Archive for January, 2009

Good for the Globe

Posted on January 28th, 2009 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

To reprint one of John Updike’s most beautiful pieces of writing, his essay on Ted Williams, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.” (And good for Alfred A. Knopf to give its permission.)

From its crisp, understated beginning—”Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyrical little bandbox of a ballpark”— to its description of Williams rounding the bases, it may be the best thing ever written about baseball.

Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs – hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn’t tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted ”We want Ted” for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he refused. Gods do not answer letters.

At the end of the inning, Higgins sent Williams out to his left-field position, then instantly replaced him with Carroll Hardy, so we had a long last look at Williams as he ran out there and then back, his uniform jogging, his eyes steadfast on the ground. It was nice, and we were grateful, but it left a funny taste.

Did we get to see Updike jog back into the dugout? And if not, I wonder, why not? 


What Really Happened with Christina Romer?

Posted on January 28th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 25 Comments »

Harvardians will remember her as the Berkeley economist who was nominated for tenure by the econ department, then mysteriously rejected by Drew Faust.  The rejection caused consternation—and then, when Romer was appointed head of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, embarrassment.

Yours truly wrote a piece about the Romer affair for Boston Magazine

Faust was “basically fooled by a superficial controversy without taking the time to understand where the criticism was coming from,” says a Harvard economist….


Is the Harvard Endowment Tanking?

Posted on January 27th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

On, Edward Jay Epstein argues that the Harvard endowment may have lost some $18 billion, rather than the $8 billion the university has officially suggested.

[The endowment’s] recent loss of $8.1 billion from July 1 to Oct. 31, 2008, came as a stunning blow. Yet this huge loss, as staggering as it sounds, might be only the tip of the iceberg of illiquid investments. According to a source close to the Harvard Management Co., the damage, if the fund’s illiquid investments are realistically appraised, may be closer to $18 billion—or more than twice the amount previously reported.

Epstein has previously made this suggestion on the Huffington Post, but his reporting here is far more detailed—and should make Harvardians more than a little nervous.

Epstein argues that Harvard’s money managers invested deeply in illiquid assets and then failed to see warning signs and convert those assets into cash before their value plunged.

….as late as June 2008, the fund kept almost no reserve of cash or Treasury bills and allocated a mere 6 percent of its money to fixed-interest bonds. It also borrowed more than $1 billion to amplify the returns on its less conventional investments. So by the time the bubble burst in the fall of 2008, only a small fraction of the endowment fund investment was even under the jurisdiction of the SEC. According to the November 7th 13F holding report it filed with the SEC for the quarter ending September 30th, 2008, Harvard had only $2.88 billion of its funds in exchange-listed stocks, options, or other derivatives.

If Epstein is right, and Harvard’s endowment has really lost some $18 billion—closer to 50% of its value than the public figure of about 20%—there will soon ensue a battening down of the hatches like the university has never seen……

Updike, Rest

Posted on January 27th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

I was just forwarded this e-mail from Nicholas Latimer, a publicist  at Random House:

It is with great sadness that I report that John Updike died this morning at the age of 76, after a battle with lung cancer. He was one of our greatest writers, and he will be sorely missed.

March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009

Here is a nicely written AP obit. More TK.

What Happened?

Posted on January 27th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Anyone else notice that the last entry for The New Republic’s academic blog, “Open University,” announced with such fanfare just a year or so ago (contributors to include: Larry Summers! Not.), is dated July 26, 2008?

No, I didn’t think so…..

The last contributor?

That would be Cass Sunstein. And he’s gone, baby, gone.

Quote of the Day*

Posted on January 27th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

“What have two-thirds of the Senate done before they got there? Served in the state legislature? You think that is a better qualification than [Caroline Kennedy’s] intellect, her breadth of experience, her ability to get things done for the state? I don’t think so.”

—Richard Plepler, co-president of HBO and a friend of Caroline Kennedy, in “Ms. Kennedy Regrets,” in the New Yorker.

*Also known as “the definition of the kind of elitist attitude that made New Yorkers turn against Caroline Kennedy’s candidacy.”

The Kids are Alright

Posted on January 27th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

A few weeks ago, I pooh-poohed Charles M. Blow’s alarmist note in “The Demise of Dating,” his column about the frequency of teenage hook-ups. 

So why is there an increase in hooking up? According to Professor Bogle, it’s: the collapse of advanced planning, lopsided gender ratios on campus, delaying marriage, relaxing values and sheer momentum.

It used to be that “you were trained your whole life to date,” said Ms. Bogle. “Now we’ve lost that ability — the ability to just ask someone out and get to know them.”

Now that’s sad.

I wasn’t so sure, and wrote:

hooking up might take some of the stigma out of sex, and indeed the cultural obsession with it. If it’s not such a big deal, then—as Blow rather inconsistently acknowledges—it might not happen so much.

Several parents, writing in the comments section, vehemently disagreed, but at least on the sex part of the issue, turns out I was right—at least according to today’s Times piece on “The Myth of Rampant Teenage Promiscuity.”

While some young people are clearly engaging in risky sexual behavior, a vast majority are not. The reality is that in many ways, today’s teenagers are more conservative about sex than previous generations.

One reason people misconstrue teenage sexual behavior is that the system of dating and relationships has changed significantly….

And funnily enough, the Times article is based on the same source whom Blow quotes above:

There’s no doubt that the public perception is that things are getting worse, and that kids are having sex younger and are much wilder than they ever were,” said Kathleen A. Bogle, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at La Salle University. “But when you look at the data, that’s not the case.

As I say: older people, particularly Baby Boomers, have a difficult time interpreting teenage behavior, and fear the worst. It ain’t necessarily so.


College Endowments in Freefall

Posted on January 27th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

The Globe has a short piece on the plummeting values of 791 college and university endowments.

(The article, which is an AP story, actually just calls them college endowments, but it seems to include universities as well.)

Living proof of that: Brandeis is closing its art museum and selling its contents.



The Caroline Kennedy Tick-Tock

Posted on January 26th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

New York mag has a long piece on Caroline Kennedy’s bizarre Senate campaign. It doesn’t make Caroline look so great, and it doesn’t make David Paterson look so great, either.

One thing that’s clear from the piece is that people in the Caroline camp cooperated in an attempt to regain the PR upper hand.

When Caroline resurfaced, conference calls were hastily assembled. Over the next several hours, she debated what to do with a group that included Schlossberg; Isay; Nicole Seligman, her close friend since college, a corporate lawyer, and the wife of school chancellor Joel Klein; Gary Ginsberg, a close friend of her late brother, John, and a vice-president at News Corp.; and Ranny Cooper. Even in the midst of the confusing meltdown of her candidacy, with a supposedly serious personal issue suddenly looming, Kennedy, as always, remained impenetrably placid. “She’s not an emotive human being,” one friend says.

A funny thing, though: Even now, none of these people will talk to the press on the record. It’s all so bizarre: Imagine a senatorial campaign in which no one involved will allow his or her name in the paper.

Another point that emerges from the article: We still don’t really know whether Caroline Kennedy quit or was pushed, and if she quit, why. Here’s the closest author Chris Smith gets to explaining what happened:

After tens of thousands of words and uncountable hours of TV time devoted to her over the past eight weeks, Caroline Kennedy ends the most voluntarily public period of her life even more of a mystery than she was at the outset. So what are the “personal reasons” that caused the crisis? Kennedy wouldn’t say. “Is there a part of me that thinks she just got cold feet?” says one frustrated friend. “Sure. But I didn’t see any evidence of it.”

“Most politicians will do anything to be elected and to be in office,” one adviser says. “Caroline, because of who she is and the life she’s led and the sorrows she’s seen, sees life in a different way. Whatever the problem was, it was enough for her to say it’s not worth it. But I think it was something that a normal politician wouldn’t have let stop them.”

The New York Post’s Fred Dicker, by the way, says that Kennedy’s mysterious “personal reason” was that one of her children was opposed to the idea of his/her mother becoming senator, which sounds wrong to me—she wouldn’t have known about this before she threw her hat into the ring?

No, I think the true answer is that Caroline Kennedy was probably convinced by the group of people mentioned above and a handful of others that they could get her the job with a minimum of fuss. Then the mess with Illinois happened, and the Times decided to print its interview with her without deleting the “you know’s,” and before long she was being compared to Sarah Palin, and eventually she decided, well, you know, f*** it, I don’t need this. On New York’s part, the feeling was mutual.

Al-Qaeda Flails

Posted on January 26th, 2009 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Washington Post has a fascinating piece about how Al Qaeda has unleashed a blistering verbal attack on Barack Obama—all because he is less hateable to them than George Bush. 

Obama has been called a “hypocrite,” a “killer” of innocents, an “enemy of Muslims.” He was even blamed for the Israeli military assault on Gaza, which began and ended before he took office.

“He kills your brothers and sisters in Gaza mercilessly and without affection,” an al-Qaeda spokesman declared in a grainy Internet video this month.

The torrent of hateful words is part of what terrorism experts now believe is a deliberate, even desperate, propaganda campaign against a president who appears to have gotten under al-Qaeda’s skin. The departure of George W. Bush deprived al-Qaeda of a polarizing American leader who reliably drove recruits and donations to the terrorist group.

Which shows a couple of things, I suppose: That combating terrorism means blending strength with wisdom, and that Al Qaeda, like any bureaucracy, won’t just fold up shop and go away, even if it gets what it wants….