Archive for December, 2007

Gawker on Kristol

Posted on December 31st, 2007 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Gawker has such a funny (and accurate) take on the New York Times’ hiring of Bill Kristol as a columnist, I’m just going to quote the whole thing:

You know what? Appointing Bill Kristol as a New York Times op-ed columnist is pretty much the worst idea ever. Guess what? We all already know what the one-time chief of staff for Dan Quayle thinks. We’ve heard it all. Are we expecting great original thoughts from someone who really thought the Iraq war was a totally super idea? “His work will undoubtedly be provocative in this election year,” said editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal in the press release. No, actually, we can doubt that, as it’ll be exactly what we expect it to be. There have gotta be younger, more interesting, better-thinking conservatives than this. (And it’s not a fear of “opposing viewpoints,” for Chrissakes. He’s just a ninny.)

He’s also arrogant, patronizing, wrong, and dangerous.

Other than that…

The link above refers to Andrew Rosenthal of the Times saying that opposition to Kristol’s hiring was based on “this weird fear of opposing views.” Rosenthal obviously has a high opinion of the intelligence and open-mindedness of Times readers. What a jerk.

One Reason to Look Forward to 2008

Posted on December 31st, 2007 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

As IMDB describes it,

Follows the cross-country adventures of the pot-smoking duo as they try to outrun authorities who suspect them of being terrorists when they try to sneak a bong on board their flight to Amsterdam.

The first movie, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, was inspired….and the trailer is brilliant!

Harvard on the Defensive?

Posted on December 31st, 2007 in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

On the Globe op-ed page, Steven Roy Goodman isn’t buying that Harvard’s motivation for expanding financial aid is really about generosity.

Sure, Harvard was now going to spend a little more money to make sure that admitted students would be burdened with slightly lower tuition bills. The underlying story, of course, is the university’s effort to make sure that Congress doesn’t mandate that universities spend 5 percent of their endowment funds every year, as private foundations are required to do.

Fascinating. A couple of years ago, Harvard’s announcement would, I think, have prompted only huzzahs. Now there is abundant skepticism about the university’s motives.

I have been writing for some time that Harvard’s enormous wealth is creating a real public relations problem for the university, and reactions like Goodman’s are some evidence of that: When you have $35 billion in the bank, people just don’t trust you.

Could Harvard’s announcement be a preemptive move? The numbers tell the real story. Harvard estimates that it may spend an additional $22 million to assist families earning between $60,000 and $180,000 a year. … Even if the initiative does total $22 million, compare this with the figure Harvard could be required to pay if Congress mandated that Harvard and other universities spend 5 percent of their endowment income. Five percent of $35 billion is $1.75 billion
.

I have a feeling this debate isn’t going away….and Goodman poses some provocative questions.

All this talk about the announcement helps Harvard and other universities sidestep the real questions. Why does an institution of higher learning have $35 billion in its back pocket anyway? Why has it become customary for universities to spend only a small fraction of their interest income – and not even the endowment funds themselves – for daily operations? Why do American taxpayers continue to subsidize schools that increasingly operate like for-profit companies – and less like tax-exempt educational foundations that are charged with educating the next generation?

The first two of those questions seem eminently answerable to me: good fundraising and money management, and fiscal prudence. But the third question, about why American taxpayers subsidize schools that increasingly operate like for-profit corporations, is a tougher question to disregard…especially as Harvard moves to make more and more money off marketing its scientific research and discoveries.

Harvard and the Ripple Effect

Posted on December 31st, 2007 in Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

In the Boston Globe, Linda Wertheimer follows up on Jonathan Glater’s Times piece of a couple days ago, looking at the consequences of Harvard’s recent decision to enlarge its financial aid policies for families making up to $180,000 a year.

Most of the colleges doing away with loans belong to an exclusive group of roughly three dozen schools with sizable endowments – $35 billion, in Harvard’s case. Their shift is increasing pressure on less-affluent colleges to come up with new strategies to sweeten financial aid for a wider group of students, some of whose families have been calling admissions officers asking whether they would be offering no-loan aid deals, too.

Yet, even if all colleges could afford to eliminate loans, several admissions and financial aid directors say they would be reluctant to change a long-held tradition of holding students and their families responsible for part of college costs if they can afford to contribute.

Is it possible that students who don’t have to pay for college would feel less invested in the experience and value it less? Sure it is.

Philosophically, one of the dangers is we’ve made debt a four-letter word,” said Lee Coffin, the dean of admissions at Tufts, which this fall eliminated loans for students from families making less than $40,000 a year and will not extend the offer to higher-income families. “I wonder what it will do to a generation that will go to college without any personal sacrifice. You start taking loans away, and you start saying, ‘Here’s a free ride.’ “

But it also seems possible that many students who got a free ride to Harvard would come out of those four years with a deep sense of gratitude to the institution, perhaps one that would result in financial contributions down the road—especially without those pesky loans to pay off.

It’s fascinating to watch this debate that Harvard has sparked. This is a good conversation to be having, especially because we don’t talk enough about higher education (and education generally) in this country. Drew Faust deserves some credit for helping to spark this debate—and not feeling that she has to dominate it.

Go Giants!

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

I wish I’d flown Jet Blue to Florida instead of Delta, because that way I could have watched the Giants and the Patriots play last night. Instead, I was urging my cab driver to find the game on the radio—he couldn’t—and rushing upstairs to my apartment to turn on the last four minutes, in which the Giants scored a touchdown and could have tied the game if they’d recovered an onside kick. But it sounds like it was a heck of a game. Congratulations, Patriots. But more congratulations for this particular game, if not the whole season, go to the Giants, for putting up a fight and refusing to fold.

As for the post-season….well, the Patriots looked beatable, didn’t they? Wouldn’t a rematch be nice?

NYT for Boring

Posted on December 29th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

The New York Times has hired Bill Kristol as a columnist for 2008.

What a surprising and original choice. No wonder that newspaper is doing so well!

Bush Goes Green—Not

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

After seven years of environmental disaster, George Bush is now trying to prove that he cares about global warming, and a White House spinner claims that the president’s position has “evolved.”

Sure, I believe that.

The Worst of 2007

Posted on December 29th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

The Washington Post has a list of the worst movies of 2007. (Great idea!)

The consensus choice?

Because I Said So,” starring Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore.

Yes! I happened to see that movie on HBO—well, I agreed to see it—and it was so excruciatingly, unbearably bad, I wanted to write Diane Keaton and ask her to pay me for having watched it. The scene where Keaton tries to use the computer, somehow types in the URL for a porn site, and her golden retriever gets all fired up…excruciating.

Other winners: “The Number 23,” “The Reaping,” with Hillary Swank (I saw that one too!), and “Norbit.”

My own nomination: “Knocked Up.” Uh-huh: Katharine Heigl is really going to try to make it work with Seth Rogen, just because she got drunk one night and slept with him. The politics of this movie—which literally could not bring itself to say the word “abortion”—were Neanderthal, as Heigl herself admitted in a recent Vanity Fair profile. (It’s also the only movie I know of which accepted product placement from a porn site.) Was there a more inane, more offensive, and just plain stupider movie of 2007?

Romney: Abort! Abort! Abort!

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

In the Globe, Frank Phillips reports that Mitt Romney approved a tax-exempt bond for a Planned Parenthood clinic last year, just two months before he left office and began talking about his anti-abortion stance. (I guess we can now call this a wide stance.)

A Romney spokesman said that the loan was made by an agency that does not report to the Massachusetts governor. That’s technically true…but in Romney’s case, it doesn’t sound actually true, as Phillips writes.

While Romney’s campaign said the agency that authorized the deal, MassDevelopment, is an autonomous authority, it was controlled by Romney appointees. Several of its 11-member board were top officials in the Romney administration, including Ranch Kimball, the chairman who was also Romney’s secretary of economic development.

Whatever happened, this isn’t going to help Romney now, just five days before the Iowa caucuses. Ouch! Someone timed this leak well….a Massachusetts Democrat? Oppo researchers for another campaign?

Harvard Un-Levels the Playing Field

Posted on December 29th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

Harvard’s decision to extend financial aid to students from families earning up to $180,000 a year appears to have some unintended consequences (or were they intended?), according to an article in the New York Times. Jonathan Glater reports that the increased financial aid is putting pressure on smaller colleges to match Harvard, and, by creating greater competition for middle-class kids, may actually take aid money away from low-income students.

Officials at colleges without anything like Harvard’s $35 billion endowment say a rush to give tuition discounting to the middle and upper middle class at institutions like theirs could end up shifting financial aid from low-income students to wealthier, make pricing seem even more arbitrary and create pressure to raise full tuition to pay for all the assistance.

Some administrators say there will now be pressure to provide more merit aid to relatively wealthy high achievers, reducing the amount available to poorer students.

“It could lead to schools’ doing this sort of thing because they want to be part of the top group,” David W. Oxtoby, president of Pomona College in California, said of Harvard’s move. If that meant those colleges had to reduce the number of their low-income students, Dr. Oxtoby said, “that would be terrible, exactly the wrong outcome.”

[Glater should have noted that Oxtoby was a candidate for the Harvard presidency.]

In the piece, Harvard dean of admissions Bill Fitzsimmons admits that a significant motive for the university’s decision was to compete for middle-class kids whom Harvard wanted but who weren’t applying because they felt they couldn’t afford to go.

“People were voting with their feet,” Dean Fitzsimmons said.

This is all very interesting. Presumably one of Harvard’s motives was also to deflect attention away from the rising-much-faster-than-inflation tuition it charges, but the move seems to have backfired.

Jonathan Burdick, dean of admissions and financial aid at the University of Rochester, where costs are nearly $45,000, said: “Harvard has made it harder for everybody. They’ve given fuel to the argument that colleges are charging more than they should.”

Of course, parents and students are going to be grateful for Harvard’s move, and they should be, not just because of how it helps them pay for Harvard, but because it suggests that there ought to be more pressure on colleges to lower tuition, or at least help families pay it, and creates something more of a free market in college tuition.

What is irrefutable, though, is that the race here goes to the wealthiest; Harvard is playing this game with vastly greater resources than any other university.

How long will it be before there are serious calls for income redistribution? Perhaps a luxury tax like baseball’s?