I can. It’s been over a year since my last vacation, and I need a few moments of zen.

But I will continue to feed the beast. No, not the sharks. The blog. I’ll post from time to time down in Mexico, depending on the availability of wireless and how many El Sol’s I’ve had.

So if I seem unusually sunny, you’ll know why….

Americans Get Smart

Posted on May 25th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Generally I never feel more alienated than when I see the results of public opinion polls. Now there are three of them in the news that show surprising consensus about tough issues in the country—and, weirdly, I find myself in the majority. I could get used to this! Americans are showing considerably more wisdom than their leaders—their Republican ones, anyway.

Over three-quarters of the public say that the war in Iraq is going badly.

Seventy-two percent of Americans say the country is on the wrong track.

Even as Republican presidential candidates like the increasingly vulgar Rudy Giuliani go postal on immigration, two-thirds of Americans think that allowing illegal immigrants to get work visas and apply for citizenship is a good thing.

As, of course, it is.

If I were a Republican in Congress, I would be very, very worried.

Hip-Hop Hustles Back to Harvard

Posted on May 25th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 49 Comments »

Former Harvard hip-hop professor Marcyliena Morgan has been offered tenure by the department of African-American studies, according to today’s Crimson. Derek Bok has approved the tenure nomination.

This is a bombshell.

In what was actually one of the gutsier moves of his tenure, Larry Summers denied Morgan tenure in 2004, after which she and her husband, Lawrence Bobo, headed to Stanford.

Here’s what I understand about that incident.

Many people on the faculty did not believe that Morgan deserved tenure. Her scholarship was underwhelming, they said. (One book, basically.) I also heard several reports that she was a lousy teacher. But Skip Gates wanted to keep Bobo at Harvard, and this was one way to do it. Moreover, ever since the Cornel West incident, Gates knew that Summers could ill afford to provoke more ire from the black community. Give us this one, he urged Summers.

Summers knew all this, of course, and knew that he would take heat for saying no. But he could not bring himself to offer tenure to someone about whom there was such disagreement. (A hip-hop archive? Worthy, yes. Reason for tenure? Eh…)

(Morgan has also started such an archive at Stanford.)

And so Summers tried to find some other way to keep Morgan (and therefore Bobo) at Harvard. But the two had an offer from Stanford. “I feel the call home to California,” Bobo told the Crimson. Stanford made Morgan an “associate professor of communication.” Which tells you something right there. On the other hand, it was a tenured position.

Now, here’s where the story takes a twist.

As I report in the forthcoming issue of 02138, Summers told people that he rejected Morgan’s tenure nomination in part on the advice of Drew Faust. When Faust heard that Summers was invoking her name in the matter, she was not pleased, believing that she had never said any such thing.

So she quickly moved to correct the record. Nonetheless, the incident caused frosty relations between her and the Af-Am department for some time, until Gates and she smoothed things over.

Now there is another moment of racial sensitivity at Harvard: the “Quad Incident.” And boom, back comes Morgan’s tenure nomination, brilliantly timed to land near the end of Bok’s tenure.

So far as I can tell, Morgan has not published anything major since she left Harvard. In the spring of this year, she taught “Hip-Hop and Don’t Stop: Introduction to Modern Speech Communities,” a course focusing on women in hip-hop.

Her tenure case would appear to be no different, on the merits, than the last time around.

Moreover, it is extremely rare for a professor to be twice proposed for tenure at Harvard, and to be granted tenure after once being rejected. (If anyone knows of a precedent, I’d be curious to hear it.)

What’s changed then? Well, no Summers, of course. And how likely is it that Derek Bok, who doesn’t handle confrontation well, and is extremely sensitive about his reputation, will reject the tenure nomination of a black woman just as he’s on his way out the door?

That’s the last thing he wants just as he’s wrapping up his interim presidency: a controversy over the rejection of an African-American scholar…even as the Harvard police are asking black students to show their IDs.

Bok may also be taking one for the team here, dealing with this tenure case so that Drew Faust doesn’t have to face such a hot button issue right out of the gate.

Meanwhile, someone is smart enough to get this news out on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, when it’s less likely to attract attention.

African- and African-American Studies is a legitimate, important field that deserves to be taken seriously. But such incidents only lend credence to the suggestion that it is a hotbed of racial politicking in which black scholars mau-mau the flak catchers...and win.

The Giambi Paradox

Posted on May 25th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Let’s see: Jason Giambi is the only baseball player ever to have apologized for using steroids. “I was wrong for doing that stuff,” he told USA Today last week.

What we should have done a long time ago was stand up — players, owners, everybody — and said: ‘We made a mistake.’ We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward.

So what does baseball commissioner Bud Selig do? Threaten to sanction him. But why? Is it for doing steroids, or for talking about doing steroids?

Because what other player will now come forward and honestly talk about the subject, as Giambi has?

As usual, Selig seems more interested in covering up the truth than dealing with it.

Moreover, there have been reports that the Yankees want to see if they can void Giambi’s contract. What nonsense. The Yankees explicitly agreed to omit any mention of steroids from Giambi’s contract. They surely knew what was what. To pretend now that they didn’t would only add to an unfortunate chapter in baseball history.

I’m with Harvey Araton: We should applaud Giambi, not exile him.

And you Mets and Sox fans who are so quick to yell “Steroids!” when Giambi is at the plate—do you really think that no one on your teams used?

Giambi is twice right: He was wrong for doing that stuff, and he is right for apologizing. More players—and teams—should follow his example.

Harvard Goes High Tech

Posted on May 24th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

Speaking of Harvard and the digital world…here’s the latest study aid the Harvard Coop is promoting in an e-mail today.

This 3 x 5 card stand needs a small amount of space to keep ideas in view.

Note card “bleachers,” for just $54.

You think they sell many of those at Stanford?

Harvard Plays Catch-up in the Digital World

Posted on May 24th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve often wondered why only a handful of Harvard professors write blogs—what is it about the culture of Harvard that makes people afraid to democratize education and make themselves accessible?

Now the Wall Street Journal reports that Yale, Stanford and MIT are all taking big steps in putting course material online.

Yale University, meanwhile, has announced it will produce digital videos of undergraduate lecture classes and make them available free to the public. This academic year, it is taping seven classes — from Introduction to the Old Testament to Fundamentals of Physics — to be posted online this fall.

Harvard is entirely absent from the article.

Could Harvard’s mercenary culture be one reason why the university has been so slow to experiment with online education?

Here’s a little test. Go to iTunes and search for “Yale” under Podcasts. Then search for Harvard. You’ll notice one big difference. (Hint: It involves dollar signs.)

There’s Almost a Doctor in the House

Posted on May 24th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The Boston Globe reports that Drew Faust is close to picking a dean for the Med School—Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, which has a budget of about $3 billion and 850 employees. Here’s a little NYT Q-and-A with Nabel.

No word on the FAS deanship, though….

Elizabeth Nabel.

Harvard’s Rejects in the News

Posted on May 24th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

02138’s list of famous Harvard rejects is getting some traction—it’s been picked up on AOL News and ABC News as well.

Mitt Heads South

Posted on May 23rd, 2007 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Globe has a nice piece today on the question of how Mitt Romney is trying to woo the South. One way: by playing down his Harvard roots….

Harvard spends a lot of time marketing itself to India, China, and other exotic lands. Might it not spend some time trying to convince southerners that it is not the bastion of evil?