Archive for April, 2008

Don’t Just Take My Word for It

Posted on April 30th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

On his blog, James Fallows calls Hillary’s support for a temporary suspension of the national gas tax “the stupidest moment in policy ever.”

No one who has thought about this issue thinks that it will actually reduce prices or — more important — help the the people disproportionately hurt by $100+/barrel oil and $4 gasoline. And to the extent it has any effect on America’s long-term approach to energy policy, transportation, oil dependence, and climate change, the effect will be perverse.

Taxing Harvard?

Posted on April 30th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Boston’s Channel 5 reports that Massachusetts state representatives are weighing a plan that would impose a 2.5% tax on university endowments of $1 billion or more.

Currently, seven Massachusetts universities have endowments over that baseline: Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College, Smith, Tufts, and Wellesley.

The endowment tax is a popular idea among house lawmakers who have already voted to send it in a study proposal to the Department of Revenue

The plan strikes one as silly on principle. Why punish a non-profit institution for raising, saving and investing its money wisely? It’s like the state saying, well, we can’t manage our money as well as you do, so we’re just going to take yours.

Nonetheless, as long as these universities are growing richer and richer, pols are going to look at the piles of cash they’re sitting on and think about skimming from it.

Unlike her predecessor, Drew Faust is said to have good relations with Boston mayor Menino. (Who is rumored to have passionately disliked Larry Summers.)

But how are her relations with Beacon Hill?

This might be one of those situations where it’d be helpful to have a Corporation member [other than Faust] who actually lived in Massachusetts……

What Drew Faust Should Have Said

Posted on April 29th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

A few weeks back, Drew Faust endured probably the only controversy (and a small one, at that) of her first year when she was quoted in Business Week as suggesting that smaller private universities and many public ones could not afford to compete with wealthy universities such as Harvard in the realm of scientific research, and should consider cutting efforts in that area while beefing up work in the relatively cheaper humanities.

After a flurry of how-dare-she retorts from presidents of such places, Faust insisted that she had been misquoted by the magazine, and Business Week kinda-sorta issued a retraction.

In fact, Faust’s only mistake, really, was in telling the truth. It’s unfortunate that she didn’t have the courage of her convictions, because she was right. In fact, thanks to funding freezes and budget cuts, the situation for many public universities is even more dire than her assessment.

As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports (subscription only), public universities such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison are so hard up for money, they’re losing both scientists and humanists to Harvard and its peers.

The problem is money. Wisconsin’s stagnating state higher-education budget has forced the university to keep faculty salaries far below average. When professors get feelers from elsewhere, they learn that a move can easily mean a whopping 100-percent salary increase—sometimes more.

The departures have hit the College of Letters and Science hardest.….

What universities are leading the salary charge? Rockefeller University has an average professorial salary of $191, 200. After that is Harvard, with $184, 800…..

Not Just a Steroid User and a Liar

Posted on April 29th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Roger Clemens is, allegedly, also a cheating husband. Below, country star Mindy McCready, who says she was Clemens’ mistress for a decade. Clemens denies it. mmcreadys.jpg 

Hillary: Pump Her Up

Posted on April 29th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

I know I’ve gone round the bend somewhat with my growing disgust with Hillary Clinton, but bear with me just a bit longer. The fight over whether to suspend the U.S. gas tax during the coming summer months is a powerful example of how craven Hillary has become—and how her overweening ambition is exactly what the country doesn’t need right now.

Hillary wants to suspend the federal excise tax of 18.4 cents a gallon for the summer. So does John McCain. It’s a terrible idea. Barack Obama rightly opposes it—and Hillary is trying to demagogue this “issue” just as she did with Jeremiah Wright et al.

At the heart of my approach is a simple belief,” Mrs. Clinton said. “Middle-class families are paying too much and oil companies aren’t paying their fair share to help us solve the problems at the pump.”

Oh, please. How does this woman keep a straight face when uttering such malarkey?

Why is suspending the gas tax a terrible idea? Well, fiscally it would make no difference to the millions of Americans to whom Hillary is sucking up. As Obama rightly points out, the amount the typical American driver would save from suspending this tax is about $30—these days, around half a tank of gas.

Second, as a matter of policy it’s an even worse idea. The solution to the gas crisis is not to try to make gas cheaper. It’s to encourage Americans to drive less, use more public transportation, drive fewer SUVs, and promote alternative energy. The era of cheap energy is, at least for now, over. Postponing our acknowledgment of that reality will only weaken our country.

Which brings us to the question of leadership. Again: The answer to American problems is not to try to make it easier for Americans to consume more and the consequences be damned. Hillary urging the suspension of this tax is a failure of leadership; it’s like George Bush telling us after 9/11 that the biggest sacrifice Americans needed to make was to keep shopping.

Want to know how silly Hillary’s argument is? Consider this quote from a McCain spokesperson:“It’s clear Barack Obama’s not strong enough to provide immediate relief at the pump, and it shows he doesn’t understand our economy or have the ability to deliver for hard-working Americans,” said Tucker Bounds, a McCain aide.

Not “strong enough” to provide immediate relief at the pump?

(A whopping 30 bucks.)

Obama’s strong enough to try to do better than simply throw crumbs at the voters and hope they eat them up. Hillary Clinton is not. She is, instead, dragging American politics to a base level just at a time when we need serious solutions to difficult problems. But she can only succeed if the rest of us let her.

Leon Wieseltier a Thug (Part II)

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

New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier isn’t making a lot of friends at the moment. Not that he cares. (Or…hmmm…does he?)Just days after accusing Andrew Sullivan of anti-Semitism, Wieseltier trashes Martin Amis in the New York Times, a vicious review which prompted this retort from ex-Harvard prof Jim Sleeper:

The faults in Amis’ book are manifold, but Wieseltier’s puzzling envy and all-too-explicable bad faith are borne of bad conscience about his own continuously bad judgment about how to respond to September 11.

…Seldom has a reviewer hoisted himself on his own petard so shamelessly with so many grasps at faux paradoxes, sustained by his telltale, compulsive alliteration: 

“Nothing creates confidence like catastrophe.” “[Amis] has a hot, heroic view of himself.” “In Amis’ universe, you are either religious or you are rational.” “The results of Amis’ clumsily mixed cocktail of rhetoric and rage can be eccentric, or worse” “For this reason, such writings will have more impact than influence.” “[Amis] appears to believe that an insult is an analysis.” 

Ouch. Not only is Wieseltier writing in bad faith…he’s writing badly! 
(An accusation that is sure to prick his swollen vanity.)

Why does all this matter? It matters, I think, because writers are still struggling to make sense of 9/11, to interpret that event in a useful way, because that is the kind of thing writers must do if they are to mean anything in today’s American culture, and because these are important questions with which to grapple.

These literary squabbles, one hopes, aren’t just personal and petty. They shouldn’t be. We have important things to talk and write about.

That’s another reason why Hillary’s desperate, frenzied condemnation of Jeremiah Wright (speaking of Hillary, as from time to time one must) is so unfortunate. This campaign—and Barack Obama, in particular—have provided the country with opportunities for serious conversations. Hillary is grinding those conversations underneath the boot of her own ambition. The stakes are too high to allow her to succeed.

The Lord Giveth…

Posted on April 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

The New Yorker includes The Greatest Game in its “Briefly Noted” section this week. 



by Richard Bradley (Free Press; $25)

MAY 5, 2008


 In 1978, the American League East division champion was determined by a one-game playoff, a taut battle between the Yankees and the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Bradley gives a pitch-by-pitch breakdown of the Boston loss (a three-run homer by Bucky Dent in the top of the seventh cemented the Yankees’ lead), and an account of the volatile season preceding it. At a time when pro baseball was making the transition from homegrown pastime to big business, emotions ran high and outsized personalities clashed; New York’s pugnacious manager, Billy Martin, resigned in tears mid-season. Bradley’s prosaic style and his penchant for statistics sometimes test the reader’s patience, but his portraits of the coaches and players who converged that day in October lend an intimacy and richness to the book  

My initial reaction: Prosaic style? Why, I oughta…. But in fact, it’s really pretty terrific to be noted in the New Yorker, and so I won’t quibble.  Instead, my thanks to whomever was responsible for the write-up.I only wish that my dad could have seen it. He would have been enormously pleased.

Harvard’s $100-Million Man

Posted on April 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Well after numerous other schools have received nine-figure donations, Harvard has finally landed its first from an alumnus, David Rockefeller. The money will go to support study abroad and for new “study centers” at the Fogg Museum.

Rockefeller’s gift is a big deal for Harvard, and the university is making a hullabaloo about it, as it should. The Globe gets so excited about the Rocke-gift that the paper simply prints the entire Harvard press release. The Globe: Once a great paper.

But the real impact of this donation, at least in the short term, has nothing do with fine art or study abroad. The greatest impact of Rockefeller’s gift for the foreseeable future is this:

1) It breaks a psychological barrier. Harvard has lagged behind other universities, such as Yale and New York University, in landing truly large gifts from alums. Rockefeller’s gift can be portrayed as a vote of confidence in Harvard and an example that other grads should emulate.

2) It’s a watershed, unofficial kickoff to the fundraising campaign that has been planned, and postponed, for most of the ’00s.

3) It signifies the closing of one final door on the Summers era. According to published reports, Rockefeller had been preparing to make a similar donation in 2006, then decided not to after the forced resignation of Larry Summers. Conservative news outlets portrayed that as a show of anger at Harvard and support for Summers; it almost surely was not. People making contributions of that magnitude want to maximize its, and their, influence. Giving the gift during a transitional presidency (Derek Bok’s) would hardly have accomplished that. By waiting, Rockefeller increased his influence during the presidential search process and gets the pleasure of yet another Harvard president kissing his ass.

So this gift is terrific news for Harvard and very, very good news for Drew Faust. It is not a ringing endorsement of Faust; the gift would have come sooner or later, and all Faust had to do, very likely, was not screw it up. But at the same time, Harvard presidents get blamed for things that they have not done or are not their fault, so who can begrudge them taking credit for things which are not entirely their doing?

The Court Rules on Voter ID’s

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

I know that, as someone who’s generally pretty progressive, I’m supposed to be outraged that the Supreme Court has just ruled in favor of an Indiana law mandating that voters have some form of ID. Historically, such laws have been used to intimidate minority and older voters.

But I can’t get that worked up about the law, simply because it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable requirement—as long as the definition of an ID is broad.

I’m always surprised when I walk into my voting station, in a Harlem housing project, and they don’t ask me for ID.

On the other hand, this is absurd:

Lawyers who challenged the case cited the experience of one would-be Indiana voter, Valerie Williams, who was turned away from the polling place in November 2006 by officials who told her that a telephone bill, a Social Security letter with her address and an expired driver’s license were no longer sufficient.

Ms. Williams, ironically, is Republican.

Monday Morning Zen

Posted on April 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »