Archive for November, 2009

They Call Them Killer Whales for a Reason

Posted on November 30th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

I’ll tell you one animal that I wouldn’t much like to see underwater: a killer whale. Ever seen those videos of them playing with their seals before chowing down? Or killing a whale calf by repeatedly forcing their way between it and its mother, then jumping up and down on the calf until, exhausted, it drowns?

Well, I have. And they’re not pretty.

And, yes, of course I cried at Free Willy. Who didn’t? Proves nothing. The point is, those critters are nasty.

Now the Daily Mail* has some remarkable photos of killer whales hunting sharks.

‘The orca will use its tail to drive the shark to the surface. They don’t even touch it. Using an up-thrust of its tail it creates a vortex which pushes the shark up on the current they create with their movements.

‘Once the shark is at the surface, the killer whale pivots and lifts its tail out of the water and comes down on top of it like a karate chop.’

(Following three words to be read in the tone of voice used by Sean William Scott in Old School, after Will Ferrell has just shot himself in the neck with a tranquilizer gun.)

Yes! That’s awesome!


Kinda makes you feel bad for the shark, doesn’t it?

The other photos, linked to above, are well worth checking out.

* The Mail loses points for referring to the sharks as “killer sharks.” Not hardly.

The Globe on Harvard

Posted on November 30th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 17 Comments »

At last—the story that everyone’s talking about.

In the Globe, Beth Healy reports on how Larry Summers ignored repeated warnings about the risks of investing operating funds and Harvard wound up losing $1.8 billion at least partly as a result.

Through the first half of this decade, [Jack] Meyer repeatedly warned Summers and other Harvard officials that the school was being too aggressive with billions of dollars in cash, according to people present for the discussions, investing almost all of it with the endowment’s risky mix of stocks, bonds, hedge funds, and private equity. Meyer’s successor, Mohamed El-Erian, would later sound the same warnings to Summers, and to Harvard financial staff and board members.

Some key points:

* James Rothenberg speaks to Healy and says, “We all can look back now and say we wish we did something different.”

Drew Faust is quiet as a dormouse.

Rothenberg apparently felt defensive enough to inform the reporter that he had come to Harvard 65 times in the last six years. He does not say, however, whether the number of days he spent at Harvard was greater or fewer than 65.

* Things could have been worse. Summers pushed to invest 100 percent of Harvard’s cash with the endowment and had to be argued down to 80 percent, financial executives say.

* Summers’ defense, articulated by “a friend of his who is familiar with Harvard’s finances ” (lifelong Summers’ apologist Bob Rubin?): Don’t blame me, if I were still there, I would have pulled Harvard’s money from the markets.

Though Summers is speaking to every Washington journalist who wants to puff him up like a balloon at a kids’ birthday party, he would not speak to Healy.

* Turnover —Summers, Mohamed El-Erian, Ann Berman—didn’t help.

* During his year-long stint as substitute president, Derek Bok was understandably clueless about financial issues. “I concentrated on academic issues,’’ he said.

* Harry Lewis reiterates his argument that the Corporation is the real problem here: “The power is just in the hands of too few people with too little accountability.’’

* The overseers are, as per usual, clueless. I don’t mean to be mean, but really…someone in that group needs to grow a pair. What a bunch of invertebrates.

It seems fair to say that while there is some blame to spread around, the bulk of Harvard’s financial disaster can be laid squarely at the feet of Larry Summers.

Good thing he’s not running our national economic policy or anything.

Quote of the Day

Posted on November 30th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

“He was just an average-looking fellow—it’s not like he was Kobe Bryant or anything. But when he opened his mouth, he was like Charlton Heston playing  Moses.”

—Newly-rediscovered civil rights hero Claudette Colvin on Martin Luther King. (The article linked to, by the way, is a great read.)

Editorial Matters

Posted on November 30th, 2009 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I caught up on a bunch of reading over the holiday weekend, which is both fun and work for me. When you’re an editor and a writer, you tend to read everything through two perspectives: one, entertainment and education; and two, professional scrutiny. I like to consider how writers and editors do what they do, and why they make the choices they make. And with budget cuts scraping away at the professionalism of the press like stripping paint, sometimes those choices are, well, a bit closer to the surface.

Here are a couple of examples that struck me as interesting:

When the Wall Street Journal’s John Fund sat down with Carly Fiorina, a candidate for U.S. Senate, who has a short haircut due to recent chemotherapy, Fund writes,

She laughs when I suggest her new ‘do may get her a hearing in precincts like Berkeley and San Francisco.

Since the line is pretty clearly a reference to butch lesbians—it makes little sense otherwise—is it funny or offensive? Would you keep it or cut it? And should the words “she laughs” influence your decision?

When the New Yorker’s Ariel Levy writes about South African runner Caster Semenya in Either/Or, she does a wonderful job exploring the challenges of defining gender. Her literary voice is personal yet professional. But then the final line of this paragraph jumped out distinctively:

She wore sandals and track pants and kept her hood up. When she shook my hand, I noticed that she had long nails. She didn’t look like an eighteen-year-old girl, or an eighteen-year-old boy. She looked like something else, something magnificent.

There’s no further explanation of this small but powerful endorsement. Should it have been included? Does it suddenly diminish the writer’s credibility, or is it just a helpful description? Would it influence your decision to know—as many New York magazine readers probably do—that Levy is a lesbian and generally outspoken on gay rights issues? And would you then reconsider her credibility in everything that preceded this seven-word sentence, feeling that her identity politics inform her journalism?

Or how about this, from the New Yorker’s Roger Angell, describing Phillies’ pitcher Cliff Lee in a terrific article about the Yankees’ classic World Series victory?

He looked a little dusty and work-worn out there…. I thought about Dizzy Dean or Lon (the Arkansas Hummingbird) Warneke, but they were righties. Then I remembered Hal Newhouser, the Tigers’ lefty ace in the nineteen-forties, who ate up batters in much the way that Lee does. Later, I put my question in a phone call to Seymour Siwoff, the dean of the Elias Sports Bureau. “Hmmm,” he said when I mentioned the flying back leg, “let me think about this for a minute.” There was a pause, and then he said, “Why do I think it was somebody on the Tigers?”

Well! That last line—there is no follow-up— is a bit self-congratulatory, isn’t it? Three sentences devoted to illustrating the smartness of Angell’s hunch. On the other hand, they’re kind of nice sentences and Angell’s not getting any younger. Keep them or cut them?

Choices, choices. Editing is a thousand small but important decisions—I could argue the above examples round or I could argue them flat—and I worry (not because of those examples) that the craft is on the wane.

I Think Mike Huckabee’s Political Career Just Ended

Posted on November 30th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

With the news that Maurice Clemmons, the coward who gunned down four police officers at a Washington state coffee shop, was paroled by then-Arkansas governor Huckabee over the protests of prosecutors nine years ago.

It’s not the most important part of this tragedy, but it’s an interesting footnote—particularly because I saw Huckabee on Fox yesterday morning (JetBlue TV) talking about whether he’d run for president in 2012. I think you can count that out.

Back, and Thankful for It

Posted on November 30th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Sorry the blog has been dark over the weekend; I was in Yorktown, Virginia, for the funeral of my uncle Tony. Obviously, there’s lots to catch up on, and I’ll be doing that throughout the day.

Here’s hoping everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.


And a Happy Thanksgiving to You

Posted on November 26th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

May you enjoy a day free of Joe Lieberman, Sarah Palin, Lou Dobbs, and other nefarious ne’er-do-wells!

Also: May the Giants, even though I have not emotionally committed to them this season, obliterate the Broncos.

What If Lou Dobbs, Joe Lieberman and Sarah Palin…

Posted on November 24th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

…were all in a boat…and it sank?

I’d throw a little house party, that’s what.

Politico reports that Dobbs is considering running for president. On the “I Hate Brown People” ticket.

Okay, they didn’t actually say that last part. But still.

President Palin?

Posted on November 24th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

In the Washington Post, former Bushie Matthew Dowd—who swears he’s no Sarah Palin fan—argues that the Baked Alaskan could win the White House in 2012, primarily by making the election a referendum on Barack Obama.

Gallup polls over the past 60 years show that no president with an approval rating under 47 percent has won reelection, and no president with an approval rating above 51 percent has lost reelection. (George W. Bush’s approval rating in the weeks before the 2004 election hovered around 50 percent.) The 2012 election will be primarily about our current president and whether voters are satisfied with the country’s direction.

Who the Republican candidate is, and his or her qualifications and abilities, will matter only if Obama’s approval rating is between 47 and 51 percent going into the fall of 2012.

It’s hard to believe that Palin could beat Obama no matter the level of frustration or discontent with him. The seriousness gap is too great.

(And, ironically, you know what percentage of votes Sarah Palin won to get elected governor in 2006? 48%.)

Dowd, of course, references the fact that Obama’s support has fallen below 50%. Which would mean something if this were November 2012, rather than ten months through the Obama first term.

But, this being one of those editorials where a former politico is announcing that he wants to work on someone’s campaign in 2012, Dowd gives Palin this advice:

Quality over quantity. You don’t need to “tweet” quite so much. You don’t need to be at countless rallies and photo ops. Instead, seek out substantive platforms where you can relate to people in a thoughtful, measured way. Appear on Sunday shows every now and then, sit down with Charlie Rose and editorial boards, and give serious speeches on your approach to the world in the 21st century.

Well, he has a point there: Tweeting does have a diminishing effect upon a person.

What Dowd doesn’t acknowledge is that Sarah Palin—like the even more appalling Joe Lieberman—is narcissistic and creates drama in order to attract attention. She’s an addict.  She should go to attention rehab. Except that she’d probably milk that for attention.

A lot of this refusal to accept the reality of Palin has to do with what I call the Rhodes Scholar Syndrome (the theory that not all Rhodes Scholars are equal, because in general, it’s harder to be a Rhodes Scholar from California than from, say, Alaska, so the competition in California is greater, thereby elevating the level of candidate).

We in the East Coast press tend to fall over ourselves idealizing places where we’d feel out of place, like Alaska, so as not to appear snobs.

But the truth is, you can be the governor of Alaska and be kind of an dingbat. Whereas someone with Sarah Palin’s qualifications could almost (I want to leave a little wiggle room) never be elected governor in New York or Massachusetts or, Arnold notwithstanding, California.

You know how many people voted for Palin for governor? 114, 697. I’m not sure that would get you elected to Congress from New York City.

That Palin was governor of Alaska says a lot about her ambition, but not much about her skills, character, or substance.

The Arrogant, Asinine and Appalling Joe Lieberman

Posted on November 23rd, 2009 in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

I’m going to be stubborn on this,” Lieberman says about his insistence that the health care reform legislation not have a public option.

Probe for a catch or caveat in that opposition, and none is visible. Can he support a public option if states could opt out of the plan, as the current bill provides? “The answer is no,” he says in an interview from his Senate office. “I feel very strongly about this.” How about a trigger, a mechanism for including a public option along with a provision saying it won’t be used unless private insurance plans aren’t spreading coverage far and fast enough? No again.

Here’s another way to write that, articulated by Andy Borowitz (Harvard grad) on the Huffington Post:

Lieberman Exploring New Ways to be a Dick.

For Sen. Lieberman, whose reputation for assholic behavior is legendary, striving to be an even bigger douche than usual represents a formidable challenge, Senate insiders say.

Well said, Mr. Borowitz.

In a more serious vein, AlterNet explores Lieberman’s shifting rationale for opposing the public health option. In a post entitled, Lieberman’s Latest B.S. Excuse for Opposing a Public Health Option, the Washington Monthly’s Steven Benen writes,

That Joe Lieberman would rather kill health care reform than let some consumer choose between competing public and private plans isn’t exactly new. I continue to find it fascinating, though, to see his evolving explanations….

Of course, there’s only one explanation: Joe Lieberman got his feelings hurt when he lost the Democratic nomination for Senate from Connecticut a few years back. And now he’s making tens of millions of people without insurance pay the price.