Archive for August, 2009

Do Selfish Professors Drive up the Price of Tuition?

Posted on August 28th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

In the Atlanta Constitution, John Zmirak argues that professors are abandoning their teaching responsibilities in order to publish more books and grow more renowned.

….prestigious professors frequently have little interaction with students at all, lecturing to hundreds at a time, consigning discussions and grading to graduate students. Meanwhile, the research these professors are turning out is increasingly obscure and often politicized.

Students, argues Zmirak and a professor he quotes, subsidize the conduct of this scholarship but get few of the benefits….

Why Americans Are So Cranky…Really

Posted on August 28th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

In the Washington Post, Michael Kinsley argues that the reason Americans are rising up against Obama’s Nazi, fascist, etc. health care plan is because we hate change.

You would think that while we might disagree about what kind of change we want, Americans are in total agreement that the current situation is intolerable in all areas and that change — big, immediate change — is essential. Americans do agree about this — in the abstract. But as soon as it seems that change might actually happen — as soon as we leave the abstract for the particular — we panic. We suddenly develop nostalgia for the comforts of the status quo. Sure, we want change — as long as everything can stay just as it is.

Kinsley is still one of the bravest commentators there is when it comes to calling things like he sees them, and so he then moves to something that I suspect many people have been wondering about, as they watch looney-tunes Americans sounding off about how the president is trying to tear down the Constitution: Are Americans too dumb to have a serious, informed debate about health care?  (Forgive the long quote, but it’s a good one.)

Why does this happen? Some people (including me) say the voters are immature. Politicians (and those talk radio fellows again) are always telling them that they are wise and those folks in Washington are fools. Pollsters seek and validate their opinions on subjects they haven’t bothered to learn anything about. Politicians drown them in benefits with no thought of how the bills will be paid. No wonder that citizens turn out like spoiled children. But “immature” is a label, not an explanation. It’s just a guess, but my own suspicion is that the raucous town hall meetings that blindsided pols and press alike reflect the voters’ true feelings — misinformed, perhaps, but sincere — and their previous passionate demands for what they now passionately oppose — in a word, “change” — were empty ritual. Discontent verging on anger is almost the price of admission to our political culture these days. You’re nobody if you’re not furious at Congress and/or the media and/or your health care and/or the president. To believe in your country’s institutions is virtually unpatriotic.

I’d agree with most of that, though I’d suggest a generational difference. I don’t see a lot of young people popping off at those meetings. They know that our health care system sucks. What’s the percentage of uninsured between the ages of, say, 21-28? 50%?

(At Worth, we recently posted on Craigslist a job opening  which offered a modest salary and health insurance. We got a ton of responses. One applicant told us that the posting was being e-mailed around her community of young journalist friends with the astonished header: “Health insurance!!!”)

And I’d suggest a caveat to Kinsley’s theory: That the change some of these people are pissed off about has nothing to do with health  care, and a lot to do with their simmering fury over having a black president.

After all, it’s not like they actually know what Congress is proposing. Nobody knows what Congress is proposing.

One Day Like This Will See Me Right

Posted on August 27th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

The other night I had a little insomnia, wrestling with the long heavy blanket of the night. So I turned on the flat screen, and Lord be praised, some channel I’d never heard of was showing video of Glastonbury, which is the biggest English music festival, in 2008. I was fortunate enough to catch the below performance by Elbow, a band that isn’t well-known in this country but is pretty big over there.

Those of you who indulge my musical ramblings will have gleaned that I much prefer English pop to American music. There is, I think, in Brit pop a sweetness, a romance, a wistfulness, a vulnerability, a yearning—in Portuguese they call it saudade—that is simply not present in American pop. It’s not an overstatement to call it joy in the face of mortality. (Saudade isn’t quite right, but it’s the closest equivalent I can think of.)

Maybe we have the Beatles and “Let It Be” to thank for this, but English pop music isn’t embarrassed to be beautiful.

This song, called “One Day Like This,” is a perfect example of that complicated emotion. (Can Americans have complicated emotions? Perhaps, as our country grows older, we are learning.)

First are its lyrics.

Someone tell me how I feel

…It’s silly wrong but vivid right

Oh, kiss me like the final meal
Yeah, kiss me like we die tonight

…Cause holy cow, I love your eyes

And only now I see you like

Yeah, lying with me half-awake

Stumbling over what to say
Well, anyway, it’s looking like a beautiful day

So throw those curtains wide!
One day like this a year would see me right

Rapture against The Rapture.

And then…watch the performance! There’s joy in that too—in the absolute bond between band and crowd; in the wonderful smiles on the faces of the players in the string section (how much fun they are having! And yes, I fell in love a little bit with the cellist in red); in the drummer’s goofy grin (he’s good, too); in the beauty (listen carefully, you’ll hear it) of a quiet harmony, a lone woman onstage singing while tens of thousands joyously join in; in the thousands of people taking a song and filling it with life like pouring oxygen into lungs.

So throw those curtains wide!

One day like this a year would see me right….

Performers and audience both know this is a special moment. You can see it—feel it—happening. A transformation…as a concert performance becomes something more, something ecstatic. Those moments are fleeting, which is one of the reasons they are magic.

As for me…well, sure. It was late and I was tired. But, hell yeah—I was moved. Throw those curtains wide. Throw those curtains wide.

Harvard’s Unintended Consequence

Posted on August 27th, 2009 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In her Times economics blog—I love the Times’ blogs, they’re really pretty good—Catherine Rampell writes up the thesis that the fierce competition to get into top-notch colleges such as Harvard is pushing parents to spend more time with their children.

As economists Garey and Valerie Ramsey argue in a working paper cutely titled “The Rug Rat Race,”

….“cohort crowding” has led parents to compete more aggressively for college slots by spending increasing amounts of time on college preparation. Our theoretical model shows that, since college-educated parents have a comparative advantage in college preparation, rivalry leads them to increase preparation time by a greater amount than less-educated parents.

On the other hand, college-educated parents may have more leisure time (better, higher-paying jobs) than less-educated parents, who may well have to work two jobs just to pay the bills…

And how would the annual higher-than-inflation tuition increases factor into this equation?

Quote of the Day

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

The velocity and volume on the Web are so great that nothing is forgotten and nothing is remembered. The Internet is like closing time at a blue-collar bar in Boston. Everyone’s drunk and ugly and they’re going to pass out in a few minutes.

—New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier, who has almost certainly never been in a blue-collar bar in Boston, in Maureen Dowd’s latest asinine column about how people are so mean to her.

(I can’t decide whether to put a comma after “column,” because the sentence is true with it or without it.)

Nothing is forgotten and nothing is remembered, eh?

Well, as a great man once said, nothing from nothing from means nothing, which is pretty much what this quote means.

Larry Summers and the Awkward Question

Posted on August 26th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

At the National Press Club yesterday, a reporter asked Larry Summers about gender differences in retirement savings. Seriously!

Summers paused for, according to Reuters, 20 seconds. And then made a joke about how his staff was terrified by the question.

In this Reuters photo, by the way, Summers shows that he remains sartorially challenged…but he looks a good bit older than he did a year ago.


Kevin Youkilis Trashes Sox Fans

Posted on August 26th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

That’s how I read Dan Shaughnessy’s column in the Globe today, anyway.

“You guys don’t have to hear what people say to us on the street. People have made comments to me. I’ve heard them say some things to my teammates.

“People know me. I have good intentions, I do good things in the community. But I’ve heard more and more crap from people, [they] talk to my wife and talk to my people and say stuff, and I’m like, ‘You know what? I’m sick of it.’ ’’

They talk to your people?

Stop whining, Youkilis. You are ugly and have a funny swing.

The Kids Aren’t All Write

Posted on August 26th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

Stanley Fish says young people today can’t write a simple sentence.

I… asked to see the lesson plans of the [relevant course] sections. I read them and found that only four emphasized training in the craft of writing. Although the other 100 sections fulfilled the composition requirement, instruction in composition was not their focus. Instead, the students spent much of their time discussing novels, movies, TV shows and essays on a variety of hot-button issues — racism, sexism, immigration, globalization.

Fish finds himself largely in agreement (Fish being Fish, it takes about 1000 words to figure this out) with the ACTA college rating system, which finds that the more expensive a college is, the less structured is its curriculum….

Hard to Believe

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

…but it’s true. Ted Kennedy has died.

The Senate, Massachusetts, indeed American life itself—all these things will seem strange without him.

Hump Day

Posted on August 25th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Today’s New York Post had this lovely photo (and accompanying article) about a diver—a free diver, from the looks of it—who had this encounter with a humpack whale.

Jealous much? I am.