Archive for March, 2008

More Concern over Segregation at Harvard

Posted on March 31st, 2008 in Uncategorized | 23 Comments »

In the Washington Post, Ken Goldstein argues that allowing segregation in order to accomodate religious sensibilities is a slippery slope.

First it’s only one gym, then a swimming pool. Next might be the demand that women at Harvard wear a little more clothing — you know, just a reasonable amount more.

Finally these Muslim women, denied the opportunity to pursue higher education in Muslim-dominated societies, will demand the separation of men from women in classes.

Perhaps Harvard will accommodate them — reasonably, of course — by establishing a women’s college to insulate these acutely sensitive women from the pernicious influence of men.

They could call it Radcliffe College.

Meanwhile, the story is picked up in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Taha Abdul-Basser, the Muslim chaplain at Harvard, said said both episodes were indicative of the growing number of Muslims in the US.

“There are some people who are not just comfortable that Muslims, by virtue of the change of demographics, are going to become more and more visible.”

This argument may be generally true, but in the context of the Harvard situation, it is hilariously wrong.  It is not, in fact, the non-Muslim Harvardians who are uncomfortable with Muslim students. It’s the Muslim students who are uncomfortable with American cultural norms and values (i.e., segregation bad, integration good).

This debate is really about an issue that Harry Lewis has been trying to inject into the university crucible for years now: In an increasingly global university, what values can and should Harvard teach its students? Or does it just espouse “tolerance,”  even when some values conflict with fundamental American beliefs?

In, for example, America and the Curricular Review, circa 2002, Lewis wrote:

We have just come through a year in which America has been reminded of her dependence on the rest of the world, and of the fact that her fundamental values of freedom and equality are not accepted universally. We rely on these freedoms more in this old University than anywhere, especially the freedom to speak and to have a rational argument, an argument in which distinctions are respected and broad labels are avoided. I wonder, when we finish redesigning our general education program for the next generation of students, whether America will have any special place in it, and if indeed if it will have a motivating force behind it at all. It seems to me that in this free society, we should want to teach young minds how to learn, but also to inspire their souls to grasp and to sustain the best humane ideals that our shared heritage has given us.

In the context of the debate over gym segregation, those words seem prescient.

For the Sox, Failure is Ancient History

Posted on March 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Or at least, “so last century,” according to Kevin Baxter in the LA Times.

Gone — or at least lessened — is the pain of Johnny Pesky holding the ball as the winning run scored for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1946 World Series. And of Grady Little leaving Pedro Martinez in for one inning too many in the 2003 American League Championship Series. And of Bucky Dent’s pennant-winning home run for the Yankees in 1978.

It’s actually quite interesting: New Red Sox fans—you know who you are, bandwagoners—have no appreciation for the culture of misery and defeatism the team suffered through for 86 years. I guess that’s good for the team, and yet, I’m sort of sorry to see it go. In some ways, the Sox were a lot more fun when they were a team of high hopes…and heartbreak.

More on Mendillo

Posted on March 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In The Times, Geraldine Fabrikant covers the hiring of Jane Mendillo as head of the Harvard Management Company.

After appointing Drew G. Faust as president last year, Harvard now has women serving in two prominent posts.

I guess Evelynn Hammond doesn’t matter? Honestly, these Times reporters are so damn lazy.

For example:

The university’s decision was greeted with enthusiasm by people who have worked with her and in the endowment world in general.

Fabrikant then quotes Jack Meyer, Mendillo’s former boss, who has a vested interest in praising her because Harvard has some of its money in Meyer’s Convexity Capital hedge fund, and Lulu Wang, the woman who hired Mendillo for Wellesley.

It’s fine and good to get quotes from people who know and have worked with Mendillo, but that hardly establishes that people “in the endowment world” greeted Mendillo’s choice “with enthusiasm.”

It’s lazy reporting like this—and I’ve seen so much of it in the Times lately—that is going to lead to Rupert Murdoch kicking this newspaper’s butt.

Is Mendillo a good choice or not? I still have no idea.

Sizing Up the Yanks

Posted on March 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

In the New York Sun, Tim Marchman has a terrific player-by-player evaluation of the Yankees.

 The veterans are a year older and that much closer to senescence, but between the young pitchers, Robinson Cano, and Melky Cabrera, enough of the roster is on the upswing to compensate for likely declines. This year’s Yankees are no sure bet to play in October, as they have been for most of the last decade, but it’s easy to overstate their weaknesses and underestimate their strengths. Probably no team in the game has a better lineup, and the rotation more than makes up in talent what it lacks in dependability. The chances of sending off the Stadium with yet another championship are high.

Harvard on the Rise

Posted on March 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Chronicle of Higher Ed reports on a Princeton Review survey showing that Harvard has surpassed NYU as the college of choice among high school seniors.

The theorized reason? Good press over Harvard’s latest financial aid innovations.

Stanford comes in at #2, Princeton 3, NYU 4, Yale 5.

Since NYU actually dropped three places, after being #1 for three consecutive years, I wonder if the changed ranking isn’t really a reflection of some shift in feeling about NYU, rather than something that Harvard, etc., are doing.

A Note of Appreciation

Posted on March 27th, 2008 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I lack the words to tell you how much all the expressions of support I’ve received in the past few days, whether through comments on this blog or phone calls or e-mails, mean to me. I am grateful, and I hope to be able to express my appreciation to everyone individually sooner or later.

In the meantime, please know that your kind and comforting  thoughts really have made a difference.

Harvard Has a New Money Man

Posted on March 27th, 2008 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

And it’s a woman!

It’s fascinating to see how, in just a year as president, Drew Faust has effected a profound shift in the gender composition of the university’s top leadership…(though, to be fair, who knows what Faust’s role was in this pick?).
New hire Jane Mendillo worked for Jack Meyer and has been serving as the chief investment officer for Wellesley College. (Anyone know how she did? The Journal has some numbers, but it’s hard to tell; her 13.5% annual return is impressive, but not by Harvard/Yale standards. Then again, her financial options with a far smaller endowment are probably more limited.)

Also, she went to Yale—twice. Majored in English, then went to the School of Organization and Management.

She did, however, marry a Harvard man.

Sounds impressive…though perhaps not as impressive as Mohammed El-Erian. But perhaps Mendillo is a rock star about to take center stage?

Father of Three

Posted on March 26th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »


As some of you may know, I didn’t get to speak to my dad before he died. He wasn’t able to come to the phone in the days before I got to Florida, mostly because he was either asleep when I called or just wasn’t able to come to the phone. My dad never particularly liked the phone, anyway. He was old enough to remember the exorbitant cost of long-distance phone calls, and the subsequent habit of speaking concisely and with an undercurrent of financial consciousness during a phone call never really left him—and Parkinson’s and medication made the telephone even more arduous. It was hard for him to hear, probably harder for him to talk. He tried; he did. But phone calls had become hard work.

His physical descent, when it finally came, came much faster than anyone expected, including him. He did not think he was near death. Neither did those of us who knew him, till shortly before the end. My siblings and I had seen him for a week at Christmas, and though he was fragile, still, he was eating, he could walk some distance—100 yards, perhaps—and his mind was in good shape. The disease was taking its toll, clearly. But then, it had been doing that for some time.
In the weeks that followed, though, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, which left him short of oxygen and retaining fluids. But people can live a long time with congestive heart failure, and the fluid retention was addressed by a drug called Lasix. That wasn’t great—there were side effects—but it was something.

We made plans to visit, my brother and sister and I, after the departure of two of my father’s three brothers, who were visiting from Virginia. Then we moved those plans up by a week. Then we got a phone call: Come now.

My sister got there in time. She was able to talk to my dad. My brother and I did not. That is hard. Though he was not able to speak on the day he died, I wanted to be there; I wanted to tell him things.

I did have a small consolation. My father, who was a writer and editor, was happy that I also became a writer and editor, and he always inquired about the progress of my books—how was the writing going? How were they selling?

He was particularly helpful in the writing of my first book, “American Son.” The publication of that book was a huge and silly drama, but part of it entailed me writing the book without a publisher. That was pretty scary. I was unemployed, I had very little money, my reputation had been eviscerated by people who lied. Painted as a cheat and a betrayer, I’d lost a book contract in a public and humiliating fashion. But I was stubborn—just as my father was stubborn—and determined to write the book nonetheless, in the hope that someone would buy the manuscript once they could see for themselves that the book was not what its detractors were claiming it to be. More: I knew that if I did not write the book, a part of me would be permanently defeated.

Unfortunately, over the course of the year 2000, I wasn’t doing a very good job of it, and my agent, as she read the chapters that I sent her, was growing worried. Maybe this just isn’t here, she said. Maybe it just isn’t going to work. And she was right: the stuff I was sending her was overwritten, overlong, not particularly good.

So I sent the manuscript—about four hundred pages—to my father, and asked if he would read it. He did more than that: He line-edited the entire thing, painstakingly and insightfully. When I received a package back from him in the mail, I read through the pages nervously at first. But looking at his pencilled comments and cuts, I could see the logic behind them, could see that he knew what he was doing. And I could see that, almost invariably, he was right.

I made the changes that he suggested and sent a new manuscript to my agent, and before long, she called me and said, “I’m not sure what just happened, but I think you’ve got something here.”

And the book, so tarred in the press before I’d written a word of it, went on not only to find a publisher, but to hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

As I was writing my new book, I asked if he wanted to see the manuscript. I said that I could use his help.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” he said. He couldn’t really read any more; he couldn’t really write any more.

I sent him a copy of The Greatest Game as soon as I had one from the publisher, and it reached him—by U.S. mail, because so far as I knew then, there was no need to rush—about five days before he died. I inscribed the book. “To Dad,” I wrote, “in whose footsteps I follow.”

His brothers George and Tony were on hand when he read the inscription. “Your father liked that,” my uncle George told me.

I didn’t get to speak to my father. But he had the book, and he’d heard what I wrote in it. That is something.

I’m including some more pictures of my father. The black-and-white one below is him at Yale with his friends, John and Sally Marsh. I love this photo—it’s very Joe College.b15.jpg

And then there are photos of him (above) with my brother in his crib; with my sister (also above) in, funnily, a little wagon, goofing around; and with me, below, on the ferry to Fishers Island, where we spent some summers and my parents built a house. Fishers was an important place to him, raw and unspoiled and beautiful. I’m not sure he was ever happier than when he was there.


Technical Difficulties

Posted on March 26th, 2008 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Something nutty is going on with the formatting on the post below. Bear with me while I try to fix it…..

The Segregated Gym Story Hits Washington

Posted on March 26th, 2008 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In the Washington Post, columnist Ruth Marcus offers her take on the new segregation at Harvard—she’s pro-segregation.   I come to this issue as a member of another minority religion, Judaism, whose adherents often seek flexibility from the majority culture in order to practice their faith. As with Islam, my religion’s more observant believers endorse practices — segregating the sexes at prayer, excluding women from engaging in certain rituals — that I find disturbing, bordering on offensive. I have relatives who would shrink from shaking my hand. Still, I would defend to the death their right not to touch me.Marcus is a smart woman, but I think the analogy is wrong: The women excluded from certain orthodox Jewish rituals are, well, orthodox Jews.  The men who are excluded from the gym because of their gender  are not necessarily Muslim. They’re just men.Meanwhile, here’s a more extreme voice on the other side of the issue—a UPI columnist named Georgie Ann Geyer.So, what is going on here at America’s most iconic university…?

What we are seeing is a wave of arrogance sweeping into America with the wave of Muslim immigrants and students. One searches in vain for an individual or organized Muslim voice showing real respect or even a minimal liking for America or American customs.

Instead — and the Harvard situation is only one of many examples — the predominant attitude toward America is characterized by a sense of rights unrequited, and by an attitude of superiority that demands that we abide by Muslim wishes in place of our traditions.Sounds pretty nutty to me. But Harvard has to take some responsibility for the dissemination of such sentiments, because if the university makes such a provocative decision without bothering to explain it, extremists will fill the vacuum.It remains disappointing that, while this issue has caused debate on television and in newspapers and on blogs around the country, not one Harvard official has come forward to defend, debate, or even just explain the decision.  Where are Evelynn Hammonds and Drew Faust?As Harry Lewis wrote in the Boston Globe yesterday, the university has missed an opportunity “to model for its students the kind of moral  reasoning it expects from them.”Wherever one stands on this issue,  it’d be encouraging to see official Harvard act in a way that makes you proud of the university.