Archive for April, 2010

Harvard Mag Frames the Issues

Posted on April 30th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

In Harvard Magazine, John Rosenberg writes about the issues facing the Harvard Corporation with his usual eloquence, thoughtfulness and tact.

But make no mistake: In the piece, titled “Self Improvement—On Harvard Governance and Management,” Rosenberg poses some questions for the Corporation fellows to consider that carry real weight—and some major , if implicit criticisms.

Some of the questions he asks:

Is the Corporation also discussing how the Faculty of Arts and Sciences came to rely on endowment distributions for 54 percent of its revenues—and how the Law School has leveraged itself to pay for its huge new building?

As [the Corporation] attends to the long-term health of the institution, might it determine that its members’ terms should be better staggered relative to the tenure of any Harvard president…?

And some of the points he makes:

…The useful aspects of the president’s overarching report have been lost as it has been reduced to a vestigial cover letter in the annual financial statement.

[Blogger: That is a wonderful use of the word “vestigial.” I am jealous.]

…The Harvard University Financial Report can be as opaque as it is illuminating.

….Harvard, a private entity, is not required to disclose such [financial and planning] matters. But such transparency—increasingly expected of diverse institutions—might help illuminate problems or opportunities, and engender support for University goals.

That quiet aside within the m-dashes—”increasingly expected of diverse institutions”—is the kicker. Quiet, but powerful.

Also powerful is Rosenberg’s use of argument by example—as, for example, when he discusses how [every?] other universities’ corporate boards are more transparent than Harvard’s.

The Yale Daily News routinely features detailed accounts of that institution’s weekend corporation meetings, based on a briefing from President Richard Levin; in a late-February dispatch, the newspaper reported his account of discussions of tuition, budget reductions, healthcare legislation and the medical school, undergraduate housing and curriculum, and library issues—complete with the identities of the Yale officials who addressed each matter.

I wonder: Would Bob Rubin ever permit that level of transparency? It is not in his nature.

I’ve often thought that Rosenberg is an enormous asset to Harvard: He poses important questions in a way that is difficult for the establishment to ignore.

If the Corporation chooses to ignore this essay, and fails to act on at least some of its recommendations, it is making a very large mistake.

Vanderbilt Over Yale?

Posted on April 30th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

A high school senior, blogging on NYTimes.com, reflects on a choice he will likely regret for the rest of his life: choosing Vanderbilt over Yale.

I’m now officially a Vanderbilt Commodore, and it couldn’t feel more right. Vandy has everything I’m looking for, and in thinking about the incredible opportunities the school will give me, I feel excited and even a little giddy….

Yale may have dodged a bullet here.

Was Harvard’s Possibly Racist Law Student Set Up?

Posted on April 30th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Seems that another student there may have exhumed the apparently six-month-old racist email and distributed it as part of a “catfight.”

Gawker reports.

Thursday Afternoon Zen

Posted on April 29th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

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Scalloped hammerhead photo by Bruce Watkins (photobruce@comcast.net)

Harvard’s Racist Law Student?

Posted on April 29th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

Gawker reports on Harvard law student Stephanie Grace, who emailed a bunch of her classmates about “the possibility that that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.”

Here’s the full paragraph:

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair.

Less intelligent than whom? Presumably not Ms. Grace, because you can’t be all that sharp and think that, you know, you write an email about race and intelligence and it isn’t going to get around. Which, obviously, it has.

Ms. Grace’s closing words?

“Please don’t pull a Larry Summers on me….”

So Disappointing…But Not Entirely Surprising

Posted on April 28th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

“I’d walk in to interview [Eisenhower], and his eyes would lock on mine and I would be there for three hours and they never left my eyes.”

—The late historian Stephen Ambrose telling C-SPAN about the writing of his biography of President Eisenhower.

Except it turns out that the vast majority of those alleged interviews never happened. Ambrose, whom we already know is a plagiarist, now proves to be a liar. The unfortunate thing is he’s one of the great shapers of how many Americans understand their history.

When Will Harvard Wake Up?

Posted on April 28th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

Following up on a Crimson report (excellent catch, Crimson), the Globe reports that Goldman Sachs knew it was screwing Harvard.

A Goldman Sachs e-mail from February 2007 acknowledged that a large trade in complex mortgage-related securities would be “good for us’’ but bad for several customers, including Harvard University.

In a Feb. 14, 2007, message detailing the decline of high-risk subprime mortgages, Goldman executive Daniel Sparks wrote to colleagues: “That is good for us position-wise, bad for accounts who wrote that protection,’’ citing Harvard and three others.

The plot thickens.

Couple things.

One, Goldman Sachs didn’t hesitate to screw a counterparty on whose board sat one of its former partners (not to mention the former US Treasury secretary).

Two, that partner—Bob Rubin, of course—either wasn’t in the loop on this deal or didn’t understand it or was just wrong.

From his steadfast support of Larry Summers, to his part in negotiating Summers’ obscene golden parachute, to fiscal irresponsibility such as the above, to his demonstrated lack of interest in the work of the Corporation, Rubin has been a disastrous member of the Harvard board. (That’s not even mentioning his disastrous tenure at Citigroup and his absurd nine-figure compensation.)

So why is he still on it?

Are Conservatives Waking Up?

Posted on April 28th, 2010 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Times reports on a new fight on the right: the question of whether American conservatism suffers from “epistemic closure,” which is to say a structural closed-mindedness and intolerance in the movement (such as it is).

On issues such as health care and global warming, some conservatives warn, the right has become disconnected from reality.

Conservative media, Mr. Sanchez wrote atjuliansanchez.com — referring to outlets like Fox News and National Review and to talk-show stars like Rush Limbaugh, Mark R. Levin and Glenn Beck — have “become worryingly untethered from reality as the impetus to satisfy the demand for red meat overtakes any motivation to report accurately.”

Well…for most of us, no big news here. As blog readers will know, I’ve been arguing that the conservative movement has been marked by a lack of intellectual seriousness, purpose, even credibility, for years now. This is, simply put, a party without ideas. It’s much politics about nothing, and it has had no interest in policymaking or problem-solving at least since the 2008 election and likely well before. (Karl Rove’s—and therefore the Bush administration’s—lack of interest in domestic policy has been well documented.)

Which is one of the reasons the Republican Party has helped fuel the  rise of the brain-dead Tea Party People.

This current fight is, I think, a hopeful event for American conservatives, and perhaps good for the country; one would much prefer a healthy intellectual debate over the country’s future than the current ranting and raving of do-nothing, hate-everything conservatives.

Now we just have to watch out for the Timothy McVeighs that are gathering on the Mall and strapping on their guns for a visit to Starbucks….

Another Look at Eliot Spitzer

Posted on April 26th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

I saw a few movies at the Tribeca Film Festival over the weekend, and the one I was most impressed by was Alex Gibney’s documentary on the rise and fall of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, tentatively titled Client 9.

Spitzer cooperated with the film, which traces his arc from privileged Manhattan kid to Wall Street-busting New York attorney general to allegedly tyranical governor to perhaps the world’s most famous patron of call girls.

It breaks some interesting news: that Spitzer saw Ashley “I love sex” Dupree, whom we’ve all seen photos of, only once. In fact, there was another woman whom Spitzer favored and saw on numerous occasions in numerous cities; she grants Gibney an interview, but will not allow the footage to be used, and so Gibney recreates his interview with her using an actress. The woman comes across as smart, likable, nothing like Dupree (it would have been fascinating if she’d been the woman with whom he was publicly linked rather than the brain-dead but body-electric Dupree). She’s now a commodities trader.

More important, Gibney compiles a significant amount of circumstantial evidence suggesting that Spitzer’s fall was the result of calculated actions by political and financial enemies.

One example: In the FBI affidavit (I think) dealing with the Emperors’ Club, the escort service Spitzer used, there are nine “clients” mentioned. Eight of them are dealt with in less than one one page worth of material. Spitzer—Client 9—receives five pages of detail, including the infamous “he kept his socks on” factoid, which proves to be not even true—but would make it easy for any reporter to whom the document was leaked to put two and two together and figure out that Client 9 was New York’s crusading anti-corruption governor.

Another example: The FBI claimed that it discovered Spitzer after looking into a suspicious wire transfer from what proved to be his account of three or four thousand dollars. There are apparently thousands of such wire transfers every day.  Why did the FBI investigate this one?

Who are the likely culprits?

Former AIG CEO and Spitzer-hater Hank Greenberg, former director of the New York Stock exchange and Spitzer-hater Kenneth Langone (they tangled over the obscene pay for NYSE chair Dick Grasso), Republican political consultant Roger Stone, and the Bush Justice Department.

There are issues in Client 9, if that’s what this film is to be called,  that go well beyond questions of sex, fidelity and morality, but have to do with abuse of power for political and financial gain.

Who wins from this?

Gibney’s answer is footage of Wall Street traders bursting into applause as TV screens show Spitzer’s resignation press conference.

It’s hard not to conclude that, while Spitzer stupidly left himself vulnerable, and that he was a hard-to-like hypocrite, his enemies dug up the evidence, distributed it, leaked it…and toppled a governor who had badly wounded them with his prosecutions.

And we, the public, so obsessed with titillation, played our part like the dupes the Spitzer-topplers presumed us to be, making such a frenzied hullabaloo over a married man paying for sex that Spitzer had no choice but to resign—and a populist champion was ousted from office. (The film is more nuanced about this than I’m being.)

Did the punishment fit the crime? Is New York better off for it? (Clearly not.) Who really was behind the collection of dissemination of damaging information about Spitzer? And could Spitzer possibly make a comeback?

It’s a fascinating film and a powerful piece of journalism. Mr. Gibney, who also made the Academy Award-winning doc Taxi to the Dark Side, deserves all the attention he’s going to get for this film. It’s hot stuff.

Monday Morning Zen

Posted on April 26th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

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Photo by Bruce Watkins, a fellow traveler on the Solmar V and professional underwater photographer.

For more information, write photobruce@comcast.net.